IS NOTHING SACRED?

 

   

    My recent attempt to highlight the contribution of John Scotus Eriúgena to the concept of “God,” entitled With Irish Eyes, wasn’t just a love-note to my Hibernian friends. It was intended as another installment in the ongoing struggle to rectify a major defect in Western thought and culture:  We have lost the capacity to see ourselves and our world as sacred.  And the root of that blindness, in my opinion, is not the absence of “God,” but rather precisely the opposite: the fallacious idea of “God” offered by the Christian religion in the traditional form in which we have inherited it.  This is a serious and complex charge.  

    Allow me to present my case. 

   

     I begin with a story.  On a warm May morning in 1889 on a cobble-stoned plaza of Turin, Italy, a vegetable vendor in a state of blind fury at his fallen horse was futilely venting his rage by beating the exhausted animal to death.  Suddenly someone, apparently as out of control as the whipper, lept from the sidelines and fell on the horse in an act of protective embrace.  The appalled onlookers were convinced both men were mad, the first in a way they could understand, the second they could not. 

     The authorities who responded to the melee blamed the disturbance that ensued on the second man’s insane behavior.  It turned out that the “madman” was Friedrich Nietzsche.  He had been living in Turin as a near recluse; his family and friends were aware that he was showing increasing signs of disorientation.  His letters in the immediate aftermath of the incident were so bizarre that they were sure he had a complete mental breakdown.  They came to Italy, gathered him up and brought him to Basel.  He spent the rest of his life … eleven years … in and out of treatment, such as it was, in a state of mental incapacity under the watchful eye of his family.  He died in 1900.

 

    Nietzsche’s “madness” has been uncharitably and most judgmentally interpreted by some Christians as the just payment for a lifetime of attacking the “God” of his father, a christian minister from a small Prussian town.  His offense, in their eyes, was not merely atheism.  It was the passion and the personal venom that he brought to what most believed went well beyond being a philosophical or religious “issue” and had become a campaign to overthrow the Christian religion.  Nietzsche didn’t simply disbelieve; he was on a crusade to exterminate “God.”  “This is what happens,” say his critics, “when you lose respect for what’s sacred.”

 

    But in a moment of quiet reflection someone might be prompted to ask: did the events of that spring morning make you think this was the act of a man for whom nothing was sacred?  Didn’t he seem rather to be someone whose sense of sacredness went far beyond what others could identify as reasonable, or even rational?  Could it be, perhaps, that Nietzsche had come to  believe that everything was sacred, and that he lived in a world where that was insane? 

 

 

    “When God is Gone, Everything is Holy.”  This is the title of a new book by Chet Raymo, science columnist for the Boston Globe and the author of a dozen books, some novels, … all on science and a sense of the sacred.  Raymo considers himself an ex-Catholic, “atheist,” but a man so transfixed by the awesome beauty and creativity of the natural world, that he has no problem calling it “holy.”  I don’t want to get sidetracked into a debate on the quality of the essays in this particular book or the validity of his “position.”  But I consider the title inspired.  I believe it contains a key to an understanding of our world, the Sacred, and the crippled and crippling religions that have traditionally been the vehicle for the Sacred for us.  I want to propose the title as something of a challenge.  I want to explore Raymo’s exquisite paradox. 

    I’ll start with the videtur … the antithesis: One would have thought it would be true that “when ‘God’ is around, everything is holy.”

                                               

    “Everything.”  This seems obvious enough.  “Everything” should mean every thing, right?  Well, here’s part of the problem.  In our tradition, the holy is not everything.  We have inherited some very definite notions of the degree of “holiness” that we attach to different things in our world.  In general, we consider human beings sacred and everything else not sacred.  And the reason for that distinction has to do with another inherited belief of ours: that human beings (and only human beings) have immortal souls.  Our essence is spirit, a reality of a different order altogether from everything else, which is “only” matter.  Unfortunately our bodies are also made of matter, and so we tend to treat them as less than “holy.”

