Johannes Scotus Eriugena


Johannes Scotus Eriugena (c. 815 – c. 877) was an Irish mystic, theologian, neoplatonist philosopher, and poet. He wrote a number of works, but is best known today, and had most influence in subsequent centuries, for having translated and made commentaries upon the work of Pseudo-Dionysius. He has been praised as the “greatest mind of the early western Medieval period—or last great mind of Antiquity.”

“As a major figure in the development of mystical spirituality in western European Christianity, he served as the primary translator-conduit for ideas from the great Greek Christian minds of the Middle-East and Near-East to penetrate into Europe. Richard Woods, an expert on the history of Christian spirituality, observes: “It is largely through his efforts that the mystical Neoplatonism of the Eastern Church entered the Latin West.” Or as another writer puts it: “Eriugena was responsible for the meeting of Athens and Rome in Gaul.” (Deirdre Carabine)

Eriugena’s profound theology, later misunderstood and condemned as “pantheism,” actually emphasizes what today many of us would call a pure panentheist view of God’s nature and of the nature of the soul and world. Panen-theism, “all in God,” goes beyond mere pantheism (“all is God”) and mere theism (God is up there, beyond all things down here), to affirm that God is both immanently within and transcendentally beyond all beings.

This mystical panentheism allows God to be truly God, utterly free of all limiting human notions of space-time, distinct entities, finite relationships and other constraints which have more to do with ignorant human conceptions than the actual Divine nature.

Expanding richly on the idea of the apokatastasis or “universal salvation” of all souls in God’s all-saving Divine Love (an idea found not only among great theologians of early Christianity like Origen and Clement of Alexandria and Gregory of Nyssa, but widespread among many Christian churches, Eriugena also wrote of the conscious Return (reditus) and merging of all beings into God. No souls (including the souls of animals and the demon-souls) would be left out of this grand return, no one would be damned to suffer forever in hell or wither away into oblivion, as too many Christian theologians and ministers have taught then and now. Eriugena’s enlightened and surprisingly progressive view reveals an astonishingly positive scenario of a triumphantly compassionate, ever-loving God who is the Heart, Source and Substance of everyone.

This view is also radically nondual. As scholar Deirdre Carabine notes in her book-length treatment of Eriugena, a frequently repeated formula in his monumental work, the Periphyseon, is that “God is the beginning, middle, and end of the created universe. God is that from which all things originate, that in which all things participate, and that to which all things eventually return. Eriugena illustrates this conception of God as the source of all division and the end of all resolution using the example of the monad (the number one) as the source of all numbers…. The apparent duality of all natura [nature, in the broadest sense of God, souls, world] is the result of deficient human understanding…. In God, there can be no duality; beginning and end have no temporal reality but are simultaneous and can, therefore, be reduced to a unity. Eriugena makes one further bold step…: ‘suppose you join the creature to the creator so as to understand that there is nothing in the former save Him who alone truly is… will you deny that Creator and creature are one?’ [The answer, of course, is ‘No.’]… According to Eriugena’s mind, the rationale for this assertion is that nothing apart from God truly is, for all things participate in God, indeed do not have being apart from God. The whole of reality, then, is God since God is source, sustainer, and end…. Despite the reduction of two divisions to one, Eriugena always retains a basic distinction between the self-manifestation of God (theophany) and God (in God’s self). Even in final theophany, when all things have returned to God and God shall be ‘all in all,’ Eriugena never ‘conflates’ God and creature….. God remains transcendentally above all things.”

Eriugena was eulogized by philosopher G.G. Coulton as “coming out of the darkness like a meteor,” and acclaimed by philosopher Bertrand Russell as “the most astonishing figure of the early Medieval period.” Catholic historians have called him western Christianity’s best mind and most truly constructive mind between St. Augustine (bishop of Hippo, North Africa, d.430) and St. Anselm (archbishop of Canterbury, d.1109). Richard Woods calls Eriugena “the most brilliant and daring Christian philosopher between Augustine and Thomas Aquinas [d.1274].”

I daresay Eriugena is far more mystically sublime than Augustine, Anselm or even Aquinas (who only rose into mysticism near life’s end). And Eriugena’s beautiful balance of transcendence and immanence in describing the Divine, along with a radically nondual orientation to his theology, and his idea of all beings returning to and merging in God allows Christianity to share much common ground with the mystical depths of other religious traditions, especially those of western and eastern Asia (Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, the high Tantra teachings, contemplative Taoism, and certain developments within Muslim Sufi mysticism and contemplative Jewish Kabbalah).”


