The 7th Chapter of The Arbiter by John Philoponus


This essay argues that the concept of nature, found in the treatise on the person of Jesus Christ by John Philoponus, Sixth Century Alexandrian, presents the Church with a definition of nature that is helpful for relations between Science and Theology today. This was a concept over which the East and the West of the Church have been divided. The argument of The Arbiter was written in response to the Emperor Justinian's call for a resolution to the Christological debates dividing up and weakening his Empire. John Philoponous, as a scientist of some renown in his time and in response to the Emperor, presented his argument to the Church with a dynamically open-ended and truly kinetic grasp of the natures of Christ within the physical nature of a Ptolemaic Cosmos that he understood to be God's Creation. Thus, nature for Philoponus was to be understood through the inherent relations the Creator had created and revealed through Jesus Christ in the world.

By carefully considering the way the wholeness of God and the wholeness of the world with all its parts may be understood together, as that cosmos which is the object of the creative will of God the Word become flesh as the Man Jesus Christ, Philoponus argues for what we may name the rational contingency of physical nature. Created nature is different from the nature of God. Yet the created reality of the cosmos, contingent being, is embedded in the non-contingent Being and nature of God Himself. So Philoponus would argue that the wholeness in which the particular natures of Christ is to be experienced and thought only exists as the actual nature of God's interaction with His Word in Christ and in the world. The humanity the Word has become we name Jesus Christ. The person of Jesus Christ reveals for us the that wholeness by which Man as the Incarnation of the Word and the revelation of the life of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit possesses both a created nature and the uncreated nature of God as One. This oneness is not the same as the oneness of the cosmos, but rooted in the ground of the Divine Being. Philoponus would think together the divine and human natures of the person of Jesus Christ in such a way that both the particular man and the divine Son or Word are properly grasped as one reality. The argument appeared to Western thought to be that of a monophysite and tritheist. Thus, his argument was historically a failure and Philoponus became obscure in both the fields of the history of science and theology. He was declared anathema in 680 AD. But recent investigations have begun to understand him as an original and creative thinker whose contributions should any longer go ignored.

I have argued that the way this Alexandrian Grammarian accomplished his explanation of the relational wholeness between God, Man, and the Cosmos would be helpful to us today, as we attempt to relate theology and science in our own time. Nature now appears to possess an invisible depth of being and form that challenges, perhaps as never before in history, the facility by which human beings may grasp its reality in all of its depths. We do not explain the invisible by the visible, but quite the other way around. I would argue that John Philoponus employed this same method in order to think together the whole and the parts of Jesus Christ. He introduced a new concept of nature with his resolution of the problem. I believe he was no monophysite and quite right in his explanation of the problem of divine and human whole and the parts that must be faced in person of Christ. The invisible dimensions of created reality were for John Philoponus to be grasped as that point where the uncreated reality of the Triune God and the visibly particular man in Palestine meet together. Here is the Triune God whose Word created and sustains all things in their being. As such, Jesus Christ is the compelling center around which all the cosmos moves as God's creation. nature was not to be defined except as this Word become flesh in the world.

This meant that the incarnation posited something new in the nature of the world, a newness that required a fresh conceptualization of the significance of nature itself. The uniqueness of this person was to be apprehended so that as the Revelation of God he was truly understood with and for us in the world. It was probably Philoponus's effort to lay hold of this new dimension in the midst of the debates that gained for him as both a monophysite and a tritheist his condemnation. I hope my presentation of this fragment of the 7th chapter from 'The Arbiter' will help obtain the removal of the anathema from his theological work.

