Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Erigena’s Treatise on Divine Predestination is notable for its paucity of references to the specific role of Jesus Christ in human salvation. It is hardly surprising that Hincmar—who commissioned it—repudiated it, contemporary church councils labeled it as heretical, and the Vatican placed the first printed edition of Erigena’s work on its list of banned books. The work provides an early solution to the much-debated problem of reconciling the existence of evil with the concept of an omnipotent and benevolent God—by no means an exclusively Christian debate. Its approach to biblical inerrancy and literal interpretation of sacred texts is radical even by modern standards. If God is fundamentally indescribable in human terms, everything relating to God becomes metaphorical, and the aptness of every metaphor open to question.

Gottschalk saw predestination as a divinely ordained master plan that determined, before people were born, the course of their lives and the outcomes of all the decisions determining whether their lives led to salvation or to sin and damnation. This comes close to John Calvin’s concept. For Erigena, God, standing outside of time, simply has foreknowledge of the outcome. He no more compels a person to sin, than a chronicler relating the evils of the past causes those evils to have occurred. Erigena attributed the decision to sin to excessive preoccupation with matters of the flesh. These matters are not inherently evil, but belong to a lower order of creation. Redemption depends on directing one’s intellect and understanding toward contemplation of the divine, not to earn grace, but as a means of rendering one susceptible to the workings of grace to which all people, by reason of their humanity, are already predestined.