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The Scottish Nation
Erigena


ERIGENA, JOHN SCOTUS, a celebrated scholar and metaphysician, was born about the beginning of the ninth century. Some authors contend that he was a native of Ireland, and others of Ergene, on the borders of Wales; but the received opinion is, that his birth-place was in Ayrshire. Animated by an uncommon desire for learning, at a period when it was not to be obtained in his own country, he travelled, when very young, to Athens, where he spent some years studying the Greek, Chaldaic, and Arabic languages, and became well-versed in logic and philosophy. He was afterwards invited to the court of France by Charles the Bald, who, on account of his wisdom and learning, treated him with great familiarity, calling him his master; and encouraged him in the production of several works of scholastic divinity, which gave great offence to the church by his bold notions on the subjects of predestination and transubstantiation. A treatise on the Eucharist, which he wrote in answer to a book by Passchasius Radbertus, a Benedictine monk, who first introduced the false doctrine of transubstantiation, was two centuries later, that is, in 1059, condemned by the council of Rome to be burnt.

      Having, at the desire of the French king, translated from the Greek into Latin certain theological works attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, the supposed first Christian preacher in France, Erigena was visited with the displeasure of the Roman pontiff, Nicholas I., who, in a threatening letter to Charles, peremptorily ordered him to be sent to Rome. In preference, however, to delivering him up to papal vengeance, that enlightened monarch connived at his escape into England, where, according to Cave and Tanner, he was gladly received by Alfred the Great, who, at that time engaged in compiling a code of laws and furthering the introduction of learning into his kingdom, placed him at the head of the establishment recently founded by him at Oxford then called the “King’s Hall,” and now Brazen-nose college. Here he lectured for three years on mathematics, logic, and astronomy; but disputes arising among the gownsmen, he relinquished his professorship, and retired to the abbey of Malmesbury, where he opened a school. Tradition states that the harshness and severity of his discipline caused his scholars to stab him to death with the iron stiles or bodkins then used in writing, an event which is variously said to have occurred in the years 874, 884, and 886. It is, however, asserted, with more probability, that the jealousy of the monks, rather than the insubordination of his pupils, was the real cause of his death. Some writers are of opinion that the English historians have confounded John Scotus Erigena with another John Scot, abbot of Ethelingay, who taught at Oxford. In proof of this latter supposition, Mackenzie, in his Scottish Writers, quotes a letter from Anastasius, the librarian to Charles the Bald, written in 875, which speaks of Erigena as then dead. Dr. Henry, in his History of Great Britain, thinks it probably that he died in France. A treatise written by him with great acuteness and metaphysical subtlety, ‘De Divisione Naturae,’ was published at Oxford, in folio, by Dr. Thomas Gale, in 1681. Of this singular work, Mr. Turner, in his History of the Anglo-Saxons, gives an interesting account. Erigena is said to have been as celebrated for his wit as for his learning. A number of works are attributed to him, and he translated four of the works of Dionysius the Areopagite into Latin for the king of France.


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