Jacques Maritain Center : A History of Western Philosophy Vol. II / by Ralph McInerny

Part II: The Carolingian Renaissance

Chapter II

John Scotus Erigena

A. His Life and Works

We know very little of the life of John Scotus Erigena. As his name redundantly suggests, he was Irish; the date of his birth is approximately 810. It seems fairly certain that he was educated in his homeland before coming to France, where he became head of the palace school under Charles the Bald. We have already seen the salutary influence on Continental schooling that Alcuin had when he came earlier to the court of Charlemagne. But if Alcuin was a luminary, John Scotus Erigena was a good deal more. Indeed, there is no one like him in the ninth century, and historians quite properly marvel that a man of Scotus Erigena's intellectual range and daring should appear when he did. Nor is his brilliance merely a comparative thing, as if he were "fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky." His work is an authentic landmark in the Early Middle Ages, great not only in its immediate historical context but in the broader sweep of time which includes the twelfth century.

Scotus Erigena knew Greek well, a rare accomplishment and one which he put to good purpose. He translated into Latin the Celestial Hierarchy, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, Mystical Theology, and Divine Names of Denis the Areopagite as well as his ten letters; he also wrote commentaries on the Celestial Hierarchy. Other works include translations of the De hominis opificio of Gregory of Nyssa and the Ambiguities of Maximus the Confessor and a commentary on the work of Martianus Capella. His translations from the Greek made the basic tenets of Neoplatonism known in the West. The thought of Scotus Erigena himself reveals the strong influence of Denis and Maximus the Confessor, particularly in his masterpiece, the work that assures Scotus Erigena a place as one of the great original thinkers of the Early Middle Ages, his On the Division of Nature. Also among his writings are On Predestination, in which he disputed the position of Gottschalk, only to have his own position condemned by two councils, and fragments of a commentary on St. John's Gospel.

The major characteristic of Scotus Erigena's original work is the attempt to combine Christian revelation and Neoplatonic elements in a speculative synthesis. The result is a panoramic view of the whole of being or nature which cannot fail to impress the modern reader with its philosophical daring. We can imagine how Scotus Erigena's contemporaries must have reacted to a work of such strangeness and comprehension. His influence is difficult to trace, but it is thought to be visible in the School of Chartres and elsewhere, notably in Hugh of St. Victor. This is not to say that the work of Scotus Erigena was ever accepted as a whole; rather, certain elements of his system were taken over and introduced into other, more familiar contexts. Indeed, it was the fate of his On the Division of Nature to be condemned by the Council of Paris in 1210. The council ordered that all copies of the book be burned. The command was apparently not obeyed with alacrity, for Pope Honorius III in a letter of January 23, 1225, to the archbishops of France ordercd that copies of the book -- complete or incomplete -- be sought out and sent to Rome to be solemnly burned.

Scotus Erigena is thought to have died around 877, perhaps after returning to his native land. Many legends surround the story of his life, among them a story that he was attacked and killed by his students with their pens. Whether or not he died by the pen, he has managed to survive in his writings, to the content of which we will now turn.

B. Faith and Philosophy

We recall that Alcuin, having accepted a threefold division of philosophy, applied a similar division to Scripture: Genesis and Ecelesiastes treat of nature, Proverbs and similar books of morals, the Canticle of Canticles and the Gospels of logic. Moreover, Alcuin and Rhabanus Maurus considered the liberal arts to be preparatory to the study of Scripture. Scotus Erigena, although he was a thinker of far greater sophistication than his predecessors in the palace school, seems to hold to the same identity of faith and reason. There is, for example, his famous identification of true religion and true philosophy: "For what else is it to treat of true philosophy than to set forth the rules of true religion by which God, the chief and highest cause of all things, is at once humbly served and rationally investigated? Conclude, then, that true philosophy is true religion and, conversely, that true religion is true philosophy." (On Predestination, chap. 1; PL, 122, 357-358)