 

    The strict limitation of “spirit” to what is human functions in practice to dissuade us from seeing other forms of reality as sacred.  In the traditional view, matter is considered flat, one-dimensional, dead, inert ― and profane.  Vitality resides in spirit alone.  If we are holy because we are spirit … and nothing else has spirit, then nothing else is holy.  Belief in the human spirit has been used to justify the de facto domination of the human species over everything else by calling it dominion.  We have been taught that spirit gives us ownership over the entire universe … with the right to do with it whatever we want. 

    Where did that come from?

 

    “Spirit,” in the traditional view, is not only holy because it is a superior order of being, but because it supposedly makes us like “God” who is “Spirit.”  It’s something no other creature can claim.  And because we are like “God,” we are immortal.  Our bodies appear to live and die just like the mere animals we see dying around us, but despite the obvious similarities we claim we are “spirits” and we will live forever; they won’t. 

 

    Humans alone are “holy.”  But even within the human family, we make sharp distinctions … between which belief-systems (meaning ideas of “God’) are “holy,” and which are not.  And then, based on the identity of people once associated with primitive culture, considered the most unholy of all, we maintain a racial and ethnic prejudice against them.  The unholiness spreads.  Our feelings run so deep on the question of religion, that “what is holy” has been the perennial justification if not the cause of the endless avalanche of slaughter that we heap on one another.  It almost defines us as a species.

 

    “God.”  Please note: all these distinctions are associated with “God.”  When “God” is around, these distinctions are functioning.  By “around,” of course, I don’t mean the presence of God, I mean the active application of the traditional idea of “God.”  When christians think about the “God” they were taught to believe in, all sorts of things become “unholy.”

 

    Some may claim these are street-level popular distortions, they do not represent the more precise formulations of the authorities who are responsible for correct “doctrine.”  I beg to differ.  For example: the spirit / matter division and its association with the sacred / profane split is proclaimed as “core doctrine” by the authorities.  Catholics call it de fide definita and can point to papal and concilar pronouncements that make it “infallible.” 

    Another example:  The Roman church proclaims itself the “only true church,” thus making a further distinction within the category of christians.  All other christians  are in “gross error,” not a very holy label.   These are the words of as august a source as the Second Vatican Council. 

 

    As we get deeper into those circles where “God” is “around,” we are finding that fewer and fewer things are “holy.”

 

    Many christian churches, the Roman church prominent among them, promote a moral code they claim is the will of “God” … and therefore commanded for everyone to obey, even non-Romans.  On the basis of these beliefs, these churches have no qualms about  stridently condemning behavior that many responsible and mature adults consider moral ― behavior that is protected by law.  Hence new divisions are made among us separating out those whose behavior is deemed “evil” by certain “religious authorities.”  The holy, under the watchful eye of these authorities, becomes more and more restricted.  In one case, in the Roman Church, one particular activity which the authorities insist is “intrinsically evil” is flouted, polls show, by 75% of its own members.  That makes a lot of people “unholy.”  But christian churches generally also teach that all people are “sinners,” born in sin because of the Original Sin of Adam, and incapable of not sinning.  So to say the belief that “everything is holy” is promoted by “the authorities,” is simply not true.  In fact, one might be tempted to say that when the idea of “God” is permanently around, as it is in the minds of religious authorities, almost nothing is holy.

             

    “Sometimes the idea of God that is formed is so fallacious, that it’s rejection can hardly be considered atheism.”  I’m sure you’ve heard that statement.  So before you damn me as a Nietzschean “Zarathusthra,” proclaiming the death of “God,” let me make it clear that I have been talking exclusively about the idea of “God” that we have received from our traditional christian sources.  I claim that idea is false.  This, after all, may have been the intent of Nietzsche’s poetry, to exterminate that idea of “God.”  I insist you understand that I am attacking that idea, the people and institutions that promote that idea, and the reasons they use to justify that idea.  Please realize: our idea of “God” is not God, our religious institutions and communities are not God, and our religious authorities are not God.  

