Numerous detailed surveys of Scotus’s life and writings have appeared over the course of modern scholarship, but the most standard of these is now nearly 20 years old.Footnote 1 In that time, major works of Scotus have been published and advances made in our understanding of his academic career. These include the completion of the monumental edition of Scotus’s Oxford commentaries and a more accurate understanding of the institutions and procedures governing the stages of Scotus’s studies and teaching. An updated account of Scotus’s life and works highlighting these more recent advances is certainly warranted.
Aside from Scotus’s works themselves, only a few, scattered documents yield precise information about his life and career. This situation has been aggravated by historical myth and scholarly misunderstanding. Most notably, an earlier scholarship took otherwise unknown details of Scotus’s family and early life from an eighteenth-century chronicle known as the Monasticon Scoticanum. Unfortunately, this work was subsequently shown to have been an elaborate and deliberate fabrication of Scottish history by its erratic compiler, Marianus Brockie.Footnote 2 On the other hand, recent findings have improved upon Scotus’s standard biography. These include a corrected understanding of the relationship between the academic programs in religious houses and universities, the dissolution of the myth of Scotus’s Cambridge lectures, and a reassessment of the canonical assumption that bachelors of theology at Paris lectured for 2 years.
I EARLY LIFE
Except for a short manuscript colophon discussed below, no documents exist concerning Scotus’s early life, entry into the Order, or pre-university education. To supply this information, much of twentieth-century scholarship turned unwittingly to the detailed fabrications of the Brockie forgeries and then attempted to correlate them with the cryptic regulations of the Orders and universities. The resulting picture of Scotus’s career was a mix of historical fiction and scholarly speculation that has yet to be fully sorted out. To begin with what is certain, Scotus’s nationality was Scottish, as attested by manuscripts as well as by a royal census taken during his theologate in Paris.Footnote 3 His surname ‘Duns’ refers to the Scottish town near the English border. As discussed below, it is estimated that Scotus was born in 1265 or early 1266 based on the record of his ordination to the priesthood. Where or at what age he entered the Franciscan Order is not known, since previously reported details depended entirely upon Brockie. Judging from his contemporaries, it is likely that Scotus entered the Order young, possibly at the minimal age of fifteen set by the Narbonne constitutions of 1260.Footnote 4 A number of notable Franciscan theologians in England contemporary with Scotus are attested to having entered the Order even as pueri, that is, thirteen or younger, and Scotus himself makes a remark that suggests this might have been common practice.Footnote 5 Although Scottish in nationality, Scotus as a Franciscan belonged to the province of England, a fact specified in manuscripts of his works.Footnote 6 That is, in this early period of its history, the Order treated its convents in Scotland as falling within the northern custody of Newcastle of its English province, a fact once again obscured by the fabrications of Brockie.Footnote 7 Thus, wherever Scotus entered the Franciscans, he passed into the Order’s educational network of studia for England, thereby opening a path to his degree studies in theology at Oxford and, ultimately, to being sent to Paris for his doctorate.While, as mentioned, we have no direct information concerning Scotus’s entrance into the Order and early education, one commonly cited account should be abandoned. After the Brockie forgeries had been exposed, scholars sought out another historical chronicle for information about Scotus’s earlier formation. In this case, they turned to the sixteenth-century History of Great Britain by John Major, the Scottish theologian who printed Scotus’s Parisian lectures for the first time.Footnote 8 In his History, Major gives a short account of Scotus’s early life that has been generally taken up in the literature:
When no more than a boy, but having begun grammar, Scotus was taken by two Scottish Franciscan friars to Oxford, because at that time there existed no university in Scotland. By the favor of those two friars he lived in the Franciscan convent at Oxford and entered into the Order of Blessed Francis.Footnote 9
Despite an impression of authenticity imparted by its details, Major’s above story is entirely anachronistic. As just indicated, in Scotus’s lifetime Scotland fell within the Franciscan province of England as part of its northern custody of Newcastle. That is, despite his Scottish origin, Scotus as a Franciscan belonged to the province of England. He thus had access to Oxford University by way of the Order’s studia system of its English province. Major’s explanation for why Scotus was taken as a boy directly to Oxford—that there was no university in Scotland—is thus wholly irrelevant. Moreover, the early education of young entrants into the Order during Scotus’s time occurred at their local convent or custodial school, not at a studium generale. In particular, there is no evidence that in the thirteenth century the Oxford convent had a school for young boys.Footnote 10 Finally, it is hardly plausible that in the 1280s the Order would have given a boy still in grammar school consideration for the exceedingly rare case of a degree at a university. It is therefore obvious that Major, writing two centuries after the fact, had no historical understanding of the Order’s studia system into which Scotus entered or its relationship to Oxford University proper. Major’s credibility is further eroded by his ensuing, fictional account of Scotus’s teaching career. According to Major, Ockham heard Scotus lecture at Oxford and then accompanied him to Paris!Footnote 11 Finally, as discussed below, Major’s account is also contradicted by the only known, contemporary reference to Scotus’s early academic career. It asserts that Scotus went to Oxford not as a boy (puellus) but as an adult (floruit) and not directly but only after having first gone to Cambridge. The biographical testimony of Major concerning Scotus, therefore, cannot be considered any more reliable than that of Brockie.
The Franciscan educational system into which Scotus entered, and to which all of our direct knowledge of his life is tied, comprised two distinct institutions.Footnote 12 The first was the Order’s own network of schools or studia that operated at both the local (studia particularia) and provincial (studium generale) levels. In this way, the Order provided and regulated the education needed to achieve its pastoral missions, train its teachers, and, at the highest level, produce leaders for the Order and church. At the local or “custodial” level, younger entrants would be instructed in Latin grammar, logic and some elementary theology. More capable students were sent for advanced instruction in philosophy.Footnote 13 The highest level of education within the mendicant system, to be achieved by a few, was training as a lecturer in theology. This instruction was given at a studium generale, that is, a school serving its entire home province as well as other provinces of the Order. In Scotus’s time, the most important places for this advanced level of training in theology were the Order’s houses of study in Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge. Of these, the Parisian studium generale was the most international and important, with the Order providing for two students from every province to study there for 4 years in its lectorate program.Footnote 14 The Parisian lectorate program was important for two reasons. First, it ensured a supply of well-trained instructors and administrators back to the various provinces. Second, as discussed in more detail below, it enabled a few, very select friars to qualify for a degree program in theology at the University of Paris proper. The Oxford studium generale was next in importance, having developed quickly under the initial guidance of a series of renowned university masters beginning with Robert Grosseteste. The Cambridge Franciscan studium, while also important, was slower to develop and relied on Oxford-trained theologians into the fourteenth century.Footnote 15 As we shall see, Scotus was exceptional in having studied or taught at all three of these major studia generalia.