I have translated the fragment of the 7th chapter of The Arbiter by John Philoponus from the Jacobite Syriac text employed by A. Šanda for his Latin translation of the treatise in "Opusucla Monophysitica Ioannis Philoponoi" (Beryti: Phoeniciorum Tuypographia Catholica, 1937). In my Ph.D. dissertation on the Alexandrian Grammarian, I have argued that the condemnation of Philoponus as tritheist and monophysite is a mistake of tragic proportion (See my The Setting in Life of The Arbiter of John Philoponos, Sixth Century Alexandrian Scientist, Wipf & Stock, Portland, Oregon, 1998). This fragment of The Arbiter was employed to establish the Anathema against him in 680 AD. My translation is a attempt to communicate the conceptual power of Philoponus's thought. One can compare this with the translation of this chapter by F.H. Chase, Jr in "The Writings of St. John of Damascus" (Fathers of the Church, Vol. 37, 1958). I believe it will readily be apparent that the syntax of words in sentences does not necessarily communicate an argumentation that is conceptually faithful to the intention and purpose of its author. This is certainly a real problem, but I have tried to grasp as best I could the conceptual power in the thought of the Alexandrian, and to communicate this thought with my translation, without attempting to develop any formal English style in relationship with the Syriac. I have italicized my translation of the most significant terms in the argument. I have also underlined any word that I believe needs special attention when we employ an English term for it. I hope my reason for this will be evident to my reader.

Chapter Seven of The Arbiter:

21. The seventh chapter will demonstrate the truth itself against those who think to posit things to the contrary. For while they suppose that there are two natures to Christ, yet they are persuaded that he exists as one hypostasis or person (prosopon) belong to him. Yet at the same time, they reject those who say Christ is one nature after the union as well as those who claim that he is two hypostases.[1]

But before we raise our objections to this hypothesis, I suppose it is necessary first of all to define just what the Ecclesiastical Doctrines intend to signify by nature and by hypostasis or person (prosopon). nature is understood to be the common basis (logos) upon which exists those things that participate in the same being (ousia), just as everyone, for example, receives a rational, mortal life existing with a mind and intelligence. In this sense of the word, no one differs from any other. Being (ousia) and nature come to mean, in this case, the same thing.

However, hypostasis or person, refer to that aspect of nature which belongs to each particular existence, as when we speak, to put the matter briefly, about particular things existing in a composition of things that participate differentially in the same nature. Such things the Peripatetics prefer to call atomo (individuals), [2] because with these things the division of the 'genera' into 'species' is finally concluded. These things are called in ecclesiastical doctrine hypostases or persons. Thus, an animus may be divided into rational and irrational and then rational may further be divided into mankind, angels, and demons, and then these may be divided into each single entity of the rest of their species, just as mankind may be divided up into Peter, Paul, and John, etc., and angel into Gabriel, Michael, and all the rest of the angels, all of which are called atomo. But these cannot be divided up any further into anything while retaining their nature. For to divide, for instance, the body from soul would destroy the whole of its life. Because of this, these things are named atomo, and called in ecclesiastical circles hypostases. In this way the 'genera' and 'species' are understood to exist. For as such the basis (logos) of their existence as the life of man in its own 'genus'and 'species' is understood, even though it is only as the atomo of this species that it is found to subsist, ie. mankind does not exist outside of those whom we call Peter and Paul. [3]

22. This then is the way Ecclesiastical Doctrines employ the terms hypostasis and nature. The common nature, therefore, in which one man does not exist differently from any other, and yet exists in one man among the atomo (as a species), which does not exist as such in common with any other man, as we have already explained in Chapter Four. For the rational, mortal, life that exists in me has nothing in common with any one else. This is evident from the fact that, whenever a certain man or bull or horse dies, this does not mean that the rest of the atomo of the same species has also died. For when Paul dies, we do not suppose that all the rest (of the species) has also died with him. Nor do we suppose that when Peter is born that all those men who will be born after him already exist. Consequently, each nature is not thought to exist singly (as one thing merely), but doubly (on two levels of existence---common and paricular).[4] It means one thing when it refers to the common basis (logos) of each one of the natures that we experience as an individual being, such as the nature of Man or Horse, even while it does not exist except as one among the atomo (of the species). But it means another thing when it refers to this common nature as it is understood to exist as an atomo, which we actually see as a particular thing to which no one else can be suited. For the rational, mortal, life that is in me does not exist in common with any of the rest of the species of men. Nor does its nature belong to the life of a horse or any other such thing, as must be clear to everyone by now.

