John Scotus Eriugena

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Depiction of Eriugena in the manuscript Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Lat. 6734

John Scotus Eriugena or Johannes Scotus Erigena (* early 9th century; † late 9th century) was a West Frankish monk of Celtic-Irish origin who worked at the court of Charles the Bald (823-877) as a teacher of the seven liberal arts and wrote numerous philosophical and theological works. As was customary at the time, he based his teaching on the encyclopaedic work De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii ("The Marriage of Philology with Mercurius") by Martianus Capella, which he also commented on in detail. Through his logically clean line of thought in the theological argumentation, Scotus Eriugena was already preparing the scholastic way of thinking. Due to his good, if not excellent, knowledge of Greek, which was very rare at the time[1], he was able to translate many works of the Greek philosophers and Church Fathers into Latin and comment on them, thus making them accessible and contributing above all to the dissemination of Neoplatonic thought. His translation of the works of Dionysius Areopagita, which were drawn from deep esotericism and had a decisive influence on the Christian doctrine of Angels, was particularly significant. Eriugena also found significant inspiration in Gregory of Nyssa (* around 335/340; † after 394) and Maximus Confessor (* around 580; † 662). Eriugena's main work, the Periphyseon (GreekΠερὶ φύσεων "On Natures", "On the Classification of Nature"), divided into five books, provides rich information about his thought. In the School of Chartres, the works of John Scotus Eriugena were highly esteemed, but were later condemned several times because of their audacious thought and many copies of his writings were burned.

Life and work

Little is known about the life of Eriugena - an epithet he may have given himself. Because of his radical theories, he was often fiercely opposed. According to legend, the historical basis of which, however, cannot be ascertained and therefore remains doubtful, Scotus Erigena was later summoned to England or had to flee there, where he is said to have been murdered by his own students, possibly at the behest of the Pope, with their pens(!)[2]. His work miraculously survived for the most part.

„One could say that, as if by some kind of historical miracle, posterity has actually come to know the writings of John Scotus Erigena. Unlike other writings from the first centuries, which were similar and have been completely lost, they were preserved until the 11th and 12th centuries, and a few even into the 13th century. At that time they were declared heretical by the Pope, and orders were given that all copies had to be searched out and burned. Only much later were manuscripts from the 11th and 13th centuries found again in a lost monastery. In the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries nothing was known about Johannes Scotus Erigena. The writings had been burnt like similar writings which contained similar things from the same time and where one was happier from Rome's point of view: all other copies had been given over to the fire! Only a few of the Scotus Erigena remained.“ (Lit.:GA 204, p. 260)

„Those who are more or less inclined to rationalism, even if with sagacity and richness of spirit, will already grumble when they get to see, to see spiritually, what emanated from the Areopagite, and what then found a last significant revelation in this Erigena. In the last years of his life he was still a Benedictine prior. But his own monks, as the legend says - the legend; I am not saying that this is literally true, but if it is not quite true, it is approximately true - they worked him with pins until he was dead, because he still brought Plotinism into the ninth century. But beyond him lived his ideas, which were at the same time the further development of the Areopagite's ideas. His writings more or less disappeared until later times; they did, however, come down to posterity. In the 12th century, Scotus Erigena was declared a heretic. But that did not yet have the significance it has later and today. Nevertheless, Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas were also deeply influenced by the ideas of Scotus Erigena.“ (Lit.:GA 74, p. 51)

Periphyseon - On the division of nature

Periphyseon in the manuscript Reims, Bibliothèque municipale, 875, fol. 15v. The Codex is presumably partly an Autograph
Illumination from the Clavis physicae of Honorius Augustodunensis (Paris B.N. Lat. 6734 fol. 3v). It shows the order of nature according to the Periphyseon of Johannes Scotus Eriugena: above the causes of origin (causae primordiales), below the effects of the causes (effectus causarum): Time (tempus), space/location (locus) and formless matter (informis materia), below that created and non-created nature (natura creata non creans), below that God as the goal of man (finis) and nature neither creating nor created (natura non creata non creans).
For a detailed discussion of the account, see Johannes Zahlten, Die Erschaffung von Raum und Zeit in Darstellungen zum Schöpfungsbericht von Genesis 1, in: Jan A. Aertsen and Andreas Speer (eds.), Raum und Raumvorstellungen im Mittelalter (= Miscellanea mediaevalia No. 25), de Gruyter, Berlin 1998, pp. 615-628, esp. pp. 615f.

Johannes Scotus Eriugena gave his main work, which is divided into 5 books and written as a dialogue between a teacher and his pupil, the title Periphyseon (GreekΠερὶ φύσεων "On natures"). The Latin title De divisione naturae (On the division of nature) does not come from him and is only verifiable from the 12th century onwards. It describes the relationship of the Creator to his creation, in particular to man, and the resulting cosmic world order in its entire development from beginning to end, both of which coincide into one for God, who stands above space and time.