The system of education described above was internal to and regulated by the Franciscan and other mendicant Orders. Separate from these mendicant networks of studia were universities in the strict sense of a corporation of masters and students comprising the faculties of arts, theology, law, and medicine, each with their own stringent regulations for admission, degrees and obligations.Footnote 16 These two distinct—and often contentious—educational institutions interacted when the Orders would send a very few from their studia programs to universities for doctoral degrees in theology, who would then become themselves regent masters in that faculty. Such advancement to a university degree was a rare outcome of mendicant studia. When it did occur, it was typically after the friar had first taught or served in the Order for several years, demonstrated conspicuous talent, and had an influential promoter. In Scotus’s time, obtaining a doctoral degree in theology meant going either to the University of Paris or Oxford, where in each case the Franciscans had already secured a faculty chair. Unlike their secular counterparts, however, mendicant masters of theology would hold their university chairs for only 1 or 2 years to allow for the promotion of the next friar and to assume teaching posts in the studia or high offices in the Order and church.
All of our hard, documentary evidence bearing on the life of Scotus comes from his later, university years at Oxford and especially at Paris, where he became master of theology. It is his earlier life and education—roughly the 10 years or so prior to his verified presence at Oxford for which we have no documentation—that has been the object of speculation and historical fabrication of Brockie and Major. There are, however, two pieces of evidence that enable a more consistent and well-founded reconstruction of Scotus’s earlier life and education. The first is the recent, more accurate understanding of the Franciscan lectorate program described above. The second is a short curriculum vitae of Scotus entered into one of the oldest manuscripts of his works surviving at Oxford.
III LECTORATE PROGRAMAs indicated above, the Order provided the cost for every province to send two friars to its convent in Paris to study in its lectorate program and further allowed an additional two at the expense of the province itself.Footnote 17 (Again, this internal program was entirely separate from the Order’s decision to send a candidate to the University of Paris for a degree in theology, which rotated yearly among the provinces and was determined by the Minister General.) The Parisian lectorate program was perhaps the oldest, largest, and most expensive educational initiative undertaken by the early Order. Already in existence in the 1240s, the administrative particulars of the 4-year Parisian lectorate were formally set out in the Narbonne constitutions of 1260 under Bonaventure and then reasserted in nearly identical terms in the subsequent legislation of Assisi (1279), Strasbourg (1282), Milan (1289) and Paris (1292).Footnote 18 That is, this program was in existence and remained unchanged across Scotus’s lifetime.
Those to be sent to the general studium in Paris should have studied for two or three years after the novitiate in a studium of their own or neighboring province, unless they have been so well educated that they could be sent directly after their novitiate. However, they should be sent only on the authority of the provincial minister with the advice and consent of the provincial chapter. … Those sent to Paris should study for at least four years, unless they make such progress that they are rightly judged capable of performing the duties of a lector.Footnote 19
The above statute stipulates that the selected friar is to be sent to Paris after the 2 or 3 years of schooling in his province following his novitiate year, i.e., the preliminary period of study and reflection prior to a final decision to enter the Order.Footnote 20 Since the regulation allows for sending an already educated candidate to Paris immediately (continuo) after the novitiate, the apparent intent of the Order was to enroll a qualified friar in the lectorate program while still young. This implies, given the Order’s admission of younger members, that a friar in the lectorate would normally be sent to the Order’s Parisian convent in their early twenties and would typically remain at Paris until their mid or late twenties.Footnote 21 As the above statute states, the purpose of the Parisian program was to render the candidate qualified to carry out the duties of a lector, i.e., to return to his home province and teach in its studia.Footnote 22 That is, at this stage, there would be no thought of a friar going from his lectorate years at Paris immediately into doctoral studies in theology at the University. Indeed, as mentioned, if a degree at Paris came at all, it would be the decision of the Minister General made only after the candidate had returned for service in his home province.
How does this fit with what little we know of Scotus’s early life? As it turns out, whether or not Scotus studied at Paris prior to pursuing his doctorate at the University has long been a disputed point of his biography. Nearly a century ago both André Callebaut and A. G. Little held that Scotus likely had a pre-doctoral period at Paris, with Little arguing that such was necessary to satisfy Parisian requirements to lecture on the Sentences. They both dated this earlier Parisian period from the mid to late 1290s.Footnote 23 Against this view, C. K. Brampton, joined by Allan Wolter, later argued that nothing in the statutes required Scotus to have studied earlier at Paris and discounted that he went there prior to beginning his doctorate in 1302.Footnote 24 Fortunately, recent advances in our understanding of the Franciscan lectorate program have provided some clarity on its application to Scotus, generally concluding that he had an earlier Parisian period.
Building on observations made by A. G. Little, William Courtenay has shown in a seminal study that the Franciscan lectorate program at Paris did not merely provide training for lectors in the Order.Footnote 25 It also played a crucial role in enabling prospective candidates to meet the Parisian residency requirements for the university degree in theology. The statutory prerequisite at the University of Paris for lecturing on Lombard’s Sentences—the last major step before proceeding to the doctoral exercises—was indeed formidable: some 7 or 8 years of theological study and lecturing on the Bible.Footnote 26 Understandably, the mendicant Orders sought exceptions to this onerous requirement given that their candidates would have already spent years studying and teaching theology in their provincial studia. Why should they have to repeat their previous years of theological study at Paris? About 1290, Giles of Rome, while regent master at Paris, secured just such an exception for the Augustinians. It allowed the theological residency requirement to be fulfilled by theological study in the Order’s studia as long as at least 4 years of it were carried out in Paris. As Courtenay argues, it does not seem that the younger Augustinian Order—Giles of Rome was its first Parisian master of theology—would have been granted such a privilege unless it had already been allowed for the larger and more established Franciscans and Dominicans.Footnote 27 Indeed, some years later, Giles of Rome reminded John of Murrovalle, a Parisian master himself and former Franciscan Minister General, that this exception had been granted to his Order during his time at Paris. That is, by about 1290 the Franciscans had obtained a privilege that allowed the 4 years of their Parisian lectorate program, which the Order had in place since the mid-thirteenth century, to fulfill the residency requirement in theology for admission to read the Sentences at the University of Paris. Against this background, Courtenay concludes with Little that, although there is no direct evidence attesting to an earlier period for Scotus in Paris, it nevertheless “rests on safe inferences”.Footnote 28
The present consensus, then, is that Scotus participated in the lectorate program at Paris. Indeed, as shown below, Scotus began lecturing on the Sentences immediately upon his arrival at Paris in the fall of 1302. Therefore, absent some unknown privilege, he must have previously fulfilled the Parisian residency requirement by spending 4 years in the lectorate under the agreement secured by the mendicants more than a decade earlier. Given all of this is the case, when was Scotus’s lectorate period in Paris?
As mentioned, Callebaut and Little had placed Scotus’s earlier Parisian stay from the mid-1290s to as late as 1297.Footnote 29 They, however, were unaware of Scotus’s earlier lectures at Oxford on the Sentences, the Lectura, which he would have given in the late 1290s. Moreover, the lectorate does not appear to be intended for friars already in their thirties. More recent scholarship has moved the period of Scotus’s lectorate to about 1286–90, just prior to his documented presence in Oxford in March 1291. This dating was supported by Scotus’s apparently early acquaintance with Gonsalvus of Spain, who was himself in Paris during this time as a bachelor of the Sentences. It would therefore account for Gonsalvus’s later statement, examined below, that he knew Scotus “from long experience” as well as Scotus’s apparent use of material from Gonsalvus in the construction of his own questions on the De anima.Footnote 30
A further, and perhaps more significant, circumstance supports the mid to late 1280s as the likely period for Scotus’s Parisian lectorate. As stated, the selection of a friar to read the Sentences and pursue the doctorate in theology at Paris was not made by the province, as was the case with the lectorate, but by the Minister General. Since only one candidate from all the provinces was sent to Paris for the doctorate each year, selection in practice required having come to the attention of the Minister General.Footnote 31 John of Murrovalle was the Minister General who sent Scotus to Paris to read the Sentences. What connection, if any, did he have to Scotus? Murrovalle was one of the most prominent Franciscans in the later thirteenth century. He read the Sentences at Paris about 1283 and quickly ascended in the Order. While still a bachelor of theology in 1284 he was one of the authors of the so-called Letter of the Seven Seals that resulted in the censure of Peter John Olivi. Promoted to master in 1288, he was regent until 1290, when he was made lector of the Sacred Palace. Having followed an established path for advancement in the Order, Murrovalle was elected Minister General in 1292, an office he held until 1304.Footnote 32
Based on the above reconstruction of Scotus’s lectorate, the mid-to-late 1280s would have coincided exactly with John of Murrovalle’s period as a bachelor and promotion to master. Scotus presumably would have attended Murrovalle’s lectures, disputations, sermons and other academic functions obligatory for a senior bachelor of the Sentences and regent master. In fact, in his Oxford Sentences Scotus cites Murrovalle’s distinctive position on free will held by him and publicly attacked at Paris in 1287/88.Footnote 33 All of this is consistent with placing Scotus’s Parisian lectorate about in the mid to late 1280s.
Current scholarship accepts, with refinements, a biographical fact about Scotus that was noted more than a century ago, namely, that he took part in the Order’s lectorate program at Paris prior to pursuing theological studies at Oxford. Such a prior lectorate at Cordeliers accounts for two factors necessary for a Franciscan of the period to have become a master of theology at Paris. It enabled Scotus to fulfill the Parisian residency requirement for lecturing on the Sentences and brought him to the attention of the two Minister Generals responsible for such decisions within the Order: John of Murrovalle, who selected Scotus to read the Sentences at Paris, and Gonsalvus Hispanus, who recommended his subsequent promotion to master. Disturbing this coherent account is the only piece of direct evidence we possess of Scotus’s early life. It is a statement that prior to his theologate at Oxford, he was at Cambridge, not Paris.
IV CAMBRIDGEThe only surviving document concerning Scotus’s life before he went for doctoral studies at Oxford is a brief biographical statement identified nearly a century ago. This is the famous annotation in Oxford, Merton College, ms. 66 that asserts Scotus was at Cambridge before going to Oxford:Footnote 34
These are from the Ordinatio of venerable brother John Duns of the Franciscan Order, who flourished at Cambridge, Oxford and Paris and died in Cologne.Footnote 35
Merton College, ms. 66 contains books I and IV of Duns Scotus’s great Oxford commentary on the Sentences known as the Ordinatio and is one of the oldest surviving copies of that work.Footnote 36 The manuscript was owned in succession by two early fourteenth-century Mertonians from whom it passed into the College library.Footnote 37 From the dates of its owners, the manuscript can be estimated to have been produced in Oxford about 1325. The above statement terminates a table of questions for book IV inserted by the same scribe, but different from the one who wrote the main text. Nevertheless, this later scribe has inserted numerous corrections and passages into the margins from other authoritative copies of the Ordinatio.Footnote 38 In one case, the scribe of the above annotation adds text he says he found among the quaterns of Scotus’s own copy of the Ordinatio itself.Footnote 39 Thus, the antiquity and Oxford provenance of the manuscript, as well as the authority of its scribe, support the accuracy of the above statement. It clearly asserts in chronological order the principal stages of Scotus’s advanced education and teaching career: Cambridge, Oxford, Paris and Cologne. This seemingly straightforward statement of Scotus’s academic life has nevertheless been the object of much confusion and speculation ever since its first identification.
André Callebaut, who first drew attention to the annotation, postulated that Scotus taught at Cambridge in the mid-1290s, but that conflicts with our present knowledge that Scotus was in theological studies at Oxford during that period.Footnote 40 Further confusion arose when the Vatican editors argued that Scotus had a Cambridge commentary on the first book of the Sentences, a so-called Lectura Cantabrigiensis, which they explicitly connected to the above Merton remark.Footnote 41 This alleged Cambridge commentary, however, turned out to be a fiction. In reality, it was simply a version of Scotus’s Parisian lectures, a fact explicitly asserted in both of its surviving manuscripts but inexplicably ignored by scholars.Footnote 42 Finally, the Merton statement has also been invoked to refer to a later Cambridge stay during Scotus’s expulsion from Paris for the academic year 1303–04, which period is discussed below.Footnote 43 This, however, arbitrarily violates the chronology itself given in the annotation, which is otherwise accurate.
Even apart from all the previous scholarly confusion, the Merton statement appears to pose a further difficulty for our above reconstruction of Scotus’s Parisian lectorate. It seems to place Scotus at Cambridge between his lectorate at Paris and the start of his Oxford theologate in 1290/1291. This would not seem likely given the commonly accepted facts about his age, making Scotus too young for the lectorate. Nevertheless, an intervening period at Cambridge is possible, if two further facts are considered. First, as shown below, Scotus’s ordination record indicates that he was almost certainly older by a few years than traditionally accepted. This would allow Scotus’s Parisian lectorate to be shifted somewhat earlier, say about 1283/84–1287/88. The second consideration is the obligation of the returning friar to his home province after his lectorate.
As indicated, after their lectorate in Paris, friars were called back to their home province to render an account of their activities and expenditures and undertake the officium lectoris, i.e., begin teaching.Footnote 44 Allowing that Scotus was slightly older than generally assumed, his 4-year Parisian lectorate would have ended about 1287 or 1288. As shown below, Scotus was certainly in the Oxford convent by early 1291 to begin his doctorate in theology. Given all of this, the above colophon, if accurate, appears to indicate that when Scotus returned to his home province of England from his Parisian lectorate, he was not sent directly to Oxford to begin his doctoral studies. Rather, he was sent first to Cambridge for a 2- or 3-year period as a lector or, perhaps, further studies. If this was the case, what could Scotus have been teaching or studying at Cambridge?
It seems unlikely that Scotus was teaching or studying theology at Cambridge. He certainly did not teach theology, since he is not among the list of Cambridge lectors, all of whom were older, more experienced academics with doctoral education.Footnote 45 Nor do we have evidence of Scotus studying theology at Cambridge. He did so twice at a studium generale: at Oxford in the 1290s and again at Paris beginning in 1302. In both cases, he left enormous commentaries in several versions on the required theological text of the schools, Peter Lombard’s Sentences. As just indicated, Scotus has no commentary on the Sentences from Cambridge, despite a tortured tradition of imputing one to him.Footnote 46 On the other hand, some theological study at Cambridge cannot be absolutely ruled out, since there is evidence of requiring lectures on the Sentences at other English studia before doing so at Oxford. Such was the case with Wodeham, who read the Sentences at Norwich before doing so to Oxford. There is also the possibility that Scotus could have met part of his Oxford “auditor” requirements in theology (see below) at the Order’s Cambridge studium. We have no firm evidence, however, for either of these possibilities.
