Johannes Scottus Eriugena

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Representation of Eriugenas in the manuscript Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Lat. 6734

Johannes Scottus Eriugena (* in the early 9th century; † in the late 9th century) was a scholar of Irish descent who emerged in western France as a theological and philosophical writer and was active as a teacher of the Seven Liberal Arts . He lived at the court of Charles the Bald , a king who was open to education and whose court poet he was.

With his good, if not excellent, knowledge of Greek, Eriugena was an exception among the scholars of his time. As a translator and commentator, he made an important contribution to the spread of Greek ideas from the era of the Church Fathers in the Latin-speaking West. At the same time, he strengthened the influence of Neoplatonism in Western intellectual history. With his endeavor to achieve a well-thought-out, logically flawless approach to theological argumentation, he anticipated developments in high and late medieval scholasticism . With his contemporaries, and with his allegorical rather than historical interpretation of the Bible, he caused offense. His bold theses were repeatedly condemned by the church.


In the early Middle Ages , the Latin term Scottus referred to a Scot . The Scotch was understood to mean both the Irish and the Irish-born part of the population of what is now Scotland. Scottus was more of a designation of origin than a proper name. Most of his contemporaries, Johannes was called Johannes Scot (t) us , occasionally also Scotigena . He used to call himself just Johannes , only once Johannes Eriugena ("The Irish Born"). He himself created the word Eriugena in analogy to the ancient Graiugena ("of Greek origin ", "Greek"), which occurs among others in Virgil . Ériu is the name of a figure in Celtic mythology and is the old Irish name form for Ireland ( New Irish : Éire). Scottus Eriugena is thus a pleonastic duplication of the designation of origin. It does not come from Johannes, but was only introduced in 1632 by Archbishop James Ussher , who still used the variant Erigena . The name forms Erigena and Ierugena , which appear in high and late medieval manuscripts, are not authentic and linguistically incorrect.


Portrait of Charles the Bald, Paris manuscript, Bibliothèque Nationale, Lat. 1 ( Vivian Bible , 9th century)

Eriugena's teaching is well known from his works, but little is known about his life. He was one of the scholars from Ireland who emigrated to western France during the Carolingian era, where he contributed to the flourishing culture of that time as a teacher and writer . It is first tangible in the sources in the years before the middle of the 9th century: Prudentius of Troyes , who became Bishop of Troyes in 843/844, had previously been one of his students. For a time he taught in Laon ; he worked closely with the head of the cathedral school there, Martin von Laon (Martinus Hibernensis), who was also from Ireland . 850/851 it is attested at the court of King Charles the Bald ; apparently he stayed there a long time. Although he was a theologian, he apparently did not hold a church office.

He also worked as a teacher at Karl's court. He gave lessons in the seven liberal arts , wrote occasional poems on the occasion of special events and took on demanding tasks, for the fulfillment of which his unusual scholarship was required. As one of the very few scholars in western France who had a relatively good knowledge of Greek, he was commissioned by the king to make theological ideas from the epoch of patristicism accessible to the Latin-speaking world of scholars through translation from Greek into Latin.

At the request of the king and on behalf of Archbishop Hinkmar von Reims , he intervened in the theologian controversy about predestination , divine foresight, which was raging at the time by drafting an expert opinion. The 850/851 report, however, aroused offense by the unconventional views represented in it. Hinkmar therefore distanced himself from it, and two church assemblies, the Synod of Valence (855) and the Synod of Langres (859), condemned Eriugena's approach and some of his views. Both synods met outside the empire of Charles the Bald, who did not withdraw his favor from Eriugena, but apparently protected him against the attacks. Eriugena did not change his views after the conviction.

The time and circumstances of his death are unknown. A legend according to which he emigrated to England and was murdered there is not credible according to the current state of research, even if a historical core of this tradition cannot be excluded with certainty.


Eriugena's works reflect his three main areas of activity: teaching the liberal arts, theology (including the translation of Greek theological literature) and philosophy (systematic exposition of his metaphysics and natural philosophy). He also wrote casual poems on the side.

Commentary on the Encyclopedia of Martianus Capella

Eriugena based his teaching in the liberal arts on a late antique manual, the encyclopedia De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii ("The marriage of philology with Mercury ") by the Roman scholar Martianus Capella . The prominent scholar Cassiodorus recommended this compendium for beginners' teaching as early as the 6th century . In the Franconian Empire, however, Latin education had reached a low point during the time of the Merovingian kings , the consequences of which were still felt among the early Carolingians . This was an obstacle to the use of Martianus' linguistically and content-demanding work in school lessons. De nuptiis was already known in the Frankish empire at the time of Charlemagne , but it was only Eriugena and Martin von Laon who created the prerequisites for the work to assert itself in the classroom and to become the authoritative textbook of the liberal arts in basic education. First, Eriugena tried to produce a reliable text based on the handwritten records available to him. Then he wrote a comment on it, the Annotationes in Martianum .

Page from a Martianus manuscript, 10th century, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Lat. 7900 A

Martianus understands philology to mean all of learning, not specifically linguistic and literary studies as it is today. Philology personified for him is a mortal virgin who, through her marriage to the god Mercury, is accepted among the gods and thus becomes immortal. In his commentary, Eriugena interprets the mythical framework of De nuptiis , the marriage of Philologias with Mercury, in the sense of a possible deification of man by eliminating his ignorance. He interprets the wedding as a symbol for a human experience, the philosophical content of which he formulates in Christian terms. In his view, a person who studies the liberal arts following his striving for knowledge can gain access to a reliable knowledge of reality and acquire knowledge of the meaning of everything. This includes knowledge of nature and its phenomena, especially the four elements , as well as insight into the world harmony underlying the cosmos , which is shown in the movements of the stars. By understanding the order of the cosmos, the thirst for knowledge comes to the insight that God is his origin and therefore the return to God is his goal and means his happiness. In taking this direction, the philosopher becomes wise and, to that extent, godlike; thus he can finally achieve his salvation on the path of the search for wisdom in the sense of the Christian idea of ​​redemption. This gain in a divine quality corresponds to the mythical elevation of Philologia among the immortals by Martianus, for Philologia has proven, through her love of wisdom, to be worthy of becoming the bride of God.

