Meet Baylor’s expert on leading medieval philosopher John Duns Scotus
John Duns Scotus was one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages, often mentioned alongside more commonly familiar names like Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure. But there has never been a great translation of Scotus’ works from their original Latin — until now.
Dr. Thomas Ward, an associate professor of philosophy at Baylor, recently earned a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities grant that will allow him to prepare a scholarly translation of Scotus’ best known work, De Primo Principio, from Latin to English, making Scotus’ thoughts more accessible to modern scholars.
“Admittedly, this project is somewhat obscure, but it really touches on the Christian faith in a really serious way,” says Ward.
So who was John Duns Scotus? A Scottish Catholic priest and Franciscan friar, Scotus developed an impressive argument for God’s existence aside from faith alone. Scotian philosophy has prompted scholars to think about Jesus Christ’s individuality as a physical human being and how it influences a person’s theology. De Primo Principio is considered the best attempt in all of medieval philosophy to try and make the case that there is a “First Cause” of everything, and that because this First Cause has the attributes of divinity, it points to God’s existence.
Many philosophers and theologians have tried to show that God exists just by using reason alone, but Ward says he has never encountered attempts so thorough and careful as Scotus’. “At every step of the way, you can just stand in awe of this great mind, faithfully doing his best, putting his gifts to use, to try to come up with this great philosophical system.”
[BONUS: Hear more about Dr. Ward’s work in this recent Baylor Connections interview.]
When this project is completed, Ward intends to release his own commentary on the translation and an introductory book on Duns Scotus.
“This era of philosophy was deeply influential and informative for Chrisitan theology,” says Ward. “My commentary will help readers learn from Scotus’ complicated reasoning and, hopefully, allow them to contemplate the beauty of divinity.”
Sic ’em, Dr. Ward!