Rather, several considerations make it more likely that, if Scotus was at Cambridge, he was lecturing on philosophy. First, his question style commentaries on Aristotle’s logic are generally thought to be early works and are indebted to English sources.Footnote 47 By comparison to his later, theological works, Scotus’s treatment of questions in these logical commentaries is brief and straightforward, which is to say, suitable for teaching. Second, it was during the late 1280s and early 1290s—roughly the period of Scotus’s Cambridge stay—that the Order began expanding its teaching of philosophy. Thus, the Paris chapter of 1292 ordered that every province was to have a studium in arts, and such general statutes usually normalize the emerging practice.Footnote 48 It does not seem merely coincidental that, at the precise period when the Order was starting its expansion of instruction in the arts, Scotus would be the first Franciscan to write commentaries on nearly the entirety of Aristotle’s logic, the largest area of need within the arts curriculum.Footnote 49 Finally, about 1290 Scotus began theological studies at Oxford University, admission to which required a prior regency in a faculty of arts. Since friars were prohibited from becoming masters of arts, mendicant candidates seeking admission to theology at Oxford had to attest to 8 years of study in philosophy, unless an exception (gratia) was granted.Footnote 50 Thus, a prior period of studying and lecturing on Aristotle at the Cambridge studium would have contributed to Scotus meeting the Oxford admission requirement for theology. At the same time, however, it should be stressed that Scotus would not have produced all of his Aristotelian commentaries at Cambridge. His commentary on the Metaphysics, for example, shows revision over the course of his career and remained incomplete. Similarly, certain questions of his De anima show influences from his later theological works.Footnote 51
For nearly a century, scholarship has accepted the authority of the brief biographical statement of Oxford, Merton College, ms. 66 that asserts a Cambridge period of study or teaching for Scotus, only then to ignore its chronology and arbitrarily assign it to a later stage in his career. This was done in part to accommodate a purported Cambridge commentary on the Sentences that in reality never existed. To the contrary, an early Cambridge period as asserted in the Merton biography is consistent with Scotus’s lecturing there on the arts. This agrees with his responsibilities owed to the province upon returning from the Parisian lectorate, the needs of the Order arising from its late thirteenth-century expansion of arts studia, the early dating of Scotus’s logical commentaries on Aristotle, and the statutory requirements for admission to his degree studies in theology at Oxford, to which we now turn. At the same time, it must be stressed that there is no independent corroboration that Scotus taught or studied at Cambridge after his lectorate. If, however, the Merton explicit is accepted as authentic, which seems generally assumed in the literature, then this would be the most probable explanation.
It is not until the 1290s that we have any historical documents naming Scotus. The first is the record of his ordination to the priesthood by Oliver Sutton, Bishop of Lincoln, at Northampton on March 17, 1291.Footnote 52 This document is important for two reasons. First, it indicates that by this time Scotus had arrived at Oxford to pursue theological studies. This is clear because Oxford fell in the diocese of Lincoln. There is no record, however, that Sutton ever carried out an ordination at Oxford, and so members of that convent had to travel to the bishop. The presence of two other Franciscans ordained with Scotus at Northampton further attests to his Oxford residency at the time. Sutton’s register indicates that he ordained members of the same religious orders together. Scotus was the first of five Franciscan priests ordained at Northampton, and he was followed immediately by William of Shirebourne. Also among the Franciscans at Northampton, that day was John Stapleton, who was ordained a deacon. Shirebourne, Stapleton and Scotus were all associated with the Oxford convent. As discussed below, they are found together 9 years later as a part of a distinguished group of Franciscan academics presented by the English provincial to Sutton’s successor, John Dalderby, for the privilege to hear confessions at the Oxford house. Thus, there can be little doubt that Scotus was already at Oxford when ordained in 1291, presumably to begin his work toward a degree in theology.
The second detail yielded by Scotus’s ordination record is an approximation of when he was born. It is generally stated that the minimum age for the priesthood was in practice twenty-five.Footnote 53 Assuming that Scotus would have been ordained as soon as canonically eligible, it is then inferred that he was born before March 17, 1266. Given that Sutton held an ordination at Hertford a year earlier on May 27, 1290, to which the Oxford convent sent the above-mentioned Stapleton for ordination as a subdeacon, it is also inferred that Scotus must not have been eligible for the priesthood at that time. It is accordingly concluded that Scotus was probably born between May 1265 and March 1266.Footnote 54
While this account has been accepted for most of the modern scholarship, Sutton’s ordination register actually indicates that Scotus was somewhat older than the canonical minimum for ordination. As mentioned, Scotus was the first of five Franciscans ordained by Sutton and immediately ahead of his Oxford colleague, William of Shirebourne. Since ordination was almost certainly by seniority, Scotus must have been older than Shirebourne. This is in fact confirmed by their academic careers. Shirebourne is listed as the thirty-eighth lector of the Oxford convent and documented as regent in 1312 together with the secular master Henry of Harclay and the Carmelite regent, Robert Walsingham.Footnote 55 Scotus, however, belonged to the scholarly cohort at Oxford prior to these figures. He was an exact contemporary of Richard of Conington, who was the thirty-fourth lector at Oxford and the Franciscan regent in theology 1305/6.Footnote 56 As indicated below, Conington and Scotus debated in a series of Collationes about 1300 and are recorded as respondents in various disputations the same year. Moreover, Scotus was Parisian master by 1305, some 7 years before Shirebourne’s regency, and this despite having to read the Sentences for a second time at Paris and incurring a disruption of his program in the academic year 1303–04. Clearly, Scotus was older than Shirebourne and thus past the canonically minimal age when ordained. Allowing that Scotus was even 2 or 3 years older than commonly asserted provides some flexibility in the above reconstruction of his career in the 1280s and accommodating, as indicated, a Cambridge period before coming to Oxford.
Here it may be objected that if Scotus were already past canonical minimum for ordination, then he would have been ordained by Bishop Sutton at one of his two other ordinations within the previous year.Footnote 57 On the present account, however, Scotus would still have been either in the lectorate at Paris or possibly at Cambridge for the 1289–1290 academic year. Cambridge, of course, was not in the diocese of Lincoln but rather of Ely, which in fact lacked a consecrated bishop for most of 1290.Footnote 58 That is, the reason Scotus that was not ordained by Sutton the previous year was not because he had yet to reach canonical age. Rather, it was because he had yet to reach Oxford. Accordingly, we can place Scotus’s arrival at Oxford in the Fall of 1290, sometime after September.
To resume, our first fixed point in Scotus’s career is his presence in Oxford during the 1290–1291 academic year, presumably to undertake studies in theology. There cannot be, however, any precise mapping of Scotus’s theological studies onto regulations at Oxford. Surviving statutes are too vague, often anachronistic, and in the case of mendicants too often excepted. Nevertheless, the general stages and length of degree requirements correspond quite well to known points of Scotus’s period at Oxford.
