Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Didymus the Blind

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Didymus the Blind, of Alexandria, b. about 310 or 313; d. about 395 or 398, at the age of eighty-five. Didymus lost the use of his eyes when four years old, yet he became one of the most learned men of his period. He prayed earnestly in his youth, we are told by Rufinus, not for the sight of his bodily eyes, but for the illumination of the heart. He admitted to St. Anthony that the loss of his sight was a grief to him; the saint replied that he wondered how a wise man could regret the loss of that which he had in common with ants and flies and gnats, and not rather rejoice that he possessed a spiritual sight like that of the saints and Apostles. St. Jerome indeed habitually spoke of him not at "the blind" but as "the Seer". Didymus studied with ardor, and his vigils were long and frequent, not for reading but for listening, that he might gain by hearing what others obtained by seeing. When the reader fell asleep for weariness, Didymus did not repose, but as it were chewed the cud (says Rufinus) of what he had heard, until he seemed to have inscribed it on the pages of his mind. Thus in a short time he amassed a vast knowledge of grammar, rhetoric, logic, music, arithmetic, and geometry, and a perfect familiarity with Holy Scripture. He was early placed at the head of the famous catechetical school of Alexandria, over which he presided for about half a century. St. Athanasius highly esteemed him. The orator Libanius wrote to an official in Egypt: "You cannot surely be ignorant of Didymus, unless you are ignorant of the great city wherein he has been night and day pouring out his learning for the good of others. He is similarly extolled by his contemporaries and by the historians of the following century, Rufinus was six years his pupil. Palladius visited him four times in ten years (probably 388-398). Jerome came to him for a month in order to have his doubts resolved with regard to difficult passages of Scripture. Later ages have neglected this remarkable man. He was a follower of Origen, and adopted many of his errors. Consequently when St. Jerome quarrelled with Rufinus and made war on Origenism, he ceased to boast of being a disciple of Didymus and was ashamed of the praise he had formerly given to the "Seer". When Origen was condemned by Justinian and then by the Fifth General Council, Didymus was not mentioned. But he was anathematized together with Evagrius Ponticus in the edict by which the Patriarch Eutychus of Constantinople gave effect to the decree of the council; and he was (perhaps in consequence of this) included in the condemnation of the Origenists by the sixth and seventh councils. But this censure is to be taken as applying to his doctrine and not to his person. It has had the unfortunate effect of causing the loss to us of most of his very numerous writings, which, as the works of a supposed heretic, were not copied in the Middle Ages.

Didymus always remained a layman. the idea that he was married rests on a mistaken identification of him with a Didymus to whom one of the letters of St. Isadore of Pelusium is addressed. He seemed on the contrary to have lived the life of an ascetic, although in the city and not in the desert. A curious story was told by him to Palladius. One day, when dwelling on the thought of Julian as a persecutor, and on this account having taken no food, he fell asleep in his chair and saw white horses running in different directions, while the riders cried out, "Tell Didymus, to-day at the seventh hour Julian died; arise and eat, and inform Athanasius the bishop, that he may also know it." Didymus noted the hour and the month and the week, and it was even so.


