The Mosaic Soliloquies VII

Joseph P. Farrell

The Theological Oration of John Scotus Eriugena to the Council of Bishops gathered in Rheims in the Year of Our Lord 843 by Archbishop Hincmar, of the same:

You call the Greeks ignorant, and me a stupid Irishman! You say that because I studied in Byzantium I have no education, letters, dialectic, logic! As if you pompous Franks had a monopoly on them or even knew what they really are, or are really for! Pah!

If your please, Your Eminence, Reverend Bishops, come away with me and I will show you a strange thing: four zealous monks of righteous Corbie who, after their office hours of prayer, spend their quiet minutes filling the air with long and tiresome disputation on the Mass, of the Body and Blood thus debated:

“It’s real, therefore a symbol,” says Radbertus; true enough, no argument there, but then “If a symbol, not real,” replies Ratramnus.

And again, these same four monks, with ridiculous presumption, spend their hours filling the air with noxious winds about divine predestination!

Permit me, please, Your Eminence, to summarize the malodorous essence of that debate:

“If predestined by God, not free as men,” say Gottschalck and Ratramnus; “If free as men, not predestined by God,” respond Radbertus and Rabanus.

My lord bishops, I perceive that between them both, and between them all — symbol and reality, providence and liberty, the positions of these four monks of righteous Corbie — some opposition there must needs be. But is this so? Are all distinctions oppositions? Let us grant their proposition and suppose, my lords, that they are correct in this, their ubiquitous methodological assumption.

Suppose you tell us, you four “theologians,” where, in all your tomes and dialectic, do you place Christ? At the beginning, middle, or end?

Is He your presupposition? No? Then you confess another Word of truth.

Is He your method? No? Then you confess another Way.

Is He your conclusion? No? Then you live another Life.

And if you do none of these things, are you theologians, or philosophers? Why do you not use the dogmas of the Church to think through your non-problems? Would you have it that He is either predestined and therefore truly man, or absolutely free to choose, and therefore truly God? But our dogma says that He is fully and perfectly both, and that both the deity and manhood exchange their properties by dint of the Person, without opposition, without confusion, and in the unity of both natures in one Person he is both truly electing and elected. Thus, are you not revealed as having all this time made much ado and argument and disputation about nothing, about abstractions, divorced from the Person of our confession?

Exhibit “A”, my right noble lords and reverend fathers in God: their sulking silence! You four talk as if only God the Father predestines! Why don’t you mention the Son and the Spirit?

Exhibit “B”, my right noble lords and reverend fathers in God: their sulking silence! Silence! In all their learned tomes and debates and dialectics! Not a word about Christ or the Trinity, until after the general philosophical principles are established!

Now, you four, consider this, and pay close attention, because it is trrrricky Greek theology: If God the Father predestined only a few eternally, then God the Son died only for the elect, thus there are some men who, not rising again in Christ, the Second Adam, will not inherit anything from the First Adam. Not inheriting our common corruption and death, from our common father, they will therefore have no need of Christ and His Resurrection.

And that, of course, my noble lords, is not only ridiculous, but the Pelagian heresy, which denied that men inherit anything from Adam.

Therefore, heap up all the quotations of Augustine you wish, you four, and find in them an answer that satisfies not only my mind but my soul, and I shall then embrace your Augustinism and its filioque and all its “mysterious predestination to damnation for the greater glory of God.” But until you do, I, for my part, will follow the Sublime Orient and Her Orthodoxy.

The other installments in the Mosaic Soliloquies can be read in our serial archives.

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