Being and creation in the theology of John Scottus Eriugena: an approach to a new way of thinking

Sushkov, Sergei N. (2015) Being and creation in the theology of John Scottus Eriugena: an approach to a new way of thinking. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The work aims to demonstrate that at the heart of Eriugena’s approach to Christian theology there lies a profoundly philosophical interest in the necessity of a cardinal shift in the paradigms of thinking – namely, that from the metaphysical to the dialectical one, which wins him a reputation of the ‘Hegel of the ninth century,’ as scholars in Post-Hegelian Germany called him.
The prime concern of Eriugena’s discourse is to prove that the actual adoption of the salvific truth of Christ’s revelation about all humans’ Sonship to God (resulting in their return to union with Him) directly depends on the way the truth of God’s Oneness is consistently thought of. It is exactly the dialectic of the universal and particular which allows Eriugena both to tackle the dichotomy between being and non-being (called by him the fundamental division) and to proceed towards raising a question how the totality of God’s being can be approached so as to let him radically reconsider a predominantly metaphysical view of creation the theological reflection traditionally relies on.
According to the dialectical understanding of unity (with a strong appeal to a dialectically coherent treatment of contradiction) that Eriugena does adhere to, the reality of creation cannot be thought of, and therefore known, otherwise than in the way of being inseparable from the universal Principle of all. This is the Principle abandoned by nothing, unless the mind corrupted by the senses thinks otherwise and, following the metaphysical pattern of dichotomy (as that of the fundamental division), improperly sets the creation and its Principle apart. Restoration of the mind to the proper rational motion of recta ratio (right reason) freed, as Eriugena argues, from the dictates of senses therefore becomes the way of both the epistemological breakthrough to the infinite whole and practical return (reditus) from the world of finite things (the corrupt mind’s construct) to living in the divine reality of creation.
The work’s argument is based on the assumption of close affinity between Eriugena’s discourse and that of his Islamic contemporaries (Allaf, al-Nazzam, al-Kindi, and others), who developed their dialectical ideas within the Mu’tazilah tradition of a philosophically disciplined approach to the truth of God’s Oneness. In particular, al-Nazzam’s engagement with Parmenides’ Periphyseon and his resistance to the danger of a dualistic interpretation of its ontology seem to provoke Eriugena’s innovative approach to Christian theology with a view to suggesting a mode of overcoming dualism as the main obstacle on the way to the Truth revealed.

This vision of the meaning of Eriugena’s undertaking allows us not only to better understand the novelty of his approach to Christian theology, but also reconsider some of the key points of his discourse that seem to have become a sort of commonplace in Eriugenian studies:
1. Unlike the prevalent opinion, not the forms of the division of Nature but the modes of interpreting being and non-being are to be understood to constitute the genuine subject-matter of each book of the Periphyseon and, hence, of the five parts of his system.
2. The fourfold division of Nature is to be interpreted not as a basic structure of the system offered by Eriugena, but as a means of introducing dialectic to the body of theology by refuting Augustine’s metaphysical vision of a hierarchical model of the universe and indicating the way of resolution of the cardinally theological contradiction – God does and does not create at the same time.
3. All this gives reason to disagree with a general tendency of associating Eriugena’s work with exploration of the division of God’s Nature and to reinterpret it as an immense anti-division project to be understood as an important turn in the history of Christian thought entirely focused on the truth of God’s Oneness and human life in conformity to it.


I affirm that this thesis is entirely my own work and has not been submitted for examination in any form elsewhere.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Dialectical monism, metaphysics, paradigms of thinking , dialectical treatment of contradiction, universal and particular, universal principle, ontological dichotomy, totality of being, reality of creation, self-manifestation, difference and identity, integrity of nature, rational motion, irrational motion, subject and spirit, types of knowledge, infinite and finite, unity of philosophy and theology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BD Speculative Philosophy
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies
Supervisor's Name: Jasper, Professor David
Date of Award: 2015
Depositing User: Mr Sergei Sushkov
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-7070
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2016 12:15
Last Modified: 04 Feb 2019 11:17

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