Reflection by Fr. Ed Ondrako, OFM Conv.

November 8: Bl. John Duns Scotus anticipates a Culture of Encounter
32nd Wk B; Wis 1:1-7; Lk 17:1-6;
Theme: Love justice, you who judge the earth;
seek the Lord in integrity of heart”
(Wis 1: 1);
Subtheme: “Be on your guard. If your brother sins, rebuke him;
and if he repents, forgive him.
If he wrongs you seven times and returns saying I am sorry, forgive him”
(Lk 17).

Love justice (Wis 1:1)! “Create processes of encounter, processes that build a people that can accept differences,” exhorts Pope Francis. “Even people who can be considered questionable on account of their errors have something to offer which must not be overlooked”. “Let us arm our children with the weapons of dialogue! Let us teach them to fight the good fight of the culture of encounter!”[1]
Hardly known is the Franciscan Bl. John Duns Scotus,[2] born in 1265, who anticipated the culture of encounter with his political thought centering on the importance of the community. The origin of government and obligation of members made an implicit agreement to cooperate together for social benefits. Protecting collective freedom and each other from harm requires a social agreement. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau in the 16th 17th and 18th centuries offered theories of the social contract. Duns Scotus anticipated their versions in the early 14th century by centering on Christ.
Americans understand the Declaration of Independence in 1776 in perfect continuity. Recently, the Honorable Judge Clarence Thomas reminded students at the University of Notre Dame[3] that the word slave was never used in the Declaration. He believed the founders were ashamed of owning slaves. Rather, the Declaration said the equality of all men (and women) has always been present. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and to our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Who knew Duns Scotus would anticipate our founders? In 1803 the slave trade was outlawed in England and slavery in America in 1863. The echo of Duns Scotus is in the Declaration of Independence. Pope Francis’ call for the formation of a culture of encounter echoes Duns Scotus.
Pope Francis recognizes the need for regeneration by a culture of encounter that builds social peace. No turbulent seas, or truth appearing in freefall, or lies claiming headlines, dash Pope Francis’ aspiration for a world to be passionate about meeting others, building bridges and inclusive of everyone in a culture of encounter. He challenges the faithful to learn about, teach, and live by the principle of encounter, to let it become deeply imbedded by creating processes of encounter. His constant hope is that social peace come from a culture of encounter. Social peace is possible, fitting, and by the gift of grace, realizable. A rich resource is the thought of Bl. Duns Scotus who is true to the theological activity of love, forgiveness and solidarity generated by St. Bonaventure and rooted in St. Francis.
To build a culture of encounter cannot force the language of separate eras as pre-modern or modern or post-Christian which bear their own meaning. Reputable research makes the case for the claim to identify in truth what are unjust and narrow criticisms and accusations of error. Distinction of terms from an early age cannot be imposed upon a later age. Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, O.F.M.Conv. is diagnostic and prophetic in balancing differences in language used in separate eras. He distinguishes terms[4] without loss that Christ is the measure and Spirit the power in every age.
One Scotistic term, for example, perplexes many teachers who dare to engage. Duns Scotus devised the concept, “univocity of being,” (as contrasted with “analogy of being”) to give a more exact teaching than Bonaventure on the theory of divine illumination.[5] All other concepts reflect this first concept but univocity itself does not reflect them. Univocity has a logical form but its content transcends the logical and provides a point of unity for all other concepts. Duns Scotus demonstrates that analogy cannot explain the differences of beings. Being is what is, not what is coming to be or experienced.
Univocity of being is more exact than divine illumination, natural and supernatural, which is divine enlightenment making possible a created intellect as a created nature. According to Bonaventure, this divine illumination is provided to every rational creature. The making possible of the knowledge of the supernatural or divine realities is a special supernatural gift of divine grace known as faith. Faith is given to those who desire it and not given to those who refuse or deny that faith.
Bonaventure[6] is concise. “To be perfect, all intellectual activities have to be relinquished and the most profound affection inflamed and transported into God. No one knows this mystical secret, except the one who receives it and the one who desires it. No one desires it except the one who is penetrated to the marrow by the fire of the Holy Spirit, Whom Christ sent into the world. That is why the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom (or secret)[7] is revealed by the Holy Spirit (I Cor 2:10). God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”
Peter Damian Fehlner’s contemporary theological method aligns with the culture of encounter which Pope Francis dreams. I find Fehlner’s studies of the Mariology of Duns Scotus and its implications for Catholic theology, thought, and forms of practice today, aligns with Pope Francis’ culture of encounter. Fehlner narrates the saving message of Christ and the Apostles with absolute fidelity to the mind of the One Teacher of all, Christ Jesus as it has been communicated to us in the living, uninterrupted Tradition of the Church. His genius is to explain how the Church’s Tradition was cultivated in the theology and philosophy which Franciscans identify as the Scotistic tradition.
To Pope St. Paul VI: “the intellectual treasury of (Bl.)[8] John Duns Scotus can be a source of effective instruments with which to combat the darkness of the pervading era. Paul VI saw the theoretical and practical denial of God are nothing but the fruit of idolatrous illusions arising out of arrogant boasting about merely human ways of thinking (n. 11). Sacred theology in Paul VI’s writings relies on the written Word of God, taken together with sacred Tradition, as on a permanent foundation (DV 24). He fostered the study of the sacred page as “the very soul of sacred theology” (DV 24).
Paul VI knew that from antiquity, Gnostics’ terminology is rooted in pride to make oneself naturally like God and obscures the love of God. Gnostics pit Tradition against Scripture. Irenaeus became a bishop in 178 C.E and hammered the Gnostics by defending Scripture as the instrument of Tradition, the ground and pillar of faith. The Second Vatican Council aligns with Irenaeus’ reply to the Gnostics of old and to the Gnostic return in modernity, a model of Gnosticism that is vastly more sophisticated theoretically. Duns Scotus aligns with Irenaeus and Vatican II. There is much to be studied.
Let us love justice, seek the Lord in integrity of heart and build social peace with a culture of encounter. May we learn solidarity with John Duns Scotus, pray he be counted among the Saints, and imitated. Join Franciscans who believe that Bl. Duns Scotus is a saint and will be a Doctor of the Church.


In Celebration of My Golden Jubilee Year of Priesthood, Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, O.F.M.Conv.

[1] Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, (Assisi, October 3, 2020), 217.
[2] A political science professor at Columbia University fully agreed with my reference to Duns Scotus.
[3] Hon. Judge Clarence Thomas, Toqueville Lecture, University of Notre Dame (16 September 2021).
[4] P. D. Fehlner, Theologian of Auschwitz (Hobe Sound, FL: Lectio Publishing, LLC, 2020), Glossary, 320 and 326.
[5] Bonaventure, Disputed Questions on the Knowledge of Christ, volume 4. Fehlner employs analogy and univocity.
[6] Bonaventure, The Journey of the Mind to God, chapter 7, 4. Bonaventure wrote this mystical work at the place where St. Francis of Assisi had received the gift of the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ in September 1224.
[7] There is not a hint of Gnosticism in this Bonaventurian mystical secret.
[8] Paul VI, Alma Parens (14 July 1966), before Duns Scotus was beatified in 1993, is a Scotistic ecumenical vision.

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
November 8, 2021