The Carolingian age (750 – 1000 AD)
The Carolingian age is, in the present survey, defined between 750 and 1000 AD. This is the period between the ‘first’ emergence of Europe as a geographical and political unity, established under Charlemagne, and the subsequent eventful continuation into the ‘Romanesque’ period, in which the Roman Catholic Church provided the intellectual bond towards a cultural consensus.
The notion of ‘Europa’ – expressed in a noun – became in wider use in this period. OAKLEY (1979, p. 29) observed: ‘already in Charlemagne’s day ecclesiastical writers had begun to equate the term Europe with the territories over which he ruled.’ The name itself is, according to HEER (1966), much older: the Roman writer Dio Cassius (199 AD) distinguished in his ‘Historia Augusta’ different groups in the army of Septimus Severus. Together with the Syrians he mentioned a ‘res europeenses‘ and ‘europeenses exercitus‘.
In the period of ‘first visibility’ of Europe (from 750 AD onwards) the tetradic way of thinking is widespread – laid down in innumerable relics of that period – but it is a frame of mind, rather than a conscious division-model. It was a collective ‘knowing’ of ideas, not yet placed in an intellectual straitjacket of theory. Numerology was virtually unheard of, because this approach uses preconceived ideas.
A good example of symbolic meaning is the signature of Charlemagne, who could hardly read or write. He employed the quadripartite imagery of the eighth and nine century to affirm the generally known greatness of multiple division thinking (fig. 133).
Fig. 133 – Some autographs and signatures of the beginning of European visibility are given here, characterized by four-fold references. 1. King Henriquez of Portugal, 1159; 2. Charlemage (K-R-L-S; Karolus), around 800 A.D.; 3. Konrad I (C-N-R-D), Würzburg, 912; 4. Notker the Physician, St. Gallen, 925; 5. Cruciform emblems, drawn in the monastery of Lorsch under the authority of Folcwich, bishop of Worms. Second quarter of the nineth century A.D.; 6. Cruciform text. Ambros. B 80 Sup., 13r, 1071 – 1178 AD, Milan, Bibl. Ambrosiana.
The power of signatures and seals (signa) as a spiritual meaning (repraesentatio) of a world view reached a widespread visibility in the middle of the eleventh century and arrived at static and monumental proportions in the twelfth century. Axials, rota and ‘benevalete’ (BTE) had an institutionalized character. The ‘in hoc signo‘ (IHS, in this sign) became ‘Jesus hominum salvator‘ (JHS; KOCH, 1926/1984) and the believers knew in both cases exactly the precise meaning.
A change of division thinking to a lower level resulted in a process of ‘Verblassen der sinnlichen Wahrnehmungsbereitschaft‘ (fading of the effort to make sensory perceptions). The signs and symbols are still recognized in dichotomous thinking, but their unity with signals or a language is broken. They are regarded as individual parts, without structural connections in a wider communication. The essential difference between a signal (I) and a sign (III) disappeared and also the distinction between symbolic meaning (II) and language (IV) faded away.
The book of Johann Christoph Gatterer (1765), titled ‘Elementa artis diplomaticae universalis‘ was published in Göttingen. It marked a sublime summary of the above-mentioned process. The chrismologia, semiotica notarilis, symbolica, staurologia (the doctrine of the crosses), mono-grammatica, sphragistica (knowledge of the seals) and even a form of stenography, called brachygraphia, was extensively treated to build up a ‘habitus diplomatum’. There is no vestige of structural thinking in Gatterer’s encyclopedic descriptions. The facts were given with the intention to show how to become a versatile diplomat (fig. 134).
Fig. 134 – Table VIII from Gatterer’s ‘Elementa artis diplomaticae universalis’ (Göttingen, 1765), a diplomatic manual, with many cruciform signatures from various periods in European history (Photo: Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague).
