Note on John Philoponus

I’ve been reading some Philoponus lately, as well as a couple of different articles on his thought and its relation to theology and physics. Here’s one article (I’m not sure where the other is, but its by the same author):

Some interesting thoughts are to be found in this sixth-century thinker – including dynamic and relational views of time, space and a theory of light that really is ahead of its time. But its his christological thought that I find the most interesting, because he bases his ‘philosophy of nature’ (for lack of a better term) directly on his christology and doctrine of God, or at least that’s how I read it. To quote a couple good bits from the cited article above:

‘John the Grammarian labored at its Academy purged of pagans by the Emperor Justinian. There he attempted to think together the theological and physical significance of the Word of God in relationship to the world. Because of John’s belief in the teaching of Moses, that the Creation was created out of nothing by the Word of God, he could argue at crucial points with the Master of Greek Philosophy and Physics. Against the Greek vision of the world and the kind of necessities it had posited between the Creator and the Cosmos, Philoponus sought to argue for the rational contingency of the intelligibility of the cosmos based upon its creation out of nothing by the speaking of God in the Beginning. The contingency of the world’s Beginning out of nothing was transcendently grounded, independent of God’s nature, in God’s divine freedom to speak into existence all of created reality, the heavens and the earth, its mankind as His Image, and His Sabbath relationship with them in the Creation. [7] The Cosmos was given existence and motion by the Creator in the Beginning with the divine freedom of His holy love and will and as such was absolutely dependent upon Him for its independent nature and being. As such, it possessed in and of itself no necessity for its existence and subsistence. It could not have been or it could have been something other than it is. The Creation possesses actuality and potentiality that is something out of nothing, the impossibility for Greek thought. But because of the speaking of the divine and sovereign will of a free God, the world is what it is with its mankind in it. It possesses neither an arbitrary ‘nature’ nor a necessary ‘nature’ in its relationship with its Creator. It is what it is in its independent ‘nature’ dependent absolutely upon the divine will for being what it is. It thus possesses a contingent necessity in relation to God, the rationality and intelligibility of which reflects the created and creative freedom of the will of the freely speaking God. The nature of the universe is a contingent nature utterly different from God’s nature and yet absolutely dependent upon Him for its being.’

He was a pretty controversial guy, though – his christological thought landed him an anathema, but I’ll wait for the nxt post to draw that out in a bit more detail.

2 thoughts on “Note on John Philoponus

  1. Chris Falter February 23, 2015 / 1:42 pm

    Josh – You owe it to yourself to read the work of James Bradley, Templeton Prize winner and emeritus professor of mathematics at Calvin College. He gives a very detailed meditation on “Randomness and God’s Nature” in the ASA’s June 2012 edition of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Link here:

    Click to access PSCF6-12Bradley.pdf

    You should check out the American Scientific Association, as well. They are first-rate scientists who are also committed Christians working at the boundary of science and theology–an area that very few theologians seem to navigate very confidently.


    • whitefrozen March 8, 2015 / 4:48 pm

      I thought I replied to this earlier – I’ve not read too much on the site in-depth, but from what I’ve seen this is a quality orginization.


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