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Category: John Scotus Eriugena

Introduction to St. Dionysius’ The Divine Names

by Andrea Elizabeth

A while back I read and blogged about John Scotus Eriugena, an Irish philosopher who translated St. Dyonisius’ work about 1000 years ago (see the category “John Scotus Eriugena”). The book detailing his explanation of St. Dyonisius was written by a non-Orthodox and, while getting some of the terminology right, did not, in my opinion, give a balanced Orthodox view, of “beyond being” in particular. Dierdre Carabine, if not JSE, made heaven seem empty to me. Photios Jones, of Energetic Procession, suggested another book, Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite, The Divine Names and Mystical Theology, translated by Dr. John D. Jones, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Marquette University, who is Orthodox.

In the Preface Dr. Jones is much more careful about the nuances of “beyond being”. He says it can be translated many ways, depending on which form of the Greek is used including, “The divinity: beyond every way of being (beyond-beingly), and beyond every way of unity. Further, since having (participation) engenders multiplicity; the divinity: beyond every way of having. The divinity: before having and beyond having. Thus abiding, the divinity: beyond-beingly be-ing. Absolved from all limitation and mulitiplicity, (the abiding divinity: simply and unlimitedly be-ing). Apart from and before all that comes after it, (the) abiding dvinity: before be-ing.” (p.3) I omitted the Greek words. Somehow when he says it, I get the idea of a presence, even though he also says that God is not a being and is thus no-thing.

In the Introduction, Dr. Jones also explains the relationship between Affirmative and Negative Theology. Ms. Carabine’s book dwelt mostly on the Negative, and seemed to negate the Affirmative altogether, which I attribute to post-modern thinking. Dr. Jones writes,

Indeed, even a cursory reading of the Divine Names and Mystical Theology shows an intricate and bewildering convolution of affirmative (demonstrative ) and negative (mystical) theology. We see an explicit recognition of this in the following text.

… the theological tradition is double, being on the one hand a tradition which is not expressed in words and which is mystical and, on the other hand, a tradition which makes manifest and is better known. One is symbolic and aims at initiation, the other is philosophical and demonstrative. What is not said is woven together with what is said. One persuades and makes known the truth of what is said, the other fulfills and situates souls in God through a mystical guidance which is not learned by teaching. (p.15)

Affirmative theology celebrates the divine causality; it seeks to know the divinity as cause of all that is through a knowledge of beings. In affirmative theolgy, the divinity is all-named and completely intelligible. The Outlines of Theology contain what is most proper to affirmative theology: Trinitarian theology and Christology. Thus, this work contains what is unique to Christian Theology. (p.16)

This distinction and affirmation makes me feel better.

Beyond Being

by Andrea Elizabeth

After reading all five parts about St. Dionysios on Ora Et Labora, I find that so far I agree with this assessment (having only read small sections from the Saint himself).

“My own suggestion would be to adopt a reading of St Dionysius which takes into consideration his very real peculiarity, complexity, and difficulty, viewing him neither as a neo-Platonism impersonating a Christian, as would Fr Meyendorff, nor as a Christian impersonating a neo-Platonist, as would Vladimir Lossky, but rather as a Christian exegete writing works of liturgical mystagogy. The strangeness of his writings should not be exaggerated by pointing out its similarity with neo-Platonism, minimized by forcing it into a given scholar’s projection or reconstruction of the patristic consensus, or confined to an esoteric realm of monastic wisdom. In any case, the lens through which St Dionysius is read needs to be periodically examined and, if necessary, cleansed or even changed.”

The only thing is that the issue of intermediary hierarchies is addressed more than the issue of God’s “non-being” which was briefly defined as describing the transcendence of God. I’ve related my difficulty with this terminology in my posts on John Scotus Eriugena and in the comments in the recent Energetic Procession post on St. Cyril. The idea of beyond being or above being, which apparently leads to non-being seems identically described by Plotinus (even though I shouldn’t see it that way. I really don’t want to, but I am the sort that needs to be convinced otherwise more specifically), the father of the Neo-Platonists. Perhaps the recommended translation by John D. Jones would be more helpful, but I’ve ordered other books lately and am behind on my stack and am thus more likely to read the freely accessible CCEL version of The Divine Names.