„People today do not like to appreciate something like the work on the division of nature by Johannes Scotus Erigena in the 9th century. People don't get involved because they don't take such a work as a historical monument from a time when people thought in a completely different way than they do today, when people thought in a way that they no longer understand when they read such a work today. And when ordinary philosophers present such things in their historiography, one is really only dealing with words. The actual spirit of such a work, such as that of Johannes Scotus Erigena on the division of nature, where nature means something quite different from the word nature in later natural science, is not really there any more. If one can nevertheless enter into it with spiritual-scientific deepening, then one must say the following to oneself: this Scotus Erigena has developed ideas which make the impression on one that they go extraordinarily deeply into the essence of the world, but he has quite undoubtedly presented these ideas in an inadequate, not penetrating form in his work. If one were not to expose oneself to the danger of speaking disrespectfully of what is after all an outstanding work of human development, one would actually have to say that Johannes Scotus Erigena himself was no longer fully aware of what he was writing. One can see this in his account. For him, even if not to the same extent as for today's historians of philosophy, the words he took from tradition were more or less only words whose profound content he himself no longer understood. One is actually more and more compelled, when one reads these things, to go back in history. And from Scotus Erigena, as can easily be seen from his writings, one is led directly to the writings of the so-called Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. I don't want to go into this problem of development, when he lived and so on. And from this Dionysius the Areopagite one is led back again. Then one has to continue researching, really equipped with spiritual science, and one finally arrives, if one goes back to the second or third millennium of pre-Christian times, at profound insights which have been lost to humanity, which are only present in a faint echo in such writings as those of Johannes Scotus Erigena“ (Lit.:GA 326, p. 116f)

„It is extremely important to take a close look at how Johannes Scotus Erigena structured his knowledge. In his great writing on the division of nature, which has just come down to posterity in the manner described, he distinguishes in four chapters what he has to say about the world, and in the first chapter he speaks of the non-created and creating world (see illustration p. 262). This is the first chapter that describes, in the way Johannes Scotus Erigena believes he can, God as he was before he approached anything that is world creation. Johannes Scotus Erigena describes God in the way he has learned from the writings of Dionysius, and he describes him by developing the highest concepts of understanding, but at the same time he is aware that with these one can only reach a certain limit, beyond which lies negative theology. Thus one only approaches what is actually the true essence of the spiritual, of the divine. In this chapter we find, among other things, the beautiful treatise on the divine Trinity, which is still instructive for today. He says that when we look at the things around us, we first find being as an all-spiritual quality (see p. 262). This Being is, as it were, that which encompasses everything. We should not ascribe to God the being that things have, but we can only speak, in a sense, of the being of the Godhead by looking up to what is beyond being. In the same way we find that things in the world are radiated and permeated with wisdom. We should not attribute to God mere wisdom, but superscience. But it is precisely when we start from things that we come to the limit of wisdom. But there is not only wisdom in all things: All things live; there is life in all things. So when John Scotus Erigena visualises the world, he says: I see in the world being, wisdom, life. The world appears to me, as it were, in these three aspects as being, as wisdom, as living. As it were, these are three veils that the mind forms when it looks over things. One would have to see through the veils, then one would see into the divine-spiritual. But he first describes the veils and says: "When I look at Being, it represents to me the Father; when I look at Wisdom, it represents to me the Son in the All; when I look at Life, it represents to me the Holy Spirit in the All“ (Lit.:GA 204, p. 261ff)

„It seems to me that the division of nature takes four distinct forms. First, it is divided into one that creates and is not created; then into one that is created and creates; third, into one that is created and does not create; fourth, into one that does not create and is not created. Of these four divisions, two are opposed to each other, the third to the first, the fourth to the second. But the fourth falls under impossibilities, since its distinguishing feature is that it cannot be.“

John Scotus Eriugena: On the Division of Nature, p. 10[3]

„For him the world presents itself as a development into four "forms of nature". The first is 'creating and uncreated nature'. In it is contained the purely spiritual original ground of the world, from which the "creating and created nature" develops. This is a sum of purely spiritual beings and forces which, through their activity, first bring forth the "created and non-created nature" to which the world of the senses and man belong. These develop in such a way that they are absorbed into the 'non-created and non-creating nature' within which the facts of redemption, the religious means of grace, etc., operate.“ (Lit.:GA 18, p. 88)

Drawing from GA 204, p. 262 (German)

The order of nature "begins with the most sublime pure power of understanding, first placed in God, and descends to the outermost limit of the sensible and senseless creature, or, to speak more clearly, from the highest Angel to the last part of the sensible or senseless soul, namely, the nourishing and growth-promoting life; for it is this last part of the general soul that nourishes the body and makes it grow."[4] The lowest limit is the physical world. In the hierarchy of the celestial hierarchies, Eriugena follows Dionysius Areopagita:

„But there are three such so-called orders of degrees. The first includes the cherubim, the seraphim, and the thrones; the second, the powers, the mighties, and the dominions; the third, the principalities, the archangels, and the angels.“

John Scotus Eriugena: On the Division of Nature[5]

But man, created in the image and likeness of God, Eriugena writes, spans this whole realm:

„For man, as we have said and will repeat often enough, was formed in such dignity of created nature that there is no visible or invisible nature that is not found in him. For he is composed of the two general parts of created nature, sensual and mental, in marvellous union, that is, he is joined together from the extreme ends of the whole creature.“[6]

More precisely, it is the threefold, thinking or imagining human soul that was created in the image of God, but not that part of the soul that sustains life (i.e. the etheric body) and even less the mortal physical body, which for Eriugena is on the lowest level of the created and is a slave to sin.

