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§ 176. Johannes Scotus Erigena.


I. Johannes Scotus: Opera omnia, in Migne, Tom. CXXII. (1853). H. J. Floss prepared this edition, which is more complete than any other, for Migne’s series. The De divisione naturae was separately edited by C. B. Schlüter, Münster, 1838, who reprints in the same vol. (pp. 593–610) thirteen religious poems of Scotus as edited by Cardinal Mai (Class. Auct. V. 426 sqq.). B. Hauréau has edited Scotus’s commentary on Marcianus Capella, Paris, 1861; and Cardinal Mai, his commentary on the Heavenly Hierarchy of Dionysius Areopagita in Appendix at opera edita ab Mai, Rome, 1871. There is an excellent German translation of the De Div. Nat. by L. Noack (Erigena über die Eintheilung der Natur, mit einer Schlussabhandlung Berlin, 1870–4, Leipzig, 1876, 3 pts.),

II. Besides the Prolegomena and notes of the works already mentioned, see Peder Hjort: J. S. E., oder von dem Ursprung einer christlichen Philosophie und ihrem heiligen Beruf, Copenhagen, 1823. F. A. Staudenmaier: J. S. E., u. d. Wissenschaft s. Zeit., vol. I. (all published), Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1834. St. Réné Taillandier: S. E. et la philosophie scholastique, Strasbourg, 1843. N. Möller: J. S. E. u. s. Irrthümer, Mayence, 1844. Theodor Christlieb Leben u. Lehre d. J. S. E., Gotha, 1860; comp. also his article in Herzog,2 XIII. 788–804 (1884). Johannes Huber: J. S. E. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie im Mittelalter, Munich, 1861. A. Stöckl: De J. S. E., Münster, 1867. O. Hermens: Das Leben des J. S. E., Jena, 1869. R. Hoffmann: De J. S. E. vita et doctrina, Halle, 1877 (pp. 37). Cf. Baur: Geschichte der Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit, II. 263–344. Dorner: Gesch. d. Lehre v. d. Person Christi, II. 344–359. Neander, III. 461–466.

III. On particular points. Torstrick: Philosophia Erigenae; 1. Trinitatis notio, Göttingen, 1844. Francis Monnier: De Gothescalci et J. S. E. controversia, Paris, 1853. W. Kaulich: Das speculative System des J S. E., Prag, 1860. Meusel: Doctrina J. S. E. cum Christiana comparavit, Budissae (Bautzen), 1869. F. J. Hoffmann: Der Gottes u. Schöpfungsbegriff des J. S. E., Jena, 1876. G. Anders: Darstellung u. Kritik d. Ansicht dass d. Kategorien nicht auf Gott anwendbar seien, Sorau, 1877 (pp. 37). G. Buchwald: Der Logosbegriff de J. S. E., Leipzig, 1884. For his logic see Prantl: Geschichte d. Logik im Abendlande, Leipzig, 1855–70, 4 vols. (II. 20–37). For his philosophy in general see B. Hauréau: Histoire de la philosophie scholastique, Paris, 1850, 2 vols., 2d ed. 1872–81, (chap. viii). F. D. Maurice: Mediaeval Philosophy, London, 1856, 2d ed. 1870 (pp. 45–79). F. Ueberweg: History of Philosophy, Eng. trans. I., 358–365. Reuter.: Geschichte d. religiösen Aufklärung im Mittelalter, Berlin, 1875–1877, 2 vols. (I. 51–64). J. Bass Mullinger.: The Schools of Charles the Great, London, 1877 (pp. 171–193). Also Du Pin, VII. 82–84. Ceillier, XII. 605–609. Hist. Lit. de la France, V. 416–429. Bähr., 483–500. Ebert, II. 257–267.


His Life.


Of Johannes Scotus Erigena, philosopher and theologian, one of the great men of history, very little is known. His ancestry, and places of birth, education, residence and death are disputed. Upon only a few facts of his life, such as his position at the court of Charles the Bald, and his literary works, can one venture to speak authoritatively.

