John the Laborious

John The Laborious (JOHANNES PHILOPONUS, also surnamed ALEXANDRINUS and GRAMMATICUS), an Eastern scholar of great renown, was born at Alexandria towards the close of the 6th century or the beginning of the 7th. Of his personal history but very little seems to be definitely known. He is said to have been present at the capture of that city by the Mohammedans (A.D. 639), and to have temporarily embraced their creed to prevent the burning of the Alexandrian library; but the truth of this story is rather doubtful (comp. Gibbon, Decline and Fall Rom. Emp. ch. 51). The great renown of John Philoponus is due mainly, perhaps, to his speculations on Christian doctrine, more especially his theories on the Trinity, cosmogony, and immortality. He was a passionate admirer of Plato and Aristotle, and hence his persistency in amending Christian dogma by philosophy, and hence much ambiguity in his position on Christian doctrines, and hence also the reason why he has so frequently been the subject of attack as a heretic. It is especially his theory on the Trinity that has classed him among the Tritheists, of which he has even often, though inaccurately, been pointed out as the founder, while in truth he was only a forerunner of them. See, however, TRITHEISM. His principal work on dogmatics, Διαιτητὴς ἣ περὶ ἑνώσεως, is lost, yet, from extracts of it still extant, the following has been determined to be his position on the doctrine of the Trinity. Nature and hypostasis he regards as identical; a double nature in Christ is incompatible with one hypostasis; and to the objection that in the Trinity there are confessedly three hypostases and but one nature, he argues that in the Trinity three particular and individual existences or hypostases are comprised under the idea of unity. This unity, however, is merely the generic term, which comprehends the several particulars, the Κοινὸς τοῦ ειναι λόγος. If this be called nature, it is done in an abstract sense, and is inductively derived from particulars; but if φύσις is to convey the sense of independent existence, it must join the particular, individual being, and, therefore, the hypostasis. Applying this argument to Christ, he concludes that to the unity of his hypostasis belongs also the unity of nature. (Comp. again TRITHEISM, and Dorner, Doct. Person of Christ, diss. 2, vol. 1, p. 148, 414.) His works extant are:

(1) De oeternitate mundi, or ἀϊδιότητος κόσμου (Ven. 1535, fol.), in which he attempts to establish the Christian dogma of creation by reason alone, without reference to Biblical authority. The ideas are eternal only when they are regarded as creative thoughts of God; as such they are inherent in Providence, and their realization adds nothing to divine perfection. God, by his ἕξις, was eternally Creator, and his essence required no new characteristics by the ἐνέργεια. The world itself cannot be eternal, for the effect cannot be equal to the cause: —

(2) In his Commentaria in Mosaicam mundi creationem, or Περὶ κοσμοποιϊvας (edited by Corder, Vienna, 1630), he attempts to reconcile the Mosaic account of creation with the facts derived from our own experience: —

(3) In his Περὶ ἀναστάσεως (known to us only from Photius [Cod. 21- 23], Nicephorus [H.E. 18, 47], and Timotheus [De receptu hoeret. in Cotil. Mon. 3, 414 sq.]) he separates the sensual from the spiritual creation, a concession to philosophy made at the expense of Christianity. "The rational soul," he argues, "is not only an , but an imperishable substance, entirely distinct from all irrational existence, in which matter is always associated with form. In consequence of this inseparable connection of matter and form, the natural body is destroyed and annihilated by death. The resurrection of the body is the new creation of the body:" —

(4) Περὶτῆς τοῦ ἀστρολάβου χρήσεως (published by Hase, Bonn, 1839): —

(5) Περὶ ἀγαλμάτων against Jamblichus): —

(6) Commentaries on Aristotle (Venice, 1509, 1534, 1535, etc.): —

(7) Grammatical Essays (in Labbe, Glossaria, London, 1816), etc. See J. G. Scharfenberg, De J. Ph. (Leipzig, 1768); Fabricius, Biblioth. Groeca, 10, 639 sq.; Ritter, Gesch. d. Philos. 6, 500 sq., Stud. u. Ku.rit. 1835, p. 95 sq.; Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 6, 760; Smith, Dict. of Greek and Roman Biography, 3, 321.

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