 

    I would go even further than the above statement of Vatican II and say that sometimes the fallacious word and concept “God” have dominated the psychic landscape for so long, have been promulgated with such awesome authority and imposed with such implacable severity that for some people no amount of “correction” can liberate the term from the chains that bind it to its crippling imagery.  In such cases the people so affec­ted must reject the term, for the term and its idea totally obliterates the holy. They have no choice.  If they don’t, the Sacred itself will be lost to them, and with it their humanity.  We are not playing games here.  This cannot be allowed to happen.

 

    Gone.  So to say “God” is “gone” for me means to be rid of the suffocating imagery, the “fallacious idea” that stands in the way of our appreciation of the Sacred.  I think of it as shutting down the boom-box that’s drowning out the faint background hum of our cosmic origins.  Or it’s like turning off glaring floodlights to let our night-vision return, and our other senses, like touch, come alive again, so we can regain the ability to grope in the darkness.  For what we’re after, say the mystics, lives in a cloud of unknowing.

 

    There’s a reason why our great teachers warned us again and again that ultimately everything we said about “God” had to be denied, negated.  We know nothing, nothing.  If there is wisdom in this Sacred universe, its ultimate depths are so beyond our ken that we have to say it’s not wisdom.  If there is something to which we are tempted to apply the word “person,” it is not a person as we know it and may even be closer to what we call impersonal.  And even that, in turn, must be denied.  If it is existence, we must be aware that it is not only no-thing, but more aptly described as “Nothing,” “not there” as we are there. 

 

    According to our teachers, like Eriúgena, there is no word we can use that won’t trap us in fallacy.  So he says it’s ineffable, unspeakable, unknowable.  He calls it non-being, Nothing, and it’s out of this Nothing that we have come.  This Nothing, then, becomes Something like me and you; and it’s only that sacred Something that we can see, know, and speaks “God.”  Nothing else. There is nothing “there” but this Nothing-become-Some­thing … our sacred universe … us ….

 

     This stands in stark contrast with the imagery of “God” that we have been fed by our religions.  “God,” they say, is a separate person-entity, who just like us, sees, thinks, has preferences, gives orders, can be angered, pleased, insulted, enraged, relates to us humans collectively and individually.  And so we pray.  He wants us to behave in specified ways, otherwise he will punish us, either here or hereafter.  And so we pray.  For his part, we are taught, he makes certain things happen and other things to not happen in accord with his will.  This “God,” in spite of being “spirit,” can and does act in our material world; he is all powerful, can do anything at all, and because of his oversight and power we can assume that if anything occurs, no matter what it is, “God” had to have willed it.  And so we pray.  This “belief,” which is so hard to believe, so contrary to our everyday experience and the Goodness of “God,” inevitablly entails the following, all too  commonplace phenomenon:

 

    “Atheism not rarely results from a violent protest against evil in this world.”  Another brilliant insight from Vatican II.  Permit me to borrow a word from the kids: “duh”!  What do you expect?  You set “God” up with the unbelievable idea of a naïve micro-managed “divine providence” referred to in the paragraph above.  This “God” that the ancient biblical authors imagined acts physically in our world and in our history does not exist.  The real God does nothing.  Please look around you, and open your eyes.  Stop expecting “God” to be like you, and look at what She actually does. 

    Some may ask, well, if the world runs by itself, why do we need a “God” at all? 

     “God” is our existence.  It’s what we are.  We would not be here without it.  Eriú­gena’s way of saying it is that “God’s” Love has become this material universe.  That’s what we are.  And that’s why “God’s” activity is limited to the matter he has chosen to assume, for without those limits there would be no theo­phany and “God” would not “be” … and neither would we.  Creation is “God” externalized for viewing.  God shares her being with us, that’s what she does … that’s ALL she does … and that’s what the universe is, and what we are, and why it is all sacred.