Acquiring Stillness

by Andrea Elizabeth

One thing I wonder about in writing is the need for intensity and conflict. Most conjure passionate feelings or a dire situation that looks unsolvable. We want to feel suspense and intense emotions when we hear stories, true or made up. Or a feel-good sentiment, empathy, or to feel sorry. Intense feelings make us feel alive, I suppose.

I started to read Proust a while back, which I believe to be much ado about the mundane. Seinfeld is similar. I don’t think they are quite as mind-numbing as small claims court TV or some talk shows, which tend to focus on common life, and seem to serve as time-fillers. Seinfeld made the mundane more interesting, probably because of timing and exaggerated character features and reactions.

Proust, if I remember correctly, also wrote about less eventful relationships, as far as I got. But he focused on the particulars in a way that made them seem filled with meaning, contrary to Seinfeld. However it was depressing, and this is probably why I haven’t picked him back up again. His intense focus on the ordinary was almost to the point of obsession. Thinking on it now, I wonder if he was too shortsighted. Details are important, but they should point to something else, beyond the self or the household. Intense focus is meant to keep going outward, or inward to the infinite.

I didn’t intend on this post segueing into St. Dionysius, but I find it fitting to point to his On the Divine Names, which I have just started reading. I am intrigued by the use of human language to guide us into contemplation of the Divine. Sometimes in reading these types of works, as sort of happened when reading about John Scotus Eriugena, I get a sort of too spacey feeling, too removed from my real life. I think this may be due to some extent to a western mindset, where the infinite is opposed to the finite. Though some of this may exist in St. Dionysius and JSE, I think I have gained a little understanding about how to hold the ineffable on one hand (as if) and the revealed in the other at the same time. I think the western translators and commentators who provide context get this wrong in saying you have to transcend the finite to reach the infinite. The finite ends up getting eliminated and a person gets absorbed into the Divine One. But instead, I think there is a loop to thinking about the Infinite who firmly holds the Finite in His Incarnate hand. We have to keep the stream moving between the two or get lost in one or the other.

Good, Peace-Inducing News

by Andrea Elizabeth

It may be apparent that I got irritated reading the John Scottus Eriugena book. This morning I took Felix Culpa’s suggestion to watch Dr. David Bradshaw’s lecture on The Divine Energies in Eastern Orthodoxy (I couldn’t open the essays with my Mac). The lecture in Part 1 goes to about 70 minutes in, now I’m listening to the Q&A. He nicely shows what Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Sts. Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, the Cappadocian Fathers, and, very briefly in the Q&A, Eriugena, whose writings were condemned, and St. Dionysius, meant by energies and essence. He is not as uptight about the ones who disagree with the further defined explanation of St. Gregory Palamas as I, and he’s wanting to get along with the Cambridge audience who disagrees more than I, so he makes some concessions about St. Palamas leaving a few loose ends. Perhaps he even tidies them up for him. He approaches it as they west is missing out on fuller revelation, and I’m fine with that.

John Scottus Eriugena, the last.

by Andrea Elizabeth

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.

More weirdness,

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.

Dialectical Repainting

by Andrea Elizabeth

Another theme in this book is in the use of “authority”. Yesterday’s post brought out the authority of Scriptures. Today it seems to be Sts.Dionysius vs. Augustine, though Eriugena seems to be ecumenically against the word “versus”. I surmise that ecumenism is a form of dialectic, where a diluted compromise is reached, instead of the form where the biggest and strongest crushes the weakest.

