Didymus the Blind on Matthew 16

Didymus the Blind (c. 313–398) probably spent his whole life in the city of Alexandria. Described as a late antique scholastic, he has often been compared to Origen, whose influence upon Didymus is palpable (and which landed Didymus in serious trouble centuries later.) Didymus also taught the later Latin scholars Jerome and Rufinus, who clearly respected him a great deal. Some modern interpreters believe he was mainly a grammatical teacher. For his part, Didymus’ student Rufinus specifically identified him as doctor scholae ecclesiasticae. Whether this means Didymus served as the headmaster of Alexandria’s catechetical school has provoked significant debate, but most are willing to grant that he ran an academic circle which was at least allied with the great Athanasius himself, if not necessarily under the bishop’s direct oversight.

Some decades before John Chrysostom commented on Matthew 16, Didymus had looked at the same passage. Like Chrysostom, he had a not-so-Petrine interpretation of the “bedrock” upon which the church is built:

So then, were [the midwives of Exodus 1] homeless before they “feared God”? But clearly [the house God built for them] is their virtues, just as the man hearing the words of Jesus builds his “house” (that is, his life) not upon a tangible bedrock, but upon Christ, who said to Peter, “You are Peter and upon this bedrock I shall construct my ekklesia,” with Peter clearly having a house on that same bedrock. And the Savior constructs the ekklesia, being himself both the bedrock and the builder. For God works alongside the earnest man. Thus, the psalmist says, “On bedrock you raised me.” But to be raised on tangible bedrock is not a great gift of God. Rather, [the bedrock] is clearly the solid Word (logos), as the psalmist says again . . . .[1]

Didymus makes a similar move in another commentary, where he again references the wise people who

constructed their life like a house on the bedrock, Christ, setting down the groundwork and foundations of the house on the strong and unshakeable faith in the Trinity, the so-called “bedrock” for the one confessing [and?] for the one being confessed, according to what was thus said: “You are Peter, and on this rock I shall construct my ekklesia, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”[2]

Thus, most of what I said about Chrysostom in that last post can also apply to Didymus: neither Peter himself nor the episcopacy of Rome are the church’s foundation. This is a slightly different interpretation than Chrysostom’s, but I think Didymus was exactly right to catch the verbal similarity between Matthew 16’s “bedrock” and the “bedrock” Jesus mentions in the parable of the builders (Matt. 7:24-27).

  1. Commentary on Job 312–313. Didymus’ corpus is preserved mainly in the badly damaged Tura papyri. Text taken from D. Hagedorn, U. Hagedorn, and L. Koenen, Didymos der Blinde. Kommentar zu Hiob, pt. 4.1 [Papyrologische Texte und Abhandlungen 33.1. Bonn: Habelt, 1985]: 40-198. ἆρά γε ἄοικοι ἦσαν πρὶν φοβηθῶσι τὸν θ(εό)ν; ἀλλὰ δῆλον ὡς τὰς ἀρετάς, κατὰ τὸν ἀκούοντα τοὺς λόγους Ἰ(ησο)ῦ καὶ οἰκοδομοῦντα τὴ(ν) ἑαυτοῦ οἰκί[α]ν, ὅ ἐστιν τὸν βίον, οὐκ ἐπὶ πέτραν αἰσθητήν, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ τὸν Χ(ριστὸ)ν τὸν εἰπόντα Πέτρῳ· σὺ εἶ Πέτρος καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν”, τοῦ Πέτρου δηλονότι ἔχοντος οἰκίαν ἐν τῇ τοιαύτῃ πέτρᾳ. οἰκοδομεῖ δὲ ὁ σωτὴρ τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, αὐτὸς καὶ πέτρα καὶ οἰκοδόμος ὤν· συνεργεῖ γὰρ ὁ θ(εὸ)ς τῷ σπουδαίῳ. οὕτω καὶ ὁ ψαλμῳδός φησιν· ἐν πέτρᾳ ὕψωσάς με.” οὐ μέγα δὲ δῶρον θ(εο)ῦ ἐν αἰσθητῇ πέτρᾳ ὑψωθῆναι, ἀ[λλὰ] δῆλον ὡς τῶι λό ὑψωθῆναι, ἀ[λλὰ] δῆλον ὡς τῶι λόγωι τῷ ἀσφαλ[εῖ, κ]αθὸ πάλιν ὁ ψαλμῳδός φησιν·
  2. Commentary on Zechariah 2.60. Text taken from L. Doutreleau, Didyme l’Aveugle sur Zacharie, 3 vols. [Sources chrétiennes 83, 84, 85. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1962]: 83:190-412; 84:426-788; 85:802-1086: . . . ᾠκοδόμησαν τὸν βίον αὐτῶν οἷα οἶκον ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν [τ]ὸν Χριστόν, ἐγκαταβαλόμενοι τὰς κρηπίδας καὶ θεμελίους τοῦ οἴκο[υ] ἐπὶ τὴν στερεὰν καὶ ἀκατά λυτον εἰς τὴν Τριάδα πίστιν, πέτραν ὠ̣νομασμένην πρὸς τὸν ὁμολογήσαντα αὐτὴν πρὸς τοῦ ὁμολ̣ογηθέντος, κατὰ τὸ οὕτω λεχθέν· «Σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τ̣ῇ̣ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν Ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ μ̣ὴ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.»  Ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ κατὰ τὴν τρίτην ἀπόδοσ̣ι̣ν ὑπὸ τοὺς πόδας τεθέντες τοῦ παμβασιλέως ἐχθροί, ἀντὶ δ[ια]φόρων φίλοι γενόμενοι, οἰκοδομήσουσιν τὸν οἶκον Κυρίου, «ἵν’ ἐνοικήσῃ καὶ ἐμπεριπατήσῃ ἐν αὐτοῖς», καλέσας καὶ βελτιώσας αὐτούς.


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