ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf


154. John Scotus Eriugena, the Founder of Anti-Scholasticism. -- In opposition to the majority of historians,{1} who describe Eriugena{2} as the first of the scholastics, we have no hesitation in calling him the first of the anti-scholastics -- and the most formidable of them in the present epoch. For his teaching propounds principles which are opposed to those of scholasticism and which form the starting-point of opposition movements.

Not that we would lessen the historical significance of Scotus Eriugena: on the contrary, he must be regarded as one of the most striking personalities in the world of culture and learning in the early Middle Ages. He was far in advance of his time. While his contemporaries were only lisping in philosophy, and even his successors for centuries did no more than discuss a small number of disconnected philosophical questions, Eriugena in the ninth century worked out a complete philosophical synthesis. Apart from those incredibly daring speculations which made him the enfant terrible of his time, he reads like a pantheistic contemporary of St. Thomas. He was, in a word, at once the scholar and the man of genius. What was an altogether unique accomplishment for the ninth century, he read Greek, of which Alcuin scarcely knew the alphabet; and at the request of Charles the Bald he translated into Latin the works of Pseudo-Denis the Areopagite, of which Pope Paul I. had sent a copy to Pepin.{3} He was also familiar with the Fathers of the Church, quoting frequently from St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Augustine and Maximus the Confessor, -- especially St. Augustine.

{1} This classification is due to the identification of medieval philosophy with scholastic philosophy. UEBERWEG-HEINZE, Grundriss d. Geschich. d. Philos., Theil ii. (1898), calls Scotus "der früheste namhafte Philosoph der scholastischen Zeit" (p. 150). SAINT RENÉ TAILLANDIER: "Not only is Scotus Erigena the father of scholastic philosophy, he seems to embody in himself all its developments" (Scot Erigène et la philosophie scolastique, Paris, 1843).

{2} Not Erigena. Professor BAEUMKER has shown that the ancient manuscripts have the form Johannes Scotus Eriugena (Jahrbuch f. Philos. u. spekul. Theol., 1893, p. 346, n. 2). The texts in which Scotus is referred to by his contemporaries are collected by TRAUBE, Mon. Ger. Histor., Poetae Aevi Carolini, iii., 518 (1896).

{3} This work, produced at a time when the knowledge of Greek had almost died out in Europe, excited the greatest astonishment among his contemporaries. The learned Librarian of the Vatican Library, Anastasius, exclaimed when he read it: 'It is wonderful that this uncivilized man, dwelling on the confines of the world, should have been able to understand such things, and to translate them into another' " (Miss ELEANOR HULL, Text-Book of Irish Literature, p. 144, quoted in Irish Ecclesiastical Record, May, 1909, p. 175).

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