He was born in Ireland14181418    See supplementary note to this section. between 800 and 815, educated in, one of its famous monastic schools, where the Greek Fathers, particularly Origen, were studied as well as the Latin. He went to France about 843, attracted the notice of Charles the Bald, and was honored with his friendship.14191419    He even stood on a very familiar footing if the story of Matthew of Paris mentioned on p. 539 may be credited. Cf Matthew Paris, Chronica major, ed. Luard, pp. 415 sq. The king appointed him principal of the School of the Palace, and frequently deferred to his judgment. John Scotus was one of the ornaments of the court by reason of his great learning, his signal ability both as teacher and philosopher, and his blameless life. He was popularly regarded as having boundless knowledge, and in reality his attainments were uncommon. He knew Greek fairly well and often introduces Greek words into his writings. He owed much to Greek theologians, especially Pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus.14201420    His affinity with Maximus has been shown by Baur and Dorner. He was acquainted with the Timaes of Plato in the translation of Chalcidus and with the Categories of Aristotle.14211421    Ueberweg, l.c. p. 359. He was also well read in Augustin, Boëthius, Cassiodorus and Isidore. He took a leading part in the two great doctrinal controversies of his age, on predestination and the eucharist,14221422    See full account in this vol. pp. 539 sqq. and 551 sqq. and by request of Charles the Bald translated into Latin the Pseudo-Dionysian writings. The single known fact about his personal appearance is that, like Einhard, he was of small stature. He died about 877, probably shortly after Charles the Bald.


His Writings.


Besides the treatise upon Predestination and the translation of Dionysius, already discussed,14231423    These works are in Migne, CXXII. col. 355-440, and col. 1029-1194. Scotus Erigena wrote:

1. A translation of the Obscurities of Gregory Nazianzen, by Maximus Confessor.14241424    Versio Ambiguorum S. Maximi. Migne, CXXII. col. 1193-1222. This was made at the instance of Charles the Bald, in 864.

2. Expositions of the Heavenly Hierarchy, the, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, and the Mystical Theology of Dionysius.14251425    Expositiones super ierarchiam coelestem S. Dionysii, etc. Ibid. col. 125-284.

3. Homily upon the prologue to John’s Gospel.14261426    Homilia in prologum S. Evangelii secundum Joannem. Ibid. col. 283-296.

4. A commentary upon John’s Gospel.14271427    Commentarius in S. Evangelium secundum Joannem. Ibid. col. 297-548. Only four fragments of it have as yet been found.

5. A commentary upon the Dialectic of Martianus Capella. This has been published by Hauréau.14281428    See Lit., p. 762.

6. The outgoing and in-coming of a soul to God.14291429    Liber de egressu et regressu animae ad Deum. Migne, CXXII. co.,1023, 1024. Of this only a small fragment has as yet been found.

7 The vision of God. This is in MS. at St. Omer and not yet printed.

8. Verses.14301430    Ibid. Verses, col. 1221-1240. Among them are some Greek verses, with a self- made Latin interlinear translation. He introduces both single Greek words and verses similarly interlineated into his other poems.

9. The great work of Scotus Erigena is The Division of Nature.14311431    Περὶφύσεωςμερισμοῦ. Id est, de divisione naturae. Ibid.col. 411-1022. It consists of five books in the form of a dialogue between a teacher and a disciple. The latter, generally speaking, represents the ecclesiastical conscience, but always in the end echoes his teacher. The style is lively and the range of topics embraces the most important theological cosmological and anthropological questions. The work was the first practical attempt made in the West to unite philosophy and theology. As in the dedication to Wulfad, the well-known opponent of Hincmar, John calls him simply “brother,” the work must have been written prior to 865, the Year of Wulfad’s elevation to the archiepiscopate of Bourges.14321432    V. 40, ibid. col. 1022, I. 13.


His Theological Teaching.


In the Division of Nature Scotus Erigena has embodied his theology and philosophy. By the term “Nature” he means all that is and is not.14331433    Est igitur natura generale nomen ut diximus, omnium quae sunt et quae non sunt.”De Div. Nat. I. Ibid. col. 441, l. 10. The latter expression he further interprets as including, 1st, that which is above the reach of our senses or our reason; 2d, that which though known to those higher in the scale of being is not known to those lower; 3d, that which is yet only potentially existent, like the human race in Adam, the plant in the seed, etc.; 4th, the material which comes and goes and therefore is not truly existent like the intelligible; 5th, sin as being the loss of the Divine image.14341434    I. 3-7. Cf Ueberweg, l.c., p. 361. Nature is divided into four species: (1) that which creates and is not created, (2) that which is created and creates, (3) that which is created and does not create, (4) that which neither creates nor is created. The first three divisions are a Neo-Platonic and Christian modification of the three-fold ontological division of Aristotle:14351435    Metaph. XII. 7; cf. Augustin, who mentions the first three forms, De civ. Dei, V 9, and Ueberweg, l.c. I. 363. the unmoved and the moving, the moved and moving, and the moved and not moving. The fourth form was suggested by the Pseudo-Dionysian doctrine of the return of all things to God.

