Didymus the Blind (c 309-395)
Head of the famous catechetical school of Alexandria
"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." --The orator Libanius
"(Didymus was) the great bulwark of the true faith." --Socrates Scholasticus c. 380
"He surpassed all of his day in knowledge of the Scriptures." --Jerome
Didymus the Blind, was revered as the foremost Christian scholar of the fourth century and an influential spiritual leader. He became entirely blind at age four; yet this turn of events in his life seems to have contributed to his voracious hunger for learning, and an amazing ability to apply himself to retaining information. From his youth, he prayed earnestly not for his physical eyesight, but for the illumination of the heart. After hearing lectures and scriptures read, he was known for spending hours “chewing the cud” on what he had just heard, until the message was truly inscribed on the pages of his mind.
In a short time he became one of the most learned men of his day, with a great knowledge of grammar, rhetoric, logic, music, arithmetic, and geometry, and a perfect familiarity with Holy Scripture, knowing much of it by heart. He was placed at the head of the famous catechetical school of Alexandria, over which he presided for about half a century. Under his leadership, the school was open for blind students to study through a system in which reading letters were engraved into the surface of wood. This learning process of Didymus was the precursor of Louis Braille who invented the educational system of reading embossed dots by touch.
Didymus was noted for his exceptional kindness and angelic disposition. His fame spread far and wide. As head of the catechetical school, Didymus had as his more famous students and hearers St. Antony of the Desert, Palladius, Evargrius Ponticus, St. Jerome and Rufinus of Aquilaea who studied with him for six years. He admitted to St. Anthony that the loss of his sight was a grief to him; to which Antony reportedly 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 that saw into the glories of the kingdom of heaven.
Jerome often spoke of Didymus not as the blind but as “the Seer.” He came to him for a month in order to have his doubts resolved with regard to difficult passages of Scripture. Later, when some of Didymus’ teaching (influenced by Origen) came into controversy , Jerome distanced himself from him.
As a “Seer,” Didymus had a prophetic gift. Palladius recounts a story told to him by Didymus: One day, when fasting and praying over the persecution of the church through Julian, Didymus fell asleep in his chair and saw a vision of 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 learned later that Julian died at the time of his vision.
Didymus was strongly influenced by Origen, and adopted many of his ideas, including the pre-existence of souls, the transmigration of souls and the reconciliation of all things. After Didymus’ death, some of his “Origenist” beliefs became the subject of a heated controversy that subsequently culminated in the second Council (553) of Constantinople, in which Didymus' works - but not his person – were condemned. In the Third Council of Constantinpole in 680, Didymus was again linked with and condemned with Origen. However, it must be noted that the doctrine of Origen and Didymus that was found to be the most “heretical” was not universalism, but the belief in the "Abominable doctrine of the transmigration of souls.” Until his “official condemnation” at the councils of Constantinople, Didymus was held to be an orthodox Christian teacher, greatly respected and admired.
Didymus was a prolific writer. The tone of his writings is always well balanced and calculated to win over his opponent rather than to defeat him. He railed against heresy but never the heretic. Thus, he had friends amongst Christians of all persuasions.
Because of this condemnation however, most of his works were not copied during the Middle Ages and thus were lost. However, an accidental discovery in 1941 at Toura, south of Cairo, of a group of papyrus codices, dating from the 6th or 7th centuries and comprising nearly 2000 pages, has brought to light the text of half a dozen additional commentaries by Didymus. Although these commentaries are on Old Testament books, Didymus includes in his exposition hundreds of citations from the New Testament. These come from all the books of the New Testament with the exception of: Philemon, II John, and III John.
Didymus argues the final remission of punishment, and universal salvation, in his commentary on I Timothy and I Peter.
Of the Descent of Christ into Hades, he says,--as translated by Ambrose:
"In the liberation of all no one remains a captive; at the time of the Lord's passion, he alone (the devil) was injured, who lost all the captives he was keeping."
"For although the Judge at times inflicts tortures and anguish on those who merit them, yet he who more deeply scans the reasons of things, perceiving the purpose of his goodness, who desires to amend the sinner, confesses him to be good."
"As men, by giving up their sins, are made subject to him (Christ), so too, the higher intelligences, freed by correction from their willful sins, are made subject to him, on the completion of the dispensation ordered for the salvation of all. God desires to destroy evil, therefore evil is (one) of those things liable to destruction. Now that which is of those things liable to destruction will be destroyed."