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«Christology and the ‘Scotist Rupture’ Abstract This essay engages the debate concerning the so-called ‘Scotist rupture’ from the point of ...»

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Theological Research ■ volume 1 (2013) ■ p. 31–63

Aaron Riches

Instituto de Filosofía Edith Stein

Instituto de Teología Lumen Gentium, Granada, Spain

Christology and the ‘Scotist Rupture’


This essay engages the debate concerning the so-called ‘Scotist rupture’ from

the point of view of Christology. The essay investigates John Duns Scotus’s de-

velopment of Christological doctrine against the strong Cyrilline tendencies

of Thomas Aquinas. In particular the essay explores how Scotus’s innovative doctrine of the ‘haecceity’ of Christ’s human nature entailed a self-sufficing conception of the ‘person’, having to do less with the mystery of rationality and ‘communion’, and more to do with a quasi-voluntaristic ‘power’ over oneself.

In this light, Scotus’s Christological development is read as suggestively con- tributing to make possible a proto-liberal condition in which ‘agency’ (agere) and ‘right’ (ius) are construed as determinative of what it means to be and act as a person.

Keywords John Duns Scotus, ‘Scotist rupture’, Thomas Aquinas, homo assumptus Christology 32 Aaron Riches Introduction In A Secular Age, Charles Taylor links the movement towards the self- sufficing ‘exclusive humanism’ characteristic of modern secularism with a  reallocation of popular piety in the thirteenth century.1 Dur- ing that period a shift occurred in which devotional practices became less focused on the cosmological glory of Christ Pantocrator and more focused on the particular humanity of the lowly Jesus. Taylor suggests that this new devotional attention to the particular human Christ was facilitated by the recently founded mendicant orders, especially the Franciscans and Dominicans, both of whom saw the meekness of God Incarnate reflected in the individual poor among whom the friars lived and ministered. In this context, a  new spiritual attention to the hu- man individuality of Jesus was manifest, whether in the realism of the paintings of Giotto (so deeply associated with Franciscan spirituality), or in the new liturgical feasts centred on the suffering body of Christ, such as the feast of the Five Wounds and that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (both of which were first celebrated in the thirteenth century by German Dominicans).2 The new devotional focus on the individual human Christ, in prin- ciple, confirmed and did not contradict orthodox Chalcedonianism, that in the Incarnation the divine Logos hypostatically assumed a fully human nature as his own. Already in the early eight century John of Damascus held that the human nature assumed in Christ was assumed in atomo, that is, in individual form.3 The hypostatic union was thus construed to have occurred in the assumption of this human nature and not of human nature in the abstract. Nevertheless,the new spiritual focus occasioned by the mendicants’ piety drew fresh attention to the paradox of the relation of the universal and the particular, unity and difference, in the doctrine of the hypostatic union of the divine Logos of all things incarnated in a particular human being.

1 Charles Taylor, A  Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007), pp. 90–145.

2 See Josef Stierli, ‘Devotion to the Sacred Heart from the End of Patristic

Times Down to St. Margaret Mary’, in Josef Stierli (ed), The Heart of the Saviour:

A  Symposium on Devotion to the Sacred Heart, trans. Paul Andrews SJ (London:

Herder and Herder, 1958), pp. 59–108, esp. pp. 77–84.

3 John of Damascus, De fide orthodoxa 3.11 (PG 94.1024A).

Christology and the ‘Scotist Rupture’ 33 In this devotional context, Dominican Christology in the person of St Thomas Aquinas recommitted itself to affirming the traditional priority of the universal over the particular even within this new focus of piety on the particular humanity of Jesus. For Aquinas, in Cyrilline fashion, whatever particular ‘humanness’ there is in Jesus, this particularity ‘is’ only in virtue of the hypostatic union: even while Christ assumed a  human nature in atomo, the term of individuation of this human nature resides wholly in the divine filiation of the eternal Son.4 Thus, even while Jesus is a  particular human (in atomo), nevertheless, he is not a human suppositum – he ‘is’ the Logos of God.5 In this way Dominican Christology remained highly paradoxical. Franciscan Christology, by contrast, tended to confront the perceived aporia more directly, ambitiously rethinking the ontological status of the particular humanity of the Incarnate Son.6 This can perhaps already be seen in St Bonaventure, who reconceived the status of the traditional rationes aeternae (the universal Platonic forms) as residing fully ‘in’ the individuated human nature of Jesus.7 By contrast, the traditional conception of the rationes aeternae had tended to understand them, not so much ‘in’ the individuated human Jesus, but rather ‘in’ the person of the universal Logos (as Maximus the Confessor would have it, the many logoi are the one Logos and the one Logos is the many logoi).8 4 Aquinas, Summa theologiae III, q. 4, a. 2.