Eriugena's concept of the meaning and purpose of education and science, supported by a strong optimism, is not linked to an idea of ​​progress. Rather, he thinks that the learned sages of antiquity have already fully explored the cosmos, and its nature can be inferred from the totality of their individual knowledge. Among other things, the expansion of the universe can also be seen. He therefore does not make his own observations of nature, but only compares critically the relevant ancient writings available to him.

Among the individual disciplines of the Seven Liberal Arts, logic occupies a prominent position as the formal basis of the other six subjects at Eriugena. For him she is the "mother of the arts". It demonstrates the scientific power of this instrument, which until now has only been part of the traditional educational material and is largely not understood. He is at the beginning of the medieval logic tradition.

Expert opinion on predestination

Eriugena was initially not involved in the dispute over predestination. The theologian Gottschalk von Orbais had put forward the thesis that there was a “double predestination”. He said that God had predestined individual people either for heaven or for hell from the beginning, so that one could not escape the already determined fate. This deterministic view collided with the Church's teaching of free will . This said that the future fate of individuals in the hereafter was already known to God because of his foreknowledge, but it was not the result of a preliminary decision by God, but the decisions that the person in question had made and implemented himself on the basis of his free will during his lifetime. Gottschalk's doctrine of predestination, which he spread preaching, led to his condemnation as a heretic ; he was arrested. The responsible Metropolitan (Archbishop) Hinkmar von Reims attached importance to a theological underpinning of these measures. In agreement with the king, he therefore commissioned the court scholar Eriugena to prepare an expert report that was intended to justify the action against Gottschalk, who was known to be idiosyncratic. The Irishman seemed suitable for this task as an expert in logic and as a connoisseur of the trend-setting theology of the late antique church father Augustine .

In the report De divina praedestinatione (“On divine predestination”), Eriugena came to the conclusion, as requested by the client, that Gottschalk's point of view was illogical and heretical. However, he was not satisfied with arguments to refute the opposing position, but put forward provocative views on his part, without the purpose of the report making this required. He interpreted the Fall of Man , the Last Judgment and the punishment of evildoers in Hell not as external, objective processes in the course of salvation history , but as subjective experiences in the consciousness of the individuals affected by them. He did not understand the hellfire as a physical suffering that God inflicts on the inhabitants of hell, but as a torment that the person concerned causes himself by continuing to strive for his true happiness on the one hand, but on the other hand no longer getting rid of the pernicious habits that cause him to prevent us from achieving this goal. Against the assumption of predestination for damnation, Eriugena argued that it was incompatible with the simplicity of God. He said that God not only could not want and bring about evil, but could not even know an evil, because God was existence, but evil was something that did not exist, which for lack of existence would not be considered by God. Therefore, God cannot punish anyone and neither predict nor foresee a punishment.

Eriugena took the opportunity to test his approach to evidence. His method consists of three steps. First it is shown that the claim to be verified is actually taken from the Bible as the ultimate source of truth. In the second step you make sure that you have correctly understood the meaning by using logic to bring the specific statement of the Bible passage into a generally valid form. In this wording it must be clear, consistent and sound. It must be shown that the general statement emerges as a necessary consequence of the biblical. General validity and logically flawless presentation are the decisive truth criteria. Finally, in the third step, the agreement of the statement found to be true with the teachings of the Church Fathers and thus their theological harmlessness is shown. Eriugena emphasizes that it is first to determine the intention of the statement and only then to ask about the meaning of the statement.

It was customary in the early Middle Ages to justify or combat opinions with a simple proof of authority by trying to show that they correspond to or contradict statements of the Bible, the Fathers of the Church, and the Councils. Eriugena is not satisfied with that. This innovation defines the aspect of his appearance that his environment sees as revolutionary and offensive. He holds on to the evidence of authority, but for him this is only the last, confirmatory step that is intended to round off a judgment that has already been made elsewhere. With this approach, the actual burden of proof is placed on the consistency of the substantive argumentation and the importance of the appeal to authorities is greatly reduced.

Theological translations and commentaries

After the affair about the predestination report, Charles the Bald took up Eriugena's suggestion to open up Greek patristic sources to clarify theological questions. He commissioned the Irish to revise the existing Latin translation of the writings of the Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita , the "Corpus Dionysiacum", and to bring it into a more understandable form. These are the works of a late antique, Neoplatonic oriented theologian, who at that time was in the highest esteem, as he was considered a direct student of the Apostle Paul . A manuscript of the corpus was given to the court of Emperor Ludwig the Pious as a gift from the Byzantine emperor . Ludwig had given it to the Saint-Denis monastery in 827 , whose abbot Hilduin made a first translation. Hilduin's work was evidently felt to be inadequate; therefore Eriugena was commissioned to revise it. In doing so he (like many medieval translators from the Greek) mostly followed the wording of the original, which he tried to reproduce verbatim; only occasionally did he venture conjectures for reasons of content . Therefore, its Latin version was linguistically awkward. Even the Greek handwriting that was available to him had gaps in the text and was incorrect; In addition, there were Eriugena's own mistakes, with which he even worsened Hilduin's text in places. After all, Eriugena made sure, in line with his demand for terminological clarity, that the same words were always translated in the same way. In view of the difficulties in terms of content that the demanding material caused, he wrote a commentary on the scripture On the Heavenly Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius. In it he goes through his translation sentence by sentence and also discusses other translation options.

While working on the Corpus Dionysiacum , Eriugena came across the writings of Maximus Confessor , a highly respected 7th-century Greek theologian who had done much to spread the ideas of Pseudo-Dionysius in the East. He translated Maximus' major works, the Ambigua and the Quaestiones ad Thalassium . He also made a Latin translation of the font Peri kataskeuḗs anthrōpou by the Greek church father Gregor von Nyssa , which he titled in Latin De imagine ("About the image").

