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donald f. duclow
The Lord cast a deep sleep upon Adam : and when he was fast asleep,
he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it.
And the Lord built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman.
(Genesis 2 :21-22)

In Genesis, Adam sleeps, and the Creator removes a rib to form Eve.
Commenting on this text, Eriugena links sexual difference, sin and
creation in new and striking ways. The sleeping Adam turns his attention from God to the love of a carnal spouse. Since in Genesis Eve
does not yet exist, his fantasy leads to her creation and thereby
splits human nature into male and female, and adds the sexual, mortal body to humanitys original status as imago Dei. Sexual division
also marks the pivotal point in Periphyseons dialectic of procession
and return. Following Maximus the Confessor, John identifies sexual
division as the final stage of natures division. And its overcoming in
the resurrected Christ in whom there is neither male nor female
(Gal. 3 :28) begins the return to divine unity. This article analyzes
Periphyseons dialectic in terms of sexual division. It first examines
Eriugenas commentary on the sleep of Adam and the making of Eve,
and how it differs from his sources. It then considers three issues : this
commentarys place within Johns exegetical program ; the role of sin
and sexual division within Periphyseons account of creation ; and the
controversies surrounding Eriugenas views of sexual difference that
emerged within Periphyseon and figured in its condemnation.

The story is familiar. Adam sleeps, and the woman who will be
named Eve is made. Both of these scenes appear in a remarkable
mosaic from the Creation cupola of San Marco in Venice. [Fig. 1]
On the left, Adam reclines on a grapevine with his right hand supporting his head, as the cross-nimbed, beardless Creator removes
a rib from his left side. On the right, the making of the woman
is nearly complete, as the Creator grips her wrist and molds her
Proceedings of the International Conference on Eriugenian Studies in honor of E. Jeauneau, ed. by W. Otten, M. I. Allen, IPM, 68 (Turnhout, 2014), pp. 235-261.

DOI 10.1484/M.IPM-EB.1.102063


donald f. duclow

Figure 1. Creation of Eve. Detail of the Creation Cupola, San Marco,

Venice. Otto Demus San Marco Mosaics, Department of Image Collections,
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

right shoulder.1 This image is among the few from the Middle
Ages that follow Genesis in separating the two scenes of Adams
sleep and the creation of Eve.2 I begin with this image because
Eriugena too distinguishes these scenes in his commentary on
the Genesis narrative, and focuses on the sleep of Adam as initiating the making of Eve. Johns detailed exegesis of the two
scenes links sexual difference, sin and creation in new and strik1 On this mosaic, see Kurt Weitzmann and Herbert Kessler, The Cotton
Genesis : British Library Codex Cotton Otho B. VI (Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1986), 54 ; and Penny Howell Jolly, Made in Gods Image ? : Eve
and Adam in the Genesis Mosaics at San Marco, Venice (Berkeley : University of
California Press, 1997), 30-41.
2 The thirteenth-century mosaics of the creation cupola are based on the
Cotton Genesis, an early Christian illuminated manuscript. See Weitzmann
and Kessler, Cotton Genesis, 18-20. They further note that A distinctive feature of the CG family is the depiction of Eves creation in two phases (p. 54).
Medieval iconography usually conflates the two scenes into one, as in the top
image of Fig. 2.

sin and creation in eriugena


ing ways. Humanitys division into male and female also marks
a key moment in Periphyseons dialectic of creation. Following
Maximus the Confessor, John identifies this division as the final
stage of natures division. And its overcoming in the resurrected
Christ in whom there is neither male nor female3 begins the
return to divine unity. Sexual difference thus becomes the pivotal
point for Periphyseons dialectic of procession and return. Here
I propose to analyze this dialectic in terms of sexual division, and
to do so I shall take the view from below indeed, from the last
and lowest vantage point available to us. I shall begin by looking
at Eriugenas commentary on the sleep of Adam and the making
of Eve, and then consider three broad issues : first, this commentarys place within Johns exegetical program ; second, the role of
sin and sexual division within Periphyseons account of creation ;
and finally, the controversies surrounding Eriugenas views of sexual difference that emerged within Periphyseon itself and figured
in its condemnation in the thirteenth century.
Genesis and Gendering Humanity
Before exploring Johns exegesis, let us review the two accounts
of creating humanity in the book of Genesis. In chapter 1, on the
sixth day God creates man in his image and likeness. Although
God here creates humanity male and female, we must turn to the
account in chapter 2 for details. God forms man from clay of the
earth, breathes life into his face, and places him in paradise. Saying that it is not good for man to be alone, the Lord makes the
beasts of the earth and birds, which Adam names as they parade
before him, yet none of them provides him a helper like himself. So God tries again, casts a deep sleep upon Adam, takes
one of his ribs, and forms it into a woman. [Figs. 1 & 2] Adam is
delighted with his new companion, whom he declares to be bone
of my bones and flesh of my flesh. But of course, things quickly go
wrong with the serpent, eating the forbidden fruit, and eviction

3 On the resurrection, see Periphyseon II, 537D-538A, CCCM 162 : 18-19,

citing Gal. 3 :28. I shall cite the English translation of I. P. Sheldon-Williams,
revised by John J. OMeara, in Eriugena, Periphyseon (The Division of Nature)
(Montreal & Washington : Bellarmin / Dumbarton Oaks, 1987).


donald f. duclow

Figure 2. Creation of Eve & birth of the Church. Bible moralise, French,
thirteenth century. The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford,
Bodl. 270b, f. 6r, detail.

sin and creation in eriugena


from paradise. Indeed, the woman receives her name Eve as

mother of all the living only when they exit paradise (Gn. 3 :20).
While Eriugena plays with both Genesis accounts, in Periphyseon IV he seizes on the second, longer narrative. Commenting on
Adams lame attempt to shift blame for eating the fruit to Eve,
the woman you [God] gave me to be my companion, the Teacher
constructs a dramatic dialogue, where he himself cross-examines
Adam and thereby takes on Gods role in Genesis 2-3. Adam
acknowledges that the Lord gave the woman to him, but stumbles
badly when asked why God made her and gave him this gift. The
Teacher loads his long question with his own answers, which center on Adams sleep and responsibility. He asks,
Why, when you were sleeping, that is to say, when you were turning the attention of your mind from the contemplation of truth to
the love of a carnal spouse, did He take the rib from your side and
make of it a woman and give her to you when you were sinning
and abandoning him ? Why did He not make the woman in the
same way He made yourself ? You yourself, as is fit for one who
chose earthly things for heavenly things, were made of the dust of
the earth. It is fitting that the woman should have been taken out
of your side, seeing that the cause of your transgression originated
from yourself.4

Elsewhere Eriugena attributes the Fall to the first mans turn

to himself before he turned to God,5 but here this turn is sexually charged. For Adams sleep consists of shifting his attention to
the love of a carnal spouse (amorem carnalis coniugii).6 Yet in
the Genesis narrative, this desire is sheer fantasy because woman
has yet to be created. Rather, Adams sleep and fantasy lead to
the making of Eve from his own side. Adam thus conceives in
more senses than one and gives birth to Eve.

