An Irish Scot
Known as John the Scot, Johannes Scotus, sometimes with the added name
Eriugena or Erigena.
The Short Version
John the Scot lived in the 9th Century during the papacy of
Pope Nicholas I. He was an Irishman, a Neoplatonist, a strong Greek
scholar, a Pelagian, and a pantheist. He spent the majority of his
life working for Charles the Bald, the King of France.
John placed reason above faith. He did not care for the authority of
the Ecclesiastics but did arbitrate in disputes for them. Little is
known about his life prior to his time with Charles, nor after it.
John was invited to France by Charles in 843 to head his court
school. While there he arbitrated a dispute between a monk named
Gottschalk and an ecclisiastic named Hinchman who was the Archbishop
of Rheims. The dispute was about divine predestination. The monk was
in favor of it whereas the archbishop was in favor of free will. John
sided with Hinchman in favor of free will. John went so far as to
write a treatise about it - On Divine Predestination.
John's treatise was controversial, not because it was about free will,
but because it was argued from a purely philosophical basis. John was
not out to controvert the theology of the day, but did hold that a
philosophy independent of revelation was superior to theology. John
argued that both reason and revelation were sources of truth, but that
if there was a conflict between the two, reason was preffered. True
religion was true philosophy and vice versa. The treatise was
condemned by councils in both 855 and 859, the first of which called
it "Scot's porrige."
John was not punished in any way for his beliefs due to the king's
guardianship which ended in 877 with the death of Charles the Bald.
Some beleive that due to this loss of protection John died soon after.
It's all Greek to John
Another work John was known for was his translation of the
pseudo-Dionysius, the work of Dionysius the Areopagite. Dionysius
studied with St. Paul, after which he travelled to France and began
the Abbey of St. Denis. Dionysius' work was known for its
reconcilliation of Neoplatonism and Christianity. It was well known
in the East, but not in the West due to its being written in Greek.
The abbot of Denis had possession of the work and wanted it
translated so it turned over to John through the king. After its
translation a copy was sent to the Pope in 860. The Pope was offended
for he had not been contacted for permission to publish the work.
That was where his offense ended though for the scholarship was
impeccable, his librarian Anastasius was stunned with John's
knowledge of Greek.
A Strong Finish
John's greatest work was his On the Division of Nature. The
philosophy it espoused would now be called "realism," due to its
maintanence of Plato's claim that universals are anterior to
particulars. John claimed that Nature was broken up into four
That which creates but is not created. (God)
That which creates and is created. ((Platonic)Ideas)
That which does not create but is created. (Space and Time)
That which does not create and is not created. (God)
As noted above, John argues that both the first and the last are God.
God is the essential substance of creation. God creates the thing,
while it exists it yearns to be closer to God, to return to God, and
finally does return to God when it ceases to exist. God is the
Father, God's wisdom is the Son, and God's life is the Holy Ghost.
Along with this, John says that there is a realm of non-being.
Included in this realm of non-being are physical objects for they do
not belong to the intelligeable world and sin. John says sin is the
loss of the divine pattern, for God equals order.
As touched on above, John's greatest heresies were his interpretation
of creation out of "nothing" (God created everything out of God) and his
version of the Trinity, which is similar to Plotinus' but does not keep
an equality between the three members. Due to God's creating all out
of God, creation is timeless - this belief leads to an allegorical
understanding of the Creation in Genesis, Paradise and the Fall should
not be taken literally, John claims.
On the Division of Nature was repeatedly condemned as
heretical and finally in 1225 Pope Honorius III had all copies burnt.
Thankfully this order was not taken too seriously.
Source - Bertrand Russell's A History of Western