In the Periphysion, one of the most perplexing of these concerns the nature of the beatific vision, for not only do the authorities ([Sts.] Augustine and Dionysius) come into conflict over this most difficult question, but contradictory texts in the scriptures themselves force the exegete to maneuver very skilfully in order to adjudicate among the various texts and interpretations. The scriptural conflict concerns 1Corinthians 13:12 and 1 Timothy 6:16; shall we see God “face to face” or shall the inaccessible light of God be forever obscured to human intellects? This example of the confusing variations of color in the feather of the peacock is one of the many conflicts Eriugena confronts in his writings, and I discuss this particular point in chapter 7. It is in “solving” such conflicts that his exegetical skills can be appreciated as both diplomatic and respectful. Of course, Eriugena does not struggle alone in the search for a correct understanding of the texts of the scriptures: he enlists the support of the fathers, many of whom had already grappled with the same questions. According to Contreni, Carolingian commentators “plucked flowers from fields to compose a rich bouquet…. In the process they defined a new kind of exegesis,” one that concentrated on the texts themselves as complementary to the authority of the fathers.18

This seems less dialectical of either sort, and more of a live and let live approach.

The study of the scriptures in the quest for spiritual meaning, therefore, is guided not only by the authority of the fathers but also by reason, which “finds it sweeter to exercise her skill in the hidden straits of the ocean of divinity than idly to bask in smooth and open waters where she cannot display her power” (P.IV 744A). Eriugena conveys a sense of the excitement about the journey to be undertaken through the vast seas of the scriptures, and we are never in any doubt that his ship will reach a safe harbor because reason acts as his guide. […] However, the toil of human reason to come to a correct understanding of the sacred texts has been made more difficult because of the damage sustained by reason through the fall. Through the transgression of Adam and Eve, reason must work doubly hard, through sorrow and hard labor, to come to a proper understanding of all that is related in the book of the scriptures and in the book of nature (P.IV 855A-B). (p.19)

It seems her confidence in Eriugena’s reason is too sure in light of the last sentence, not that it is impossible for a human to come up with true conclusions, since we are graced with reason.

It has often been stated that what we find in Eriugena’s work is a constant battle between Augustine and [St.] Dionysius, broadly understood as West versus East.24 […] Eriugena often takes the side of a Greek father in preference to the authority of Augustine and at times not without what some scholars would regard as a slight on Augustine. Even though Eriugena may have understood the authority of Augustine in much the same light as he regarded the authority of scriptures, that is, capable of many readings, at times he takes tremendous liberties with Augustinian texts, and he sometimes misinterprets Augustine with the aim of bringing his thought into line with the great Eastern authorities (sometimes Eriugena says that Augustine does not mean what he says). In this sense, Eriugena does not abide by his self-imposed stricture not to adjudicate between the fathers but to acknowledge their views with piety and reverence and select that which most accords with the meaning of the scriptures (P…). He also notes that the opinions of the fathers can be especially helpful for those untrained in reason and more amenable to authority (P…). Even though true authorities come from the same source, the wisdom of God (P…), conflict can still arise. Interestingly, when Eriugena finds disagreement between authorities, he is generally anxious to explain the reason. For example, with regard to Basil of Caeserea’s view that the soul of animals die with the death of their bodies (not a view he will subscribe to), Eriugena explains that Basil simply meant to illustrate for simple people the fact that a base life can lead to the loss of soul (P…).

This seems a little manipulative, presumptuous, disingenuous and condescending, but the next part redeems him,

It is, however, still generally believed that despite the very powerful and formative influence of Augustine, Eriugena was more Greek than Latin in his approach to created reality and its relationship with divine reality. The Greek coloring of Eriugena’s thought, however, is not simply a veneer on a Latin base coat; Eriugena genuinely sided with the Greek fathers on many important issues. […] Eriugena’s anthropology, more specifically his conception of the whole of humanity as in the image of God eventually to be restored to its divine exemplar, is more obviously Greek than Latin in its theocentric character. The concept of deification, which Eriugena notes is more difficult for the Latins (with the exception of Ambrose), is a very powerful Greek thematic in thePeriphyseon, which he tries to reconcile with Latin authorities on the subject. […] In conclusion, while one can say that while Eriugena was constantly working to bring his various sources into agreement, one must also remember that for him all authority was human authority and must, therefore, conform to reason. (p.21,22)

He indeed had a hard job on his hands. This has done nothing to convince me that east vs west is not apples vs. oranges. Eriugena rightly prefers apples, so he tries to color his oranges red. I have much faith that Eastern authority is true and trustworthy, and does not require such mental gymnastics, which I agree with Eriugena, western theology does. I grew up with Western thought and language, so I appreciate the eastern correction to specific western sources, such as perhaps Drs. Bradshaw and Cavarnos provide.