„But if one attentively observes the peculiarity of the Greek language, he will find two senses represented in man, inasmuch as here thinking is called "nûs," reason "logos," and not the external, but the internal sense is called "dianoia. In these three, however, consists the essential freedom of the soul created in the image of God; for it possesses thinking, reason, and the internal or essential sense, while the external sense, which we have called the bond of the body and the soul, possesses as its basis the instruments peculiar to it, as it were, as guardians of the sense, inasmuch as in the so-called five senses, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling, the sense is guarded and active.“[7]

Eriugena does not mean that man in Paradise had only the threefold soul, but no body; but this was not a mortal body, but a heavenly spiritual body. All at once and at the same time, the Creator had created our souls and bodies in Paradise, namely heavenly and spiritual bodies, as they will be after the resurrection. Christ came into the world to restore this original state:

„For in this trinity we recognise the distinct image of the highest and holiest trinity. Of the life-movement, on the other hand, by which the soul nourishes, unifies, animates, cares for, and makes the body grow, as well as of the body itself, which occupies the last place in the whole creature, we shall have to speak in the fourth book, where (so God is willing) we shall come to the sensual natures. Because this part is recognised as such, which lies outside the peculiarity of our thinking being, in which we are created in God's image, it has been passed over by us for the present, especially as it is a movement falling outside our original nature, which is added to the essential efficacy of our inner sense as a punishment for sin, inasmuch as the body by means of this movement takes care of that which human nature has overtaken since sin. I mean this perishable and mortal body, which changes spatially and temporally and disintegrates into individual parts, which expands spatially, is subject to growth and decline, is afflicted with various properties and determinations of size, is inclined to all unreasonable movements and is an abode for the still carnal soul, which rightly falls prey to the various consequences of its pride and disobedience, and what can be further said and experientially recognised of the wickedness of human nature transferred from its paradisiacal happiness into this life. Reasonably, therefore, that movement of human nature remains outside the limits of our essential freedom by which the punishment meted out to it for falling away from the divine commandment is administered, by which I mean that punishment which is not to be regarded as the vengeance of the wrathful God, but as the measure of the merciful God. Do not think, however, that I wish to teach herewith that the trinity of human nature, which was founded in God's image in paradise before man's sin, was entirely devoid of the body. Far be it from me to say or believe such a thing. For in paradise the Creator created our souls and bodies at once, namely heavenly and spiritual bodies, as they will be after the resurrection. The cowardly, perishable and mortal bodies of which we are now afflicted were undoubtedly not created by nature, but as a result of the Fall. What, therefore, has grown into nature as a result of this, nature, renewed in Christ and restored to its former state, will do without. That which is attached to nature for sin's sake and cannot be counted among its essential conditions cannot be eternal with nature. It is therefore also quite in order that that which has been added should not perish, but rather merge into that which was originally created and become one with it, namely, a single incorporeal thing through the grace of the divine Word, which had not only descended into our natural being, but at the same time also into that which was first added, so that the unifier of the two might restore in Himself all that is ours and implant it in that which is still added.“[8]

The Godhead - as the archetype of the human being - also reveals itself in threefold form:

„Nevertheless, the theologians have with a correct perspicacity ascertained from what is that it is; but that it is wise, from the division of beings into genera, species, differences and particulars; that it is alive, from the constant movement, as from the mobile state of everything. In the same way, it has been very correctly found that the All-Cause is threefold. For from the being of what is, it is recognised that it is; from the wonderful order of things, that it is wise; and from the movement, it has been found that it is life. As the causal and creative nature of all, it is therefore and is wise and lives. And accordingly the discoverers of truth have handed down that by its being is understood the Father, by its wisdom the Son, by its life the Holy Spirit [...].

... so [...] by the h. theologians the creeds have been established. Theologians have established and handed down the creeds, so that we may believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that the divine goodness consists in three components of a single entity. And this was not done without taking into account supersensible knowledge and rational research. For by envisaging the One ineffable All-Cause and the One simple and indivisible Starting Point, enlightened by the divine Spirit, they have called this Unity. Furthermore, by looking at the unity itself not in empty isolation but in wonderfully fruitful multiplicity, they conceived of three constituents of unity: one ungenerated, one generated and one emerging. The behaviour of the ungenerated entity to the generated entity they called Father; the behaviour of the generated entity to the ungenerated entity they called Son; the behaviour of the generated entity to the ungenerated and generated entity they called Holy Spirit.“[9]

For God, knowledge and creation are one and the same thing:

„The words: "In the splendour of the saints God produced his Son from his bosom" mean nothing else than that in his only-begotten Son he begat the knowledge of the future saints or rather created them himself. In the wisdom of the Father, the knowledge of the saints is precisely their creation. For God's thinking of them is the very essence of them, since in God, before the becoming of what he does, knowledge is one and the same with the making of what he knows. For cognition and doing are one and the same with God; he is active in cognition and in being active he cognizes. In him, cognition does not precede action, nor action precede cognition, because apart from the relationship of the creative and the created, everything is simultaneously and at once eternal.“[10]

The Godhead in its threefold form creates out of nothing and what it creates unfolds in five stages, which reach from mere being (mineral kingdom), through life (plants), sensuality (animals) and reason (man) to the pure thinking of the Angels, to whose height of knowledge, however, man is able to rise in real cognition (see below).

„As the uncreated Creator of all things, the supreme Trinity made everything it created out of nothing; for it is the characteristic of divine goodness to call what it wants to become out of nothingness into being.... Everything that naturally exists was called into existence by the Creator through the fivefold movement of the whole creature. For some things were called into being only to exist essentially; others to exist and live; in others sense was added to essential life; in others again reason was added to the sense of life; in others, finally, thought was added to the completion of the natural movements mentioned. The first type of these movements is found in natural bodies, the second in the sphere of vegetable growth, the third in rational animals, the fourth in human nature and the fifth in angelic nature. In these five stages, in the creation of things from nothing, the goodness of the supreme and holy trinity is recognised and the ineffable efficacy of the same is revealed.“[11]

God Himself, says Eriugena, does not know what He is, since He Himself is limitless and beyond all determinability and everything in Him coincides in undivided wholeness in One. But this "not knowing" is at the same time the highest and true wisdom, the incomprehensible and infinite knowledge of God himself:

„When we say that God does not know what he is, do we mean to imply anything other than that he does not understand himself in any of what is? For how could he know something in himself that cannot be in himself? For the reasons of all that God has created in himself, i.e. the Father in the Son, are undivided in him; they permit no determination of the proper constituents by peculiar differences or accidental determinations, in that they admit such things only in their effects, but not in themselves. But what then is to be thought of the ineffable and incomprehensible nature itself? Who would want to think in it something determined by a limit, extended in space, separated into parts, composed of constituents and accidental determinations? Divine ignorance, then, is the highest and truest wisdom.“[12]

„"You see, John Scotus Erigena starts from philosophical concepts and rises to that which is the Christian Trinity. So he is still going through the path inwardly, starting from comprehension, into the so-called incomprehensible. That is also his conviction. But he speaks in such a way that one can see from the way he presents things that he has learned from Dionysius. At the moment when he arrives at Being, Wisdom, Life, and these represent to him Father, Son and Spirit, he actually wants to let these concepts swim apart into a general spirituality, into which man would then have to rise above all concepts. But he does not attribute to man the ability to reach such a supra-conceptual level.

Thus Johannes Scotus Erigena is a son of his age, which educated the intellect, and which really, if it understood itself correctly, had to say to itself that it could not enter into the superconceptual.

The second chapter then describes, as it were, a second layer of world existence, the created and creating world (see p. 262). This is the world of spiritual beings in which we have to look for Angeloi, Archangeloi, Archai and so on. This world of spiritual beings, which we also find recorded by Dionysius the Areopagite, this world of spiritual beings creates everywhere in the world, but it is itself created, it began with the highest being, thus it is created, and it creates in all the details of existence that surround us.

As the third world in the third chapter, he then describes the created and non-creating world. This is the world that we perceive around us with our senses. This is the world of animals, plants and minerals, the stars and so on. In this chapter he deals with approximately everything that we would call cosmology, anthropology and so on, that which we call today the scope of science. In the fourth chapter he deals with the non-created and non-creating world. Again, this is the Godhead, but as it will be when all beings, especially all human beings, have returned to it, when it will no longer be creative, when it has absorbed into itself in blissful peace - this is how Johannes Scotus Erigena imagines it - all those beings that have just emerged from it.

Now, if we look at these four chapters, we actually have in them, I would like to say, something like a compendium of everything that has been handed down, as it existed in the schools of wisdom from which Johannes Scotus Erigena emerged. If we take what he describes in the first chapter, we have something like what was called theology in his sense, theology, the actual teaching of the divine. If we take the second chapter, we have what he calls the ideal world, in today's language, the ideal, but presented as essential. He does not describe abstract ideas, but angels, archangels and so on, he describes the whole intelligible world, as it was called, which was not an intelligible world like ours, but a world of living beings, of living intelligent beings. In the third chapter, as I said, he describes what we would call our science today, but in a different way. Since the Galileo-Copernicus period, which is later, we no longer have what in the time of Scotus Erigena was called cosmology or anthropology. What is called cosmology is still something that is described out of the spirit, something that is described in such a way that spiritual beings guide the stars, that spiritual beings also live in the stars, that the elements of fire, water, air and earth are interspersed with spiritual beings. So it is something else that is described as cosmology. That materialistic way of looking at things, which has come up since the middle of the 15th century, did not exist at that time, and what he calls anthropology is something quite different from what we call anthropology today in our materialistic age.

