Didymus the Blind

Young

Among the great church fathers stands Didymus, who was born in Alexandria around 313 AD.  When he was just four years old he lost his sight.  Although his eyes didn’t work, his mind sure did: he taught himself to read by way of feeling carved letters.  He also had a photographic memory and was brilliant in all areas of education, from music to poetry to arithmetic to rhetoric.  Theologically, Didymus was of Nicene orthodoxy and probably associated with Athanasius.  He wrote many biblical commentaries, tracts, treatises, and letters and even in his own day he was viewed as a great Christian leader and teacher.  Some of his works include On the Trinity, On the Holy Spirit, and Against the Manichees.

One patristic scholar says that as far as teaching goes, Didymus was in the “mimetic” tradition: the teacher would live like the student should live.  But he was also in the “scholastic” tradition, which means learning, reasoning, and thinking about the truths of Christianity.

Here’s how Frances Young summarizes Didymus the Blind’s thinking and contribution to ththe church.

“Didymus was a scholar and a teacher; but for all his academic attainments, he was essentially a pious monk and a conservative churchman.  His scholarship was entirely devoted to the elucidation of scripture and the doctrines of the Church.  In these areas of specialty, he displayed little originality, though he undoubtedly contributed to the consolidation of the orthodox position.  His main source-book, his real inspiration, was the Bible, and in the long-term, it was as an exegete that he had some abiding influence.”

Didymus is one of the many gifted teachers in the history of Christianity – one for whom we can be thankful.  I agree with St. Jerome, who called him Didymus the Seeing rather than Didymus the Blind. 

The above information and quote can be found in Frances Young, From Nicaea to Chalcedon, pages 91-101. (This blog post was originally published in May 2011.)

Shane Lems

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