Excerpts from his writings:

“God is non-being through the excellence of His nature which transcends all being. Since there is nothing outside God, ‘creation from nothing’ cannot mean creation from some principle outside God, rather it means: creation out of God’s superabundant nothingness [No-thingness]. God creates out of himself (a se) and all creation remains within him.”

“It follows that we ought not to understand God and the creature as two things distinct from one another, but as one and the same. For both the creature, by subsisting, is in God; and God, by manifesting himself, in a marvelous and ineffable manner creates himself in the creature…”

“God does not know of Himself what He is because He is not a “what,” being in everything incomprehensible both to Himself and to every intellect … But He does not recognize Himself as being something (Se ipsum autem non cognoscit aliquid esse) … For if He were to recognize Himself in something He would show that He is not in every respect infinite and incomprehensible.”

“For just as God is both beyond all things and in all things—for He Who only truly is, is the essence of all things, and while He is whole in all things He does not cease to be whole beyond all things, whole in the world, whole around the world, whole in the sensible creature, whole in the intelligible creature, whole creating the universe, whole created in the universe, whole in the whole of the universe and whole in its parts, since He is both the whole and the part, just as He is neither the whole nor the part—in the same way human nature in its own world (in its own subsistence) in its own universe and in its invisible and visible parts is whole in itself, and whole in its whole, and whole in its parts, and its parts are whole in themselves and whole in the whole.”

“For if Christ, Who understands all things, (Who) indeed is the understanding of all things, really unified all that He assumed, who doubts then that what first took place in the Head and principal Exemplar of the whole of human nature will eventually happen in the whole?”

“Thus going forth into all things in order He makes all things and is made in all things, and returns to Himself, calling all things back to Himself, and while He is made in all things He does not cease to be above all things.”

“While by itself and in itself it is immutable and eternally at rest, yet it is said to move all things since all things through it and in its subsist and have been brought from not-being into being, for by its being, all things proceed out of nothing, and it draws all things to itself.”

“The Creator of all things has constituted between the participations of the natural orders marvelous and ineffable harmonies by which all things come together into one concord.”

“To Him all things are at once present.”

“[God] surpasses every intellect and all sensible and intelligible meanings [and is One] Who is better known by not knowing, of Whom ignorance is true knowledge.”

“Matter is nothing else but a certain composition of accidents which proceeds from invisible causes to visible matter…. Whether one call it place or limit or term or definition or circumscription, one and the same thing is denoted, namely the confine of a finite creature…. There is no creature, whether visible or invisible, which is not confined in something within the limits of its proper nature by measure and number and weight…. But God understands that He is in none of those things but recognizes that He [is] above all the orders of nature by reason of the excellence of His wisdom, and below all things by reason of the depth of His power… He alone is the measure without measure, the number without number, the weight without weight.”

“And if anyone who saw God understood what he saw, it would not be God that he saw but one of those creatures which derive their existence and unknowability from Him.”

“He is held to be made in His creatures generally because in them He, without Whom they cannot be, is not only understood to be, but also is their essence…. [But] only He truly exists by Himself, and He alone is everything which in the things that are is truly said to be.”

“No one may draw near Him who does not first, by persevering in the way of thought, abandon all the senses and operations of the intellect, together with the sensibles and everything that is and is not, and, having achieved a state of not-knowing, is restored to the unity—as far as is possible—of Him who is above every essence and understanding…. It is for the very few, wholly detached from earthly thoughts and purged by virtue and knowledge, to know God in these visible creatures.”

“Affirmation is less capable than negation of signifying the ineffable Essence of God, seeing that by the former one among the created attributes [e.g., goodness, truth, etc.] is transferred to the Creator, whereas by the latter the Creator is conceived in Himself beyond every creature.”

“There is no one of those who devoutly believe and understand the truth who would not persistently and without any hesitation declare that the creative Cause of the whole universe is beyond nature and beyond being and beyond life and wisdom and power and beyond all things which are said and understood and perceived by any sense.”

