It is the 8th of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1308. Today we will remember a man known as the "Hercules of the Papists" who died on this day in this year. But before we get to one of the more fascinating characters of the Medieval church, we will do well to look at the church this man left in 1308.
The 1200s were a heady time for the church. With the works of Aristotle recently "rediscovered," many would attempt to synthesize Greek philosophy and Christian theology. This would lead to the age of "scholasticism." Scholasticism, while it sounds highfalutin', could be used in ways that helped illuminate the world, how we understand the world, and our faith. It would devolve into the parody of monks asking how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.
Thomas Aquinas and the 4th Lateran Council have all the hallmarks of Medieval scholasticism. The 4th Lateran council established the doctrine of transubstantiation, self-consciously using Aristotle's terminology and distinctions. Thomas Aquinas would rarely reference Aristotle by name. instead, he referred to him as merely "the Philosopher."
Scholasticism would come to dominate the church such that by the time of the Reformation, some thought that to do away with scholasticism would be the answer to doing away with problematic doctrine. Hence, one of the chief scholastics would be called the "Hercules of the Papists" by Reformation minded Englishmen.
This Hercules was John Duns Scotus, who died on this, the 8th of November, in 1308. We know very little about his life. All we know is that his name was John. The "duns" part of his name simply referred to his village, and the "Scotus" part was a signifier that John was from Scotland. A 14th-century chronicle simply reads, "John Duns was a Scot, from Duns, who belonged to the English province of Friars Minor (the order founded by Francis of Assisi), that "he flourished at Cambridge, Oxford, and Paris and died in Cologne."
Despite this little knowledge of his life, there is no arguing his significant role in medieval doctrine development. He codified the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. A note to my fellow Protestants: this is the birth of Mary, not Jesus. I know you know… but you'd be surprised. Scotus' theology inferred that she too would have to be free from sin to birth one who was sinless.
He was known as the "subtle doctor" for his seemingly obscure but essential points about God's doctrine and revelation. If you're interested in digging deeper, Scotus' nominalism would be a key point for him and later detractors. But for the Almanac, it is perhaps important to know that Dun Scotus wanted to bring back the wild world of wizardry to the medieval church. At least, he thought that pointy wizard hats looked a lot cooler than the stuffy academic caps that they were then wearing. His followers took up the pointy wizard hats, and when John Duns Scotus fell out of favor, these hats took on a different meaning. Known as "Duns" caps, they were a feature of school punishment for centuries.
Today we remember this important theologian, Hercules of the Papists, John Duns Scotus, who died on this, the 8th of November in 1308.
"The foolishness of God" by Luci Shaw (1 Cor 1:20-25)
or perish. Thrust out now
the unseasonal ripe figs
among your leaves. Expect
the mountain to be moved.
Hate parents, friends, and all
materiality. Love every enemy.
Forgive more times than seventy-
seven. Camel-like, squeeze by
into the kingdom through
the needle's eye. All fear quell.
Hack off your hand, or else,
unbloodied, go to hell.
Thus the divine unreason.
Despairing now, you cry
with earthy logic – How?
And I, your God, reply:
Leap from your weedy shallows.
Dive into the moving water.
Eyeless, learn to see
truly. Find in my folly your
true sanity. Then Spirit-driven,
run on my narrow way, sure
as a child. Probe, hold
my unhealed hand, and
bloody, enter heaven.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by the subtle roaster, the Wizard of Wisconsin, and scholasticism's scourge, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true… Everything is going to be ok.