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From Illustrations of the History of Medieval Thought and Learning, by Reginald Lane Poole; New York: Macmillan Company, 1920; pp. 47-68.




THE dispute about predestination had long perplexed the Frankish world when Hincmar, the great archbishop of Rheims, applied to John Scotus1 for help. GottschalkA. D. 849. had received his sentence from the council of Quierzy, and died after a long confinement in the monastery of Hautviliers. But the controversy had failed, as controversies usually fail, to secure conviction to either side, and John gladly assumed that the fault lay in the incompetence of theology by itself to decide the profound questions involved. He began his book on the subject2 by the announcement that true philosophy and true religion are identical; a solution of religious problems can only be effected by the aid of philosophy; and true philosophy rests on the basis of the unity of God. The oneness of his essence implies also a oneness of will, a will that can tend only towards good. To conceive a predestination to evil is to conceive a duality, a contradiction, in the divine nature. But predestination of any sort can only be 47 improperly asserted of God, since he is independent of time. If we connect it with any notion of necessity it cannot be asserted of him at all; since his will is absolute freedom; and man, as the highest image of God, possesses this same entire freedom of will, which he can use as he pleases for good or evil. There remains but one sense in which we can speak of God’s predestination; that is, his permission of what happens in the creature by means of his free will. He suffers this freedom of will, but when it moves to evil he knows it not; for God is ignorant of evil. If he knew it he would be the cause of it: we cannot separate his knowledge from his will, which is cause. For God, therefore, evil exists not; it has no cause, it is simply the negation of good. Sin, therefore, and its punishment come not from God. Every misdeed bears its punishment in itself, in the consciousness of lacking good. The eternal fire is a necessary part of God’s universe. The righteous will rejoice in it; the wicked suffer, because they are wicked, just as (he quotes the simile from the Confessions of Augustin) the sunlight hurts the weak while it is harmless to sound eyes. The order of the world sets a limit within which each creature moves and which it cannot overpass. It sets a bound to the possibility of wickedness, but for which the wicked would fall into that nothingness which is the nature of evil. In this sense alone is punishment fore-ordained, that wickedness be not able to extend itself, as it would, into the infinite.

These are some of the arguments which the Scot brings against the contention of Gottschalk. We see at once their startling character. They were no doubt entirely unadapted to their purpose; it was no double vain to argue on philosophical grounds with men who relied exclusively on theology and on a one-sided selection of ‘scriptural proofs.’ But it is on this very account that the reasoning is memorable. There is nothing in it of the commonplaces of controversy or of theology. It has a terminology of its own. Outwardly, indeed, John Scotus appeals, like his opponents, to the Bible, to Augustin, to 48 the common church tradition. But these strains are actually those which give colour to a web of thought quite different in texture. Its material, indeed, is only partly Christian, — and this, as we find it in his matured system, is drawn from the Greek fathers, Origen, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa, more than from the Latins, — but most of all it comes from the heterogeneous manufacture of the latest Neo-Platonists, the men who sought to combine a religion which failed to satisfy the speculative instinct with the noblest philosophy of which they had information. The result was in any case a medley — ‘the spurious birth,’ it has been
a Jowett, Dial.
of Plato 3. 524,
ed. 2, Oxford
acalled, ‘of a marriage between philosophy and tradition, between Hellas and the East’ — but the attempt was so plausible, so enticing, that it has never wanted defenders from the beginnings of Christianity, form Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, to our own time.

Among these Johannes Scotus, called Ierugena or Erigena,3 is a figure unique not so much for the originality of his views as for the confidence with which he discovered them latent in Christianity. He is unrestrained by the habits of thought of his own age, in which he appears as a meteor, none knew whence. The mystery which surrounds him is appropriate for his solitary person. From the schools of Ireland he drifted, some time before the year 847, to the court of Charles the Bald, b
b supra, pp.
14 sq.
like those former ‘merchants of wisdom’ with whom tradition 49 afterwards associated him. The c
c Will. Malmesb.
gest. pontif.
v. 240 pp.
392 sq., ed.
welcome he won from that liberal-minded prince and their intimate comradeship, the gaiety and sprightly humour of the Irish sage, his removal to England after Charles’s death, and his new career as a teacher under the auspices of king Alfred, finally his murder at Malmesbury; d
d v. infra, p. 52 :
cf. append. i.
all these things are recounted by later annalists. His own time knows only that he was a ‘holy man’ who came from Ireland and had received no ecclesiastical orders.4

The king’s regard for the sage, which we know also from John’s poems and dedications, has its evidence in his employment in the palace school, but the story that this school was regularly established at Paris is a legend of a much later time.5 Yet although the town on the Seine was by no means the ordinary seat of government, it was a favourite and not infrequent residence of the king — he was not yet emperor — whose capital lay at Compiègne or Laon. It owed its popularity at first no doubt to its neighbourhood to the abbey of Saint Denis, whose fame had attracted thither the dying Pippin and made his great-grandson Charles choose it for the burial-place of his house;6 50 and it was possibly this same connexion which gave the Irish scholar the first opportunity for making his value felt. The belief that the foundation dated from the Areopagite Dionysius, the earliest Athenian convert of Saint Paul, was at this time universally held; there was as yet no Abailard to contest it. The renown of the abbey added dignity to its supposed author; and when writings ascribed to him with an equal credulity, were brought into the west,7 their purport aroused a natural curiosity, if only a translator could be found to reveal their treasures. Now Greek letters had never wholly died out in the Irish schools,8 and John had skill enough to furnish the required version. How far the expectations of the votaries of Saint Denis were satisfied by the work, we do not know. Perhaps the obscurity of the translation limited the number of its readers; at any rate it does not appear to have excited much attention. When e
e v. spra,
p. 49, n. 5.
pope Nicholas the first objected to it and wrote to Charles the Bald demanding that the philosopher’s work should be sent to him for correction, it was really not so much from suspicion of its contents9 as from f
f v. Ritter,
der christi.
Philos. 3. 208
& n. 1, Ham-
burg 1844.
hostility, in presence of an angry dispute between the churches, against anything Greek.