The Oxford curriculum in theology was generally similar to that of Paris; both were lengthy and comprised several stages.Footnote 59 (1) The first was an initial period of 5 years of attending lectures (auditio) on the Bible and Lombard’s Sentences. Admission to this stage required having been regent as master of arts, which, as noted, was forbidden by the mendicants. In that case, the statutes stipulated 8 years of prior study in the arts for admission and then an additional program year spent in this auditor stage of theology. Although in the 1310s the secular masters at Oxford began strict enforcement of the arts requirement for admission to theology, in Scotus’s time there was a more cooperative attitude by the University and exceptions seem to have been granted. (2) This “auditor” period was a prerequisite for the second stage called “opponency”. This was an additional 2 years of study but now added participation in disputations as an opponent (opponens), that is, lodging arguments in opposition to the position taken.
(3) The above 7 years of preparatory study would have taken place at the Order’s convent at Oxford—or even partially at another convent with a theological studium—under the supervision of the Franciscan regent. At this point, the candidate would then be presented by the Franciscan masters or guardian to the Chancellor and other regents of the University for an examination of credentials and admission as a bachelor of theology, i.e., to lecture on the Sentences.Footnote 60 At Oxford, bachelors lectured first on the Sentences and then on the Bible, the reverse of Parisian order. Surviving statutes stipulate that lectures on the Sentences were to be completed within the three terms of a single academic year.Footnote 61 Lectures on one book of the Bible were to be done during the 2 years of subsequent residency or, with permission, during the summer vacation. As a bachelor, the candidate would also participate in disputations as a respondens, i.e., replying to objections made by the opponent. (4) After completing his lectures, the candidate would be deemed a “formed bachelor” (baccalaureus formatus), i.e., one who had fulfilled all baccalaureate requirements. A formed bachelor had to maintain residency for two more years to continue as a respondent in disputations and preach. Some mendicants—certainly Scotus—used this residency period to revise their lectures on the Sentences. (5) Finally, promotion to master of theology comprised two separate academic acts: a granting by the chancellor of the license to teach (licentia docendi) followed by a complex ceremony called ‘inception’ at which the new master was inaugurated. The mendicants typically remained regent masters of theology at Oxford and Paris for a year.
The above-mentioned stages of the University program in theology correspond well with the known dates of Scotus at Oxford, indicating that he was in degree studies. First, consider Scotus’s year as bachelor of the Sentences. His original Oxford lectures on the Sentences, known as the Lectura, can be confidently assigned to the 1298–1299 academic year. His Lectura must postdate the academic year 1297–1298 since its prologue reports Godfrey of Fontaines’s distinctive view on the nature of theology from his Quodlibet XIII, q. 1.Footnote 62 On the other hand, the surviving books I and II of the Lectura must both be before mid-1300. First, Scotus himself attests to having begun the great expansion of the Lectura into his Ordinatio by June 1300.Footnote 63 Secondly, Walter Burley’s Quaestiones De anima, which were disputed while he was still a bachelor of arts at Oxford in 1300, appropriates Scotus’s question on free will found only in Lectura II, d. 25.Footnote 64 As just outlined, admission as a bachelor of the Sentences at Oxford required 7 years (or eight for mendicants without an exemption) of prior auditing and opposing. Thus, the dating of Scotus’s bachelor’s lectures in the Lectura means that he must have begun theological studies in the 1290–1291 academic year, depending on exceptions. This aligns well with Scotus’s presence in Oxford for that year documented by his ordination recorded by Bishop Sutton in March, 1291.
As indicated, at Oxford bachelors lectured on the Bible after the Sentences. Does any evidence survive of Scotus lecturing on the Bible as a bachelor of theology? Generally speaking, the lectures of bachelors on the Bible have not survived. It is possible, however, that a vestige of Scotus’s biblical lectures and disputations remains in his prologue to the Ordinatio. It contains a question on the sufficiency of sacred scripture that is found neither in the earlier Lectura nor in later Parisian Sentences.Footnote 65 This question title is atypical for topics taken up in prologues to the Sentences during this period, which are usually devoted to problems connected to construing theology as a science, rather than questions concerning scripture as such. Moreover, in this one prologue question alone Scotus quotes and discusses more scriptural passages than in the rest of his enormous Ordinatio prologue combined.Footnote 66 It is possible that Scotus had disputed this question as part of his required biblical lectures and then inserted it into his revised prologue for the Ordinatio. Such a practice among mendicants is not unknown. Robert Holcot published his disputed questions from his bachelor’s lectures on the Gospel of Matthew among his Quodlibeta.Footnote 67 As noted above, Scotus himself dated this question as so revised in his Ordinatio prologue to the summer of 1300, thus indicating that his required bachelor’s lectures on the Bible had taken place in the previous academic year of 1299–1300, subsequent to his Sentence lectures as stipulated by statute.
Finally, there is firm evidence of Scotus in mandatory residence as a “formed bachelor” after having given his lectures of the Sentences. He is found responding at the “vesperies” of the inception of Philip Bridlington, who was the incoming Franciscan regent master for the academic year 1300–1301.Footnote 68 As indicated, responding at an inception exercise is one of the obligations during residence as a bachelor, so this dating again fits precisely with the course of university studies outlined above. Other indications that Scotus was still at this stage in the 1300–1301 academic year are his disputations with Richard Conington in his Oxford Collationes, which were mandatory exercises conducted in the convent among bachelors.Footnote 69 During this period, he also continued the revision of his original lectures on the Sentences into an Ordinatio, which, as noted, was a mendicant practice during the “formed bachelor” period.
That Scotus was in Oxford as an advanced bachelor at the end of the 1299–1300 academic year is confirmed by a singular document that provides a survey of the Franciscan convent for that year.Footnote 70 On July 26, 1300, the Provincial Minister, Hugh de Hertepol, himself a master of theology, personally presented twenty-two friars from the Oxford convent to Bishop John Dalderby in Dorchester seeking permissions for them to hear confessions.Footnote 71 This group of friars included the convent’s academic elite, headed by the two current masters of theology, Adam of Howedon as regent and the above-mentioned Philip Bridlington as incoming. Also found in this group were the next two provincial ministers of England, six of the Order’s future masters in theology at Oxford, and the province’s next master of theology at Paris, Duns Scotus. Among those with Scotus were his fellow bachelor, Richard of Conington, as well as the more junior, William of Shirebourne.
This entry in Dalderby’s register is the last dated mention of Scotus at Oxford prior to his departure for Paris. Although at the time Scotus was a formed bachelor of theology, awaiting his licensing, inception and regency, he was never promoted at Oxford. Rather, at some point, presumably after the meeting with Dalderby, Hertepol advanced Scotus as the province’s nominee to lecture on the Sentences at Paris. While the Order’s statutes gave the minister general the determination of the next Parisian bachelor of the Sentences, they also required provincial ministers to submit in writing suitable candidates during a general chapter of the Order.Footnote 72 Accordingly, Hertepol must have recommended Scotus as the Order’s Parisian bachelor of the Sentences to the minister general, John of Murrovalle, at the next general chapter, which was held at Genoa in June 1302.Footnote 73 Consequently, Scotus must have arrived at Paris in time for the academic year 1302–1303 and, as shown below, began lecturing on the Sentences immediately, a fact consistent with the above observations on his prior Parisian lectorate.Footnote 74
VI PARISAs might be expected, more documentation exists for Scotus’s Parisian theologate than for any other period of his life. Nevertheless, the literature has long disputed the precise dating and duration of key stages of his career there. Fortunately, a recent re-evaluation of a central part of the theology program—the reading of the Sentences—cleanly resolves several points of uncertainty previously left to speculation. As indicated, Scotus began his period as a bachelor of the Sentences immediately upon arrival at Paris in 1302. This is known from two explicits in a copy of a report (reportatio) of Scotus’s lectures contained in the famous manuscript, Worcester, Cathedral Library, ms. F 69. The first terminates a table of questions for Book I of Scotus’s Parisian Sentences; the second occurs at the end of the question lists for all four books. They read respectively as follows:
Here end the questions on the first book of the Sentences given by Brother John Duns Scotus of the Friars Minor at Paris in A.D. 1302 near the beginning of 1303 (intrante tertio).
