Rorate Caeli

Duns Scotus and the Primacy of the Authority of the Church

Rejoice, o City of Cologne, which one day received within your walls John Duns Scotus, a very intelligent and pious man, who, on November 8, 1308, passed from the present life to the heavenly fatherland; and you, with great admiration and veneration, preserve his remains.


Confirmed in his Catholic faith, he made an effort to understand, explain, and defend the truth of faith in the light of human reason. Therefore, he made nothing other than demonstrating the knowledge of all truth, natural and supernatural, which come from the same and only Source.

Along with Holy Scripture, divinely inspired, stands the authority of the Church. He follows the words of Saint Augustine: "I would not believe in the Gospel, if first I did not believe in the Church." In fact, our Doctor places in an elevated position, the supreme authority of the Successor of Peter. According to his words, "although the Pope cannot establish against natural and divine law (because his power is inferior to both), nevertheless, being the Successor of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, he has the same authority that Peter had."

Therefore, the Catholic Church, which has as its invisible Head Christ himself, who left his Vicars in the person of blessed Peter and of his Successors, guided by the Spirit of truth, is the authentic guardian of the revealed Deposit and of the rule of faith. The Church is the firm and stable criterion of the canonicity of Holy Scripture. She, in fact, "established what books should be considered authentic in the canon of the Bible".

He elsewhere affirms that "the Scriptures have been explained with that same Spirit with which they were written, and it must thus be believed that the Catholic Church has presented them with that same Spirit with which the Faith was delivered to us, that is, instructed by the Spirit of truth."

After having proved with various arguments, brought forth by theological reason, the very fact of the preservation of the Blessed Virgin Mary from original sin, he was nevertheless absolutely ready even to reject his understanding, it it were not in harmony with the authority of the Church, declaring: "If it does not disagree with the authority of the Church or with the authority of Scripture, it seems probable to attribute to Mary that which is most excellent".

Benedict XVI


  1. I'm sure he was a very holy man and sought to serve God and his Church to the best of his ability.
    However, his univocal ontology has been a disaster. It underlies many of the errors of modern philosophy and theology.Secularism and materialism can both be traced back to it.
    I suppose it would be odd to ask for his intercession and at the same time pray for the overturning of the central idea of his philosophy.

  2. Anonymous9:39 PM

    Like all heresies, secularism and materialism have some basis in truth, but are distorted and perverted by the inordinate, and blinkered focus of adherents. Guided by revelation, Scotus helped perfect our natural ability to reason. He is not at fault for modern man's loss of faith and consequent distortion of human reason.

  3. Anonymous7:18 AM

    To my shame I have never read Blessed John Duns Scotus works. I did some Googling and found references that agree with Kevin Vail and criticize Scotus for, among other things, underpinning Modernism, but all these were refuted centuries ago, as so they should be today.

    For clarity I quote from the Catholic Encylopedia.

    "Only as a very subtle critic may he be called the Kant of the thirteenth century. Nor is he a precursor of the Modernists. His writings indeed contain many entirely modern ideas, e.g. the stress he lays on freedom in scientific and also in religious matters, upon the separateness of the objective world and of thought, the self-activity of the thinking subject, the dignity and value of personality; yet in all this he remains within proper limits, and in opposition to the Modernists he asserts very forcibly the necessity of an absolute authority in the Church, the necessity of faith, the freedom of the will; and he rejects absolutely any and every monistic identification of the world and God. That he has so often been misunderstood is due simply to the fact that his teaching has been viewed from the standpoint of modern thought.

    Scotus is a genuine Scholastic philosopher..."

    Descartes is also cited as the unwitting founder of modern philosphy. Modernists are a slippery bunch.

  4. Anonymous1:17 PM

    To be honest, my post was based upon a drunken read of Kevin Vail's complaint about Scotus. (Had just returned from a Christmas party). Assumed in my haze that his was an anti-intellectual rebuke of Scotus's rationalism. Now I see there may be more to it. Perhaps "univocal ontology" has deeper meaning than I might have imagined. I have looked the term up on the internet but haven't found a satisfactory definition.

    Kevin, could you explain the meaning of "univocal ontology"? Also could you help those with out a theological or philisophical education to understand your complaint?

  5. Anonymous10:57 PM

    Dear Kevin Vail,

    I humbly submit that you have grossly misunderstood Scotus.

