[4.1.2] Eriugena’s Cosmology

Irish monk and philosopher John Scottus Eriugena (800? – 877? AD) in its masterpiece Periphyseon (On the Division of Nature) elaborates an original Christian and Neoplatonic (see also [2.4.2][3.2.1][3.3.2][3.4][3.7.3]) cosmology, where

  • “Nature” includes God and the creations, the totality of things that are and are not.
  • God expresses Himself in creation, and creation culminates in the return to the divine.
  • Being and non-being is defined as a set of dialectic modalities, so a thing “may be said to be under one mode and not to be under another.”

A draft of Eriugena’s cosmological model is presented in the following OntoUML diagram:

Eriugena on nature
ModeOfBeingEriugena defines “five ways of interpreting” (quinque modi interpretationis) the mode of being, the way in which things may be said to be or not to be.
“One of the striking features of this complex—and certainly, in this form, original—account is that being and non-being are treated as correlative categories: something may be said to be under one mode and not to be under another. Attribution of being is subject to the dialectic of affirmation and negation.”
charaterizes Thing
1stModeOfBeing“According to the first mode, things accessible to the senses and the intellect are said to be, whereas anything which, ‘through the excellence of its nature’ (per excellentiam suae naturae), transcends our faculties are said not to be.” descendant of ModeOfBeing
2ndModeOfBeing“The second mode of being and non-being is seen in the ‘orders and differences of created natures’, whereby, if one level of nature is said to be, those orders above or below it, are said not to be:
For an affirmation concerning the lower (order) is a negation concerning the higher, and so too a negation concerning the lower (order) is an affirmation concerning the higher. (Periphyseon, I.444a) According to this mode, the affirmation of man is the negation of angel and vice versa (affirmatio enim hominis negatio est angeli, negatio vero hominis affirmatio est angeli, I.444b). This mode illustrates Eriugena’s original way of dissolving the traditional Neoplatonic hierarchy of being into a dialectic of affirmation and negation: to assert one level is to deny the others. In other words, a particular level may be affirmed to be real by those on a lower or on the same level, but the one above it is thought not to be real in the same way. If humans are thought to exist in a certain way, then angels do not exist in that way.”
descendant of ModeOfBeing
3rdModeOfBeing“The third mode (I.444c–445b) contrasts the being of actual things with the ‘non-being’ of potential or possible things still contained, in Eriugena’s memorable phrase, ‘in the most secret folds of nature’ (in secretissimis naturae sinibus). This mode contrasts things which have come into effect with those things which are still contained in their causes. According to this mode, actual things, which are the effects of the causes, have being, whereas those things which are still virtual in the Primary Causes (e.g., the souls of those as yet unborn) are said not to be.”descendant of ModeOfBeing
4thModeOfBeing“The fourth mode (I.445b–c) offers a roughly Platonic criterion for being: those things contemplated by the intellect alone (ea solummodo quae solo comprehenduntur intellectu) may be considered to be, whereas things caught up in generation and corruption, viz. matter, place and time, do not truly exist. The assumption is that things graspable by intellect alone belong to a realm above the material, corporeal world and hence are timeless.”descendant of ModeOfBeing
5thModeOfBeing“The fifth mode offered by Eriugena is essentially theological and applies solely to humans: those sanctified by grace are said to be, whereas sinners who have renounced the divine image are said not to be.”descendant of ModeOfBeing; characterizes Human
