11 April 2010

'Guiding the Four-horsed Chariot'—St Diadochus of Photiki

Today, 29 March on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Diadochus, Bishop of Photiki in Epirus. Olivier Clément calls him ‘one of the principal spiritual authorities of the Christian East, and one of the first witnesses to the “Jesus prayer”’, [1] and St Diadochus occupies an honoured place in the Philokalia. But because it’s a Sunday (on which day I usually get little traffic), and because I’m still rather worn out from the conference and have already produced a lengthy post on St Diadochus (here), I will keep this one quite short. First, Archimandrite Placide (Deseille) on his life and teaching:

Very little is known about the life of Diadochus. He was Bishop of Photike in Epirus at the time of the Council of Chalcedon (451). Before that he had undoubtedly been the superior of a monastic community and may have stayed in Carthage after having been abducted by t he fleet of Genseric during a Vandal raid into Epirus between 467 and 474. That ‘would explain the influence which the Hundred Chapters of Diadochus seem to have exercised on a treatise of the end of the fifth century, the Contemplative Life of Julian Pomerus (who lived in Arian Africa before becoming, in Gaul, the master of Caesarius of Arles)’ (E. des Places, Introduction to Didadochus of Photike, Oeuvres spirituelles (SC 5 ter) Paris, 1966, pp. 9-10). [2] He died about 474.

The teaching of Diadochus, formulated in a language that reveals an excellent literary culture and a very personal spiritual experience, echoes the tradition of early monasticism. Diadochus knew Evagrius, but he is above all dependent upon the Spiritual Homilies attributed to Macarius of Egypt. Like Macarius, he insists on the experiential aspect of the spiritual life while also fighting against the Messalian deviations.

Diadochus exposes the various phases of invisible combat, the pedagogical withdrawals of divine grace, the importance of a constant remembrance of God, and the invocation of the name of Jesus. Spiritual progress allows the awakening of the ‘sense of the spirit’, thanks to which man will taste the sweetness of God ‘in a feeling of total certainty’. [3]

In conclusion, I’ll offer a longish passage from St Diadochus’s Philokalic treatise, ‘On Spiritual Knowledge & Discrimination: One Hundred Texts’. Here the Bishop of Photiki makes use of the chariot imagery which he himself notes in 4 Kgds. 2:12 LXX, but which, although he doesn’t mention them, can also be found in St Macarius’s first Spiritual Homily [4] and the Biblical text St Macarius is interpreting—Ezekiel 1:4-2:1. Of course, St Diadochus’s interpretation of the chariot as the yoking together of the soul’s faculties is also quite reminiscent of Plato’s Phaedrus 246a-254e, [5] and the Saint’s comment that ‘God spoke clearly about the four cardinal virtues first of all to the Jews’ almost seems to be an oblique reference to Plato, dismissing the claim that this teaching is somehow derived from him.

62. The incensive power usually troubles and confuses the soul more than any other passion, yet there are times when it greatly benefits the soul. [6] For when with inward calm we direct it against blasphemers or other sinners in order to induce them to men their ways or at least feel some shame, we make our soul more gentle. In this way we put ourselves completely in harmony with the purposes of God’s justice and goodness. In addition, through becoming deeply angered by sin we often overcome weaknesses in our soul. Thus there is no doubt that if, when deeply depressed, we become indignant in spirit against the demon of corruption, this gives us the strength to despise even the presumptuousness of death. In order to make this clear, the Lord twice became indignant against death and troubled in spirit (cf. John 12:27, 13:21); and despite the fact that, untroubled, He could by a simple act of will do all that He wished, none the less when He restored Lazarus’ soul to his body He was indignant and troubled in spirit (cf. John 11:33)—which seems to me to show that a controlled incensive power is a weapon implanted in our nature by God when He creates us. If Eve had used this weapon against the serpent, she would not have been impelled by sensual desire. In my view, then, the man who in a spirit of devotion makes controlled use of his incensive power will without doubt be judged more favourably than the man who, because of the inertness of his intellect, has never become incensed. The latter seems to have an inexperienced driver in charge of his emotions, while the former, always ready for action, drives the horses of virtue through the midst of the demonic host, guiding the four-horsed chariot of self-control in the fear of God. This chariot is called ‘the chariot of Israel’ in the description of the taking up of the prophet Elijah (cf. 4 Kgds. 2:12 LXX); for God spoke clearly about the four cardinal virtues first of all to the Jews. This is precisely why Elijah ascended in a fiery chariot, guiding his own virtues as horses, when he was carried up by the Spirit in a gust of fire. [7]

[1] Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism: Text & commentary, 3rd ed., tr. Theodore Berkeley, OCSO, rev. Jeremy Hummerstone (London: New City, 1995), p. 323.

[2] Fr Placide also notes, ‘In this introduction, E. des Places makes an error of perspective by presenting Didadochus especially as an adversary of ‘Macarius’; he is rather a disciple gifted with discernment’ (Archim. Placide [Deseille], Orthodox Spirituality & the Philokalia, tr. Anthony P. Gythiel [Wichita, KS: Eighth Day, 2008), p. 194, n. 7).

[3] Ibid., p. 20.

[4] St Macarius the Great, The Fifty Spiritual Homilies & the Great Letter, tr. Fr George A. Maloney (NY: Paulist, 1992), pp. 37-44.

[5] Plato, ‘Phaedrus’, tr. Alexander Nehamas & Paul Woodruff, Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper & D.S. Hutchinson (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997), pp. 524-32.

[6] I have already posted a bit on this subject here.

[7] St Diadochus of Photiki, ‘On Spiritual Knowledge & Discrimination: One Hundred Texts’, The Philokalia, Vol. 1, tr. G.E.H. Palmer, et al. (London: Faber, 1983), p. 272.


Mark Montague said...

Hi Aaron - could you parse this sentence for me (or, if you'd prefer, just explain it!): "Diadochus knew Evagrius, but he is able all dependent upon the Spiritual Homilies attributed to Macarius of Egypt."

aaronandbrighid said...

Sorry, Mark! It should read, 'Diadochus knew Evagrius, but he is above all dependent....' I'll fix it!

David.R said...

Hi Aaron:
I think it is interesting that St Symeon the Pious instructed St Symeon the New Theologian to read Mark the Ascetic. We know the New Theologian also read Diadochus of Photiki. What do you know about St Diadochus's influence in the spiritual formation of St Symeon the New Theologian?


aaronandbrighid said...

Off the top of my head, I know nothing about it! Fr Alexander notes that he was given St Diadochus to read, but says nothing about how the latter might have influenced St Symeon. Later, I'll try to remember to check Archbishop Basil's book on the New Theologian.