Joannes Scotus Erigena

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Joannes Scotus Erigena, a celebrated scholar and metaphysician, a native of Ireland, flourished in the 9th century, He is said to have studied in Greece, and to have appeared in France before the year 847, and at the court of Charles the Bald before 853. He was on terms of intimacy with this monarch, by whom he was greatly esteemed. Some of his theological writings are considered heterodox. His Dialogus de Divisione Naturae displays wonderful erudition and an intimate acquaintance with the Greek language. He died in France about 874. Numerous works are attributed to him, of which the principal, besides that just mentioned, were De Praedestinatione Dei, De Visione Dei, and De Corpore et Sanguine Domini.

Interesting references to his writings will be found in an article in the Biographie Generale, which combats the supposition of his nationality being other than Irish. Allibone quotes an author who says: "He was a skilful logician and controversialist, and had imbibed, by the perusal of some of the Greek Fathers, a considerable taint of the Platonism of the school of Alexandria. He thus became one of the founders of the philosophic school of the Realists, who attracted so much attention in the 11th and 12th centuries. Anastasius had so high an opinion of Erigena that he ascribed his translation of the works of Dionysius to the special influence of the spirit of God." Considering the important place he holds amongst ecclesiastical writers, provokingly little is known concerning his personal history. George H. Lewis writes: "Scotus Erigena, with whom in the middle of the 9th century scholasticism may be said to begin, if any definite beginning can properly be assigned to it,.. was thus denounced by the Bishop of Lyons: 'By his vain and pernicious eloquence [he] so subjugates his auditors, that they no longer humbly submit themselves to the divine Scriptures, nor to the authority of the Fathers, but prefer to follow his fantastic reveries.' Erigena made himself the mouthpiece of those who sought a rational basis, however narrow, for their convictions. This idea once suggested could not be disregarded. The Church thundered against it, but the very echoes of that thunder only aroused a more wide-spread and prolonged attention to the idea."

The Encylopaedia Britannica says: "This eminent thinker stands alone as an original advocate of pantheism during this entire epoch... He begins with Absolute Unity as the origin and essence of all things, and endeavours, in his De Divisione Naturae, to explain how this radical unity, or Deity, has produced the universe of multiplicities with which he is emphatically identical. From the plenitude of the Divine Intelligence first causes (primordiales causae) are derived, which gave birth in turn to the world of nature, destined ultimately to return to the bosom of the absolute... He winds up his theory of human knowledge in these words: (Everything is God; God is everything; God is the only real substantial existence.'" A complete edition of the works of this great man, by H. J. Floss, was published in the Patrologia of Abbe Migne at Paris in 1863.

Sources

16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

34. Biographie Générale. 46 vols. Paris, 1855-'66. An interleaved copy, copiously noted by the late Dr. Thomas Fisher, Assistant Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin.

124. Encyclopaedia Britannica. London, 1860.

254. Notes and Queries (3). London, 1850-'78.
O'Callaghan, John C., see No. 186.

285. Philosophy, History of: George H. Lewis. 2 vols. London, 1871.

339. Ware, Sir James, Works: Walter Harris. 2 vols. Dublin, 1764.

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