Sacred Scripture contains the whole of the liberal arts (Exposition of Celestial Hierarchy; PL, 122,140); in fact, it contains everything philosophy is thought to contain: "Divine Scripture is like an intelligible world composed of four parts as its elements. The earth which is found in the middle in the manner of a center is history around which, like water, flows the sea of the moral sense: this the Greeks call ethike. Beyond history and ethics, which are as it were the inferior parts of this world, extends the air of natural science, called physike by the Greeks. Beyond and above all these is found the subtle and ardent fire of the empyrean heaven, that is, the highest contemplation of the divine nature called theologike by the Greeks. Beyond that no intelligence can go." (Homilies on John; PL, 122,291) Given all this, we are not surprised to read "Nemo intret in celum nisi per philosophiam" (No one enters heaven save through philosophy). (Notes on Martianus, 38,11)

Despite this identification of faith and philosophy Scotus Erigena was for a long time considered one for whom reason is the measure of faith. He has said that "true authority cannot contradict true reason nor can true reason contradict true authority." (Div. Nat., I,66,511) Such contradiction is impossible because both stem from the same source, the divine wisdom. Such an opinion does not suggest rationalism, surely, but there are times when Erigena reduces authority to reason: "But reason never proceeds from authority, for every authority which is not approved by reason is seen to be inferior. Therefore, authority proceeds from true reason." (Div. Nat., 1,69,513) True reason, on the other hand, stands by itself. Now if "authority" were meant here to stand for faith and Scripture, Erigena would be saying that Scripture can be acceptable only if it can be measured by our reason. This would indeed be rationalism, but it is difficult to see how such a position could be reconciled with the quotations we have given earlier. That the suggested understanding of "authority" in the present passage is unacceptable is clear from Erigena's admonition that the authority of Sacred Scripture is to be followed in all things. (Div. Nat., 1,64,509)

What authority is it which must be subjected to reason? Cappuyns has argued that for Erigena Scripture is simply given and its authority is never to be questioned. When Erigena compares reason and authority, he has in mind two methods of interpreting Scripture: rational argumentation or appeals to the Fathers. Erigena holds that the authority of the Fathers must commend itself to reason if it is to be accepted. Where such authority is true, it cannot disagree with true reason, since both proceed from a common source. Reason and authority are complementary, and it is necessary to use both to arrive at pure knowledge, that is, of course, pure knowledge of Scripture. (Div. Nat., 1,56,499) Erigena is, therefore, arguing for the use of reason as well as of the Fathers in the interpretation of Scripture. And, although the authority of the Fathers must be tested by reason, Scripture itself is an authority which must never be subjected to the doubt of reason.

Does Erigena think that man can come to knowledge of God apart from Scripture? Consider the following passage:

I would not say that this world surpasses the intellectual capacity of our rational nature since it was for this it was made. Not only does divine authority not forbid it, it counsels us to seek knowledge of both visible and invisible things. The Apostle says that it is through that which has been made that the terrestrial creature comes to knowledge of the invisible things of God. This is not something small, then, but something great and most useful, namely, that the knowledge of sensible things is ordered to the understanding of intelligible things. For just as one proceeds from sense to understanding, so by way of the creature one goes to God. We ought not then like irrational creatures only consider the surface of visible things but seek to comprehend what is perceived by our bodily senses. The eagle sees more clearly the form of the sun; so the wise man sees more clearly its position and movement in space and time. Are we to think that if man had not sinned and by falling become like unto the beasts he would then have ignored what is proper to him, namely, the world which he should govern justly according to the laws of nature? Another angel would have been required to praise God in sensible creatures. Man did not lose completely the dignity of his nature after sin. He still has a rational appetite which seeks to know things and does not want to be mistaken, although it often but not always is. If at the moment of transfiguration Christ's two vestments appeared as white as snow, namely, the letter of Divine Scripture and the form of visible things, why should we be obliged so carefully to attach ourselves to one of these vestments and merit to find him who wears it, and prevented from considering the other, namely, the visible creature? I do not see clearly for what reasons this could be maintained. Abraham, for example, knew God not by the letter of Scripture, which did not yet exist, but by the movement of the stars. Or did he perhaps, in the manner of the animals, consider only the forms of the stars, unable to comprehend their natures? I would not have the temerity to say that of this great and wise theologian. And if someone thinks we are wrong for employing philosophical arguments, let him consider the people of God fleeing Egypt, admonished by divine counsel to gather spoils and irreprehensibly use them. Much more those who take up the wisdom of the world ought to be accused not of wandering among visible creatures but of not having sought sufficiently in these creatures their author, for then they wil' have found the creator by means of the creature, something, we read, that Plato alone has been able to accomplish. (Div. Nat., III, 23, 689)