But the influence of the books upon the mind of the translator was momentous. The Timaeus of Plato he probably knew through the version of Chalcidius already; but now the bold forgery claiming the name of the Areopagite, which won currency in the sixth century, g
g Cc. Baur, Die
christliche Lehre
von der Dre-
einigkeit und
Gottes 2. 205,
n. 1, Tübingen
though the actual date of its writing may be a little earlier, placed him in possession of a metaphysical system ostensibly founded upon works of Plato which were unknown to western Christendom, and elaborated with a speculative 51 fearlessness equally foreign to its spirit. Another Greek writer, the monothelete monk Maximus, supplemented the Scot’s knowledge of the ultimate forms of Neo-Platonism, and from him too he translated a commentary on Saint Gregory which was likewise destined for the royal study. It should be remarked in passing that John, unlike the men to whom our attention has hitherto been given, addressed himself to a very select company; it might be the king, whose intellectual sympathies were inherited from his father and grandfather, or it might be to his own hearers in the palace school. Twice only did he emerge into public view, and the estrangement, the public condemnation, which his utterances then on the subject of predestination 10 and of the nature of the Eucharist11 provoked may have naturally confirmed his previous reserve. Of his further life little certain is recorded. He appears to have been in France in the year of the emperor’s death.12 The following year saw peace reëstablished in England, and hA. D. 877.

h v.infra,
append. ii.
it is 52 difficult to resist a tradition which held currency throughout the middle ages that he sought retreat here when his old protector was taken away from him, and that his fervour of teaching was only closed when his scholars fell upon him and slew him. The monument that commemorated the holy sophist was soon destroyed, but repeated orders from pope or council have not succeeded in obliterating his truest memorial which remains to us in his writings, above all in the great work On the Division of Nature.13 From this last we may, without attempting even in outline to portray his whole system, collect enough of its features to shew what a revelation he made of the dignity of the order of the universe; however much mixed with crude or fantastic ideas, however often clouded in obscurity, yet full of suggestion, full of interest everywhere.14

His reflexions upon the subject of predestination led John Scotus, as we have already seen, to trace his theory of the nature of sin. Augustin15 and even Athanasius had been led to a similar explanation of the appearance of evil in the world, but how differently had they applied 53 it. With them it is found compatible with a belief in the eternity of punishment; to John it means that since all things proceed from good, so in good they must all be one day absorbed. To this consummation he loves to apply the text, Ero mors tua, O mors; morsus tuus ero, inferne.16 i
i De div. nat.
v. 36 p. 283.
k lib. iv. 16,
v. 36 pp. 205
sq., 287 :
cf. Augus. de
lib. arb. ii. 20
§ 54, Opp. 1.
608 F sq.
To find the cause of sin in God’s work he pronounces to be blasphemous.17 kSin, he repeats, has no cause because it has no real existence. How then does it arise? The answer is given in various forms which converge upon the central thought that sin is implied in the fact of man’s free will. He takes the case of two men looking at a golden vase. There is no evil in the vase, but it may excite in the one feelings only of pleasure and admiration, in the other the passion of covetousness. The one receives the simple impression of a beautiful object; the other colours and deforms it by his own lawless desire. But this desire, this evil, is not indigenous to man’s nature; it is the result of the irregular action of his reasonable and free will.18 The senses are deceived by that which appears to be good, by false good, and the infection spreads inwardly to the intellect itself. l
l lib. iv. 16
p. 205.
Thus the inner man wherein naturally dwelleth truth and all good, which is the Word of God, the only-begotten Son of God, becomes corrupt and sins. But this process does not originate in evil. The bodily sense does not desire a thing because it is evil but because it has the show of goodness. m
m lib. i. 68
p. 38.
No vice is found but is the shadow of some virtue.19 Pride for instance is a perversion 54 of a true sense of power — in good men it takes the form of a love of heavenly excellence and of a contempt of earthly weakness; — and n
n liv. v. 25
p. 255.
it was from pride that the sin of man began. It was the first exercise of his free will.

In applying these views to the interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis, our Scot has practically to supersede its historical meaning by the allegorical. He explains any difficulties that he encounters in the narrative by the theory that it is accommodated to our lower understanding. It expresses truth by figures. o
o liv. iv. 20
p. 211.
The order of time for instance, he says, is so often violated in the Bible itself that there can be no objection to our ignoring it in our exposition. p
p P cap. 15 p. 197.
Adam must have sinned before he was tempted by the devil; else he would not have been accessible to temptation. The events that are related to have taken place in Eden, that is in the ideal state, really happened on earth and were consequential on Adam’s sin. q
q ibid.; cf. v.
1 p. 224.
For if paradise is human nature formed after the image of God and made equal to the blessedness of the angels, then immediately he wished to leave his Creator, he fell from the dignity of his nature. His pride began before he consented to his wife. By this act man came into the domain of time and space; r
r lib. ii. 6, 7
p. 49.
hence arose the physical distinctions of sex20 and the rest of his bodily conditions, no less than the diversities of manners and thought that divide the human race. That which was single became manifold,. We thus reach the ultimate result of the philosopher’s conception of evil. s
s lib. ii. 9, iv.
10 pp. 51, 181.
t cf. Gfrörer 3
Sin is contemporaneous with the existence of the human body. t It marks the transition 55 from the ideal to the actual, from the world of thought to the world of matter.

John’s skill in fitting this theory within the framework of accepted doctrine cannot disguise its essential contrariety. He supplants the dark dogma of the natural corruption of man, his original destiny to perdition, by the conception of the negative character of evil. u
u De div. nat.
ii. 5 p. 49; cf.
Plat. Tim. p. 86.
It is, he would say with Plato, as little natural as the diseases of the body: it is the inevitable result of the union of flesh and spirit. But the primal dignity of man’s nature must In the end reässert its sway. x
x De div. nat.
26 p. 256.
The soul may forget her natural goods, may fail in her striving towards the goal of the inborn virtues of her nature; the natural powers may move, by fault of judgement, towards something which is not their end: but not for ever. For the universal tendency of things is upward; y
y cap. 25
pp. 254 sqq.
and thus from evil is wont to turn good, but in nowise from good evil. . . . The first evil could not be perpetual, but by the necessity of things must reach a certain bound and one day vanish. For if the divine goodness which ever worketh not only in the good but also in the wicked, is eternal and infinite, it follows that its contrary will not be eternal and infinite. . . . Evil therefore will have its consummation and remain not in any nature, since in all the divine nature will work and be manifest. Our nature then is not fixed in evil; . . . it is every moving, and seeks nought else but the highest good, from which as from a beginning its motion takes its source, and to which it is hastened as to an end. As all things proceed from God, so in God they find their final completion. He is the end of things, the last of the four forms of nature which make the foundation of the Scot’s system.