5 Cf. Aquinas, Summa theologiae III q. 4, a. 2, ad 1; ad 2; and a. 5 ad 2.

6 Cf. Louis Dupré, Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of nature and Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), pp. 36–41.

7 See Bonaventure, In Sententias I, dist. 3, pt. 1, q. 1, ad 5.

8 For the doctrine of the logoi in the Logos, see Maximus the Confessor, Ambiguum 7 (PG 91.1068D-1101C). The consequences of Bonaventure’s reconception of the rationes aeternae is beyond the scope of this essay; however, Louis Dupré has suggested that it is precisely from henceforth that devotion to the particular ‘human Jesus’ could now in principle elide speculative knowledge in favour of knowledge of a concrete particular. The result of this shift, on Dupré’s view, is that cognition now comes to consist ‘in uniting a created image with its personal archetype, Christ, the synthesis of all ideas’ (Passage to Modernity, p. 38). Thus Dupré suggests that the divine paradigms came to reside ‘in’ a particular such that they could now be ‘grasped’ in a way hitherto unconceivable. Under this condition knowledge could be reconfigured away from the mystical path of ‘stretching towards’ the


uncircumscribability of the universal, towards ‘grasping’ the singularity of circumscribed particulars. This situation is connected to how Lydia Schumacher, in another context, has suggested that illumination in Bonaventure, far from being simply an Augustinian renewal, is in fact a significant innovation on Augustine’s 34 Aaron Riches The daring innovation occurred, however, not with Bonaventure, but a generation after him, when Bl John Duns Scotus posed a question for which Aquinas – inhabiting the high paradox of his doctrine of the Incarnation – had no need to raise: How can a divine person assume a human nature without assuming its normal human suppositum? That is, how does Christ assume a human nature in atomo without assuming the ontological conditions of a particular human person?

Boldly raising this perplexity at the heart of the traditional doctrine of the hypostatic union, Scotus sought to resolve it by granting new ontological significance to the particular human nature of the Incarnate Son, while attempting at the same time to clarify the terms in which this particular human nature nevertheless failed to be a person or posess its own suppositum. This article concerns the solution Scotus offered to the legitimate perplexity he raised. In this article I will argue that, even while Scotus’s perplexity was legitimate, his manner of resolving it risked transforming devotional attention to the individual Christ into a means of underwriting a subjective self-sufficiency based doctrine, and more, that it anticipates the later Scotist rejection of illumination all together (Divine Illumination: The History and Future of Augustine’s Theory of Knowledge [Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011]). On Schumacher’s view, Bonaventure installs a ‘metaphysics of exemplarity’ to replace the traditional ‘metaphysics of participation’, represented for her by Anselm and Augustine. On the Bonaventurian scheme, according to Schumacher, ‘knowing’ is reconfigured in a way that anticipates the shift to epistemology insofar as it now approximates something more along the lines of the grasp of individual ‘facts’ rather than the way of fides quaerens intellectum.

All this can be contrasted with the noetic way of Aquinas, for whom the journey of the mind is not one of discrete apprehensions, but rather a total illumination of the mind towards the horizon of unequalisable truth. This leads John Milbank to suggest that Bonaventure ‘both apriorises the presence of illumination in the human mind and tends to reduce the divine causation of human mental light to mere efficiency’ (‘The Grandeur of Reason and the Perversity of Rationalism: Radical Orthodoxy’s First Decade’, in Simon Oliver and John Milbank [eds], The Radical Orthodoxy Reader [London: Routledge, 2009], pp. 367–404, at p. 380). On Milbank’s reading, Bonaventure turns out to be less committed to participation than Aquinas, which, in turn, suggests that the Seraphic Doctor already anticipated Scotus’s ‘break’ with the metaphysics of participation and illumination, and its replacement with a univocal conception of being on the one hand and an epistemology of ‘representation’ on the other. Cf. Jacob Schmutz, ‘La doctrine médiévale des causes et la théologie de la nature pure (xiii e – xvii e siècles)’, Revue Thomiste 101 (2001), pp. 217–264; and John Milbank, The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural (London: SCM, 2005), pp. 93–97.

