The crucially important Christian mystic philosopher, translator, theologian and poet, John Scottus Eriugena (Johannes Scottus Eriugena or Scotus Erigena), lived from about 800 to perhaps 877 CE and has been praised as the “Greatest mind of the early western Medieval period—or last great mind of Antiquity.”
John “of Ireland” (Eriu means “of Ireland,” where the Scotti were an ancient and extensive tribe) is 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 come into Europe.
Richard Woods, 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 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 among great theologians of early Christianity like Origen and Clement of Alexandria and Gregory of Nyssa), Eriugena also wrote of the conscious return (reditus) and merging of all beings into God.
No souls (including the souls of animals) 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.
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. (Periphyseon III.621a-622a).
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. (P. II.527b)…
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?’ (P. II.528b) [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….
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~ by Dr Timothy Conway.