Thursday, January 7, 2021

Was Scotus Irish?

Recently I was sent a discussion about the national origins of Duns Scotus. It is here. There was a big controversy about this among the 17th century Scotists. Many of the Irish Scotists claimed him as their own. They did not, however, assign a town where he was born.

The author of the piece linked to above rejects the current scholarly view that Scotus was Scotish. The problem is, the Irish thesis is based purely on hearsay. There is no positive evidence in the form of a medieval document.

What about the Scottish claim? The author claims that "Scotus" could mean someone from Ireland or Scotland, that we don't know when it changed to mean only someone from Scotland. Think of the other "Scotus", Eriugena, who unquestionably was Irish. According to the author, people in the thirteenth century could be described as being either 'hibernicus' or 'scotus' depending on their racial origins as native Irish or Norman invaders.

But whether or not such a distinction is true or not, it isn't relevant to the question of Scotus' origins. For we have a contemporary document that contains enough evidence to show Scotus' Scottish ancestry. This is the adhesion list of 1303. In the dispute between the pope and the king of France, the king sent officials to the various religious houses at the university and had them affix their names to a list accepting the king's claims or denying them. Scotus is on the list denying. The most recent edition of this list is in Courtenay.

“Early Scotists at Paris: A Reconsideration,” Franciscan Studies 69 (2011), 175-229

This list describes people from England as 'de anglia,' those from Ireland as 'de hymbernia', leaving 'Scotus' to be Scottish. What is more, the list organizes people by regions: thus, on the page on which Scotus appears, we have scholars from the Iberian peninsula, followed by Scotus, the English, the Irish, and then the beginning of the Germans.

I quote the list from Courtenay , p. 226:

fr. Poncius de Catelonia

fr. Gondissalvus magister

fr. Martinus ejus socius

fr. Petrus de Villa franca

fr. Franciscus de Colimbria [Coimbra]

fr. Femandus

fr. Johannes scotus

fr. Thomas eius socius

fr. Johannes65. Johannes de Anglia

fr. Johannes Crombe

fr. Thomas anglicus

fr. Ricardus yberniensis

fr. Odo yberniensis 67. Odo de Ymbernia

fr. Dyonisius yberniensis 68. Dyonisius de Ymbernia

fr. Thomas Coloniensis

fr. Henricus saxoniensis

fr. Johannes saxoniensis

fr. Bemardus saxoniensis

fr. Eglosus almannus

fr. Henricus almannus


scolairebocht said...

Many thanks for highlighting this article but I honestly don't understand how you can read it the way you have? Nearly all the 17th Irish historians list the town in Ireland he came from, Downpatrick in Co. Down, as I believe I pointed out. I also list three medieval sources, 14th and 15th century, that state clearly he came from Ireland.

That list that you highlight is the same one I mention in the text. Its not decisive because Scotus could mean a person of Irish race, hence he wouldn't necessarily be listed with the other people listed as from Ireland, if they were Norman.

Its true that its a reasonable way of reading that list to say he is Scottish and the others are English and Irish etc, but because of the well known and very widespread use of the word Scotus as meaning a person of the Gaelic race in Ireland, it isn't as decisive as some make it out to be.

Remember all these Latin writers are also quoting from Duns Scotus Eriugena, and all the other long list of writers named Scotus floating around the Medieval texts, who all were of Irish Gaelic ancestry and must have been obviously so to these Medieval writers, so its reasonable to suppose they meant that here as well. As I think I pointed out, I am saying you cannot be definitive in any deductions based on that word Scotus from 1303 in my opinion, its just used too often to mean Irishman to assume it means Scottish in that list or any where else for that date, we need to get other facts to settle the question, in my opinion.

Anyway hopefully I have started a modern debate on the subject!

Garrett said...

Thanks for your comment, when I get a chance I will revise my post.

Wesley C. said...

I have two questions about participation: Some say that Scotus infamously rejected the idea of participation in his metaphysics - though that is false - and that participation has never been part of magisterial authority. So:

1) Does this mean then that one can be a Scholastic without accepting participation metaphysics of creation? And also, were there any Scholastics who truly rejected participation but are orthodox?

2) One potential objection to participation is that it seems to make creation unoriginal, or devalues it by making it a copy of God's own nature, and that rejecting participation resolves this tension - what do you think of this?

Does participation make creation just a finite copy of God's own nature? Can one still attribute originality and uniqueness to creatures even if one accepts participation?

What do you think of these?

Garrett said...

Right, Scotus did not reject participation. Rather, he is interested in working out a coherent theory of science for theology and metaphysics, which required attention to the order of concepts. Participation isn't much use for that.

1. I don't see why not, though i don't know of anyone who did. Probably ockham, but I don't know that for sure.

2. I think one could this off by reference to the divine ideas. As Scotus defines an idea, it is the 'creatura intellecta', so it is not just a bad copy of God, the divine idea of Socrates is Socrates 'qua understood.' Or you could just reduce participation to the depedence of a creature on its cause. every effect depends on a cause for its existence, the same is true for creatures.

Wesley C. said...


Could you elaborate a bit more about creatura intellecta and not being a copy? I think it sounds interesting.

Wesley C. said...


Also, since effects pre-exist in their causes, and creation does have to reflect God in a sense because otherwise we wouldn't be able to ascribe any attributes (whether analogously or univocally) to God that we also find in creatures, could one have a middle-position on this where creatures both reflect God AND are also unique in themselves in the sense of not just being copies or purely reflections of God?

Maybe by appealing to the idea that God is Uniqueness itself and so by reflecting God creatures also have their own intrinsic uniqueness as well? Or by some other line of reasoning?

Of course, one could say that created ideas are individually unique in comparison to other created ideas, but aren't in comparison to God who is the source of ideas. But I think one possible response to that would be that since God is infinite and created ideas aren't fully similar to God, that even in comparison to God created ideas likely have uniqueness.

What do you think?