I can tell you something that is extraordinarily characteristic of John Scotus' anthropology. He looks at man and says: Man first of all carries being in himself. He is therefore a mineral being, he has a mineral being within him. So firstly: man is a mineral being (see p. 262). Secondly: man lives and lives like a plant. Thirdly: man feels as an animal. Fourthly: man judges and concludes, makes conclusions as man. Fifthly: man recognises as an Angel.

Well, that is of course something enormous in our time! When John Scotus Erigena speaks of judging and concluding, which is what one does in the courtroom, for example, when one wants to judge someone, then man judges and concludes as man. But when he recognises, when he penetrates into the world with recognition, then he does not behave as a human being, but as an Angel! I want to say this first of all to show you that anthropology is something different for that time than it is for the present time, for, it is true, it would hardly be heard anywhere today, not even at a theological faculty, that man recognises as an Angel. So that one must say: That which John Scotus Erigena describes in the third chapter, we no longer have as our science. Something else has come over us. If we wanted to call it by a word that cannot be applied to anything today, we would have to say something like: Spiritual doctrine of the universe and of man, pneumatology.

And then the fourth chapter. This fourth chapter of John Scotus Erigena contains, first of all, the doctrine of the Mystery of Golgotha and the doctrine of what man has to expect as the future, as his entrance into the divine-spiritual world, i.e. what we would call in modern usage soteriology, soter being the Saviour, the Redeemer, and the doctrine of the future, eschatology. We find the concepts of crucifixion, resurrection, the outpouring of divine grace, the entrance of man into the divine-spiritual world and so on.

One thing should strike you, and it really does strike you if you are unbiased, by carefully reading something like this work "De divisione naturae" by Johannes Scotus Erigena, about the division of nature. The world is spoken of as something that is recognised in spiritual qualities. One speaks of the spiritual by looking at the world. And what is not in it? One must also be attentive to what is not in such a universal science as that which Johannes Scotus Erigena wants to establish.

In Johannes Scotus Erigena you will find nothing at all of what we today call sociology, social science and the like. One might almost say that it looks as if Johannes Scotus Erigena did not want to give people, as he thought of them, a social science any more than, for example, if any animal species, the lion species or the tiger species, or any bird species, were to publish a science, it would not publish a sociology. For the lion would not talk about the way in which it should live with other lions, or how it should get its food and so on; that is given to it instinctively. Nor can we think of a sociology of sparrows. Sparrows could certainly produce all kinds of most interesting secrets of the world from their point of view, but they would never produce an economy, a theory of economics, for the sparrows would take it for granted that they do what their instinct tells them. That is the peculiar thing: Since we do not yet find such a thing in John Scotus Erigena, we are clear that he still regarded human society as if it produced the social from its instincts. In his special kind of knowledge, he points to that which still lives in man as instinct, to the drives, the impulses of social togetherness. What he describes is above this social togetherness. He describes how man emerged from the divine, which entities lie above the world of the senses. He then describes how the spirit permeates the sense world, for example in a kind of pneumatology, he describes that which has penetrated the sense world as spiritual in his fourth chapter in soteriology, in eschatology. But nowhere does he describe how people should live together. I would like to say that everything is elevated above the world of the senses. That was generally a characteristic of this older science, that everything was elevated above the world of the senses.

And if one delves into something like the teaching of Johannes Scotus Erigena in the spiritual-scientific sense, one sees that he did not think with those organs with which humanity thinks today. One does not understand him if one wants to understand him with the kind of thinking that humanity does today. He can only be understood if one has gained an understanding through spiritual science of how one thinks with the etheric body, with that body which underlies the gross sensual body as a finer body.

So Johannes Scotus Erigena did not think with the brain but with the etheric body. In him we simply have a spirit that has not yet thought with the brain. And all that he writes down comes about as the result of thinking with the etheric body. Basically, one only begins to think with the physical body after his time, and really only from the 15th century onwards. What is not usually seen is that human life as a life of the soul really changed in this period, that if one goes back to the 13th, 12th, 11th centuries, one really comes across a way of thinking like that of John Scotus Erigena, that one comes to a way of thinking which was not yet carried out with the physical body but with the etheric body. This thinking with the etheric body was not to be carried over into later times, when scholastic dialectics were applied to rigid concepts; this older thinking with the etheric body, which was also the thinking of the first Christian centuries, was condemned. Hence the burning of the writings of Johannes Scotus Erigena.“ (Lit.:GA 204, p. 263ff)

Thinking in conversation with the Angel

„In the case of John Scotus, he lives in this discrepancy. He can only think; but when this thinking becomes cognition, he feels that there is still something of the old powers that permeated man in the old way of cognition. He feels the Angel, the Angelos in him. That is why he says that man recognises as an Angel. It was an inheritance from ancient times that in this time of understanding such a spirit as Scotus Erigena could still say that man perceives like an angel. In the Egyptian times, in the Chaldean times, in the older times of the Hebrew civilisation, no one would have said anything else than: The Angel recognises in me, and I participate as a human being in the knowledge of the Angel. The Angel dwells in me, who recognises, and I participate in what the Angel recognises. - That was in the time when there was no intellect. Then, when the intellect had come up, one had to penetrate this with the intellect; but in Scotus Erigena there was still a consciousness of this being penetrated with the Angelos nature.“ (Lit.:GA 204, p. 269f)

„"If you consider carefully the mutual connection and unity of the spiritual and rational natures, you will indeed find that both the English being is founded in the human being and the human being in the angelic being. In each is accomplished what the pure intellect most perfectly recognises, and in each is effected one and the same thing. So great was the communion of angelic and human natures, and would have remained so if the first man had not sinned, that the two became one, which is already beginning to happen even in the most excellent men, whose firstfruits are among the heavenly. For the Angel arises in man through the concept of the Angel which is in man, and man arises in the Angel through the concept of the Angel founded in man. For he who, as I have said, has the pure concept, becomes in that which he comprehends. The spiritual and rational angelic nature has thus become in the spiritual and rational human nature just as the human has become in the angelic through mutual comprehension, wherein man comprehends the Angel and the Angel comprehends man. Nor is this at all wonderful; for we ourselves, by conversing with one another, are mutually transformed into one another. For in comprehending what you comprehend, I become your concept, and am in an ineffable manner taken up into you. In the same way, when you grasp purely what I grasp perfectly, you become my concept, and the two concepts become one, which is formed from what we both grasp purely and without delay. If we take an example from the numbers to help us, you understand that the number six is equal in its parts, and I understand this in the same way, and I understand yours as you understand my concept. Both our concepts become a single concept formed by the six-number, and thereby not only am I created in you, but also you in me. For we are not something other than our concept, and our true and highest being is a concept which is attested in the contemplation of truth. But the fact that such a concept can develop not only in equally essential natures, but also in subordinate natures, as soon as love interposes, is taught by the words of the apostle, who rejects the opinion that our concept loves visible forms with the admonition: Do not become like this world! In such a sense, then, it is quite properly said that in mutual comprehension man is created in the Angel and the Angel in man, and that the Angel also does not precede man in any respect is likewise rightly believed and understood, even though, according to the Prophet's account, the creation of the angelic nature may, as many will, have taken place sooner or later than the creation of human nature.“[13]

So much, then, does Eriugena still experience the spiritual reality of thought that he can say that the Angel arises in him - and not as an image, but as a reality - when he thinks it, and man arises no less in the Angel when man forms the concept of the Angel! And so for all beings. Knowledge is not merely an insubstantial reflection of being, but true being itself. In this sense it is also to be understood when it was said above that man, as the image and likeness of God, embraces the whole of creation.

„For the thoughts of things are truly the things themselves, as St. Dionysius says, "the knowledge of being is the being itself;" but their primordial causes and reasons are brought to union by thought-activity, not by the things themselves.“[14]

Man and Angel are thus on the same level for Eriugena; precisely because of this, they can mutually recognise each other. But this knowledge, like their respective self-knowledge, is never complete. For in order to be able to recognise oneself completely, i.e. to define, to delimit, one would have to surpass oneself:

„I believe that neither of the two can define himself, nor even one the other. For if a man defines himself or an Angel, he is greater than himself or than the Angel; for the defining is a greater than the defined. The same thing takes place with the Angel. I believe, therefore, that these two alone can be defined by Him who created them in His image.“[15]

Man spiritually sees as an Archangel

For the consciousness-soul age beginning with the 15th century, Eriugena's thought must be continued, although it may seem paradoxical at first in our materialistic age: man thinks as an angel, but he sees as an archangel:

„When one hears Scotus Erigena say that man is as a mineral being, lives and lives as a plant, feels as an animal, judges and concludes as a man, recognises as an angel - which Scotus Erigena still knew by tradition of ancient times - then we, however, who rise to the knowledge of spirit, would now have to go further. We should even now say: well, man is as a mineral being, man lives and lives as a plant, man feels as an animal, man judges and concludes as a man, man recognises as an Angel and sixthly: man sees - namely imaginatively the spiritual world - as an Archangel. And we would now have to ascribe to ourselves, when we speak of man, since the first third of the fifteenth century[16]: we recognise as Angels and develop the consciousness soul through soul forces of seeing - unconsciously at first, but still as a consciousness soul - as Archangels.

