« Dianius, bp. of Caesarea Didymus, head of catechetical school Dimoeritae, followers of Apollinarius »

Didymus, head of catechetical school

Didymus, head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria in the 4th cent., born a.d. 309 or 314 (Tillemont, Mém. x. 387). When only four years old he lost his sight from disease; and consequently was never taught, as he himself declared, even the usual rudiments of learning. But his extraordinary force of character and intense thirst for knowledge triumphed over all disadvantages. He prayed for inward light, "but added studies to prayers" (Rufin. ii. 7). He learned the alphabet by touch from engraved wooden tablets, and words and syllables by attentive listening. Thus he became master of various sciences (Socr. iv. 25; Soz. iii. 15; Theod. iv. 26), and attained a truly wonderful familiarity with the Scriptures. Athanasius made the blind scholar head of the Catechetical School, as a fitting successor to Pantaenus and Clement. He was the twelfth who occupied that chair. In his earlier manhood, Anthony, visiting Alexandria to support the Catholic cause against the Arians, entered Didymus's cell, and despite his modest reluctance obliged him to offer up prayers (Rosweyd. Vit. Patr. 944, 539, ed. 1617), and asked Didymus whether he was sad on account of his blindness. After the question had been twice repeated, Didymus owned that he did feel the affliction painfully. "Do not be distressed," rejoined the saintly hermit, "for the loss of a faculty enjoyed by gnats and flies, when you have that inward eyesight which is the privilege of none but saints." Jerome (Ep. 68; cf. Socr. iv. 29) stayed for a month at Alexandria in 386, mainly (see Prolog. in Eph.) to see Didymus and have Scripture difficulties explained by him (Soz. l.c.). "In many points," wrote Jerome in a.d. 400 (Ep. 84), "I give him thanks. I learned from him things which I had not known; what I did know, his teaching has helped me to retain." Rufinus was also, for a much longer time, a pupil of Didymus. Palladius (Rosweyd. l.c.), who visited him four times, states that he had a dream of the emperor Julian's death at the exact time it occurred in his Persian expedition. Sozomen says that in arguing for the Nicene faith, Didymus was successful by his extreme persuasiveness—he seemed to make every one a judge of the points in dispute (iii. 15); and Isidore of Pelusium (Ep. i. 331) and Libanius (Ep. 321) speak of his great ability.

Our fullest information about him is derived from Jerome, who frequently refers to him as his old teacher, and affectionately describes him as "my seer," in allusion to the contrast between his physical blindness and his keenness of spiritual and intellectual perception. Jerome translated into Latin Didymus's treatise On the Holy Spirit, and prefixed a preface, in which he spoke of the author as having "eyes like the spouse in the Song of Songs," as "unskilled in speech but not in knowledge, exhibiting in his very speech the character of an apostolic man, as well by luminous thought as by simplicity of words." Writing in 392 (de Viris Illustr. 109), Jerome gives a short biographical account of Didymus.

The extent to which Didymus may be called an Origenizer has been discussed. See Mingarelli's "Commentarius" prefixed to his edition of Didymus's de Trinitate (Bologna, 1769). In his extant writings there is no assertion of Origenian views as to the pre-existence of souls, and he affirms, more than once, the endless nature of future punishment; but seems to have believed that some of the fallen angels occupied a midway position between angels and demons, and would be ultimately forgiven. Neither Epiphanius nor Theophilus, nor indeed any one before the 6th cent. except Jerome, laid Origenism to his charge; and with regard to the alleged condemnation of his memory by the 5th general council, as he is never named in the Acts, the utmost that can be made of such a statement is, that the condemnation of Origen in that synod's 11th anathema (Mansi, ix. 383) 252was somewhat largely construed as carrying with it, by implication, the condemnation of other writers more or less identified with his school of thought. See Tillemont's "comparison of Didymus with St. Gregory of Nyssa" (x. 396). Didymus's work On the Holy Spirit was clearly a protest against Macedonianism (see Tillemont, x. 393).

His comments on the Catholic Epistles are extant, as translated by Epiphanius Scholasticus (see Galland. Bib. Vet. Patr. ii.). His notes on I. Peter shew a dislike of Chiliasm, as a carnal and frivolous theory; he asserts free will, opposes Manicheans, admits the possibility of faults on the part of angels being cleansed through Christ; and in words very characteristic of the indomitable student and teacher, rebukes Christians who neglect sacred studies and attend only to practical life (on I. Peter iii. 15). He comments briefly on II. Peter, but sets it aside as spurious and "not in the canon," although (see infra) in the de Trinitate he cites it as Petrine. The chief features of his remarks on St. John's three Epistles are, (1) the earnestness against Docetism, Valentinianism, all speculations injurious to the Maker of the world, (2) the assertion that a true knowledge of God is possible without a knowledge of His essence, (3) care to urge the necessity of combining orthodoxy with right action. In the notes on Jude, he says that Christ is called the only Sovereign because He is the only true God. He speaks of the doom of those who turn away absolutely to evil as hopeless.

His treatise Against the Manicheans (pub. by Combefis in his Auctarium Novum, 1672) begins with logical formulae, intended to disprove the existence of two unoriginated Principles. From the blame and punishment attached to evil, he infers that Satan and his followers are not evil by nature; he discusses the terms "by nature children of wrath" (which he understands to mean "really children of wrath"), "children of this world," "son of perdition," "generation of vipers," with the aim of shewing that they do not contravene the great moral facts of free will and responsibility. The devil, he urges, was created good, and became a devil by his own free will. If it be objected, why then did God make a being who was to become so pestilent? the objection really lies against the whole plan of God's moral government, which intends His rational creatures to become good by choosing goodness, and therefore leaves them capable of choosing evil, and drawing on themselves the result of such a choice. He also asserts the transmission of original sin: a Saviour born by ordinary generation would have incurred the sin entailed on Adam's whole posterity. His three books On the Trinity have not reached us in a perfect state. They are interesting as exhibiting the Athanasian character, so to speak, of his thought in presence of Anomoeans and of Macedonians. He admits II. Peter as genuine: perhaps the opinion he had formerly held as to its non-canonicity had been reconsidered. He is very earnest, almost in the style of the "Athanasian Creed," on the co-equality of the Divine Hypostases (he uses that term in the sense which the younger generation of Catholics had adopted since the earlier days of the Arian strife). He enforces the perpetuity of Christ's kingdom (as if in controversy with Marcellians), and speaks of the Virgin Mother as Theotokos (ii. 4). He bestows much time and pains on the Macedonian controversy. Occasionally he kindles and glows with strong devotional fervour, and concludes an eloquent passage on the glory of the Holy Trinity with a thrice-repeated Amen. Shortly before this passage he invokes the archangels, and expresses his belief in the intercession of the saints (ii. 7).


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