I have now completed half the book, and that is probably as far as I will go. John Scottus Eriugena, istm, has come up with a syncretic hybrid of eastern and western theology and ancient philosophy. None of the sources would recognize their work in what he came up with. Carabine even admits, “Of course, Eriugena’s thought was not simply a reproduction of what he had encountered in his reading of the fathers of East and West; rather, he molded their theology into his own to reveal a new pattern of thought in relation to an understanding of the transcendence and immanence of God.” (p. 45) I probably should have stopped reading right there. Innovation is definitely rejected by traditional, St. Vincent’s Rule, theologians.
Most of his ideas conform more with Platonic ideas of Absolute Divine Simplicity, which can be traced in western theology, not eastern, where everything emanates from the One, dialectically diverges, and then returns to the One. While this can sound similar to St. Maximus’ doctrine of Recapitulation, it differs in several ways (I quote St. Maximus extensively in the Categories bearing his name, “Recapitulation”, and the book, The Cosmic Mystery of Christ). Eriugena’s view of God, the source of all, is taken from numeric, Pythagorian ideas of the “Monad” (p. 32). Then it gets weird – meaning I’ve not read anything like it from any Church Father, not that I’m that well-read.
Eriugena presents us with a wonderfully different slant on this familiar understanding. Strictly speaking, God is uncreated, yet in the act of creating, God creates God’s self.
[…] The simultaneous timeless and time-bound character of creation depends on the fact that all things were created in the Word by God at the same time because God could not have existed before God created. (p.34)
Further, he does not have a concept of essence and energy, or a distinction between created and uncreated, but everything is God’s essence, as in ADS, and will return again, I suppose, to “n0-thing”ness.
God is both maker of all things and is made in all things (P.I454C; III 650C-D) (p.37)
He gives a nod to St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Dionysius in some of his descriptions of God being beyond being and in all things (p.38), but I do not believe that when they wrote before the 5th Century that the distinctions between essence and energies where formally categorized. Therefore “nature” and “essence” were sometimes used when later “energies” would be used to denote distinction between God, creation, and participation by grace. St. Maximus’ writings should have cleared that up for the 9th century Eriugena.
This seems like Total Depravity, “The fifth mode concerns human nature itself, which, through the fall from paradise, lost its divine image, its true being, and can, therefore, be said not to be. When human nature is restored through the grace of God, it is reestablished in its image and begins to be.” (p. 40)
This next premise seems to deny the activity of God in making Himself known through His uncreated energies, “Thus the logic of negative theology becomes clear: God, as the essence of all, is known only from created things, but this is knowledge not of what God is but simply that God is. Given the primary understanding that the ousia of any thing is unknowable, it stands to reason that the essence of all things is unknowable since that very essence is God.” (p. 42)
At least she’s honest, “While it is certain that he took much from Gregory of Nyssa and the Pseudo-Dionysius [btw, there is some controversy as to St. Dionysius’s identity and his neoplatonism], Eriugena’s own unique perspective can be seen in his continual straining toward that which is truly no thing.” (p. 42,3) He does seem to have a very negative opinion of God.
God can be known as creator but remains unknowable as uncreated, even to God’s self, a theme I discuss hereafter. (p.45)
I believe this next part describes his slant on what is known as “natural theology”, “According to Eriugena, creation is the fundamental starting point for any attempt to understand divine reality (Romans 1:20), and it constitutes the one great mystery that focuses his thought as he attempts to set down, in an orderly fashion, sure definitions and right knowledge of the things that are.” (p. 46)
This segues into what seems to me to be a heretical view of the Trinity, “all things are at the same time eternal and are made in the Word: eternal things are made and made things are eternal (P.III 646C). […] God is the Maker of all things and is made in all things; and when He is looked for above all things He is found in no essence (P.III 683A). (p.48)
Not understanding participation by grace through God’s energies also gets him into trouble here, “Creation is not something apart from God [though he says it does exist on a different ontological level], but is, as I will show, the ontological participation of the creature in God. In this sense we can say that creation is already God, already deified because its very identity is God.”
But it is his explanation of the Trinity that makes me put the book down. Again it is admitted,
“Although Eriugena relies heavily [?] on the patristic sources of both East and West (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine feature most in Eriugena’s reviews of previous exegeses of the text of Genesis 1), Eriugena’s own ideas are clearly seen in realtion to the mysterious nature of the creative activity of the triune divine nature.” (p. 50,1)
It is not clear if he believes that the Son is a distinct person, or if He has always existed, I don’t think he does on either count, at least not in the traditional sense:
God the Father before the secular ages (began), brought forth His Word, in Whom and through Whom He created in their full perfection the primordial causes of all natures (P. II 560A-B). The Word, therrefore is the principle through whom the father “speaks” the creation of all things (P. III 642B) and is the first principle of divisoria running through all things that they may be OP.III 642D), just as the Word is also the first principle of resolutiva (P. II 526B-C). In this sense, the logical method of dialectic – division and resolution [ADS]– is prefigured in the activity of the Word itself. However, Eriugena is very clear that the causal activity of the Trinity does not imply that the Trinity is one and one and one; rather, it is a simple and indivisible one, multiple in power, not in number (P.III 687C-D). (p.53)
I have seen John Scottus Eriugena’s name mentioned in lists with many of the early Greek Church Fathers, all thrown together under the label, Neoplatonism. While some of the concepts may share similar descriptions, I do not believe that the contexts or basic conclusions are the same at all. I do not believe these men belong together in the same grouping, especially since Eriugena, who lived 500 years later, had access to the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils who clarified the Church’s position on these matters based on evidence of where heretical views lead. John Scottus Eriugena is an innovative Maverick.