One of the fundamental ideas of his theology is the identity of true philosophy and true religion. Both have the same divine source.14361436    “Ambo siquidem ex uno fonte, divina videlicet sapientia, manare dubium non est.”De div. Nat. I. 66, Migne, ed. col. 511, l. 28. “True religion” and authority, i.e. the Church doctrine, are however not with him exactly identical, and in a conflict between them he sides with the former. In his use of Scripture he follows the allegorical method. He puts the Fathers almost upon a level with the Sacred Writers and claims that their wisdom in interpreting Scripture must not be questioned. At the same time he holds that it is permissible, especially when the Fathers differ among themselves, to select that interpretation of Scripture which most recommends itself to reason as accordant with Scripture.14371437    Ibid. II. 16, col 548. IV. 16. col. 816, cf. col. 829. It is, he says, the province of reason to bring out the hidden meaning of the text, which is manifold, inexhaustible, and striking like a peacock’s feathers.14381438    Ibid. IV. 5, col. 749. It is interesting to note in this connection that John Scotus read the New Testament in the original Greek, and the Old Testament in Jerome’s version, not in the Septuagint.14391439   2Septuaginta prae manibus non habemus.” Migne col. 243. And it is still more interesting to know that he prayed most earnestly for daily guidance in the study of the Scriptures.14401440    Neander, III. p. 462.

The doctrinal teaching of Scotus Erigena can be reduced, as he himself states, to three heads. (1) God, the simple and at the same time the multiform cause of all things; (2) Procession from God, the divine goodness showing itself in all that is, from general to particular; (3) Return to God, the manifold going back into the one.

First Head. God, or Nature, which creates but is not created. a. The Being of God in itself considered. God is the essence of all things, alone truly is,14411441    “Ipse namque omnium essentia est, qui solus vere est.” Migne, Ibid. I.3 (col. 443). and is the beginning, middle and end of all things.14421442    “Est igitur principium, medium et finis.” I. 11(col. 451). He is incomprehensible.14431443    “Dem per seipsum incomprehensibilis est!’ I. 10 (col. 451). While the predicates of essence, truth, goodness, wisdom, &c., can be, according to the “affirmative” theology, applied to God, it can only be done metaphorically, because each such predicate has an opposite, while in God there is no opposition. Hence the “negative” theology correctly maintains they can not be.14441444    I. 14 (col. 459). Neither can self-consciousness be predicated of God.14451445    II. 28 (col. 593). For a discussion of this point see Christlieb, J. 8 B., pp. 168-176. Although not even the angels can see the essence of God, yet his being (i.e. the Father) can be seen in the being of things; his wisdom (i.e. the Son) in their orderly arrangement, and his life (i.e. the Holy Spirit) in their constant motion.14461446    De div. Nat. I. 13 (col. 455). Ueberweg, l.c. , p. 361. God is therefore an essence in three substances. Scotus Erigena takes up the doctrine of John of Damascus concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit and applies it to the relation of the Son to the Father: “As the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son, so is the Son born of the Father through the Holy Spirit.”14471447    De div. Nat. II. 33 (col. 612). In the old patristic fashion he compares the Three Persons to light, heat and radiance united in the flame. But he understood under “persons” no real beings, only names of the aspects and relations under which God’s being comes out. God realizes himself in creation, and in every part of it, yet he does not thereby yield the simplicity of his essence. He is still removed from all, subsists outside of and above the world, which has no independent existence apart from God, but is simply his manifestation. He is both the substance and the accidents of all that exists. “God therefore is all and all is God.”14481448    III. 10 (col. 650). This is the remark of the “disciple,” but the “master” does not contradict it. Cf. III. 17, V. 30; I. 13. But God reveals himself to the creature. He appeared first to the pious in visions, but this was only occasional.14491449    I. 7, 8 (cols. 445448). He then appeared constantly in the form of the different virtues.14501450    Igitur omnis theophania, id est omnis virtus, et in hac vita et in futura vita,“I. 9 (col. 449). The intellect is itself a theophany; and so is the whole world, visible and invisible.14511451    I. 7, 8, 13 (cols. 445-448, 454-459).