This fourfold division is absolutely John’s own property and discoverable z
z H. T. Cole-
brooke, On the
Philos. of the
Hindus, in Misc.
Essays, 2. 256,
ed. 1873.
a Ritter 3. 211
cf. p. 294, n. 1.

b De div. nat.
ii. 2 p. 46.

c cf. lib. iii. 10
p. 111.
elsewhere only in the Indian doctrine of the Sankhya: ‘a in the simplicity of his general plan,’ it has been truly said, ‘he surpasses all the philosophers of the middle ages.’ The scheme breaks into two by the distinction of creator and created. The first and fourth forms are the btwo aspects of the uncreated 56 unity, according as we consider it as the beginning or as the end of things. The one creates: the other creates not, it is the crest for which nature strives and which consists in the restoration of things to their original unity. Between these terms lie the two forms of created things. They have the same division as the other two. The second creates: the third creates not. the one is the world of ideas, the pattern upon which the other, the sensible universe, is made. It contains the abstractions: d
d lib. ii. 36
p. 94.
goodness — the first of things, — essence, life, wisdom, truth, intellect, reason, virtue, justice, health, greatness, omnipotence, eternity, peace, and all the virtues and reasons which the Father created once for all in his Son, and according to which the order of all things is framed, each considered by itself and apart from sensible objects. These are the primordial causes of things, the e
e lib. i. 1, ii. 2
pp. 1, 47.
effects of which are manifested in time and place in the third form of nature. But it is impossible to keep the effects apart from the causes; f
f lib. iii. 5, 6
pp. 105 sq.
g lib. i. 16
p. 10.

h cap. 23 p. 15.

i lib. iii. 8, 15
p. 106, 119.
they are involved in them, and with them eternal, though not eternal as God; for geternity, like every other attribute, can only be predicated of him in an improper sense, he is more than eternal. hPlace and time exist not with him: he has nothing accidental, cause and effect with him are one. Therefore the iuniverse, as his creation, is eternal: non erat quando non erant. In such fashion this clear-sighted idealist represented the accepted belief, according to which creation is bringing into being in the sense of bringing into the sensible world: his opinion was perhaps an inevitable deduction from the premises of formal Platonism, and something very like it was k
k Monolog. ix,
p. 7 D, E, ed. 2,
G. Gerberon.,
Paris 1721 folio.

l De div. nat. i.
6, 35 pp. 3, 20.
maintained by so correct a theologian as saint Anselm. To John Scotus thought is the only real being, and, philosophically speaking, lbody has no existence except as dependent on thought.21 But he chooses to express 57 truth by alternate affirmation and negation, confirmatory when they appear most contradictory to one another; and so he couples with the assertion that there was no time when the universe was not, the contrary assertion that there was a time when it was not. In a sense that transcends intelligence it exists eternally; in another sense m
m lib. iii. 15
p. 119.
it began to be when it passed into the sphere of time and place. The meaning is in strict correspondence with that which we have found in John’s theory of evil. Evil arises by the passage from the spiritual to the material: objective creation by the passage from the eternal to the temporal. good in the one argument, eternity in the other, is the positive element in the universal system; n
n lib. i. 62
p. 34.
matter is the mere concourse of the accidents of being.

Such is John Scotus’s world. to him as to o
o Timaeus 29
Plato its goodness is its essential significance: it begins and ends with thought, with pure being, with God. He fills in the outline with a confidence, a certainty, of the truth of his speculations. Yet, as though half conscious of their strangeness to the understanding of his age, he is ever anxious to prove that he is continuing, not breaking off from, the line of thought sanctioned by the greatest of the fathers and by the Bible itself. Authority is still a power with him, but limited, expanded, refined. The p
p De div. nat.
iv. 14, v. 37
pp. 192 sq.,

q lib. i. 66
p. 37.

r lib. iii. 30
p. 140.
name of the fathers, of Augustin himself, cannot deter him from forming his own conclusions on any subject. qEven the Bible, though necessarily containing nothing but truth, presents that truth with so much accommodation to the bodily senses that it is the r duty of the philosopher to endeavour to penetrate beneath its metaphors and bring forth the substance that underlies them. For 58 its sense is infinite, because it is the reflexion of the divine reason; but reason stands above it, is man’s sure guide in interpreting the written passage of revelation. s
s lib. i. 68
p. 38.
If the authority be true, neither can contradict the other, since both proceed from the same source, namely from the divine wisdom. To appreciate this position we must remember that its object was in no wise to lower the dignity of the Bible, but solely to elevate the conception of the human understanding. Nor was it a new or unheard-of thing. Fredegisus, Alcuin’s scholar at York and his successor in the abbacy of Saint Martin at Tours, had made a very similar statement of the relation of reason to authority, and he had felt it compatible with the most literal view of inspiration.22 Neither he nor the Scot had any doubt of the irrefragable truth of the Bible. But while Fredegisus found it in the literal sense, John sought for the larger meaning concealed within its depths. t
t lib. iv. 5
p. 164.
For the sense of the divine utterances is manifold and infinite, even as in one and the same feather of the peacock we behold a marvellous and beautiful variety of countless colours. Like principles, as one applied them, might lead to a submissive dependence on the letter, or to amplest freedom of rational enquiry. u
u v. Reuter I.
40 sq.

x De div. nat.
i. 71 p. 39.
For in the one writer, reason without the support of authority is weak, in the other it stands firm x fortified by its own virtues, and needs not to be strengthened by any prop of authority.

