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Center for Action and Contemplation

One of a Kind

Thursday, March 22, 2018


One of a Kind
Thursday, March 22, 2018

My friend, Sister of Saint Joseph and Professor Mary Beth Ingham, knows John Duns Scotus inside and out. Over a decade ago we spoke together at a conference in Albuquerque called Holding the Tension. Today I share her insights from Duns Scotus’ teaching of haecceity or thisness, drawn from that conference.

What is haecceity? It’s you. It’s the unique identity inherent in each being. Each one of us has been given our gift, and that’s our little “haec.” It’s what makes me, me, and not somebody else. Haec cannot be cloned. It’s the part of me that is not to be replicated.

So, I’m not just one of a kind, and you’re not just one of a kind, and we are each not just one of a kind; we are one of an eternity. No pressure! Each of us has come with a gift. And if we do not give our gift, the world misses out.

Haecceity is a term invented by Duns Scotus to capture the ineffable. It’s that which I cannot name within myself. No amount of self-help exercises will ever exhaust the mystery that is me. So, the good news is I can never figure myself out. I can always surprise myself.

Since before the foundation of the world, God has longed to be one with us. Jesus is the mutuality of God in creation. The incarnation is God’s presence in our world—not an event of the past. The incarnation is still going on in our lives. And our vocation is to join God’s dynamic, incarnate energy in the world and to be that presence wherever we find ourselves.

Duns Scotus writes: “You ask me, what is this haec? What is this thing from which the individual difference is taken? Is it matter or form or the composite? I give you this answer: . . . It’s just this.” [1]

You’re just yourself. Live with it. Here I am. I’m just me and all I can do is be me. That’s the only thing I can do, and I can do it better than anybody else. If I don’t do it, nobody will do it. So often we spend our lives trying to be other people. Yet God says, “I made you, and I like the you I’ve made, so just do your best and be yourself, and I’ll be there to help you.” It’s not something we have to do alone, but something we grow into.

Allan Wolter [a Franciscan theologian and philosopher] said that haecceity invests each person with a unique value as one singularly wanted and loved by God, quite apart from any trait that person shares with anybody else, or any contribution he or she might make to society. Haecceity is our personal gift from God. [2] Part of our vocation is to appreciate ourselves as the pearl of great price—because God does. We get to discover ourselves as the treasure in the field and to rejoice with God in the wondrous work that God does in each of our lives (Matthew 13:44-46), quite independent of any contribution we might make to society, any quantitative way of measuring.

[1] John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio II, d. 3, no. 187-188. See William M. Frank and Allan Wolter, Duns Scotus: Metaphysician (Purdue University Press: 1995), 185.

[2] John Duns Scotus, Early Oxford Lecture on Individuation, trans. and intro. by Allan Wolter (New York: The Franciscan Institute, 2005), xxi.

Mary Beth Ingham, Holding the Tension: The Power of Paradox, disc 5 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2007), CD, MP3 download.

You can only know anything by meeting it in its precise and irreplaceable thisness and honoring it there. Each individual act of creation is a once-in-eternity choice on God’s part. —Richard Rohr
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