Depictions of Bl. John Duns Scotus

The following is a post that was put up on The Amish Catholic by Rick Yoder. He graciously gave me permission to repost it. If you want to see the original post just click HERE.

From the Amish Catholic…

I’ve taken a major interest in Scotus recently. His Christology and Mariology seem to be treasures that remain largely unexploited by contemporary theologians, in part because he was recognized as being in the right about a doctrine that became dogma almost two hundred years ago. He is at the center of ongoing debates about the advent of secularism and modernity, debates which I am not competent to comment on at this time. Nevertheless, I thought it might be fun to examine some of the ways that Catholics (mostly Franciscans) have memorialized him in art over the course of the last several centuries. In some sense, the variety of depictions here tell a story of a lineage long overshadowed by other, more influential streams of thought. Thomism in particular has had a near perennial appeal within the Church, whereas Scotism, it seems, has largely been a niche concern. After all, Scotus has not yet been canonized or joined the ranks of the Doctors of the Church. This inequity arose from a variety of factors. No doubt, the fate of Scotism has come partially from Scotus’s own difficult style and vast intelligence. There’s a reason he’s called the “Subtle Doctor.”

May my small collection here help rectify that oversight on this, his feast day. [This was originally posted on Nov. 8th, 2017 – the Feast of Bl. John Duns Scotus]

Bl John Duns Scotus-thumb-275x279-4957

John the Scot (c. 1266 – 8 Nov. 1308), appearing in what must be one of his earliest depictions: an illuminated capital. (Source)


A Renaissance portrait of the Blessed John Duns Scotus. One point that people forget about Scotus is that he defended the rights of the Church against Philip IV, who had wanted to tax church properties. For his bold stance, he was exiled for a few years from Paris. (Source)


Perhaps the most famous, a late-Medeival, early-Renaissance portrait of Scotus. The name of the artist escapes me. (Source)


An early modern engraving of Scotus, probably early to mid 15th century. (Source)

St Albert the Great & Bl John Duns Scotus

Here he is with St. Albert the Great, one of the Dominican Doctors. (Source)


Scotus the Scholar. Age and provenance unclear; my guess is late 17th century, though it may be later. (Source)


Scotus receiving a vision of the Christ Child, 17th or 18th century. Although chiefly remembered for his metaphysics and Mariology, Scotus made major contributions to Christology, defending the Patristic idea of Christ’s Absolute Primacy. (Source)


From the early modern period, it became typical to depict Scotus with representations of the Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Conception he famously defended. This piece, probably from the 18th century, is one such example. It also contains a pretty clear criticism of Aquinas – Scotus looks away from the Summa to gaze lovingly at Mary (Source: this very friendly take on Scotus by a prominent popular Thomist)


A slightly more dramatic iteration of the same theme. Scotus is inspired by the Immaculate Conception. (Source)


My single favorite image of Scotus is this ludicrously over-the-top Rococo depiction of Scotus and the Immaculate Conception triumphing over heresy and sin. He holds the arms (no pun intended) of the Franciscan order. His defense of the Immaculate Conception surpassed the doubts of even his own order’s great luminary, St. Bonaventure. And what a marvellously simple argument it was, too. Remember: POTVIT DECVIT ERGO FECIT. (Source).

Izamal Duns Scotus Adopte rest

Likewise, this totally marvelous Colonial Mexican painting from the Franciscan monastery of Izamal, Yucatan, is something else. Rare is the saint granted wings in traditional iconography, though the trend was not uncommon in early modern Mexican art (Source)

Joannes Pitseus, Scotus 1619

The mystery solved! This version by Johannes Pitseus comes from 1619, and served as a model for the Izamal piece. Here, it’s clearer that the heads represent various heretics, including Pelagius, Arius, and Calvin. (Source)

Landa Duns Scotus

This ceiling relief from Landa, Querétaro, uses the same iconographic lexicon. It seems that the Franciscans of colonial Mexico had a set of stock images to propagate devotion to their own saints. (Source)

huej purisima

Here’s another unusual image of Scotus. In this mural of Mary Immaculate, or La Purísima, we see Scotus alongside St. Thomas Aquinas…and wearing a biretta! A remarkable addition, unique among all other depictions of the Subtle Doctor that I know of. (Source)


Moving away from Mexico, we come to this rather uninteresting French portrait of Scotus. Not all 18th century portraits of the man are elaborate bits of Franciscan propaganda. (Source)

unknown artist; John Duns Scotus (1266-1308)