Here end the questions on the Sentences given by the above-mentioned John Duns Scotus in the studium at Paris in A. D. 1303.Footnote 75
The precious information contained in these seemingly straightforward statements has been variously interpreted and contested. The first problem is the meaning of the phrase intrante tertio in the first explicit.Footnote 76 While not an expression usual in scholastic colophons, its intended sense is clear. The participle intrante and its correlate exeunte are used in medieval dating. Most frequently they reckon days relative to the middle of a month, which obviously does not apply here.Footnote 77 The word intrante is also found when dating by regency to indicate proximity to the start of the next regnal year, signifying a period of up to two months.Footnote 78 Usage matching that of the above explicit can be found in English documents contemporary with the Worcester manuscript.Footnote 79 The explicit accordingly means that Scotus lectured on the first book of the Sentences in 1302 until near the start of 1303 as would be reckoned by the medieval calendar. That is, given that lectures on the Sentences at Paris commenced in October, 1302, the first explicit asserts that Scotus finished reading the first book near the start of 1303. Given that the manuscript was probably written at Oxford, and in any case certainly by an English scribe, the calendar year is being reckoned from the Annunciation (March 25).Footnote 80 Thus, the expression intrante tertio means that Scotus finished his first book on the Sentences about late January. This reading, however, raises a second difficulty when taken with the second explicit.
The second explicit, which seems to state plainly that Scotus completed his lectures at Paris in 1303, appears to pose a further problem. Together with the first explicit, it implies that Scotus read the Sentences in the single academic year of 1302–1303. This would contradict the long-accepted conviction that, prior to about 1320, bachelors at Paris lectured on the Sentences over the course of two academic years, not one. In an important study, however, William Duba and Christopher Schabel have shown that the canonical “two-year rule” is supported neither by statute nor by surviving Sentences where the dating of books and the sequence of bachelors are otherwise established.Footnote 81 Rather, their findings indicate that already in the late thirteenth-century lectures on the Sentences at Paris were given in a single academic year, including those of Scotus.Footnote 82 Thus, the long presumed 2-year cycle for reading the Sentences at Paris in this period poses no difficulty for the above two explicits. Indeed, as shown below, other facts of Scotus’s Parisian career can only be explained on the assumption of a 1-year reading for his Sentences.
In sum, Scotus read the Sentences at Paris in a single academic year from October 1302 until June 1303. Cross references in the Worcester manuscript show that Scotus lectured on the books in the customary teaching sequence of I–IV–II–III, although, as is typical, they have been copied and assembled in numerical order.Footnote 83 The actual order in which they were taught is important, because the commentary ends roughly halfway through book III at distinction 17, indicating that Scotus terminated his Parisian lectures at this point.Footnote 84 While Sentences commentaries of the period generally compress or truncate Book III in a rush to finish by the end of the academic year, another reason explains Scotus’s incomplete lectures. At just this moment, royal agents arrived at the Parisian convents to record declarations of adherence or non-adherence to King Philip the Fair’s campaign against Pope Boniface VIII.Footnote 85 The royal census of the Franciscan house was made on June 24 and 25, 1303, that is, precisely when Scotus was nearing the end of his lectures on Sentences III. Scotus, like most of the foreign friars at Cordeliers, did not adhere to the King’s case against Boniface and, consequently, was under a royal edict to leave France within three days. Thus, in the last week of June 1303, Scotus stopped his Parisian lectures on the Sentences at book III, distinction 17, never to be completed.Footnote 86
The royal census of Cordeliers records some 173 friars present at the convent, who were separated into two lists as either adherent or non-adherent to Philip’s case against Boniface.Footnote 87 This fortuitously surviving document provides a rare, detailed picture of Scotus’s environment during his time as a Parisian bachelor. Scotus is grouped with the other English non-adherents, where his status as a bachelor lecturing on the Sentences is inferred from being listed first among the English friars and having an assistant (socius), whose name is given only as Thomas. The document then names four other English theologians present with Scotus at Cordeliers, who would themselves go on to form a future series of regent masters at the Oxford convent.Footnote 88 Most notable among them was William of Alnwick, who is listed among the adherents, and so could remain in Paris. Apart from his own substantial contributions, Alnwick was an important redactor of Scotus’s works. He would himself eventually be licensed at Paris and become the forty-second lector in theology at Oxford.Footnote 89 Listed immediately after Scotus and his socius among the non-adherents were three others: a certain John, John Crombe, and Thomas of England. ‘John’ and ‘Thomas of England’ can almost certainly be identified as the friars John of Wylton and Thomas of St. Dunstan.Footnote 90 These identifications are quite likely since these names correspond, in the precise order of seniority, to the fortieth, forty-first, and forty-fourth lectors in theology at the Oxford convent, with Alnwick as the forty-second lector listed separately among the adherents. There can be little doubt, then, that this group of friars comprised the English province’s four allowable candidates in the Parisian lectorate program, i.e., two funded by the Order (de gratia) and two by the province (de debito). This piece of information provides rare details on the early fourteenth-century lectorate at Paris.Footnote 91 Among other insights, it explains why John of Wylton and Alnwick both, in the end, adhered to the royal appeal. They were probably the two de gratia candidates at Paris so that their return to Oxford would have meant the loss of two “academic scholarships” to the English province.
Also listed among the non-adherents was Gonsalvus Hispanus as the outgoing regent master of theology, who would be elected Minister General the following spring. His letter in November 1304 to the guardian of the Paris convent recommending Scotus for promotion is considered below. Among the adherents, who were thus able to remain at Cordeliers, were the incoming regent master, Alan, and the current formed bachelor, Giles of Longny.Footnote 92 The recording of these two theologians is significant. Scotus would later, upon his return to Paris, function as the respondent at Giles’s own inception as master, presided over by Alan as the current regent. This ceremony is preserved in an additional, rare text considered below.