And so we would have the paradox that in the materialistic age people actually live in the spiritual world, live higher spiritually than they lived before. We could say: Yes, Scotus Erigena is right, the angelic experience lives on in man; but the Archangel experience has also lived on since the first third of the 15th century. So we would actually be in a spiritual world.“ (Lit.:GA 204, p. 275)

„You see, when Scotus Erigena was alive, the human mind was still a force. Scotus Erigena still felt that the Angel in him recognised. It was still a force among the best, this human mind. Since the middle of the 15th century we have only a shadow of this mind, this intellect. We have been developing the consciousness soul since the middle of the 15th century, but we still have the shadow of the intellect. When man today develops his concepts, well, he is truly far enough away from the idea that there is an Angel recognising in him. He just thinks: I am thinking something about the things I have experienced. In any case, he is not talking about the fact that there is actually a spiritual being that recognises, or even a still higher spiritual being that he is through his self-awareness. That with which man today tries to recognise things is the shadow of the intellect, as it still developed for the Greeks, for example for Plato and Aristotle, as it still developed even for the Romans, as it was still alive for Scotus Erigena in the 9th century after Christ.

But it is precisely this, my dear friends, that we no longer need to be distracted by reason, that can help us. People today run after a shadow, the mind in them, the intellect. Instead of striving for imagination, for inspiration, for intuition, which in turn lead into the spiritual world that actually surrounds us, they allow themselves to be distracted by it. That the mind has become shadowy is just as well. But we have first founded the outer natural science with this shadowy understanding. We must continue to work from it, and God has come to rest so that He may let us work. The fourth state is fully here today. Man has only to become conscious of it. And unless he becomes conscious of it, nothing can develop on earth. For that which the Earth has received as an inheritance is gone, it has perished. New things must be founded.“ (Lit.:GA 204, p. 292f)

This new thing that must be founded is spiritual science based on fully conscious spiritual seeing, which progresses via imagination to inspiration and on to intuition.

Expert opinion on predestination

At the wish of Charles the Bald and on behalf of Archbishop Hincmar of Reims, Eriugena wrote an expert opinion in 850/51 on the controversy that was raging at the time over the doctrine of predestination, which goes back to Augustine, but his outspoken presentation met with considerable resistance, so that Hincmar distanced himself from him and individual theses of Eriugena were condemned at the Synods of Valence (855) and Langres (859). His great opponent in this dispute was Gottschalk of Orbais (* c. 803; † c. 869).

„In such lectures I have often drawn attention to that Scottish monk, Scotus Erigena, who lived in the ninth century in the land of the Franks at the court of Charles the Bald and was regarded there as a miracle of wisdom. Charles the Bald and all those who agreed with him turned to Scotus Erigena in all religious and scientific matters when they wanted to have something decided. But it is precisely in the way Scotus Erigena confronts other monks of his time that we see how the battle, I would like to say, raged at that time between reason, which felt limited only to the sensual world and some conclusions from it, and what had been handed down in the form of dogmas from the supersensible worlds.

And so we see two personalities confronting each other in the 9th century: Scotus Erigena and the monk Gottschalk, who resolutely asserted the doctrine that God knows perfectly in advance whether any man will be damned or blessed. This was gradually coined into the formula: God had destined one part of mankind to blessedness, another part of mankind to damnation. This doctrine was coined in the same way as Augustine himself, according to whose doctrine of divine predestination, part of mankind was destined to blessedness and part to damnation. And Gottschalk, the monk, taught that it was so: God has destined a part of man to blessedness and a part to damnation, but none to sin. So Gottschalk taught a contradiction for external understanding.

At that time, the dispute raged extraordinarily fiercely, especially in the 9th century. At a synod in Mainz, for example, Gottschalk's writing was virtually declared heretical, and Gottschalk was flogged for this teaching. Nevertheless, Gottschalk was flogged and imprisoned for this teaching, but he was able to claim that he wanted nothing more than to establish the Augustinian teaching in its true form. The attention of French bishops and monks was also drawn to the fact that Gottschalk actually taught nothing other than what Augustine had already taught. Thus, in a certain sense, a monk like Gottschalk stood before his time in such a way that he taught something from the traditions of the old mystery knowledge which those who now wanted to understand everything with the understanding that was dawning could not understand and therefore fought against, while the others, who clung more to the venerability of the old, absolutely approved of a theologian like Gottschalk.

Today people will find it extraordinarily difficult to understand that such a thing could be argued about. But it was not just argued about. At that time, if one party did not like such teachings, they were publicly flogged and imprisoned, and in the end they were proved right. For it was precisely the orthodox who then sided with Gottschalk, and Gottschalk's teaching remained the legitimate Catholic teaching. - Charles the Bald naturally turned from the whole position in which he was to Scotus Erigena to the latter to bring about a decision for himself. Scotus Erigena did not decide in the sense of Gottschalk, but in the sense that in the development of humanity the divinity lies within, that evil can actually only seem to be something, otherwise evil would have to lie in God. Since God can only be good, evil must be nothing; but nothingness cannot be something with which men can finally be united. - So that Scotus Erigena spoke out against the Gottschalk. But the doctrine of Scotus Erigena, which is more or less the same as that of the pantheists today, was then again condemned by the orthodox church, and the writings of Scotus Erigena were only found again later. Everything that reminded people of him was burnt; he was regarded as the real heretic. And when he made known his views, which he had presented to Charles the Bald, then one declared on the side of the Gottschalkians, who had now again come to recognition: Scotus Erigena is really only a chatterer, who adorns himself with all kinds of feathers of external science, and who actually knows nothing at all of the inner mysteries of the supersensible.“ (Lit.:GA 214, p. 48ff)

Lord's Supper Controversy

Eriugena also took a stand in the Lord's Supper controversy.