A late 18th or early 19th century depiction of Bl. John Duns Scotus. If this is in fact an English painting, its creation at a time of high and dry Anglican Protestantism poses interesting questions about the use of Scotus as a figure of national pride. (Source)


I’m unsure of how old this image is; my guess, however, is that it represents a 19th century imitation of late Medieval and Renaissance style. (Source)

Albert Küchler (Brother Peter of Copenhagen) - Immaculate Conception with St. Bonaventure, Francis, Anthony and Blessed John Duns Scotus - Rome - Pontifical University Antonianum

A great 19th century painting of the Immaculate Conception by Danish Franciscan Albert Küchler. Scotus, who is on the bottom right, is here depicted alongside other Franciscan saints – S.s. Francis of Assisi, Anthony of Padua, and Bonaventure. (Source)


This looks like a Harry Clarke window, though it may just resemble his style. In anyway, we see here Scotus holding a scroll with his famous argument for the Immaculate Conception epitomized – “He could do it, It was fitting He should do it, so He did it.” (Source)


John Duns Scotus, once again contemplating the Immaculate Virgin and offering his mighty works to her. (Source)


Another stained glass window, this time indubitably from the 20th century. We see here Scotus worshiping the Christ Child and his Immaculate Mother. (Source)


Scotus depicted in on the door of a Cologne Cathedral, 1948. He represents the supernatural gift of Understanding. (Source)


A contemporary statue of Scotus. (Source)


Scotus with a modification of the Benedictine phrase. “Pray and Think. Think and Pray.” Not a bad motto. (Source)


A 20th or 21st century image of the Blessed Scotus (Source).

Summary of Bishop Robert Grosseteste by Fr. Eric Wood

Summary of the Primacy of Christ according to Bishop Robert Grosseteste (ca. 1175-1253) by Fr. Eric Wood

(The following passage is taken from Fr. Eric Wood’s Master’s Degree Thesis at the Athenaeum of Ohio. The full document with footnotes – which is well worth reading – can be found HERE).

The debate over the primacy of Christ began in Anselm and Rupert [of Deutz] as a discussion concerning the necessity of Christ’s Incarnation and passion. The issue continued to be developed for the most part through the work of theologians within the Franciscan Order who tended to affirm the position of Rupert, though not universally. The non-universality of the thesis within the Order notwithstanding, Rupert’s position nevertheless became known as the Franciscan thesis. One of the first who influenced the Order, to begin dealing with the issue was Robert Grosseteste. Grosseteste was the chancellor of the University of Oxford, bishop of Lincoln, and the first instructor of the friars in England. Like Rupert he looked at the issue as a question concerning the necessity of the Incarnation, and as a counterfactual claim which he believed could help us understand certain aspects of the present economy of salvation. Though Grosseteste is not given enough credit for the part he plays, there are indications that he had an influence on other Franciscan thinkers, including the two main luminaries, Bonaventure and Scotus.

Grosseteste employed a very similar method as Rupert, though there is little evidence he knew much of what Rupert had to say on the question. For in the areas of his
theological teaching, Grosseteste, as a magister in sacra pagina, was known for his adherence to the Scriptures. It makes sense, observes Daniel Horan, that the Scriptures would be a “starting point for Grosseteste’s exploration of the necessity of the Incarnation. However, it should also be noted that, according James Ginther, Grosseteste believed it was the “responsibility of the speculative theologian to provide a rational account of what was gained from the study of Scripture.” This is what led Grosseteste to operate not just as a scriptural exegete but also as a speculative theologian in his study of the question concerning the necessity of the Incarnation. Due to his turn to more speculative or philosophical explanations, Grosseteste becomes very hesitant to push forward his opinion as the authentic teaching of the Church. Only those aspects which he definitively takes from the Scriptures does he present with any authority. Nevertheless, he is the first to use speculative/theological explanations in favor of the Franciscan school of thought, and can be seen as a bridge between Rupert and later defenders of the position.

Grosseteste takes up the question of the necessity of Christ’s Incarnation mainly in De Cessatione Legalium, Exiit Edictum
(a Christmas homily), and Hexaemeron. His arguments from Scripture deal specifically with Old Testament themes in which he attempts to present Christ, the God-man, as the only possible fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and blessings. While it may seem from this that his motivation was to counter Jewish attacks against the faith, James Ginther believes there is very little evidence to support this statement. Rather, he suggests Grosseteste’s motivation was simply to understand the place of the Old law within the context of Christ and the New law.