I also believe that eventually a person can achieve enough healing and correction that they can perhaps redeem certain parts of unorthodox theology, philosophy, music, literature, and art, or at least know how to sift through it. I’m still in the detox stages though.

What Is Truth?

by Andrea Elizabeth

Despite Ms. Carabine’s too general characterization of the eastern Fathers as Neoplatonists, and too informal treatment of Saints, I believe her to be intellectually honest and discerning in mapping out distinctions between the east and west during the 9th Century, so far in her book on John Scottus Eriugena.

I suppose my over-arching question in reading this book is what is the role of reason when forming a Christian view of the Cosmos. The west criticizes the east for being too mystical, and the east criticizes the west for relying too much on human reason. Here are some passages in which Eriugena’s method is discussed,

In the Periphyseon, undoubtedly Eriugena’s greatest work, we find him turning to many sources in the search for the truth of reality, but his fundamental source is the [S]criptures, one of the great Carolingian preoccupations. However, studying the sacred texts was not simply academic study like any other, for an intellectual understanding alone was not sufficient; as a foundation for a particular way of life, study of the scriptures meant that wisdom involved both intellectual and spiritual progress.

[…] The four levels of the intelligible world of the scriptures correspond to the four interrelated levels of the sensible world: historical, literal, ethical, and theological (Hom. XIV 291B-C and P.V IOIOB). The theological level is, of course, the supreme level of contemplation of the divine nature. However, for Eriugena scriptural texts cannot be studied in isolation at whatever level; reason is an indispensable aid in determining the true meaning of the sacred texts, “we must follow reason which investigates the truth of things” (P.I 509A), but the scriptures remain the ultimate guide to truth (P.V IOIOB-C) According to Eriugena’s understanding, if reason and the sacred texts appear to come into conflict, that is because scripture uses allegories when speaking of God in order that the human mind can more easily understand divine reality from the things it knows (P.I 509A).

This to me hints at the western notion of analogy in seeking to know a beyond-knowing God.

Eriugena’s continual warnings against believing the words of the scriptures only in their literal sense, demonstrates his skepticism about language, which ultimately results in his preference for negative theology. […] Eriugena’s prohibition here has recourse to [St.] Dionysius, who also admonished that we should not say anything about God except that which has been revealed n the scriptures: “For as there is not place in which it is more proper to seek Thee than in Thy words, so there is no place where Thou art more clearly discovered than in Thy words” (P.V. IOIC). “More clearly discovered than in Thy words” – this is not entirely true because the apparent conflict between reason and the scriptures is not the only conflict brought into focus by Eriugena. The sacred texts themselves contain many contradictory texts with which the exegete is forced to deal in the journey toward the truth about human and divne reality. (p.18)

It seems that Eriugena is trying to work out his Sola Scriptura technique, though he is more open than modern Sola Scripturists to peripheral, be they “secular” or the writings of the Saints of the Church. I think the Orthodox would agree with this approach to Scriptures. However I sense a divergence already in his approach to reason, not just to analogeia entis which I mention above. He is coming at it from a lone-ranger point of view. His trinitarian input of Scripture – Fathers – Secular/Nature is all sorted out by his own reason. He is the final authority.

While the Orthodox believe that God reveals Himself through Scripture, the Fathers, and Nature, the final authority on “what is truth?” is the Church. It gets messy if you try to describe how to resolve differences between the Fathers, and for those who don’t believe that the Eastern Orthodox Church is the fulness of the Truth revealed, and who communes with the Truth in oneness and unity, perhaps(?) it cannot be proven in a way that will relieve all doubts of bias, special pleading and partiality, but many have believed it anyway and converted, including me. But I used to be a lone ranger, so I sympathize with Mr. Eriugena, though my perspective was much narrower than his before I converted to Orthodoxy.

