IN EARLIER times, struggling students sadly sat on a stool at the back of the class and wore a hat with the cruel tag of "dunce," meaning "dense" or "stupid."
Actually, the wicked word originated from a thinker born to the "Duns" clan in Scotland around 1265. At baptism, his parents named him "John," and since he was Scottish, "Scotus" was added.
At an early age, he became a Franciscan. Seeing how intelligent he was, his superiors sent him to Oxford University, later to the University of Paris where he amazed, even perplexed his academic colleagues with his extremely fine distinctions, like “distinctio formalis a parte rei”: distinctions besting even the finest “Jesuitic” "hair-splitting."
So, when outwitted, his rivals rolled their eyes exclaiming, “That’s really a Duns!” Hence the word "dunce."
But his brilliance came to the fore at the disputed doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Opposed were three brilliant Dominican theologians; following St. Paul as interpreted by St. Thomas Aquinas, they cited Romans 3:23: “All have sinned....”
John Duns Scotus, relying on the wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi, argued that the Infinitely Wise and Knowing God’s, foreseeing the Fall of Adam and Eve, had planned for all eternity the birth of Jesus. Needed as mother: a woman immaculately conceived.
Realizing the difficulty of the question and what formidable opponents he would face, before going to the debate refereed by Rome’s representatives, Duns Scotus prayed most intently to Our Lady.
To the surprise of many, with clear and convincing arguments Duns Scotus prevailed.
On December 8, 1854 Pope Pius IX officially proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Years later, Vatican declared her valiant defender: Blessed John Duns Scotus.