The Carolingian period is for the historians of the nineteenth and twentieth century ‘school of violence’ the first highlight in European history: Charlemagne’s empire, it subsequent disintegration and the disrupting intrusions of the Vikings along the western coast of Europe provided the material of which a certain kind of history was made. A history of traces, carved in time by human misery. Europe experienced in the Carolingian period a sense of identity and felt the associated pain of growing.
The visibility of Europe-as-a-cultural-unity developed – for an observer at the beginning of the twenty-first century – in a blend of Celtic/Nordic cultural heritage and Roman Christianity, with its ‘classical’ elements derived from the succumbed Roman Empire.
John Scotus Eriugena
John Scotus Eriugena (810 – 877 AD) was a distinguished member of the group of intellectuals and missionaries, who embarked from Ireland on a mission to the continent. His name, as given by Archbishop Usher of Dublin in 1632 in his ‘Veterum epistolarum hibernicarum sylloge‘, is pleonastic (O’MEARA, 1987). Both ‘Scotus’ and ‘Erigena’ had in the ninth century the meaning of ‘born in Ireland’.
Eriugena made his way to France around 848 and became a protege of Charles the Bald (823 – 877), the grandson of Charlemagne. In 851 he joined as a member of the Palace school of Charles, which followed the king in various places in northeastern France. There was a close connection with the Cathedral school in Laon, which had a strong Irish background, due to earlier missions (fig. 135).
The position of John Scotus Eriugena is a crucial one for the history of tetradic thinking in Europe. He elaborated, in his book ‘De Divisione Naturae’ (the Division of Nature), on a visualization of this ancient philosophical system, which influenced the writers of the eleventh and twelfth century. The book, possibly for reasons inherent to its message, never reached general acclaim or seemed to have changed the course of history. Even nowadays, its importance is hardly understood, and a curious modern reader has difficulties to get hold of a copy (in contrast, for instance, to Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’).
My first acquaintance of the book was the (German) publication of NOACK (1870), dating back from more than a century ago. The modern (English) edition of SHELDON WILLIAMS (1968/1972; 1987, edited by John J. O’Meara) is far more accessible. The book is stimulating reading for those interested in the history of tetradic thinking, taking its seven hundred-and-twenty-two pages in stride. Alice GARDNER (1900) wrote a brilliant study of his life and work at the beginning of this century. She portrayed the ‘Philosopher of the Dark Ages’ into a new light and mentioned him as an instigator of one of the ‘three critical periods in world’s history in which religious life becomes inspired by sane and free philosophy’.
John Scotus’ book – also called in Greek ‘Periphyseon’ – was, above all, an unmistakable sign, that tetradic thinking had reached visibility. Or, like HEER (1966) put it in a more roundabout way: ‘Eriugena united the Greek doctrine of deification (as in Clement, Origen and Dionysius) with Celtic-Germanic beliefs regarding rebirth and return’.
The fourfold division of nature is put forward on the first page of Book I of Eriugena’s book (and later repeated in Book II and III) by the Nutritor (Master), who speaks to the Alumnus (Disciple):
‘It is my opinion that the division of Nature by means of four differences results in four species, being divided first into that which creates and is not created (quae creat et non creatus), secondly into that which is created and also creates (quae et creatur et creat), thirdly into that which is created and does not create (quae creatur et non creat), while the fourth neither creates nor is created (quae nec creat nec creatur).’
DUHEM (1958, Tome III, p. 53) typified the work of Eriugena as neo-Platonic: ‘la philosophie neo-platonicienne de Scot Erigene s’inspire surtout de Chalcidius‘ (the neo-platonic philosophy of Eriugena, who was inspired by Chalcidius (and his commentary of the ‘Timaeus‘ of Plato). He is also portrayed as a ‘Greek’ mind in a ‘Latin’ world (LEFF, 1958).
