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John Duns Scotus

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John Duns Scotus portrait
John Duns Scotus

John Duns Scotus (1265/6 - 8 November 1308) is generally considered to be one of the three most important philosopher-theologians of the High Middle Ages, the others being Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham.[1]

Little is known of Duns Scotus apart from his work. His date of birth is thought to have been between 23 December 1265 and 17 March 1266, born into a leading family of the region. His place of birth, in front of the Pavilion Lodge near the North Lodge of Duns Castle, is marked by a cairn erected in 1966 by the Franciscan friars of the United Kingdom to mark the 700th anniversary of his birth. Duns Scotus received the religious habit of the Friars Minor at Dumfries, where his uncle, Elias Duns, was guardian. He was ordained priest in Northampton in 1291.

The appellation 'Scotus' appended to his name signifies that he was a native of Scotland.

John of Dunse (as it was then spelt) was so controversial because of his forward thinking, many thought he was mad, hence the word dunse, or dunce, denoting a poor scholar.

Duns died in Cologne on 8 November 1308, and was buried in the Church of the Minorites. His sarcophagus bears the Latin inscription: "Scotia me genuit. Anglia me suscepit. Gallia me docuit. Colonia me tenet" ("Scotland brought me forth. England sustained me. France taught me. Cologne holds me.").

He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993.

Possible burial myth

Various stories have appeared regarding his burial, suggesting he was buried alive. Some say he lapsed into a coma, some say he suffered the effects of a stroke. They go on to claim that his servant was the only person aware of his susceptibility to coma, and that this servant just happened to be absent when he collapsed.

The story continues with claims that after his tomb was reopened some years later, his body was found outside his coffin, sometimes adding that his hands were torn and bloody from the attempted escape.[2]

This has also been said to have been reported by Francis Bacon in his Historia vitae et mortis.

However, there seems to be no evidence to support this story, and it has been suggested that Dominicans (Blackfriars) tampered with the grave to undermine Duns influence, Duns being a Franciscan or Greyfriar.

Duns statue

John Duns Scotus statue, 2014
John Duns Scotus statue
Duns public park
Graham Robson

A commemorative statue to Duns stands in the public park of his home town of Duns in Berwickshire.

The text on the plaque reads:

JOHN DUNS SCOTUS
FRANCISCAN AND SUBTLE DOCTOR
WAS BORN IN 1266
IN THIS TOWN OF DUNS
HIS LEARNING HAS SHED LUSTRE
ON THIS TOWN AND SCOTLAND
THE TOWN AND LAND
WHICH GAVE HIS BIRTH

ERECTED BY
THE FRANCISCAN ORDER
ON THE SEVENTH CENTENARY
OF HIS BIRTH. SEPTEMBER 1966

SCOTIA HABET CUNAS FAMAM ORBIS
FUNERA RHENUS CAVLUM ANIMAM
HIC MAGNI SPIRAT IMAGO VIRI

References

1 John Duns Scotus > By Individual Philosopher > Philosophy Retrieved 13 February 2017.

2 The Grave With A Window | Amusing Planet Retrieved 13 February 2017.

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