4 Periphyseon IV, 845B-C, my emphasis, CCCM 164 : 147 : Cur te dormiente (hoc est mentis contuitum a contemplatione ueritatis in amorem carnalis coniugii coniuente) costam de latere suo traxit, de qua mulierem fecit,
quam tibi peccanti seque deserenti dedit ? Cur non eodem modo, quo te fecit,
mulierem quam tibi daret fecerit ? Tu ipse de terreno limo merito, qui caelestia deserens terrena eligisti, factus es.
5 Periphyseon II, 582C, CCCM 162 : 77.
6 See also Periphyseon IV, 835D, CCCM 164 : 134, where the Teacher
describes Adams trance as carnalis copulae appetitus.


donald f. duclow

Continuing his cross-examination, the Teacher asks why God

made a woman for Adam ? For companionship and help, we may
ask as did Augustine7 why not another man, perhaps Adam
and Steve ? Like Augustine, Adam replies, for assistance in
procreation and the multiplication of human nature. However,
the Teacher disagrees. Citing Genesis first creation account, he
asserts that sexual reproduction is not inherent in human nature,
but results from Adams choice. For if human nature, created in
the image of God, had retained its original integrity, it would
be sexless and multiply like the angels, not like the beasts of the
field. However, thanks to Adams fantasies and desires, humanity chose (elegit) to propagate the species ingloriously among the
other animals. Foreseeing this decision, the creator undertook
damage control and added to his nature the twofold sex (duplicem
sexum) to enable him to breed like the beasts. The Teacher then
rebukes Adam for trying to shift his guilt to Eve, when his own
pride and contempt and desertion of God led to her creation.
She did not initiate sin, he did and she is its living consequence.
The Teacher underlines this point with an extraordinary commentary on what he calls Gods ironical words : It is not good for
man to be alone. Let us make him a companion like unto him.
(Gn. 2 :18) He explains these words irony by paraphrasing them
in vivid detail :
Man whom we have made to our image and likeness does not think
it good to be alone, that is, to be simple and perfect nature abiding everywhere without the division of his nature into sexes, being
wholly in the likeness of the angelic nature, but prefers to tumble
down headlong into earthly couplings like the beasts. Let us
then make for him a companion like unto him through whom he
can perform what he longs to do, that is to say, a woman who is
fragile and unstable like the male, and is eager for earthly lusts.8

Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram, IX, 5, CSEL 28, 1, 293.

Periphyseon IV, 846B-C, CCCM 164 : 148 : Non uidetur homini, quem
ad imaginem et similitudinem nostrum fecimus, bonum esse solum (hoc est
simplicem atque perfectum) uniuersaliterque diuisione naturae in sexus, ad
similitudinem angelicae naturae, absolutum permanente, sed pronum procliuumque ad terrenos coitus pariter cum bestiis ruere. Faciamus ergo ei adiutorium simile, quo id quod appetit peragere possit, feminam uidelicet, quae
similiter ut masculus fragilis ac lubrica terrenas appetat concupiscentias. On
this irony, see E. Jeauneau, Jean Scot et lironie, in Jean Scot crivain, ed.

sin and creation in eriugena


Although ventriloquizing Gods voice, the Teachers very language tumbles and spins, suggesting the instability and intensity
of sexual desire. Foreseeing Adams sleepy desires and fantasies,
God grants him his wish. Sexual difference splits human nature in
two,9 and Adams claim that God gave him the woman to multiply the species becomes true. The Teacher finds this point anticipated in Genesis first chapter when it says, Male and female he
created them, vessels, that is, for carnal procreation of offspring,
since the dignity of the spiritual propagation and of the Divine
Image is now despised.10
Eriugena supports this view in his earlier allegorical reading
of the making of Eve (Gn. 2 : 21-22). In the removal of Adams
rib, he sees the tearing (scissura) of his nature into two sexes,
and the removal of his guardianship of the universal inner virtue which was within him before he had sinned.11 Similarly, the
flesh which the Creator puts in place of the rib signifies a devastating exchange of the guardianship of virtue and blessedness...
for the deadly folly of vice and wretchedness. Echoing Paul and
Augustine, John sees here a prophetic prefiguring of Christ and
the Church. Specifically, Adams sleep and the making of Eve
parallel Christs death and the birth of the Church.12 As Christ is
the new Adam, the Church becomes the new Eve. This parallel
had a long history, as we can see in the thirteenth-century Bible
moralise, which places Eves creation above a crowned Ecclesia
emerging from the wound in the crucified Christs side [Fig. 2].13
Eriugena stands within this tradition when he describes Adam as
G.-H. Allard (Montreal /Paris : Bellarmin / J. Vrin, 1986), 15-17 ; reprinted in
Jeauneau, tudes rigniennes (Paris : tudes augustiniennes, 1987), 326-327.
9 See Periphyseon IV, 817D, CCCM 164 : 108.
10 Periphyseon IV, 846C, CCCM 164 : 149.
11 Periphyseon IV, 836B-C, translation modified, CCCM 164 : 134-5.
12 Periphyseon IV, 836D, CCCM 164 : 135, citing Augustine, In Iohannis
evangelium tractatus IX, xx, 33-36 (CCSL 36 : 96).
13 The top image combines both scenes from Genesis 2, as the Creators
right hand holds Adams rib while his left grips the emerging Eves wrist.
Similarly, the image below retains details of the crucifixion the sun and
moon above the cross, and Mary and John mourning on the right as the
Creator receives the Church from Christs wound. See A. Laborde, La Bible
moralise illuststre, conserve Oxford, Paris, et Londres (Paris : Pour les membres de la Socit, 1911-1927), vol. 1, fol. 6r ; and Gertrud Schiller, Ikonogra-


donald f. duclow

an inverse figure of Christ the one bringing exile, weakness

and death, and the other bringing reconciliation, strength and life.
But John adds his own spin when he includes two other comparisons : Adam introduces the split between the sexes which Christ
overcomes ; and in Adam human nature puts on tunics of skin
(Gn 3 :21), that is to say, mortal bodies, while Christ removes
these tunics and restores humanity to its naked, original state.14
By taking these comparisons together, we see the key point of
Johns entire gloss : sex becomes the marker for the fallen and corruptible body.
Eriugenas Exegesis
This interpretation of Adams sleep and the making of Eve is
remarkable both for its unusual exegesis of Genesis, and for its role
in Periphyseons speculative program. Let us first examine it more
closely as exegesis. Eriugena agrees with todays biblical scholars
on one basic point : that Genesis contains two creation accounts.
But while these scholars carefully sort out different textual and
historical strands e.g., P and J, Priestly and Yahwist patristic
and medieval commentators sought to harmonize these accounts
into a single, coherent narrative and interpretation. And Eriugena
does this in ways that are peculiar, even by medieval standards.
With Augustine, he sees the paradise story as charged with symbolic meaning, but he disputes Augustines reading of this story as
a history of actual events in an earthly garden. Claiming to follow
Ambrose, John interprets paradise as human nature, and all that
occurs within it as allegory. Within this exclusively symbolic focus,
he insists that the paradise narrative adapts to human sluggish-

