Reviews - What do customers think about The Setting in Life for The Arbiter of John Philoponus, 6th Century Alexandrian Scientist?
McKenna defends the Arbiters Genius & Orthodoxy Oct 1, 2004
"The greatest challenge for a student of this period of the history of philosophy is to understand how a phenomenon such as Philoponus could have happened." (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Alexandria's Scientific Milieu: By 220 BC, Alexandria has replaced Athens as the center of learning in the old world, advancing the cause of culture and civilization. Alexandria, was naturally destined, and equipped with the great light Pharos, to attract all the trade of the Mediterranean ancient world, serving as a trading center of the entire ancient world, making its significant and distinctive contribution to western civilization in mathematics and its applied sciences. Starting with Euclid, other glorious names included; Erastothenes, Hypparchus, Pappus, Hypatia & John Philoponus was the earliest to reject the long enduring Aristotelian natural science, whose impetus theory has revolutionized thinking in mathematics and physics.
Philosophy in Alexandria: Alexandria excelled as the mind of philosophical thought and the educational Ivy of the Roman Empire. Its great Academy started to admit Christian students, of John's generation, that the Grammarian, born around 490 could became its first Christian dean. Meanwhile the Athenian Lyceum declined after Proclus, and was closed years later in 529. During the fifth century many outstanding Copts from all over Egypt, educated in Alexandria, included Zacharias the Rhetor who joined John and Severus of Antioch in the confraternity of 'toil lovers', or the 'Saintly fellowship' (Vita Servus, by J. Beth). Opponents of his philosophical works, matched the breadth of his scientific knowledge and theological undertakings, from Simplicus to Cosmas Indicopleustes, calling him Matioponus: Vain striver!
Theological Science: The relationship of the religious Christian traditions to science from the early Christian era to the late twentieth century, has set John Philoponus as a model of their harmony. Tracing the rise of modern science from Philoponus through the scientific revolution, major discoveries of Copernicus, has started a chain reaction in scientific perception, initiated by his views in physics, and cosmology. "John Philoponos of Alexandria, the sixth century theologian and scientist in his adherence to the teaching of Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, and in his trenchant critique of Aristotelian physics, which yielded his astonishing anticipation of Clerk Maxwellian science. alas, however, when john Philoponos gave a more dynamic theological interpretation of the teaching of Cyril of Alexandria, he was anathematized by the Aristotelian churchmen in Byzantium. that had a disastrous effect retarding the advance of science for more than a thousand year." Thomas Torrance, Preface to;" Theological & Natural Science"
Philoponus' Tmemata: It is now proven that John Philoponus was not only a millennia ahead in his scientific genius, but equally in Orthodox doctrines of 'Creation ex Nihilo,' and the 'Resurrection.' His 'Diaetetes', was adopted later, by John of Damascus in his 'Doctrina Patrum.' In the 'Tmemata,' his polemic against Chalcedon, written at the time of the second Council of Constantinople (553), he implied a condemnation to the Chalcedonian pseudo-Nestorian expression, by citing Cyril's twelve anathema. He attacks canons III, IV& V aiming at Leo's Tome. Not only that he condemns the canons but makes clear the illegal participation of imperial judges, and was sarcastic about the unfounded dogma of the preeminence of the 'Roman Pontiff Maximus', a thousand year before the Protestant criticized it after the reformation.
John Arbiter's Christology: John defended Cyril's Alexandrian position, as appropriated by his colleague, and great Christologist Severus of Antioch, who very clearly defended that, "God was in the indivisible Christ" quoting St. Paul's mystery confession; "He was revealed in the flesh, vindicated in spirit," as the core of Alexan-Orthodoxy. John Philoponus was critical of the basic contradictions in Leo's Tome, of two natures, thus undermining the validity of the Chalcedonian confession. He underlined its drawbacks, and debated its limitations, showing that Chalcedonians are Nestorians in disguise, who confess no hypostatic union, a view supported by many eminent contemporary Christologists; Catholic and Protestants.
Today's Christological thought: "The definition of faith of Chalcedon led Dr. Albert Schweitzer to conclude that its doctrine of the two natures dissolved the unity of the person, and thereby cut off the last possibility of a return to the historical Jesus... He was like Lazarus of old, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes; the grave-clothes of the dogma of the Dual Nature' (Quoted from Credo by Jaroslav Pelican) + "Chalcedon was a stumbling block-and still is. It has been said that present day theology has put Chalcedon in the dock. Almost everywhere we hear about the aporia, the impossible deadlock, presented by the so-called doctrine of the two natures -- in Tillich, in Rahner, in Pannenberg, in Schoonenberg, Kung, and many others." Cardinal W. Kasper, 1989, p. 95" Quoted from, Didaskalex'
A Leonine thorn in the flesh? Cardinal Kasper, for many years professor of systematic theology at the university of Tubingen, Theology & The Church, states on pages 98 & 99; "The brilliant investigations of Andre Halleux has put judgments about the council of Chalcedon on a new footing.... On the basis of detailed analysis of the texts and sources (accepted by Grillmeier, Ritter and Abramowski) , Halleux has shown that the council's definition really contains no more than two word-for-word quotations from Leo's tome, a Leonine 'thorn in the flesh."