The next section describes what incredibly hard work it is to come up with the truth by yourself.

Eriugena and St. Dionysius

by Andrea Elizabeth

John Scottus Eriugena cont.

The Pseudo-Dionysius was most likely a Syrian monk of the late fifth century.12 His works display the obvious influence of the late Neoplatonism of Proclus (410-85), but for whatever reason, the author assumed the identity of St. Paul’s Athenian convert (Acts 17:22-34). (p.16)

See the Wikipedia article linked above to see that his Neoplatonism isn’t so easily attributed.

Aside from the strong Proclean influence, the earlier fathers of the Eastern church also find an echo in the Pseudo-Dionysius, especially Gregory of Nyssa. The themes contained in the works of the Pseudo-Dionysius, which will later find a place in Eriugena’s massive summa of reality, include the unknowable nature of God, the roles of negative and positive theology, the themes of procession and return and hierarchy, and the importance of the scriptures (for Di0nysius, the scriptures had represented “sacred veils” around the divine). For Dionysius, the Augustinian concordance of true religion and true philosophy is expressed as philosophy being the same wisdom as that sought by St. Paul. Although there are many thematic similarities between the Pseudo-Dionysius and Eriugena, the focus of the two theologians was not the same, as I will show later. One further important work of Eriugena closely related to the Dionysian corpus is his Commentary on the Celestial Hierarchy, in which he sets out his own understanding of that important, difficult work.15 (p.17)

It seems that Eriugena set about bringing in eastern thought into his own cosmic view. It sort of reminds me of the Emergent Church movement, a little of this, a little of that. If there wasn’t an Orthodox Church to go to, which after Charlemagne (who was instrumental in the Nicene Creed being changed in the west) it seems there wasn’t anymore, I would go to Eriugena’s Church or an Emergent Church that at least had icons of true Saints. I believe the Eastern Church preserved and maintained the true and full way to believe and think about God, but I’ll wait and see what Eriugena came up with independently.

As the first centuries after Christ rolled on, teachings from Saints like Maximus can be said to reflect the teachings of earlier Saints like Gregory of Nyssa, but I do not see the same type of synthesis with other views that is being brought out regarding Eriugena. It is said that the early Church Fathers were in theosis and received revelation, as well as the teachings that had been passed down to them. They were able to discern truth and error in philosophical thought through personal knowledge of God, with their minds engaged. As far as development goes, the language about God may be seen to have developed, but I do not believe the content did. St. Maximus knew the same God the same way St. Paul did, and after reading St. Maximus one may read St. Paul differently, but I think it is with the original intent.

I also currently believe that St. Augustine synthesized other philosophical views with what he received, which may have given John Scottus Eriugena and later western philosopher/theologians permission to do the same.

Eriugena on Predestination and Dialectics

by Andrea Elizabeth

Eriugena’s view, as he sets it out in the rather hastily written treatise On Predestination, is that because God is simple and unchangeable, there can be nothing at all that can be predestined.11 Eriugena explains God’s predestination as God’s knowledge of the primordial causes. God cannot predestine the human will and people are blessed or punished because of their own free will. Since the free will of human beings can be misused, sins must be the fault of individuals. Sin and evil, and the fact that some souls are damned, cannot imply a change in God or a defect in God’s power; if we accept the view of Gottschalk, God is responsible for sin and evil. Eriugena’s way out of this difficult position is based on the Neoplatonic idea that God as good is simply existence and, therefore, the opposite of non-being. Evil and sin are negations that do not, in fact, exist and cannot be caused by God. Thus, God cannot predestine any soul to damnation; rather, human sinfulness creates its own hell. As I show in chapter 4, in the Periphyseon Eriugena argues that lack of knowledge in God is not a defect; in fact, nothing in God (wisdom, power, being, or the ability to predestine) can be understood, precisely because God’s essence is simple and unchangeable. Therefore, Eriugena concludes, salvation is open to all, a theme I discuss in relation to his conception of the final return in Periphyseon V. In addition to the arguments based on the dialectical understanding of being and non-being and the unity of God’s nature, Eriugena also invokes the principles of negative theology in his answer to Gottschalk’s heresy. Foreknowledge and predestination imply temporal notions in God, who transcends time. Since God is simple and unchanging, ideas, signs, and language cannot properly signify the divine nature (On Predestination IX. 308B).12″

