This page gives some brief biographical notes on Duns Scotus and Bonaventure and mentions of some modern interpreters of their works.
It also details of some other authors who have inspired me and have been shaping my thoughts on the relations between theology and science.
Scotus and Bonaventure, followers of Francis of Assisi
If it may seem a contradiction to follow the Poor Man of Assisi and then enter into great intellectual learning of the time, but their contribution to theology in dialogue with the materialist philosophy of Aristotle, along with others gave an intellectual undergirding of some of the things that Francis has said of God in more simple ways. It gave an undergirding for the study of nature, scriptures and the rites of the sacraments. It was actually part of the foundations of science and the quest to know more about the world as well as about God.
For most of Catholic history theology has been dominated by the works of the Dominican Thomas Aquinas. The Franciscan traditions that come from Bonaventure and Duns Scotus are being translated and re-discovered as alternative ways of interpretation of doctrine. They do not always agree with each other but point to alternative ways of viewing God and the divine interactions with the cosmos, its origins and the purpose of humanity. What we are and are intended to be.
St Bonaventure of Bagnorigio (ca 1221-15 July 1274)
He entered the Order of Friars Minor in 1243 (aged 22, so about 20 years after Francis death) and later became the Seventh Minister General. He was a highly influential teacher at the University of Paris that was one of greatest of the medieval universities of the age. He thus combined a great role as preacher and teacher and leader of the Franciscan movement.
He wrote a mixture of scholarly and devotional works. Among his most famousworks is a treatise on prayer “The mind’s journey to God”. In it he writes that one of the first stages of prayer is to use our senses and intellect to look the world. We can know something of God by what He reveals of Himself in the world. Creation reveals traces of God and is therefore a basis of our experiences of God and our reflection on what God is like. Another of his works “Breviloquium” is a kind of summary theology that I have also drawn upon.
The Blessed John Duns Scotus (c. 1265 –1308)
First in priority for this site, and after whom this site is named, but second in historical order.
Some details about his early life are sketchy but we know he was ordained priest with the Friars Minor at 25 (1291) about 70yrs after Francis. He was educated at a Franciscan school that had been formed at Oxford, where he later also became a leading teacher there. Some of his time was also spent at the great medieval university at Paris. He was only 43 when he died suddenly of a disease while visiting Cologne.
Scotus was very much the philosopher and academic theologian, perhaps more so than Bonaventure. Most of his works are arguments along philosophical and rational grounds but this perhaps misses the less obvious spiritual motives of a searching heart that lays behind the arguments. Out of love for God he was trying both to define and defend Christian doctrines with rational argument that would satisfy the intellect but also arouse the devotional feelings of the heart.
The things Scotus discusses go far beyond traditional Catholic theology and should rightly be of interest to people of Protestant and Reformed traditions too. Of great importance to me so far have been:
- His considerations of the nature of God as the origin of causality, both the initial origin of the world but causing things towards a purpose in Christ
- His linking of God’s causing things to the Incarnation in Christ as the most special pre-destined focus for the whole of creation quite apart from any need for salvation of humanity from sin.
- His examination of the relationships within the Trinity
- His recognition of rational argument towards defining God and defending the beliefs of the church, but also saying that we need God’s own revelation to get the fullest picture because our reasoning is not enough. Thus needing a wholist view of faith and reasoning in order to examine the world and take the best pathways in life.
- His extensive examination of what motivates us to goodness or selfish ends. That we may naturally be motivated towards our own concerns but we also can have motives far beyond that towards the Justice, Goodness and Love of God.
- His examination of the role of Christ as saviour, with God accepting the merits of Christ to cover our sin.
His writings have sophisticated argumentative style, answering simple questions with long examinations of arguments from other sources for and against the answers to a particular question. He is a hard read at the best of times and hence has been called “The Subtle Doctor”. Therefore I am profoundly thankful to those who have translated his works, written about him and interpreted his writings and given me some keys to unlock his thoughts. There is no way I could have even begun a study of Scotus without their published assistance. Even now with access to some English translations of his writings I would be lost without these other interpreters summarisng his great philosophical investigations and arguments. It seems to me a great a pity that unlike Bonaventure he did not seem to have written for less intellectual audiences and I have not come across any simple sermons or tracts for the less learned of us. Even so I still hope I can help rescue him from his sophisticated medieval obscurity and find some modern applications for theology and spirituality from him that can benefit us all.
Interpreters of Scotus
Richard Cross – Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame. He has written several publications on Duns Scotus including:
Duns Scotus on God
Mary Beth Ingham – Professor of Philosophical Theology at the Franciscan School of Theology. She has several publications on the 13C Franciscans including Duns Scotus.
The Harmony of Goodness (Duns Scotus)
Alan B. Wolter. Translations and comments on Scotus works
Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality
Duns Scotus. Philosophical writings
more general info:
Other Franciscan writers
Zachary Hayes – OFM, of the Sacred Heart Province, is a retired professor of systematic theology at the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, where he taught for thirty-seven years. He is the author of many books and articles.
Ilia Delio – Member of the Franciscan Servants of the Holy Child Jesus. She holds a doctorate in Pharmacology from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)- Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and a doctorate in Historical Theology from Fordham University where she wrote her dissertation on Bonaventure’s Christ mysticism. She has written extensively in the area of Franciscan theology and spirituality, with a particular emphasis on the theology of Bonaventure and Teilhard de Chardin, also on the subject of evolution related to Christology.
The Humility of God
Christ in Evolution
The Emergent Christ
Some other theologians and writers from more recent times.
