The 9th-century Irish scholar Johannes Scottus Eriugena's main work, Periphyseon (de devisione naturae) is a remarkable attempt at an intellectual synthesis between the Bible and neoplatonist philosophy. O'Meara has brought together the results of the most recent research in this study of Eriugena's Irish background, life in France, and career as a teacher, controversialist, translator, and poet. The book also contains an extended and careful summary of the Periphyseon and the first translation into English of the Homily on the Prologue to St. John's Gospel


While one may well attempt to write about the works of Eriugena, one can hardly as yet essay with any confidence to describe his life, so much in connection with him is legend or slender hypothesis. We can say that he was born in Ireland around the first quarter of the ninth century, and that he lived and worked for most of the third quarter of that century at the court of Charles the Bald in the general area of Laon, north-east of Paris. He would appear to have been a teacher who became a philosopher.

His greatest work, written in Latin, was the Periphyseon, known also as De divisione naturae, a comprehensive investigation into all things that are and all things that are not. Here the philosophical doctrines of Augustine in his understanding of Revelation (already significantly, if not consistently, indebted to Neoplatonism) are as far as possible brought into relation with the more direct and prevailing Neoplatonism of the Pseudo-Dionysius, Maximus the Confessor, and the Greek Fathers. The result is a synthesis of what we might now call philosophy and theology where the influence of the Neoplatonists dominates. To theologians he is too philosophical; to philosophers, too theological. But as long as Plato is counted a philosopher, then Eriugena must be reckoned a philosopher too. His message is essentially optimistic, and it is conveyed in language that is subtle, often warm, and always distinguished.

Eriugena had more influence in western Christendom than is generally recognized, even if the spirit of the times, guilt by association, and finally a flood of Aristotelianism told against him. The mystics listened carefully to what he had to pass on from the Pseudo-Dionysius, and nineteenth-century German Idealists discovered in him a spirit and a thinking akin to their own.

In this present century interest in Eriugena was greatly stimulated by Maïeul Cappuyns's Jean Scot Érigène: sa vie, son æuvre, sa pensée, first published in 1933. This book brought every aspect of Eriugenian studies solidly up to date, and it remains--and is likely to remain--unsurpassed as a source of information. It indicated what studies had to be done in relation to sources and manuscripts and . . .

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