It is perhaps apologetic to call every visualization of division thinking in the European cultural history ‘neo-platonic’, but the association of this term with the neo-platonic writers of the early centuries AD (like Ammonius Saccas (Saccas being a nickname meaning ‘uncertain interpretation’; WALLIS, 1972/1995), his pupil Plotinus, Jamblichus, Porphyrius, etc.) is an unhappy one. Furthermore, the connotation does not give credit to Aristotle, who might be regarded as the main architect of the tetradic mind. Robert O’NEILL (2011) wrote a very clarifying article on Neoplatonism.
It would be better to consider John Scotus Eriugena as a representative of an ‘European’ development of the visible stage of tetradic thinking, as the builder of a cognitive structure which could support a greater width of thinking in the ages to come. The historical link with Pseudo-Dionysius (also falsely identified with Dionysius the Areopagite, around 532 AD) is important, but must not be overrated. This rather obscure Syrian writer (CROSBY, 1987), lightly touched by monophysitism (O’MEARA in: SHELDON-WILLIAMS, 1987), provided a point of recognition in Eriugena’s own development. The same holds for Maximus the Confessor, Gregory of Nyssa and Martianus Capella.
The conflicting ideas about divine predestination, which flared up in the ninth century, were closely related to division thinking. The controversy found in Hincmar, bishop of Reims and the monk Gottschalk (Godescalc)(c. 805 – 866/9) strong opponents. Eriugena was asked to support the bishop. He tried to disprove the thesis of Gottschalk of a double predestination in his book ‘De Praedestinatione’, written in late 850 or early 851 AD (GARDNER, 1900; RYAN, 1967; SCHRIMPF, pp. 819 – 865 in: LÖWE, 1982).
The conflict of divine predestination was about the values of visibility and the position of man. The question can be stated as follows: if God rules everything and has an unbounded wisdom and knowledge, he would know every moment and decision in a human life and there would be no free will for a human being to do otherwise. By putting it this way, a deliberate attempt was made to compare the power of God with the power of man and visualize life as a power struggle between two Wills.
Gottschalk was the representative of the (new) approach, looking for confrontation. He thought in opposites and tried to solve the paradox of foreknowledge and freewill in a two-fold division: predestination is double (dupla) or a twin (gemina).
Eriugena – as a tetradic thinker of the ‘old’ school – rejected the idea of predestination in relation to God. Action and being are in God identical. ‘The Word is the cause of the causes. He descended into the effects of the causes. Christ is neither created nor creating. He is redeeming his own creation, return to its End in Himself’ (YATES, 1982). God and his predestination are identical: ‘Divine predestination is not double, it is not predestination at all’ (MARENBON, 1983). Predestination and free will are reconstruction-elements, which can only be developed after a choice in division is made. As long as the communication is situated in the invisible invisibility of the First Quadrant (of modern quadralectic thinking), no notion of time and place exists, and subsequently there is no before or after.
These basic problems – ‘on the fringe of the great mystery of man’s relation to his environment’ – are, as far as known, never put in the context of division thinking. The ideas concerning power and identity (of God and man) – that is what the controversy is all about – point strongly in that direction. The discussion of power and the independence of God and man is, in itself, – just like the ‘heresies’ of Arianism and Pelagianism – an indication for a change in attitude towards tetradic thinking. It is possible – on a lower level of division thinking – to read the early-Christian history as a continuous struggle between the dualistic and the quadralectic mind.
The four-fold way, with its peaceful intentions, had strong supporters. Beda (672 – 735) – as ‘the first English historian and most learned man of his time’ (LEFF, 1958) – reworked the contribution of Augustine on this subject (‘De gratia et libero arbitrio’ and ‘De praedestinatione sanctorum’) into a more palatable tetradic form. He softened, just like Eriugena did more than a century later, the extreme positions of Augustine, who thought of an unrelenting predestination and full dependency on the mercy of God.