ThingEriugena claims, that “nature” (natura), is “the general term for all things that are and all things that are not”, including both God and creation.
Species“Echoing similar divisions in Augustine (De civitate Dei Bk. V. 9, PL 41: 151) and Marius Victorinus (Ad Candidum), nature’s four ‘divisions’ or ‘species’ are: that which creates and is not created (i.e., God); that which creates and is created (i.e., Primary Causes or Ideas); that which is created and does not create (i.e., Temporal Effects, created things); that which is neither created nor creates (i.e., non-being, nothingness).”characterizes Thing
GodPeriphyseon Book One examines the first division, God understood as a transcendent One above, and yet cause of, all creation. God transcends everything; He is, following Pseudo-Dionysius, the “negation of all things” (negatio omnium, III.686d). According to Eriugena—who in this respect is following a tradition which includes Augustine and Boethius as well as Dionysius and other Greek authors—the Aristotelian categories are considered to describe only the created world and do not properly apply to God (I.463d). God cannot “literally” (proprie) be said to be substance or essence (ousia, essentia), nor can He be described in terms of quantity, quality, relation, place or time. He is “superessentialis” (I.459d), a term which, for Eriugena, belongs more to negative theology than to affirmative. His “being” is “beyond being”. Eriugena particularly admires a Dionysian saying from the Celestial Hierarchy (CH iv 1; PG 3: 177d1–2): to gar einai panton estin he hyper to einai theotes (“for the being of all things is the Divinity above being”, III.686d) which he translates as esse omnium est superesse divinitatis, (“the being of all things is the super-being of divinity”, III.686d, I.443b; see also I.516c; III.644b, V.903c). This is perhaps Eriugena’s favorite phrase from Dionysius. (Indeed, Maximus Confessor had also commented on it in I Ambigua xiii, PG 91: 1225d, a passage well known to Eriugena who translated the Ambigua.) Sometimes, instead of invoking the Dionysian formula superesse divinitatis, Eriugena speaks of the “divine superessentiality” (divina superessentialitas, III.634b), or—quoting Divine Names I 1–2 (PG 3: 588b–cb)—of the “superessential and hidden divinity” (superessentialis et occulta divinitas, I.510b).
God is a “nothingness” (nihilum) whose real essence is unknown to all created beings, including the angels (447c). Indeed, Eriugena argues in a radical manner, following Maximus Confessor, that God’s nature is infinite and uncircumscribable, such that He is unknown even to Himself, since He is the “infinity of infinities” and beyond all comprehension and circumscription. In the Periphyseon, Eriugena repeats the position of the De Praedestinatione that God does not know evil, and, in a genuine sense, God may be said not to know anything; his ignorance is the highest wisdom.”
According to the First Mode of Being “God, because of his transcendence is said not to be. He is ‘nothingness through excellence’ (nihil per excellentiam).”
creates PrimaryCause; returns to God; subkind of Thing
Creates NotCreatedCreates and not createdcharacterizes God; descendant of Species
neitherCreated norCreatesNeither created nor createscharacterizes God; descendant of Species
PrimaryCauseThe main focus of the Second Book of the Periphyseon is an analysis of what Eriugena terms “the Primary Causes” (causae primordiales) which are the patterns of all things located in the mind of God and function as the timeless and unchanging causes of all created things. This doctrine represents an eclectic combination of various earlier doctrines, including the Platonic theory of Forms or ideai, Dionysius’ discussion of the divine names, and Augustine’s revival of the Stoic notion of eternal reasons (rationes aeternae).