 

    With Eriúgena’s vision, Raymo’s thesis stands.  When the fallacious idea of “God” we inherited from our fundamentalist tradition is “gone,” everything ― meaning every thing, including the very dust under our feet ― is sacred.  There are diamonds on the soles of your shoes.  “When God is gone, everything is holy.”  And the material world is sacred because the “Nothing” that lies at the heart of matter turned itself inside out, as it were, for us, transforming itself from Nothing into Something … and that Something, the existential energy of formless matter, developed into us.  That energy still drives us.  There’s a reason why our “flesh” is hopelessly focused on love.  “God” is like a Great Mother.  We are formed from the cells of her body; we are built of her blood and bones.  We breathe and are breathed with the breath of her mouth.  

     Our flesh is the breath of “God.”

 

 

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WITH IRISH EYES: THE UNIVERSE AS THEOPHANY

 

    During the millennium that followed the Roman theocracy’s divinization of the Christian Church, the same dualism that separated reality into matter and spirit, sowing the seeds of a schizoid denigration of the flesh, also, ironically, created a deeply mystical sense of the intimate presence of an immanent “God.”  These distinctly antithetical currents dominated the Western cultural mindset relatively unchallenged until the 14th century. 

  

    It was belief in the existence of a world of spirits, that set matter off in a state of metaphysical inferiority, opening the door to prejudicial divisions that, while they were repeatedly rejected as philosophically erroneous, exercised a mesmerizing effect on the imagination.  Matter was as close to an “evil thing” as you could get.  Hence “flesh” was taken as the source of all our problems.  For Christian Platonists like Origen of Alexandria, the disrespect for the body and its functions, as if it were a separate depraved entity conspiring against the detached purity of a captive spirit, ruled all programs of personal formation. 

 

    Aristotle had clearly denounced any conceptualization that imagined matter and form as other than principles of being, … and declared them non-existent apart from their co-presence in the concrete individual.  “Form” for him was not, as it was for Plato, a separate “idea-entity” independently existing in the Mind of God.  But Aristotle’s corrections were ignored.  The West clung to the Platonic Paradigm and with it the notion of a “World of Ideas” which translated to the “Mind of God.”  This fed a deep mystical pool that stood in the center of the Western landscape.  It opened a third eye that saw all things as the reflected images of divine perfection.  A little stillness, it said, and we could actually hear the echoes of the Divine Voice that called us forth.  This world might be a shadow world, but what it shadowed was nothing less than God Himself. 

           

    Furthermore, the Master Mind that thought it all, also held it all in the one pure passionate embrace of His own existence.  From this vision came the sense of a divine presence, more interior to things than they to themselves, providing them everything: what, that, how, and why they were.  It made the world a sacred place, the residence of a Lover-God who used this universe to put Him/Herself on shameless display for all to see, desire and pursue.  It was a world teeming with living wonders and gardens of endless delight.  The universe was a “theophany,” a “God-Show,” a heaven on earth.

 

    These two contrary, if not contradictory streams, which drew their courses from the same spring, shared a tenuous co-existence.  For a thousand years the toxic potential of their incompatibility was blithely overlooked because of the uncanny balance provided by this two-edged sword.  We forgot that one part of this vision could tear your flesh and spirit asunder and leave you immobilized with self-loathing … because the other would play the gentlest of summer breezes on your cheek: God’s tender sigh of intimate love. 

   In any case, the Platonic vision explained it all.

 

John Scotus Eriúgena

 

          It was in this context that John Scotus Eriúgena worked, read, prayed and wrote in the ninth century.

   He was Irish.  That’s what Eriúgena means. Erse. Sometimes it’s written “Erigena.”  It’s used in combination with Scot, or Scottus which signified the very same thing, referring to all who lived beyond Hadrian’s wall, and on whatever islands that faced into the wind in the frigid seas of the North.