This is a very tantalizing passage. Abraham, the father of faith, can hardly be considered to have been in the same position as a Plato. By referring to Plato, who has found God by means of the study of creatures, Erigena seems to be recognizing a distinction between philosophy and the knowledge of faith. The passage can also be construed as a defense of the use of reason, that is, rational argumentation, in the interpreting of Scripture.

If we consider reason and authority, with the latter comprising both Scripture and the Fathers' interpretation of it, we can say that reason comes before the authority of the Fathers -- we do not blindly accept their views -- but that in the study of Scripture faith must precede reason. Erigena uses the example of John and Peter running to Christ's tomb on the first Easter morning. John arrives before Peter, but he waits and allows Peter, the symbol of faith, to go in before him. John is the symbol of understanding. "For thus, since it is written, 'Unless you believe, you shall not understand,' faith necessarily precedes and goes first into the monument of Sacred Scripture, and reason, taking second place, follows along behind, its entrance being prepared by faith." (Homilies on John, 284-285)

But what precisely is the value of rational argumentation in relation to Scripture? At the end of an argument in astronomy, Erigena writes, "Such are the philosophical arguments concerning the spaces of the universe. If someone should find them superfluous because they are neither transmitted nor confirmed by Scripture, he should not thereby blame us. For he can no more be assured that they are false than we are able to affirm that they are true." (Div. Nat., 11,34,723) If we can generalize on this, we would say that Erigena grants only a borrowed cogency to rational argumentation. If also explicitly taught by Scripture, the conclusions of an argument are true; if the contrary of the conclusion is taught by Scripture, the argument is invalid. If Scripture says nothing one way or the other, the conclusion is neither true nor false. True reason is such due to its conformity with Scripture; there seems to be no way for reason to arrive at a body of doctrine independently of Scripture, and a philosophy other than that already contained in Scripture is not possible. It would be difficult to say whether this means that the pagan philosophies can be judged true only by the test of revealed truth. Thus, the reference to Plato in the earlier quotation does not have any clear meaning. What is quite clear, however, is that Erigena himself is uninterested in any philosophy other than that revealed in Scripture. When his arguments conclude to something not contained in Scripture, he considers them neither true nor false. This brings us inexorably back to the identification of true reason and true religion: "I greet nothing more gladly than an argument bolstered by the firmest authority." (Div. Nat., 1,64,509)

C. The Division of Nature

As has been mentioned, the single most important work of John Scotus Erigena, the one to which he owes his claim to our particular attention, is the De divisione naturae. It is a long work, comprising five books, in the literary form of a dialogue between master and pupil. However, it has nothing like the give-and-take between the participants in a Platonic dialogue. The master is just that: he pronounces. asserts, states his views. The pupil, while not a simple foil -- he is the vehicle of much of what Scotus Erigena wants to say -- is not the occasion for dialectical progression.

The Meaning of "Nature." This term is employed by Erigena to mean everything that is and everything that is not. This may seem to be a curious definition, but Erigena presents five different understandings of the opposition of being and nonbeing which make his usage understandable: (1) In the first place, if by "being" one understands only what can be grasped by the senses, then whatever is immaterial will be nonbeing. Erigena goes further, however, thus bringing us face to face with one of the main difficulties in On the Division of Nature. Whatever escapes reason and intelligence will also be called nonbeing; as examples, Erigena gives the essences of things. He reasons here that God surpasses the reach of both reason and understanding; God is the essence of all things; therefore, the essences of all things escape reason and understanding. Only God truly is, Erigena continues, to quote Denis the Areopagite (esse omnium est superesse divinitas) and to cite Gregory of Nyssa: "Just as God as he is in himself is beyond the comprehension of any created intellect, so too in the deepest recesses of the creature made by him the essence considered as existing in him is incomprehensible." (1,3,443) The difficulty here is that by speaking of God's eminent being as the being of all things, as Denis had before him, Erigena seems to become involved in pantheism. This point will come up again in the sequel.

