Thursday, September 12, 2013

Did Didymus the Blind Write De Trinitate?

Previously, I sifted through Bart Ehrman's analysis of the Gospels-text of Didymus the Blind, pointing out various shortcomings that render its conclusions extremely out-of-focus.  I also mentioned that Ehrman did not include De Trinitate ("On the Trinity") as part of his analysis, on the grounds that Didymus the Blind was not its author.  Several other scholars consider Didymus the Blind to be the author of De Trinitate.  If they are correct, then Ehrman's analysis must be considered incomplete.     
Here are some hurdles that must be surmounted by those who identify Didymus as the author of De Trinitate.  (This list is based on comments in R. P. C. Hanson’s book Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, on pages 653-658; Hanson, in turn, used material from a French-writing scholar named Doutreleau.)  Hanson also observes some weaknesses in Doutreleau’s objections.  Here are the hurdles that Hanson mentioned, accompanied by brief counterpoints, some of which are from Hanson and some of which are from me.
(1)  The author of De Trinitate III:16, when commenting on I Tim. 5:6, refers to his previous work on the Holy Spirit, but in Didymus’ On the Holy Spirit, as preserved and translated by Jerome, there is no exposition of I Tim. 5:6.

COUNTERPOINT:  First Timothy 5:6 says, “But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.” Does the author of De Trinitate explicitly say that he commented on I Tim. 5:6 in his work on the Holy Spirit, or does he just say something like, “For my earlier comments about this sort of thing, see my comments in my treatise on the Holy Spirit”?  Is there anything in Didymus’ On the Holy Spirit that, while not explicitly quoting I Tim. 5:6, could be considered to be thematically related to it?  And, did Jerome translate the entire work, or is his translation condensed?)

(2) The author of De Trinitate refers to the “Macedonians,” but in On the Holy Spirit, Didymus refers to this group of heretics as the “Pneumatomachians.”

COUNTERPOINT:  Could Jerome have taken slight liberties with the text of On the Holy Spirit so as to refer to this group by a name which he considered more appropriate than “Macedonians”?  -- Also:  the nomenclature by which some heretics were described back then may have drifted similarly to such nomenclature today (“Mormons” vs. LDS; “Jehovah’s Witnesses” vs. Watchtower Society). An author may arbitrarily use either one on different occasions.)

(3) “Jerome in his account of Didymus does not mention a work on the Trinity by him, though De Trinitate must have been written fairly soon after 381 and Jerome visited Didymus in 386.”

COUNTERPOINT:  In chapter 109 of Viris Illustribus, Jerome, after naming several of Didymus’ commentaries and books, finishes the list by saying, “and many other things, to give an account of which would be a work of itself.  He is still living, and has already passed his eighty-third year.”  Since Jerome stated explicitly that he did not mention “many other” works by Didymus, this objection is extremely light.

(4)De Trinitate enumerates Zechariah as the last of the Minor Prophets, whereas in the Commentary on Zechariah, Didymus counts him as the eleventh (before Malachi).” 

COUNTERPOINT:  Okay.  I’d like to see the contexts of the two listings.  Is one a chronological listing, and the other a list in order of appearance in a canon-list?  Is one a shortest-to-longest list?  Or are we looking at two canon-lists, and if so, is that a big deal in 381?

(5) “The explanation of the candelabra in Zech. 3:8-4:10 is utterly different in every detail in De Trinitate and Comm. on Zechariah, and the latter does not refer to the treatment of the passage in the De  Trinitate.”

COUNTERPOINT:  Granted, this is a significant difference.  But an author approaching that passage in search of allegorical insights could probably squeeze two very different allegorical insights out of it, depending on what themes he wished to emphasized, or what points he wished to make, on different occasions.

(6) De Trinitate “deploys a full technical vocabulary in dealing with Trinitarian themes,” while in the undisputed works of Didymus, he “uses almost no technical terms at all.” 

COUNTERPOINT:  Okay; I’ll consider this a significant difference.  On the other hand, topics can greatly affect style.  Even text-critics don’t often employ text-critical jargon unless they are writing something related to textual criticism.  Also, Hanson does mention that Didymus “applies homoousios twice to the Son but never to the Spirit.”  Just because Didymus didn’t typically employ terms like “homoousois” and “theotokos” and “isotimia” in works that were not about the Trinity does not mean that they were not in his verbal 

(7) Didymus never quotes pagan poets, but the author of De Trinitate “frequently quotes Homer and the classic Greek poets.”

