Philosophy of Johannes Scotus Eriugena
Episode #5 of the course “Brief history of Medieval philosophy”
Johannes Scotus Eriugena was a 9th-century Irish scholar who lived the majority of his life in France writing and translating numerous important medieval texts. His most famous works are his excellent translations and commentaries from Greek, including the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius. Through this introduction of Plato and his theories to his contemporary Europeans, he changed the course of theological discussion throughout the Middle Ages. Classical Greek was not highly taught during Eriugena’s time, and Greek scholars were rare. Therefore, Eriugena was treated with special privileges in the court of the French king, even to the point that it made him the butt of nationally famous jokes of his time.
Eriugena was a highly-controversial writer who placed a high value on rationalism and did not defer to tradition or orthodoxy in either his style or his content. He believed that all things came from God, and to God all creation would return, seeing God as both the supreme beginning and the supreme end. He was not one to censor himself, claiming that philosophy and religion were the same thing.
He publicly defended the doctrine of the liberty of will in debates on behalf and request of the church, but he proposed that people could reach God through varying methods of personal experience rather than by having to practice the rituals and tenets declared by the church. He was discussed and condemned for centuries after his death, called insane or labeled as far too radical to be taken seriously. His works were even placed on the lists of forbidden books by popes as long as 800 years later.
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