Friday, January 22, 2010

Scotus on Church Authority

By the way, in the same question that the last post was based on there is a text that sheds light a post of Faber's from nearly two years ago:

The Ordinatio text parallel to the Reportatio I-A text commented on there clears up any doubt. Scotus is commenting on a past controversy between Richard of St Victor and Peter Lombard, Master of the Sentences. Richard had declared a position of the Lombard's on the generation of the Son from the divine essence suspect or even heretical. Scotus holds that the Church's approval of the Lombard's theology destroys Richard's case. From Ordinatio I.Dist.5 P.1 Q.1 paragraph 26:

. . . non nullam habet pro se auctoritatem, sed habet illam universalis Ecclesiae in capitulo praeallegato, quae maxima est, quia dicit Augustinus Contra epistolam Fundamenti: "Evangelio non crederem nisi Ecclesiae crederem catholicae", - quae Ecclesia sicut decrevit qui sunt libri habendi in auctoritatem in canone Bibliae, ita etiam decrevit qui libri habendi sunt authentici in libris doctorum, sicut patet in canone, et post illam auctoritatem canonis non invenitur in Corpore iuris scriptum aliquod ita autenticum sicut magistri Petri in capitulo praeallegato.

To paraphrase (but only slightly): Richard claimed that the Lombard had no authority (i.e. from the Fathers) to support his position. Scotus declares that, on the contrary, he had the authority of the Church, which is the greatest of all authorities, for as Augustine says, "I would not believe in the Gospel unless I believed in the Catholic Church". And just as the Church has declared which books are to be held as authoritative in the canon of the Bible, so also she has decreed which books, among all the books of the doctors of the Church, are to be held as authentic - just as in the canon! - and after the authority of the canon of Scripture itself there cannot be found any writing given so much authority by the Magisterium as that of Master Peter.

One could take this text by Scotus as laying the theological framework for the practice of declaring Doctors of the Church. And coincidentally the first four such Doctors were declared more or less contemporaneously with the writing of the Ordinatio, i.e. in 1298! However, Peter Lombard himself is not on the list of Doctors. Nevertheless Scotus' text above gives a good foundation for the disposition to hold the writings of St Thomas, St Bonaventure, etc., in higher regard and as of more weight than those of other theologians, including those of our own day (and I would take either over Rahner or von Balthasar a thousand times over), as well as giving extra weight to those who have been repeatedly singled out for praise by the Magisterium, or even used in the expression and formulation of the Church's doctrines--such as, preeminently, Bl John Duns Scotus (whose doctrines, as Faber has pointed out, lie behind the formulation of several important Magisterial definitions, including those of the Beatific Vision and the Immaculate Conception) and Ven. John Henry Newman (whose works - even the Parochial and Plain Sermons, from his Protestant days! - are cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, if I'm not mistaken more times than any other non-biblical, non-magisterial, non-patristic source). May they both be enrolled in the list of Doctors soon! Amen.


Gaetano said...

Sorry for "trolling", but this is a great, great post! I'm trying to figure out changing views about Thomas Aquinas' magisterial authority among Dominicans (as well as non-Dominicans) right now, and this quotation from Scotus will be very useful.


Michael Sullivan said...


Thank you for your kind words. My next post will be relevant to this same issue.

Tap said...

Sorry for asking so late after you posted this. I didn't realize you had started posting again.

Anyways, my question is would you know or have any guesses as to why Peter Lombard, so revered by many of these Scholastics, is not even so much as named "blessed." ?

Is there any part of his writing that would rule him out as a candidate?

has he become an origen type figure in the Church, in that he's was so brilliant but is somehow suspect, because of some of his theology? what exactly is going on with Peter Lombard?

Michael Sullivan said...


so far as I know there are no questions about Peter Lombard's orthodoxy; as you note, he was considered a reliable authority for centuries.

As for why he's not a saint, well, not every great theologian gets canonized. I suppose one might well be a great Catholic thinker without being especially holy. But non-canonization doesn't imply a lack of holiness either. Some canonizations just never get off the ground. Two other examples of significant Catholic figures whose causes never got very far are Robert Grosseteste and Thomas a Kempis. They were apparently holy, their writings were very influential and valuable to the Church, but it just didn't happen for one reason or another. I'm not sure it really means anything.

Tap said...

Thanks Michael.

Lee Faber said...

Also, remember Bonaventure's list of errors before his commentary of Book 2. And recall that he was a secular. Seculars didn't have the engines of an order to get them canonized. Lombard was probably the most famous of the lot, but it's not like the franciscans would try to get him canonized.