After Philip’s expulsion of non-adherents at the end of June 1303, Boniface VIII retaliated on August 15 by recalling the power to confer the license, effectively suspending the granting of degrees at the University.Footnote 93 Although Boniface died a short time later in October, his successor, Benedict XI, did not return the authority to grant degrees to the University until a letter to King Philip dated April 18, 1304. The King ordered this and other conciliatory letters from the Pope formally proclaimed at a public meeting of officials at Notre Dame on June 28.Footnote 94 That is, Boniface’s ban on degrees at Paris remained in force until the very end of the 1303–1304 academic year. The expulsion of scholars by Philip and the suspension of degrees by Boniface had very real impacts on Scotus and his fellow bachelors. Thus, as mentioned below, Albert of Metz, a non-adherent, was a formed bachelor who was older than Scotus and should have been promoted ahead of him.Footnote 95 Albert, however, expelled from Paris, had not yet returned by Scotus’s own promotion. Similarly, Alexander of Alessandria, the future minister general of the Order, was also a formed bachelor at the time. At his expulsion, he returned to Italy. He prevailed upon Pope Benedict to grant him the license at the Lateran, where he then incepted as master of theology under the Franciscan Cardinal Gentile da Montefiore.Footnote 96 The Order then sent him to Bologna as lector until he returned to Paris to succeed Scotus as regent in 1307.Footnote 97 As these cases show, there can be little doubt that Scotus, having been expelled from France at the end of June 1303, similarly left for his home province of England.
It is generally supposed that upon leaving Paris Scotus returned to the Oxford convent, and in fact there is evidence to support this. For example, Scotus appears as an opponent in the Quodlibet of the Dominican Nicholas Trivet held at Oxford in December 1303.Footnote 98 Confirmation that Scotus returned to England comes from a Barcelona manuscript containing book III of his Paris lectures, which, as mentioned, terminated at distinction 17. While this codex contains a full set of all forty distinctions for book III, it nevertheless inserts exactly at the transition from distinction 17–18, the following annotation: “Up to this point brother John Duns lectured at Paris; the rest is from England.”Footnote 99 That is, the Barcelona manuscript appends to Scotus’s Parisian lectures on Book III the missing distinctions 18–40, which it has supplied, as the annotation says, from an English version of his commentary. The English source of these additional distinctions is now known as Scotus’s Oxford Lectura.Footnote 100 Indeed, Scotus’s Oxford Lectura for book III is posterior to his Parisian lectures, since it explicitly cites and quotes his Paris commentary.Footnote 101 In sum, upon his exile from Paris, Scotus returned to Oxford, where he lectured a second time on the third book of the Sentences. His Oxford Lectura on book III, unlike his corresponding lectures at Paris, covered all forty distinctions and was used by some manuscripts to supply the missing distinctions from the incomplete Parisian version. In fact, this later Lectura III from Oxford is Scotus’s only complete commentary on the third book of the Sentences in any version.Footnote 102
When did Scotus return to Paris from Oxford? The answer to this question has long vexed scholarship owing to the presumed “two-year rule” for reading the Sentences. That is, if Scotus read the Sentences over 2 years, as had been generally assumed, then he would have left Paris in June 1303 having lectured only on books I and IV. He thus would have required a second academic year to finish reading books II and III. This, however, seemed contradicted by the two documents considered below that presuppose Scotus was a “formed bachelor,” i.e., had completed his lectures on the Sentences, upon his return to Paris in the Fall of 1304. Moreover, the “two-year rule” also contradicts the more recent evidence given above: during his exile from France Scotus gave a second set of lectures on the third book of the Sentences at Oxford that cites his corresponding—and hence earlier—Parisian commentary. On the other hand, a 1-year reading of the Sentences by Scotus at Paris in 1302–03, as actually attested in the Worcester manuscript itself, is consistent with all these facts.
That Scotus was back in Paris for the start of the 1304–1305 academic year as a formed bachelor—i.e., had completed his lectures on the Sentences—is confirmed by two documents. The first is the famous letter of commendation by the Minister General, Gonsalvus of Spain, which is the only known historical record concerned specifically with Scotus.Footnote 103 As indicated, Gonsalvus was the Franciscan master during Scotus’s sentential year at Paris and was subsequently elected Minister General in May 1304. His letter, dated November 18, 1304, is addressed to the guardian and masters of the Paris convent and replies to their notification of the advancement (expeditio) of Giles of Longny to licensing by the Chancellor.Footnote 104 As mentioned, Giles appeared as a formed bachelor on the royal adhesion list of June 1303 in support of King Philip’s petition. Giles thus would have remained in Paris, but could not be promoted owing to Boniface’s embargo on degrees that remained in force for all of the subsequent 1303–04 academic year. Judging from the date of Gonsalvus’s letter, Giles must have been licensed by October 1304 at the latest. These details are relevant, since, as discussed below, Scotus was himself the responding bachelor in Giles’s promotion ceremony after licensing, a duty by statute assigned to a baccalaureus formatus. After acknowledging Giles’s promotion, Gonsalvus proceeds in his letter to nominate Scotus as the next candidate both by rule and on merit. By rule, Scotus meets the requirement that the next master must come from outside the province of France. As to merit, Gonsalvus famously praises Scotus for his “laudable life, superb knowledge, most subtle intellect, and other fine qualities, about which I am fully informed, partly by long experience and partly by his reputation, which has spread everywhere.” Gonsalvus’s appeal to “long experience” has generally been taken to mean that Scotus was in the Parisian lectorate when Gonsalvus himself was there reading the Sentences in the mid-1280s. All of this indicates that Scotus had completed his lectures on the Sentences by his return to Paris in the Fall of 1304 since Gonsalvus could not have otherwise put him forward for promotion.
Further detail in Gonsalvus’s letter confirms this beyond any doubt. After having recommended Scotus, Gonsalvus recalls that Albert of Metz, who is older than Scotus, should be promoted if he can be returned to Paris. But Gonsalvus adds that Albert should be advanced only if the Chancellor would license both him and Scotus at the same time, an unlikely scenario except for the suspension of degrees at Paris for the past year. In that case, Albert could incept first, and Scotus immediately under him. Gonsalvus’s plan shows beyond doubt that Scotus must have already been a formed bachelor at the time of his letter. Otherwise, Gonsalvus would not have ordered that Scotus should be licensed at the same time as the older Albert.