God’s mind, understood as the logos or verbum, contains in one undivided Form all the reasons for every individual thing. These reasons (rationeslogoi) are productive of the things of which they are the reasons. Their number is infinite and none has priority over the other, e.g., Being is not prior to Goodness, or vice-versa. Each is a divine theophany, a way in which the divine nature is manifested. The very nature of these Causes is to flow out from themselves, bringing about their Effects. This “outflowing” (πρόοδοςproodosprocessioexitus) creates the whole universe from the highest genus to the lowest species and “individuals” (atoma). In his understanding of this causal procession, Eriugena accepts Neoplatonic principles: like produces like; incorporeal causes produce incorporeal effects; an eternal cause produces an eternal effect. Since the causes are immaterial, intellectual and eternal, so their created effects are essentially incorporeal, immaterial, intellectual, and eternal. Eriugena, however, thinks of cause and effect as mutually dependent, relative terms (Periphyseon, V. 910d–912b): a cause is not a cause unless it produces an effect, an effect is always the effect of a cause.
creates CreatedEffect;
subkind of Thing
Creates isCreatedCreates an is Createdcharacterizes PrimaryCause; descendant of Species
CreatedEffectBy nature, they are eternal and incorruptible, but Eriugena also thinks of individual created things as located spatially and temporally. He seems to think there are two kinds of time: an unchanging time (a reason or ratio in the divine mind,Periphyseon, V.906a) and a corrupting time. Place and time are definitions in that they situate or locate the things they define, and since definitions are in the mind, then place and time are in the mind (Periphyseon, I.485b). Following Gregory of Nyssa, Eriugena holds that the sensible, corporeal, spatio-temporal appearances of things are produced by the qualities or “circumstances” of place, time, position, and so on, which surround the incorporeal, eternal essence. The whole spatio-temporal world and our corporeal bodies are a consequence of the Fall, an emanation of the mind. Eriugena is somewhat ambiguous about this. His considered position appears to be that God, foreseeing that man would fall, created a body and a corporeal world for him. But this corporeal body is not essential to human nature and in the return of all things to God, the body will be absorbed back into the spiritual body (spirituale corpus) and the spiritual body back to the mind (mens, intellectus, νοῦς). The corporeal world will return to its incorporeal essence, and place understood as the extension will return back into its cause or reason as a definition in the mind (Periphyseon, V.889d).returns to PrimaryCause; subkind of Thing
isCreated doesNotCreateIs created and does not createcharacterizes CreatedEffect; descendant of Species
Human“I declare that man consists of one and the same rational soul conjoined to the body in a mysterious manner, and that it is by a certain wonderful and intelligible division that man himself is divided into two parts, in one of which he is created in the image and likeness of the Creator, and participates in no animality … while in the other he communicates with the animal nature and was produced out of the earth, that is to say, out of the common nature of all things, and is included in the universal genus of animals. (Periphyseon, IV.754a–b)”subkind of CreatedEffect
RationalSoulRational soul (see above)exclusive part of Human
Body“But this corporeal body is not essential to human nature and in the return of all things to God, the body will be absorbed back into the spiritual body (spirituale corpus) and the spiritual body back to the mind (mens, intellectus, νοῦς). The corporeal world will return to its incorporeal essence, and place understood as the extension will return back into its cause or reason as a definition in the mind”exclusive part of Human
CorporealBodyCorporeal body (see above)phase of Body
SpiritualBodySpiritual body (see above)phase of Body