Didymus was one of the principal opponents of Arianism. His Trinitarian and Christological doctrine is perfectly;y orthodox; one may even say that he is more explicit than St. Athanasius as to the Unity in Trinity and the Divinity of the Holy Ghost. He has combined the theological vocabulary of St. Athanasius with that of the younger generation, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen. He continually uses the formula treis hypostaseis, mia ousia, which St. Athanasius admitted in his later years, and which has become the catholic watchword. Didymus has been credited with the invention of this formula, and Leipoldt is in favor of the attribution, whereas K. Holl rejects it. Until the fourth century the Greek-speaking Church had no means of expressing the doctrine of the Trinity. the use of hypostasis to express the Latin persona was in itself a clumsy device, for Didymus agrees with St. Jerome (who rejected the expression) that philosophically ousia and hypostasis are synonyms. Didymus, however, carefully safeguarded his doctrine from any wrong interpretation. His work on the Holy Spirit is preserved only in the Latin translation made by St. Jerome. It is free from the reproach of "economy" which attaches to the more famous work of St. Basil, who avoided (as he himself admits) calling the Holy Ghost "God". A yet more important work is the "De Trinitate", the three books of which are preserved almost entire; it was composed after 379. A treatise against the Manichæans is also nearly complete. Of the exegetical fragments, those on the Psalms are the most important. A commentary on the Catholic Epistles is known to us through the Latin translation made by a certain Epiphanius for Cassiodorus. Didymus comments on II Peter, and elsewhere frequently quotes that Epistle, although in one place he declares it to be spurious (falsata - the Greek is lost). In his commentaries Didymus shows himself to be much influenced by Origen, both in his care for the text and the grammar, and in his wide allegorizing, but of Origenistic heresies the traces in extant works are slight. He seems to have held the pre-existence of the soul. The doctrine of the "restitution of all things" is attributed to him by St. Jerome; but he speaks very often of eternal punishment, though he seems to teach that the fallen angels and even Satan himself are saved by Christ. He is fond of explaining that God's punishments are remedial. He deliberately rejects some of Origen's views and in his Trinitarian and Christological teaching is wholly uninfluenced by his great predecessor. His style is poor and careless. He is gentle in controversy. His earnestness and piety sometimes supply the place of the eloquence and energy which he lacks.

Didymi in omnes Epistolas canonicas enarratio (Cologne, 1531); Mingarellius, veterum testimonia de Didymo Alex. Cæco (Rome, 1764), reprinted in Didymi Alex. libri tres de Trinitate, first edited by J. A. Mingarelli, brother of the preceding (Bologna, 1769) ; Lucke, Quæstiones et vindiciæ Didymianæ, giving Greek fragments on the Comm. on Cath. Epp. by the side of the Latin (Göttingen, 1829-32); the exegetical fragments are found in Mai, Nova Patrum. Bibl. IV; in the Catenæ of Corderius and Cramer; in Wolf's A necdota Græca, IV: in J. A. Mingarelli's ed. of De Trinitate (above); in Junius (Patrick Young) Catena Gr. in Job (London, 1637) and in the Catena of Nicephorus. The only complete collection of Didymus's works is that of Migne. P.G., XXXIX, 1863, in which the prefatory matter of the two Mingarelii is reprinted. There is a good life in Tillmont, X. The best account, with full catalogue of writings, extant and lost, is by Leipoldt, Didymus der Blinde in Texte und Unters., N. F., XIV, 3, vol. XXVIII, 3, of th e whole series (Leipzig, 1905). The materials for a judgment on the theology of Didymus have been industriously collected in this study (more completely than by Mingarelli), but the decision of the writer is not always quite to be trusted. Holl, in Zeitsch r. für Kirchgeschicte, XXV, 3, (1904), has shown that the work Contra Arium et Sabellium, which goes under the name of Gregory of Nyssa, is probably by Didymus. Funk, in Kirchengesch. Abhandlungen, II, xv, p, 291 (Paderborn, 1899), ascribes to Didymus the fourth and fifth books of Basil, Adv. Eunomium (which are certainly not by Basil), and has been followed by Krüger, Jülicher, and Von Schubert, but Holl and Leipoldt are not convinced. Dräseke, Athanasiana in his Gesammelte Patrist.Untersuchungen (Altoona and Leipzig, 1889), reprinted from Studien und Kritiken, LXII (1889), attributes to Didymus the former of the two books De incarnatione d. n. J. C. contra Apollonarium, the latter being possibly by his scholar Ambrosius; against this view, Stücklen, Athana siana in Texte und Unters., N. F., IV, 4 (1899), and Leipoldt, loc. cit. On the authenticity of the Commentary on the Cath. Epp. see Klostermann, Ueber des Didymus von Alex. in Epp. Canon. enarratio in Texte und Unters., N. F., XIII, 2 (1915).

John Chapman.