Duns, John

, surnamed Sgotus, an eminent scholastic divine, who flourished in the latter end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth century, was born at Dunstance, in the parish of Emildun or Embleton, near Alnwick in Northumberland. Some writers have contended that he was a Scotsman, and that the place of his birth was Duns, a village eight miles from England, and others have asserted that he was an Irishman. He is, however, treated as an Englishman by all the early authors who speak of him; and the conclusion of the ms copy of his works in Merton college, gives his name, country, and the place where he was born, as stated above. When a youth, he joined himself to the minorite friars of Newcastle; and, being sent by them to Oxford, he was admitted into Merton college, of which, in due time, he became fellow. Here, besides the character he attained in scholastic theology, he is said to have been very eminent for his knowledge in the civil and canon law, in logic, natural philosophy, metaphysics, mathematics, and astronomy. Upon the removal of William Varron from Oxford to Paris, in 1301, Duns Scotus was chosen to supply his place in the theological chair; which office he sustained with such reputation, that more than thirty-thousand scholars came to the university to be his hearers, a number which, though confidently asserted by several writers, we | admit with great hesitation.*


In 1535, at a visitation of the university by Dr. London warden of New-college, and others, appointed by king Henry VIII. the works of Duns Scotus were treated very scurvily, as appears by a letter from one of the visitors to secretary Cromwell.—“Wee have set Dunce in Bocanlo (a prison so called), and have utterly banished him Oxford for ever, with all his blynd glosses, and is now made a common servant to every man, fast nayled up upon posts in all common houses of casement,” &c.

After John Duns had lectured three years at Oxford, he was called, in 1304, to Paris, where he was honoured with the degrees, first of bachelor, and then of doctor in divinity. At a meeting of the monks of his order at Tholouse, in 1307, he was created regent; and about the same time he was placed at the head of the theological schools at Paris. Here he is affirmed to have first broached the doctrine of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, and to have supported his position by two hundred arguments, which appeared so conclusive, that the members of the university of Paris embraced the opinion; instituted the feast of the immaculate conception; and issued an edict, that no one, who did not embrace the same opinion, should be admitted to academical degrees. In 1308, Duns Scotus was ordered by Gonsalvo, the general of the Minorites, to remove to Cologn, on the road to which he was met in solemn pomp, and conducted thither by the whole body of the citizens. Not long after his arrival in this city, he was seized with an apoplexy, which carried him off, on the eighth of November, 1308, in the forty-third, or, as others say, in the thirty-fourth, year of his age. Paul Jovius’s account of the mode of his death is, that when he fell down of his apoplexy he was immediately interred as dead; but that, afterwards coming to his senses, he languished in a most miserable manner in his coffin, beating his head and hands against its sides, till he died. This story, though generally treated as a fable, is hinted at by Mr. Whavton, who says, “Apoplexia correptus, et festinato nimis, ut volunt, funere elatus,” and whether true or not, gave occasion to the following epitaph:

"Quod nulli ante homini accidit, viator,

Hie Scotus jaceo, semel sepultus,

Et bis mortuus: Omnibus Sophistis

Argutus magis atque captiosus."

John Duns was at first a follower of Thomas Aquinas; but, differing from his master on the question concerning the efficacy of divine grace, he formed a distinct sect, and | hence the denominations of the Thomists and Scotists, who were engaged for centuries in eager and trifling disputes, and the nances of the two sects still subsist in some of the Roman Catholic schools. On account of Scotus’s acuteness in disputation, he was called “the most subtile Doctor;” but his ingenuity was wholly employed in embarrassing, with new fictions of abstraction, and with other scholastic chimeras, subjects already sufficiently perplexed. He was the author of a. vast number of works, several of which have been separately published, and in 1474, the English Franciscans printed a collection of the larger part. At length, the whole of them (some few still remaining in manuscript excepted) were collected together by Luke Wadding, illustrated with notes, and published at Lyons in 1639, in 12 vols. folio. Absurd as many of the questions were which called forth the exertions of his talents, it is probable that in a more enlightened age, genius and abilities like his might have been of lasting benefit to posterity.

It may not be unamusing to recite an example of the extravagant praises that have been bestowed upon Duns Scotus by his followers. They tell us that “He was so consummate a philosopher, that he could have been the inventor of philosophy, if it had not before existed. His knowledge of all the mysteries of religion was so profound and perfect, that it was rather intuitive certainty than belief. He described the divine nature as if he had seen God; the attributes of celestial spirits, as if he had been an angel; the felicities of a future state, as if he had enjoyed them; and the ways of providence, as if he had penetrated into all its secrets. He wrote so many books, that one man is hardly able to read them; and no one man is able to understand them. He would have written more, if he had composed with less care and accuracy. Such was our immortal Scotus, the most ingenious, acute, and subtile, of the sons of men.” His portraits at Windsor and Oxford have been generally considered as ideal. 1


Bale, Pits, and Tanner.—Cave, vol. II.—Biog. Brit.—Wood’s Annals.— Mackenzie’s Scotch writers, vol. I.