(2) A second way to understand the being/nonbeing dichotomy is drawn from the fact that creatures are hierarchically ordered, that a given creature is more perfect than another and less perfect than yet another on the scale of reality. Thus, the affirmation of one thing, say an inferior thing, is the negation of a superior thing. That is, to be a man is not to be an angel and vice versa.

(3) A third way in which what is can be distinguished from what is not is by confining existence to the material order. That is, we may restrict the range of the term "being" to those things which have achieved their own perfection and are independent of the causes that brought them into being. Those things which are not yet, which have not yet been perfectly formed, will then be instances of nonbeing.

(4) A fourth and more philosophical usage is that whereby only those things which do not come to be, which are not spatial and temporal, are called beings. Changeable, spatiotemporal things are then instances of nonbeing.

(5) A fifth and final way of making this distinction pertains to human nature alone. To be in the state of grace is for a man to be, whereas to be in a sinful condition is for a man not to be.

Nature for Erigena, as the foregoing indicates, is the totality of reality. The initially strange statement that nature includes both being and nonbeing can now be seen as a necessary remark if both God and creature are to be brought within the scope of a single term. To complete these preliminary but necessary remarks about the title of the work, we should understand that by "division" Erigena means a separation or emanation which has as its counterpart a resolution or return. From this we can conclude that the title of the work is not intended to convey simply a distinction of the various meanings of "nature" or a list of the various things which fall under the scope of the term. What Erigena suggests in the title is the characteristic Neoplatonic doctrine that there is a One, a first principle, from which all things emanate in such a way that a hierarchical scale is created by the graded falling away from this first principle. At the term of emanation the route is retraced by the process of return. That this is indeed the implication of the title becomes clear when we consider the fourfold division of nature that Erigena proposes, a division which provides the basic structure of the work.

Nature, which includes whatever is and whatever is not, is divided thus: first, there is the nature which creates and is not created; second, the nature which is created and creates; third, the nature which is created but does not create; finally, the nature which neither creates nor is created. When we see that these refer, respectively, to God as efficient cause, the divine Ideas, external creatures, and God as final cause, it becomes clear that in the system of On the Division of Nature Erigena is attempting a panoramic description of the way things have taken their origin from God, how this is accomplished, what such things are, and how creatures necessarily return to their source.

Nature Which Creates and Is Not Created. This phrase pertains truly to God alone, for he alone is anarchos, without any cause. (1,11,451) Himself without cause, God is the beginning, middle, and end of all other things: the efficient, sustaining, and final cause of all things. By making this identification Erigena would seem to have made the essential point. Once more, the question he chooses to raise is surprising: Cannot God be said to be created in some sense of the term? Erigena asks after the etymology of the Greek term for God, "theos," and suggests that it comes either from the Greek word for seeing or from the word meaning to run. The latter possibility makes at least metaphorical sense if we think of God as running through or permeating all creatures. "God is said to run, therefore, not because he literally runs outside himself, he remains always and immutably in himself, but because he makes all things run from being nonexistent to being existent." (1,12,453) It is necessary to point out now that God is not created in the sense of being dependent on anything other than himself. However, insofar as in making things he, in a certain fashion, comes to be in them, it is possible to say that God is created in his effects.

This suggestion becomes the occasion for raising the broader question concerning the possibility of talking about God. Erigena adverts to previous remarks of his own and to the nature of the theologian's task in stating that since it seems clear that assertions about God are based only on what we can know of him in his effects, no statement about God can be expressive of what God is like in himself. From the essences of things we can conclude that God is, from the marvelous order among creatures we conclude that He is wise, and from their activity that God is life. Erigena attaches these attributes to the various Persons of the Trinity, but his point, once more, is the broad one that none of our names can be applied to God in such a way as to be expressive of what he is. His source here is Denis the Areopagite.

