The Vision of Didymus the Blind by Grant Bayliss

The Vision of Didymus the Blind by Grant Bayliss
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  The Vision of Didymus the Blind   by Grant Bayliss 1  Theodore Sabo The chief virtue of Grant Bayliss’ The Vision of Didymus the Blind   is its assertion that the church father Didymus was an Origenist, not a whitewasher of Origen, and that he was in some respects even bolder than Origen. Whereas the Cappadocians were enthusiastic for Origen, Didymus was his true follower, an Origenist in the sense that Porphyry and Iamblichus were Plotinians. Nothing less could be expected of the author of a commentary on Origen’s First Principles . What The Vision of Didymus the Blind    tends to do, speaking only in terms of Didymus’ c ontemporaries, is to take the exegete away from the correct Athanasius and into the camp of the ascetic and open-minded Anthony. Didymus the Blind lost his eyesight at the age of four but nonetheless became skilled in the late antique disciplines of geometry, astronomy, mathematics, logic, and philosophy. The Origenist Rufinus and the anti-Origenist Jerome each sought him out. The great hater of Origen, Epiphanius, never attacked him, and in fact Origen was not universally anathema at this time despite E  piphanius’ solicitous labors. The main focus of Didymus’ Origenism was virtue, and he is therefore a representative of what Bayliss calls Virtue Origenism. Bayliss concentrates primarily on Didymus’ exegesis, not on theological questions like his relationship to the Cappadocians or Evagrius. As a follower of Origen, Didymus was more adventurous than many evangelical commentators, but he questioned only the historicity of the Fall and the Tower of Babel. He also flattened Origen’s subordinationist Trinit y along the lines of Nicene orthodoxy, granting each member of the Trinity equal Godhead, but he was condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople for his beliefs in the preexistence of the soul and the final restoration of all creation, two of the doctrines which made Origen so controversial. A key text for him on preexistence was Jeremiah 1:5  —“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” On the final salvation of the devil he may have been more dogmatic than Origen who complained that his theory had been misinterpreted by his enemies. He was 1  First published in the  Journal of Early Christian History  (April 2018). Book: Grant D. Bayliss, The Vision of Didymus the Blind: A Fourth-Century Virtue Origenism  (Oxford University Press, 2015).  2 hylomorphic like Aristotle, with a tendency not to divide the human entity, but usually accepted Plato’s tripartite soul consisting of the rational, the spirited, and the libidinous—  in reality two souls, the rational and the irrational. The last two chapters of the book concern Didymus’ doctrines of pre -passion and srcinal sin. They are the most dispensable or at least of the minimal utility to contemporary scholars. Bayliss keeps his subject always interesting which is remarkable since the study of hermeneutics is by definition uninteresting. He speaks in terms of the allegorical exegesis of the Alexandrian school and the literal exegesis of the Antiochene but puts these names in quotes, fearful of the new correctness in patristics, a correctness so unyielding one can no longer use such descriptors as Gnostic or Arian. In many instances he does not beat around the bush. He places the ascetic Anthony firmly in Origenist circles and makes Didymus familiar wit h Plotinus’ philosophy firsthand. Not surprisingly he believes Didymus read the Middle Platonists Apuleius and Alcinous, but he again puts “Middle Platonism” in quotes, perhaps with a nod to the latest deconstruction in Neoplatonic studies. Overall The Vision of Didymus the Blind   is an engaging and informative work.
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