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?

Garrett said...

On the Thomistic view, as well as some independents after Aquinas, a divine idea is just God knowing that the divine essence can be imitated in a certain way. They are relations of imitability. Now Aquinas still claims God knows creatures, has providence, etc., but the point is divine knowledge of creatures happens by means of these imitatibility relations. Scotus claimed the divine intellect generated various parts of essences and everything that was not repugant could be joined, and among this latter class, the divine will actualized some ideas to exist. He also says the divine ideas are primarily of haecceities. On this view, the divine ideas would all be internal to the divine intellect and will and not in the essence, so there would not be a problem with divine simplicity. In other passages, however, he posits them in the divine essence as representations that are formally distinct from each other and from the divine essence.

Wesley C. said...

@Garrett, So it's perfectly compatible with Catholic theology to believe that the divine ideas are outside the divine essence, and so have a certain uniqueness to them making them not solely reflections of God?

Is that correct?

Garrett said...

Well, it depends on what what you mean by 'outside'. They could be 'outside' the formal notion of the divine essence, the divine essence as such, but somehow contained in it. That would not be contrary to cahtolic theology, which in any case has not ruled on the matter. If you put the ideas as 'outside' in the sense of plato's demiurge, probably that would not be maintained. But yes, the divine ideas are supposed to be representations of creatures, by which God creates creatures, so they cannot be purely reflections of God. One possibly helkpful image is that of Peter THomae, who says the divine essence is an intelligible mirror, out of which shine/are reflected creatures. Bonaventure posits three ways creatures exist, in themselves, in their universals, and in their ideas in God. So the content of the divine ideas are definitely creatures.

Wesley C. said...

1) Well if they are outside the essence formally, they would only be contained in the essence in the sense that the they aren't separable from God.

Now you do say that the divine ideas of creatures can't be purely reflections of God because they of creatures, and so their content is of creatures, but couldn't one object by saying that though the ideas are about creatures, what they ultimately are (their very content) just is finite reflections of God since they are rooted in God, and each creature is just a different way of reflecting God and nothing more?

One can then imagine us seeing God in the New Creation, and so seeing all the creatures in creation as just different reminders and reflections of God - maybe like a young girl who's fallen in love with her boyfriend so much that everything else has become just a different reminder of him. But this seems a disappointing state of affairs, and so it seems fitting to say that the divine ideas aren't just finite reflections of God, but have unique content in themselves as well.

2) Another way I saw of putting the idea of divine ideas being unique is from Lossky, who complains in his Mystical Theology of the East that the West makes creation just a poor copy of God and not unique because it includes the ideas in the essence - in fact, I originally came across this whole issue of uniqueness by reading him. He basically claims that they aren't the eternal reasons of God contained within the very being of God or His essence - they aren't just determinations of the essence to which creatures refer as to their exemplary cause. So they aren't located in the essence, but are separated from the essence and are instead in that which is after the essence - the will, which determines the different modes of participating in God's creative activity. Lossky then says that one of the supposed consequences of this would be that the ideas are no longer necessary determinations of God's nature or part of the intelligible content of the divine being.

Now Lossky does tend to misunderstand Western theology, and his understanding of divine simplicity may also be suspect insofar as it's neo-Palamite, but could this sort of view Lossky describes become compatible with Catholic theology?

Another thing is the issue of exemplar causality, so I wonder how placing the divine ideas formally outside the essence, and giving them uniqueness in the sense that they aren't purely reflections of God due to their content being of creatures, would work here.

What do you think? This doesn't just apply to Lossky's view of uniqueness, but also to what you described as well - would this eliminate all exemplary causality for creatures? Or would we have a both/and situation where creatures are both reflections of God but also unique in themselves - being both exemplars and also unique things in their own right, so they aren't reducible to the former?