2. The Procession from God or Nature. a. Nature which creates and is created, or the primordial ideas of the world and their unity in the Logos. God is the nature and essence of the world. Creation is the effect of the divine nature, which as cause eternally produces its effects, indeed is itself in the primordial ideas the first forms and grounds of things.14521452    III. 23 (col. 689). As the pure Being of God cannot immediately manifest itself in the finite, it is necessary that God should create the prototypes in which he can appear. In creation God passes through these prototypes or primordial causes into the world of visible creatures. So the Triune God enters the finite, not only in the Incarnation, but in all created existences. Our life is God’s life in us. As remarked above, we know God because in us he reveals himself. These prototypes have only subjective existence, except as they find their unity in the Logos.14531453    II. 15, 22 (cols. 545-548, 562-566, especially col. 566). Under the influence of the Holy Spirit they produce the external world of time and space.

b. Nature, which is created and does not create, or the phenomenal world and its union in man. In the Logos all things existed from eternity. Creation is their appearance in time. The principle of the development of the primordial ideas is the Holy Spirit.14541454    II. 22 (col. 566). The materiality of the world is only apparent, space and time only exist in the mind. The “nothing” from which God made the heavens and the earth was his own incomprehensible essence.14551455    III. 19 (col. 680). The whole phenomenal world is but the shadow of the real existence.14561456    I. 27, 56-58 (col. 474, 475; 498-501). Man is the centre of the phenomenal world, uniting in himself all the contradictions and differences of creation.14571457    II. 9 (col. 536). His intellect has the power to grasp the sensuous and intelligible, and is itself the substance of things.14581458    “Intellectus omnium est omnia,” III.4 (col. 632, 1.3 Fr. bel.). ”Intellectus rerum veraciter ipsae res sunt,” II. 8 (col. 535). So all nature is created in man, and subsists in him,14591459    IV. 7 (cols. 762-772), e.g. ”In homine omnis creatura substantialiter creata sit.”(col. 772). because the idea of all its parts is implanted in him. The divine thought is the primary, the human the secondary substance of things.14601460    IV. 7 (col. 762-772).

Paradise is to be interpreted spiritually. Adam is not so much an historical personage as the human race in its preëxistent condition. Man was never sinless, for sin, as a limitation and defect, is not accidental or temporal, but original in the creation and nature of man.14611461    IV. 14 (col. 807, 808).

c. The union of divinity and created existence, or the Godman. Scotus Erigena shows upon this point the duality of’ his system. On the one hand he presents Christ as an historical character, with body, mind, soul, spirit, in short the union of the entire sensible and intellectual qualities of the creature.14621462    “’Corpus quippe,’ inquit, ’et sensum et animam secundum nos habens,’ Christus videlicet, ’et intellectum:’ His enim veluti quatuor partibus humana natura constituitur.” II. 13 (col. But on the other hand he maintains that the Incarnation was an eternal and necessary fact,14631463    V. 25 (col. 912). and that it came about through an ineffable and multiplex theophany in the consciousness of men and angels.14641464    V. 25 (col. 912).

3. The return to God, or the completion of the world in Nature, which creates not and is not created. a. The return to God according to its pre-temporal idea, or the doctrine of predestination. There is only one true predestination, viz. to holiness. There is no foreknowledge of the bad. God has completest unity and simplicity; hence his being is not different from his knowledge and will; and since he has full liberty, the organization of his nature is free. But this organization is at the same time to the world law and government, i.e. its predestination; and because God is himself goodness, the predestination can only be to good. The very character of wickedness,—it is opposed to God, not substantial in nature, a defect mixed up with the good, transitory, yet essential to the development of the world,—renders it unreal and therefore not an object of divine knowledge. God does not know the bad as such, but only as the negation of the good. “God’s knowledge is the revelation of his essence, one and the same thing with his willing and his creating. As evil cannot be derived from the divine causality, neither can it be considered as an object of divine knowledge.”14651465    Neander, l.c. III. p. 465. Nor is there any divine predestination or foreknowledge respecting the punishment of the bad, for this ensues in consequence of their violation of law. They punish themselves.14661466    “Nullum peccatum est quod non se ipsum puniat, occulte tamen in hoe vita, aperte vero in altera, quae est futura.” De Divina Praedestinatione, XVI. vi. (col. 4236) Hell is in the rebellious will. Predestination is, in brief, the eternal law and the immutable order of nature, whereby the elect are restored from their ruin and the rejected are shut up in their ruin.14671467    “Sicut enim Deus electorum, quos praedestinavit ad gratiam, liberavit voluntatem, eamque caritatis suae affectibus implevit, ut non solum intra fines aeternae legis gaudeant contineri, sed etiam ipsos transire nec velle, nec posse maxi mum suae gloriae munus esse non dubitent: ita reproborum, quos praedestinavit ad poenam turpissimam, coercet voluntatem, ut e contrario, quicquid illis pertinet ad gandium beatae viae, istis vertatur in supplicium miseriae.” De div. Praed. XVIII. vii. (col. 434), cf. XVII. i. v.

