Thursday, 5 February 2015

John Gavin, S.J.: "And then there was One: Ambrose and Eriugena on the Transfiguration"

John Scottus Eriugena, the brilliant and controversial Irishman in the court of Charles the Bald (840-877), drew upon both the Latin and Greek patristic traditions in order to present a bold and original Christian vision. Gregory of Nyssa, Ephiphanius of Salamis, pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor all found their way into Western thought through Eriugena’s translations, while such works as the De praedestione liber, Commentarius in evangelium Johannis and, above all, the Periphyseon (De natura) provided stimulating contributions to Christian Neoplatonism.

Though numerous scholars have dedicated studies to the examination of Eriugena’s Greek sources and his appropriation of Augustine, few have taken into consideration the importance of Ambrose of Milan in the Irishman’s works.

This paper contributes to the assessment of Ambrose’s influence through a study of important passages in Eriugena’s Periphyseon V (CCM 165, p. 195) and Ambrose’s In LucamVII, xx (CCL 14, p. 222). In both passages the authors discuss the Transfiguration of Christ and focus upon the theme of unity: at the end of the Transfiguration, the figures of Moses, Elijah and Jesus become the single person of Christ. Yet, though Eriugena clearly found inspiration in Ambrose, he significantly changes the meaning of this unity in order to accommodate his understanding of the various embodied states of humanity. A comparison of the passages gives a new perspective on Eriugena’s appropriation of sources and exegetical concerns.

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