If we examine more closely the Scot’s view of reason it appears that authority is actually related to it as a species to its genus. In both God reveals not himself but the forms in which we can conceive him. The y
y lib. iv. 16
p. 205.
human reason is the dwelling-place of the word of God. This manifestation, this theophany (John’s technical name for God’s revelation to man), is coëxtensive with the reign of reason and therefore, since reason is everything, 59 it is universally diffused. z
z lib. i. 9
p. 5.
a lib. iii. 12, 18
pp. 117, 126.
b cap. 4 pp. 103
It is the cause and substance of all virtues, a it is a stream that runs through all nature. b Intellect . . . and the rest of things that are said to be, are theophanies, and in theophany really subsist; therefore God is everything that truly is, since he makes all things and is made in all things. The pantheism of the last sentence must be interpreted by John’s view of God as apart from nature, a view as important in his system as that of revelation. It is c
c cf. Ritter 3.
147, 286.
impossible for any one who fairly weighs his opinions on this subject not to feel that the charge of pantheism has been premature and warranted only by one set of statements, contradicted and at the same time justified by another set no less necessary to the complete understanding of his doctrine. If the reconciliation appear paradoxical we have but to remember that paradox in the philosopher’s view is inevitable when we attempt to conceive the eternal.

The statement that God is everything that stands in juxtaposition to the statement that God is the supreme unity. The one bears relation to the world, the other to God himself. The latter is therefore the only strict mode of expression. The central thought of John Scotus’s system is that God’s being is absolute, it cannot be described by any of the categories to which creation is subject; for he transcends them all. d
d De div. nat. i.
17 p. 12.
We cannot without a misuse of language affirm of him essence, quantity or quality, relation, position, or habit, place or time, action or passion. For to affirm these or any of these of God is to limit the illimitable: they are only applicable by way of accommodation to our earthly understanding, they have a literal meaning to the simple, e
e capp. 69. 73
pp. 38 sq. 42;
cf. Reuter 1.
60 sq.
f De div. nat. i.
18 p. 13.
to the philosopher they are figures of speech. The rule is stated universally, and can admit no exception f even in the theological relation of Father and Son. His honesty forbade our philosopher to ignore a difficult consequence of his position, even when it seemed to oppose a cardinal point of piety. g
g capp. 14, 18
pp. 8 sq., 13.
He is indeed reluctant to dwell upon the subject, but not from any mistrust of his own 60 conclusions. The truth lay, he felt, in a double form: we can only express our thoughts about God by contradictions; h
h capp. 14, 16,
78 pp. 9, 11,
44; cf. Baur,
Lehre von der
2. 274 sqq.
i De div. nat. i.
14 p. 8.
we affirm and deny the same things of him, and so aim at a higher harmony in which the contradictions of our human understanding are reconciled. For the mystery of the divine Trinity i passes the endeavours of human reason and even the purest understandings of celestial essences. We infer from the essence of the things that are, that it exists; from the wonderful order of things, that it is wise; from their motion, that it is life. As, saith saint Dionysius the Areopagite, ‘The highest and causal essence of all things cannot be signified by any signification of words or name, or of any articulate voice.for it is neither unity nor trinity, such as can be contemplated by the purest human, by the clearest angelical, understanding23. . . . . Chiefly for the sake of those who demand a reason for the Christian faith . . . have these symbolical words been religiously discovered and handed down by the holy theologians. . . . Beholding, in so far as they were enlightened by the divine Spirit, the one unspeakable cause of all things, and the one beginning, simple and undivided and universal, they called it Unity; but seeing this unity not in singleness or barrenness, but in a marvellous and fertile multiplicity, they have understood three substances of unity.

John Scotus traces this unity in unity in the nature of the universe, — k
k lib. ii. 23
p. 70.
in the Creator, the idea, and the fact of things; in another aspect, in ὐσία, ύναμις,and ἐὴργεια, — and in its final resolution into unity. He traces also its reflexion in man, l
l lib. iii. 20
p. 128.
m lib. ii. 9
p. 51.
n lib. iv. 7
p. 171.
o lib. ii. 5
p. 49.
in reason, understanding, and sense. For m man is the summing up of nature: n he has both a heavenly being and a sensible being, o combines the highest and the lowest elements. He is the meeting-point between creation and Creator, and this meeting is summed up in the two-fold nature of Christ. As all nature is contained in man, so all humanity is contained in the Word 61 of God.24 When we speak of the incarnation, we do not mean an individual, historical fact, but p
p v. Baur 2.
307 sqq.
the eternal connexion of the ideal and actual. Cause and effect, as has already appeared, cannot be separated in God; they are implied in his single creative will. This union is revealed in the incarnation, by which q
q De div. nat.
v. 25 p. 252.
the Word of God passed from the region of cause to that of effects, and descended into the sensible world. It was not a temporal act, but the expression of the necessary reciprocity of temporal and eternal, the immanent relation of God and the world. It is the supreme theophany. r
r ibid. p. 253.
By it the light to which no man can approach opened access to every intellectual and reasonable creature. . . . In Him the visible things and the invisible, that is to say, the world of sense and the world of thought, were restored and recalled to unspeakable unity, now in hope, hereafter in fact; now in faith, hereafter in sight; now by inference, hereafter in experience; already effected in the manhood which he assumed, hereafter to be fulfilled in all men without distinction.

This restoration of the world is the great subject of the Scot’s fifth book. The fourth division of nature is its return to primal unity. The body of man is restored to the elements; these elements coalesce in the resurrection into a new body; and this turns to spirit, the spirit reverts to its original causes, the causes to God. s
s cap. 8 p. 232.
For God shall be all things in all things, when there shall be nothing but God alone. Is this restoration asserted of man alone or also of his brother animals? of the good or also of the evil? finally, of the individual or only of the race? To these three questions John has his answer. The first gives him no difficulty. Immortality holds good not only of man, but of the whole animated creation. He will conclude this on a priori grounds: the lower animals have their ‘natural virtues,’25 they have souls, albeit irrational. But the decisive argument is that man is simply 62 a species of the animal kingdom, and that if the genus perish, the species must perish with it. The immortality of man is the warrant for the immortality of the whole creation. All nature will return to its first causes.

