DIDYMUS THE BLIND (ca. 313-398)
The last great head of the CATECHETICAL SCHOOL OF ALEXANDRIA and one of its eminent and most prolific theologians. Although he had lost his sight at the age of four, he was able to command the admiration of his contemporaries by his extraordinary erudition, the amazing mass of his religious writings, and his creative theological acumen. He managed to keep away from the prevailing heretical teachings of his day, and thus ATHANASIUS I did not hesitate to appoint him to the presidency of the greatest theological institution of his time. He included among his students such illustrious figures as GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS, JEROME, and the historian RUFINUS. He was described by them as their magister, a propheta, and vir apostolicus.
While leading a strictly ascetic life as a hermit, Didymus was visited by ANTONY THE GREAT, who established the monastic rule, and by PALLADIUS, who rendered homage to him in his poor residence. His tremendous output in the field of biblical exegesis and theological studies seems to have suffered at the hands of those who cast dark shadows of Origenist suspicions on his work at the Second Council of CONSTANTINOPLE in 553. His support of ORIGEN’s creed of the preexistence of the soul was condemned as unorthodox.
The discovery in 1941 of papyrus documents at Turah, south of Cairo, revealed a considerable number of hitherto lost writings from his literary heritage. Now it can be certified that the works of Didymus include the following wide range: On the Trinity (three books), On the Holy Spirit, Against the Manichaeans, Commentaries on Job, Zechariah, Genesis and Ecclesiastes, and A Commentary on Psalms XX-XLXI. The work entitled Discourse Against Arius and Sabellius is also ascribed to him, though its authenticity has yet to be proved. Even this monumental theological production does not seem to cover the work of Didymus. Palladius states that “he interpreted the Old and New Testaments, word by word, and such attention did he pay to the doctrine, setting out his exposition of it subtly yet surely, that he surpassed all the ancients on knowledge.” Even if we allow for the exaggeration of some of his admirers, Saint Jerome concludes the listing of the works of Didymus by saying, “. . . and many other things, to give an account of which would be a work of itself.”
Although his tremendous exegetical output is bound to leave the door open for doubtful statements in minor details, the orthodoxy of Didymus is entirely above reproach. His theological and pastoral teaching is identical with the doctrines of Athanasius I, a fact that clears him from the taint of heterodoxy. Throughout his lifetime and even beyond, his works were freely circulated by his unquestioning admirers.
- Quasten, J. Patrology, Vol. 3, pp. 85-100. Westminster, Md., 1963.
- Roey, A. van. “Didyme l’Aveugle.” In Dictionnaire d’Histoire et de Géographie ecclésiastiques, Vol. 14, cols. 416-27. Paris, 1960.
- Roncaglia, M. P. Egypte. Histoire de l’église copte, Vol. 2, Le Didascalée: Les hommes et les doctrines, 2nd rev. and enl. ed. Beirut, 1987.