23. That this the understanding regarding nature and hypostasis that belongs to Ecclesiastical Doctrine is clear from the fact that we confess the one nature of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet we also assert that there are three hypostases or persons, so that we may distinguish individually each one from the rest.[5] For while there exists one nature of the Godhead as the common basis (logos) of the divine nature, still we only in reality experience it as a distinctly individual among the hypostases. Thus, though we understand the individual name as such, the common basis (logos) of any one nature of an atomo or hypostases exists as an individual thing not thought to be suitable to any other of the rest of the species. Thus, it is also clear that, concerning Christ, I say we must assert the union of the two natures, divine and human. We do not say that the common nature of the Godhead of the Holy Trinity, is to be understood in the Incarnation. For we never day that the Father and the Holy Spirit became incarnate. Nor do we claim that the common basis (logos) of the nature of humanity has become united with God the Word.For then we would be saying that those men who were born before the Word and those who were born after Him would necessarily be born then. But it is evident that by this divine nature we wish to indicate that nature which exists the hypostasis of the Word from out of the common Godhead. We confess, therefore, the 'one nature of the Word God incarnate' (---This is the confession of Cyril of Alexandria made at Chalcedon along with the Tome of Leo and the famous four adverbs!)[6] and with the fact that we add God the Word Himself, clearly we mean to distinguish Him from the Father and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, even though we may have in mind the common basis (logos) of the nature of the Godhead as the Word God, still we understand that it is the nature of the Word God that has been incarnated. Furthermore, we say that the humanity which has united with the Word possess a particular existence which the Word has assumed as one among all others (of the species), so that this one is known according to its nature. In this way hypostasis and nature come to mean the same thing. The noun hypostasis is to be understood as something that belongs to those things that exist individually with a common nature along with each of the of the atomo (of a species), by which we may distinguish one thing from another.

24. Because of this, there are many among us who speak about these things concerning the union while employing the terms hypostases or natures interchangably. But if, as we have argued, the hypostasis refers to the individual existence of each one of the atomo, without being in common with the many others (of the species) named among them, then it is evident that we wish to signify in this sense its individual nature. In this way, then, both is this present argument and by the customary use of these terms of those who are trained to employ them, we denote the basis (logos) of the common nature of humanity whenever we would refer to that species which possesses life as 'humanity' among the atomo as a species under its genus, and we do not speak of it in any other way.

25. Perhaps it is also necessary to make one point further; many times the nouns hypostasis and person would signify the same thing, as we have indicated, just as when we can use the nouns 'knife' or 'sword' and mean the same thing. So also the three hypostases or the three persons of the Holy Trinity can be named without differentiating between them when we are not concerned to distinguish one from the other two. But quite often we do desire to distinguish between the person or the hypostasis, as when we would refer to the relationship of a 'person' among others, even when we do not mean to refer to such and such a person. For we say that so and so 'assumed my person' or 'in the person of so and so' a judgment has been rendered for him, or we may even say that 'he is the prefect (official representative) of the person of the Emperor'. Because of this, the disciples of the teachings of Nestorius will not allow us to speak about the one hypostasis and one nature of the Christ. For they do not think that the union is in fact from the natures or hypostases. But they claim that an ordinary man has come into being as Mary's son, one in whom exists the illumination of divinity so that in this way he is the Son of God and different from all the rest of men, who also possess in each of them some particular divine illumination.[7] Thus, with complete confidence they understand the person of Christ to exist as one, while explaining that the relationship of the Word God to this man from Mary was made one person because of the fact of the divine economy that belongs to the person of the divinity of the Word. So then, they shamefully despise the fact that as a man God has appeared and that the honors and treatment due the representative is the same as the Emperor. Therefore, they say the naturalness of Christ properly refers to this kind of relationship and because of it are committed to naming one Christ. Because of relationship of love, then, he is to be thought as this one thing that even as the many exist to participate in this one thing.

I suppose that from here it is clear that those who think rightly concerning the Incarnation of our Savior, even though we say that the the person of Christ is one, it is not according to way the followers of Nestorius like to think of Him, so that we do not confess the person as a relationship of love between the Word God and the humanity that has come, but we claim that he came without changing the naturalness of the hypostasis or person, so that we say the person of Christ exists as one thing, and that as one hypostasis he belongs to the same species as Peter and Paul. [8]

26. Before we go on to argue any further, we must also consider this: There was never a time, not even a little of it, when the humanity of Christ existed outside of his union with the Word.[9] Right from the beginning, he was assumed with the union as the Word, not, we say, without the hypostasis of his nature, as if it were the case that he himself did not possess existence among other men, but so that he is to be distinguished as an individual without that common nature that belongs to all other men. That this is what the term hypostasis signifies, we have now then demonstrated.

