Duns Scotus, John (c.1266–1308)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-B035-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 21, 2021, from

1. Career

Despite his importance and influence, little is known with certainty about the life and career of Duns Scotus. The commonly reported details of his family origins, early education and entry into the Franciscan order are now regarded as suspect owing to their origin in a partially fabricated eighteenth-century chronicle. More reliable is the date of his ordination to the priesthood in 1291, from which it is inferred that he must have been born about 1266. Scotus probably began his theological studies at Oxford about 1288, although it is debated whether he also studied at Paris prior to 1302. In any event, it is certain that he was present in Oxford in 1300 as a bachelor in theology, at which time he was participating in disputations and beginning to revise his lectures given there on the Sentences of Peter Lombard.

Scotus, however, never became master of theology at Oxford. At the recommendation of the English provincial, he was instead sent to Paris to lecture on the Sentences for a second time, which he began to do in the autumn of 1302. His Paris lectures were interrupted in June 1303 when King Philip the Fair required declarations of allegiance from religious houses at the university during his dispute with Pope Boniface VIII over taxation of church property. Scotus was among some eighty Franciscans from the Paris convent expelled from France by Philip for siding with the pope. During his exile from Paris Scotus is thought to have returned to Oxford, at which time he may have held his Oxford Collations. Scotus was back in Paris to resume his lectures on the Sentences by the autumn of 1304, when he was nominated by the Franciscan minister-general, Gonsalvus of Spain, as next in line for the Franciscan chair in theology. In his recommendation, Gonsalvus attested that Scotus’ reputation had already ‘spread everywhere’. Scotus is accordingly thought to have incepted as master by early 1305.

As regent in theology at Paris, Scotus disputed one set of quodlibetal questions and perhaps his Paris Collations. For reasons that are unclear, he was soon transferred from Paris to the Franciscan house of studies in Cologne, where a document dated February 1307 names him as a lector. Nothing is known of his activities at Cologne, where he appears to have remained until his early death, traditionally given as 8 November 1308. Remarkably, Scotus produced the bulk of his substantial writings in a period of barely ten years.

Citing this article:
Dumont, Stephen D.. Career. Duns Scotus, John (c.1266–1308), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-B035-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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