In addition, Eriugena interpreted the prologue of the Gospel of John in a homily . He also wrote a commentary on the Gospel, which, however, only deals with individual sections in the version that has survived, possibly because the work remained unfinished or the only surviving manuscript is incomplete. Here, too, he emphasizes the importance of a scientific exegesis, to which he claims that it should reveal the truth of the commented text not only to believers but to every rational thinker.


Periphyseon in the Reims manuscript, Bibliothèque municipale, 875, fol. 15v. The codex is probably partly an autograph .
Page from a periphyseon manuscript, 9th century, Bamberg State Library

Eriugena gave his main work the Greek title Periphyseon (Περὶ φύσεων, "About natures"); the Latin title De divisione naturae is not authentic and only documented in the 12th century. By “nature” he understands not only creation, but all of reality, including God. The theme of the writing, which is divided into five books, is the world order existing in the cosmos and, in particular, the relationship between the Creator and creation. Periphyseon is designed as a dialogue between a teacher and his student. As in his other works, the author starts from his conviction that the truth can be determined scientifically and then made so convincingly clear that all controversies are superfluous. However, he limits this assumption insofar as he emphasizes in theological statements that the truth of these cannot be fully understood, but only approximately. It can only be determined there how “likely” (verisimile) a statement is. For Eriugena, the criterion of “probability” is the rationality of the methodological approach and the conclusiveness of the argumentation. What is meant is not probability in the modern sense, but the extent to which a statement adequately captures the relevant facts.

In the periphyseon , Eriugena proceeds according to the three-step exegetical procedure already tested in the predestination report. After he has advanced from the wording of a biblical statement to its generally valid content in the first two steps, he cites the statements of the Church Fathers, which are intended to show that his interpretation is in accordance with the teachings of the church-recognized authorities. Since the insights of the Church Fathers were obtained with the help of the mind, he considers them to be verifiable; thus, from his point of view, the mind is above the authority of the patristic authors. So he does not shy away from occasionally contradicting authorities like Augustine.

As a starting point he chooses the beginning of the Bible, the first three chapters of the book of Genesis . According to his understanding, four human sensitivities are represented there. The beginning is the existence in paradise as a state of the happy person who knows and loves God. The fall of man follows as a renunciation of the knowledge of God offered to him. Thirdly, this is followed by the expulsion from paradise, which Eriugena interprets as a restriction to knowledge of the world. He understands the promise of redemption ( read from the Genesis text) as the announcement of a regaining of the knowledge of God that alone makes people happy; he relates it to the definitive state of salvation as the fourth and last of human sensitivities. The interpretation of the stages of biblical human history understood in this way offers him the framework for a comprehensive presentation of his theology, cosmology and anthropology .

Priscian commentary

Eriugena is probably the author of a commentary on the first 16 books of the Institutiones grammaticae by the late antique grammarist Priscian . This comment was first discovered in an 11th century manuscript in Barcelona in the 1990s . It has been handed down anonymously there, but there are significant indications that the Irish scholar was the author. There is also a fragment of the commentary in a 9th century Leiden manuscript that came from Eriugena's possession. Apart from a fragmentary commentary by Sedulius Scottus , it is the only surviving systematic Priscian commentary from the Carolingian period; At that time, commentaries on the Institutiones grammaticae usually took the form of glosses .


Eriugena wrote small Latin and occasionally Greek poems. 25 certainly authentic and 16 possibly real have been preserved. Apparently he exercised the function of court poet; some of the poems are marked as commissioned works. Eriugena did not shy away from expressing in a poem addressed to the king his disappointment that the ruler did not give him the expected reward for verses which he had recently dedicated to him. From this it can be seen that he was exercising a customary right of the poet to receive a fee. As far as is known, such a claim was only made by the Irish in the early Middle Ages.

Eriugena's poetic works are written partly in distiches , partly in hexameters . The largest and best known of them, Aulae sidereae , consists of 101 hexameters. Some deal with theological subjects, in others he praises the king or queen. A prominent feature is his habit of sprinkling Greek words into the Latin verses and thus also using poetry to shed light on his education. However, he made mistakes in Greek. He also shows weaknesses in Latin prosody , but he has a rich vocabulary and is able to skillfully use poetic stylistic devices. Eriugena likes to begin with a representation of heavenly conditions and ends with a consideration of earthly conditions. The liturgy represents the link between the two areas, the connection of which is to be clarified by this "downward-looking" structure.

Alleged Boethius commentary

In the 20th century, repeated attempts were made to make Eriugena's authorship plausible for anonymously transmitted comments on works by Boethius - De consolatione philosophiae and Opuscula sacra . These attempts have failed.


The main source for Eriugena's teaching is Periphyseon , where he extensively expounds his theological and philosophical convictions and his view of the world and man. His theology is shaped by his proximity to Neoplatonism and the way of thinking of the Neoplatonic-oriented Greek church fathers. On various controversial issues, he gives preference to the Greek tradition over the authority of Augustine . This attitude is expressed, among other things, in his emphasis on the oneness of God. So he took the side of the Greek side and against the Frankish theologians in the dispute over the Filioque, which was already ongoing at the time ; he thinks that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father and not from the Son.

The influence of the Neoplatonic tradition is particularly evident in Eriugena's idea of ​​a gradual emergence of the world from the deity and a consequent hierarchical order of levels of reality ( hypostasis ). In the context of this order, Eriugena also adopts the ancient Neoplatonic concept of a world soul , which he regards as the principle of all movement.

Nature as a total reality

Eriugena uses the term “nature” to denote the whole of reality, that is, God and the world, the things that are and those that are not. With regard to the fundamental distinction between being and non-being, he distinguishes five types of being and non-being. In the first place he mentions the classification according to which that which can be grasped through sensory perception or through thought is called being, while that which is inaccessible to the senses and also to the intellect is called non-being. The classification criterion is thus the receptivity of the human mind ( animus ). Because of its excellence ( excellentia suae naturae ), the non-existent is unknowable and thus superior to the existent. Eriugena regards a privative (merely expressing a lack of) use of the term non-being as fundamentally inadmissible; For him, non-being never means the absence of being in the sense of a lack of substances or accidents .