Greater importance is attributed to Grosseteste’s arguments of a more speculative nature, for it is here that he employs the hypothetical statement in question. Though
Grosseteste acknowledges that Fathers such as St. Gregory, St. Augustine, and St. Anselm all declared that the human race could only be saved through the God-man, he does not believe it had occurred to these men to ask whether or not the Incarnation would have taken place had the human race not sinned (though there is evidence to suggest otherwise). While it may seem odd that such medieval thinkers would put so much effort into a counter-factual claim, James Ginther offers an explanation as to why Grosseteste believed it was important to consider. First of all, Grosseteste uses the hypothetical in order to “highlight specific true conditions of the world as it is now.” Secondly, he is using the hypothetical to prove a greater thesis; to show how sin cannot be the direct cause of the Incarnation, so as to establish “reasons for the Incarnation that not only function in a world as it is now, but also in a world devoid of all sin. Grosseteste’s aim is not to separate the Incarnation from Christ’s saving work, but rather to elucidate its twofold role.”

In this effort Grosseteste offers five different arguments all supported by a theology rooted in Pseudo-Dionysius and the Neo-platonic tradition. The first is based
upon the goodness of God and makes use of St. Anselm’s definition of God as a “greater Good than can even be thought.” The argument also draws upon the Pseudo-Dionysian concept of the good being self-diffusive. God created the world in such a way that it would be capable of receiving God’s goodness in the highest possible way. As Grosseteste states, “supreme goodness [God] pours in as great a good as it is capable of. But the universe is capable of this good, namely, that it have a part of itself as the God-man. There is nothing that can exist in the universe if the universe is incapable of containing it; and the universe already has this good. Therefore, it is capable of this good, and was not made capable of this good by the fall of man.” The fact that God is the supreme good and the universe is capable of the God-man leads him to say that the God-man would have come despite the fall. Thus the world would have been created in such a way so as to receive the greatest good, which Grosseteste says can only be the Incarnate God.

The second argument is based upon the idea that the hypostatic union of the Word of God was achieved primarily through the intellectum or “intellect,” a position he takes from Peter Lombard and John Damascene. From this, Grosseteste will say that the human flesh was equally assumable, if not more, considering the weakening of the intellect due to sin, prior to the fall as it was after man had sinned. “Either the assumption of the flesh by the Word through the mediation of the soul [intellect] was more possible when man was in Paradise [prior to the fall] than it would be now [after the fall], or at least it was as possible as it would be now.” At this point Grosseteste returns to his first argument by stating it makes sense to say that God would have become incarnate, considering it would have been just as possible if not more, even if we had not sinned because the whole of creation is better “than it could in any way be without this good [the God-man]… Either, then one must say that God would have become man even if man had not fallen, or that the whole of creation is now inestimably better than it would have been if man had not fallen.”

The third argument is based upon a distinction which Grosseteste makes in his understanding of justice and sanctification. Put simply, he argues that the human race, even apart from the fall, is in need of the Incarnation for the sake of sanctification (though not justice). For only in the God-man can the human race be sanctified and lifted up as children of the most high God. In this, Grosseteste does not believe being sanctified is the same as being justified.

The fourth argument arises from Grosseteste’s reading of Ephesians 1:22 and 5:23. According to these passages Christ is meant to be head of the Church apart from any act of sin on humanity’s part. That such a holy institution as the Church should be dependent on the sin of the human race makes no sense to Grosseteste for this very reason. Thus, he concludes that the Incarnation was always intended because Christ was predestined to a nuptial relationship with the Church. “Before he fell, Adam prophesied the marriage of Christ and the Church. . .”

