Go Deep in One Place
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Franciscan philosopher-theologian John Duns Scotus’ idea of “thisness” mirrors Jesus leaving the ninety-nine sheep and going after the one (Luke 15:4). And, just like Jesus, Duns Scotus holds that precious, irreplaceable “one” fully inside a “commonwealth” or community, the Body of Christ. Duns Scotus does not teach individualism but incarnation. The universal incarnation always shows itself in the specific, the concrete, and the particular—refusing to be an abstraction. Poet Christian Wiman puts it this way: “If nature abhors a vacuum, Christ abhors a vagueness. If God is love, Christ is love for this one person, this one place, this one time-bound and time-ravaged self.” 
The doctrine of haecceity is saying that we come to universal meaning deeply and rightly through the unique and ordinary, not the other way around, which is the great danger of all the ideologies (overarching and universal explanations) that have plagued our world in the last century. Everything in the universe is a holon and a fractal, where the part replicates the whole. Go deep in any one place and we will meet all places where the divine image is present.
When we start with big universal ideas, at the level of concepts and -isms, we too-often stay there and argue about theory and generalizations. At that level, the mind is totally in charge. It is then easy to love humanity, but not any one person in particular. We defend principles of justice, but would not put ourselves out to live justly.
This takes different forms on the Left and on the Right, to put it in political terms. Liberals are often devoted to political correctness and get authoritarian about process and semantics. Conservatives can be overly loyal to their validating group for its own sake and become authoritarian about its symbols, defining and defending the rules and rights of membership in that group. Both sides risk becoming “word police” and “symbol protectors” instead of actually changing the world—or themselves—by offering the healing energy of love.
Sometimes neither group ever gets to concrete acts of charity, mercy, liberation, or service. We just argue about theory and proper definitions. I have done this myself. Duns Scotus offered us a meaningful and practical way to live compassionately by focusing on the now, the particular, the concrete, the individual. His entire philosophy makes love, and the will to love in a particular way, more important than intellect, understanding, or any theories about love or justice. As we say, the rubber must hit the road.
Start with loving one situation or one person all the way through. That is the best—and maybe the only—first school for universal love.
 Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2013), 121.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 180-182; and
Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 4 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.