Representation of the world order according to Eriugenas Periphyseon in the manuscript Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Lat. 6734

In the periphyseon , he subjects nature, understood as total reality, to an analysis. In doing so, he initially bases distinctions of the most general kind: the active and passive role in a process (creating / creating) and the classification principle of “being something specific” / “not being something specific”. From the four possibilities of combining these elements with one another, the four components emerge into which Eriugena breaks down the total reality: the creative and self-uncreated nature, the creative and created nature, the created and non-creating nature and the neither creating nor created nature . The first nature is God in his capacity as the cause of everything. The second nature is the causes from which the individual objects of the material world emerge, namely the ideas from God on which the individual things are based. The third nature is things that arise under the conditions of time and space, which exist only through participation in their causes. The fourth nature is God insofar as he is striven for as the goal of salvation history, that is, not as the creator, but as the one who contains everything in the highest perfection beyond space and time.

The problem of statements about God

Eriugena admits that his analysis of reality as a whole is limited by not ascribing the character of truth per se to his findings, but rather those of a correct but incomplete presentation of the truth. He explains this first by limiting the validity of statements about God as Creator, which he deals with in the first of the five books on Periphyseon . According to Eriugena's conviction, terms like “good”, which are used in the Bible to characterize God, can only be understood literally in statements about perceptible reality; in statements about God their meaning is always transferred. A statement like "God is good" is first made because God is the cause of the existence of this quality in things created by him and a quality which has given the cause to what is caused is also to be ascribed to the cause itself. From this point of view, the statement “God is good” is legitimate. But in a second step it is denied in the sense of negative theology , which rejects all attributions of attributes to God as inadequate. This leads to the conclusion that “God is not good”, that is to say: the attribute “good” does not apply to him in the sense in which this term is used to describe what has been created. For it does not mark his being in the way it marks the being of what he has caused. In the third step, you return to the positive statement by expanding it and thus removing the offense: “God is more than good”. Since the “more than” is not specified, the sentence establishes a certain ignorance. God is not in the real sense ( proprie ) goodness, because goodness means the negation of its opposite, but God is beyond all opposites and thus also the opposition of good and evil. Goodness can only be predicated of him in the figurative sense ( translative ). Eriugena wants to show that none of the ten categories of Aristotle are applicable to God in their actual meaning, not even that of action , although the Bible speaks of God's action.

The world as God's self-revelation

In addition to the biblical revelation, Eriugena accepts extra-biblical self-manifestations of God. A created individual thing reveals its origins ( primordiales causae ) under the respective circumstances under which a person becomes aware of it . The viewer perceives the object as a single manifestation of a certain perfection, for example by expressing goodness or being alive in it. In the sense of the Platonic doctrine of ideas , the individual things are the products of perfect ideas or, as Eriugena puts it, of perfections. Thus, from the individual things, the individual perfections can be deduced as the reasons for their origin. All perfections are united in God and they proceed from him. The objects of perception refer to God as the author of all perfections emerging in them.

While the individual things indicate the existence of the individual perfections by their nature, the existence of God results from the eternal laws ( rationes aeternae ), which form the basis for the identity of the individual things in space and time and regulate their interaction. The knowledge of these laws helps the philosopher to understand the necessity of accepting a divine author.

The unfathomableness of God, which is thematized by negative theology, relates to him not only in terms of his transcendence , but also in terms of his immanence . Just as God in himself is not understood by any intellect, "so he is incomprehensible even when he is viewed in the most hidden part of the creature created by him and existing in him." refers to different aspects of the existence of things ( quia est ), not to their essence ( quid est ). Thus not only God's transcendent nature, but also the essence of things belongs to the realm of what is non-existent from a human point of view.

The way of man

Eriugena draws ethical consequences from the assumption of God's self-revelation through creation . He understands the communication of God taking place in such a way as an invitation to the observer of the perfections to shape his own way of life in such a way that the perceived perfections can also be shown in himself. In appropriating the perfections he perceives in things so that they become aspects of his own character, man goes through a process of purification. The knowledge of God intensifies through this development. One acquires the ability to behave appropriately in every situation in such a way that the perfection required by the respective circumstances emerges. Whoever has the necessary knowledge and has internalized it in such a way that he can implement it, becomes a "second god" ( alter deus ). In the process of knowing the knower becomes what he knows; therefore the person who comes to the perfect knowledge of God is deified.

Eriugena relates the deification not only to the soul, but also to the body. However, he does not mean the material body that disintegrates with death, but a spiritual body. From his point of view, this spiritual body, which resides in the soul, is the cause underlying the formation and development of the material body.

Eriugena thus regards the future existence in the hereafter, in accordance with church tradition, as both spiritual and physical. According to his teaching, the future spiritual bodies differ fundamentally from the material earthly ones, since they do not show any differentiation according to sex. God originally conceptualized man as sexless like the angel. Actually, like animals, humans did not have to be subjected to sexual reproduction. It was only because of the fall of man , through which man sank to an animal plane, that God endowed him with the characteristics and organs of sexuality, for sexuality was required for a sorrowful earthly existence. The physical body is thus an addition ( adiectum , superadditum ) and not a component of actual human nature ( natura humana ). This concession to sinfulness is to be canceled after the end of the material body. With his interpretation of the differentiation between the sexes as a consequence of the fall of man, Eriugena carelessly deviates from the chronological order in the biblical account, since his version seems more consistent to him from a logical point of view. The chronological order is irrelevant for him anyway, because he claims that no time could have passed between the creation of Adam and the fall of man, but that man must have sinned and experienced the fall at the moment of his creation. It was only because of his sinfulness, which existed from the beginning, that he was created as a sex being. God created the space-time world only because he foresaw sin and wanted to offer man an opportunity to turn away from God. Eriugena does not answer the question of the origin of sin.