In many ways, the fifth and final explanation brings us to the heart of Grosseteste’s theology and what is characteristic of the Franciscan mindset. The argument is based upon the understanding of the universe as a unified creation, with Christ (the Incarnate God) as the unifying principle. Such a principle could not be accomplished in man alone (apart from his union with the Word of God). The unifying principle, according to Grosseteste, must be more worthy than all other creatures, and thus it can only be the God-man. As Horan describes it, “The Incarnation was necessary to unify all parts of creation and to complete the capacity for fulfillment God intended for the universe

Despite his hesitancy to enter into the area of speculative thought, Grosseteste’s use of Pseudo-Dionysius to support a christocentric view of creation breaks new ground in the development of the Church’s understanding of the primacy of Christ. Ginther argues, “The question [the hypothetical] had been posed before, but Grosseteste is the first to address the problem with such intensity that it created a new topic for scholastic theologians to examine for the rest of the century.” Because his arguments in favor of Rupert’s thesis were speculative and theological, Grosseteste influenced a list of other theologians including Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, and Bl. John Duns Scotus, all of whom express very similar christocentric theological systems. These men, specifically the latter two, will become the great thinkers of the Middle Ages who will provide the most profound developments in our understanding of Christ’s primacy.

Bishop Grosseteste (+1253) – 16 arguments for the Incarnation even if Adam had not sinned

Bishop Robert Grosseteste (+1253) was an amazing figure in England during the scholastic period, both as Bishop of Lincoln and Professor of Theology at Oxford University. If you want to learn more about him or look up his writings (in Latin), there is an amazing website you can visit called Electronic Grosseteste.

In Part III of his volume De cessatione legalium – “On the Cessation of the Laws” he gives sixteen arguments for the Incarnation even if Adam had not sinned. As much as I would like to post all of his arguments here, it seems best to limit myself to a few highlights. Thanks to Dr. Stephen Hildebrand and CUA Press anyone who would like to read Bishop Grosseteste’s full presentation on the subject can purchase the English translation of this work here.

From the pen of Grosseteste:

“… let us suppose that man had not fallen and that God did not become man; the created universe would not be as good, as perfect, as beautiful as it is now, would it? …” (P.III, Ch.1, n.8)

“Again, when God, who is supremely generous and from whom envy is supremely banished, creates every kind of creature that can exist (in order to show that He, who must be participated in by every possible nature, Himself shares with each inasmuch as its nature can receive it), and does not leave even the nature of the insect or of some kind of fly or reptile uncreated, how will He not all the more make one Person to be God and man, that is, one Christ, because one Christ, God and man, is an incomparably greater good than all of creation by itself? He does not omit the nature of the insect lest the whole of creation be imperfect and less honorable; would He omit Christ, the greatest honor for all creation [if Adam had not sinned]? … How could He [Christ], being such, be omitted in such a way that He would never have existed if man had not sinned, when even the lowest species of reptile would not have been omitted?” (P.III, Ch.1, n.9)

“In addition, if there were not one Christ, that is, God and man in one Person, the Church would not have the head which it now has, nor would it be as the Apostle says, ‘The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church’ (Eph 5:23); and again, the head of man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God, but the Church would be headless and so would man.” (P.III, Ch.1, n.10)

“In addition, if the God-man, who suffered, through Himself justifies fallen man, and if this cause is precisely proportionate to this effect, then, if you take away the ‘fallen’ and ‘suffering,’ the precise cause of man’s justification, the God-man, will, it seems, remain. For if man had not sinned, he still would not be able to be just by himself, but would always need someone who is just by nature to justify him.” (P.III, Ch.1, n.11)

“What the Apostle says about Christ seems to contradict this line of thought [that we are justified by God, not the God-man], that for us He was made by God to be wisdom, justice, holiness and redemption (cf. 1 Cor 1:30). Therefore, He redeems, sanctifies, and infuses justice and wisdom according to His becoming [man], not because as God He infuses holiness, justice, and wisdom; rather, He does this only through the assumed man, because of whom He is the mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Tm 2:5)…” (P.III, Ch.1, n.13)

“So then, if the formation of justice always happens in one way, because the cause of one thing is always one, justice always and simply descends from God through Christ, the God-man, into every rational creature who is made just. On account of this, it seems, angels and men are not justified from the beginning except through the Son of God, God and man…” (P.III, Ch.1, n.14).

A summary of Bishop Robert Grosseteste’s position on the primacy of Christ By Fr. Eric Wood will be posted soon…

Rev. Chris Webb – Christ in All Scriptures

In an earlier post I highlighted some inspired insights of Rev. Chris Webb (see HERE), an Anglican priest who embraces the Benedictine spirituality and promotes in a particular way the Lectio Divina. What is unique about Rev. Webb’s approach to reading the Bible is his Scotistic Christocentricism. He recently posted a piece called “Christ in All Scriptures” at Renovaré and gave me permission to repost it for your perusal. The following are his reflections:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. —Colossians 1:15-16

If the whole of creation entirely centered on Jesus, then we might reasonably expect to discover that Scripture is equally Christocentric. Not only that, but the idea of the Absolute Primacy of Christ could then become a compelling starting point for our interpretation of Scripture, especially when we approach Scripture with the desire, above all else, to find in it an encounter with God in Christ.