So then, just as we confess the divinity of Christ, itsnatureand its hypostases, we also must confess his humanity, itsnaturebelonging to his own hypostasis, so that, I say, it is necessary to to confess thisnatureas such. For it is clear that the humanity of our Savior who exists as one of those atomo exists as such under a common nature.

27. Now these things are clearly understood, so that I suppose everyone by now can agree upon them. Let us acknowledge that the two natures are affirmed as belonging to Christ with the one hypostasis of him, because everyone of these have been united,natureand hypostasis, as one necessary existence. As the Word demonstrates, one from two, in an equality honoring both the natures and the hypostases as being united, since it exists as onehypostasisfrom two in the same sense the natures are considered two even after the union.

Endnotes for Translation

[1] Philoponus has in mind here Chalcedon over against Eutychian gnosticism and the Arianism of the Nestorians prevailing in his time.

[2] I have transliterated this term because the ultimate particle of a species has, even in our own time, escaped our attention. We should understand its significance appropriately. Even modern quarks might not qualify as a source for an ultimate definition of the atomo.

[3] The scientist is working with the so-called Porphyrian Tree belonging to the Aristotelian Categories upon which definition was dependent then.

[4] I have discussed this notion of nature within my comments on the fragment. Apprehending the thought of Philoponus at this point is vital for understanding him not as a heretical monophysite, but as an orthodox seeking to strengthen within the real world our grasp of the person of Jesus Christ.

[5] Philoponus has in his background the homoousios of the Council of Nicea and its development of the Trinitarian Faith in the Church.

[6] He is quoting Cyril of Alexandria here. See St. John of Damascus in Fathers of the Church, Vol. 37, 1958, p. 143, nt. 72. I do not believe the Church as ever settled all the issues involved in declaring that Cyril and Leo meant to refer to the same thing with their respective confessions.

[7] I believe that Philoponus did not embrace a doctrine of divine illumination, as perhaps Augustine and later Aquinas did, because it circumvented the reality of the created reality in which we have been given to be human in the world. The Light that was God is embodied in Jesus Christ and nowhere else.

[8] Philoponus believes that the Nestorians find the real hypostatic uinion of the natures unintelligible, and that it is our duty to find it intelligible. That is the thrust of his whole argument.

[9]This is the doctrine of the anhypostasis of the Word become flesh, so vital to the Church's reflection upon the intelligibility of the hypostatic union. It was thought that this hypostasis was formed by a composite unity in which the enhypostasis and anhypostasis inherent in its reality could think together in real correspondence the divine and human natures of the individuals involved.

(The text cited by John of Damascus ends here.)[1]
The next sentence reads:
(.......But if the two have been established as one man out with the Word, then it is indeed impossible firstly to understand the breadth and limit of the union of the natures as they are given, even while the whole being (ousia) is not more or less received.......) It is clear that the fragment is broken off rather abruptly from the intent of the argument of Philoponus!

This fragment, as we have said, was employed to condemn Philoponus around 680 AD. [2] The Anathema understood this to be the heart of the its condemnation. The Christological debates that had continued in the Church beyond Nicea (325 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD) were attempts to refine the concept of the person of Jesus Christ. The Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon had essentially said, before the bishops adjourned, that Cyril of Alexandria (the one incarnate nature of God the Word) and Pope Leo in his Tome (two natures of the one Person, without confusion or conversation, thus guarding against docetic thought, and without separation or division, guarding against adoptionistic thought) had meant to say the same thing. But the years following the agreement proved that conventional agreements alone are not necessarily the stuff by which the Church was called to witness to the Living God. The Christology of Chalcedon was not the done deal for which many had hoped. [3]

The Emperor Justinian reigned over an Empire that was much taken up with the continued debates about the person of Jesus Christ. With the Emperor, right or orthodox dogma and right or just rule went hand in hand with the king's success. Apostacy must mean the defeat of his Empire. To try to put an end to the debates, which could cause riots in some cities, Justinian appointed Philoponus to write a treatise on Jesus Christ for the Fifth Ecumenical Council of the Church. He hoped to bring some new resolution of the problems over which the East and West in his Empire could agree. The debate between monophysites and diophysites needed a compelling resolution in his time, if the Emperor was to be strong enough to deal with the barbarians at his borders. Resolution meant an inner peace from which could be derived the strength victory against his enemies. History has taught us the failure of the work to achieve its goals. Even to this day, no compelling resolution exists with the Church, and for his effort in the service of his king, Philoponus was ultimately condemned as a monophysite and tritheist. Enemies surrounded him. Simplicius, in the field of science, condemned him as a blasphemer and maniac in his opposition to the masters, Plato and Aristotle. The Church condemned him for his misunderstanding of the person of Jesus Christ, and one continues to wonder how one man can become so misunderstood. [4]

The insistence in the argument of 'The Arbiter' that person and nature could and must be on some level really identified as individual being with one another was simply not intelligible to his enemies and friends. His analysis seemed to confuse the humanity of Jesus Christ with his divinity or the divinity with his humanity, against Chalcedon's adverbs. If the 'incarnate nature of God the Word' meant that we could not distinguish the humanity of the Lord from His divinity, then we had not grasped the significance of these four adverbs employed at Chalcedon. Christ is who he is as his person without converting the natures or confusing them. He is also this person without separating the natures or dividing them. Christ is one person in or of his two natures, where nature and person are not to be thought in any sense as referring to one and the same thing. [5]

Chalcedon has proclaimed that Cyril of Alexandria and Leo's Tome meant to confess the same thing, so that the one incarnate nature of Cyril's confession was to be understood as equal to the two natures along with the four adverbs. Obviously, the struggle with the necessity to harmonize them has proven the case to be quite complicated. Many would despair about its resolution. Best love one another and not worry about these details. But many in any cast found the views of Philoponus quite impossible. The dynamic relationality inherent in the thought of Alexandrian, much influenced by Cyril, was unintelligible to them. The one composite nature of the person of Jesus Christ pointed to a nonentity that was not in fact Jesus Christ and thus the scientist was led into monophysitism and tritheism. This perception eventually led to his anathema, and finally to the tragic obscurity of his work in both the history of science and theology. [6]

The scientific works of Philoponos are only most recently being given adequate attention. They do amount to a profound attack on the fundamental assumptions in the body of knowledge possessed by the Greco-Roman Empire. [7] His arguments against the eternity of the world and his impetus theory undercut the basis upon which Aristotelian physics were developed. These led Philoponos to the believe that the heavens were made of the same created stuff as that experienced upon the earth, for which Simplicius considered him a fool and a blasphemer. For Philoponos the world was God's creation out of nothing and the incarnation only justified and confirmed the truth of this belief. This stance allowed the Alexandrian to develop notions about infinity, space, and time with a force that influenced the science of the Middle Ages and beyond. [8]

Today, these developments have been compared to the kind of paradigm shift for which Thomas Kuhn has become so well known in the history of science. [9]

One unusual concept employed by Philoponos was his three-dimensional theory. It was with this theory that he developed his understanding of the light of the universe, where impetus and motion were bound up with a real beginning of the world. He performed thought experiments in which he attempted to grasp the reality of the relationship between the invisible and visible dimensions of space, time, energy, and matter. It was this thought that appears now to resonate with many modern ideas about the nature of the world. [10] The three-dimensional was an invisible structure of mass-less proportions compelling and shaping the motion of the cosmos. It was that created reality by which we might understand the phenomena of experience within the orders and freedom of the universe. Both theory and experiment are bound up with any true understanding we might gain about this nature. This is the universe that comes from the hand of the will of the Creator. We must seek to know it as it gives us to know, and this means that we must be able to reflect upon an invisible reality even as we experiment with what we can see.

