John Duns Scotus was one of the most brilliant philosopher-theologians in the Middle Ages. He was ordained by Bishop Oliver Sutton on March 17, 1291 at Northampton, England. From this fact, scholars have inferred that Scotus was born in 1265 or 1266, since the canonical age for ordination was 26 yrs. According to an ancient, but unverifiable, tradition, Scotus was born in Duns, Scotland (near the English border), the son of a member of the lower nobility. He was proposed as one of the Franciscan priests to hear confessions at Oxford in 1300 and disputed under Phillip of Bridlington there in 1301. Scotus never, however, became a master at Oxford, although his teaching from this period drew the sustained criticism of the Oxford Dominican Thomas Sutton whose own commentary on the Sentences book I was directed at refuting Scotus’ views.

Scotus lectured on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, the medieval theological textbook, several times: first, perhaps, at Oxford (1297-1300?); then at Cambridge (1301-1302???); and, finally, at Paris (1302-1304). After a temporary exile from Paris (1303-1304) owing to his opposition to Phillip the Fair’s anti-papal policy (during which time he probably returned to Oxford, according to the most recent research), Scotus became regent master at Paris in 1305. His teaching career at Paris was quite brief, however, for in 1307 he was sent to lecture at the Franciscan studium in Cologne where he died on November 8, 1308.

Within the first several decades following his death, his philosophical theology had already attracted numerous followers, and the Scotism that resulted remained influential and important throughout the late Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and into modern times. Thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, Leibniz and Kant all knew and reacted to the main ideas of Scholastic thought in Scotistic terms.