John Scotus Eriugena: Are You God-Seeing Like St. John the Theologian?

Feast of St. Patrick

Eriugena_Square.jpegTHE VOICE of the spiritual eagle strikes in the hearing of the church. May our outer senses grasp its transient sounds and our inner spirit penetrate its enduring meaning.

This is the voice of the bird of high flight – not of the bird who soars above the material air or over the aether, orbiting the entire sensible world – but the voice of that spiritual bird who, on swiftest wings of innermost theology and intuitions of most brilliant and high contemplation, transcends all vision and flies beyond all things that are and are not.

By the things that are, I mean the things that do not wholly escape perception, either angelic or human, since they come after God and because of their numbers do not transcend what has been fashioned by the single cause of all. And by the things that truly are not, I mean those that actually surpass the powers of all understanding.

The blessed theologian John therefore flies beyond not only what may be thought and spoken, but also beyond all mind and meaning. Exalted by the ineffable flight of his spirit beyond all things, he enters into the very Arcanum of the one principle of all. There he clearly distinguished the superessential unity and the supersubstantial difference of the beginning and the Word – that is, of the Father and the Son – both incomprehensible, and begins his Gospel saying: “In the beginning was the Word."


The spiritual bird therefore, fast-flying, God-seeing – I mean John, the theologian – ascends beyond all visible and invisible creation, passes through all thought and intellect, and, deified, enters into God who deifies him.

O Blessed Paul, you were caught up, as you yourself assert, into the third heaven, to paradise; but you were not caught up beyond every heaven and every paradise. John, however, went beyond every heaven formed and paradise created, beyond every human and angelic nature.

In the third heaven, O vessel of election and teacher of the gentiles, you heard words not lawful for a human being to utter. But John, the observer of the inmost truth, in paradise of paradises, in the very cause of all, heard the one Word through which all things are made.

It was permitted to him to speak this Word, and to proclaim it, as far as it may be proclaimed, to human beings. Therefore most confidently he cried out, “In the beginning was the Word.”

John, therefore, was not a human being but more than a human being when he flew above himself and all things that are. Transported by the ineffable power of wisdom and by purest keenness of mind, he entered that which is beyond all things: namely, the secret of the single essence in three substances and the three substances in the single essence.

He would not have been able to ascend into God if he had not first become God. For, as the gaze of our eyes cannot feel the forms and colors of sensible things unless it is first mixed and united with the sun’s rays, so the souls of saints cannot receive the pure knowledge of spiritual things transcending all intelligence, unless they have first been made worthy of participation in the incomprehensible truth.

Thus the holy theologian, transmuted into God, and participating in the truth, proclaims that God, the Word, subsists in God, the beginning: that is, that God, the Son, subsists in God, the Father. “In the beginning,” he says, “was the Word.”

Behold heaven opened and the mystery of the highest and holiest Trinity revealed! Observe the divine angel ascend above the Son of Man, proclaiming him to be the Word existing in the beginning before all things. Observe him descend upon the same Son of Man and cry, “And the Word was made flesh.”

The angel descends when the Gospel speaks of the Word made human supernaturally among all things from the Virgin. The angel ascends when the Gospel proclaims this same Word born superessentially from the Father before and beyond all things.

~John Scottus Eriugena, Homily on the Prologue to the Gospel of St. John

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  • Robin Robinson
    commented 2018-11-29 16:26:53 -0600
    Wonderful article relating to one of the greatest Philosopher/Theologians!