b. The return of all things to God considered according to their temporal principles, or the doctrine of salvation. There are only a few scattered remarks upon this subject in Scotus Erigena. Christ is the Saviour by what he is in himself, not by what he does. His death is important as the means of resurrection; which began with the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, because then all things began to return to their union in their primordial causes, and this return constitutes salvation. The consequences of salvation are therefore felt by angels as well as men, and even by inanimate things.14681468    “Nonne Verbum assumens hominem, omnem creaturam visibilem et invisibilem accepit, et totum, quod in homine accepit salvum fecit.” De div. Nat. V. 25 (col. 913). Salvation, as far as we are concerned, consists in speculative knowledge. We unite ourselves with God by virtue of contemplation.14691469    “Commune ommium, quae facta sunt, quodam veluti interitu redire in causas, quae in Deo subsistunt; proprium vero intellectualis et raitonalis substantiae, unum cum Deo virtute contemplationis, et Deus per gratiam fieri. ” V. 21 (col. 898).

c. The return of all things to God considered according to their future completion. All things came out from God, all things go back to God. This is the law of creation. The foundation of this return is the return of man to the Logos. The steps are, 1st, deliverance from the bodily forms; 2d, resurrection and the abrogation of sex; 3d, the transformation of body into spirit; 4th, the return to the primordial causes; 5th, the recession of nature, along with these causes, into God. But this, of course, implies that God alone will exist forever, and that there can be no eternal punishment. Scotus Erigena tries in vain to escape both these logical conclusions.14701470    II. 6, 8, V. 7, 8, 3-6. Cf. Christlieb, l.c. p. 802.


His Philosophy.


Ueberweg thus states Scotus Erigena’s philosophical position and teachings:14711471    I. pp. 360, 363, 364. “The fundamental idea, and at the same time the fundamental error, in Erigena’s doctrine is the idea that the degrees of abstraction correspond with the degrees in the scale of real existence. He hypostasizes the Tabula Logica. The universals are before and also in the individual objects which exist, or rather the latter are in the former: the distinction between these (Realistic) formulae appears not yet developed in his writings .... He is throughout a Realist. He teaches, it is true, that grammar and rhetoric, as branches of dialectic or aids to it, relate only to words, not to things, and that they are therefore not properly sciences; but he co-ordinates dialectic itself with ethics, physics and theology, defining it as the doctrine of the methodical form of knowledge, and assigning to it in particular, as its work, the discussion of the most general conceptions or logical categories (predicaments); which categories he by no means regards as merely subjective forms or images, but as the names of the highest genera of all created things ....

“The most noteworthy features in his theory of the categories are his doctrine of the combination of the categories with each other, and his attempt to subsume them under the conceptions of motion and rest; as also his identification of the categories of place with definition in logic, which, he says, is the work of the understanding. The dialectical precepts which relate to the form or method of philosophising are not discussed by him in detail; the most essential thing in his regard is the use of the four forms, called by the Greeks division, definition, demonstration and analysis. Under the latter he understands the reduction of the derivative and composite to the simple, universal and fundamental; but uses the term also in the opposite to denote the unfolding of God in creation.”


His Influence and Importance.


Scotus Erigena was considered a heretic or a madman while he lived, and this fact joined to the other that his views were far in advance of his age, caused his influence to be at first much less than might have been expected. He passed into almost complete obscurity before he died, as the conflicting reports of his later years show. Yet he did wield a posthumous influence. His idea of the unity of philosophy and theology comes up in Anselm and Thomas Aquinas; his speculation concerning primordial causes in Alexander of Hales and Albertus Magnus. From him Amalrich of Bena, and David of Dinanto drew their pantheism; and various mystical sects of the Middle Ages were inspired by him. The Church, ever watchful for orthodoxy, perceived that his book, De Divisione Naturae, was doing mischief. Young persons, even in convents read it eagerly. Everywhere it attracted notice. Accordingly a council, at Sens, formally condemned it, and then the Pope (Honorius III.) ordered, by a bull of Jan. 23, 1225, the destruction of all copies that could be found, styling it “a book teeming with the worms of heretical depravity.”14721472    The full text of the bull is given by Floss, Migne, CXXII. col. 439. This order probably had the desired effect. The book passed out of notice. But in 1681 Thomas Gale issued it in Oxford. Again the Roman Church was alarmed, and Gregory XIII., by bull of April 3, 1685, put it on the Index.