Erigena says that we must either refrain from saying anything at all about God or speak of him with great caution in terms of the twofold division of theology made by Denis, affirmative and negative. Affirmative theology takes names from creatures and applies them to God on the assumption that what is found in the effect must also be found in some fashion in the cause. Affirmative theology will say of God that he is truth, goodness, being, light, justice, sun, star, spirit, water, lion, and innumerable other things. Erigena says that such predicates, a list of which could be derived from Scripture alone, all involve metaphor. By metaphor he means simply transference from creatures to God. His general assumption is that our language is fashioned to signify the things we know first, and, of course, what we know first are finite things; thus, our names are the names of creatures. Any use of them to speak of God must involve transference, or metaphor. If affirmative theology comes up with a vast number of terms which can be predicated of God, negative theology will deny the same predicates of God. It is considered nevertheless, as complementary to affirmative theology, for the negations serve to remind us that our terms cannot be applied to God in the same way that they are applied to things that exist. He is beyond our ken, incomprehensible, accessible only indirectly and imperfectly by way of his effects.

Nothing can be coeternal with God, Erigena observes, for this would be prejudicial to the divine unity and absolute transcendence. This observation leads Erigena to introduce the third moment in any attempt to talk about God. First, it would appear, we affirm predicates of God because they express what is found in his effects. Second, noticing that there is always something in the meaning of these terms which is not appropriate to God -- if only because all our terms are appropriate to creatures -- we deny these same predicates of God. Third, we can prefix these terms to suggest that what the term signifies is found in God in a fashion which surpasses our understanding. Thus, an illustration of these stages would be: "God is truth," then "God is not truth," and, finally, "God is supereminent truth." Without such additions, Erigena says, such names are metaphorical; with them they are, as it were, proper names of God.

Erigena continues by raising the objection that it does not seem right to say that God is ineffable and then go on to discuss how we can speak of him. Moreover, he claims, the distinction between affirmative and negative theology seems to get us into the position of making contradictory statements about God, for example, that he is truth and that he is not truth. "This appears to be a contradiction, but if we consider the matter closely this is seen not to be the case. For one who says 'he is truth' does not affirm that the divine substance is properly truth but that such a term can be transferred by way of metaphor from creature to creator; considered with respect to their proper signification, such terms simply do not attain the divine essence. On the other hand, to say 'he is not truth,' knowing clearly that the divine nature is incomprehensible and ineffable, is to say, not that he does not exist, but that he cannot properly be called or be truth." (1,14,461) To which of the two kinds of theology, negative or affirmative, belong the statements that God is more than truth, is supergoodness, and so on? Erigina replies that such statements encompass the two theologies, for they have both affirmative and negative overtones. God is goodness, but his goodness is of a much more eminent kind, utterly unlike created goodness.

In an attempt to determine what predicates can be attributed to God, Erigena appeals to the Aristotelian categories. These categories are taken to be the most general predicates applicable to finite or creaturely being and thus are examined in terms of possible transference to God as cause of the things to which the categories properly apply. Augustine is quoted to the effect that the categories lose their power when we attempt to speak of God, but Erigena gets rid of his objection by appealing to the general assumption that whatever can be properly predicated of creatures can be transferred metaphorically to their creator. However, Erigena is swift to agree that none of the categories, not even that of relation, can be attributed to God properly. God transcends the limited mode of being which is involved in the signification of any and all of the categorical names. The conclusion is the familiar one: the categories do not in any way call into question the general truth that creaturely names cannot provide us with knowledge of what God is in himself. God is transcendent, ineffable, incomprehensible. This is Erigena's point from first to last, and if we rightly hear the echo of Denis in this section, we are also hearing what will remain the orthodox view. The human mind, in this life, whether it be considered in its own nature or as elevated by grace, cannot know God as he is in himself.