The question about the survival of evil is more embarrassing, and it cannot be concealed that the Scot does in some places seem to affirm something like a relique of the doctrine of eternal damnation. But in the first place this doctrine is much less plainly declared in the books of The Division of Nature than in the treatise On Predestination; and the later is an occasional work, written for a special purpose and hampered by its conditions; the former is the representative book of the philosopher’s life. In the second place, when a man makes use of conventional language and also of expressions entirely opposed to it and strikingly original, we cannot hesitate as to which is the genuine utterance of his own opinion: and t
t cap. 27 pp. 257
& 260.
the declaration that eternal torment is totally incompatible with the truth that the whole world is set free by the incarnation of the divine Word, is made in distinct terms and closely interwoven with the fabric of John Scotus’s reasoning. An eternity of suffering and evil is irreconcilable with an eternity of goodness and life and blessedness. There is no room for it in his system. He files away its edges and rounds off its corners until its orthodox shape has disappeared. u
u capp. 28, 29,
31 pp. 264 sq.,
First he denounces the ‘irrational’ folly of trying to combine a sensible hell with a spiritual existence: the punishment of the wicked must stand solely in their memory of past wrong. New evil cannot arise then; they will be pained by the phantasies of their old misdeeds. But, proceeds John, though they be deprived of blessedness, something will yet remain to them: x
x cap. 38 p. 310.
the ‘natural goods’ in which they were created cannot be taken away. Doubtless all gifts are made in proportion to man’s capacity of receiving; but the philosopher is sure that this capacity can and will grow and develop until evil is all swallowed up in good. y
y cap. 23 p. 248.
There may be degrees and stages in happiness, 63 in the progress toward perfection; but there is a certainty of the final victory of good. If it be otherwise, if there be a sensible world of torments, z
z cap. 28 p. 265.
then have we laboured in vain, and the sentences of the holy writers which we have alleged will be turned into derision: which God forbid.

The third question involved in John Scotus’s view of the return of creation into the Creator concerns the immortality of the individual. He answers it by analogies. a
a cap. 8 p. 234.
The air is still air though it appear to be absorbed into the light of the sun and to be all light. The voice of man, or of pipe or lyre, loses not its quality when several by just proportion make one harmony in unity among themselves. Nor is it reasonable to suppose that man will subsist in a spiritual state without a body. b
b cap. 13 pp. 236
The body of our present humanity will disappear, but it will be exchanged for the spiritual body inseparable from the idea of man, the body which he had before he entered into the world of matter. c
c cap. 20 p. 242.
The whole man is eternal. This therefore is the end of all things visible and invisible, when all visible things pass into the intellectual, and the intellectual into God, by a marvellous and unspeakable union: but not, as we have often said, by any confusion or destruction of essences or substances. It is here, in the profoundest and the most original part of his scheme, that the Scot shows most evidently how impossible it would be for him to rest in a purely pantheistic belief. His nature forced him to hold that those virtues, that will, which make man the image of God upon earth, those qualities which exalt one man above his fellows, will not become perfect by ‘remerging in the general soul.’ Perfection implies their survival ‘unconfounded and undestroyed.’

His entire conception of the recovery of all things, of a unity into which the trinity of nature is resolved, is certainly the most original feature in the system of the Irish thinker. In dividing up theology on a philosophical basis he achieved a greater discovery than he was perhaps conscious of. He discovered that the doctrine of 64 the church was not stationary but progressive; it was susceptible of development, of indefinite expansion. He discovered in Christianity the germs of all truth. Not only the idea of Christ but all those understood in dogmatic Christianity he applied and enlarged in such a manner that the result was rather a philosophy of religion, than a philosophy of Christianity: and thus to theology he contributed little that it could accept; to philosophy he added not a few of the salient ideas which we connect with the modern schools of metaphysics. His own views were doubtless buried with his writings: they were found out afresh by other men before their publication proved how they had been anticipated. Essentially his system would suffer little if we deducted from it all those Christian elements upon which he supposed it rested; we should find a philosophy in which the idea of God, the idea of evil, and many of its central features, resemble in a remarkable way the thoughts of Spinoza. Yet it would be as dishonest to regard these Christian elements as adventitious, as it would be to ignore the Hebrew antecedents of the great Dutch philosopher. They were necessary to the Scot because he lived in a tradition of Christian theology, because this was the framework in which his thoughts were trained to move and from which he could not wholly free himself. Nevertheless he advanced so far in the direction of giving new meanings to old phrases that he was, speaking generally, unintelligible to his age.

At the same time the fact of his appearance in the ninth century, the fact of his apparently unbroken favour at the imperial court, is a remarkable evidence of the liberal spirit which remained with the successors of Charles the Great. It is not as though John was kept at the royal school, just as a miracle of learning, in ignorance of what he actually taught. On the contrary, Charles the Bald had received from his mother the empress Judith, the friend of the Jews, the double elements of a complete education, wide learning and the scholar’s instinct 65 of openness to conviction. He was not a mere patron of scholars, he was their friend to whom they deferred on difficult points;26 he liked to enter into disputation with them, laid down theses and invited them to discuss them without reserve. d
d cf. Reuter 1.
48 sqq.
As emperor he wished to appear a loyal son of the catholic church, but he refused to condemn opinions unless they were plainly shown to be hostile to it, and he was generally discreet enough to hesitate about the proof and to hold his judgement free. The keenness of his intelligence conspired with a natural elasticity of temper to produce in his political action what certainly degenerated into an habitual irresolution and infirmity of purpose. But the vices of a statesman are often virtues in private life, and in this view Charles’s indecision bears the character of a judicial tolerance, a tolerance to which his continued intercourse with John the Scot is a speaking witness; although it would be unsafe to infer from the scanty notices we have of their relation, that he shared with the philosopher more than a general sympathy with his spirit of free enquiry.

