William of Malmesbury's amusing story illustrates both the character of Eriugena and the position he occupied at the French court. The king having asked, Quid distat inter sottum et Scottum? (What separates a sot (drunkard) from a Scot?) Eriugena replied, Mensa tantum (Only a table).
He remained in France for at least thirty years. At the request of the Byzantine emperor Michael III (ca. 858), Eriugena undertook some translation into Latin of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius and added his own commentary. He was thus the first to introduce the ideas of Neoplatonism from the Greek into the Western European intellectual tradition, where they were to have a strong influence on Christian theology.
The latter part of his life lies in total obscurity. The story that in 882 he was invited to Oxford by Alfred the Great, that he labored there for many years, became abbot at Malmesbury, and was stabbed to death by his pupils with their styli, is apparently without any satisfactory foundation, and doubtless refers to some other Johannes. Eriugena probably never left France, and Haurau has advanced some reasons for fixing the date of his death about 877. From the evidence available it is impossible to determine whether he was a cleric or a layman, although it is difficult to deny that the general conditions of the time make it more than probable that he was a cleric and perhaps a monk.
The first of the works known to have been written by Eriugena during this period was a treatise on the Eucharist, which has not come down to us. In it he seems to have advanced the doctrine that the Eucharist was merely symbolical or commemorative, an opinion for which Berengar of Tours was at a later date censured and condemned. As a part of his penance, Berengarius is said to have been compelled to burn publicly Eriugena's treatise. So far as we can learn, however, Eriugena's orthodoxy was not at the time suspected, and a few years later he was selected by Hincmar, archbishop of Reims, to defend the doctrine of liberty of will against the extreme predestinarianism of the monk Gottschalk (Gotteschalchus). The treatise De divina praedestinatione, composed on this occasion, has been preserved, and from its general tenor one cannot be surprised that the author's orthodoxy was at once and vehemently suspected. The Church was threatened by Gottschalk's position because it denies the inherent value of good works.
Eriugena argues the question entirely on speculative grounds, and starts with the bold affirmation that philosophy and religion are fundamentally one and the same. Even more significant is his handling of authority and reason. Eriugena offered a skilled proof that there can be predestination only to the good, in that all men are summoned to be saints. The work was warmly assailed by Drepanius Florus, canon of Lyons, and Prudentius, and was condemned by two councils: that of Valence in 855, and that of Langres in 859. By the former council his arguments were described as Pultes Scotorum ("Irish porridge") and commentum diaboli ("an invention of the devil").
Eriugena was a Christian universalist; he believed that all people and all beings, including animals, reflect attributes of God, towards whom all are capable of progressing and to which all things ultimately must return. To Eriugena, hell was not a place but a condition and punishment was purifying, not penal. He was a believer in apocatastasis, which maintains that all moral creatures--angels, humans and devils--will eventually come to a harmony in God's kingdom. He based his beliefs on the Greek writings of the early Christian fathers, like Origen, and considered himself an orthodox Christian thinker.
The Division of Nature has been called the final achievement of ancient philosophy, a work which "synthesizes the philosophical accomplishments of fifteen centuries." It is presented, like Alcuin's book, as a dialogue between Master and Pupil. Eriugena anticipates Thomas Aquinas, who said that one cannot know and believe a thing at the same time. Eriugena explains that reason is necessary to understand and interpret revelation. "Authority is the source of knowledge", but the reason of mankind is the norm by which all authority is judged.
After Eriugena the next medieval thinker of significance was Berengar of Tours, professor at the monastic school in the French city. Berengar believed that truth is obtained through reason rather than revelation. St. Peter Damian agreed with Tertullian that it is not necessary for men to think because God has spoken for them. Damian was prior of Fonte Avellana and afterward Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia. He died in 1072. Lanfranc (1005 - 1089) was prior of Bec in Normandy. Like Damian he believed mostly in faith, but admitted the importance of reason. St. Anselm was a pupil and successor of St. Peter Damian.
Eriugena's work became known in the 1680s: