It is generally acknowledged that a high thirteenth-century evaluation of grace was replaced by a low fourteenth-century evaluation of grace. Thomas Aquinas is the standard representative of the former; William of Ockham is the standard representative of the latter. Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus (d. 1308) is often identified as the cause of or midway point in this shift, but this dissertation argues that this is the wrong way to narrate the development of the late medieval theology of grace. Scotus is clearly closer to Ockham than to Aquinas on many particular questions in the theology of grace (e.g., the real identity of grace and charity, the non-necessity and non-sufficiency of grace for glory, and generous use of the distinction between the absolute and ordained power of God). But when we consider the fundamental conception of the relationship between the orders of nature and grace, it is clearly the case that Scotus is closer to Aquinas than he is to Ockham. Scotus has as high an evaluation of grace as Aquinas does. Grace, for Aquinas and for Scotus, is a deifying participation in the divine nature, a venerable theme in the Christian tradition which finds no place in Ockham and many under his general influence.
Scotus is rightly viewed not as the initiation or cause of the low fourteenth-century theology of grace but as the last great contributor to the high thirteenth-century theology of grace. His primary contributions are made not with respect to the relationship between nature and grace but with respect to the relationship between grace and the Trinitarian missions—the Incarnation of the Son and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. While Scotus is often maligned for his reflection on possible alternative economies of salvation in which God saves without the Trinitarian missions, Scotus thinks that the affirmation of these alternatives is necessary not only to defend the transcendent freedom of God but to rightly locate the Trinitarian missions in the order of divine intentions. If God could have saved us without the Trinitarian missions, then the Trinitarian missions cannot be ultimately explained by our need for salvation. Further, given Scotus’s reflections on the perfection of the divine will, which never wills greater goods for the sake of lesser goods, it cannot be the case that the Trinitarian missions are explained by our need for salvation. Rather, the order of intelligibility must be precisely the other way around. For Scotus, the supreme goodness of the Trinitarian missions entails that they are necessarily intentionally primary. That is to say, Scotus thinks they are necessarily willed first in any possible created world in which they exist. That being the case, it must be the Trinitarian missions which serve as the source of intelligibility in any world in which God freely wills them. Scotus’s basic intuitions thus lead him to believe that the primary intention of God in creation was precisely to externalize His own Trinitarian life by sending the Son into our flesh and sending the Spirit through that flesh into a multitude of human beings, that they might together with Him constitute a mystical Body of God’s co-lovers. The Trinitarian missions are not willed for our sake; we and all else are willed for their sake. We exist, and we are saved because the Father desires a mystical Body with His Son as its Head and their Spirit as its animating principle.
Graduate Program in Religious Studies
Bruce D. Marshall
William J. Abraham
James K. H. Lee
Stephen D. Dumont
Religion, Theology/Religious Education
Number of Pages
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Kennard, Mitchell, "John Duns Scotus On the Trinitarian Center of the Graced Life" (2019). Religious Studies Theses and Dissertations. 13.
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