Mariology of Blessed John Duns Scotus: Mary in Relation to Christ, The Predestination of Mary

The following article begins a series of selections taken from the “Mariology of Blessed John Duns Scotus” by Father Ruggero Rosini. – Asst. Ed.

Mary in Relation to Christ

When one speaks of John Duns Scotus in relation to Our Lady our thoughts usually turn immediately to the Immaculate Conception with which his name is commonly linked, so much so that he is called “Doctor of the Immaculate.”

However, this privilege—as Scotus himself will make us understand—does not stand on its own: this too, like all the other Marian privileges, presupposes a source or principle that gives them life. And what is this Principle to which Mary is indebted for all her gifts?

It is easy to specify: it is Christ.

Through this there is formed a most perfect bond between her and Him, between Christ and Mary; this is so true that only in the light of this association can all of the Marian privileges be explained.

Our task, then, will be to specify above all the nature and origin of that bond existing between Christ and Mary, following the thought of the Subtle Doctor. And we will see that this bond has for its foundation the motherhood and grace of Mary. Both of these privileges, in fact, immediately bind Mary to Christ: the first (motherhood) with natural bonds; the second (grace) with moral bonds.

Yet these two bonds, dependent on Christ, presuppose a third bond, anterior to the Incarnation and depending on God.

Hence our initial considerations must bear on that decree of predestination whereby Christ and Mary were foreseen together, prior to every aspect of the divine plan.

From these three bonds, therefore our outline in this first section emerges: 1) Mary’s predestination, 2) her motherhood and 3) her grace.

The predestination of Mary

Duns Scotus does not speak expressly of Mary’s predestination anywhere in his numerous works. However, his immediate disciples{footnote} Cf., e.g., john basseolis, III Sent., d. 1, q. 5 (Paris 1516) fol. 20 R, who places the Virgin “in second place after Christ.”{/footnote}and afterwards his many commentators,{footnote} Cf. W. sebastian, De beats Virgine Maria universal! gratiarum Mediatrice,Romae 1952, pp. 39-55, where the author reviews various scotistic commentators on the predestination of Mary; A. M. blasucci, La dottrina scotista della predestinazione assoluta di Maria, in Virgo Immacu/ata, IX (Romae 1957) pp. 124-163, who also cites many scotists. [In English: cf. maximilian M. dean, A Primer on the Absolute Primacy of Christ: Bl. John Duns Scotus and the Franciscan Thesis, (Academy of the Immaculate, New Bedford, 2006), pp.105-109.] {/footnote} in treating of this material, applied to Mary the various principles which Scotus had laid down in explaining Christ’s predestination, placing Mary, however, immediately after Christ. They see the two predestinations of Christ and Mary as being intimately connected and correlated: they are interconnected in one and the same decree. This shall later be seen in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus according to which Christ and Mary were precisely foreseen “uno eodemque decreto” [in one and the same decree]. {footnote} Cf. A. tondini, Le Encic/iche Mariana, Roma 1952, II, p. 32. {/footnote}

It should be sufficient, therefore, to pinpoint Christ’s position according to the divine plan in order to assign Mary hers. We should note, however, that this doctrine can be better understood when examined not only in relation to Christ’s place, but also in terms of the order inherent in the very nature of predestination itself, as it is understood by our Subtle Doctor.

If predestination is, as we shall see, above all ordered to that end which is glory: according to Scotus, the same for all the elect, Christ and Mary included (the only distinctive difference consisting in the ranking of the elect from the highest position to the lowest), then this means that the only distinction admitted on the basis of predestination itself is that of anteriority and posteriority: the ranking of the predestined in terms of before or after one another. {footnote} On the phrase “before and after” see SCOTUS, Lectura II, d. 20, q. 1, n. 22 (Vat. XIX, 195): “God wills in a supremely ordered way and the end first willed by Him, is Himself. But what He immediately wills thereafter, is created blessedness for a created nature capable of beatitude (insofar as we may speak there [in God] in terms of before and after).” {/footnote}

Let us examine the nature of predestination according to the thought of Duns Scotus, and then determine the respective places of Christ and Mary.

