Pantheism and the Problem of Nature; From Eriugena to Emerson

Forelæsning ved æresdoktor Willemien Otten, der er professor i teologi ved The Divinity School, University of Chicago.

In 1225 Pope Honorius III ordered all extant copies of Eriugena’s opus magnum Periphyseon sent to Rome to be burned. One of the listed charges against the work was that of pantheism, a charge which the Carolingian Eriugena has in common with the North American R.W. Emerson. But is that really the central problem that animates their thought?

 In this lecture I argue that a better way to capture what Eriugena and Emerson are doing is to see it as their attempt to “think nature,” that is, to encounter nature not as a static object but in full flight.

Looking at Eriugena and Emerson through the lens of “thinking nature” does not only dissolve the accusation of pantheism or panentheism, but criticizes it on a deeper level as reflective of the choice not to engage a nature that is dynamic, thereby departing from a more straightforward sense of biblical creation.

Accepting instead the challenge of this engagement, we can further the analysis of Eriugena and Emerson by bringing them in close conversation with surrounding thinkers: Augustine and Maximus the Confessor for Eriugena; Schleiermacher and William James for Emerson. Weaving in this way a narrative of elusive nature as it has haunted heresyhunters for centuries, I submit that Eriugena’s and Emerson’s way of proceeding is best seen as their attempt to take seriously the parallelism of nature and scripture.