Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Joannes Philoponus, a distinguished philosopher
Joannes (564) Philoponus, a "grammaticus" of Alexandria; a distinguished philosopher, a voluminous writer (Suidas, s.v. Ἰωάννης Τρ.), and one of the leaders of the Tritheites of the 6th cent. (Sophron. Ep. Synodic. Co. Const. A.D. 680; act. xi. in Mansi, xi. 501; Leont. Byzant. de Sect. act. v. in Migne, Patr. Gk. lxxxvi. i. 1232). From his great industry he acquired the surname of Philoponus. He was a native of Alexandria. His earliest known appearance as an author was in his περὶ αϘδιότητος, a reply to Proclus Diadochus. It shows great dialectic ability and learning, the quotations in it covering the whole range of the literature of his own and previous times (Fabricius, Bibl. Gr. ed. Harles, x. 652–654), and is said by Suidas to have been a complete refutation of the great neo-Platonist and to have convicted him of gross ignorance (s. v. Πρόκλος).
Apparently about the same time Philoponus was engaged in a controversy with Severus, the deposed bp. of Antioch (Suidas, s.v. Ἰωαν; Galland. Bibl. Vet. Patr. xii. 376; Cureton, Fragments, 212, 245 seq.). To the same period maybe assigned a treatise de Universali et Particulari, described by Assemani in his catalogue of Syriac MSS. (Bibl. Or. i. 613).
At the request of Sergius (ordained patriarch of Antioch by the Monophysites c. 540) Philoponus wrote his Διαιτητής, Arbiter, the Umpire. It is an attempt to shew that the doctrine which he and his followers held upon the subject of the union of the two natures in the person of our Lord was dialectically necessary. The argument is admirably condensed by Prof. Dorner in his History of the Development of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ (Clark's trans. ii. l. 416).
At what period Philoponus distinctly avowed what is known as Tritheism (Eulog. Patr. Alex. Orat. Phot. ccxxx. ed. Schott. p. 879) does not clearly appear, but it must have been before the middle of the 6th cent. as Mar Abas, "Primas Orientis" (d. 552) was one of his converts to that doctrine (Assem. Bibl. Or. ii. 411). Notwithstanding this, if not because of it, the emperor Justinian sent one of his officers named Stephanus to Alexandria to summon Philoponus to Constantinople "in causa fidei," but he wrote excusing himself because of age and infirmity. In his letter he urged Justinian to issue an edict prohibiting the discussion of the "two natures."
On the death of Joannes Ascusnaghes, the founder of the Tritheites, his Demonstrationes were sent to Philoponus at Alexandria. The latter then wrote a treatise on the subject and sent it to his friend at Constantinople. The Monophysites, finding that this publication brought them into great disrepute, appealed to the emperor Justin II., who had married Sophia, a granddaughter of the empress Theodora, and was known to be favourable to their party. He complied with their request, and the matter was committed to Joannes Scholasticus, who had succeeded Eutychius on his refusal to subscribe the Julianist edict of Justinian, A.D. 565 (Greg. Bar-hebr.; Asseman. Bibl. Or. ii. 328).
We hear no more of Philoponus until 568, when, John, patriarch of Constantinople, having delivered a catechetical discourse on the "Holy and consubstantial Trinity," he published a treatise in reply to it. Photius is unsparing in his criticism of this work, charging the author with having perverted the authorities whom he quotes (Bibl. lxxv.). Philoponus must now have been very old, but apparently lived some years longer.
During his lifetime the Tritheites appear to have been united under his leadership (Tim. Presb. Recept. Haer. in Patr. Gk. lxxxvi. i. 62), but after his decease they became divided because of the opinions he had maintained on the resurrection-body, both in his writings against the heathen and in a special work on this subject. This last was in several books, of which Photius speaks in no respectful terms (Bibl. xxi. xxiii.), though it found great favour with that section of the Monophysites which persevered in their adherence to Philoponus and with Eutychius the Catholic patriarch of Constantinople. [EUTYCHIUS (18).] Those Tritheites who still followed him were distinguished as Philoponiaci, or Athanasiani because of Athanasius's prominence amongst them (Schonfelder, Die Tritheiten, app. to his German trans. of John of Ephesus, 269, 274, 297), while their opponents were called Cononitae, after Conon of Tarsus who wrote a reply to the Περὶ ἀναστάσεως.
Philoponus wrote numerous other works, many of them non-theological. His work de Aeternitate Mundi has been ed. by Rabe (Leipz. 1899); his de Opificis Mundi by Reichardt (Leipz. 1897), and a Libellus de Paschale by Walter (Jena 1899).