Communication consisted, according to Beda (De Praed., 2,2), of four phases, which are directly related to a tetradic frame of mind:
—————————– 1. esse – the essence, the Source
—————————– 2. sapare – the knowledge or insight
—————————– 3. scire – the investigation
—————————– 4. destinare – the positioning
Beda defined the ‘sacred’ tetradic way of thinking, which leads up to the ‘ratiocinationes quadrivium‘ as an established method of communication. The ‘quadriformis ratio‘ is the name, which was (later) given to the cognitive mechanism, which ruled the interaction between people (and God). The mind is divided in four quadrants, with their own specific type of visibility. This was not explicitly described, but felt in the four senses (or interpretations), which were ways of seeing.
More than a century later Eriugena’s ‘De Divisione Naturae’ put a crown on the early period of tetradic thinking, by describing its conceptual territory. The book was not to the liking of those, who sought dogmatic knowledge. Bishop Hincmar of Reims, who gave Eriugena the assignment, was the first to be embarrassed by his work and avoided any notice of it.
A rejection followed in 855, at the Council of Valence. Eriugena was labeled as a heretic. However, in 860 the tide turned at the Council of Toucy, and the four articles of Chiersey, who expressed the moderate view of bishop Hincmar (and Eriugena), prevailed (GARDNER, 1900):
————————– 1. There is only one predestination of God;
————————– 2. The free will of man is restored by grace;
————————– 3. God wills all men to be saved;
————————– 4. Christ suffered for all.
These articles and the work of Eriugena were no further questioned in the following two centuries, but a new condemnation followed by the Councils of Vercelli in 1050 and of Rome in 1059. Later, the sympathetic interest to his doctrine by Gilbert of Poitiers, Almaric and David of Dinant urged for action. In 1225, on the apex of power of the Roman Catholic Church, the fear of a balanced view grew to paranoia (fig. 136).
Fig. 136 – Pope Innocent III (papacy 1198 – 1216) represented the Roman Catholic Church at the height of its power. He instigated crusades against heretics in southern France (Albigensen), the Muslims in Spain and organized the Fourth Crusade to the Holy Land (Jerusalem). Constantinople was sacked in 1204.
Pope Honorius III, succeeding Innocent III, prohibited Eriugena’s book, and ordered confiscation and burning. The book escaped attention at the Council of Trente (1545–63) and was not placed on the Index (GARDNER, 1900). Its ‘rediscovery’ took place at the end of the seventeenth century by Thomas Gale (in 1681). Subsequently, Pope Innocentius XI placed the book in 1685 on the Index.
STOCK (1979) indicated that the discourse on the ‘Categories‘ of Aristotle – which is treated in the first book of ‘De Divisione Naturae‘ (463A) – can be found in a slightly different form in the ‘Tractatus de Catagoriis Aristotelis’ (Decem Catagoriae). This treatise from the fourth century AD was written by a successor of Themistius, probably Agorius Praetextanus. The text gave continuity between the tetradic thoughts of Aristotle and the European interpretation of Eriugena. The resemblance is as follows (STOCK, 1979):
Eriugena Decem Categoriae (Aristotle)
1: quae creat et non creatus in solo et in omni
2: quae et creatur et creat in solo et non in omni
3: quae creatur et non creat in omni et non in solo
4: quae nec creat nec creatur nec in solo nec in omni
The primal deed of creation is fixed in the first principal, or the Source, that Eriugena attribute to God, the Creator, who hasn’t been created. God transcends all the categories of Aristotle. The second act deals with the primordial causes, things that are created and they create. They make up the origin of thoughts, ideas and theories. It can be noted that the first two comparisons from the ‘Decem Categoriae‘ have to be reversed, to fall in line with the sequence of John Scotus Eriugena.
The third stage of creation (or ‘book’ in the ‘De Divisione Naturae’) is concerned with the universe, which is created, but does not itself create.
‘For it is agreed that this visible world is composed of the four elements as of four general parts, and is, as it were, a body built up of its parts, from which, namely from these universal parts, coming together in a wonderful and ineffable mingling, the proper and individual bodies of all animals, trees, and plants are composed, and at the time of their dissolution return to them once more’ (De Div. Nat., I, 475D).
