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?