John Scotus Eriugena  

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John Scotus Eriugena, or Johannes Scotus Erigena (c. 815 – c. 877) was an Irish theologian, neoplatonist philosopher, and poet. He wrote a number of works, but is best known today for having written The Division of Nature, which has been called the final achievement of ancient philosophy, a work which "synthesizes the philosophical accomplishments of fifteen centuries."

Eriugena argued on behalf of something like a pantheistic definition of nature. He translated and made commentaries upon the work of Pseudo-Dionysius, and was one of the few European philosophers of his day that knew Greek, having studied in Athens. Famously, he is said to have been stabbed to death by his students at Malmesbury with their pens.

Name

The form "Eriugena" of his byname is used by John Scotus to describe himself in one manuscript. It means 'Ireland (Ériu)-born'. 'Scottus' in the Middle Ages was the Latin term for "Irish or Gaelic", so his name translates as "John, the Irish-born Gael." 'Scotti" was the name that the Romans called the Irish. The spelling 'Scottus' has the authority of the early manuscripts until perhaps the 11th century. Occasionally he is also named 'Scottigena' ("Irish-born") in the manuscripts.

He is not to be confused with the later philosopher John Duns Scotus.

Influence

Eriugena's work is distinguished by the freedom of his speculation, and the boldness with which he works out his logical or dialectical system of the universe. He marks, indeed, a stage of transition from the older Platonizing philosophy to the later scholasticism. For him philosophy is not in the service of theology. The above-quoted assertion as to the substantial identity between philosophy and religion is repeated almost word for word by many of the later scholastic writers, but its significance depends upon the selection of one or other term of the identity as fundamental or primary. For Eriugena, philosophy or reason is first, primitive; authority or religion is secondary, derived.

His influence was greater with mystics than with logicians, but he was responsible for a revival of philosophical thought which had remained largely dormant in western Europe after the death of Boethius.

After Eriugena another medieval thinker of significance was Berengar of Tours, professor at the monastic school in the French city. Berengar believed that truth is obtained through reason rather than revelation. St. Peter Damian agreed with Tertullian that it is not necessary for people to philosophize because God has spoken for them. Damian was prior of Fonte Avellana and afterward Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia. He died in 1072. Lanfranc (1005–89) was prior of Bec in Normandy. Like Damian he believed mostly in faith, but admitted the importance of reason. St. Anselm was a pupil and successor of St. Peter Damian.

On the whole, one might be surprised that even in the seventeenth century pantheism did not gain a complete victory over theism; for the most original, finest, and most thorough European expositions of it (none of them, of course, will bear comparison with the Upanishads of the Vedas) all came to light at that period, namely through Bruno, Malebranche, Spinoza, and Scotus Erigena. After Scotus Erigena had been lost and forgotten for many centuries, he was again discovered at Oxford and in 1681, thus four years after Spinoza's death, his work first saw the light in print. This seems to prove that the insight of individuals cannot make itself felt so long as the spirit of the age is not ripe to receive it. On the other hand, in our day (1851) pantheism, although presented only in Schelling's eclectic and confused revival thereof, has become the dominant mode of thought of scholars and even of educated people. This is because Kant had preceded it with his overthrow of theistic dogmatism and had cleared the way for it, whereby the spirit of the age was ready for it, just as a ploughed field is ready for the seed." --Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. I, "Sketch of a History of the Doctrine of the Ideal and the Real".

Leszek Kołakowski, a Polish Marx scholar, has mentioned Eriugena as one of the primary influences on Hegel's, and therefore Marx's, dialectical form. In particular, he called De Divisione Naturae a prototype of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit.

See also




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