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Duns Scotus in Franciscan Ecosophy: a revisiting
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2017-10-18 10:39:42
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St. Francis of Assisi, the saint of nature and ecology

Not too long ago I wrote a piece on Franciscan spirituality and its nexus to modern ecosophy; see: http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/13738. I’d like to revisit the theme by exploring the Franciscan theology of Duns Scotus (1265-1308) who, together with Thomas Aquinas, is considered one of the greatest thinkers of the entire history of Christian thought. I’d like to explore an aspect of that thought as it relates to ecology, which is crucially relevant to our world today.

Scotus’ doctrine of the Incarnation (more fully known as the Doctrine of the Absolute Primacy of Christ in the Universe) is firmly rooted in the Franciscan intellectual and spiritual tradition, at whose core is the Person of the Incarnate Son as this is experienced in the radical evangelical witness of Francis. At the center of the life of Francis is the Incarnate Crucified Lord of all creation, whom Francis called our ‘Elder Brother’; at the center of the life of Scotus is the Incarnate Person of the Son, whom he calls ‘God’s Masterpiece’.

This is the same figure depicted by Michelangelo on the wall of the Sistine Chapel judging the world at the end days. He looks like an Apollo rather than the bearded man in Palestine but Michelangelo’s is conveying the same idea, that this is the incarnated second person of the Trinity, the Word that was there at the beginning, the masterpiece of the universe as announced by John’s prologue with his “in the beginning was the Word” and conveyed by Duns Scotus as God’s masterpiece in the universe.


Duns Scotus

In Scotus, the Incarnation is not a contingency plan when the original creative process of God goes awry because of sin. Scotus rejects this Augustinian notion as too central an emphasis on Man to the extent that the freedom of God to act in love is determined by an external necessity i.e. the redemption from sin. Scotus understands the Incarnation as always being in the mind of God even before the historical and existential physicality of creation itself and the fact of sin. The Incarnation is the model for creation: there is a creation only because of the Incarnation. In this schema, the universe is for Christ and not Christ for the universe.


Scotus finds it inconceivable that the ‘greatest good in the universe’ i.e. the Incarnation, can be determined by some lesser good i.e. Man’s redemption. This is because such a sin-centered view of the Incarnation suggests that the primary role of Christ is as an assuager of the universe’s guilt. In the Absolute Primacy, Christ is the beginning, middle and end of creation. He stands at the center of the universe as the reason for its existence. In this sense the universe has realized its creational potential more than Man, since it is created with the potential to bear the God-Man and the Incarnation has taken place historically and existentially. Man, as yet, has failed to reach his potential to ‘love one another as I have loved you’. Scotus argues that the reason for the Incarnation is Love. The Love of God in himself and the free desire that God has to share that love with another who can love him as perfectly as he loves himself, i.e. the Christ.


Our Lady of the Incarnation

Scotus says that all the souls that were ever created and about to be created could not, cannot and never will measure up to the supreme love that Christ has for the Trinity. The very fact of the preconception of the Incarnation in Scotus’s thought means that we are co-heirs to this Trinitarian love that Christ has. The Incarnation, then in Duns Scotus, becomes the unrepeatable, unique, and single defining act of God’s love. God, says Scotus, is what he is: we know that God exists and we know what that existence is: Love. Thus, if Man had not sinned Christ would still have come, since this was predetermined from all eternity in the mind of God as the supreme manifestation of his love for the creation he brings about in his free act. The Incarnation is the effect of God freely choosing to end his self-isolation and show who and what He is to that creation. The Incarnation, therefore, in Franciscan spirituality is centered on Love and not sin.


Sin has been given too much prominence in contemporary theology and indeed since Augustine concept of original sin. Redemption is an act of love first and foremost, not an act of saving us from sin, and the first act of redemption is the Incarnation.

Compared to Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus’ vision of the relation between man and the universe remains relatively unknown, but in the light of our pressing environmental concerns both Francis and Scotus’ Franciscan vision are getting increasing attention by both philosophers and theologians. To be sure, much remains to be explored and elucidated, but the first step of a long arduous journey has been taken.


Check Dr Emanuel Paparella's NEW BOOK
"The Caligula Presidency: A Satirical Debunking Critique"
is online now and you can download it for FREE HERE!



Check also Dr Emanuel Paparella's other EBOOKS
Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers
& Europe Beyond the Euro
You can download them all for FREE HERE!


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