John certainly had e
e Gfrörer 3. 873,
Huber 50.
f see Hauréau,
Hist. I. 182-
193, 201-204; &
in the Not. ex
Extr. des
Manuscr. 20
(2) 5-20; 1862
disciples, but they cannot have been numerous. Among near contemporaries Heric of Auxerre, and his pupil, saint Remigius, both teachers of great repute, may be proved to have been indebted 66 for more than they cared to acknowledge, to the materials provided them in the works of the Scot. But in the dark age that followed, those writings seem to have been almost unknown. Early in the tenth century, indeed, we meet with an g
g Invectiva in
E. Dümmler,
Auxilius und
Vulgarius 46 n.;
extract from a poem apparently of John’s composition, and a passage from the Division of Nature is cited in a theological treatise written a little later;27 but in neither case is the source of the quotation indicated. Then, again, when the Scot’s book On the Body and Blood of Christ obtained a sudden notoriety in the dispute raised by Berengar of Tours on the nature of the sacrament, the importance attached to his authority by the opponent of transubstantiation is valuable as evidence of the power that his name still possessed; but it is nearly certain that the h
h c. supra,
p. 51 n. 11.
A. D. 1050.
work to which Berengar appealed, and which was burnt by the council of Vercelli, was the production not of John but of his contemporary the monk Ratramnus. A solitary trace of John’s influence may be found in the fact that, probably through some i
i Cf. Hauréau,
Not. et Extr.,
ubi supra.

k Mullinger,
Schools of
Charles the
Great 35, 65.
glosses of his, the Satyricon of Martianus Capella soon came to take once more that recognised place in the schools which it had held centuries earlier in the dark days of kGregory of Tours; but the acceptance of this meagre compendium only shews how incapable his heirs were of appreciating the treasure he had left them in his own works.28


On the other hand, John has been claimed as in some sense l
l cf. infra.
append. ii.
6, iv.
the author of the scholastic debate of the earlier part of the middle ages. He was the first writer in the west who systematically adopted a regular syllogistic form of argumentation, and he was continually reproached with this peculiarity by antagonists such as Prudentius of Troyes. Forgotten for a while, the tradition should seem to have somehow revived, possibly through the studies of Roscelin, and by such an one to have been applied to trains of reasoning widely diverse from anything suspected by John Scotus. On one side he is reputed the father of nominalism, on the other he is thought to have exerted no slight influence on the theological speculations of Gilbert of La Porrée. When, further, we observe that m
m Huber 435.

 A. D. 1209.

n Alberic. Chr.,
ap. Mansi 22
1778: [cf.
H. Denifle,
Chartul. Univ.
Paris., I (1889)
106 sq.]
the Division of Nature was associated in the condemnation of the heresy of Amalric of Bène,29 and that it was this work which called forth a n bull of Honorius the Third in 1225, enjoining a strict search for all copies of the book or of any parts of it, and ordering them to be sent to Rome to be solemnly burnt, — any one who knowingly kept back a copy being declared obnoxious to the sentence of excommunication and the brand of heretical depravity, — we shall be able to form some estimate of the variety and the intensity of danger which was subsequently discovered in the teaching of the Scot.

That such a judgement was warranted by the principles of correct catholic opinion will hardly be denied; but we must not omit to place beside it the fact that there was also literary tradition respecting John, so soon as his memory had been recalled to notice, of a gentler and more appreciative character. His translation of Dionysius was not only widely read, as we know from the numerous manuscripts of it that exist, but also commented on by a man of the saintly reputation of Hugh of Saint Victor, not to mention many others; and it is 68 possible, as o
o Hist. of Lat.
Chr. 4. 334.
Milman supposes, that it contributed not a little to the growth of ‘Christian mythology.’ William of Malmesbury, who was singularly well informed about John and his works, has a good word to say even of the Division of Nature, which he describes as p
p Gest. pontif. v.
240 p. 393, ed.
very useful for solving the difficulty of certain questions, albeit he have to be pardoned for some matters wherein, holding his eyes fast upon the Greeks, he has defected from the path of the Latins. The acuteness of this criticism enhances the value of William’s opinion; he was well aware that John had been deemed a heretic, and he confessed that there are truly very many things in his book, the which, unless we carefully examine them, appear abhorrent from the faith of the catholics. This temperate judgement is repeated by the most popular of the encyclopaedists of the middle ages, Vincent of Beauvais. There is also evidence that the name of John Scotus was known and honoured not only at Malmesbury but also in that Saxon monastery of Corvey which preserved its Carolingian culture longer perhaps than any other:
A. D. 1149.
so late as the middle of the twelfth century, its abbat, Wibald, writing to Manegold of Paderborn, commemorates the philosopher as closing the line of great masters of the age which began with Bede the Venerable, and went on with Haimon of Halberstadt and Rabanus Maurus, — men most learned, who by writing and reasoning left in the church of God illustrious monuments of their genius.30


1  The biography of John Scotus, which resolves itself mainly into a criticism of scanty and conflicting materials, was first attempted by F. A. Staudenmaier, a catholic professor at Giessen, whose Johannes Scotus Erigena und die Wissenschaft seiner Zeit, Frankfort 1834, was left unfinished. Its biographical conclusions are for the most part reproduced in the Leben und Lehre des Joh. Scotus Erigena, Gotha 1860, of Dr. Theodor Christlieb, of Bonn. A more sceptical criticism is applied, in the biography, Johannes Scotus Erigena, Munich 1861, by Dr. Johannes Huber, well known for his spirited action in connexion with the oecumenical council of 1869-1870. [See also my article in the Dictionary of National Biography, 51 (1897) 115-120.

2  Of the tract De praedestinatione, to which I had not access when I wrote the present chapter, Huber has given an elaborate analysis in his work cited above, 60-92. See also the summary in F. C. Baur’s posthumous Christliche Kirche des Mittelalters 50-55, Tübingen 1861; and Gfrörer, Kirchengeschichte 3. 867 sqq.