“Being is from Him but He is not Himself being. For above this being after some manner there is More-than-being, and absolute Being beyond language and understanding.”

“[The Scripture] is not to be believed as a book which always uses verbs and nouns in their proper sense when it teaches us about the Divine Nature…. We must follow reason which investigates the truth of things.”

“There is no worse death than ignorance of the truth.”

“[The soul knows] through her intellect [spiritual knowing capacity] that, from the one Cause of all things, all things start upon their movement towards multiplicity without abandoning the simplicity of the unity by which they subsist in it eternally and immutably, and (return) towards it as the end of their whole movement, and end in it.”

“The sound intellect must hold that after the end of this world every nature, whether corporeal or incorporeal, will seem to be only God, while preserving the integrity of its nature, so that even God, Who in Himself is incomprehensible, is after a certain mode comprehended in the creature, while the creature itself by an ineffable miracle is changed into God.”

“Just as it passes all intellect how the word of God descends into man so it passes all reason how man ascends into God.”

“God created the visible creature to this purpose, that through it, as likewise through the invisible, His glory might abound, and that He might be known … to be the One Creator of the whole creature, visible and invisible.”

“He is the Cause of all love and is diffused through all things and gathers all things together into one and involves them in Himself in an ineffable Return, and brings to an end in Himself the motions of love of the whole creature.”

“For God shall be all in all, and every creature shall be overshadowed, that is, converted to God, as the stars when the sun arises.”

“The voice of the spiritual eagle [the symbol for John the Evangelist] strikes in the hearing of the Church. May our outer senses grasp its transient sounds and our inner spirit penetrate its enduring meaning. This is the voice of the bird of high flight… that spiritual bird who, on swiftest wings of innermost theology and intuitions of most brilliant and high contemplation, transcends all vision and flies beyond all things that are and are not. By the things that are, I mean the things that do not wholly escape perception, either angelic or human… and by the things that truly are not, I mean those that actually surpass the powers of all understanding. The blessed theologian John therefore flies beyond not only what may be thought and spoken, but also beyond all mind and meaning…. He enters into the very arcanum of the one principle of all. There he clearly distinguishes the super-essential unity and the super-substantial difference of the beginning and the Word [Logos]—that is, of the Father and the Son—both incomprehensible, and begins his Gospel saying: “In the beginning was the Word.”

“O Blessed [Saint] Paul, you were caught up, as you yourself assert, into the third heaven, to paradise; but you were not caught up beyond every heaven and every paradise. John [the evangelist/theologian], however, went beyond every heaven formed and paradise created, beyond every human and angelic nature… [and] heard the one Word through which all things are made.”

“John, therefore, was not a human being but more than a human being when he flew above himself and all things that are. Transported by the ineffable power of wisdom and by purest keenness of mind, he entered that which is beyond all things: namely, the secret of the single essence in three substances and the three substances in the single essence [i.e., the one, triune God]. He would not have been able to ascend into God if he had not first [by Divine Grace] become God.”

“Only where eternity is known may immutable truth be understood.”

“Through the very God-Word, all things were made…. The generation of the Word from the Father is the very creation itself of all causes…. Hear, then, the divine and ineffable paradox—the unopenable secret, the invisible depth, the incomprehensible mystery! Through Him [the Son or Word/Logos], who was not made but begotten, all things were made but not begotten. The beginning, the principle, from whom all things are is the Father; the beginning, the principle, through whom all things exist is the Son. The Father speaks His Word—the Father brings forth His Wisdom—and all things are made…. The Father’s heart is His own substance, of which the Son’s own substance was begotten.”

“The substance of those things, which are made by Him, began in Him before all the ages of the world, not in time but with time. Time, indeed, is made with all things that are made…. It is co-created with them.”

“Lest you hold that among those things that are, some were made by the very Word of God himself, while others in fact were made, or existed, outside of Him, the Evangelist adds to all his previous theology the conclusion: “And without Him was not anything made that was made.” That is: nothing was made without Him, because He Himself circumscribes and comprehends all…. [leaving] nothing whatsoever that is not made in and through Him.”

“All things that are made in Him, in Him are life and are one. All things were—subsist—in Him as causes before they are in themselves as effects.”