phie der christlichen Kunst (Gtersloh : G. Mohr, 1976), vol. 4, pt. 1, 89-92 &
plates 217-220.
14 Periphyseon IV, 836D-837A, CCCM 164 : 135-6 ; see Periphyseon II, 584A,
CCCM 162 : 79, and Periphyseon IV, 818C, CCCM 164 : 109-10, where John
cites Origen, In Genesim (PG 12, 101A) and Epiphanius, Ancoratus 62 (PG 43,
128-129), and mistakenly claims that Almost all authors, Greek and Latin,
follow Origen. In La tradition de lallgorie de Philon dAlexandrie Dante
(Paris : Etudes augustiniennes, 1987), vol. II, pp. 158-159, Jean Ppin says
that Eriugena finds Origens gloss in Epiphanius ; tracing the gloss to Philo
and gnostic sources, he suggests that although Origens critics often attribute
the gloss to him, he actually discusses it avec les plus grandes rserves.

sin and creation in eriugena


ness, and narrates as though in space and time what actually

occurs simultaneously.15 This view frees Eriugena to re-arrange
texts and events into a larger some might say arbitrary theological scheme, as he compresses humanitys creation, sin and its
consequences into a single, timeless event. For example, we have
seen him claim that when Genesis 1 :27 declares that God created
humanity male and female, it does not insert sexual difference
into Gods image, but anticipates the fleshly, gendered making of
Adam and Eve in chapter 2. John justifies these transpositions by
emphasizing a crucial difference of perspectives :
When we say before and after sin we are demonstrating the multiplicity of our thought processes which is due to the fact that we
are still subject to temporal conditions : but to God the foreknowledge of sin and the consequence of sin itself are contemporaneous
[simul]. For it is in man, not God, that sin was a future event.16

Hence, not only were Adam and Eve in paradise for no time at
all, but their creation in all its facets in Gods image and as
earthly, sexual beings occurred all at once. For within Gods
foreknowledge, at the same time [simul] as He created man,
He created the consequences of sin even before he had sinned.17
Indeed, the term fore-knowledge is a misnomer, since it suggests
the human perspective of looking toward the future, rather than
holding everything in a simple, eternal present.18
Eriugenas discussion of creation and Paradise also differs from
contemporary Bible scholarship on another, more specific score :
the feminist struggle against interpretations reflecting biases
against women. In her influential commentary, Phyllis Trible considers it a sexist mistake to speak of creating man in Genesis.
For in Genesis 2, the Lord simply forms an earth-creature (hdm) out of dust, and sexual differentiation first occurs when
Eve is made from Adams rib. Only with the making of the woman


Periphyseon IV, 848A, CCCM 164 : 151.

Periphyseon IV, 808A-B, CCCM 164 : 94 : Nam cum dicimus ante et
post peccatum, cogitationum nostrarum mutabilitatem monstramus, dum
adhuc temporibus subdimur. Deo autem simul erant et peccati praescientia
eiusque consequentia. Homini siquidem, non deo, futurum erat peccatum.
17 Periphyseon IV, 807B-C, CCCM 164 : 93-4.
18 See Boethius, Consolatio philosophiae V, pr. 6 (CSEL 67 : 122-124).


donald f. duclow

does Adam become male.19 This reading could fit within Eriugenas scheme, if he too considered human nature sexless until Eves
creation. But he tells a different story. Earlier in Book IV, he
notes that his favorite sources Ambrose and the Greek Fathers
distinguish two creations of man in Genesis. The first highlights
sexless human nature as created in the Image of God, in which
there is neither male nor female but only universal and indivisible
humanity most like the angelic nature. So far, so good. But the
second creation, added as a result of the foreknowledge of the Fall
of the rational nature, makes Adam indisputably male. For this
creation, from the clay of the earth, occurs outside Paradise and
adds the male sex to the nature created in the Image of God.20
Similarly, at San Marco the Creator shapes a male Adam, whose
masculinity is on full display when he receives his soul and enters
Paradise [Fig. 3].21 Thus, for Eriugena, it is a male Adam who is
placed in Paradise where the second sex, called by the name of
woman, and drawn from the side of the first, is added to it as an
assistant in the procreation of offspring.22 Familiar sexual politics follow. In line with his broader exegesis of the paradise narrative, Eriugena insists that Adams creation as male has priority
not in time, but in honor and rank. Therefore, he concludes that
the man, although made outside Paradise (that is, outside the
dignity of his primordial creation), is better than the woman who
was created, as it were, within Paradise (that is, after the union
that added sex to the simplicity of the divine image).23 Priority
thus confers on men a superior, ruling position, and on women a
secondary and submissive one. Disappointing as this patriarchal

19 Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia : Fortress

Press, 1978), 79-81 & 96-99.
20 Periphyseon IV, 817A-B, CCCM 164 : 107-8.
21 Weitzmann and Kessler (Cotton Genesis, 53) note that the unusual Animation of Adam scene reflects antique depictions of the Prometheus legend,
which portray Athena holding a butterfly over the newly formed man.
22 Periphyseon IV, 817B, CCCM 164 : 108.
23 Periphyseon IV, 817B-C, my translation, CCCM 164 : 108 : uirum,
etiam extra paradisum (hoc est extra primordialis conditionis dignitatem)
conditum, meliorem esse muliere, quae ueluti intra paradisum (hoc est post
superaddititi sexus simplicitati diuinae imaginis adunationem) condita est.

sin and creation in eriugena


Figure 3. Animation of Adam. Detail of the Creation Cupola, San Marco,

Venice. Otto Demus San Marco Mosaics, Department of Image Collections,
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

outcome may be for us, it is hardly surprising in medieval exegesis

and theology.
More unusual and perhaps truly erigenal, as James Joyce
might say24 is Johns commentary on Adams sleep. Here he
gives a striking, minority view that does violence to the Genesis
narrative.25 Where Genesis says that the Lord puts Adam to sleep,
Eriugena attributes this sleep to Adams own distraction and
fatigue. Acknowledging this problem, John looks closely at the
text of Genesis 2 :21 and notes a two-stage process : After God
24 Joyce puns on Erigena several times in Finnegans Wake ; see R. J. Schork,
Greek and Hellenistic Culture in Joyce (Gainesville : University of Florida
Press, 1998), 155.
25 Another example occurs at Periphyseon V, 859D, where John glosses
Genesis 3 :22b not as forever banning humanity from Paradise, but as promising the Return of human nature to that same bliss which in sinning it had
lost. See D. F. Duclow, Denial or Promise of the Tree of Life ? Eriugena,
Augustine and Genesis 3 :22b, in Duclow, Masters of Learned Ignorance : Eriugena, Eckhart, Cusanus (Aldershot : Ashgate, 2006), 85-100.


donald f. duclow

sent the trance (soporem) upon Adam, Adam slept (obdormiuit).

