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Blessed Virgin was soon ardently embraced by his disciples, with the result, it is said, that Dominican Inquisitors proceeded to burn as heretics such as professed it.1 It was indeed to become the rock on which Thomists and Scotists split for centuries. It is significant to find Dante sliding into the eulogy of the Unnamed Saint what amounted in effect to a guarded exposition on the part of St. Thomas that it was in accord with Reason to believe that human nature might be sealed with absolute perfection 2; in other words that under the highest possible conditions mortals might be conceived without the stain of sin, even as the Virgin conceived her Son, although Adam and Christ must remain supreme among men. Dante himself seems to have adopted this theory. About the year 1306, during which we believe him to have been attending the lectures of Duns in Paris, he was writing the Convivio, where he quotes the argument that if all the preceding virtues were to unite in their best disposition to produce a soul, so much of the Deity would descend thereon that it would almost be another incarnate God.3
So closely was the person of Duns Scotus linked by argument and legend with that of the Blessed Virgin that it is significant to find Dante, further on, comparing the gentle unassuming (modesta) voice of the Unnamed Saint to that with which the Angel Gabriel, special messenger
1 Hist. Littér. de France, t. xxv p. 413.
2 Par. xiii 79:
Però se il caldo amor, la chiara vista
Nè fia, qual fu in quelle due persone.
Conv. Bk. iv 21. E sono alcuni di tale opinione, che dicono, se tutte le precedenti virtù s'accordassero sopra la produzione d'un' anima nella loro ottima disposizione, che tanto discenderebbe in quella della Deità, che quasi sarebbe un altro Iddio incarnato.
to Mary, addressed her.1 As a personal reminiscence of John this is a trait borne out by tradition, which records how in the lecture-room he was ever wont to address his auditors with reverent courtesy, as though all were themselves doctors of learning. His humility of bearing was in beautiful contrast to the atrocious arrogance of the ordinary professor.
'Think who he was, and what cause moved him to make request,' went on Thomas, when he was told to ask.' 2 This is the sentence on which the identity of Solomon has been established. But the disciples of Duns would not need to hark back to Solomon in order to take up this allusion. Every child in those days had heard the legend of the Oxford lad to whom the Blessed Virgin had appeared while he was weeping over his tasks, how she had stooped to promise her aid, and how, inspired by Divine grace, he had implored her to grant him wisdom and knowledge. This was to be the clue, so that 'what doth not appear ' [on the surface] might be made quite clear.
'Was not this a Kingly thing to do,' St. Thomas went 'to ask for wisdom that he might be fit to be a King? I have not so spoken that you cannot easily see that he was a King.' And then again: That peerless intuition of his on which I would have you fix your mind was Royal prudence.' A few lines before Dante had used the same word 'Royal' of St. Francis. In the Heaven of the Sun, it would seem, it is the Royal gift of Wisdom, not such worldly pomp as made Solomon's yoke unbearable to
1 Par. xiv 34:
Ed io udi' nella luce più dia
Del minor cerchio una voce modesta,
2 Par. xiii 91 ff.:
Ma perchè paia ben quel che non pare,
Regal prudenza è quel vedere impari
In che lo stral di mia intenzion percote.
Israel, which confers the title of King. In truth, it rings a little oddly to find Thomas insisting that Solomon was a king. There could be no room for doubt about Solomon's earthly honours. But to urge the kingship of the barefoot monk whose robe hung round him in rags in token of apostolic poverty was to expose the essence of Christianity.
St. Thomas oddly commended the Unnamed for not having asked God to make him a master of useless subtleties in the higher mathematics or Aristotelian logic, perhaps excessively admired in the mediaeval schools.1 Commentators call attention to the peculiarity of this eulogy; that particular kind of knowledge was not accessible to Solomon; he could hardly have asked to excel in subjects of whose existence he had no cognizance. On the other hand, Duns Scotus had obvious temptations to use his great powers amiss by creating a sensation in these directions, and had he yielded to them, Dante implies, the world would have lacked the guidance he afforded in his illuminating dissertations on religious problems.
Following out this theme, Thomas went on to describe in some detail the special characteristics of the Saint's teaching. It was of a nature, he said, to make a man move very slowly, first to the Yes, and then to the No, as with lead upon the feet, and spent with toil, when they sought for hidden truths."
The words echo that laborious method of John's already referred to, whereby the audience were compelled to lean first to the negative and then to the affirmative side of the argument before truth was made manifest.
1 Par. xiii 97:
Non per saper lo numero in che enno
2 Par. xiii 112:
E questo ti sia sempre piombo ai piedi,
St. Thomas wound up with a grave rebuke addressed to cavillers whose intellect is bounded by self-conceit, who fish for truth without art, who jump at false conclusions and are to be reckoned 'right low down among the fools.'1 This rebuke, uttered with an unmistakable air of personal indignation, takes up twenty-seven of the jealously measured lines. We dare not suppose it to be irrelevant, but if directed against a passing and unavowed misgiving detected in the mind of a very reverent listener it seems too harsh. The air of intense reality which Dante threw over his scene makes the reader reluctant to admit that Thomas had no ground for administering to him such a rebuke. It is only when a deeper intention is apprehended that the thinness of the surface meaning comes to view. The rebuke does, in effect, hit off precisely the attitude adopted by intolerant disciples of Thomas towards the rival who in Paradise had become his closest friend. The Dominicans detested John's method of examining in detail every dogma, however apparently incontrovertible, before admitting its truth, and they formed a violent and dangerous faction whose one most deadly weapon against free discussion lay in raising the cry of Heresy.' The words Dante put into the mouth of St Thomas, 'Let not the people be too confident in judging, like one who estimates the harvest (of truth) before it is ripe,' convey a warning against the orthodox assumption, responsible for such bitter persecution,
1 Par. xiii 115:
Chè quegli è tra gli stolti bene abbasso
2 Par. xiii 130:
Non sien le genti ancor troppo sicure
that all truth had been already discovered, that in all further research lay deadly sin.
In the next canto the figure of the great anonymous Saint is brought in person on the scene. We hear him speak and by the witness of his own mouth are to recognize him for what he is. The subject Dante chose for this exposition which was to prove a sure clue to his identity, that of the condition of the blest after death but before the resurrection, is one with which the name of Duns Scotus is very closely associated. In dealing with it Duns refers often to the views of St. Thomas, sometimes amplifying them, sometimes controverting them. In one place he takes pains to expound that his views and those of a certain Doctor' (Thomas) are not irreconcilable.1 It has been seen that in opposition to Thomas he restored to the Blest their memory and the power to assimilate new truths.
It was Beatrice, not St. Thomas, who entreated the Fifth Light to satisfy Dante's unexpressed longing to know how saints in glory will be able to regain possession of their bodies at the Resurrection without losing some of their privileges as spirits.2 This subject does not seem to be one on which Solomon chose very clearly to enlighten mankind. But Duns had made it peculiarly his own.
1 Rep. Par. Lib. iv Dist. 49, 2, 3, n. 6. After defining the two contending opinions he continues: 'Sed inter istas duas opiniones potest mediari sic . . .'
2 Par. xiv 13:
Ditegli se la luce, onde s'infiora
Vostra sustanzia, rimarrà con voi
Che sarete visibili rifatti,
Esser potrà ch' al veder non vi noi.
The third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes was often quoted to instance Solomon's disbelief in the immortality of the soul, as for instance: That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; and man hath no preeminence above the beasts; for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man whether it goeth