    John knew Greek.  He translated Pseudo-Dionysius and had read the Cappadocian Fathers; their doctrines were central to his thought.  How he came to be one of the few men in all of Europe who could read Greek was a well kept secret of the Irish monasteries that preserved learning like a polished stone hidden in the darkness of the times.  These were not easy days for bookish endeavors.  The Great Heathen Army of Danes, Vikings and other uninvited guests from less hospitable regions spent the better part of the century plundering their way into the warm hearths of the Carolingian household. 

    It was this well-known erudition, nurtured for so long in these monasteries just then becoming the targets of Viking incursions, that brought John in 845 from his scholar’s cell in Ireland to the court of Charles the Bald, the grandson of Charlemagne and the very heir of Caesar himself.  Charles was shakily enthroned in the land of the Franks, eternally defending his “holy empire” against the invading hordes.  He was not always successful.  Paris itself was burned by Norse raiders in 856, eleven years after Eriúgena responded to the call of the king to promote education in the semi-barbaric European main­land. 

    John was one of the many educated monks drawn from Ireland in the centuries after the Roman collapse and sent to spread learning in the monastery schools like Laon and Compiègne in France (where John may have lived), and then eastward to Reichenau and Fulda in what was later to become Germany.  Education in Western Europe was dependent on the steady flow of scholars from Ireland.[1]  But he was not just one more teacher-monk.  Because of his direct contact with Greek sources, the sweep of his theological vision and the audacity he employed in saying what he saw, he became what many consider the greatest thinker in the West between Augustine and Aquinas.[2]

 

His doctrines

    His doctrine was unique and often stands in stark contrast to elements of the Augustinian synthesis, which dominated Western theology from the 5th century until displaced by Aristotelian scholasticism in the 13th. 

 

    In an early work on the Eucharist, now lost, Eriúgena defended his belief in the symbolic presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  We consume Christ, he said mente non dente … a position not yet considered heretical.[3]  He agreed with Augustine in this regard.  Commentators remark that for Augustine as for all the Fathers, the literal presence of Christ was not an issue … because it was not the point.

 

    Then in 851, Eriúgena became embroiled in a controversy over Augustine’s doctrine of predestination with a Saxon monk named Gottschalk.  Gottschalk interpreted Augus­tine (many feel, correctly) to say that there was a double predestination.  Since, according to Augustine, no one can be saved without God’s grace (and it is the grace that actually achieves salvation), it followed that those who were not saved must have been denied sufficient grace and were, in effect, predestined to be damned.  God willed some to heaven and some to hell.

 

    In his counter argument, presented in the tract, On Predestination, Eriúgena said that God’s Simplicity and unmitigated Goodness prevents Him from even knowing evil, much less permitting (willing) that a human being should ever commit evil, which is the implication of double predestination.  God’s will, said Eriúgena, is simply that all should be saved. More­over, there is no such place as “hell,” God could not will or create any such thing.  Hell is simply the anguish felt at being separated from God ― a self-imposed exile.  (Later, in the Periphyseon he will spiritualize “paradise” as well, denying that it is a place and offer instead that it is a symbol of the potential happiness of the human being enfolded in the love of God. Thus paradise, like hell, is a perception, a state pf mind.)  Extraordinary for a mediaeval Christian?  Indeed.  Eriúgena was reprimanded by a synod held at Valence in 855.  His work was dismissed by the gathered clerics as pultes scotorum, “Irish Porridge.”

 

    But it was in his greatest work, written in the 860’s which he called Periphyseon and later titled On the Division of Nature, that he was to display his metaphoric vision of a universe that radiated the presence and Goodness of God.  His innovations in thought and expression were predictably more than the Western Roman mindset could absorb, and the Periphyseon, in turn, was condemned repeatedly after his death, first in the eleventh century and then in the 13th and again in the 16th. 