First comes the trance, then Adam sleeps. Eriugena describes the
trance as both the cause of sin and also sent, or rather permitted, after sin.26 A crucial shift in wording occurs here from
sent/immissus to permitted/ permissus which allows John to
invoke an exegetical rule : Scriptures use of a figure of speech
which describes what God permits as though He Himself does
it.27 With this rule, Eriugena can finesse Genesis literal meaning,
and attribute the trance to Adams doing and Gods permitting.
The trance thus becomes the deflection of the minds intention28
from the creator to worldly pleasures and sexual desire. The sleep
that follows completes this deflection, as Adam separates himself entirely from the vigour of eternal and blessed contemplation
and... falls into the delights of sensible things, abandoning completely the spiritual senses.29 With this reading of Adams trance
and sleep, Eriugena again shows his exegetical dexterity.
To see how unusual Johns exegesis of Adams sleep is, let us
see what his sources say. Eriugenas principal authority on sexual division is no help here. As Jeauneau has shown, John relies
heavily on Gregory of Nyssa when discussing humanitys creation
and sexual division. 30 In De opificio hominis, Gregory distinguishes
sharply between humanitys creation in Gods image, and its distinction into male and female. 31 He attributes sexual difference to


Periphyseon IV, 836A, translation modified, CCCM 164 : 134.

Periphyseon IV, 835C, CCCM 164 : 133.
28 Periphyseon IV, 835C-D, CCCM 164 : 134 : animi intentionis... reflexio. At
San Marco, Adams posture and reclining on a grapevine [Fig. 1] echo Noahs
drunkenness, which is portrayed nearby ; see Weitzmann and Kessler, Cotton
Genesis, 54, and Jolly, Made in Gods Image ?, 32.
29 Periphyseon IV, 836A, CCCM 164 : 134.
30 E. Jeauneau, La division des sexes chez Gregoire de Nysse et chez
Jean Scot rigne, in Eriugena : Studien zu seinen Quellen, ed. W. Beierwaltes (Heidelberg : C. Winter, 1980), 33-54 ; reprinted in Jeauneau, tudes
rigniennes, 343-354 ; and E. Jeauneau, rigne et Grgoire de Nysse, in
Jeauneau, Tendenda vela : excursions littraires et digressions philosophiques
travers le moyen ge (Turnhout : Brepols, 2007), 204-209. On these issues in
Gregory, see also Peter Brown, The Body and Society (New York : Columbia
University Press, 1988), 293-296.
31 Gregory of Nyssa, De opificio hominis, XVI-XVII (PG 44, 177D-192A) ;
trans. W. Moore and H. A. Wilson in Select Writings and Letters of Gregory,

sin and creation in eriugena


Gods foreknowledge of human sin, but does not discuss Adams

sleep in this context. Rather, Gregory focuses his analysis exclusively on Genesis 1 :27 God created man to his own image : ...
Male and female he created them. When he later discusses the
making of Adam from the earth in Genesis 2, he sees the creator
responding not to Adams dreamy turn toward sex, but to humanitys general bias towards evil and voluntary fall from equality
with the angels, and on this basis adding the distinction between
male and female. 32 By focusing on Adams sleep, however, Eriugena describes a human failure that precedes the unfortunate incident of the forbidden fruit. 33 When Gregory identifies divine foreknowledge of sin as the source for human sexuality, he provides
Eriugena with a basic insight. But John goes further when he rolls
this insight into his account of Adams sleep, and re-thinks the
making of Eve in his own provocative way.
Nor does Eriugena cite Augustines discussions of Adams sleep
and with good reason. For Augustine sees nothing worldly or sexual in Adams sleep. Rather, he emphasizes the opposite, viewing
this sleep as given by God and revealing wisdom and prophecy to
Adam. In the early De Genesi contra Manicheos, Augustine claims
that Adams sleep signifies hidden wisdom, which one sees more
clearly by withdrawing from these visible things into the interior
realm of the intelligence. 34 His later work De Genesi ad litteram
interprets Adams sleep as an ecstasy, given to him so that his
mind might participate with the host of angels, and entering

Bishop of Nyssa, Select Library of Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers, 1892 ;

reprint edition (Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, n.d.), 404-407.
32 Gregory of Nyssa, De opificio hominis, XXII, 3-4 (PG 44, 204C-205B),
trans. Moore and Wilson in Select Writings, 411-412.
33 See also Periphyseon IV, 811C-D, CCCM 164 : 99-100.
34 Augustine, De Genesi contra Manicheos XII, 12, 16 ; PL 34, 205 ; trans.
R. Teske, in Augustine, On Genesis (Washington, DC Catholic University of
America, 1991), 112-113. Here Augustine discerns the knowledge by which
we understand that what rules within us by reason is distinct from what
obeys reason. Identifying reason as masculine and bodily desires and senses
as feminine, he describes self-rule as presiding over the marriage in oneself
where flesh is subject to the spirit. The Pauline hierarchy follows, with man
as the head of woman, and Christ the head of man (1 Cor 11 :13). The Glossa
ordinaria (PL 113, 90A-B) picks up this interpretation, and cites Gregory the
Greats Moralia in Iob XXX, xvi, 54 ; CCSL 143B : 1528.


donald f. duclow

into the sanctuary of God, understand what was finally to come.

When he awakes, Adam declares the woman to be bone of my
bones and flesh of my flesh, and proclaims that a man shall
leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife ; and they
shall be two in one flesh.35 Augustine comments that out of his
ecstasy, Adam spoke as a prophet under divine guidance. In both
of Augustines commentaries, Adam falls asleep to the world, not
to God. The contrast with Periphyseon could not be clearer.
However, Eriugenas reading does echo Ambroses De paradiso,
which he had previously cited describing Adams sleep as turning our mind for a while to sexual intercourse, when we seem
to fall asleep to divine matters.36 But John seems to misread
Ambrose, who views these thoughts of sex more positively. Discussing the parade of animals before Adam while he named them,
Ambrose says that he would observe the distinction of male and
female among them all, and learn that for him too association
with a woman was a necessity. Ambrose then links Adams sleep
to thoughts of sex, but unlike Eriugena he moves immediately
to Eves creation and the good that follows from it namely, the
household of man and wife, which points toward a state of full
perfection.37 On this view, sexual difference, marriage and procreation build Gods kingdom. Yet Eriugena disregards this wider
context, and instead invokes Ambroses authority to support his
own idiosyncratic account of the sleep of Adam.