Eriugena assumes that the gradual emergence of the manifold world from the simple deity corresponds to a counter-movement in which all the individual components of creation return to their origin. For material things, the return to their immaterial causes means dissolution. For the rational beings (angels and humans) it is a matter of returning to the perfection of their nature. Although the perfect human nature is one and the same for all people, individuality remains in the hereafter. For this Eriugena needs an immaterial principle of individuation , on which the diversity of individuals is based, but he does not express himself clearly what this principle should consist of.

Thinking as being

In ontology , Eriugena turns against the objectification of the concept of substance. After he interpreted hell not as the abode of the damned but as a subjective state of consciousness in the predestination report, he fights in Periphyseon the idea that bodily things are substances. He explains that substance, like all other categories, is not an object of sensory perception. Moreover, he rejects the view that there are ontologically self-sufficient things and gives up the idea of ​​an extramental (given outside of thought) being. He regards such being as appearance; true being for him is in thinking, and human thinking is the substance of what it thinks. In the physical body of man he sees an illusion created by sensory perception, thus a product of the human spirit.

In this sense, he also considers paradise to be a state (the perfect human nature) and not a place, especially since he does not allow location, temporality and corporeality anyway to be an independent reality outside of the spirit ( animus ). For him, the four rivers in the biblical paradise ( Gen 2: 10–14  EU ) are nothing else than the four cardinal virtues that arise from the source of divine wisdom. Adam allegorically stands for the spirit, Eve for the senses.

In opposition to the conventional relational theory of the Aristotelian school philosophy, which was based on the Aristotle commentaries of Boethius , he declared that the relation could not only be accidental but also substance. In doing so, he enhances the relationship between the categories.

The pantheism question

Eriugena's main work Periphyseon contains sentences that can be interpreted in terms of pantheism (or, more precisely, panentheism ). He writes that God is the essence of all things ( essentia omnium ). He expressly declares that God and creation should not be understood as two different ones, but as one and the same; "For both creatures exist in God, just as God is created in creation [...] and in it manifests himself"; “God is everything that really is, because he himself creates all things and is created in all.” In terms of his transcendent nature, God is also for Eriugena the nothing out of which, according to the Bible, he created the world. On the other hand, there are also places where Eriugena protests against a pantheistic interpretation of his teaching. He thinks that what has been created is in the Creator only in a certain respect, namely in that it persists in its cause as what has been caused ( causaliter ); in other respects there is a difference between creator and creation, namely insofar as the created is the appearance of God. God does not precede the universe in time. There was no time before the world was created, otherwise the creation would be accidental; God's work, however, cannot be accidental. Therefore, Eriugena does not understand the term "eternity" in terms of time.


The scholar Heiric von Auxerre , a younger contemporary (not a pupil) of Eriugena, took over important terms from him, especially the concept of nature.

With individual doctrinal statements and also with his methodological principles, Eriugena encountered energetic opposition in the church. His contemporary opponents believed that it was inappropriate to make decisions on questions of faith based on judgments based on the criterion of logical consistency. They were outraged that he did not base the evidence on biblical quotations and patristic authorities and that salvation history was reduced to subjective experience. Bishop Prudentius of Troyes and the archdeacon Florus of Lyon wrote extensive counter-writings. The church condemnations of individual contents of the predestination report and the new method in the years 855 and 859 prevented a broad reception of the views and the exegetical approach of the Irish scholar.

The English historian William of Malmesbury (12th century) tells a legend that Eriugena emigrated to England at the invitation of King Alfred the Great and then lived and taught in Malmesbury Abbey . There he was murdered by his own students with the pens. Wilhelm had a version of the periphyseon made in his monastery , for which various manuscripts of this work were used.

Around 1125/1130 the theological writer Honorius Augustodunensis , who was strongly influenced by Eriugena's ideas, put together an extract from Periphyseon , which he gave the title Clavis physicae .

The Amalricans , who were heretically condemned as a heretical group of followers of the scholar Amalrich von Bena in 1210 , represented theological views that were in part similar to the ideas of Eriugena. To what extent they were actually influenced by him, however, is unclear. In the late Middle Ages, the emergence of the Amalrican heresy was blamed on the influence of the Irish. The author of the assertion of such a traditional context was the influential theologian Odo von Châteauroux († 1273), who strongly advocated the condemnation of Eriugena's teachings. In the early 13th century - perhaps to 1223/1224 - was Periphyseon in France on a provincial synod of the ecclesiastical province of Sens been sentenced. In 1225 Pope Honorius III. in letters to the French and English bishops ordered the burning of all copies of the work, as the content was contrary to faith.

Eriugena's ideas reached Meister Eckhart and Berthold von Moosburg via the very popular Clavis physicae by Honorius Augustodunensis . Because of the ecclesiastical condemnation, the teachings of the Irish philosopher could only spread in this indirect way in the late Middle Ages.

Eriugena's homily on the Johannes prologue was very popular in the Middle Ages. However, it was not distributed under the name of its real author, but ascribed to Origen or John Chrysostom . The translations of the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius were also used until the late Middle Ages; In the 15th century, the prominent theological writer Dionysius the Carthusian based his commentary on the Corpus Dionysiacum .

Nikolaus von Kues knew not only the clavis physicae , but also the periphyseon ; Marginal notes in his copy of this work indicate that he has at least worked through the first book thoroughly. He was of the opinion that both writings should not be generally accessible, but should be reserved for understanding readers.

The predestination report was first printed in 1650; it found attention in connection with the conflict of that time over Jansenism . The first edition of Periphyseon , obtained by Thomas Gale , did not appear until 1681. It was placed on the index of forbidden books by the Catholic Church in 1684 , in which it was still listed in the 20th century.

In the modern age, Eriugena's way of thinking found approval with Hegel , who saw in him a kindred spirit. However, Hegel did not know Eriugena's philosophy through his own reading of original texts, but only from secondary sources. Even Schopenhauer liked him. In the 19th and early 20th centuries he was often viewed - criticizing or approving - as a pantheist.

In the second half of the 20th century, interest in Eriugena increased sharply. The "Society for the Promotion of Eriugenian Studies" (SPES) has been organizing international colloquia since its foundation (1970), the lectures of which are published. An annual bulletin has also been published since 1992: Eriugena. The Annual Bulletin of SPES .

