The Univocity of Being

Learning to See: Everything Is Holy

The Univocity of Being
Wednesday, May 27, 2015

John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) was a philosopher theologian who in many ways paralleled Bonaventure’s ideas and also developed the doctrine of the univocity of being. Up to that point the philosophers said God was a Being, which is what most people still think today. Both the Dominican Thomas Aquinas and the Franciscan Duns Scotus said Deus est ens, God is being itself. The Dominicans said everything other than God participated in being only by analogy and by attempts to make connections, but it was not really the same being as God’s being. Yet Scotus believed we can speak “with one voice” (univocity) of the being of waters, plants, animals, humans, angels, and God. We all participate in the same being. God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), and thus reality is one too (Ephesians 4:3-5).

This gives us a foundation for understanding the sacredness of everything and our connection with everything. We are already connected to everything—inherently, objectively, metaphysically, ontologically, and theologically. We don’t create the connection by going to church or reading the Bible, although we hopefully enliven the connection. In Francis’ worldview, we begin with “original blessing,” as Matthew Fox rightly said. Our DNA is already divine; that is why we naturally seek to know and love God. There has to be a little bit of something inside you for you to be attracted to it; like knows like. You are what you are looking for!

Duns Scotus’ idea, univocity of being, is universally attractive and meaningful. Without using that exact term, master teacher Thich Nhat Hanh shows how it is key to the health of the planet as well as to reconciliation and peace [1]:

“We have to look deeply at things in order to see. When a swimmer enjoys the clear water of the river, he or she should also be able to be the river. . . .

“If we want to continue to enjoy our rivers—to swim in them, walk beside them, even drink their water—we have to adopt the non-dual perspective. We have to meditate on being the river so that we can experience within ourselves the fears and hopes of the river. If we cannot feel the rivers, the mountains, the air, the animals, and other people from within their own perspective, the rivers will die and we will lose our chance for peace.

“If you are a mountain climber or someone who enjoys the countryside, or the green forest, you know that the forests are our lungs outside of our bodies, just as the sun is our heart outside of our bodies. Yet we have been acting in a way that has allowed two million square miles of forest to be destroyed by acid rain, and we have destroyed parts of the ozone layer that regulate how much direct sunlight we receive. We are imprisoned in our small selves, thinking only of the comfortable conditions for this small self, while we destroy our large self. We should be able to be our true self. That means we should be able to be the river, we should be able to be the forest, the sun, and the ozone layer. We must do this to understand and to have hope for the future.”

As Christians, we would say that our True Self is our Christ Self. Since Creation is the Body of God and Christ is “all in all” (Colossians 3:1l, 1 Corinthians 15:28), the seeing that Thich Nhat Hahn describes should be natural to us. Contemplatives in all religions invariably come to the same insight because it is the deepest level of truth: Being is One.

Gateway to Silence:
“The world is in truth a holy place.” —Teilhard de Chardin

References:
[1] Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life (Bantam: 1992), 104-106.

Adapted from Franciscan Mysticism: I Am that which I Am Seeking, disc 1 (CD, MP3 download)

Image credit: The Legend of St. Francis: 15. Sermon to the Birds (fresco detail), 1297-99, Giotto di Bondone, Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi, Italy.

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