In the first book of On the Division of Nature, however, Erigena is not content with a general statement concerning the inadequacy of the categories to give us knowledge of God; he proceeds to take up the ten categories one by one. This thoroughness lands him in a difficulty he might have avoided had he settled for the universal statement. One of the Aristotelian categories is action, the Latin term for which is also the term for making. Of course, God makes all things, being the Creator of all things. Must we say however that God does not properly make things because the category of action pertains to him only metaphorically? Erigena is not faced with a serious difficulty. He points out that making in the categorical sense involves motion and that motion cannot be found in God. It is his further statement concerning the nature of God's making that is troublesome. When we read that God makes all things, says Erigena, we should take this to mean that God is in all things, that he is in fact the essence of all things. "He alone truly is in himself, and everything which is truly said to be in the things that are is him alone, since none of the things that are truly is in itself." (1,72,518) Once more we encounter one of the most difficult aspects of the doctrine of Erigena. Such statements as this have led interpreters to find pantheism in his writings. In the context of the foregoing quotation it should be pointed out Erigena says that things other than God are and are what they are by participation in God.

But we do not want to dwell on the putative pantheism of Erigena. The first book of On the Division of Nature concludes with a reiteration of some of the points we have stressed: the transference of names of creatures to God and the need for both affirmative and negative theology. This will suffice for Erigena's doctrine on the nature which creates and is not created.

Nature Which Is Created and Creates. This phrase signifies what Erigena calls the primordial causes. These are the predestinations or patterns of external creation which are formed in the divine Word; as formed, they are created. As the patterns or ideas of external creatures, they can be called causes.

The Neoplatonic influence on Erigena is particularly clear in his discussion of this division of nature. When he speaks of primordial causes, he has in mind such ideas as Wisdom itself, Goodness itself, and so on. For the Neoplatonist, we may generalize, such entities were considered subsistent and apart from the first principle. Erigena, in orthodox fashion, locates these patterns or ideas in the Second Person of the Trinity. While the Son is coeternal with the Father, Erigena maintains, however, that the primordial causes or ideas are not quite coeternal. As creatures, they are theophanies, that is, manifestations or appearances of God. The notion of theophany as the chief characteristic of the creature should be referred to the earlier contention that God can be said in some sense to be created. He comes to be in his manifestations, or theophanies. We will return to this notion when we discuss the charge of pantheism which has been made against Erigena.

Erigena is set definitively apart from the Neoplatonism which is exercising at least an indirect influence on him by his insistence that God creates freely. The Neoplatonic tendency was to assert that God could not not create, that things emanate from him necessarily, independently of his will. Erigena indicates his opposition to this view by the very language he uses in speaking of the primordial causes. They are the wishes of God, the predestinations of God, who is a free cause. Of course, we are reminded here that it would be less inaccurate to speak of God as a supercausal principle.

The second division of nature deals with created creating causes. The primordial causes occupy a station midway between God and the creature proper; they are intermediaries. External creatures exist by way of participation; that in which they participate are the primordial causes. Here Erigena is quite close to the Neoplatonic view that the lower creature is referred to the first principle not directly but by way of an intermediary hierarchical order. This goes a long way -- some would say too-far -- toward preserving an ontological distance between God and external creation.

The primordial causes or Ideas are in the Word; while they are many, the Word is one. In a fashion that will become common, Erigena suggests that the multiplicity of primordial causes should be read in the direction of external effects. He feels that by so saying he is calling into question neither the oneness of the Word nor the simplicity of the divine nature.

He makes a further point about the primordial causes as patterns of external creatures. Creatures exist in a more perfect fashion in the primordial causes than in matter. Erigena considers existence apart from God a diminished sort of being. Such a remark is a recognition of the need to return to the source which is the other side of the created coin.

Nature Which Is Created and Does Not Create. The universe to the Neoplatonic eye and to a certain extent to Erigena's eye is a declension from the incomprehensible and ineffable unity of God, a declension which begins with the Ideas or primordial causes and then in a graded falling away from completeness and simplicity, which implies increasing complexity, arrives finally at material individuals. This concept of intermediates involves for Erigena a ceaseless flirtation with the reification of the Porphyrian tree, as if more universal terms named a higher and more perfect type of being. This third division of nature, that which is created and does not create, is the whole of external creation; in this realm man occupies a privileged position.