35 Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram IX, 19 ; CSEL 28,1, 294 ; trans. J. H. Taylor,

in Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis (New York : Newman Press,
1982), vol. 2, 95.
36 PP IV, 835D, citing Ambrose, De paradiso, XI, 50 ; CSEL 32, pt. 1, 307 ;
trans. J. Savage, in Ambrose, Hexaemeron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel (New
York : Fathers of the Church, 1961), 328-329. On Eriugenas use of this text,
see E. Jeauneau, Le De paradiso dAmbroise dans le livre IV du Periphyseon, in Jeauneau, Tendenda vela, 219-229.
37 Ambrose, De paradiso, IX, 50 ; CSEL 32, pt. 1 : 307 ; trans. Savage,
Ambrose, Hexaemeron, 329. See Elizabeth A. Clark, Ascetic Piety and Womens
Faith : Essays on Late Ancient Christianity (Lewiston, NY : Mellen Press, 1986),
376 : In De Officiis Ministrorum, Ambroses interest in explaining the Eden
tale revolves around social commentary : Gods creation of a woman for the
man shows the divine intent that humans live in society.

sin and creation in eriugena


Sin, Sex and Cosmos

If Johns discussion of Adams sleep and the making of Eve is
novel exegesis, so are its theological implications. For it shifts sins
origin from Genesis fruit tree incident to Adams sleep. John confirms this displacement in a commentary on the Good Samaritan
parable, where the Teacher says that man fell himself before he
was tempted by the devil, and finds it incredible that the same
man could both have been abiding in the contemplation of eternal Peace and also have fallen at the persuasion of a woman corrupted by the poison of a serpent ; or that that serpent, I mean
the Devil... could have prevailed over a man who was not yet in a
state of sin and was not himself already falling from the sublimity
of the divine image. 38 As we have seen, Adams sleep signals this
initial fall a narrative shift that alters the relation between sin
and creation. For in this account, sin is no longer simply a human
failing that leaves the created order pristine and intact. Rather,
since Eve has yet to be made, sin becomes quite literally a
fault line within creation itself.
This fault line shapes Eriugenas conception of the human
body or more precisely, of human natures two bodies. In Book
II of Periphyseon, he tells us that the first, essential body was
created with the rational soul, and would have adhered eternally
and coeternally with soul had it not sinned.39 This spiritual, incorruptible body endures, and is the one in which human beings will
be resurrected. The second, more familiar body is the corruptible
and material body, made from the earth. Once again Eriugena
glosses Genesis 2 :7, but adds two peculiar details : this making
occurs after sin and as a punishment for sin, and is the work
of the human soul.40 Here too John alters Genesis sequence of
events, but views the mortal body itself not only its sexual division as a consequence of sin. The other detail seems even more
surprising. This body was created and is daily being created as
though (veluti) by some proper action of the soul. Although Gene38 Periphyseon IV, 811C-D, CCCM 164 : 100-1 : Non enim credibile est eundem hominem et in contemplatione aeternae pacis stetisse, et, suadente femina serpentis ueneno corrupta, corruisse.
39 Periphyseon II, 582A-B, CCCM 162 : 76-7.
40 Periphyseon II, 582C, CCCM 162 : 77.


donald f. duclow

sis says that God formed the human body from clay, John considers it reasonable that the action of the creature should be referred
to Him from whom every natural action originates.41 To support
this claim, he appeals to the celestial and ecclesiastical hierarchies, where God acts through angels and bishops. More basically,
he finds it no surprise that the first man, once he turned from the
spiritual body created by God, should create for himself from
the clay of the earth a fragile and mortal habitation on the advice
of Divine Providence.42 In addition, Periphyseon offers systematic
reasons for extending human creativity to its own mortal flesh.
For dwelling among the primordial causes, humanity too creates
and is created. This creativity displays Gods image in the trinity created in our nature namely, intellect, reason and interior sense. Yet precisely as a created image, human nature does
not create out of nothing, but rather arranges existing realities
in a novel way, by assembling incorporeal qualities into a mortal
body.43 Hence, Eriugena includes the qualifying term as though /
veluti in describing this creating. He adds that this making and
ongoing care of the mortal body mirror Gods providential care
for all creation.44
As we have seen, the corruptible body begins as male, and
divides into the two sexes. This division takes on cosmic importance in Johns discussion of Maximus the Confessor, his second
Greek authority for linking sin and human sexual difference. Book
II of Periphyseon includes a long commentary on Maximus cosmic
scheme of five divisions : first, uncreated and created nature ; second, creations division into the intelligible and sensible ; third, the
sensible realms distinction into heaven and earth ; fourth, earths
separation between paradise and the inhabited world ; and fifth,
the division of humanity into male and female.45 This last division

Periphyseon II, 582C-D, CCCM 162 : 78. Other texts assert that God creates both bodies ; see Periphyseon IV, 802A, CCCM 164 : 85.
42 Periphyseon II, 583B, emphasis added, CCCM 162 : 79 : fragile atque mortale de luto terrae sibimet habitaculum crearet diuina prouidentia admonitus.
43 Periphyseon II, 580B, CCCM 162 : 74. Concerning the mechanics of this
making, see Periphyseon II, 581B-C, CCCM 162 : 75-6.
44 Periphyseon II, 581C-582A, CCCM 162 : 76.
45 Periphyseon II, 530A-C, CCCM 162 : 9-10 ; and Eriugenas translation of
Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua 37, CCSG 18 : 180 ; translated as Difficulty

sin and creation in eriugena


is problematic, because Maximus writes that it does not conform

to the divine intention (propositum) [that] there would be simply
man, not to be divided by the names male and female.46 Created
as the officina, the workshop or agent unifying and mediating all
creation, humanity was designed to harmonize creations opposites
and turn them toward their divine source. But instead it acts contrary to nature [and] is voluntarily moved in ignorance around
those things that are beneath it and has abused the natural
power of uniting what is divided.47 The results will now be familiar to us. Foreknowing that man would sin, God permits human
nature to split into male and female. If humanity is to multiply
but refuses the divine mode of multiplying itself, God provides
the alternative of sexual reproduction. But this is a compensating
mechanism, not part of humanitys original program. Still following Maximus, John notes another, larger compensating move : the
Incarnation, as Christ assumes the task of restoring human nature
and all creation to God. His resurrection begins this process by
overcoming sexual division, as Maximus confirms by citing Galatians 3 :28, In Christ there is neither male nor female.48 But
where Maximus gives a crisp summary of Christs reintegration of
the remaining four divisions of his scheme, Eriugena expands on
the implications of sin, divine foresight and sexual division.
In Periphyseon, sin and sex signal only the start of a very busy
game. When Maximus says that in Gods original plan humanity would not be divided into those sections which now exist in
him, Eriugena extends these sections to all human variety and
difference :
The diversity of men among themselves by which the form of each
is distinguished from the others and the measure of stature is varied does not proceed from nature but from defect and the diversity of places and times, of lands, of waters, of airs, of diets, and

41 in A. Louth, Maximus the Confessor (London : Routledge, 1996), 156-162.