David Furley has wrestled with the problem of extension in the three-dimensional and in the place defined by matter and energy. Obviously, extension cannot mean the same in both cases. The space of a place defined by the energy and matter of the form of the world is not the same as the space of the three-dimensional with the cosmos. He knows well the problem about the meaning of extension in the structure of matter or energy in its place and its significance in the apparent infinite void by which the cosmos occurs as a created reality. [11]

It is interesting to note that this concept of the three-dimensional is important for Philoponus' view on the Incarnation of the Word God. The particular and the universal cannot be bound up together with one another without the invisibility of the three-dimensional and its relationship to the space of specific matter and energy. Chadwick interprets this assertion as an indication of the way Philoponus would abstract universal from the specific case of any particular thing, as if by theory one can seek to escape from the bodily structures of the world. [12]

I believe that Philoponus understood the infinity of the void as filled with a structure the extension of which was not the same as matter or energy in its particular place. It may be understood in theory as that dimension of the cosmos in which the universal and the singular are composes of one another without logical contradiction. It was in this sense a servant of the Lord God, the Creator of a world in which He was free to enter into as a man. Do not concepts like these help us to understand the dynamic definition he sought for nature when he wrote his argument for the divine and human natures of the person of Jesus Christ? [13]

In any case, the way that nature and person are to be related to one another in Christ is definitely at the heart of the argument presented to us in The Arbiter. The problem involves us with our notions of the relations between wholes and parts. It involves us with our notions of space and time. It involves us with our notions of the invisible dimensions of the cosmos as well as with the visible dimensions. That the significance of the natures and persons of the Incarnation of the Word of God may not be grasped outside of the light that the Word become flesh actually is in the world seems evident to the Alexandrian. For him the impossible has become the actual. The two natures must be thought to be composed together in such a way that the one nature of the whole God who has freely chosen to enter with Himself into the world is made known to man through the person of Jesus Christ. He is humanity as both an individually complete human being defined by nothing less than the wholeness of God with His Word. The One God as the Triune becomes the source of the way we to think about a definition of the flesh that the individual man He has become as the Lord Jesus Christ. He cannot be understood as the person that he truly is except in the in the light of the revelation of wholeness of God in Christ. The knowledge of God as the Father, Almighty Maker of the heavens and the earth, the Eternal Son, and Holy Spirit in their homoousial relationship with one another demanded. Any resolution of the problem of the whole and the parts that denies this dynamical way that nature and person are to be conceived in this world lies outside of the light that God is for us. The fact that this effort of Philoponus constituted an historical failure must weigh heavily upon our scientific conscience now, when everyday scientists are faced with the dynamical nature of invisible and visible elements of the universe. [14]

When the Grammarian mentions his consideration of the problem of the whole and the parts in the fourth chapter of The Arbiter, he would set the stage for the resolution he has in mind for its resolution between the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ. There are a number of resolutions to the problem of the whole and the parts in philosophy. Parts that occupy their own places possess a ration that can define a house for us. But parts that do not occupy their own places, but rather occupy one space, like the bronze and the human form of a man in the stature of a man, resolved in a unity that is not merely a sum of the parts. We may refer to these as arithmetical and aesthetic resolutions of the problem. The point Philoponus would make is that the whole and the parts of the person of Jesus Christ is resolved only as the Word God who became flesh reveals His Father in the Spirit to all who would believe. The Word brings with Himself his own unique resolution to the problem. Obviously, this is a resolution that goes uniquely beyond the mere use of numbers in the world or any aesthetic appreciation of beauty of truth in the world. The Word creates out of itself its own framework of thought, by which as a human being its light is to be heard, its purpose understood in God's good creation.

I have argued with Tom Torrance that the logic employed by the Alexandrian Grammarian, properly understood, does not lead us to heretical monophysicism or tritheism, but rather could help us today as we seek to integrate things which have in the past definitely escaped our attention. The fundamental rightness of his definition of nature resounds, I believe, throughout our scientific culture's will today to understand the invisible structures of the world intrinsic at the depths of our world's reality as real. Mind and body together grasp such reality. Here the invisible informs the content of the world, shapes the substance of the structures of the Creation. nature cannot be defined in any system of thought closed off from these dimensions transcending our experience in the world. This is reason the Church is exhorted to confess the Mind of Christ here. The Word has established Himself and the world as the man Jesus Christ. nature is and must be free as a created singularity and reality that is sustained in its openness to whatever lies beyond any present grasp we may have upon its nature. That is, we must learn to refer the openness of the universe as God's Creation to the power and divine freedom of the Word God become flesh with us as that anthropomorphic center around which evolves the development of the universe. In this way, He has freely chosen to be present for us within this Creation. From this center our lives are given meaning in the vastness of a world we are yet just beginning to know for what it really is. The dynamic and open-ended understanding of nature employed today by most modern scientists, whether they are theoretician or researcher, might certainly learn the science of John Philoponus. [15]

Certainly, it was this science that helped him shape his argument for the person of Jesus Christ as the Lord and Creator of all things.