COUNTERPOINT:  Okay; this is a significant point.

(8) Didymus is “fond of arithmology, i.e. playing around with the significance of numbers,” but De Trinitate “has only two brief excursions into arithmology.”

COUNTERPOINT:  This is a pretty light objection!  An author can’t be expected to use numerically-based illustrations in every single work.  And then, when we see that the author of De Trinitate does this, well, two such uses is just not enough?!

(9) Didymus relies on Origen for a lot of his theology, but De Trinitate “shows no influence from Origen.”

COUNTERPOINT:  Since Didymus had been appointed to lead the school of Alexandria by Athanasius, it would come as no surprise to see that despite admiring Origen’s erudition, and despite learning from Origen’s works, Didymus did not rely on Origen when writing about the Trinity, but took his stand on ground taken by more recent, and more orthodox, movers-and-shakers in the church.

(10) The author of De Trinitate states, in
III:1 (784), “I go forward to the next task, trusting that even before I speak I shall receive grace along with the children whom (God) has given to me and 
the children of those children, through whom as long as we live we labor, and indeed also all whom (God) knows.”  Didymus was a monk, and the idea that he had children and grandchildren is unlikely.

COUNTERPOINT:  Hanson wrote, “These ‘children’ could refer to the writer’s disciples, but to call disciples of a later generation or disciples of one’s disciples would be odd.”  Why? To a writer such as Didymus, fond of allegories and such, it seems entirely natural.  This evidence may be easily converted into evidence in favor of Didymusian authorship:  the author says that he is speaking -- i.e., dictating, as Didymus (and others) did -- and by the 380’s, Didymus had worked long enough to see the disciples of his disciples mature.  Didymus was old.  The author of De Trinitate, if he here refers to students of his students, was old.

(11) In De Trinitate II:11 (660), the author writes, “But John too is obvious, as they say, even to a blind man.”  It is unlikely that Didymus the Blind would have used this expression.

COUNTERPOINT:  Why? That Didymus could make an occasional self-referential statement like this does not seem unlikely to me. 

(12) In De Trinitate II:27 (768), the author “urges his readers or disciples to ‘live among books,’” and this, according to Hanson, is “not a likely piece of advice for a blind man to give.” 

COUNTERPOINT:  Why not?  Are we to imagine that Didymus did not realize the advantages that the acquisition of books could provide?  As the author of many books -- which Didymus wanted people to read -- Didymus would be entirely capable of encouraging people to live in the company of books.) (Tangent: didn’t Chrysostom also say this somewhere?)

(13) “And at one point [
III:2 (825)], quoting Aquila’s version, the author transliterates the Hebrew word into Greek letters.  We have to ask ourselves whether a blind man is likely to have learnt even the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.”

COUNTERPOINT:  Didymus the Blind’s career is one unlikely accomplishment after another.  Is it likely that a blind man would learn geometry?  Yet the record that he did so is there, along with a report that he learned to read by the use of carved wooden letters. There is nothing in the way of the view that Didymus knew enough Hebrew to be able, with the help of his assistants, to transliterate one Hebrew word into Greek.  A commentator on several Old Testament books (including Psalms) whose erudition was saluted by Jerome would almost inevitably have an awareness of the Hebrew alphabet. 

Out of the 13 objections that Hanson presented, #9-13 seem inconsequential, #2, #3, and #8 seem feathery, #1 and #4 are possibly significant but more info is needed, and only #5, #6, and #7 obviously carry real weight. Focusing on these points, the case that Didymus is not the author of De Trinitate seems, for the moment, to rest on three points:

(1)  The author of De Trinitate and Didymus interpret Zechariah 3:8-4:10 in two very different ways. 
(2)  The author of De Trinitate uses technical jargon about the Trinity, but Didymus hardly ever uses such terms. 
(3)  The author of De Trinitate frequently quotes Homer and other pagan poets, but Didymus never does so.

To me, this is not enough to prove that Didymus is the author.  I am still looking into this question, and at the moment I am leaning toward the position that the evidence that Didymus wrote De Trinitate is stronger than the evidence to the contrary.  Regarding this question, competent scholars have weighed in on opposite sides.  Until it is resolved, and until the utilizations of the Gospels in De Trinitate are analyzed, Ehrman's findings about the textual complexion of Didymus' Gospels-text must be regarded as tentative and incomplete, not only because of the shortcomings in the details of his work that I reviewed earlier, but also because of the possibility that Ehrman's analysis has not taken into account the Gospel-utilizations found in one of Didymus' major works.

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