See Jeauneau, La division des sexes, 52-3.
46 Periphyseon II, 532C, CCCM 162 : 12-3.
47 Maximus, Ambigua 37, CCSG 18 : 180 ; trans. in Louth, Maximus, 158 ;
cited at Periphyseon II, 536D-537A, CCCM 162 : 17-8.
48 Periphyseon II, 537D-538A, CCCM 162 : 19. See Periphyseon V, 894A895C, CCCM 165 : 49-52, where John discusses Maximus account of Christs
restoration of all five divisions.


donald f. duclow
of other circumstances of this sort of their birth and breeding. Of
the diversity of manners and opinions it is superfluous to speak
for it is obvious to all that these took their origin from the division of nature after sin.49

Sexual propagation not only produces millions of people seven

billion and counting in all their physical variety, but also yields
the many societies and cultures that they develop and require in
order to flourish. We thus owe all our diversity of environment,
breeding, culture and opinion to sin, or more precisely to Gods
provisions for dealing with it.
Eriugena suggests still wider consequences when he links sin not
only to sexual division, but to the two prior divisions of Maximus
scheme : between Paradise and the inhabited globe, and between
heaven and earth. He finds very obscure / ualde obscura the
Greek Fathers claim that by bringing together... paradise and the
inhabited globe, he [Christ] would make the earth one, not divided
in him by difference of parts, but rather so gathered together that
none of its parts suffers loss.50 Eriugena suggests two ways to
understand Maximus text, and both highlight division as a consequence of sin. In the first, the entire inhabited globe in all its
parts becomes paradise, just as unifying human nature recalls
the division of the sexes into the simplicity of man.51 For both
cases follow the rule that lower divisions move into a higher, better unity namely, male and female into human nature, and the
inhabited globe into paradise. Johns second reading suggests unifying two of Maximus divisions at once, so that paradise and the
inhabited globe become one earth namely, the earth that Maximus third division distinguishes from heaven within sensible creation. This earth will be recalled into a simplicity of nature so
as to be believed to be a spiritual rather than a corporeal nature

49 Periphyseon II, 533A-B, CCCM 162 : 13 : Siquidem diuersitas hominum

a se ipsis, qua uniuscuiusque species ab aliis discernitur et staturae modus
uariatur, non ex natura prouenit sed ex uitio et diuersitate locorum et temporum, terrarum, aquarum, aerum, escarum caeterorumque similium in quibus
nascuntur et nutriuntur. De diuersitate morum cogitationumque superfluum
est dicere, cum omnibus manifestum sit ex diuisione naturae post peccatum
initium sumpsisse.
50 Periphyseon II, 533C, emphasis added, CCCM 162 : 13-4.
51 Periphyseon II, 534A, CCCM 162 : 14.

sin and creation in eriugena


such as it would be if man were not in a state of sin.52 On this

account, sin extends the very dialectic of natures division into
the material universe. As Eriugena goes on to say, This world
would not have burst forth into its variety of both sensible species
and the divers multiplicities of their parts if God had not foreseen
the fall and ruin of the first man when he abandoned the unity of
his nature.53 Here not only human sexual difference but much of
Periphyseons third division of nature created and not creating
results from the creators efforts to compensate for human sin.54
We may ask what motivates such far-reaching efforts to compensate for sin. Eriugena gives two answers. Unlike his Greek
sources, he speaks of the corruptible, sexual body as punishment.55
He tells us that like the demons aerial bodies, the earthly and
mortal members of men must be understood as the penalty for
transgression (poenam peccati), which has been added (adiuncta)
to the simplicity of the nature created by God.56 Invoking sins
cosmic consequences, Eriugena asserts that God superimposed /
supermachinatus sexual propagation on human nature, so that
this world might be extended in space and time to allow man to pay
for his general offence a general penalty (poenam), by being born
like the rest of the animals from a corruptible seed.57 The entire
spatio-temporal world thus becomes the arena and vehicle for
repentance. Following Gregory and Maximus more closely, John
emphasizes a second motive when he argues that the creator acts
not from anger, but out of

Periphyseon II, 534A-B, emphasis added, CCCM 162 : 14.

Periphyseon II, 540A. See Avital Wohlman, Lhomme, le sensible et le
pch dans la philosophie de Jean Scot Erigne (Paris : J. Vrin, 1987), especially
54 These cosmic implications apparently disturbed the scribe of Periphyseons Paris manuscript (Bibl. Nat. Lat. 12964), who attempted to confine their impact to humanity. Where the other manuscripts attribute the
cause of the division of nature to Adams sin, this scribe inserted the word
humanae into the phrase to make it read the cause of the division of human
nature (diuisionis humanae naturae causam) (Periphyseon II, 537B, Version
IV, CCCM 162 : 183).
55 See P. Brown, Body and Society, 296 : Gregory of Nyssa never spoke of
it [sexual difference] in any way as a punishment for the fall.
56 Periphyseon IV, 852B-C, CCCM 164 : 157.
57 Periphyseon IV, 799B-C, emphasis added, CCCM 164 : 82.


donald f. duclow
a kind of ineffable teaching and incomprehensible mercy, so that
man, who, by the judgement of his free will, had refused to maintain himself in the status of his nature, might, having learnt from
his punishments, seek the grace of his Creator, and by becoming
through it obedient to the Divine Laws.... might return to his
first state. 58

Sexuality, corruptible bodies and the entire physical universe thus

both mark humanitys descent and become the school for working
out creations return to its divine source. Here the dialectic of creation and natures divisions becomes history a saturated, sacred
history whose course moves toward fulfillment at the end of
time. This eschatology will complete natures dialectic of return,
but its course is perilous and uncertain. For running the project
of natures return like its creation through humanity incurs
enormous risks.59 Today we have hardly outgrown Adams sleepy
distraction, phantasy life and desires, which make it so difficult
for us to see clearly, order our lives rightly, and move towards a
renewed paradise. To describe our efforts in this direction, Eriugena again turns to Genesis. In the penalties imposed on Eve,
he sees the labors of study, which Scripture calls the sorrows of
woman, through which the mind achieves many conceptions,
that is, the rudiments of an understanding of intelligible beings,
and the procreation of sons, that is to say, of right judgments concerning nature.60 Within this allegorical scheme, Eve may be punished, but her sorrows and labor effect humanitys return. Indeed,
they mark Periphyseons path to the eschaton, a hallmark of which
will be the erasure of the sexual, mortal body. For the end mirrors the beginning, and only natures or substances will endure in
the return not compensatory accidents added to human nature.
58 Periphyseon II, 540B-C, emphasis added and translation modified :
mercy rather than Sheldon-Williamss clemency for misericordia, CCCM
162 : 22 : sed modo quodam ineffabilis doctrinae incomprehensibilisque
misericordiae, ut homo qui libero uoluntatis arbitrio in suae naturae dignitate
se custodire noluerat conditoris sui gratiam suis poenis eruditus quaereret et
per eam diuinis praeceptis oboediens..ad suum pristinum statum. rediret.
59 See Willemien Otten, The Anthropology of Johannes Scottus Eriugena
(Leiden : Brill, 1991), 113-116.
60 Periphyseon IV, 854D-855B, CCCM 164 : 160-1. Jeauneau notes the originality of Eriugenas optimistic reading of Eves penalties in Periphyseon IV
(Dublin : Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1995), 337, n. 309.