The two natures, divine and human, are to be understood, then, in such a way that they are open to one another in a created and creative correspondence whose relationality requires resonance with the divine power of the Word or Eternal Son to come as flesh or a man into our world. This must mean that the wholeness of the being of God, Father, Son, and Spirit, is open to becoming flesh as a particular man while remaining the Word or Eternal Son of God. The part participates in a wholeness with a wholeness that is the Lord God Himself, Almighty maker of heaven and earth. With this in mind, we realize that Philoponus' argument transforms the Aristotelian categories and definitions of reality. The Word is it own nature which cannot be placed down on the Prophyrian Tree of the Aristotelian science. The species of this Word or genus transcends this way of carving up reality. We must face the reality that divine invisible dimensions of reality must become the source for light the Word is even in His own Eternity. This is the nature of the object we study when we would become subject to the objective intelligibility in this world that we name God with us.

The important terms in the argument have been highlighted. They are: 1) Being [ousia]; 2) nature [phusis]; 3) Word [logos]; 4) hypostasis [hupostasis]; and 5) person [prosopon].

These terms are dynamically and appropriately interrelated with their significations in Philoponus' argument. The words as real terms must refer away from themselves to realities that exist beyond them. The person of Jesus Christ refers to that hypostasis of the Logos become flesh as a particular and singular man who points all that believe in Him to His Father, with whom He is one nature or being. This belongs to the truth that undergirds all of the effort by the Grammarian in 'The Arbiter'---if we will seek with a pure heart to understand the nature of this object according to its own nature, we will find that truth or reality as it truly exists outside of our knowing of it. The ground of wholeness and the particular in existence does not allow us to divorce the one from the other. However much they must distinguish them in our minds from each other, we must experience them as one reality and not two persons or natures. Jesus Christ as the Incarnation of the Word possesses a personhood that must distinguish its humanity from its divinity while at the same time understanding that his individual reality in the world possesses a wholeness that cannot be divorced from the nature and being of God Himself. Thus, if we understand Philoponus correctly, nature can refer both to the common logos of a certain genus and to the particular nature of that species as it participates in the wholeness to which it is subject. We must learn to understand the particular in the light of the wholeness that provides the ground for its existence. In the case of Jesus Christ, the particular man that he is cannot be defined outside of the Word of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are asked to think together the Trinity of God as the source of all that has meaning and significance in the world as His Creation. Docetic or adoptionistic views of His person are outside of the boundaries at the horizons of this person's being. The technical term for the fact of this kind of relationship was enhypostasis of the humanity of Jesus as the divine Word of God. [16]

In this case, a positive grasp is offered of the unique and free entry of the Lord God into this world. Something truly new had occurred in God's Creation. The Redeemer of mankind had come in person. Walter Böhm has written about the thought of John Philoponus: "He has established with this work a so-called 'Konkordanztheorie', that is a way of apprehending without contradiction a right understanding between the Biblical texts and the evident consequences of science and the study of natural things [my translation]." [17]

It seems evident to me that we cannot understand the terms 'word', 'being', 'nature', 'hypostasis', or 'person' in some isolated manner from one another. The dynamics of their relational veracity was implicit, I believe, in all of the thought of the Alexandrian scientist.

Is this not a reasonable challenge for our science today, at least as reasonable as looking into other ontological hypotheses for explanation of our experience? I would hope that John Philoponus could help us, in this dynamic way, to think through the relational veracity that he sees when he learns from the Triune God's one being and nature and freedom to come among us as a man. Why do we despise the way the Incarnation and the Trinity would provide a basis upon which we might derive in some sense what exists outside of our knowing of it? It is, after all, upon the actuality of this reality that we are most needful. He is here for us in a way that is more near to us than we are to ourselves. If we are going to make real progress in our time, is it not time as his servant that we must learn to spend in every field of the endeavors of our race? We may be given to apprehend the depths of a reality that has been created and is sustained from a position that would truly find the created and creative the Lord God has established between Himself, in the wholeness of his uncreated reality and the created purpose of mankind in the world. [18]


[1] 17 See St. John of Damascus, Writings, Vol. 37, Fathers of the Church, trans. F.H. Chase, Jr., New York, 1958, pp. xxx-xxxi, for another translation of this fragment.