The nature of predestination

Predestination constitutes the key point of the entire philosophical and theological system of Scotus; that is to say, in this doctrine the Subtle Doctor reveals how he conceives the origin of all things outside of God. {footnote} Lectura, II, d. 20, q. 1, n. 22 (Vat. XIX, 195): “(Predestination means) to will for someone (the predestined) blessedness (whence predestination is the first action “without”) and after willing predestination (God) wills that person grace and nature, and finally wills him to be born for this and that task.” Hence, predestination primarily involves intellectual beings and only secondarily the irrational, [and further involves intellectual beings] first in the supernatural and then in the natural order; cf. Reportata, III, d. 32, n. 11 (Vives 23, 508): “Next comes the conferral of grace and other supernatural gifts…and thereafter this sensible world and other visible creatures, which exist to serve men.”

[On the scotistic notion of predestination in general and that of Christ and Mary in particular cf. DEAN, A Primer…, cit., in corpore, but especially pp.27-124.] {/footnote}First of all, predestination is characterized by two activities: one eternal regarding the divine intention, the other temporal regarding the realization of the things foreseen. {footnote} When a creature can be put into two categories as disparate as eternal and temporal, should that creature be considered necessary or contingent? Here is the answer of pseudo-Scotus, given in the form of a “rule.” He writes: “The rule is that any statement [about creatures] involving contingent and necessary is [to be understood as affirming them to be] contingent, and any statement [about creatures] involving eternal and temporal is [to be understood as affirming them to be] temporal. Creation, then, although it implies an eternal action on the part of God…is simply temporal.” (De rerum principio, q. 4, n. 36, 4, 317 b). Although this work is not an authentic work of Scotus, nonetheless it reflects the views of Scotus.{/footnote}

Obviously among the two activities-that of intention and of execution-the first always precedes and the second follows: the sculptor must first conceive the statue which he intends to carve and then execute the project conceived. Logically the sculptor, in his work, proceeds in an order the reverse of that followed in conceiving the work: from the less perfect (the block of marble), he proceeds to the more perfect (the statue). And so it is that what was first in intention (the statue), occupies last place in execution. {footnote}Cf. note 3 of the Introduction concerning Aristotle’s principle:

“first in intention, last in execution,” a principle dominating the entire teaching of Scotus on predestination. In regard to the two elements making up the content of predestination: end and means to the end, one should take special note of how the end is nobler than the means.{/footnote}

Hence this process, as it slowly develops from an imperfect to a more perfect condition, becomes a disposition for actualizing the original intention, an intention in turn motivated solely by the end, in our case, to be realized in the glory of the creature.

Every artist working wisely must first pre-establish an end for the work he is about to undertake. This rule surely reflects God’s mode of willing as well. In willing to initiate things outside Himself (ad extra), He first determines their end by an act which is called predestination.

Duns Scotus defines predestination as “an act of the divine will, whereby an intellectual creature is chosen for grace and for glory.” {footnote} Ordinatio, I, d. 40, q. un., n. 4 (Vat. VI, 310). {/footnote} So understood, predestination features several distinctive characteristics.

Above all predestination is free because it is “an act of the will.” {footnote} Ibid.: “Predestination properly speaking expresses an act of the divine will,” a definition differing from that of St. Thomas who makes predestination consist in the divine “foreknowledge” (Summa Theo/ogiae, I, q. 23, a. 2, in corpore). {/footnote} The will, and not the intellect, is formally the cause of all contingent things, both in the natural order and in the supernatural order. {footnote} Cf. Theologiae Marianae Elementa, 181: “Predestination according to the order of intention first concerns the supernatural end and then the natural.” {/footnote} This is the crucial point of scotistic doctrine. As well as being the feature distinguishing the Subtle Doctor’s entire philosophy and theology from that of other scholastics, this teaching on predestination also underscores the nature and primacy of charity in the divine plan of things, a doctrine similarly set in relief in the Decrees and Constitutions of Vatican Council II.

Moreover, predestination is absolute. God’s own goodness{footnote} Elementa, 14:

“First God loves Himself, and second loves Himself for others.” Other texts can be found in my study, // Cristocentrismo di Giovanni Duns Scoto e la dottrina del Vaticano secondo, Roma 1967, p. 26, note 32. {/footnote} is the unique motivation of the divine will in acting without itself (ad extra), in desiring to communicate Himself to other beings. In fact, it is unthinkable that any creature could have influence over the divine will in the act of predestining creation itself, because at the moment of predestination, not only did there any merit or demerit on the part of any creature, but no creature at all existed to merit. {footnote} Ordinatio, I, d. 41, a. un., n. 40 (Vat. VI, 32): “For predestination itself, even from the perspective of the predestined, there is no reason or ultimate purpose.” For other scholastics, instead, the reason for the existence of Christ, and therefore of His predestination, is found in the