Blessed John Duns Scotus: Defender of the Immaculate Conception
The saint of the day for November 8 is Blessed John Duns Scotus, Franciscan priest and theologian of the thirteenth century.
Bl. John Duns Scotus was born in Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland, to a wealthy farming family around 1265. At the age of 15, he entered the Novitiate of the Order of Friars Minor and was ordained a priest in 1291, at the church of St. Andrew of the Monks of Cluny. Following his ordination, he traveled between England and France to pursue advanced philosophical and theological studies.
On Christmas night 1299, Bl. John, immersed in contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, fell into ecstasy. The Blessed Mother appeared to him and placed on his arms the Child Jesus who kissed and embraced him fondly.
After four years of teaching at Oxford and Cambridge, at the end of 1301, Bl. John returned to Paris, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in theology. Then, on the vigil of receiving his doctorate, he had to leave France suddenly, to return to England, when a serious conflict broke out between King Philip IV the Fair and Pope Boniface VIII. He voluntarily exiled himself, rather than sign a document that was hostile to the pope, which the king required all religious to do.
After a year, the conflict lessened and Bl. John was back again at the University of Paris, where he received the doctorate in theology and became a professor. Soon the fame of his genius and learning spread abroad and students came in great numbers to attend the lectures of the new professor. Due to his habit of making penetrating, yet subtle distinctions, during theological arguments, he was given the title “Subtle Doctor” by his colleagues.
It was also in Paris that Bl. John came to be known as the “Marian Doctor” after he defended Mary’s Immaculate Conception. In England, Bl. John taught the truth of this Marian honor without any opposition. But in Paris, there was considerable resistance. The academic body of the University admitted only to the purification of Mary in the womb of her mother St. Anne. Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Parisian Masters – all – were unable to solve the problem of the universality of original sin and of the efficacy of Christ’s Redemption. They thought that even the Blessed Virgin Mary was included in this universality, and therefore subject to the stain of original sin, if only for an instant, so that she may also be redeemed.
Scotus, in his attempt to introduce and teach a theological position different from that maintained by the university, had to appear in a public dispute before the entire academic body, at the risk of expulsion from the university if he failed to defend his doctrine. Bl. John Scotus prepared himself for the event in prayer, with total confidence in the Immaculate Virgin, the Seat of Wisdom.
When the day of the dispute arrived, on leaving the convent, he passed before a statue of Our Lady and prayed: “Allow me to praise You, O Most Holy Virgin; give me strength against your enemies.” Our Lady responded with a remarkable visible sign: the head of the statue moved and bowed slightly before him, as if to say: “Yes I will give you all the strength you need.”
Two Papal legates directed the dispute. Then, with strong conviction and with penetrating, but subtle reasoning, Bl. Scotus disproved all the objections of the scholars in attendance. From that day on, the University of Paris defended the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Franciscan Minister General later sent Scotus to Cologne, Germany, where he lectured for some time in the Franciscan house of studies until his death in 1308, at 43 years of age. He is buried in the Franciscan church near the famous Cologne cathedral.
In 1854, Pope Pius IX solemnly declared that the Marian doctrine of Bl. John was a correct expression of the faith of the Apostles: “at the first moment of her conception, Mary was preserved free from the stain of original sin, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ.” The seal of the Church’s approval was also placed on Bl. John’s doctrine on the universal primacy of Christ when the feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925. On March 20, 1992, Bl. John Duns Scotus was beatified by Pope John Paul II at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Heavenly Father, You filled John Duns Scotus with wisdom and through his life and teaching gave us a witness of Your Incarnate love. May we come to understand more deeply what he taught so that we may live in ever growing charity.
Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed John Duns Scotus
O Most High, Almighty and gracious Lord, Who exalts the humble and confounds the proud of heart, grant us the great joy of seeing Blessed John Duns Scotus canonized. He honored Your Son with the most sublime praises; he was the first to successfully defend the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary; he lived in heroic obedience to the Holy Father, to the Church and to the Seraphic Order. O most Holy Father, God of infinite love, hear, we beseech You, our humble prayer, through the merits of Your Only-Begotten Son and His Mother, the Gate of Heaven and Spouse of the Holy Spirit.