The fourth stage of creation, treated by Eriugena in the fourth and fifth book of the ‘Periphyseon’, deals with God as End. To complete the cycle of being from the expulsion of man from Paradise to its Return in order to consummate a new, incomprehensible universe (nec creat nec creatur). The end is, like in any cyclic movement, in fact a beginning:
‘For that which as the source of movement is called “beginning” is the same as that which, when motion is consummated in it, is called “end”. (De Div. Nat, V, 867C).
Or, as Eriugena quoted ‘the Blessed Maximus in the Twenty Eighth Chapter of the ‘Ambigua‘:
‘It is wrong, I think, to call the end of this present life death: rather it is a separation from death, a release from the corruption, a liberation from slavery, a rest from turmoil, an end to warfare, a way out of confusion, a return from darkness, an easement from sorrows, a silence from ignoble pomp, and leisure from instability; it draws a veil over baseness, and affords a refuge from the passions; it is the wiping away of sins, and in short the end of all evils.’ (De Div. Nat., V, 875D)
The aim of creation is – according to Eriugena – to reach this end by means of the ‘Seven Steps to Heaven‘. They consist of a ‘human’ four-division (four steps) and a ‘holy’ three-division (three steps), leading to the consummation of all things (GARDNER, 1900; O’MEARA in: SHELDON-WILLIAMS, 1987; p. 20, 541):
Unification of a lower kind (leading humanity to a perfect unity):
————————— 1. the earthly body knows a vital motion;
————————— 2. this vital motion is registered by sense;
————————— 3. the sense can be ordered to a reason;
————————— 4. the reason shapes the character of the soul (intellect).
Unification of a higher kind (leading the unified soul to the light):
————————– 5. the soul (intellect) develops into knowledge;
————————– 6. the knowledge grows to wisdom;
————————– 7. the wisdom reaches into the impenetrable light.
The first stage of the return – expressed in the four-fold sequence of a body, going through vital motion, sense, reason and intellect – is within the limits of a visible nature. The sensible man is a point of reference in a world, which is created by the Wisdom of God:
‘The essence of sensible things, which is what the Holy Father Augustine meant by “nature” will, as true reason faithfully teaches, abide for ever, for it is created unalterably in the Divine Wisdom beyond all space and time and change.’ (De Div. Nat. V, 867B).
The second stage of return (ascent) – of a soul going through knowledge, wisdom and into the darkness of incomprehensible and inaccessible light – is supernatural and essentially within God himself and therefore, in the realm of the invisible.
Eriugena positioned – in a quadralectic assessment of a full cycle of being – the four-fold division in the Third Quadrant and the three-fold division in the First Quadrant (or as a matter of better definition, on the borderline of First and Second Quadrant, after a decision on division has been made). By doing so, and placing (all) divisions in the framework of an Ultimate Unity, the end of division thinking is reached. Thinking has arrived at its Source.
A revival of tetradic ideas took place in the eleventh and twelfth century. A work of Honorius Augustodunensis – titled ‘Clavis physicae’ (The Key of Nature)(Paris Bibl. Nat. Lat. 6734) – provided a powerful, although somewhat distorted, resonance of Eriugena (fig. 137). The manuscript, which was never printed, was written around 1156 and gave a summary of Eriugena’s division of nature (d’ALVERNY, 1954; YATES, 1960; PÄCHT, 1984).
Fig. 137 – The division of nature according to Honorius Augustodunensis in the ‘Clavis physicae’ (The Key of Nature). The manuscript is preserved in the Michelsberg Cloister near Bamberg, but probably written in the area of the Meuse, mid-twelfth century (Paris, Bibl. Nat. lat. 6734). The definition of the four phases in nature differs from the original interpretation of Scotus Eriugena, in particular with regard to the First and Fourth Quadrant, which are ‘reversed’.
