John Scottus Eriugena
Translated by Mary Brennan
Treatise on Divine Predestination is one of the early writings of the author of the great philosophical work, Periphyseon (On the Division of Nature), Johannes Scottus (the Irishman), known as Eriugena (died c. 877 A.D.). It contributes to the age-old debate on the question of human destiny in the present world and in afterlife.
Eriugena’s treatise was commissioned by two senior prelates in the Frankish kingdom of Charles II, grandson of Charlemagne. The Irishman was a teacher of the Liberal Arts at the Court of Charles during the Carolingian Renaissance in the mid-ninth century. The monastic and ecclesiastical authorities of the kingdom had become troubled by the potentially harmful effects of the preaching of the monk Gottschalk on the doctrine of Predestination.
Claiming to base his conclusions on some works of St. Augustine, Gottschalk was making a case for a dual or twin (gemina) predestination, discounting the operation of Free Will. When called upon to provide a refutation, Eriugena derived his counter-arguments from an interpretation of Augustinian writings based on Logic and Dialectic. The originality of his exposition, which stressed the impropriety of regarding God within a context of Time, and which formulated a benign view of eternal damnation, caused immediate confusion for his sponsors, followed by disappointment and rejection, as well as a measure of condemnation from other senior churchmen.
The debate produced some forceful writings in the decade between 850 and 860 but Eriugena’s treatise appears to have received no further consideration in his lifetime. The work survives in a single manuscript of which editions were published in 1650 and 1853. It has been most recently edited in 1978. The present translation was made from that edition. Modern scholars are able to discern in this early work strong intimations of Eriugena’s later major writings.
“The De divina praedestinatione liber was written in 850-51 at the request of two prelates while John the Scot resided at the court of Charles II, grandson of Charlemagne. It is his earliest attested work, a refutation of the heretical teaching of Gottschalk on double predestination. Both John and Gottschalk claimed to base their interpretation on St. Augustine, and both continued to be subjects of controversy during the decade between 850 and 860.” —Theology Digest
“The book is elegantly produced and a delight to read and handle.” —The Medieval Review