“All things, therefore, that were made by the Word, live in Him unchangeably and are life. In him all things exist neither by temporal intervals or places, nor as what is to come; but all are one in Him, above all times and places, and subsist in him eternally…. Even what seems to us to be without all vitality [e.g., stones, gases, stars] lives in the Word…. “For in Him,” as Sacred Scripture says, “We live, move and have our being.” Truly, as the great [pseudo-]Dionysius the Aeropagite says, “The being of all things is their super-essential divinity.”

“Observe the forms and beauties of sensible things, and comprehend the Word of God in them. If you do so, the truth will reveal to you in all such things only He who made them, outside of Whom you have nothing to contemplate, for He Himself is all things. For whatever truly is, in all things that are, is He. Indeed, just as no substantial good exists outside of Him, so no essence or substance exists that is not He.”

“Human nature, even if it had not sinned, would have been unable to shine by its own strength; for human nature is not naturally light, but only participates in the light…. Our nature, considered in itself, is a substance of darkness, but is able to receive the light of wisdom…. It is not you who shine, but the Spirit of your Father shines in you…. God surpasses all meaning and intelligence, and alone possesses immortality. Whose light is called darkness by virtue of its excellence, since no creature can comprehend either what or how it is.”

“No creature, either rational or intellectual, is in itself substantially light, but participates in the one true substantial Light that shines intelligibly everywhere and in all things…. He is the true Light who said of Himself, “I am the light of the world; he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

“Ceasing to be children of [mere] human beings and beginning to be children of God, they [the spiritually regenerated] leave behind them the world of vices, destroying these in themselves, holding before their mental eyes the world of virtues, longing with all their strength to ascend there. Thus the true Light illumines those who enter this world of virtue, not those who flee into the world of vices.”

“To those who received Him, He gave the power to become sons of God…. For the possibility of believing in the Son of God and of becoming a son of God is denied to no one—for this is made of the human will, together with the cooperation of divine Grace.”

“In case you are tempted to say that it is impossible that mortals should become immortals, that corruptible beings should become free of corruption, that simple human beings should become sons of God, and that temporal creatures should possess eternity… accept the argument that faith prepares for what you doubt…. Why is it astonishing that a human being who believes in the Son of God should become a son of God. For this very purpose, indeed, the Word descended into flesh: that in him the flesh—the human being— might ascend; that, through him who was the only begotten Son by nature, many might become sons by adoption…. Alone He came down; but with many he goes up. He, who from God made himself a human being, makes gods from human beings.”

“He is the greatest and principal example of the grace by which, without any preceding merits, a human being becomes God…. To Him be glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for now and evermore. Amen.”

“Truly, to whatever extent one of the faithful delights in what is received through the senses—to that extent he must be reckoned among the beasts. If, on the contrary, living and growing in both action [virtue] and knowledge, he is nourished by spiritual food—then he is no longer to be numbered among the beasts, but may be counted among rational creatures…. But no one would know how to rise to heights of virtue and contemplation if he were not first fed by tokens of sensible things…. But by these they [the faithful] cannot be nourished until they have transcended their corporeal senses and all that they have received through them.”

“The word “deification” is rarely found in Latin books, but its meaning is found in many authors, especially Ambrose. Perhaps it is that the meaning of the word theosis, commonly used by the Greeks, to signify the passing of saints into God not only in soul but also in body, when nothing animal, corporeal, human or natural remains in them—perhaps, I say, to those unable to rise above carnal thoughts it seems too lofty, incomprehensible and incredible, and hence not to be proclaimed in public…. [Yet,] Just as each and everything, whether sensible or intelligible, is naturally compelled to return to its beginnings, so human nature will also return to its beginning, which is nothing other than God’s Word, in which it was made, and unchangeably subsists and lives.”

“The Father is light, fire, heat; the Son is light, fire, heat; and the Holy Spirit is light, fire, heat…. They consume our sins together, and by theosis—that is, by deification—they convert us as though we were a holocaust into their unity.”

“Our mortal bodies will be transformed not only into spiritual bodies but actually into our souls, because natural necessity prescribes that just as a rational soul made in God’s image is to return to Him in whose image and likeness it is, so the body too, made in the image of the soul and, as it were, the image of the image, will, when freed from all earthly weight and corporeality, be returned to its cause, the soul; and through it, as a kind of mean, it will be turned into the unique Cause of all things.”

Quotes Source:

About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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