Book, Author, & Reviewers: This book has a story of searching the truth that sets you free. John Mckenna, inspired by Thomas Torrance did great justice to the arbiter, articulating the case very masterfully. After three thorough reviews I am left with little to comment. Didaskalex confessed to me that he waited over two years, after my invitation to review the book to keep Vincent Rossi's review in focus. As founder of ArSevePonoi, and defender of Cyril Severian Orthodoxy, I am just amending and clarifying the Christological issue, for our Chaledonian brethren. May the Lord bless them all.
The Toil Lover and the Contingent Nature of God's Creation. Sep 10, 2004
_The Setting in Life for The Arbiter of John Philoponus_ by John Emory McKenna is an odd dissertation that gives the political and theological background behind the work of a noted sixth century Alexandrian scientist. McKenna notes that Philoponus' life and background remain somewhat of a mystery. "Philoponus" literally means "Toil Lover." There is no evidence that he was married, he was widely respected for his research and scholarly enterprises and the epithet "Philoponus" may refer to a group or brotherhood of dedicated scholars and Christians to which this scientist may have been a part. He was also known as the Grammarian, or professor. As McKenna outlines, the Eastern Roman/Byzantine Empire was rife with conflict during the late 400s and 500s because of the "monophysite" schism between the eastern Orthodox churches which either did or did not affirm the doctrine of Christ's "two natures after the union" of the Council of Chalcedon. The problem was further compounded because of the fact that both sides anathematized against each using the authoritative writings of St. Cyril of Alexandria's Christology confirmed at the Council of Ephesus in 431 against the Nestorian heresy. The emperor Justinian was interested in somehow resolving the theological issues between the Chalcedonians and non-Chalcedonians with a definitive statement on Christology, making an attempt to understand of the relationship between the Divinity and humanity of Christ in terms acceptable to both sides. John Philoponus was commissioned by the emperor to accomplish this task and regrettably failed. He was disdained by the Orthodox as a monophysite and the non-Chalcedonian churches regarded him as a tri-theist because of his heavy emphasis of Christ's single, composite nature. Philoponus was later condemned posthumously at the Sixth Ecumenical Council and many of his works were burned. Although his theological work became taboo, some of Philoponus' material has survived in Syriac, Latin and Arabic translation because his philosophical treatises on Aristotle found an audience amongst various medieval European and Islamic scholars. Moreover, recent scholarship has taken interest in Philoponus because of his extremely revolutionary work in the area of the sciences. Philoponus challenged the assumption of a millennium of previous cosmological theories based on Plato and Aristotle that held nearly unanimously onto the idea that the universe itself was eternal and self-perpetuating, a reflection of divine perfection. Against this, Philoponus argued, rooted in Christian doctrine, was that the universe was totally contingent on the creative action of God. This rejection of the universe's static nature allowed for more radical, less mechanistic view of the cosmos. His ideas on light are a forerunner to modern day quantum physics. I recommend this book to anyone looking for some insight into the post-Chalcedonian schism amongst the eastern Orthodox because of the political and theological issues covered. The book's layout could use some better formatting: it is a photographic reprint of a master's thesis and could stand to be re-edited and reformatted to make for less awkward reading.
Encountering a Genius of Science and Theology Jan 9, 2004
John Philoponus, who? Alexandrian academy first Christian dean, John Philoponoi, the sixth century toil lover is now considered the greatest natural philosopher before Newton. He is compared only to Einstein and Maxwell by many scientists of renown. John the Grammarian was appreciated by the great physicist Huygens, father of modern light theories. Masters of Elm Alkalam, Islamic dialectic medieval philosophy has known him 'Yahya AlNahawi, utilizing his authority in their debates. No serious book on the history of Eastern Christianity or account of doctrinal theology, dare neglect him. He became recently a focal point in the interface of science with theology. In 1990, after 13 centuries, the Greek Orthodox Church lifted the unjust anathema of the sixth council in 681, on initiative of the outstanding theologian professor T. Torrance of Edinburgh.
The arbiters' Setting in life: Many books were written about John's outstanding and original achievements in philosophy of natural science and cosmology. He was called 'the most learned man of his time.' Mckenna's thesis is unique because in spite of many particular details, and many quotations in Greek, German, and French is a condensed though thorough study, self booting, inspiring treatment of the sixth century Alexandrian scientist, exposing his Christology. (an alternative is to read the books listed at this review's end)
How to read the Book: For a first timer encountering our marvelous Archdidaskalos, a great defender of Alexandrine Orthodox Miaphysite (united nature) and his philosophical defense of its Christology, I would follow this sequence:
a. Ch. 3, The Scientific Culture of Alexandria: Dr. McKenna takes you in a speedy refresher of john's place of life and work, its history, civilization and wonders. How in 220 BC Alexandria replaced Athens as the center of development of civilized culture. He traces its scientific institutes, and the creation of its great school of theology. He explains how the tradition in the megalopolis formed many Church fathers from Athanasius to Severus of Antioch, John's senior confraterner and theological mentor. He touches on John's Creation ex Nihilo first proposed by his grand teacher Origen.