The second important document of Scotus’s bachelor period at Paris is the actual transcript of his participation in the promotion exercises of Giles of Longny acknowledged in the above letter of Gonsalvus. Texts of such promotions rarely survive, and this case is particularly significant given the figures involved. The process of “promotion” involved two separate ceremonial acts: licensing and inception, both of which Gonsalvus mentions in his above letter nominating Scotus.Footnote 105 Licensing was the conferral of the ancient “permission to teach” (licentia ubique docendi), which was conferred by the chancellor. It was this capacity that Pope Boniface reserved to himself in his response to King Philip. After receiving the license, the candidate advanced to inception, a series of ceremonial disputations that marked his entrance into the guild of masters. Of these, the disputation in the bishop’s hall—the aula—was the most significant, for here the candidate was, for the first time, vested with the regalia of a master and exercised the privilege of determining a question. The first question debated in the aula was posed by the incoming master, but the initial response fell to a formed bachelor (baccalaureus responsivus), who assumed most of the burden of debate. The senior bachelor had to defend his response against objections posed in turn by the incoming master, his presenting master, and other senior masters on the faculty, and finally the chancellor. The new master would then give his determination, which he then fully defended in a separate session called the ‘resumption’. In the present case, the incoming master was Giles of Longny, the presenting master was Alan, and the responding bachelor was Scotus. The senior master, possibly representing the chancellor, was Godfrey of Fontaines. That is, the inception document of Giles not only establishes that Scotus was a formed bachelor by October 1304 but also records a live debate between him and Godfrey of Fontaines that ultimately turned to a famously contentious issue, whether there were virtues in the will. The significance of this document had long been overlooked because from the sixteenth-century it had been printed as belonging to the Sentences of Scotus himself.Footnote 106
To summarize, after having spent at least part of the previous academic year in exile at Oxford, Scotus had returned to Paris by the Fall of 1304 to resume his theologate as a formed bachelor. In that capacity, he discharged one of its main responsibilities by responding at the inception of Giles of Longny, which occurred in October at the latest. He was nominated that November as the next master by the Minister General. It seems likely that Scotus spent most of the 1304–1305 academic year as a formed bachelor, given his absence from Paris the previous year. During his period as a formed bachelor, Scotus likely participated in his Parisian Collationes at Cordeliers, just as he had when at the same stage of his program at Oxford.Footnote 107
Although we possess a contemporary citation of Scotus’s inception by William of Alnwick, no document survives that firmly dates his promotion or regency.Footnote 108 Nevertheless, the years in which these occurred can be reliably inferred once certain facts are recognized. First, it is necessary to correct a longstanding historical error. Nearly a century ago, a set of three quodlibetal disputations by the Franciscan Peter of England were identified, which Palémon Glorieux subsequently dated to 1303–1305 owing to their citation of Inter cunctas sollicitudines issued by Pope Benedict XI on February 17, 1304.Footnote 109 Glorieux then inferred that this Peter of England must have been a regent master at Paris during that period, succeeding Gonsalvus of Spain, at the end of the 1302–1303 academic year. Glorieux’s identification, however, cannot be correct. If this Peter of England had succeeded Gonsalvus as a regent master at Paris, he would certainly have appeared on the royal census of June 1303. But the royal list contains no ‘Peter’ from the English province. Rather, this individual must instead be Peter of Baldeswell, who was regent not at Paris but at Oxford precisely at this time as the thirtieth Franciscan lector, succeeding the above-mentioned Philip of Bridlington.Footnote 110 Without this correction, it would be difficult to place Scotus in the Parisian sequence of masters according to the apparent rotation used by the Franciscans, as described below.
Secondly, Scotus participated in a well-known disputation concerning the principle of individuation with his Dominican colleague, William Peter Godinus.Footnote 111 This disputation records the inception exercise known as the “debate between the masters” (disputatio magistrorum) that formed the second half of the proceedings held in the bishop’s hall (aula), as discussed above. Unfortunately, the incepting master is not known, but regulations dictated that the disputatio magistrorum begin with a formal answer to the question by the most junior master, who is identified as Scotus, with responses from a senior master, who was Godinus, in an exchange that went for several turns.Footnote 112 Since Godinus was licensed at Paris in the Fall of 1304, and then sent to the papal court as lector in 1306, his disputation with Scotus must have taken place within the 1305–06 academic year.Footnote 113 That is, Scotus had been promoted as a new master by this time.
Finally, it seems that in this period Franciscans typically had two masters of theology in a given year at Oxford and Paris. Since Franciscans had only a single chair in the faculty at either university, it seems that one master was regent, under whom a formed bachelor would be promoted in order to take over as the next regent in the following year. This seems clear from the surviving list of lectors at Oxford, in which masters turn over roughly every year. The practice must have been the same at Paris, where the pressure on the sole Franciscan university chair was even greater since it rotated among the provinces. This seems confirmed from the adhesion list of 1304, which records both Gonsalvus and Alan as masters.
Given the above, the sequence of promotions and regents during Scotus’s Parisian stay can be reconstructed as follows. It indicates that he was promoted in the academic year 1305–1306 when he functions as a “junior master” in his debate with Godinus and then becomes regent the following year when he probably disputed his quodlibet.
Gonsalvus regent; Alan listed as master in June 1303, has already been promoted.
Alan still regent; Giles of Longny is promoted. Alan still regent since he is the magister aulator in the inception of Giles in Fall, 1304. Letter of Gonsalvus arrives at Paris in January 1305 putting Scotus next in line for a promotion.
Giles of Longny becomes regent; Scotus is promoted. Presumably, Scotus’s licensing and inception occurs in the Fall, 1305 on the model of Giles’s promotion. Scotus is the magister iunior in debate with Godinus, who is the magister senior, in an inception exercise during this year.
Scotus becomes regent. Alexander of Alessandria, who had already been licensed and promoted in the Lateran in the Fall of 1303, is in line to be the next regent. As regent, Scotus holds his Quodlibet in Advent or Lent of this academic year.
Given the above, Scotus probably held his one quodlibetal disputation as regent master, either in Advent of 1306 or Lent of 1307. This enormous work contains twenty-one questions and is one of the great examples of that literary genre.Footnote 114 As a magisterial disputation, it is perhaps the most carefully redacted and polished of Scotus’s writings, although its revision was not completed.Footnote 115 Perhaps also as master Scotus disputed his famous Parisian question on the formal distinction entitled De formalitatibus, cited by contemporaries as the Logica Scoti.Footnote 116 During his time at Paris, Scotus no doubt continued to revise his great Ordinatio, large sections of which he never completed. Indeed, Scotus himself noted that he had failed to dictate its final questions.Footnote 117
As indicated, Alexander of Alessandria was a non-adherent to Philip the Fair’s call against Boniface VIII and departed the Paris convent at the end of June 1303. After his promotion in Rome and subsequent lectorship in Bologna, Alexander returned to Paris as the regent master in the Fall of 1307. His presence at Paris is attested by his seal on an opinion letter sent by the theologians in March 1308 to King Philip concerning his prosecution of the Templars.Footnote 118 This almost certainly means that Scotus had left Paris by the beginning of the 1307–08 academic year for the studium in Cologne, where he is listed as lector in a provincial document dated February 20, 1308.Footnote 119 Older literature construed Scotus’s transfer to Cologne as abrupt and hasty, made by the Order out of concern for reprisals against him for his positions, particularly his defense of the Immaculate Conception.Footnote 120 The reality was more mundane. The Order routinely moved its masters out of Paris after about a year of regency, both to make room for incoming promotions and to place these highly trained academics in upper-level positions of the Order or Church. In Scotus’s case, he was sent as a lector to Cologne no doubt to raise the level of teaching in the convent school, which served as the studium generale for the province.Footnote 121 Nor was there anything peculiar in sending someone from the English province to Cologne. Indeed, shortly after Scotus’s death, Peter of England, probably to be identified with Scotus’s slightly older colleague at Oxford, the above mentioned Peter Baldeswell, was made provincial of Cologne in 1309, remaining in office until 1316 before being returned to England.Footnote 122 The assignment of Scotus to Cologne thus fell entirely within ordinary practices of the Order.Scotus, however, was only in Cologne for little more than a year before he died on November 8, 1308. This date is reported by Matthew Ferkić, who had in 1620 witnessed the book of the dead in the sacristy of the medieval convent of Cologne before it was destroyed.
Chained to the altar in the sacristy is an ancient manuscript containing all the names of both members of the Order and secular benefactors for whom Masses of atonement are to be offered. For the day November 8, this book reads: “Brother John Scotus, a famous doctor of theology and lector at Cologne, died.” To this was added a short time later: “Who died in 1308 A.D. on the eighth day of November.”Footnote 123