    His theory of "univocal ontology" is merely a means of expressing the fact that creatures are being as God is a being, reckoning being in the simple, but not strictly absolute sense.

    That has nothing to do with modernism or secularism.

    The ontologists of the 19trh century tried falsely to claim other Scholastic theologians, such as Bonaventure, for their cause.

    But the were dishonest in doing so.

    Br. Alexis Bugnolo

    for more on this controversy, to a search of the Franciscan Archive site, with the words "univocal" and "ontology"....

  6. Anonymous2:03 AM

    I don't think that anyone has pointed out a wonderful sign here: the laguage of the Pope's letter on Duns Scotus: "Laetare..etc"
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it has been years since a Pope wrote in such glorious, triumphalistic and precise language, especially denoting a place. This in itself is a great sign.

  7. Anonymous3:50 AM

    Yes, of course. A univocal ontology is a medical term describing a cathargic scan on the smaller vocal chord (that would be the one on the right-hand side).

    Merry Christmas to all.

  8. Anonymous11:54 AM

    Go point Anony, but this is a translation: we'd have to see the text.

    It does prove that whoever translated it, is not afraid of triumphalistic language.

    If the pope did write that way, it at least means that his curia is not rewriting triumphalistic sounding speeches, whether he wrote it himself or had another write it.

    Its a bit too pro-Scholastic for Ratzinger, from my read....

    Br. Alexis Bugnolo

  9. Anonymous4:44 PM

    Wasn't Scotus univocal ontology in opposition to the analogical view of Saint Thomas?

  10. Anonymous6:09 PM

    "Kevin, could you explain the meaning of "univocal ontology"? Also could you help those with out a theological or philisophical education to understand your complaint?"

    I'm perfectly happy to use the good Brother's definition, to wit
    "His theory of "univocal ontology" is merely a means of expressing the fact that creatures are being as God is a being, reckoning being in the simple, but not strictly absolute sense.

    Although I would have to go a bit farther than this. Namely that for being to univocal, God must be of the same nature as creation. Being is one thing which God possess and we possess.
    I don't have a good analogy for this, though I can think of one for the pre-Scotist analogical ontology.

    Now think carefully of the implications. And I'm not saying Bl. Scotus intended this, but his thought implies it or at the very least opens the door and makes it thinkable.
    For God and creation to be of the same being, then "Being" is something greater than God. This founds "onto-theology". It then becomes thinkable that there is a natura pura to which grace is superadded. Being itself, is no longer a gift (because God is not the owner of it, it is something higher). This is precisely the direction that Scotist philosophers went.
    Imagine a house of mirrors. At the center is the real thing, everything else is completely dependent on the real thing at the center while at the same time the is a vast difference between the nature of the real thing and the nature of the image.

    Being itself is therefore a gift.

    From the univocal ontology, it becomes possible to think of a realm of activity that does not involve God and the "secular" is born.
    The imaginary realm of the "secular" lies at the root of nearly all modern errors. It creates "an ontology of violence". Force the measure. Such as when Hobbes writes "The right of Nature, whereby God reigneth over men, and punisheth those that break his Lawes, is to be derived, not from his creating them, as if he required obedience as of gratitude for his benefits, but from his irresistible power".
    The story of philosophy in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment is a story of philosophy asserting its independence from theology.
    Secular reason becomes opposed to theology and you wind up where you find the world today - faith VS reason.
    This is a book, or several books not a post on a blog... so I've left out alot.
    There is a full discussion in John Milbank's Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason and a detailed discussion in his book The Suspended Middle .
    He proposes what, IMO, no faithful Catholic can really oppose. The re-crowing of Theology as queen of the sciences, the critique of modernity by the (orthodox) theological

  11. Anonymous6:59 PM

    I am skeptical of Radical Orthodoxy and Milbank. This theology is not orthodox Catholicism even though it likes to pretend it can arrive there. I'll stick to the church Fathers.

  12. "I am skeptical of Radical Orthodoxy and Milbank. This theology is not orthodox Catholicism even though it likes to pretend it can arrive there. I'll stick to the church Fathers."