b. Ch. 2, The empire of Justinian: The skillful author zooms the scene to the wider imperial theological environment that started in "the age of Theodosius," extending into Justinian's (527-65). He tactfully wraps up the social, and theopolitical currents of post Caledonian Constantinopole, linking it with the Arbiter call to end or establish a common ground between the two schismatic factions. The elaboration on the roots of the diophysite problem since Nestorius does not hinder you to see his target in the seventh chapter of "The Arbiter' by our prominent Alexandrian. this chapter not only exposes the historical, but compares the ultimate evaluation of Severus christology by Lebon, von Harnack and Grillmeier.
c. Ch. 4, The life setting of the Arbiter: In a dramatic closure in a letter to Justinian, the peak of the dilemma is clear, Cyril-Severus christological language expressed in the unparalleled logic of a genius, that capture your mind and emotion had to wait for thirteen centuries to be deciphered and appreciated. The schismatic Council of chalcedon representing Pulcheria's hate, Leo's egomania, a shameful yield of the gathered bishops, and the political inflexibility of Dioscorus came to an end in 1990.
d. Ch. 1, The anathema: The scandal of using a dictated theology to achieve Imperial unity (as described by John Meyendorff) is summarized and concluded in Mckenna's words; "there never was a time when the human nature of Christ existed independently of the divine nature of Christ, the word of God. Philoponus believes his explanation is not only in line with Cyril and Severus, but is also rightly informed by the science that prevails in the Academy at Alexandria."
A fascinating study of an ancient genius Aug 15, 2000
John McKenna has written a very compelling study on a little known but fascinating 6th Century theologian and scientist, John Philoponus, the Grammatikos (usually translated "the Grammarian" but "the Professor" would probably be more accurate). Philoponus was embroiled in the 6th Century controversies around the incarnate nature of Christ--whether it was more correct to say Christ was of one nature (as the monophysites heretically declared) or of two natures (as the Chalcedonian or orthodox faction maintained). The difficulty was that both parties considered themselves followers of St. Cyril of Alexandria, who used the term "one nature" (mia physis) in a way that superficially sounds monophysite but actually was grounded entirely in the orthodox understanding of the hypostatic union of Divine and human natures in Christ. John Philoponus was commissioned by the Emperor Justinian to write a clarification that would unite the truths on both sides of the argument into one orthodox statement that would end the debate and bring theological peace to the Byzantine empire. The result was Philoponus' The Arbiter. Unfortunately, for his pains John was condemned by both sides, by the Chalcedonians as a monophysite, by the monophysites as a tritheist or believer in three gods. He was ultimately condemned by the 6th Ecumenical Council in 680, over 200 years after his death. Dr. McKenna's book makes a persuasive case for a positive re-evaluation of The Arbiter on its true merits in its own context. He argues that John was not a monophysite, and describes the theological and political complexities of the situation in John's time, his relationship with Justinian, why he wrote The Arbiter and how and why both sides of the debate seemed to have misunderstood him. Philoponus was a great scientist as well as a theologian, whose insights and discoveries in an age of doctrinaire Aristoteleanism astonishingly anticipate modern quantum physics. He developed a theory of impetus that was so advanced the world would take a thousand years to catch up to it. His kinetic theory of light anticipates not only the hesychast understanding of uncreated light, but also post-Einsteinian light theory. John Philoponus developed Cyril's use of physis, nature, in a way that expanded the meaning of the word to mean not only nature as essence (ousia) but also nature as reality or truth or unitive existence (aletheia) so that one could legitimately talk of one nature/physis in Christ, as long as it meant reality or aletheia, truth, not nature qua nature in a static sense.
Mekenna portrays Philoponos convincingly as a great scientific and theological genius, who was tragically misunderstood in his time. Philoponus's greatness, as this reviewer sees it, is not just as a precursor of modern science, but as a harbinger of a way of thinking that transcends conventional science just as it transcends Aristotelean philosophy, Philoponus realized the radical implications and impact of the Christian theocentric cosmology developed by such Greek Fathers as Sts. Athanasios, Basil and Cyril for the conventional Aristotelean science of the time. This new cosmology and science, based on dynamical and relational concepts of space, time and light was integrated in Philopons' theology by his effort to realize the full potential of a post-Chalcedonian Christology which made the hypostatic mysteries the very core of Christian thinking in all dimensions, whether theological, anthropological or cosmological.
John McKenna has written a fascinating study about a mysterious and tragic figure, whose vision, thinking and inventions seem, in the light of today's scientific and theological knowledge, more than a millenium ahead of his time. One hopes that this book will contribute to awakening a much belated appreciation of the achievements of John Philoponus, the Grammarian, an appreciation that will not only help in the theological re-evaluation of this great 6th Century thinker, but also open the door to a creative understanding of the real relations between theology and science. This is a 5 star book.