The illustration in the ‘Clavis physicae‘ (fig. 137) showed four sections:
Section 1 (upper): eight ‘causae primordiales‘
———————————————– central : bonitas ——————————
left (4): iustitia right (3): essentia
Section 2 : three ‘effectus causarum‘ : tempus
Section 3 : four elements : fire
(natura creata non creans)
Section 4 (lower): God/Christ finis
Between the interpretation of Honorius and Eriugena is a significant difference, which indicated a development within the four-fold way of thinking itself. Eriugena’s ninth-century tetradic manifest (Book I) opened with a ‘First Principle of Nature’, which was creating and not created (quae creat et non creatus). Dionysius the Areopagite described this principle as a ‘Divinity Who is above Being’. The realm of this Divinity is a Unity, a monad, and a place before division. This is understood (by Eriugena) to be the invisibility of God-self, who was not created, but is the origin of all creation. Creation is, in a quadralectic view, the state of a communication after a decision on division has been taken.
The first section (I) is, in Eriugena’s opinion (following Aristotle in his four-fold way of thinking), typified by the ‘potency’ (possibility) of division. The division has not yet taken place.
Honorius positioned the eight ‘primordial causes‘ in the ‘First Quadrant’. His ‘First Principle’ is not a unity, but a plurality (4 + 1 + 3), reflecting the ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ (in which Bonitas is the representative of God). Honorius applied the ‘ratiocinationis quadrivium‘ and defined the first stage in a multitude of human-oriented causes.
The second section (II) of Honorius’ illustration is a three-division of Time (Tempus) and Place (Locus) with the ‘Materia Informis‘ in the middle. Aristotle’s potentiality surfaces here in a material, human-directed form, with four faces and five eyes (fig. 138), anticipating the four visible elements of the ‘Natura creata, non creans‘ (and the ‘quitessentia’?).
The third stage gives the four elements in the sequence (from left to right): fire (three holy men), air (birds), water (fish and a source) and earth (crop, three animals and a couple). This ‘evolutionary’ depiction differs from the quadralectic sequence based on visibility: fire, air, earth and water.
Honorius’ last quadrant (IV) is solely attributed to God, closing the stage (‘finis’). Eriugena saw the last quadrant as a human affair, summing up all creation within himself. He even mentioned at this stage – following Maximus in the thirty-seventh Chapter of his ‘Ambigua’ – a five-fold division of all created nature: 1. God; 2. Sensible and intelligible nature; 3. Heaven and earth; 4. Paradise and the habitable globe and 5. The final division segregates mankind into male and female (Periph. V, 893B).
The differences of interpretation between the ninth (Eriugena) and twelfth (Honorius) century indicate a shift within the four-fold division from a God-orientated to a man-orientated interpretation of being.
Honorius Augustodunensis was instrumental in the simplification of division thinking. He noticed, in his book ‘Elucidarium’, that the universe was built from four elements and that Man, as micro cosmos, consisted of four elements: the flesh (earth), blood (water), breathing (air) and body heath (fire). He also spoke of three heavens: a material or visible heaven, a spiritual heaven, filled with spiritual substances like the angels, and an intellectual heaven with a confrontation of the mortal soul with the holy Trinity (LeGOFF, 1984/1987, p. 174, 191).
The cultural move from a Celtic to a Gothic world in Europe, which took place in approximately six hundred years (from 600 to 1200), can be seen as the result of a change in division thinking. The Carolingian ideas, steeped in a Celtic heritage, were filled with conceptions based on four types of visibility. The emphasis was gradually changing from the invisible (invisibility, worship of God without questioning) to the visible (visibility, worship of the material/human, associated with a questioning of God).
The European intellectuals moved from a God-centered universe (of the ninth century) to a man-centred world from the twelfth century onwards. In the latter interpretation God still pulls the cords, but only at the end of the story. The period of actual visible transition, around the year 1200, is of utmost important in the history of European division thinking. It is newly-coined as the ‘Tetractus‘-Age and will be discussed next.
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