I agree with this description of human free will, but I think he misses the mark somewhat with predestination and God’s simplicity. As I tried to explain St. Maximus in yesterday’s comments (Aaron has a better description here), each part of God’s creation is predestined in that it springs from at least one of the many logoi in Christ, which are like the dna in seeds. Many things can happen to a tree, but if it remains in health, it will be in essence a particular type of tree, but with distinctions that make it differ from all other trees, even of the same species. I don’t believe each tree has a determined course, but each can participate in God’s will, sometimes with the intervention of man in cutting it down and reshaping it. It is the will of God for certain principles of virtue to saturate the process of managing a tree, which is also discussed in Aaron’s post.

Regarding God’s simplicity, I sense that where he goes off the mark is in putting essence before person. God is a person who foreknows and acts. How His transcending time works into this is beyond me, maybe it’s through the Incarnation that He, meaning the Father through the Son, by the Holy Spirit, enters time. God is too bound, abstract, and nebulous if you put His essence first as is described above. Not that He is ever unloving, unwise, lacks power (though sometimes He may choose to lay it down). As far as the “dialectic” between being and non-being, it has been said that being is a verb, and so God isn’t being, that is putting activity first instead of the correct order of person -> activity -> essence, but I haven’t worked being-ness all out yet, not that I can. Still I think that dilutes the above stated dialectic somewhat. There is too much dialectic in western thought with associated diminishing hierarchies and the marginalization, or annihilation or consumption of supposedly weaker things. Along with the simple view of God’s being is His goodness. I think the eastern view is that His goodness is an activity/attribute/energy, not His essence. It is something He does, not is. He could be said to be simple in that He always chooses to do good, and so that is why we can say He is good. Her explanation of Eriugena implies that sin and evil is the opposite of God, based on the misunderstanding of Absolute Divine Simplicity (which is explained better at Energetic Procession, check the categories), but with Person first, sin and evil are the opposite of what God does. His will is involved with this model, which makes Him more dynamic in my view.

I am examining a less dialectical approach to the dialectical west by reading this book. I’ll say this book is not the opposite of truth, but as we all aim for the bull’s eye, we should seek clarification of its nature. Falsehood is a warped version (which supports the above idea that it doesn’t exist, or at least is substanceless) not the opposite of the truth.

Speaking of dialectic, continued from above,

This was, in brief, the case Eriugena presented to Hincmar for scrutiny. However, since Eriugena had denied the possibility of the pedestination fo the elect to eternal bliss, he had committed the sin of contradiction the great Augustine; for this reason Hincmar ultimately rejected the treatise. But a more serious issue was the invocation of the philosophical (and secular) principles of dialectic; in fact, Prudentius later rebuked Eriugena for using non-Christian sources and arguments in his refutation of Gottschalk’s heresy. The dialectical approach to a theological question (an approach Eriugena was to use to great effect in the Periphyseon), resulted in the rejection of the work by Hincmar, Predentius, and Florus as “sophistry,” and the treatise was eventually condemned at the council of Valence in 855 and at Langres in 859. […] Surprisingly, Eriugena did not suffer [persecution], and his future was much brighter, most likely because he was protected by Charles.

