Video – Fr. Peter – The Golden Thread #7: Scotus on the Human and Divine Will

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Ave Maria!

Fr. Peter continues his discourse on the thought of Bl. John Duns Scotus. Scotus' thoughts on the freedom of the will aren't as shaky as some contemporary theologians would have us believe. He did not follow the heretical teachings of William of Occum. Scotus distinguished between the perfect will of God and the imperfect will of man, and we must be aware of this distinction when we attempt to compare God to ourselves. The basis of our personhood, our freedom, and our dignity lies in our will, and freedom itself is not license: it is the ability to guard and foster virtue, and it was never accomplished so perfectly in a human being as it was accomplished in Mary. Listen to this fascinating talk given by the master of Scotus and the Mother of God.

Ave Maria!

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  • Servulus Immaculatae says:

    Dear Father Felner,

    Ave Maria

    I really appreciate your defense of Blessed Duns Scotus, and I have a question. I have heard some say that Blessed Scotus has created an artificial and dangerous seperation between philosophy and theology. Tell me that this is not true, and how I can charitable explain it so.

    God bless, and may Mary keep you

  • Fr. Peter Fehlner says:

    Dilectissime Servule Immaculatae,

    To your first question the reply is a simple, unqualified nay. Scotus did no such thing as artifically separate philosophy and theology. Not only did he do no such thing, he very strenously opposed this. The “guilty” party was in the first instance William of Ockham, who with his nominalism and voluntarism broke with Scotus. To their contemporaries Scotus was known as the last of the theologians “in via antiqua” (following the traditional, ancient methods of Catholic theology), whereas Ockham was the first representative of the “via moderna” in theology, or to use a more recent term “modernist”. Luther before his break with Rome was formed according to the theological views of Ockham. Such figures as Descartes, Kant, Hegel, etc., also reflect key positions of Ockham, not Scotus. I repeat, not Scotus, because the glorification of the irrational in modern western thought is falsely ascribed to Blessed John Duns Scotus with the consequence that in the minds of many the Immaculate Conception and absolute primacy of Jesus, defended by him, is suspected (as it was also in the late middle ages and Renaissance) of hiding a dangerous error concerning the nature of theology and philosophy and their mutual relations.

    Your question about how to explain the genuine position of Scotus may be addressed as follows:

    1. By separation of theology and philosophy is commonly meant in Catholic theology taking up a position which claims that the object and methods respectively of each have nothing to do with each other, and when such is the case either the one or the other or both are corrupted. Scotus in the prologue to his Ordinatio (planned as his definitive commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard) maintains that theology depends on philosophy, above all metaphysics, for the notion of God as “infinite being???, as key instrument employed by God in the revelation of the Trinity. Conversely, philosophy in order to attain fully its goal of wisdom, depends on theology, specifically on the teaching concerning the Word Incarnate and the absolute primacy of that Incarnation. One may claim correctly that this is not the only way to formulate a solution to the question concerning the integration or separation of philosophy and theology, but it is a legitimate one, and has antecendents in St. Bonaventure, St. Anselm, and many Fathers of the Church, such as St. Augustine. But it is, nonetheless, a very Catholic way of doing so.

    2. Another approach to the same question is that of St. Thomas, who stresses more the autonomy of philosophy and reason in relation to faith and theology, and who stresses redemption from sin as the primary motive of the Incarnation. Here it is not my intention at all to criticize the marvelous synthesis of St. Thomas, but merely to point out that in one way he grants more autonomy to philosophy (in terms of range and native power of reason apart from any knowledge of Jesus and Mary) and in another (because of sin) makes philosophy more dependent on theology in actual practice. Scotus in one sense seems to reduce somewhat the range of reason and conversely increase the dependence of philosophy on, not its separation from theology. But in another way (in view of the absolute primacy of Incarnation and charity) Scotus seems more to integrate philosophy more with theology in so far as it is a complete wisdom. In any case, neither the approach of Scotus, nor that of Thomas, lead either to separation or to identification of philosophy and theology.

    3. But in regard to those points (the “preambles of faith???) concerning God’s existence and the spiritual order (person, soul and natural law especially) which Catholic teaching insists can be known by the non-believer, viz., by the use of his native powers of reflection, both Scotus and Thomas are in agreement. Both reject the position of the fideist who claims certitude about God is only possible via faith, and the position of the skeptic or agnostic who claims nothing can be known for certain about God and the moral order, and also the position of the rationalist who claims that everything that can be known is known by reason or is unknowable. Luther is the classic fideist, Kant is the classic agnostic, and Hegel is the classic rationalist or idealist.