    Bl. Duns Scotus is hardly a Church father, he comes far too late for that. And there is certainly no trace of the univocal ontology in the patristic corpus, they were all Platonists.
    I have found RO to be very patristic, rooted strongly in St. Augustine and (pseudo-) Denys the Aeropagite.
    Initally Milbank was reluctant to embrace St. Thomas, since he associated him with his Scotist interpreters but he has written a couple books now embracing Thomism wholeheartedly, he just thinks many of the Thomists of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment misread Aquinas through a Scotist lens.

  13. Anonymous10:38 PM

    Dear Brothers,

    The lack of schooling in philosophy, asking about what is univocal ontology, sidestracks the issue at hand, namely the Holy Father Pope Benedict's reahing out to Blessed Scotus in seeking to strengthen the weakened papal authority, he is discovering.

    Late, but never too late.

    Pope Benedict, it is my strong impression, is experiencing the fruits of the "spirit" of Vatican II, the preoccupation with collegiality, the not well hidden agenda of the liberal/modernist movement St Pius X condemned onehundred years ago.

    Pope Benedict in his good will toward the cause of Tradition, i.e., the intent on preserving the Faith, appears to see that the unchecked collegiality now frustrates his ability to govern, better to say, to excercise papal power, that was allowed to languish, being ignored for 40+ years.
    Now, he may recognize and, with our many prayers and sacrifices, begin to take seriously and act to remedy Pope Paul VI's 1972 two critical recognitions: He stated:
    1. "the Church is destroying herself" and
    2. "satan's" incense entered the Church."

    Peter, was assured immunity against the evil one by given the dual divine powers, not as ornaments, but powers to be used in order to govern!
    Which work, when and if they are used:
    1. Teach clearly and affirm truth.
    2. Resist and Condemn error.
    Because and since Pope John XXIII did not believe in condemning errors, he said so since his youth, and so vowed in his opening speech of Vatican II, Popes after him followed suit, now we suffer from weak authority, weakened papacy, faltering respect for the Church itself, despite Our Lord's warning:
    "you are the light and salt of the earth, but if they lose their power, they ar no longer effective or even useful. They would be cast out to be trampled upon..." as we see today. //see Jn XXIII: opening speech, esp.: "How to suppress errors"... also, see the acts of Vatican II, when over hundreds of bishops pleaded with the Council to condemn Commmunism, the most blatant modernist evil and "the errors of Russia" - words of Our Lady at Fatima -, the moderator at
    the microphone rose and stated:
    "On the personal order of the Pope /Paul VI/ this issue is not to be discussed." End of the question. THE CHURCH AUTHORITIES FAILED TO EXCERCISE THEIR GOD GIVEN POWERS!!!
    When an authority fails to us its power in the face of evil and error, evil and error unresisted will gain power and ground and takes over all those who fail to excercise their authority.
    Today the Pope needs to state to the world and to Muslims, that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world! There is no salvation without Jesus Christ! There is no other name under heaven by whom man can be saved!
    The Pope must not allow weakness and ambiguity amd false friendships undermine the Gospel of Jesus Christ! The Pope must affirm his brethren in the Faith!
    The bishops of the U.S. likewise must firmly condemn the Obama/Biden agenda against Christian principles and must be challenged to respect Life and the life of the innocents!
    What the bishops said so far is weak, compromising in its tone and easily ignored.
    Time is running out!
    We need to alert our own people. Learn from the Jews, who take no vacillating positions. They are most effective with the popes and the Church. Time for the faithful to come forward and to bear witness to Christ and Holy Faith!

    Father Stephen, o.f.m.

  14. Anonymous10:57 PM

    And with what lense do the Anglicans and protestants of the RO read our Catholic faith? I'll stick to the Church fathers and Scotus in that light.

  15. Anonymous12:35 PM

    Aononymous, (or Kevin Vail?) wrote:

    "Although I would have to go a bit farther than this. Namely that for being to univocal, God must be of the same nature as creation. Being is one thing which God possess and we possess.
    I don't have a good analogy for this, though I can think of one for the pre-Scotist analogical ontology. "

    No, IT DOES NOT MEAN that God is of the same nature of creation.

    IT DOES MEAN that there is univocal sense of the word "being" by which both God and a creature can be said to have "being" or being a "being".

    It does not mean that God and creatures are subordinated to some nature or reality which is Being. That is silly.