When it comes to evaluating Eriugena's philosophical achievement, opinions differ widely. The spectrum of opinions ranges from Gangolf Schrimpf, who sees the Irish scholar as an important pioneer of scientific thought, to John Marenbon, for whom the periphyseon is a mass of heterogeneous, inadequately processed and sometimes contradicting ideas from different origins (although Marenbon appreciates Eriugena's contribution to Category theory). It is widely believed that Eriugena was the most original Western thinker between late antiquity and Anselm of Canterbury (11th century).


  • Mary Brennan (Ed.): Materials for the Biography of Johannes Scottus Eriugena . In: Studi medievali 27, 1986, pp. 413-460 (Latin texts with English translation)

Text output (partly with translations)


  • Édouard Jeauneau (Ed.): Iohannis Scotti seu Eriugenae Periphyseon . Brepols, Turnhout 1996-2003
  • Inglis P. Sheldon-Williams (Ed.): Iohannis Scotti Eriugenae Periphyseon (De Divisione Naturae) (= Scriptores Latini Hiberniae Vol. 7, 9, 11). 3 volumes, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin 1972–1981 (Books I – III from Periphyseon ; outdated as an edition, but with a good English translation)
  • Édouard Jeauneau (Ed.): Iohannis Scotti Eriugenae Periphyseon, Liber quartus (= Scriptores Latini Hiberniae Vol. 13). Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin 1995, ISBN 1-85500-175-6 (outdated as an edition, but with a good English translation by John J. O'Meara)

Exegetical and homiletic works

  • Édouard Jeauneau (Ed.): Iohannis Scotti Eriugenae homilia super 'In principio erat verbum' et commentarius in evangelium Iohannis (= Corpus Christianorum. Continuatio Mediaevalis vol. 166). Brepols, Turnhout 2008, ISBN 978-2-503-52914-1
  • Édouard Jeauneau (Ed.): Jean Scot: Commentaire sur l'évangile de Jean . Éditions du Cerf, Paris 1972 (outdated as edition, but with French translation)
  • John J. Contreni, Pádraig P. Ó Néill (Eds.): Glossae divinae historiae. The Biblical Glosses of John Scottus Eriugena . Sismel: Edizioni del Galluzzo, Firenze 1997, ISBN 88-87027-04-8

Latin translations from Greek

  • Philippe Chevallier (Ed.): Dionysiaca . 2 volumes, Paris 1937–1950 (contains an uncritical edition of Eriugena's translation of the Corpus Dionysiacum )
  • Édouard Jeauneau (Ed.): Maximi Confessoris Ambigua ad Iohannem iuxta Iohannis Scotti Eriugenae latinam interpretationem (= Corpus Christianorum. Series Graeca Vol. 18). Brepols, Turnhout 1988, ISBN 978-2-503-40181-2
  • Carl Laga, Carlos Steel (Ed.): Maximi Confessoris Quaestiones ad Thalassium (= Corpus Christianorum. Series Graeca Vol. 7, 22). 2 volumes, Brepols, Turnhout 1980 and 1990, ISBN 978-2-503-40071-6 and ISBN 978-2-503-40221-5 (critical edition of the Greek text and the Latin translation of Eriugenas)
  • Maïeul Cappuyns (ed.): Le "De imagine" de Grégoire de Nysse traduit par Jean Scot Érigène . In: Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 32, 1965, pp. 205–262


  • Michael W. Herren (Ed.): Iohannis Scotti Eriugenae carmina (= Scriptores Latini Hiberniae Vol. 12). Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin 1993, ISBN 1-85500-162-4 (Latin and Greek poems with English translation)

Other works

  • Goulven Madec (Ed.): Iohannis Scotti de divina praedestinatione liber (= Corpus Christianorum. Continuatio Mediaevalis Vol. 50). Brepols, Turnhout 1978, ISBN 978-2-503-03501-7
  • Cora E. Lutz (Ed.): Iohannis Scotti annotationes in Marcianum . Mediaeval Academy of America, Cambridge (Mass.) 1939 ( digitized )
  • Jeanne Barbet (Ed.): Iohannis Scoti Eriugenae expositiones in ierarchiam coelestem (= Corpus Christianorum. Continuatio Mediaevalis Vol. 31). Brepols, Turnhout 1975, ISBN 978-2-503-03311-2
  • Ernst Dümmler (Ed.): Iohannes (Scottus): Epistolae . In: Monumenta Germaniae Historica . Epistolae Vol. 6 (= Epistolae Karolini aevi Vol. 4). Weidmannsche Verlagbuchhandlung, Berlin 1902–1925, pp. 158–162 ( online )
  • Anneli Luhtala (Ed.): Early Medieval Commentary on Priscian's Institutiones grammaticae . In: Cahiers de l'Institut du Moyen-Age Grec et Latin 71, Copenhagen 2000, pp. 115–188 (critical edition of excerpts from the Priscian commentary)


  • Johannes Scotus Eriugena: The prologue of the Gospel of John. Homelia in Prologum S. Evangelii Secundum Joannem , translated by Wolf-Ulrich Klünker, Free Spiritual Life, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-7725-0826-X (first German translation from Latin)
  • Johannes Scotus Eriugena: The Voice of the Eagle. Homily to the prologue of the Gospel of John , translated by Christopher Bamford and Martin van Ditzhuyzen, Chalice, Zurich 2006, ISBN 978-3-905272-86-4 (German translation based on an English translation)
  • Johannes Scotus Eriugena: On the division of nature , translated by Ludwig Noack, 3rd edition, Meiner, Hamburg 1994, ISBN 3-7873-1176-9 (unchanged reprint of the first edition from 1870; facsimiles )
  • John Scottus Eriugena: Treatise on Divine Predestination , translated by Mary Brennan, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame (Indiana) 1998, ISBN 978-0-268-04221-9