 

    The key to his presentation is a fourfold division of “Nature” into (1) nature that is uncreated and creates, (2) nature that is created and creates, (3) nature that is created and does not create and (4) nature that is uncreated and does not create.  Thus begins a long dialogue between master and student.  This “Irish riddle” is soon explained: the first is God the creator, the second, the primordial causes (Plato’s “subsistent forms” in the Mind of God.  Among these some commentators, like Moran, include “formless matter.”), the third is our finite universe of created things, and the fourth is God as the goal of the great return of all things to their source.

 

    The first indication of the grand synthesis this work portends is the all-encompassing scope of the word “Nature” in which God is obviously included.  So, right from the very start, the “divisions” are declared to be merely separate ways of looking and speaking about one and the same thing, Nature.  Then we are quickly introduced to the concept that will function throughout the work like a leitmotif, used to explain the relationship of Creator and creature: theophany

 

    Theophany means, as we’ve suggested, a “God-display.”  For Eriúgena, in creation God “comes-to-be” (fieri), because the visible things of this world give visible form to the One-Who-Has-No-Form … just as a “formless” human intellect can be said not “to be” anything until it actually is “informed” by the things it knows, similarly, says Eriúgena, the divine nature is rightly said to be created (creari) as it creates the things that subsist only from It and through It and in It and for It. (I, 454C)  The divine nature, in making itself manifest, makes itself “to be” “God” for us.

An element of background for this imagery is the neo-Platonic tradition of referring to God as “non-being,” nothing, meaning superessential, indefinable by any distinction of forms, unknowable and therefore not “being,” (being and intelligibility being equated.) From that angle, calling God nothing means “more than being.” It is out of this nothing, then, that God creates. For Eriúgena, ex nihilo means that the universe is not only made by God (a Deo) but from God (ex Deo), it is “God-stuff,” following the Eastern Fathers, Gregory of Nyssa and Basil of Caesarea. Creation then is the finite display of the divine nature which otherwise would have remained inaccessible in the absolute darkness of its infinity, it’s nothingness. Creation is God making Himself something that can be known both by us and by Him.

    It’s especially in Book III, where Eriúgena is trying to elucidate his vision of the intrinsic make-up of the created universe that “theophany” is given its unexpected depths and awesome scope: 

 

“For whatever, in things, is truly understood to subsist, is nothing other than the Ineffable Nature of Divine Goodness. … It alone truly and properly has being in everything, and nothing except itself truly and properly has being … we should not therefore understand God and creation as two different things, but as one and the same.  For creation subsists in God and God is created in creation in a remarkable and ineffable way, manifesting Himself, and though invisible, making Himself visible, and though incomprehensible, making Himself comprehensible, and though unknown, making Himself known, though lacking in form and species, endowing Himself with form and species, though superessential, making Himself essential, though supernatural, making Himself natural, though simple making Himself compound, … though infinite, making Himself finite, … though above time, making Himself temporal, though above place, making Himself local, though creating everything, making Himself created in everything. 

       The Maker of all, is made in all and, though motionless, moves into everything and becomes all things in all things.  [Creation is] the ineffable condescension of the Highest Good … to things with being in order that they may have being, or rather that It Itself may be in everything from the highest down, always eternal, always made by Itself in Itself, … and while eternal, It does not cease to be made, and though made, It does not cease to be eternal and makes Itself from Itself.  It has no need of other matter besides Itself, in which it makes Itself.  Otherwise It would seem impotent and imperfect in Itself if It received from another source any assistance toward Its appearance and perfection. 