Scotus Erigena was a man of rare originality and mental vigor. His writings are full of ideas and bold arguments. His strongly syllogistic mode of developing his theme was all his own, and the emphasis he put upon logic proves his superiority to his age. Unlike the scholastics, who meekly bowed to tradition, he treated it with manly independence. To his “disciple” he said: “Let no authority terrify thee.14731473    De div. Nat. I. 66 (col. 511). Hence it is erroneous to call him “the Father of Scholasticism;” rather is he the founder of Speculative Philosophy.14741474    In the line of Spinoza, Schelling, and especially Hegel. On the other band be sums up the ancient philosophy in its Christianized shape. The scholastics drew from him, but he was not a scholastic. The mystics drew from him, but he was not a mystic. As a pathfinder it was not given to him to thoroughly explore the rich country he traversed. But others eagerly pressed in along the way he opened. He is one of the most interesting figures among the mediaeval writers. He demands study and he rewards it. De Divsione Naturae is a master-piece, and, as Baur well says, “an organized system which comprehends the highest speculative ideas.”14751475    “Ein organisch gegliedertes, die höchsten speculativen Ideen umfassendes System.”L.c. II. 274.


Note on the country of birth and death of Scotus Erigena.


The statement that John was born in Ireland rests upon the interpretation of his name. Scotus is indefinite, since it was used of both Ireland and Scotland, the former country being called Scotia Major. But Erigena is most probably a corruption of JIerou’ [sc. nhvsou] gena, Hierugena, which John, with his fondness for using Greek words on all occasions, added to his original name to indicate his birth in the “holy isle,” or “isle of saints,” a common designation of Ireland. The derivation is the more probable since he himself calls Maximus Confessor Graiga-gena, to indicate the latter’s birth in Greece. By his contemporaries and in the oldest codices he is called Joannes Scotus or Scottus,14761476    So Pope Nicolas I. (Epist. cxv. in Migne, Patrol. Lat. CX [X. col. 11 19); Prudentius (De Praedestinatione contra J. Scotum, in Migne, CXV. col. 1011), and the council of Langres (859). but in the oldest MSS. of his translation of Dionysius Joanna Ierugena.14771477    Christlieb in Herzog2vol. xiii. p. 789. In course of time, owing to his scribes’ ignorance of Greek, the epithet was written Eriugena, Erygena, and finally Erigena. Another derivation of the epithet, which has less to commend it, is from jIevrnh ˆ gevna, jIevrnh being the Greek name for Ireland. But this leaves the disappearance of the first v to be accounted for. The far-fetched explanations of Erigena either from Ayr, a city on the west coast of Scotland, or Ergene in Hereford, a shire in England on the south Welsh border, and gena, may be dismissed without discussion.

The absence of authentic information to the contrary makes it probable that Scotus Erigena died in France. But there is a tradition that he was called by Alfred the Great into England and made abbot of Malmesbury, and there died a violent death at the hands of his scholars. It is inherently improbable that a conservative and loyal son of the church like Alfred, would invite to any position so eccentric, if not heretical, a man as Scotus Erigena. Charles the Bald died in 877. It is not likely that Erigena would leave France before that date, but then he was at least sixty-two, and hence rather old to change his residence. A reference to Asser’s biography of King Alfred affords a rational explanation of the tradition. Asser says that Alfred invited from Gaul a priest and monk named John, who was remarkable for energy, talent and learning, in order that the king might profit by his conversation. A few pages further on, Asser calls this John an old Saxon, and says that Alfred appointed him the first abbot of Athelney, and that he was almost murdered by hired ruffians. Mon. Hist. Brit. vol. i. [1848], pp. 489, 493, 4 Eng. trans. Six Old English Chronicles in Bohn’s “Antiquarian Library,” pp. 70, 80, 81. It needed only that the fame of John Scotus should reach England for the John of Asser’s biography to be confounded with him, and thus the story arose as it is found in Ingulph, William of Malmesbury, and Matthew Paris.



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