Christology and the ‘Scotist Rupture’ 35 on a construal of the person as an exigency of the self to act on his or her own initiative. In other words, Scotus’s solution, it would seem, contributed to ‘make possible’ a  Christian construal of the person in terms of an autonomy of the self in ‘affective-volitional and cognitive relations with God and others’.9 To this end, the essay aims at a Christological contribution to the emerging theological consensus concerning what Olivier Boulnois has termed the ‘Scotist rupture’.10 The Scotist Rupture Following the provocative study of Étienne Gilson,11 a diverse company of theologians have come to identify Duns Scotus as a transitional figure in the move towards a ‘proto-liberal’ or ‘proto-secular’ construal of created being and the exigency of the creature to act autonomously.12 9 David L. Schindler, Heart of the World, Center of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), p. 227. Schindler’s theological critique of liberalism does not name Scotus as a genealogical forerunner of the liberal subject.

10 Olivier Boulnois, ‘Reading Duns Scotus: From History to Philosophy’, trans. F. C. Bauerschmidt, Modern Theology 21 (2005), pp. 603–608, at p. 604. And see Boulnois, Être et Représentation, Une généalogie de la métaphysique moderne à l’époque de Duns Scot (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1999), and Duns Scot, la rigueur de la charité (Paris: Le Cerf, 1998).

11 Étienne Gilson, Jean Duns Scot: Introduction à ses Positions Fondamentales (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1952).

12 See Catherine Pickstock, ‘Duns Scotus: His Historical and Contemporary Significance’, Modern Theology 21 (2005), pp. 543–584, and After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), pp. 121–140; Conor Cunningham, Genealogy of nihilism: Philosophies of nothing and the Difference of Theology (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 16–58; John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, Second Edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), pp. xxivxxvi and 305; Dupré, Passage to Modernity, pp. 170 and 189; Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol. 5, The Realm of Metaphysics in the Modern Age, eds. Joseph Fessio SJ and John Riches, trans. Oliver Davis, Andrew Louth, Brian McNeil CRV, John Saward and Rowan Williams (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), pp. 9–21; Olivier Boulnois, ‘Quand Commence L’Ontothéologie?

Aristote, Thomas d’Aquin et Duns Scot’, Revue Thomiste 95 (1995), pp. 84–108, and ‘Analogy’, in Jean-Yves Lacoste, Encyclopedia of Christian Theology, vol. 1, A-F (New York: Routledge, 2005), pp. 27–30; Servais Pinckaers OP, ‘Capreolus’s Defence of Aquinas: A Medieval Debate about the Virtues and Gifts’, in The Pinckaers Reader: Renewing Thomistic Moral Theology, eds. John Berkman and Craig Steven Titus (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2005), pp. 304–321; Rudy te Velde, ‘natura In 36 Aaron Riches Central to conceiving this ‘Scotist rupture’ is the option of Scotus on behalf of a  univocal conception of being. Following Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna), Scotus held that metaphysics is the science of being qua being (ens in quantum ens).13 Beyond Ibn Sīnā, Scotus specified for himself that ‘being’ ought to signify the fundamental concept of whatever ‘is’ in its ‘minimal common structure’14 – that is, ‘being’, for Scotus, is prior conceptually to every distinction of being, including the distinction that maintains between God and creatures.15 In this way, Scotus sought to articulate a metaphysical vision that could be construed in contradistinction to the ‘analogical’ view of Thomas Aquinas.16 It is not that Scotus held that God and creatures ‘are’ in exactly the same sense; he did not. And therefore he did not hold that being itself is univocal.

Rather for Scotus, if we are to think ‘metaphysically’, then we must conceptualise being in a mode that is univocal to all things that ‘are’.

Within the realm of metaphysical speculation, therefore, Scotus held Seipsa Recurva Est: Duns Scotus and Aquinas on the Relationship between Nature and Will’, in E. P. Bos (ed), John Duns Scotus (1265/6–1308): Renewal of Philosophy (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998), pp.

155–170; David Burrell CSC, Faith and Freedom:

An Interfaith Perspective (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), pp. 91–112; Matthew Levering,

Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical Interpretation (Notre Dame, IN:

University of Notre Dame Press, 2008), pp. 17–35; and Adrian Pabst, Metaphysics:

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