First published: 14/05/2020

[3.7.3] Suhrawardi’s Illuminationist Methaphysiscs and Cosmology

The Persian Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi (1154–1191 AD) was the founder of the “Illuminationist” (ishraqi) philosophical tradition. In the “Philosophy of Illumination” he criticized the Avicennan peripatetic metaphysics (see [3.3.1]), and cosmology (see [3.3.2]), and elaborated an original theory based on the concept of Light:

  • All things in the universe partake in and of Light.
  • The intensity of light of the essence of things makes them distinct however, they share the same light.
  • The origin and sustaining entity of all lights and so all things is the Light of Lights.

Although Suhrawardi criticizes Avicenna, the structure of their cosmology shows resemblances, because of the shared Neoplatonic emanational roots (see also [2.4.2][3.2.1][3.3.2]).

Suhrawardi’s metaphysics and cosmology is presented in the following OntoUML diagram:

Suhrawardi’s methaphysics and cosmology
LightOfLightsThe Light of Lights is God.is Light; irradiates the first DominatingLight; rules Formal DominatingLight
Light“For Suhrawardi (PI, §§111–3), being is grasped through the (non-sensible) vision of lights that lie beyond the essences, as even the existence of bodies depends upon incorporeal lights: ‘Nothing that has an essence (dhat) of which it is not unconscious is dusky, for its essence is evident (zuhur) to it. It cannot be a dark state (hay’a zulmaniyya) in something else, since even the luminous state (hay’a nuriyya) is not a self-subsistent light (nur li-dhati-ha), let alone the dark state. Therefore, it is nonspatial pure incorporeal (nur mahd) light’ (PI, §114). Access to this ultimate reality of beings is achieved through the direct experience of its ontic light reality, rendering intuitive and non-discursive knowledge (logically) prior to any other type of knowledge.”(Marcotte)
“all luminous substances (“pure lights”) […] ultimately proceed from the uncaused “Light of Lights”, al-Suhrawardī’s official appellation for the deity.(Sinai)is Light
Some “self-subsisting and incorporeal dominating lights are identified as formal dominating lights, as ‘Lords of Species’ (archetypes) or ‘idols’ (arbab al-asnam): “though they are not imprinted in the barriers (bodies), they occur from each master of an idol in its barrier shadow with respect to some exalted luminous aspect” (PI, 155). These are, at times, labelled the Platonic Forms (muthul Aflatun) (located perhaps at the lower threshold of the world of souls), which Suhrawardi incorporates into his metaphysics, over which rules the Light of Lights (PI, §§246–8; Suh. 1999, 111). Each of those eternal, unchanging and pure luminous lights can differ in kind without differing in ontological level. They are “lights of equal strength” that “differ from others of the same strength by luminous and dark accidents”, some of the lights of this horizontal order being “the efficient, not the formal, causes of natural kinds” (Walbridge 2017, 270; Suh. 1993a, 67–8; PI, §§94–5, 164–71). The function of those Platonic Forms is analogous to the archetypal Forms of Plato, but only in so far as they govern various species whose exemplars they existentiate (rather than being mere universals), such as the species of bodies that move the celestial spheres and being the cosmological efficient causes of all sublunar matters, including human souls (Walbridge 1992, 61–6, 2017, 270–1).” (Marcotte)is subkind of Luminous
DominatingLight“The first vertical order of lights proceeds from the Light of Lights. These are the pure and incorporeal (mujarrada) dominating (qahira) lights. From the Light of Lights proceeds an incorporeal First Light — following the Neoplatonic principle ex uno non fit nisi unum, i.e. ‘from the one, in so far as it is one, comes only one’ (principle at the heart of Avicenna’s emanationist (fayd) cosmology, cf. Lizzini, 2016, sect. 5.4) — thus assuring ontological dependency of all that comes into existence upon the Light of Lights. From this First Light proceeds a Second Light and the all encompassing barzakh (highest heaven); from the second proceeds a Third Light and a second barzakh, or the Sphere of fixed stars; and so forth (PI, §141–3, 151–2) […] Light operates at all levels and hierarchies of reality: irradiation proceeds from higher dominating (qahira a‘la) lights, whereas the lower lights desire the higher ones (PI, §147). […] There is a correlative relation of dominance (qahr) and yearning or love (mahabba) between the higher incorporeal lights and the lower accidental lights” (Marcotte)
The dominating lights are somehow similar to the Avicennan Peripatetic immaterial intellects.
is subkind of Luminous
Substance; irradiates DominatingLight and ManagingLight; emanates Body; related to Sphere
ManagingLight“the managing (mudabbira) lights — the Avicennan Peripatetic immaterial souls of the spheres associated with the various bodies (barazikh), […]is subkind of Luminous
IsfahbadLightmanaging Isfahbad light that rules over human souls (PI, §155).”is subkind of ManagingLight
Sphere“Each of level of immaterial dominating lights is associated with a celestial sphere. They are no longer limited to al-Farabi’s (d.950) nine spheres or to those and their “varying number of subordinate spherical bodies” Avicenna suggested with his “second kinematic model” (Janos 2011, 172–9). This development may have inspired Suhrawardi’s indefinite, though not infinite, number of immaterial dominating (qahira) lights that are more “than ten, or twenty, or one hundred, or […], or a hundred thousand”, lights that are, in fact, as numerous as the stars in the fixed heavens (PI, §151; Arslan 2014, 138–9).” (Marcotte)
Non-luminous or ‘dark’ [substances] entities therefore do not form a positive contrary of light but are conceived in privative terms, as entities lacking in (or perhaps lying below a certain threshold of) luminosity: ‘darkness is simply an expression for the lack of light (ʿadam al-nūr)‘”. (Sinai)
BodyBodies can be: celestial, like stars, and erathly, like human bodies.is subkind ofNonLuminous
HumanBodyHuman bodyis subkind of Body


First published: 09/04/2020