3  As for the name the following facts may be accepted as ascertained: (1) he was known to contemporaries as Ioannes Scottus, Scotus, or Scotigena; (2) in his translation of Dionysius, and there only, he designates himself Ioannes Ierugena; (3) Ierugena is the oldest form that appears in the manuscripts, but it soon alternates with Erugena (in a copy of the beginning of the eleventh century, Saint John’s college, Oxford, cod. cxxviii) and Eriugena; (4) Erigena does not make its appearance until later, while (5) the combination of the three names cannot be traced before the sixteenth century. See Christlieb 15 sq. On its meaning it is difficult to form a decided opinion. Probably it is derived from Erin or Ierne and modulated so as to suggest ιερός. In any case Gale’s notion (Testimonia, prefixed to his edition of the De divisione naturae, p. 8) that its bearer came from Eriuven or Ergene in the Welsh marches it to be rejected.

4  His birth is ironically touched on by an opponent, Prudentius of Troyes, ‘Te solum omnium acutissimum Galliae transmisit Hibernia,’ De Praedest. contra Io. Scot. xiv Max. Biblioth. Patr. 15. 534 E; 1677. [He describes him as ‘nullis ecclesiasticae dignitatis gradibus insignitum,’ iii. p. 479 E.) John’s character appears from a letter of Anastasius the librarian, ‘Ioannem . . . Scotigenam, virum quem auditu comperi per omnia sanctum.’ Ussher, Epist. Syllog. 65.

5  The statement is founded on a letter of pope Nicholas the First in which he calls for John’s removal from Paris ‘in studio cuius capital iam olim fuisse perhibetur,’ ap. C. E. du Boulay, Hist. Univ. Paris. 1. 184 Paris 1665 folio. But this passage in the papal letter is not found in the recognised copies, e. g. Mansi, Concil. 15. 401 c; and du Boulay, p. 183, admits that he took it from the collectanea of Naudé. There is no doubt that it is merely one of those fictions invented for the glorification of the antiquity of the university of Paris,just as a later incident in John Scotus’s life has been applied to that of the university of Oxford. Cf. Léon Maitre, Écoles épiscopales et monastiques 45, Le Mans 1866. [The words cited from pope Nicholas’s letter are ‘obviously interpolated.’ See H. Rashdall, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages, 1. 273 n. 2. 1895; and L. Traube, Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini, 3. 519 n. 5, 1896.]

6  Mr. E. A. Freeman has well told the history of the revival of Paris in the ninth century: see his essay on The early Sieges of Paris, Historical Essays, 1st series, viii.

7  It seems that before the present of the Byzantine Michael the Stammerer to Lewis the Pious in 827, Staudenmaier 1. 162 and n. 2, works attributed to Dionysius had already made their way westward. Such were sent by pope Paul the First to Pippin in 757 and by Hadrian the First to abbat Fuldrad of Saint Denis some years later: Gfrörer 3. 865.

8  Compare a letter of Benedict of Aniane, the councillor of Lewis the Pious, in Baluze, Miscellanea 2. 97 b, ed. Mansi, Lucca 1761 folio.

9  What suspicion there was, was probably inferred from the Scot’s notoriety in the controversy about predestination.

10  His predestination tract was twice condemned by church councils, at Valence in 855 and at Langrese some years later. See Huber 97 sq. and the notes. To the former was due the contemptuous description of John’s arguments as ‘ineptas quaestiunculas et aniles pene fabulas, Scotorumque pultes’ [Scots’ porridge): cap. vi. Mansi, Conc. 15. 6 D.

11  That John took part in the controversy raised by Paschasius Radbert is certainly to be inferred from the title of the work of Adrevald, De corpore et sanguine Christi contra ineptias Ioannis Scoti, printed in d’Achery, Spicilegium 1. 150 sqq.; ed. 1723. The conclusion is not invalidated but confirmed by the fact that in after years the book of Ratramnus on the subject was attributed to the Scot. It was known that he had written a treatise, and therefore the only appropriate treatise that came to hand was fathered upon him. This obvious argument seems to have escaped nearly all the modern writers who decide the point in the negative. The penetration of Noorden has further discerned certain peculiarities in the view ascribed by contemporaries to John Scotus which are inapplicable to Ratramnus: see his Hinkmar Erzbischof von Rheims, 103, n. 2.

12  This is inferred from a poem in which John commemmorates the foundation of a church dedicated to the Virgin. which from several points of correspondence is believed to be that at Compiègne which Charles began in 877 on the model of his grandfather’s church at Aix-la-Chapelle. As however the actual building was delayed by the emperor’s death John seems to describe not what was really existing but the plan on which it was to be built. See the quotation in Huber 120 n.

13  Its proper title is Greek, Περὶ φύςεων μεριςμοῦ. The editio princeps, which is far better reputed than Schrüter’s reprint of 1838, was published by Thomas Gale (as appears from the appendix, p. 46), Oxford 1681 folio, whose pages I have added to my references to the work. In writing the present chapter I had not access to the edition by H. J. Floss, which forms the hundred and twenty-second volume of Migne’s Cursus, and includes the rest of the Scot’s works, namely (1) the translations of Dionysius and Maximus and the expositions on the former, (2) the tract on predestination, (3) a commentary and homilies on the gospel of saint John, (4) verses, and (5) a fragment on the procession and recession of the soul to God. The catalogue of lost works printed in the Testimonia prefixed to Gale’s edition is not very critically compiled; it is corrected with various success by the biographers.

14  The most profound exposition of the Scot’s system with which I am acquainted is given by Baur, Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit 2. 263-344. Baur is especially complete in his analysis of John’s relation to his Greek predecessors. I am also under obligations to the general works of Ritter 3. 209-296 and Gfrörer 3. 922-937. Of the biographers Huber is the most philosophical, while Christlieb loses himself in far-fetched speculations as to John’s affinities to modern philosophy.

15  Peccatum quidem non per ipsum factum est: et manifestum est, quia peccatum nihil est et nihil fiunt homines cum peccant: Tract. i. in Ioh. evang., Opp. 3 (2) 294 c, ed. Bened., Paris 1689 folio.