These are the some authors from my major theological enquires of the past and who have had some influnence on my thoughts over many years and who have in fact led to the current study.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was one of the first theologians I came across in my 20’s who had been making the attempt to relate the theory of evolution to Catholic faith. He was born in Auvergne in France in 1881 and died in 1955. He was a biologist and palaeontologist of some renown and also a Jesuit priest. He thus approaches his theology from this science based background and was one of the first theologians to try and come to terms with theory of evolution. In this respect he made a great mark on theology although sometimes at odds with the Roman Catholic Church who tried to suppress his publications. It was only after his death that the Catholic church seems to have adopted him as a Catholic thinker. (How slow the Church has been , and often still is, to adopt thinking outside of its own dogmatic formulas. That applies Protestant and Reformed traditions as well ).
Hymn of the Universe
The Phenomenon of Man
Paul Tillich – (August 20, 1886 – October 22, 1965)
I first discovered him in my 20’s and found him useful, giving an existential interpretation of Christian faith and getting away from any kind of biblical literalism.
He was a German-American Christian Existentialist philosopher and theologian. He is best known for his major three-volume work Systematic Theology (1951–63), in which he developed his “method of correlation”, for exploring the symbols of Christian revelation as answers to the problems of human existence. I would not follow him too far in the direction of only seeing the things of faith as symbols but I found particular inspiration from his interpretation of the “Fall” (the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden) in terms of our Estrangement from our essential being. I also find much of value in his use of the formulation of faith and salvation in terms of New Being and that Christ is the Bringer of New Being. I have interpreted all these in my own way as our estrangement from our Intended Humanity and our need of salvation to make us a New Humanity. But there are other things in this that does not just apply to humanity alone, and I would give New Being more of a cosmic dimension.
Charles Gore (1853-1932)
Anglo-Catholic bishop and theologian who was controverisial in his time but may today seem quite mainstream in his views. I came across him after finding a second hand edition of his Bampton Lectures on the Incarnation. Although some may find him somewhat dated now I think his insights still have great value. He seems to set set a kind of Anglican middle way between science and revealed biblical truth.
Gore was an heir to the Catholic Oxford Movement that held a high place of scriptural authority and the church as guardian of scripture and doctrine related to it. But Gore was controversial in his critical view of scripture. He responded to what many biblical scholars were saying in European universities and he also wrote in response to scientific discoveries and in the wake of Darwin’s Evolution of Species by Natural Selection. The Old Testament in particular showed many historical problems did not hold up to more modern scrutiny in the light of science and history. He also raised questions that others were saying about the New Testament and how the gospels came to be written. He is a signpost for the kind of critical engagement between the world of scripture and the world we are coming to know through other kinds of knowledge and enquiry.
…The Gospels made no claim to infallibility; and that some at least of the Fathers of chief authority show, in their treatment of the Bible, a singular affinity with modern ideas.
Gore is however most famous for his views on the humanity of Jesus. It’s called “Kenotic Christology” (from the Greek word “Kenosis” = Emptied”) and comes from Phillipians 2. Gore argued that in the Incarnation the Divine Word when He took upon Himself the limitations of our human nature in Jesus, accepted the limitations of human knowledge. The divine Word empties Himself of power and knowledge in order to come among us and be servant. Christ in His Humanity was subject to human limitations of knowledge. The Word dwells in Jesus without taking away his humanity and self-will.
Jürgen Moltmann (born 8 April 1926)
German Reformed theologian who is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tubingen. He has been a major figure in modern theology and has made significant contributions to a number of areas of Christian theology.
I have in the past read several of his works including “God in Creation”, “The Crucified God” and “The Church in the Power of the Spirit”. I found particular inspiration from his view of Christ dying in solidarity with all things and dying the death that all creation suffers, and exploring the meaning of the life of Jesus Christ and what it means for Christ and the church to be “messianic”, and the church as the followers and continuation of the Way of Christ. Also of interest are his writing on God as Trinity, showing God as community of persons and a suffering God who suffers in creation, in contrast to past traditions that seem to make God incapable of suffering.
Karl Rahner (1904-1984)
German Jesuit Priest and theologian. Some of his initial works condemned by the papacy but were later accepted and influenced the Second Vatican Council. I have been exploring his Foundations of Christian Faith in what he writes about God, Man, Christ and salvation. Also his writing on The Trinity.
Of particular importance to me has been his concept of God as “self communicating” and the world as always potentially “self transcendence” with the inbuilt capacity to go beyond what it currently is. Ourselves as also involved in “self transcendence” in going beyond ourselves and what we are as a species and as individuals.
John Polkinghorne (born Oct 1930)
Hearing about him being both scientist and man of faith was an obvious attraction for my studies.
Theoretic Physicist and ordained Anglican priest. A prominent leading voice in relating modern science to Christian faith. He was professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge 1968-1979. Ordained priest in 1982. Things that he has written have encoraged me in my own explorations of science related to faith and bringing the two together.
Recent helpful book:
He is the editor of a series of essays by a number of authors; .(ed): The Work of Love (Creation and Kenosis)- a series of essays on various aspects on views of God in creation in self-emptying love and the freedom to creation to deveop and evolve.
Wolfart Pannenberg (1928 – 2014)
Another find in recent times, he was a German theologian who made signiificant contributions to modern theology and from my point of view his considerations about the relationship between science and faith in “Towards a theology of nature” in which he introduces the concept of a field of force as a model of God’s activity towards the universe. I intend to start dipping into his Systematic Theology.
A further extension of my ecumenical studies. Born Timothy Ware in 1934 he is an English bishop within the Eastern Orthodox church and is one of the best-known contemporary Eastern Orthodox theologians. From 1966 to 2001, Ware was Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford. He has authored numerous books and articles pertaining to the Orthodox Christian faith.