Overview representations

Overall presentations and investigations

  • Werner Beierwaltes : Eriugena. Outlines of his thinking . Klostermann, Frankfurt am Main 1994, ISBN 3-465-02653-5
  • Wolf-Ulrich Klünker: Johannes Scotus Eriugena. Thinking in Conversation with the Angel . Free Spiritual Life, Stuttgart 1988, ISBN 3-7725-0826-X
  • Veronika Limberger: Eriugena's hypertheology . De Gruyter, Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-11-041148-5
  • Dermot Moran: The philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena. A study of idealism in the Middle Ages . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989, ISBN 0-521-34549-9
  • John J. O'Meara: Eriugena . Clarendon Press, Oxford 1988, ISBN 0-19-826674-X
  • Willemien Otten: The Anthropology of Johannes Scottus Eriugena . Brill, Leiden 1991, ISBN 90-04-09302-8
  • Gangolf Schrimpf: The work of Johannes Scottus Eriugena within the framework of the scientific understanding of his time. An introduction to the periphyseon . Aschendorff, Münster 1982, ISBN 3-402-03918-4

Collection of articles

Web links

Wikisource: Iohannes Scotus Eriugena  - Sources and full texts (Latin)


  1. ^ The evidence for the names and their spelling are compiled by Maïeul Cappuyns: Jean Scot Érigène. Sa vie, son œuvre, sa pensée , Bruxelles 1964 (reprint), pp. 3–7.
  2. On the chronology (the dating 845/846 is outdated) see John J. Contreni, Pádraig P. Ó Néill (ed.): Glossae divinae historiae. The Biblical Glosses of John Scottus Eriugena , Firenze 1997, p. 77.
  3. Gangolf Schrimpf: The work of Johannes Scottus Eriugena in the context of the understanding of science of his time , Münster 1982, pp. 37–39, 42, 46 f.
  4. On Eriugena's handling of his sources see Hans Liebeschütz : Text Interpretation and World Declaration by Johannes Eriugena . In: Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 40, 1958, pp. 66–96.
  5. Gangolf Schrimpf: The work of Johannes Scottus Eriugena in the context of the understanding of science of his time , Münster 1982, pp. 48–70.
  6. ^ Dermot Moran: The philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena , Cambridge 1989, p. 31 f .; John J. O'Meara: Eriugena , Oxford 1988, p. 41.
  7. Gangolf Schrimpf: The work of Johannes Scottus Eriugena in the context of the understanding of science of his time , Münster 1982, pp. 84-108.
  8. On the quality of the translation, see Gangolf Schrimpf: Johannes Scottus Eriugena . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie , Vol. 17, Berlin 1988, pp. 156-172, here: 159 and the special literature mentioned there.
  9. For this comment see the detailed study by Paul Rorem: Eriugena's Commentary on the Dionysian Celestial Hierarchy , Toronto 2005 (with English translation of four sections in the appendix).
  10. Édouard Jeauneau (Ed.): Iohannis Scotti seu Eriugenae Periphyseon. Liber primus , Turnhout 1996, pp. V-XI.
  11. Édouard Jeauneau (Ed.): Iohannis Scotti seu Eriugenae Periphyseon. Liber primus , Turnhout 1996, pp. XI-XV.
  12. On the form of dialogue see Édouard Jeauneau (Ed.): Iohannis Scotti seu Eriugenae Periphyseon. Liber primus , Turnhout 1996, pp. XV-XIX.
  13. See on this understanding of science Gangolf Schrimpf: The work of Johannes Scottus Eriugena in the context of the understanding of science of his time , Münster 1982, pp. 84–108, 132–148.
  14. Gangolf Schrimpf: Johannes Scottus Eriugena and the reception of Martianus Capella in the Carolingian education system . In: Werner Beierwaltes (Ed.): Eriugena. Studies on his sources , Heidelberg 1980, pp. 135–148, here: 145–147.
  15. See on the principle of Johannes Scottus Eriugena: Periphyseon 1, lines 2856–2894. Cf. on the approach Gangolf Schrimpf: The work of Johannes Scottus Eriugena in the context of the understanding of science of his time , Münster 1982, pp. 139–142, 152, 172, 253–255; Gangolf Schrimpf: Johannes Scottus Eriugena and the reception of Martianus Capella in the Carolingian education system . In: Werner Beierwaltes (Ed.): Eriugena. Studies on his sources , Heidelberg 1980, pp. 135–148, here: 143–147.
  16. Gangolf Schrimpf: Johannes Scottus Eriugena . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie , Vol. 17, Berlin 1988, pp. 156–172, here: 162.
  17. Manuscript Barcelona, ​​Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, Ripoll 59. See Paul Edward Dutton, Anneli Luhtala: Eriugena in Priscianum . In: Mediaeval Studies 56, 1994, pp. 153-163; Anneli Luhtala: Early Medieval Commentary on Priscian's Institutiones grammaticae . In: Cahiers de l'Institut du Moyen-Age Grec et Latin 71, Copenhagen 2000, pp. 115-188.
  18. Poem 6, verses 37–40; see Franz Brunhölzl : History of Latin Literature of the Middle Ages , Volume 1, Munich 1975, p. 473 f.
  19. On Eriugena's poetry and its assessment by modern critics see Franz Brunhölzl: Geschichte der Latinischen Literatur des Mittelalters , Volume 1, Munich 1975, pp. 473-475; John J. O'Meara: Eriugena , Oxford 1988, pp. 177-197; Michael W. Herren (Ed.): Iohannis Scotti Eriugenae carmina , Dublin 1993, pp. 11-55.
  20. Giulio d'Onofrio provides a research overview : Giovanni Scoto e Remigio di Auxerre: a poposito di alcuni commenti altomedievali a Boezio . In: Studi medievali Serie terza, Vol. 22, 1981, pp. 587-693, here: 591-610.