Erigena wants to maintain that the meaning of the statement in Genesis that man has been created in the image of God is that all things have been created in man. Man is not merely an element in the cosmos; in a sense the reverse is true, for man is a microcosmos, a world writ small. We may think that this position of Erigena's would lead to the conclusion that man is the only creature in the cosmos, that other things have whatever existence they have in man, but Erigena does not opt for this kind of idealism. Nevertheless, there is a kind of parallel here to his earlier contention that the better being of creatures is the existence they have in the primordial causes, their being as known. Similarly, with respect to external creation, the better being of things other than man is had in man's knowledge of them. This will have dramatically important consequences in Erigena's theory on the return of things to God. The Ideas exist in man insofar as he is united to the Word. As a consequence of sin, man is unaware of the presence of the Ideas in himself, although they are innate to him. Furthermore, knowledge of the Ideas could not be derived from material things. The most important aspect of this teaching of Erigena's is the conviction that the substance of things, their real being, consists in their being known. This is preeminently the case with the primordial causes, which are the true essences ol things, but it is also true with respect to man's cognitive relation to material creatures.

Nature Which Is Neither Created Nor Creates. This phrase refers to God, not as the source of creatures, but as that to which all creatures must ultimately return. At this point the profound import of Erigena's insistence that man is a microcosm is revealed. Because all things have been created in man, it is through man that they will be returned to God until that final stage is reached when, in the words of the Apostle, God will be all in all. The Incarnation is introduced here; Christ's reparation of our nature makes possible the return of man which is described as a deification. Here we must dispose of the charge of pantheism. Erigena insists that the individual soul does not lose its individuality when it has returned to God. Moreover, while Erigena employs in surprising ways the Pauline statement that God will be all in all, his firm view on the transcendence of God and the vast difference between him and creatures is as clear as anyone could wish in his treatment of the failure of our names to express what God is. It is this very incomprehensibility of God, on which Erigena insists in talking about the reach of our language, that leads him to speak of creatures as manifestations of God, or theophanies. Although he is unknowable in himself, God can be known in his effects. Furthermore, when God is said to be the essence or being of creatures, Erigena does not seem to intend an identification in being of God and creature; rather it is the dependence of creatures on God which he wants to emphasize.

The return of being to God through human nature is accomplished in five stages according to Erigena. First, at death there is a dissolution of the material body into the four elements. Second, at the resurrection the soul reclaims once more its body, gathering it from the elements so that, third, the body is changed to spirit. Fourth, there is a return of the spirit, and the whole of human nature which has become spirit, to the primal causes. Finally, there is the passage of the spiritualized nature, together with its causes, into God, quando nihil erit nisi solus deus (when there will be nothing save God alone).

In On the Division of Nature Erigena gives a view of reality as rhythmic movement, the emanation of creatures from the One, a cascading away from the source which is productive of a hierarchy, with an ultimate overcoming of this diversity in the return of everything to the source via man, creation's lieutenant. A satisfying picture, perhaps, but dissatisfying as well; it is a blend of nature and grace, and the assertions of otherness seem to clash in the final apotheosis when creation apparently dissolves into God. Erigena's departure from orthodoxy was not merely imagined, for no matter how genial an interpretation we attempt, there are too many passages which do not lend themselves to irenic treatment. Nonetheless, Erigena's influence on later men was significant, though in a somewhat underground fashion. Eric and Remigius of Auxerre exhibit that influence, as does Berengar. Anselm of Laon; and, more importantly, Gilbert of Poitiers and Abelard take from the thought of Erigena; indeed, the Victorine school as a whole can be said to come under the influence of Scotus Erigena. Thus, Erigena was not an isolated and insulated ninth-century phenomenon; he cannot be read from the lists as an aberration and excursus from the mainstream of medieval thought. However hidden, he is in that mainstream, one influence among others, but always one to be reckoned with.

Bibliographical Note

The works of Scotus Erigena may be found in PL, 122. See Henry Bett, Johannes Scotus Erigena (Cambridge, 1925); M. Cappuyns, Jean Scot Erigene (Paris, 1933); J. Huber, Johannes Scotus Erigena: Een Beitrag zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie (Munich, 1861); M. Del Pra, Scoto Erigeno ed il neoplatonismo medievale (Milan, 1941).

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