John Duns Scotus (1265/66—1308) was a philosopher, Catholic priest, and theologian. The term Scotus identifies him as Scottish, so he could also be referred to as John Duns the Scot, but the identifier is commonly used as his last name. He is often referred to simply as Scotus. The precise date of his birth is unknown. He studied philosophy and theology at Oxford University and was ordained as a priest in the Franciscan Order.
The complex and at times esoteric nature of Scotus’s writings has led to his being called “the Subtle Doctor.” That same nature makes his work difficult to manage for the average reader untrained in philosophy. In fact, scholarly articles written about his writings are often just as difficult to comprehend. Duns Scotus is best known for his work in natural theology and his formulation of a proof for the existence of God. (Natural theology deals with what can be known about God apart from special revelation.) Not only does Duns Scotus attempt to prove that God exists as the first necessary being who is the cause of all other beings, but he also puts forth evidence that this Necessary Being must be perfect in knowledge, perfect in will, infinitely good, and infinite in power. Scotus also held that the first tablet of the Decalogue (the first five of the Ten Commandments) could be derived from natural law.
Most modern Christian philosophers and apologists do not go as far as Duns Scotus did when affirming what can be known from natural law. In fact, in recent times many Christians have rejected the whole concept of proving God’s existence from natural law. However, Romans 1:20 affirms the concept that God’s existence can be known from nature: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans goes on to explain that, even without specific revelation in Scripture, people will be held accountable for failing to give God proper worship and thanks for all He has given them. Romans also explains that people have an inner awareness of right and wrong, but they suppress this in rebellion against God; therefore, even people who do not have the Bible are still guilty before God—no one can plead ignorance.
While the writings of Duns Scotus may be interesting and helpful to the professional philosopher, there are many other philosophers, apologists, and theologians who are much more readable and accessible to the average Christian today.