And in fact this was the way most Christians read the Bible for much of the Church’s two millennia long history. During one of his sermons on the Psalms, the fifth century African bishop Augustine of Hippo exhorted his congregation to “remember that God speaks only a single word throughout the length of Scripture, and that only one Word is heard from the many mouths of the sacred writers—the Word that was in the beginning, God with God.” Six centuries later the hugely influential Parisian abbot Hugh of St. Victor would write: “All sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.”

These writers were developing a tradition that reaches right back to the New Testament period. Throughout the Gospels, the epistles, and the book of Revelation we see Jesus presented as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. We have often narrowed that focus by affirming that in Christ a specific collection of ancient biblical prophecies about the future came to pass; some even claim to be able to enumerate the number and sequence of such prophecies. But the apostles and the New Testament writers asserted so much more: for them, Jesus was the completion and fulfillment of all Scripture, of the whole Bible in its many varied aspects.

Think, for example, of Peter’s first sermon on the day of Pentecost. These few brief words draw together a collection of different texts from the Hebrew Bible—a passage from Joel and quotations from a couple of Psalms—and apply them all to Jesus. Two chapters later in Acts, Peter is confronting the Sanhedrin and quotes from another Psalm (“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the chief cornerstone,” Psalm 118:22) which, he asserts, speaks directly of Christ. In a prayer later in the same chapter the disciples apply yet another Psalm to Jesus, while in chapter seven Stephen, during his trial, draws whole sweeps of the Old Testament narrative into his interpretation of the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. Philip hears an Ethiopian official reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah while traveling on the road to Gaza—“starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). This same pattern continues throughout Acts: the Old Testament is constantly referred to as a text which speaks of Christ.

If anything, the picture becomes even richer as we turn to the New Testament letters. Paul, in particular, seems to see Jesus everywhere he looks in Scripture. Christ is portrayed as a new Adam, a descendant of the first man who overturns the tragic results of the first sin in Eden (Romans 5:12-21). Abraham’s unwavering faith in God’s promise makes him the spiritual ancestor of those who will place their faith in Christ’s resurrection (Acts 4:1-25). Sarah and Hagar become allegories of the challenging choice presented by Christ: between living under the law of Sinai or in the freedom of the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4:21-5:1). In one text Jesus is linked to the entire story of the exodus—to the “baptism” in the Red Sea, the leadership of Moses, the miraculous food and drink provided in the wilderness—leading to the startling assertion that Jesus was present to the Israelites throughout their wanderings: “they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:5). And so it continues throughout Paul’s letters—it seems that he is able to discern the presence of Christ in almost any biblical text.

The letter to the Hebrews draws on the Old Testament in a remarkable way to expound on the significance of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. After a short, breathless introduction in the first four verses (just a single sentence in the Greek original) the letter launches into a whirlwind tour of the Hebrew Scriptures: quotations from right across the Psalter; excerpts from books as diverse as Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Isaiah, and Jeremiah; allusions to the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek, the giving of the law at Sinai, Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, the design and structure of the temple, the rules governing the priesthood and the sacrificial system laid out in Leviticus, and the prophetic promise of a new heart covenant between God and his people. The eleventh chapter famously presents a panorama of Old Testament heroes, calling to mind the examples of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson … the list is overwhelming. And all this is offered as one great and glorious witness to Jesus—Jesus who is greater than the angels, who mediates a better covenant than Moses, who embodies the Sabbath rest of the covenant, who fulfills the great priesthood of Melchizedek, who ministers in the true heavenly sanctuary of which the earthly temple is simply an imitation, who offers the supreme and final sacrifice, and who establishes the foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem.

No wonder, then, that the author of this letter calls Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He is the beginning and the end, the one who participates in creation with God at the dawn of time and draws it to its conclusion at the end of days. His presence can be felt on every page, during every incident, through every prophecy, in every life. Jesus is not simply a character who appears in the Bible somewhere towards the end, drawing together the threads of a rambling and complex story. Jesus is the central character from the first page to the last. The Bible is, above all else, the book of Christ.