sin and creation in eriugena


These will be so thoroughly transformed as to vanish or more

precisely, to be dissolved and changed into... spirit and stable
substance.61 But the sexual body will not endure, because it is
contingent and inherently perishable.
Controversies and Condemnations
Eriugena knew that his views on the human body and sexuality
were controversial. Let us note two instances within Periphyseon
itself. Following the Teachers dialogue with Adam, he responds
to those who see an attack on marriage and procreation in his
teaching that sexual distinction and begetting are penalties for
sin. He affirms wedlock so long as it is for the procreation of
children and not for the gratification of lust.62 But he realistically
notes the impossibility of intercourse without the lustful itch of
the flesh, and reaffirms that sexual reproduction results from the
human decision to multiply like beasts rather than like angels.63
Another, more dramatic and detailed objection occurs in Book II.
After the Teacher discusses Maximus five-stage cosmic scheme of
division and return, the Student raises a question that would be
widely shared. He strongly objects to the claim that the division
into male and female did not proceed from the first creation of
man in the image of God but from the punishment for sin, and
that again after the general resurrection of all bodies at the end
of the world the division will no longer remain but will return to
the unity of the primordial creation of nature.64 He asks who
would not be horrified to hear this, and is especially alarmed by

61 See Periphyseon V, 884A-885C, CCCM 165 : 35-7 : Mortal bodies shall be

dissolved and changed into something better (solvetur et in melius mutabitur),
into spirit and stable substance. As concentrations of incorporeal qualities,
these bodies will return to the condition of an incorporeal object. See also
Periphyseon V, 986C-987C, CCCM 165 : 177-8, and the more detailed account
glossing Gregory of Nyssa, at Periphyseon IV, 800D-803A, CCCM 164 : 84-7 :
the external body will resolve into the elements, and its species, hoc est, notio
will remain in the soul.
62 Periphyseon IV, 846D-847A, CCCM 164 : 149.
63 Periphyseon IV, 847A, CCCM 164 : 149. He echoes Augustine when he
adds that children thus inherit the guilt of everlasting death from which
they are freed only by baptism into the Catholic Church.
64 Periphyseon II, 542C-D, CCCM 162 : 24-5.


donald f. duclow

the notion of a sexless humanity following the resurrection. He

reminds the Teacher that all or almost all holy masters of the
Latin tongue unanimously declare that after the resurrection of
all things each sex will have its integrity, so that man returns into
the form of a man, woman into the form of a woman.65 Similarly,
he rejects the claim that the resurrected Christ is neither male
nor female, and affirms the common faith to the contrary : We
believe that Christ rose again in the same sex in which He lived in
the flesh, and that He remains in it eternally. Here the Student
gives voice to critiques that were to haunt Periphyseon and eventually lead to its condemnation.
Eriugenas most sympathetic readers shared the Students
concerns. In the twelfth century, Honorius Augustudonensis is
strangely schizoid on these issues. As Caroline Walker Bynum
notes, his Clavis physicae faithfully reproduces Periphyseons
account of sexual difference, but his popular Elucidarium presents
very different views. Here Honorius explains the resurrection in
materialist terms and imagery, and portrays a heaven populated
by beautiful men and women who will appear with their eyes
and faces and all their interior and exterior members.66 Another
sympathetic reader was Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464) who left
us extensive marginal comments to manuscripts of Periphyseons
Book I and Honorius Clavis. These glosses usually note texts that
attract Nicholas attention ; they occasionally praise Eriugena, but
rarely criticize him. Yet Cusanus writes error beside passages
tracing the origin of sexual difference and procreation to sin.67
Similarly, he writes nota quod male when Eriugena claims that


Periphyseon II, 543B-C, CCCM 162 : 25.

Caroline Walker Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body (New York :
Columbia University Press, 1995), 150, citing Honorius, Elucidarium, Bk. 3,
q. 106, 467-470.
67 Paolo Lucentini edits Nicholas glosses to Clavis physicae in Platonismo
medievale : Contributi per storia dell Eriugenismo (Florence : La Nuova Italia,
1980, 2nd revised edition), 108, n. 115 (Periphyseon IV, 799B) & n. 118 (Periphyseon V, 896). On Nicholas marginalia to Periphyseon I, see D. F. Duclow,
Coinciding in the Margins : Cusanus Glosses Eriugena, in Eriugena Cusanus, ed. A, Kijewska, R. Majeran and H. Schwaetzer (Lublin : Wydawnictwo
KUL, 2011), 83-103.

sin and creation in eriugena


sexual division will vanish when human nature shall be restored

to its pristine state.68
In the thirteenth century, harsher critics noticed Periphyseons
views on sexual division, and rightly or wrongly linked them
to the doctrines of Amalric of Bne.69 Almarics teachings were
condemned at the 1210 synod of Paris, and Pope Honorius III
condemned Periphyseon in 1225.70 Although the documents of 1210
and 1225 affirm no link between Amalric and Eriugena, Henry
of Ostia later traced Amalrics teachings to the book of Master
John the Scot called Periphyseon, and highlighted three condemned doctrines. The third is that at the end of time there will
be a union of the sexes, or there will be no distinction of sex,
which union he says to have begun in Christ.71 The fusion or abolition of sexual difference here ranks just behind major charges of
pantheism that all things are God and that the primordial
causes creative activity compromises Gods exclusive power to
create. Matthew of Poland provided a longer list when discussing
Innocent IIIs condemnation of Amalric, and included not only the
end of sexual difference, but also its source : that if man had not
sinned he would not have been divided into the twofold sexes.72
Both Henry and Martin thus considered Periphyseons deviant sexual views a major doctrinal threat, serious enough to condemn
alongside the ontological error of identifying creatures with God.


Lucentini, Platonismo medievale, 90, n. 36 (Periphyseon II, 532A-B).

