Wayne Hankey

title.none: Brennan, ed. and trans., John Scottus Eriugena: Divine Predestination (Hankey)

identifier.other: baj9928.0010.002 00.10.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Wayne Hankey, Dalhousie University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Brennan, Mary, ed. and trans. John Scottus Eriugena: Treatise on Divine Predestination. Notre Dame Texts in Medieval Culture, Vol 5. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998. Pp. xxix, 134. $30.00. ISBN: 0-268-04207-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.10.02

Brennan, Mary, ed. and trans. John Scottus Eriugena: Treatise on Divine Predestination. Notre Dame Texts in Medieval Culture, Vol 5. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998. Pp. xxix, 134. $30.00. ISBN: 0-268-04207-1.

Reviewed by:

Wayne Hankey
Dalhousie University

The irony associated with Eriugena's first attested work must delight us. Abashed by the incapacity of the orthodox to defend what he regarded as true and Augustinian doctrine against the heretical teaching of double predestination by Gottschalk, Hincmar of Rheims called upon Eriugena in 850. To the chagrin of the Archbishop, the result, Eriugena's Treatise on Divine Predestination, became itself a terrible embarrassment to its sponsor. Its orthodoxy was questioned immediately on its appearance and the treatise was itself condemned in 855! That Eriugena wrote again is a testimony to the astonishing power and attractiveness of his mind and the independence of the royal court from ecclesiastical odium.

As usual, the ecclesiastical authorities were primarily interested in practical consequences and, if double predestination seemed to annihilate freewill, some of the opponents of Eriugena were worried by a defence of orthodoxy which showed that the "error of those whose thinking on predestination disagrees with that of the holy Fathers has grown out of an ignorance of the Liberal Arts." (This is Eriugena's title to Chapter 18). The subsequent history of theology in the Middle Ages proved that the alarm of the bishops at the consequences of making orthodoxy dependent on the Artes and dialectic was well founded. Nor was dependence on learning, and upon free inquiry which resisted externally imposed limits, the only, or perhaps the worst, problem with having Eriugena on your side.

Eriugena refuted Gottschalk by lengthy and abundant quotations from Augustine (as well as from Gregory the Great, Isidore, Cicero, Boethius and Alcuin). These served to manifest the degree to which Augustine could be placed on both sides of the question. The greatest of these authorities could thus seem to contradict himself. For medieval theologians from Peter Abelard and Peter Lombard onwards, the problem of contradictory authorities is merely the commonly accepted beginning point of theological work. But the ninth century was more naive, as the protest of Paschasius against the use of the same technique with respect to Augustine by Ratramnus of Corbie in the Eucharistic controversy also showed.[1]

Finally, the speculative character of Eriugena's treatise made it suspicious to the episcopal mind. Double predestination is refuted not only because it is inconsistent with the simplicity of the divine will, but also because it is inconsistent with the goodness and unity of God. This simplicity is of such a kind that predestination and God are one. Eriugena concludes: "the one eternal predestinaion [sic] of God is God" (Epilogue, para. 3, p. 130).

In fact, there is nothing any more heretical about Eriugena's Treatise on Divine Predestination than there is about his Periphyseon. Both suffered the usual fate of efforts to defend religion by thinking it all the way through. Mary Brennan's very useful Foreword (pages ix-xiv) is right that the doctrine of the treatise is Augustine's, systematized by being read through the intermediary of the severe Neoplatonic logic of The Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius. Eriugena's conclusion would not surprise anyone who had read Books 4 and 5 of the The Consolation intelligently. Boethius, as Thomas Aquinas notes, proceeds "per rationes."[2] Eriugena, having produced his argument by looking back on Augustine through Boethius, then added the quotations of Augustine which Boethius never supplies. By these abundant additions, Eriugena did not, however, succeed in bolstering his argument by the authority of one he praises as "that most acute investigator and assertor of truth" (Chapter 15:3, p. 95). His treatise did not acquire for its readers the character which Aquinas attributes to Augustine's own De Trinitate, proceeding "per auctoritates et per rationes". For those wanting an easier way, Eriugena only succeeded in making himself hateful by showing how self-defeating it is to use Augustine as a source of proof-texts.

Mary Brennan's translation is as helpful as is her too brief Foreword. The rendition into English of Madec's text from the Corpus Christianorum is careful, though there are, as noted, occasional mistakes in the proof-reading. The book is elegantly produced and a delight to read and handle. The one jarring feature is the "Introduction to the English translation by Avital Wohlman" translated by David Burrell and Edward D. English and occupying pages xv-xxix.

Wohlman repeats some of the useful introduction supplied by Brennan but adds speculations which are as confusing as they are dubious. Wohlman proposes that there are "two diametrically opposed visions of the relationship between God and man, inspired by two contrary conceptions of history." The result is "two images of time -- arrow or cycle." "Eriugena opts for the arrow" and Gottschalk for the cycle, whereas Augustine held the two of them together. In consequence, we are to believe that "the young Augustine, disciple of Plotinus" has been separated out in order to become the basis of Eriugena's rectilinear logic (p. xxvi). This seems most unlikely for very many reasons (the first of which is the proposal that Augustine derives a rectilinear "arrow" logic from Plotinus!). Robert Crouse was certainly right to maintain that: "In terms of Wohlman's images, Eriugena would claim both the circle and the arrow: the arrow of time is within the circle of eternity, and is the explication of it." [3]

It is a pity that Wohlman's tendentious imaginations will have to be warned against by everyone who puts this text into the hands of students. Should the Notre Dame Press consider a paperback edition, the "introduction" should be dropped. Happily, the text itself and Mary Brennan's Foreword show that Eriugena held to both sides of the aporia with which the Biblical idea of predestination confronted Augustine and Boethius when thought in terms of the Neoplatonic hierarchy of reality. Eriugena maintained their doubleness of mind with a firmness which equaled that of the predecessors on whose authority and reason he leaned.


[1] W.J. Hankey, "'Magis... Pro Nostra Sentencia': John Wyclif, his mediaeval Predecessors and reformed Successors, and a pseudo-Augustinian Eucharistic Decretal," Augustiniana 45 (1995), 218.

[2] Thomas Aquinas, Super Boetium de Trinitate, ed. Fratrum Praedicatorum, Opera Omnia Sancti Thomae de Aquino vol. 50, Rome/Paris 1992, prologus, 76, line 104.

[3] R.D. Crouse, "Predestination, Human Freedom and the Augustinian Theology of History in Eriugena's De Divina Praedestinatione," History and Eschatology in Eriugena and His Age, Proceedings of the 10th International Conference of SPES, August 2000, in press.