    Please if you have not studied Scholastic philosophy formally, I beg you to do so, before posting such defamatory comments about the Saints....

    contains in the final section, or Scholium, a long dissertation on the philosophy of being in Bonaventure, in which you can infer that

    "univocal being" as a term can refer to 2 things, a "univocal real being" and the ideo of "univocal being". In reality God is a "being" in a sense that no other can be. In this sense He is the univocal Being. But there is a univocal sense of the word "being" in which God and creatures can both be termed being. This is Scotus' position. But this sense is a simple sense, that is, without considerations of other things. Thomas rejects this, holding that "being" as a term and concept is equivocal in reference to God and creatures. Bonaventure agrees and calls the term used in reference to creatures "analogous being". Because there is on an analogy and not a simple equivalence of signification between each application of the term.

    Both are correct, because if Scotus was wrong, even Thomas would not use "being" as a term in reference to God and creatures. Thomas and Bonaventure are correct, because strictly speaking there is no essent equivalence in what is signified fully by the term "being" when applied to God and creatures.

    As you might notice, the subtlties of Scholastic thought are not susceptible of off the cuff remarks, and by such you often fall into desultory and defamatory statements...

  16. Ad Fontes gents:

    "I designate that concept univocal which possesses sufficient unity in itself, so that to affirm and deny it of one and the same thing would be a contradiction. It also has sufficient unity to serve as the middle term of a syllogism, so that wherever two extremes are united by a middle term that is one in this way, we may conclude to the union of the two extremes among themselves."

    He continues, "If you maintain that this is not true, but that formal concept of what pertains to God is another notion, a disconcerting consequence ensues; namely that from the proper notion of anything found in creatures nothing at all can be inferred about God, for the notion of what is in each is wholly different. We would have no more reason to conclude that God is formally wise from the notion of wisdom derived from creatures than we would have reason to conclude that God is formally a stone." etc. (Op. Oxon. in Wolter, p. 25)

    "Masters, too, when dealing with God and what is known about God, express themselves in such a way as actually to admit univocity, even though they deny it in their word." (Reportata Parisiensia, I, d. 3, q. 1, n.7)

    -Fra A.M.

  17. "Of a hundred writers who have held Duns Scotus up to ridicule, not two of them have ever read him, and not one of them has understood him." (E.Gilson, "Saint Francois et la Pensee Medievale" (Paris, 1926).

    Gilson explains, "(not that) divine Being is of the same order as created being; Duns Scotus is very well aware that they are but analogues... the quiddity, the very essence of the act of existing, taken apart from the modalities which determine the different modes of existence, is apprehended by the intellect as identical, whatever in other respects the being in question may be. When Duns Scotus says that what first falls under the intellect is being, he no longer therefore understands St. Thomas the nature of the sensible being as such, but existence in itself, without any determination whatsoever, and taken in its pure intelligibility.

    To say, under these conditions, that being is univocal as regards both God and creatures, is simply to affirm that the content of the concept applied to them is the same in both cases, not because they are beings of the same order, or even of comparable orders, but because being is now regarded as signifying only the very act of existing, or the very existence of this act, independently of every other determination....

    Scotist univocity is a radical negation of pantheism, since the common attribution of the concept of being to God and creatures requires precisely that it should not be extended to that which makes the being of God to be God; but at the same time it unifies the whole order of human knowledge in affirming the essential unity of its object throughout all the diversity of the states through which it may pass."
    (E. Gilson, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, pp. 264-266)

    -Fra A.M.

  18. Anonymous2:56 AM

    Dear Friar Anthony,

    Thank you for those citations explaining the notion of "univocal being" in Scotus....

    For those readers of this Blog, I suggest reading these quotes and them my previous post, which say the same thing on the matter.

    Br. Alexis Bugnolo

  19. I was pleasantly suprised in reading this; normally I find myself alone in defending Scotus from the idiocy of the Cambridge Phantasists. Such talk merely highlights the need for post-modern theorists to read primary sources for themselves (not RO's strong suit, Milbank and Pickstock in particular).

    Historically, Scotus wasn't even adressing Thomas, but Henry of Ghent who had a completely different theory of analogy than did Thomas. Thomas doesn't distinguish between the real and the conceptual on this issue as do Scotus and Henry and so is rather irrelevant. Scotus begins his discussing with affirming that God is known not only analogically, but univocally through the pure perfections. So he affirms "real" analogy along with Thomas.

    But, it's true, you will search Scotus's voluminous writings in vain for any mention of being as "gift".


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