John Scottus Eriugena
  • Latin
  • Irish religious texts
A philosophical-theological work, running to five books, written by the continental Irish scholar known as John Scottus Eriugena (fl. 9th century). Presented in the form of a dialogue between teacher and student, it develops a Neoplatonic cosmology that classifies nature (natura) according to two main questions: whether or not it is created and whether or not it creates. On this basis, four types of natura are distinguished: (1) the Creator, who creates but is not created, (2) the causae primordiales or causes of Creation (which create and are created), (3) the temporal effects of Creation (which do not create), and (4) non-being, for which neither holds true. In presenting many of his cases, Eriugena draws heavily on Greek Christian sources. Already somewhat influential in Eriugena’s own life-time, the work gained special prominence among scholars and philosophers of the 12th century and onwards.
Also known as De divisione naturae (‘On the division of nature’)
John Scottus EriugenaJohn Scottus Eriugena
(fl 9th century)
Irish scholar and theologian who had been active as a teacher at the palace school of Charles the Bald.
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Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, MS H. J. IV 5
Books 1-3.
Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek, MS H. J. IV 6
Books 4-5.
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 12965
Books 1-5.
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 12964
Books 4-5.
Cambridge, Trinity College, MS O.5.20
Books 1-5.
London, British Library, MS Harley 2506
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 12960
  • Latin


Irish religious textsIrish religious texts


Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] Jeauneau, Édouard, Iohannes Scottus Eriugena: Periphyseon, 5 vols, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis, 161, 162, 163, 164, 165, Turnhout: Brepols, 1996–2003.
[ed.] [tr.] Sheldon-Williams, I. P., Édouard A. Jeauneau [eds.], and Ludwig Bieler, Johannis Scotti Eriugenae Periphyseon (De divisione naturae), 4 vols, Scriptores Latini Hiberniae, 7, 9, 11, 13, Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1968–1995.

Secondary sources (select)

Bishop, T. A. M., “Periphyseon: the descent of the uncompleted copy”, in: Dorothy Whitelock, Rosamund McKitterick, and David N. Dumville (eds), Ireland in early medieval Europe: studies in memory of Kathleen Hughes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982. 281–304.
Kenney, James F., “Chapter VI: The expansion of Irish Christianity”, in: James F. Kenney, The sources for the early history of Ireland: an introduction and guide. Volume 1: ecclesiastical, Revised ed., 11, New York: Octagon, 1966. 486–621.
[id. 396.]
Otten, Willemien, “Overshadowing or foreshadowing return: the role of demons in Eriugena’s Periphyseon”, in: N. M. Vos, and Willemien Otten (eds), Demons and the Devil in ancient and medieval Christianity, Leiden: Brill, 2011. 211–229.
Otten, Willemien, “Does the canon need converting? A meditation on Augustine’s Soliloquies, Eriugena’s Periphyseon, and the dialogue with the religious past”, in: Willemien Otten, Arjo Vanderjagt, and Hent de Vries (eds), How the West was won. Essays on literary imagination, the canon, and the Christian Middle Ages for Burcht Pranger, Leiden: Brill, 2010. 195–223.
Otten, Willemien, “Realized eschatology or philosophical idealism: the case of Eriugena’s Periphyseon”, in: J. A. Aertsen, and M. Pickavé (eds), Ende und Vollendung: eschatologische Perspektiven im Mittelalter, New York, Cologne: De Gruyter, 2001. 373–387.
Otten, Willemien, “Eriugena’s Periphyseon: a Carolingian contribution to the theological tradition”, in: Bernard McGinn, and Willemien Otten (eds), Eriugena: east and west. Papers of the Eighth International Symposium of the Society for the Promotion of Eriugenian Studies, Chicago and Notre Dame, 18–20 October, 1991, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994. 69–93.
Otten, Willemien, “Between damnation and redemption: the dynamics of human nature in Eriugena’s Periphyseon and Alan of Lille’s Anticlaudianus”, in: Haijo Jan Westra (ed.), From Athens to Chartres: neoplatonism and medieval thought. Studies in honour of Édouard Jeauneau, 35, Leiden: Brill, 1992. 329–349.
Otten, Willemien, The anthropology of Johannes Scottus Eriugena, Studies in Intellectual History, 20, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991. 242 pp.  
This book deals with Eriugena’s anthropology in the general context of his thinking on universal nature.

At the outset the role of man seems to be conditioned by nature's dynamic development through the Neoplatonic stages of procession and return. As man is located at the turning- point between procession and return, he is not only governed by nature's unfolding, but can also exercise control over it. Thus it is shown that man should be seen as much more independent than the cosmological structure of Eriugena's philosophy of nature seems to indicate.

The study of Eriugena's anthropology urges a re-evaluation of the position of man in the early medieval period. Although man characteristically possesses a sinful, created state, Eriugena shows that this does not prevent him from entertaining a free and direct relationship with God and the surrounding universe. In dealing with the problem of human sin, Eriugena brings out Christ’s saving role, but it seems counterbalanced by man’s intrinsic potential as the "divine image" to rehabilitate himself. In this respect Eriugena’s flexible method of reasoning – his handling of negative theology, theophany and allegorical exegesis – serves as a remarkable example of human independence in what has so often been portrayed as the "static" early-medieval world.
(source: Brill)
C. A., Dennis Groenewegen
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August 2014, last updated: June 2023