Whether Amalric and his followers used Periphyseon is a disputed question. For affirmative views, see Maeul Cappuyns, Jean Scot Erigne, reprint
ed. (Brussels : Culture et Civilisation,1969), 247-250 ; and G. C. Capelle,
Amaury de Bne : tude sur son panthisme formel (Paris : J. Vrin, 1932), which
includes relevant Latin texts, 89-111. For more critical views, see M. Th. dAlverny, Un fragment du procs des Amauriciens, AHDLMA (1950-51) : 325336 ; and P. Lucentini, Leresia di Amalrico, in Eriugena Redivivus, ed. W.
Beierwaltes (Heidelberg : C. Winter, 1987), 174-191.
70 See Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis, ed. H. Denifle & A. Chatlain
(Paris : Delalain, 1889), vol. I, 70-72, 106-107.
71 Cited in Alice Gardner, Studies in John the Scot (Erigena) : A Philosopher
of the Dark Ages (London & New York : H. Frowde, 1900), 136-137 ; Capelle,
Amaury de Bne, 93-94. Interestingly, Henry notes that Eriugena cites the
authority of a Greek master named Maximus.
72 Gardner, Studies, 137-138, translation modified ; Capelle, Amaury de
Bne, 105.


donald f. duclow

Bynum sees the resurrection as central to the condemnations of

Amalric and Periphyseon, and comments that one of the most
threatening elements of the Erigenist position was the claim that
with the loss of materiality and [bodily] integrity there would be
a blurring of the sexes at the end of time.73 Yet for Eriugena this
problem goes back to the beginning, since the resurrection will
simply undo the making of the sexual body. The contested issue
thus becomes the status of the mortal body and of sexual difference which is its defining marker. Is this body integral to human
nature, or not ? Periphyseons thirteenth-century critics said yes,
and Eriugena clearly disagreed and placed humanity above its
sexual, mortal body : homo melior est quam sexus.74
Surely the ghost behind this controversy is Augustine. His
early De Genesi contra Manicheos asks how to understand sexual
difference and the commands to increase and multiply, and proposes an answer similar to Gregory of Nyssa and Eriugena : We
are permitted to understand it spiritually and to believe that it
was changed to carnal fecundity after sin. For there was first the
chaste union of male and female which produced spiritual offspring and effortless self-control, and after sin turned to carnal
generation.75 However, around the year 400 Augustine repudiated
this view for another, more literal reading. In De Genesi ad litteram, his emphasis on paradise as history fitted neatly with if
not required his insistence on the concrete, fleshly reality of
Adam and Eve who, if they had not sinned, would have reproduced sexually in paradise.76 On this view, sexuality, marriage and
procreation form part of humanitys original program, rather than
being added to accommodate a sin-induced handicap. Further, this
same, sexual body will not disappear at the resurrection, but will


Bynum, Resurrection of the Body, 155.

Periphyseon II, 533A, CCCM 162 : 13. See also Periphyseon V, 893D,
CCCM 165 : 49 : inferior est sexus homine.
75 Augustine, De Genesi contra Manicheos 19,30 ; PL 34, 187 ; trans. R. Teske
in Augustine on Genesis, 77. See Teskes illuminating note.
76 Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram IX, 3 ; CSEL 28, 1, 271-272. On Augustines changing views, see E. A. Clark, Ascetic Piety and Womens Faith, 362373 ; and Gillian Clark, Adams Engendering : Augustine on Gender and Creation, in R. N. Swanson, ed., Gender and Christian Religion (Rochester, NY :
Boydell Press, 1998), 18-21.

sin and creation in eriugena


itself become spiritual. Peter Brown emphasizes how novel this

exegesis was and the controversies it provoked with Augustines
contemporaries.77 Yet it became canonical in the Latin West.
Having absorbed his Greek sources, Eriugena struggled against
Augustines later view, and nowhere more clearly than when he
gives up his attempt to reconcile Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa.
The Teacher accurately sums up Augustines teaching : that in
the First Man male and female were created in the image of God,
and the animal bodies themselves with which they were endowed
before the Fall were not the result of punishment for sin, but of
the necessity of nature, that is to say, for the fulfillment by procreation of the predestined number of holy men to complete the
heavenly company of angels and saints.78 He then cites De civitate
Deis lyrical description of the first humans emotional lives and
wedlock love in paradise, including the possibilities of their sexual union and begetting children without the disease of lust and
eventually entering the bliss of angels. The Teacher expresses
his astonishment that it can be believed that animal bodies
have dwelt in such a height of bliss.79 Here Jeauneau detects the
irony fine et cruelle as Eriugena declares Augustines historical account of paradise too good to be true.80 Yet this signals
a deeper disagreement. For John not only insists on the animal
bodys limitations, but he also argues that it is added to human
nature and will perish at the resurrection. Hence, this body is an
accident, and as such neither substantial nor integral to humanity.
Only the original, incorruptible body created with the rational
soul will endure and be restored. Since sexual difference defines
the animal body, it too will perish, just as there is neither male
nor female in the resurrected Christ.


P. Brown, Body and Society, 399-408.

Periphyseon V, 805A-B, CCCM 165 : 89-90 and 440-441 (Versiones I-II
and IV).
79 Periphyseon V, 806A-D, CCCM 165 : 91-2.
80 Jeauneau, Jean Scot et lironie, 23-24, and reprinted in tudes rigniennes, 333-334.


donald f. duclow

Now that we have completed our pornographic tour of Periphyseon, it is perhaps surprising to find sex so central to Eriugenas
project. But when Adam sleeps, interesting things begin to happen. His dreamy desire disrupts the dialectic of natures division,
inscribes sin into creation, and requires compensating moves by
both God and humanity. Thanks to divine foresight and human
creativity, Eve comes into being, and humanity takes on a sexual and mortal body. Further consequences follow : Natures third
division extends into the sensible world, and cosmic dialectic
becomes sacred history centered on human dreams, desires, willing and knowing. As this story unfolds, it moves towards a conclusion that will complete natures dialectic by leading all things
into the divine nature that neither creates nor is created. As anticipated in the risen Christ, humanitys resurrection will complete
this transition, when sexual difference will disappear as humanity attains the paradise intended in its original creation. Hence,
while Adams sleep initiates human sexuality and the animal
body, the resurrection marks their erasure and the fulfillment of
human nature.81
By weaving together exegesis, the Neoplatonic dialectic of
natures divisions, and sacred history, Eriugena develops this powerful new account of sin, sex, creation and resurrection. This is
among the stranger things in Periphyseon, and leads us to read the
work from a different angle. For we observe John not only drastically refashioning the Genesis narrative, but also skewing natures
very dialectic to accommodate his novel vision of human sexualitys origins and ultimate overcoming. We have seen how controversial his revisionist project has been. Indeed, Eriugena invited
controversy by pointedly rejecting Augustines authoritative views
on the sexual and mortal body. Nor did his frequent appeals to
Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus and Ambrose do much to quiet the
furor. Already in Periphyseon the Student expresses his alarm, and
later sympathetic readers like Honorius and Cusanus distanced

81 As Otten notes, Mans return to his original state in fact involves a

continuing processio rather than an actual return, because man has not yet
fully realized his character as imago Dei (Anthropology of Eriugena, 153).

sin and creation in eriugena


themselves from Johns views on sexual difference. The controversies came to a head in the thirteenth century, when Eriugenas
account of sexuality seems to have figured in the condemnations
of both Periphyseon and Amalric of Bne. Not for the first or last
time, sex became a burning issue.