A humble man, John Duns Scotus has been one of the most influential Franciscans through the centuries.
Born at Duns in the county of Berwick, Scotland, John was descended from a wealthy farming family. In later years he was identified as John Duns Scotus to indicate the land of his birth; Scotia is the Latin name for Scotland.
John received the habit of the Friars Minor at Dumfries, where his uncle Elias Duns was superior. After novitiate John studied at Oxford and Paris and was ordained in 1291. More studies in Paris followed until 1297, when he returned to lecture at Oxford and Cambridge. Four years later he returned to Paris to teach and complete the requirements for the doctorate.
In an age when many people adopted whole systems of thought without qualification, John pointed out the richness of the Augustinian-Franciscan tradition, appreciated the wisdom of Aquinas, Aristotle and the Muslim philosophers—and still managed to be an independent thinker. That quality was proven in 1303 when King Philip the Fair tried to enlist the University of Paris on his side in a dispute with Pope Boniface VIII. John Duns Scotus dissented and was given three days to leave France.
In Scotus’s time, some philosophers held that people are basically determined by forces outside themselves. Free will is an illusion, they argued. An ever-practical man, Scotus said that if he started beating someone who denied free will, the person would immediately tell him to s ...