       From Himself, then, God receives the occasions for His theophanies i.e., His divine appearances since “all things are from Him, through Him, in Him and directed toward Him.”  Hence matter itself, from which, as we read, he made the world, is from Him and in Him and He is in it insofar as it is understood to have being. …[4]

 

… Formless matter, says Eriúgena, approximates the formlessness of divine wisdom which looks to no standard above itself for its formation and which is the infinite exemplar of all other forms.[5]

 

    In this same section of Book III, following on his theme that God makes Himself “to be,” i.e., “creates” Himself in created theophanies and thus “makes” Himself manifest, knowable, Eriúgena dares to claim that this is not just for our benefit:

 

the Divine Nature … allows Itself to appear in its theophanies, willing to emerge from the most hidden recesses of its nature in which it is unknown even to Itself, that is, knows Itself in nothing because It is infinite and supernatural and superessential and beyond everything that can and cannot be understood, but by descending into the principles of things, and, as it were, creating Itself, It begins to know Itself in something. (III 689B)[6]

 

    Eriúgena’s fourth “division” of Nature, namely nature that is “uncreated and does not create” refers to God as the attractive pole of all change, motion and becoming ― what Teilhard would call Omega.  It is the process of theophany in its return to its Source, the irresistible Divine Nature, object of all longing and all process in the Universe.  This return is classic neo-Platonic doctrine.  It insists that the process in which all things “become divinized” in the Return, the reditus, is entirely natural.  It is the inevitable process of Universal Nature itself.  The redemption does not create the Return, it simply enhances it, drawing it into the loving relations of the Word in the Trinity within which creation originally proceeded.

 

    ExtraordinaryEriúgena himself was aware of the resistance his ideas would meet, and the very end of the Periphyseon reflects his foreboding.

 

    Recent commentary sees Eriúgena as the forerunner of later 18th and 19th century Idealism.[7]  His notions of defining God as non-being went further than the usual neo-Platonic terminology for superessentialism and explored the role of negation in the processes of creation and theophany.  These bear premonitions of later existentialism.  Observers have also drawn attention to the similarity of Eriúgena with the 14th century neo-Platonist Meister Eckhart.  In both men, the concept of nothingness plays an important role in explaining our relationship to an unknowable God.

 

The eye of the eagle

 

    Eriúgena looks at the world with new eyes.  In his homily on the prologue of John’s Gospel, he will draw attention to the eyes of the eagle that gave the evangelist such a panoramic view of the Light that overcomes our darkness. 

 

What sort of light, John asks, is possible for us in this life where we are born but to die, grow but to decay, congeal but to be dissolved again, falling from the restfulness of silent nature into the restlessness of bustling misery?  Tell me please, what kind of spiritual and true light is there for those people born into a transitory and false life?  Is not precisely this world a fit dwelling for those alienated from true Light?  Is it not justly called the region of the shadow of death, the valley of tears, the abyss of ignorance, the earthly habitation that weighs down the human soul and expels the true beholding of the Light from the inner eyes? 

 

Mixing metaphors, this Light for John is the Word, and the Word is this world … spoken into existence along with the loving utterance of the Word by the Father:

 

… in the created universe as a whole, the Word is the true Light that subsists now and always has, because it never ceases to subsist in all things.

       For just as in the case of one who speaks, when he stops speaking, his voice ceases and disappears, so also with the heavenly Father, should He stop speaking his Word, the effect of his Word ― the created universe ― would cease to subsist.  For the continuous maintenance by subsistence ― the very continuance ― of the created universe is the speech of God the Father, the eternal and unchangeable generation of his Word.[8]


[1] Dermot Moran, The Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena, Cambridge: Cambridge U. Pr, p.2

[2] Deirdre Carabine, John Scottus Eriugena, NY: Oxford U. Press, 2000, p.13

[3] Moran, p.24

[4] Johannes Scotus Eriúgena, Periphyseon, tr, Uhlfelder, Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1974, III [17] pp.196-198

[5] Joannis Scoti Erigenae, De Divisione Naturae, Oxford: Sheldon, 1681, reprinted Frankfurt Am Main: Minerva, 1964 (III,XIX) p.127, translation mine.

[6] Carabine,  p.36

[7] Moran, passim

[8] Christopher Bamford The Voice of the Eagle, Great Barrington: Lindisfarne Books, 1990, pp 100-102