The dunce of love

Tomb of Duns Scotus in Cologne

Today the Franciscans remember a Scottish-born friar who died on November 8, 1308, in Cologne, Germany: Blessed John Duns Scotus.

A brilliant scholar, called a subtle genius by one of his teachers, his works are often so dense that the word “dunce,” derived from his name, is applied to those who have a hard time learning.

There is much that impresses me about his work, but what I remember most were a few remarks that Hannah Arendt made in a class on “The Will” in the early 1970s at the New School for Social Research in New York. (You can find her remarks in her Gifford lectures, The Life of the Mind, which unfortunately I don’t have with me here in Honduras.)

Arendt was moved by Duns Scotus’ definition of love as  volo ut sis – I will that you are.

Love is wanting the person to BE, to exist. Love for another does not have a specific content, as if my love for a person were to depend on what I want for the person.

Rather love wants that that particular person BE.

To be is a good and to be, is for Duns Scotus, to be THIS particular person.

God made us to BE the person who we are. God has loved this person into being. And we are called to love that person.

It’s not necessarily a question of finding out what is good for that person and making sure that this happens for her or him. It’s a question of wanting that person to be the person he or she is, in own’s inmost being.

If this sounds a little abstract, that’s either the subtlety of Duns Scotus or, more likely, my inability to explain him well.

But, at bottom, love is not control, not determining what is good for another. Love is wanting the other to be.

And in a world where the “other” is perceived as a threat, this love is perhaps the most difficult and the most necessary.

I love not what I want the other to be, but what he or she is; and I want them to be.




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