Monastic Mysticism: Diadochus of Photice

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.

10 thoughts on “Monastic Mysticism: Diadochus of Photice

  1. LP

    I was under the impression that only parts of Evagrian teaching were considered heretical, namely the pre-existence of souls and the notion of the return of primitive union (as well as some of the more novel things found in the Kephalia Gnostika).

    I know he is mentioned by name in the Council of Trullo (not ecumenical), as well as in the Constantinople III, but these refer to Constantinople II, which, the best I can tell, doesn’t name Evagrius, only Origen (unless I have completely missed it, a real possiblity).

    Both the Lausiac History and the Historia Monachorum present Evagrius as an esteemed father.

    I can’t help but think there is wiggle room here with Evagrius…he’s a little out there..but a real true heretic???

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    well, he’s a true Origenist and to the degree that Origen’s teachings should/could be condemned, so is true of Evagrius. The difference as I understand it, is that some believe that if Origen had the opportunity to hear later formulastions, he might well have agreed with them. Evagrius did know them, but clung to heretical views. Louth’s comment was “On the doctrinal side he seems to have accepted all the more dubious parts of Origenism and developed them…” He goes on to suggest that it was Evagrius’s own understanding of Origenism that 5th Ecumenical Council condemned along with Evagrius.

    That having been said, he does have some great teachings—the more practical (and safer) portions of which were taken over by Cassian and others.

  3. B. Hawk

    I was under the impression that only parts of Evagrian teaching were considered heretical….

    Isn’t this often the case with some of the big-name heretics? So many of the early Judeo-Christian “heretics” had great moments as well as heretical. As Origen has already been mentioned, I’ll throw him in on this too. Unfortunately, modern Christians tend to just throw out any teaching by anyone who was a heretic instead of sifting through to find the nuggets of real teaching. But some of those jeweled nuggets can be very useful–and beautiful–for putting together a nice set of solid orthodox theology….

  4. B. Hawk

    PS: I also really like the images here, especially the idea of “gifts” at baptism: the “restoration in the image of God” and the “restoration according to the likeness of God, and this is not given at once but depends on our cooperation.”

    I really love the way this emphasizes the grace of God as well as the necessary actions of believers to enter into a personal covenant.

  5. Derek the Ænglican

    B. Hawk,
    (Good to see you here!) I don’t know—these days you’ll find all kinds, even those who will embrace anyone the early church thought was a heretic…

    Interestingly, I just glanced at Jerome & Gennadius’ On the Illustrious Men. Both Origen and Evagrius get very positive reviews from them. (Guess it was before Jerome went on his anti-Origen tear…)

  6. John-Julian, OJN

    I remember back in the 1980’s when Aidan Kavanaugh, OSB, gave us a splendid lecture on the basis of monasticism, he entitled it: “Monastics: Washed to Death” and made the same point you mention of the centrality of baptism.

    And, speaking of heretics, the Blessed Saint John Cassian never made it into the full RC calendar, having been declared a semi-Pelagian. (We celebrate him with gusto and joy!)

  7. Annie

    Oh, I find that examining why they considered them to be heretics is interesting. Nowadays people are often eager to wave the Christian flag and declare somebody to be an heretic. A nasty habit some Christians have. I’ve heard some accusations made against certain priests in Britain. Some think that heretics should still be persecuted and maybe even burned at the stake.

    I think that Jesus was declared a heretic . . . I am personally careful about doing that.


Comments are closed.