With regard to the predestination controversy, perhaps the one major point that demands further discussion is the fact tha both Gottschalk and Erigena claimed to be clarifying the ideas of Augustine himself. It would appear that, like the sacred texts, the writings of Augustine were open to manifold interpretations, a view that brings into question the use of the authority of Augustine. In the case of the predestination debate, Eriugena’s practical application of the Augustinian dictum that true philosophy is true religion had disastrous consequences. Theology (the study of the scriptures and the fathers) was neither ready nor willing to admit the secular science of dialectic into its privileged arena. Yet Eriugena’s endeavors in relation to the quesiton of predestination showed very clearly that the authority of Augustine could be questioned; as Jaroslav Pelikan observes, “the Augustinian synthesis” with which the previous centuries had been comfortable was now called into question.13 In this sense, Eriugena’s treatise On Predestination prefigures one recurring characteristic one finds in the Periphyseon: the reconciliation of the many authorities who influenced one of the greatest philosophical minds of the ninth century.”

I’m not sure exactly how she’s applying the term “secular science of dialectic” in this passage and will wait for further examples. It seems to me Eriugena’s conclusions were closer to Orthodoxy than his opponent’s, and I don’t know if he was trying to independently synthesize what he’d learned from the east with the west. Orthodox are more kindred to Wesley than Calvin, but perhaps close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, or is that too dialectical?

JSE II, Education and Theological Controversies

by Andrea Elizabeth

It is not specifically known how John Scottus Eriugena came to be so fluent in Greek. It is also not known (according to the western author, Deirdre Carabine) how intellectually fertile Ireland was in the 9th Century. Eriugena appears to have been exceptional in both counts. It is also noted in her work that Charlemagne pretty much left the Celtic lands alone in amassing his new Holy Roman Empire. I am wondering if the eastern Christian monastics, who I believe originally came to Celtic lands from north Africa, provide the necessary roots for his exceptionability, which caused Charlemagne’s grandson, Charles the Bald, a Byzantinophile, to hire him to translate “Pseudo” – Dionysius’ writings.

Charlemagne ambitiously promoted education in his newly conquered empire, “the emphasis on reason in Christian education signaled the beginning of a tradition that was to come to its full blossoming in the works of the thirteenth-century master Tomas Aquinas. Philosophy and Christianity could now come to a much more fruitful union, and the Christian could now follow legitimately Augustine’s example and adopt philosophia as an official guide on the path to Christian wisdom. Thus, the arts became an indispensable part of Christian formation, and the spoils of the classicists were used by Carolingian scholars to the greatest effect. As in Augustine’s conception, the seven liberal arts [trivium: grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic; quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music (p.70)] were regarded as gifts from God, the secular equivalent of the seven gifts of the spirit, which could assist the advance toward God more fruitfully than the reading of the scriptures alone.” (p.8)

As a former Sola Scriptura adherent, this makes me a little tense, but with the Orthodox emphasis on Recapitulation of all creation in Christ, and that all of creation is capable of being redeemed, and is not totally depraved in the first place, I am beginning to appreciate that all of the works of men’s hands are worth considering. Sola Scriptura in untenable anyway as no one lives in a vacuum.

However during his time there was anti-Greek sentiment,

The ninth century can be characterized in many ways according to one’s perspective and interest. From the point of view of the theologian, it was a time when old disputes flared up as theological speculation met with secular learning. The most important disputes that came to the fore in the latter part of the eighth century were a mixture of old and new and concerned predestination, the Eucharist, the iconoclast controversy, the problem concerning the vision of God and the nature of hell, the debate on adoptionism, and the filioque problem. In fact, although the royal courts were generally well disposed to Byzantine ways and traditions, the Libri carolini, composed by Theodulf of Orleans at the behest of Charlemagne when Leo III sent the Nicene decision to the Frankish king (outlining the doctrinal implications of the final victory of the iconophiles in 843), display discernible anti-Greek sentiments, indicative of the struggle for supremacy between the two great centers.” (p. 9,10)

I trepidatiously read this book which is written from a western point of view, albeit one that is open minded to Greek thought. She is not without her culturally imbued prejudices however. She makes it sound like a no-fault divorce dispute where both are also equally to blame. Sometimes there is a right party and a wrong party. The Eastern leaders may have not been purely without lust of power, but that does not prove that their claims of being right on the above disagreements were wrong.