Bearers of the Gospel: Franciscan Evangelization

Dynamic Theology of Evangelzation


The most profound expression of the Franciscan theology of love is found in the writings of the "Subtle Doctor," John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308), whose elevation to the honors of the altar was realized on March 20, 1993, when Pope John Paul II officially bestowed on him the title of Blessed.


A modern commentator has affirmed: "We might even venture to assert that it was given to Scotus to sing the hymn of divine love in a manner not granted even to the ecstatic Francis or the seraphic Bonaventure. "31

Scotus, like Bonaventure, held that God is formally love, but he went even further than the Seraphic Doctor by insisting that love is the supreme motivating force of the Godhead, the final reason and the deepest meaning of all God's activity outside Himself. Creation is the work of an all-loving God who gratuitously willed to communicate His overflowing goodness. He therefore endowed human beings with the ability to love the divine essence. As befits such a totally selfless lover, He desired to have co-lovers capable of sharing the joy and the bliss ofHis overflowing goodness.32 He willed further that He be loved by one being capable of loving Him perfectly and in the highest degree. This perfect co-lover is the Summum Opus Dei,33 the ultimate reason and the final fulfillment of all creation: the Eternal Son of God Incarnate. Jesus Christ is the Ultimate Reason and planned Fulfillment of all Creation. Redemption is not a necessary act demanded by avenging justice; it is a free act motivated by merciful love, by which Love Incarnate gratuitously elects to assume the debt which His prodigal brothers owe their loving Father. The Son chooses to endure the cross to show His brothers the extent of their Father's love for them and to move them to love Him in return. Evangelization is nothing else but the continuation of this saving work of Divine Love.

Inspired by this dynamic theology of evangelization – inherited from Francis, developed by Bonaventure, articulated by Scotus – the early Franciscans eagerly embraced missionary challenges which other groups hesitated to undertake. The fervor of Seraphic love, the mystique of martyrdom, the eschatological urgency of their task sometimes caused them to resort to a tactic of reckless confrontation – which a modern commentator has described as "outrageous, conspicuously ineffective, yet designed to engage the forces of heaven at some mystical level. "34 Especially in what was the primal objective of early Franciscan missions, the Muslim world, there were few converts. At times it might almost have seemed that the foremost objective of evangelizing the Muslims was the opportunity to die a martyr's death.35

Marianus Miieller, "A General Synthesis of the Theology of John Duns Scotus," The Cord 7 (1957): 117.

Opus Oxoniense, lib.3, d.28, q.un., n.2 in Joannis Duns Scoti Opera Omnia, 26 vols. (Paris: Ludovicus Vives, 1891-95), 15:378.

Reportatio Parisiensis, lib.3, d.7, q.4, n.4, in Opera Omnia, 23:303.

Robert I. Burns, "Christian-Islamic Confrontation in the West: The Thirteenth Century Dream of Conversion," American Historical Review 76 (1971): 1395.

Benjamin Z. Kedar, Crusade and Mission: Approaches toward the Muslims (Princeton: University Press, 1984), 125.

CREDIT: REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
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REPORTATIO SUPER MARTYRIO SERVORUM DEi PETRI DE CORPA ET SOCIORUM EJUS ANNO DOMINI 1597 IN FLORIDA OCCISORUM (Editio Tertia "Positionis", 7 Maii 2002)
The First Georgia Missions: Our Southern Catholic Heritage, Dr. Paul Thigpen and Katherine Ragan. Illustrations by Pamela Gardner, based on the retablo by Dan Nichols. This retablo is part of the parish patrimony of Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Jasper, Georgia

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