Monday, August 30, 2010

Benedict XVI on Bl. Duns Scotus…

I picked up the following, naturally enough, from The Smithy, and thought it, along with Mr. Faber's subsequent comments, worth reading and sharing. Pope Benedict XVI's audience on Blessed Duns Scotus occurred Wednesday, July 7, 2010 (translation by Zenit), and in it, he says of Scotus that:

In the Reportata Parisiensia he affirms: "To think that God would have given up such work if Adam had not sinned would be altogether irrational! I say, therefore, that the fall was not the cause of the predestination of Christ, and that -- even if no one had fallen, not angels or man -- in this hypothesis Christ would still have been predestined in the same way" (in III Sent., d. 7, 4).

This, perhaps, rather surprising thought is born because for Duns Scotus the incarnation of the Son of God, projected from all eternity by God the Father in his plan of love, is the fulfillment of creation, and makes it possible for every creature, in Christ and through him, to be filled with grace and give praise and glory to God in eternity. Duns Scotus, though aware that, in reality, because of original sin, Christ has redeemed us with his passion, death and resurrection, confirms that the incarnation is the greatest and most beautiful work of the whole history of salvation, and that it is not conditioned by any contingent fact, but is the original idea of God to finally unite the whole of creation with himself in the person and flesh of the Son.

Duns Scotus, faithful disciple of St. Francis, loved to contemplate and preach the mystery of the salvific passion of Christ, expression of the immense love of God, who communicates with enormous generosity outside of himself the rays of his goodness and his love (cf. Tractatus de primo principio, c. 4). And this love is not only revealed on Calvary, but also in the Most Blessed Eucharist, to which Duns Scotus was most devoted and which he saw as the sacrament of the real presence of Jesus and as the sacrament of the unity and community that induces us to love one another and to love God as the supreme common good (cf. Reportata Parisiensia, in IV Sent., d. 8, q. 1, n. 3).

Not only the role of Christ in the history of salvation, but also Mary's [role] is the object of the reflection of the doctor subtilis. In Duns Scotus' times, the majority of theologians offered an objection that seemed insurmountable to the doctrine that Most Holy Mary was free from original sin from the first instant of her conception… [namely, that] the universality of the redemption wrought by Christ … [seems to compromise Mary's exemption from original sin,] as if Mary had no need of Christ and of his redemption. Because of this theologians were opposed to this thesis.

To make this preservation from original sin understood, Duns Scotus then developed an argument which later would also be adopted by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854 [cf. Ineffabilis Deus], when he defined solemnly the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. And this argument is that of the "preventive redemption," according to which the Immaculate Conception represents the masterpiece of the redemption wrought by Christ, because in fact the power of his love and of his mediation obtained that the Mother be preserved from original sin. Hence Mary is totally redeemed by Christ, but already before her conception.

… Valuable theologians, such as Duns Scotus with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, enriched with their specific thought what the People of God already believed spontaneously about the Blessed Virgin, manifested in acts of piety, in the expressions of art and, in general, in Christian living. Thus faith in the Immaculate Conception or in the bodily assumption of the Virgin was already present in the People of God, while theology had not yet found the key to interpret it in the totality of the doctrine of the faith. Thus the People of God precede theologians and all this thanks to that supernatural sensus fidei, namely, that capacity infused by the Holy Spirit….

Finally, Duns Scotus developed a point to which modernity is very sensitive. It is the topic of liberty and its relation with the will and with the intellect. Our author stresses liberty as a fundamental quality of the will, initiating an approach of a voluntaristic tendency, which developed in contrast with the so-called Augustinian and Thomistic intellectualism. For St. Thomas Aquinas, who follows St. Augustine, liberty cannot be considered an innate quality of the will, but the fruit of the collaboration of the will and of the intellect.

An idea of innate and absolute liberty placed in the will and preceding the intellect, whether in God or in man, risks, in fact, leading to the idea of a God who would not even be linked to the truth and to the good. …

If it is detached from truth, liberty becomes, tragically, a principle of destruction of the interior harmony of the human person, source of malversation of the strongest and the violent, and cause of suffering and mourning. Liberty, as all the faculties with which man is gifted, grows and is perfected, affirms Duns Scotus, when man opens himself to God, valuing that disposition of listening to his voice, which he calls potentia oboedientialis: When we listen to divine Revelation, to the Word of God, to accept it, then we have been reached by a message that fills our life with light and hope and we are truly free.

