I’m doing some reading around to prepare for my next Cafe article that’s in the works and ran across some good stuff from Diadochus. There’s no way this’ll make it into my final text, but I thought this was pretty cool and definitely worth sharing.
I’m looking at Andrew Louth’s The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981) and his chapter on “The Monastic Contribution”. Of course, he’s doing a quick survey of a huge field and subject and the thinkers about whom he speaks are representatives of types that contribute to his synthesis. It’s not comprehensive nor exhaustive by any means, nor is it intended to be. In this chapter he looks at three folks/texts: Evagrius of Pontus, the Messalian homilies attributed to Macarius, and Diadochus. Those who know their history will note a common thread between the first two—they were both condemned as heretical… The way he sets it up, Diadochus is the synthesis between the thesis and antithesis set up by the first two. That is, Evagrius is an intellectualist and emphasizes the spiritual nature of prayer while the Messalians are intensely practical and center themselves very much on feeling.
The best part of Louth’s treatment of Diadochus and what really caught my eye was his discussion of the place of baptism:
The center of Diadochus’ spiritual theology is perhaps his clear grasp of the significance of baptism. Neither of the monastic traditions we have discussed in this chapter gives any place to baptism. Evagrius does not mention baptism, and even his understanding of the basic significance of faith cannot be related to baptism, as he regards faith as an innate capacity. The Messalian position explicitly rejects any place in the spiritual life for baptism. [ed: Indeed, this is an issue with monastic theology as a whole—even in Cassian, monastic vows seem to trump baptism…] In rejecting this tenet of the Messalians, Diadochus is led to develop an understanding of the spiritual life that sees God’s work in the soul through the sacrament of baptism as the foundation of that life.
. . .
In baptism, according to Diadochus, two gifts are given. The first, given at once, is restoration in the image of God. [ed: cf. Athanasius, On the Incarnation—to the delight of M and Anastasia…] The second, which far surpasses the first, is restoration according to the likness of God, and this is not given at once but depends on our cooperation.
. . .
Diadochus uses, as Macarius [of the Messalian homilies] has done, the analogy of a painter who, in this case, first traces the outline and then applies the colors. The grace of God first traces on man in baptism the form of the image that he had in the beginning, and as he begins:
“with all his will to desire the beauty of the likeness and stands naked and undaunted in his work, then grace causes virtue upon virtue to blossom in us and it raises the form of the soul from glory to glory and bestows on the soul the form of the likeness. So the spiritual sense reveals to us that we are being fashioned after the likeness, but the perfection of the likeness we know through being illuminated.” (Century 89)
The spiritual sense, then, is that by means of which we progress in the spiritual life. It is by discovering it and using it that we cause the image (eikon) in ourselves, which has been restored in baptism, to take on the full glory of the likeness (homoiosis). Through it we acquire virtues . . . and thus adorn the soul with spiritual beauty. But beyond all that our spiritual sense can do there lies perfection. This is to receive ‘spiritual love’ and it can only be received when the soul is enlightened in complete assurance by the Holy Spirit. The final perfection of the likeness can only be accomplished through love: ‘no other virtue can acquire impassibility for the soul, but only love.’
I love this image of the spiritual life! Through baptism, a line-drawing (as it were) of the image of God is restored in our soul. Then, through the cultivation of the virtues and our own opening to the working of the Spirit, the drawing is painted in (or perhaps the colors effaced as we slip between virtue and vice) until we hold in ourselves a portrait of the likeness of God, only completed by the iridescent glow of love.