„Another theologian wrote about the body and blood of Christ: "De corpore et sanguine domini". In this writing he also pronounced that which was a transparent doctrine for the old initiate: that indeed bread and wine can be changed into the real body and blood of Christ.

Again, this writing was presented to Charles the Bald. Scotus Erigena did not exactly write a counter-writing, but in his writings we have many indications of how he decided, and there we find that this doctrine, which is indeed the orthodox Catholic doctrine: that bread and wine are really changed into the body and blood of Christ, that this doctrine had to be modified because it could not be comprehended. Thus Scotus Erigena already spoke out at that time.“ (Lit.:GA 214, p. 50f)

„In the oldest times up to the 12th century there was nothing more sublime, more solemn for the Christian than the Lord's Supper. It was supposed to be a grateful memorial sacrifice, a symbol of the internalisation of Christianity. Then came that secularisation, that incomprehension of such high, spiritual facts, especially of the feasts. In the 9th century, in the land of the Franks, at the court of Charles the Bald, lived a very important Christian monk from Ireland, Scotus Erigena, in whose book "On the Division of Nature" we find a wealth of spirit and profundity, admittedly not of what the 20th century understands by science. He had to fight against a hostile direction in the Church. He defended the old doctrine that the Lord's Supper was the symbol of the supreme sacrifice. Another, material view existed and was protected by Rome, that bread and wine were really transformed into flesh and blood. Under the influence of the ongoing materialisation, the Lord's Supper dogma came into being, but it was not until the 13th century that it became official.

Scotus had to flee to England and was murdered in his own monastery by the fraternising monks at the instigation of the Pope. These are struggles that take place not within the Church but through the intrusion of secular influence.“ (Lit.:GA 51, p. 144)


„Whoever studies Pythagoreanism will easily be seduced into believing that everything in the world is regarded as we regard it, according to measure, number and weight. But precisely the characteristic difference between how Pythagoreanism uses measure, number and weight figuratively and how it uses them universally, how, as it were, what lives in measure, number and weight is felt in a completely human way, not yet separated from the human being, can already indicate to us that Pythagoreanism did not work with measure, number and weight in the way that later, since the middle of the fifteenth century, it has been worked with, in the way that Galileanism works with measure, number and weight. And whoever, for example, delves into a spirit of the 9th century - I recently characterised him here in a few lectures - whoever delves into Johannes Scotus Erigena, whoever reads into Scotus, will find: just as we are accustomed today to build up a world structure from chemical and physical foundations and to construct the beginning and end of the world hypothetically from what we have learned in measuring, counting and weighing, this is not the case with Scotus Erigena. In Scotus Erigena, man does not separate the outside world so far from himself, nor does he separate himself from the outside world. He lives more together with the outside world, does not yet strive for objectivity as one strives for objectivity today. And so one can see how that which unfolded in Greek life in all the centuries since the Pythagorean period - and it is precisely in such a spirit as Scotus Erigena that one can see it - then lived itself out in later centuries. At that time, basically, the human soul lived in quite different ideas.“ (Lit.:GA 206, p. 173)

See also


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References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
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Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
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  1. Where and how Eriugena acquired this knowledge of Greek remains unclear. In the monasteries of his Irish homeland, people had an elementary knowledge of the Greek language, but certainly not at Eriugena's level. In his thinking, he shows great sympathy for the clearly more spiritual Greek Eastern Church, which at that time was not yet officially divorced from the Western Church, but was already separated from it by a great spiritual gap. Thus, at the Fourth Council of Constantinople (869), the teachings of Photios I were rejected and the trichotomy, the threefold division of the human being into body, soul and spirit, was condemned as heretical - and thus the spirit of the human being "abolished", as Rudolf Steiner often put it. However, whether Eriugena came into contact with scholars of the Eastern Church and whether Eruigena also undertook journeys to Byzantium or Greece remains obscure.
  2. Which is perhaps only to be understood metaphorically in the sense of a refutation of his writings.
  3. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 3f [1]
  4. Johannes Scottus Eriugena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Einteilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung S. 6
  5. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 13f [2]
  6. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 128 [3]
  7. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 176 [4]
  8. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 178f [5]
  9. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 23f [6]
  10. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 163 [7]
  11. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 191 [8]
  12. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 209 [9]
  13. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Zweite Abtheilung, S. 61ff [10]
  14. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 133f [11]
  15. Johannes Scotus Erigena, Ludwig Noack (Übers.): Über die Eintheilung der Natur, Verlag von L. Heimann, Berlin 1870, Erste Abtheilung, S. 63 [12]