16  Hosea xiii. 14 in the Vulgate: the Hebrew has an important difference in meaning.

17  Cf. ‘Deus itaque malum nescit; nam si malum sciret, necessario in natura rerum malum esset. Divina siquidem scientia, omnium quae sunt causa est; . . . ac per hoc si Deus malum sciret, in aliquo substantialiter intelligeretur, et particeps boni malum esset, et ex virtute et bonitate vitium et malitia procederent: quod impossibile esse vera edocet ratio:’ De divis. Nat. ii. 29 p. 84. See above p. 47 and compare De div. nat. v. 27 p. 259.

18  Non ergo in natura humana plantatum est malum, sed in perverso et irrationabili motu rationabilis liberaeque voluntatis est constitutem: ib. iv. 16 p. 206, cf. v. 36 p. 287.

19  He adds ‘by some fallacious likeness or contrariety,’ giving however of the ‘contrariety’ the single instance ‘as evil to good.’ This can only be explained on the assumption that in his first book John was unwilling to force too many novel thoughts upon the reader. The theory of evil waits for its complete development until the fourth book. As yet he is content to speak of evil in a general way as though it actually existed. The contradictions of his work have been exaggerated by critics and seldom fail to resolve themselves on a closer scrutiny.

20  Baur, 2. 302, considers that the Scot held this separation of sex as ‘the most important consequence of the fall.’ I am inclined rather to think that he chose it as the most speaking example, the simplest way of denoting the material man. Who after Augustin could avoid regarding sex as the distinctive corporeal fact in man’s nature? Compare on this salient principle of Augustin, Milman, Latin Christianity. 1. 151.

21  It has often been remarked that John has in plain terms the argument of Descartes: ‘When I say I understand that I am, I prove that I am, that I can understand that I am, and that I do understand that I am;’ Dum ergo dico, Intelligo me esse, nonne in hoc uno verbo, quod est intelligo, tria significo a se inseparabilia? nam et me esse, et posse intelligere me esse, et intelligere me esse, demonstro. Num vides verbo uno et meam οὐσίαν, meamque virtutem, et actionem significari? De devis. nat. i. 50 p. 27. Saint Augustin’s statement of the syllogism, though less clearly expressed, appears to me to be virtually identical with John’s; so that the latter will hardly deserve the distinction claimed for it by M. Hauréau, Histoire de la Philosophie scolastique 1. 181 sq.

22  See above pp. 40 sq. The correspondence is plain if we accempt the emendation of the place in Fredegisus proposed by Dr. Reuter, Geschichte der religiösen Aufklärung im Mittelalter 1. 274 n. 21: ‘primum ratione, in quantum hominis ratio patitur, deinde auctoritate, non qualibet sed rationali (edit. ratione) duntaxat.’

23  He repeats this almst in the same words in chapter 35 of the second book, p. 93, adding ‘quaecunque de simplicissimae bonitatis trinitate, dicuntur seu cogitantur seu intelliguntur, vestigia quaedam sunt atque theophaniae veritatis.

24  Christ therefore united all the elements of humanity, of creation: he was not ‘vir’ but ‘homo.’ Cf. lib. ii. 6 p. 40.

25  See the curious instances of the memory and the chastity of animals, and of the piety of storks, lib. iii. 41 , 158.

26  Heric of Auxerre’s epistle dedicatory to the emperor, prefixed to his Life of saint Germanus of Auxerre, shows us, in however exaggerated terms, what contemporaries thought of Charles as a patron of learning. Part of it is well-known (cf. supra p. 22), but a larger extract will not come amiss here: Id vobis singulare studium effecistis, ut sic ubi terrarum magistri florerent artium, quarum principalem operam philosophia pollicetur, hoc ad publicam eraditionem undecumque vestra celsitudo conduceret, comitas attraheret, dapsilitas provocaret. Luget hoc Graecia, novis invidiae aculeis lacessita, quam sui quondam incolae iam dudum cum Asianis opibus aspernantur, vestra potius magnanimitate delectati, studiis allecti, liberalitate confisi: dolet, inquam, se olim singulariter mirabilem ac mirabiliter singularem a suis destitui: dolet certe sua illa privilegia (quod numquam hactenus verita est) ad climata nostra transferri. Quid Hiberniam memorem, contempto pelagi discrimine, pene totam cum grege philosophorum ad littora nostra migrantem? Quorum quisquis peritior est ultro sibi indicit exilium; ut Salomoni sapientissimo famuletur ad votum: Actt. SS. mens. Iul. 7. 221 F sq., Antwerp 1731 folio. An admirable characterisation of the emperor is given by Noorden, Hinkmar 116 sqq.

27  In the tract De Corpore et sanguine Domini commonly ascribed to Gerbert. See Carl von Prantl, Geschichte der Logik im Abendlande 2. 57 [58] n. 227: 1861: cf. Humber 434. Neither of these writers adverts to the doubt which hangs over the authorship of the book. See below p. 77 n. 12.

28   It has been supposed that the book, of which the full title is De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, a tasteless allegory descriptive of the seven liberal arts — was the exclusive possession of the Irish: cf. Haddan, Remains 273 sq., 280. In Alcuin the very name does not occur, and Mr. Mullinger, pp. 64 sqq., 111, 118, has elaborated a theory of this writer’s studied hostility to Martianus. Had however such a motive existed I feel confident that it would have appeared somewhere in Alcuin’s writings. His silence has much rather the look of ignorance. Nor can it be said that the work was only read ‘wherever pious scruples did not prevent’ (p. 65), in face of abundant instances of its use from Remigius of Auxerre to John of Salisbury.

29  See Charles Jourdains examination of the evidence of Martinus Polonus, in the Mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 26 (2) 470-477; 1870.

30  Quid loquar de caeteris viris doctissimis qui post predictos in aecclesia Dei scribendo et disserendo preclara ingenii sui monimenta reliquerunt? Bedam, dico, et Ambrosium Aupertum, Heimonem, Rabanum, Iohannem Scottum, et multos preterea, quorum opera legimus; nec non illos quos vidimus, Anselmum Laudunensem, Wilhelmum Parisiensem, Albricum Remensem, Hugonem Parisiensem, et alios plurimos, quorum doctrina et scriptis mundus impletus est: Epist. clxvii, in Jaffé, Biblioth. 1. 278; 1864. See other instances in Hauréau, Hist 2 (1) 59; 1880.


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