[2] See Richard Sorabji, chapter one, in Philoponus and the Rejection of Aristotelian Science, ed. R. Sorabji, Cornell University Press, 1987, p. 1.

[3] See Henry Chadwick, chapter two, ibid., pp. 41-56.

[4] See John E. McKenna, The Setting in Life for 'The Arbiter' of John Philoponos, Wipf & Stock; Eugene, Oregon, 1998.

[5] See Thomas F. Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction, pp. 128-134.

[6] Hermann, Th., Johannes Philoponus als Monophysite, 19.., can write on p. 242 that "one wonders how 'The Arbiter' can produce so much misunderstanding by friend and foe alike." Compare, Böhm, W., Johannes Philoponos, where the author can claim that Philoponos was without equal in the ancient world as a commentator on Aristole and a seminal thinker of great originality in the effort to understand the relationship between science and theology. Even a most recent translation into German of the de Opificio Mundi by Philoponus (C. Scholten, 1997) does nothing to lift the anathema from off of the Alexandrian scientist.

[7] Sorabji, R., op. cit., pp. 6-30.

[8] R. Sorabji, Time, Creation & The Continium, pp. 197-202. The significance of the nothingness, infinity, and the actual physical nature of the world does not appear to us as self-evident or brute fact. Philoponos' science employed a principle that the nature of the object to which we would attend should itself form the basis of our understanding. Relational depth is the key for this kind of relationship. It is important here to remember that the one nature with which he is faced in Christ is sui generis with regard to the Aristotelian categories.

[9] C. Wildberg, Philoponos Against Aristotle on the Eternity of the World and D. Furley, C. Wildberg, Philoponos Corollaries on Place and Void, etc., pp. 10-12.

[10] T.F. Torrance, "Christian Theology in the Context of Scientific Change," in Transformation & Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge, p. 261.

[11] D. Furley, "Summary of Philoponus' Corollaries on Place and Void," in R. Sorabji, Philoponus and the Rejection of Aristotelian Science, pp. 130-139.

[12] H. Chadwick, op. cit., p. 49-50. Chadwick thinks the Alexandrian does finally represent the monophysite position.

[13] In The Setting in Life for 'The Arbiter' of John Philoponos, op. cit., I have argued that the vitally important definition of nature was rendered in such a way that the term could refer to either a genus or the hypostasis of an individual in a certain species. nature could not be defined in some static manner, especially since it must finally be open for definition to the divine power of the Word God as the source of its existence and subsistence. I translated 22.9 of The Arbiter with something like 'Hence, each individual among the natures cannot be said to exist singularly, but doubly'. (Böhm wrote at this point: "Natur von dem, was ist besagt also nicht immer desselbe, songern hat eine doppelte Bedeutung.")

[14] T.F. Torrance, in "John Philoponos of Alexandria---Theologian and Physicist," (forthcoming) thinks that The Arbiter ought to be understood in an orthodox way. He accuses those who understand him as a monophysite and tritheist of interpreting his works without a proper appreciation for the dynamical character inherent in the thought of a great scientist and Christian.

[15] K.Thorne, Black Holes & Time Warps, Einstein's Outrageous Legacy is really a history of the epistemological developments that have occurred in the history of science. We are quite beyond the classical world now, when the invisible dimensions of the universe are more vital to the development of our science than at any time in our history upon the planet.

[16] T.F. Torrance, Theology in Reconstruction, pp. 130-134.

[17] W. Böhm, op. cit., p. 29. I believe that the appropriate understanding of this correspondence theory would take seriously, in all the complexity of the world, the real and rational contingency of the world upon its Creator and Redeemer.

[18] See T.F. Torrance, The Ground and Grammar of Theology, pp. 60-62. The author has written: 'John Philoponos was no monophysite in the heretical sense, but the accusation of heresy had the effect of denigrating also his anti-dualistic thought in science and philosophy.' See also his Theology in Reconciliation, pp. 215-266.


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Chase, F.H., Jr. (1958) Writings of John of Damascus. in Volume 37 of Fathers of the Church, New York.

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