  21. ^ John Meyendorff : Remarks on Eastern Patristic Thought in John Scottus Eriugena . In: Bernard McGinn , Willemien Otten (ed.): Eriugena: East and West , Notre Dame (Indiana) 1994, pp. 51-68, here: 53 f. Meyendorff describes Eriugena's position as "theocentric monism".
  22. ^ Willemien Otten: The Anthropology of Johannes Scottus Eriugena , Leiden 1991, pp. 7-13.
  23. Eriugena, Periphyseon I 443B: ita etiam in secretissimis creaturae ab eo factae et in eo existentis consideratus incomprehensibilis est.
  24. ^ Agnieszka Kijewska: Eriugena's Idealist Interpretation of Paradise . In: Stephen Gersh, Dermot Moran (eds.): Eriugena, Berkeley, and the Idealist Tradition , Notre Dame (Indiana) 2006, pp. 172 f., 175 f .; Dirk Ansorge: Johannes Scottus Eriugena: Truth as Process , Innsbruck 1996, p. 252 f. For the history of the concept, see Édouard Jeauneau: La division des sexes chez Grégoire de Nysse et chez Jean Scot Érigène . In: Werner Beierwaltes (Ed.): Eriugena. Studies on his sources , Heidelberg 1980, pp. 33–54, here: 36 ff.
  25. ^ Francis Bertin: Les origines de l'homme chez Jean Scot . In: René Roques (ed.): Jean Scot Érigène et l'histoire de la philosophie , Paris 1977, p. 313; Dirk Ansorge: Johannes Scottus Eriugena: Truth as Process , Innsbruck 1996, pp. 168 f., 286 f.
  26. ^ Dermot Moran: The philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena , Cambridge 1989, p. 170 f .; Dirk Ansorge: Johannes Scottus Eriugena: Truth as Process , Innsbruck 1996, p. 311.
  27. Kurt Flasch : To rehabilitate the relation. The theory of the relationship in Johannes Eriugena , Frankfurt a. M. 1971, p. 13 f .; Dermot Moran: Spiritualis Incrassatio. Eriugena's Intellectualist Immaterialism: Is It an Idealism? In: Stephen Gersh, Dermot Moran (Eds.): Eriugena, Berkeley, and the Idealist Tradition , Notre Dame (Indiana) 2006, pp. 123-150.
  28. ^ Dermot Moran: The philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena , Cambridge 1989, pp. 176 f., 194-199.
  29. Kurt Flasch: To rehabilitate the relation. The theory of the relationship in Johannes Eriugena , Frankfurt a. M. 1971, p. 7 ff.
  30. Eriugena, Periphyseon III 678BC: Proinde non duo a se ipsis distantia debemus intelligere deum et creaturam, sed unum et id ipsum. Nam et creatura in deo est subsistens, et deus in creatura [...] creatur se ipsum manifestans.
  31. Eriugena, Periphyseon III 633A (with reference to Pseudo-Dionysius).
  32. Dirk Ansorge: Johannes Scottus Eriugena: Truth as Process , Innsbruck 1996, pp. 23 f., 240–248.
  33. Eriugena, Periphyseon II 523D and III 650D.
  34. Dirk Ansorge: Johannes Scottus Eriugena: Truth as Process , Innsbruck 1996, pp. 222-225.
  35. On Heiric's Eriugena reception see John J. O'Meara: Eriugena's Immediate Influence . In: Werner Beierwaltes (Ed.): Eriugena redivivus , Heidelberg 1987, pp. 19-22.
  36. A historical core of the legend has occasionally been considered in research; see Dermot Moran: The philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena , Cambridge 1989, p. 37.
  37. Édouard Jeauneau: Guillaume de Malmesbury, premier éditeur anglais du “Periphyseon” . In: Édouard Jeauneau: Études érigéniennes , Paris 1987, pp. 489-521; Dermot Moran: The philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena , Cambridge 1989, pp. 65-67.
  38. On Honorius' reception of Eriugena see Paolo Lucentini: La Clavis physicae di Honorius Augustodunensis e la tradizione eriugeniana nel secolo XII . In: René Roques (ed.): Jean Scot Érigène et l'histoire de la philosophie , Paris 1977, pp. 405–414; Stephen Gersh: Honorius Augustodunensis and Eriugena . In: Werner Beierwaltes (Ed.): Eriugena redivivus , Heidelberg 1987, pp. 162-173.
  39. See Roberto Plevano: Exemplarity and Essence in the Doctrine of the Divine Ideas: Some Observations on the Medieval Debate . In: Medioevo 25, 1999/2000, pp. 653-711, here: 663-675, 704-711; Paolo Lucentini (ed.): Garnerii de Rupeforti Contra Amaurianos , Turnhout 2010, pp. LXXX – LXXXV.
  40. On the question of the reception of Eriugena by Meister Eckhart see Alois M. Haas : Eriugena und die Mystik . In: Werner Beierwaltes (Ed.): Eriugena redivivus , Heidelberg 1987, pp. 264–278; see. Dermot Moran: The philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena , Cambridge 1989, p. 279.
  41. See Kent Emery, Jr .: A Complete Reception of the Latin Corpus Dionysiacum: The Commentaries of Denys the Carthusian . In: Tzotcho Boiadjiev u. a. (Ed.): The Dionysius Reception in the Middle Ages , Turnhout 2000, pp. 197–247, here: 209.
  42. Werner Beierwaltes: Eriugena and Cusanus . In: Werner Beierwaltes (Ed.): Eriugena redivivus , Heidelberg 1987, p. 311 f.
  43. Maïeul Cappuyns: Jean Scot Érigène. Sa vie, son œuvre, sa pensée , Bruxelles 1964 (reprint), p. 249.
  44. Werner Beierwaltes: Eriugena. Basics of his thinking , Frankfurt a. M. 1994, p. 314 f.
  45. ^ Bernard McGinn: The Originality of Eriugena's Spiritual Exegesis . In: Gerd Van Riel u. a. (Ed.): Iohannes Scottus Eriugena. The Bible and Hermeneutics , Leuven 1996, p. 55; Franz Brunhölzl: History of Latin Literature of the Middle Ages , Vol. 1, Munich 1975, p. 471; Werner Beierwaltes: Eriugena. Outlines of his thinking . Klostermann, Frankfurt a. M. 1994, p. 7.
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