By and large, Mr. Faber, a proud Scotist, is pleased with Benedict's audience. As he says in his response thereto, Benedict XVI:

praised both the doctrine of the immaculate conception and that of the primacy of Christ; on this latter topic, apparently, … he has even changed his mind in endorsing Scotus' opinion. So there is much to be thankful for. We have moved away from the purely negative … portrayal found in the Regensburg address [Zenit LINK] to a more nuanced approach.

The passage to which I believe Mr. Faber refers is the following (emphasis added):

…in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God's voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God's freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which - as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated - unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language. God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf.

Mr. Faber continues:

I was personally impressed by the fact that he cited actual works of Scotus, an unusual departure from the usual pomo/thomist line, and even appears to know the difference between the Ordinatio, Reportatio, etc. All in all, quite impressive.

But he is still dead wrong on the will, I'm sad to say.

Faber explains:

Here we still have Scotus initiating some bad stuff, beginning a "tendency" to voluntarism. The actual tendency is locating freedom as a quality of the will. But Scotus doesn't do this; if freedom were a quality, it would have to be a habit (the only qualities that inhere in the will, after all), and habits are generally generated by repeated acts. Obviously, freedom isn't like this at all. According to Scotus, freedom actually consists in the affectio iustitiae, affection for justice, which is not a habit or an accident, but the ability to will something for its own sake, against the advantage of the willer. And ironically, the position that Benedict attributes to Aquinas, that liberty is the fruit of both the will and the intellect, is actually similar to that of Scotus; not as far as liberty is concerned, but as far as what actually generates acts of volitions.

Faber then cites Scotus's Lectura II d. 25 q. un n.69-70 (ed. vat. 19, 253-55) to explain his rejoinder to the Pope's address. Doctor subtilis dicit:

…I hold the middle way, that both the will and the object concur for causing the act of willing, so that the act of willing is from the will and from the object known as from an effective cause. But how can this be from the object? For the object has abstractive being in the intellect, and it is necessary that the agent is this-something and in act. Therefore [I] say that the intelle[c]t concurrs [sic] with the will under the aspect of effective cause – understanding the object in act – for causing the act of willing, and so, briefly, 'natura actu intelligens obiectum et libera' is the cause of willing and not-willing and in this consists free choice, whether this be said of us or of the angels.

Faber explains:

Yes, the will is free in that it can will against the suggestion of the intellect, and is the metaphysically "superior" power, but volition always follows intellection. The operation of the intellect is what supplies the objects for the will to will. Basically, as Scotus puts it, the intellect is an apprehensive power, apprehending, understanding, grasping, and so on, the object outside the knower in reality. The will is not such a power, but is only able to act on the basis of objects supplied to it by the intellect.

Faber concludes by saying,

A further issue is how Scotus can both be initiating troubling new voluntaristic tendencies but also following the standard tendencies found in the Franciscan tradition. The Franciscans were voluntarists long before Scotus, and as far as voluntarism is concerned, he's quite a moderate. … So to sum up, Benedict is showing increasing interest in Scotus, even changing some of his previous views under Scotus' influence; perhaps he just might canonize him next. He is quite happy to praise Scotus' views on the immaculate conception and the primacy of Christ, but remains critical, and uninformed, as to Scotus' actual doctrine on the will.

I think "the lightbulb went on" for me with Scotus when I read Fr. Keefe's Covenantal Theology, about which I have written many times before. I find it interesting also that Keefe's theology of the Incarnation, as intrinsically Eucharistic, also draw heavily on the writings of St. Francis de Sales (1567–1622), my patron saint. I addressed the Scotistic nature of St Francis's theologia incarnatione in a post about the doctrine of sola Scriptura. St. Francis is interesting to me in this respect, because, while his magnum opus, Treatise on the Love of God, draws extensively and deferentially on St Thomas Aquinatis, yet his theology of the Incarnation is more Scotistic. He embodies, therefore, a truly catholic theological method very appealing to me. I take to be less than mere coincidence that both Duns Scotus and I took a "St. Francis" as our spiritual fathers. Where that resonance of providence leads, we shall see.

Interestingly enough, here is a video of an English portion of Pope Benedict's address:

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