Further on John 16:13-15 : Didymus the Blind

January 16, 2009

The following passage from Didymus the Blind, a fourth-century Christian writer who lived and taught in Alexandria, is given as a follow-up to last week’s Apollinarius translation. Both texts, I think, read chapter 16 of the Gospel of John in a fairly consistent way; if anything, the Didymus passage is even more explicit on the point that what is communicated by the Son to the Holy Spirit is nothing other than the divine nature itself. Didymus wrote this work On the Holy Spirit during the decade of the 370s; it was used by St. Ambrose in writing his own treatise on the Holy Spirit (380), and, sometime after 385, it was translated by St. Jerome into Latin. Because the original Greek text has perished, Jerome’s Latin translation is the only version of it extant. St. Augustine evidently read the work, in Jerome’s Latin translation, at some point during the period when he was writing his own work De Trinitate (see Irénée Chevalier, Saint Augustin et la pensée grecque: les relations trinitaires [Fribourg-en-Suisse 1940], p. 154). It is hard not to think that he saw, in this Greek writing, a confirmation of his own views about the Holy Spirit’s origins.


Didymus the Blind, De Spiritu Sancto, §§34-37. Latin text in Louis Doutreleau, S.J., ed., Didyme l’Aveugle: Traité du Saint-Esprit (Paris 1992) [= Sources Chrétiennes nº 386], pp. 284-296; also in PG 39, 1063C – 1066A. Traditional numbering in bold print; Doutreleau’s numbering in brackets.

34 [153] … Consequently, in the things which follow, the Savior — who is the Truth — says concerning the Spirit of Truth who is sent by the Father and is the Paraclete: “For he shall not speak of himself” (Jn 16:13), that is, not without me and without the counsel of me and my Father, for he is inseparable from my and the Father’s will. For he is not from himself, but from the Father and me. For the very fact that he exists and speaks comes to him from the Father and from me. I speak the truth: that is, I inspire those things which he speaks, if indeed he is the Spirit of Truth. [154] But “to speak” and “to talk” should not be taken, in the case of the Trinity, according to the way in which we are accustomed to converse and talk with each other, but in keeping with the form of incorporeal natures and especially of the Trinity, who places his will in the heart of believers and those who are worthy to hear it; this is “to speak and to talk.” 34 [153] Dehinc in consequentibus de Spiritu ueritatis qui a Patre mittatur et sit Paracletus, Saluator — qui et ueritas — ait: «Non enim loquetur a semetipso», hoc est non sine me et sine meo et Patris arbitrio, quia inseparabilis a mea et Patris est uoluntate, quia non ex se est, sed ex Patre et me est: hoc enim ipsum quod subsistit et loquitur a Patre et a me illi est. Ego ueritatem loquor, id est inspiro quae loquitur, siquidem Spiritus ueritatis est. [154] Dicere autem et loqui in Trinitate, non secundum consuetudinem nostram qua ad nos inuicem sermocinamur et loquimur accipiendum, sed iuxta formam incorporalium naturarum et maxime Trinitatis, quae uoluntatem suam inserit in corde credentium et eorum qui eam audire sunt digni; hoc est ‘dicere et loqui.’
35 [155] In fact, when we human beings speak about something to another person, we first conceive in our mind, wordlessly, what we intend. Next, desiring to transmit this to another’s intellect, we move the organ of the tongue and, striking the teeth, as one would strike a string with a plectrum, we let loose a vocal sound. Then, in the same way as we strike palate and teeth with the tongue, measuring out diverse phrases with it, and producing a modulation of the air, so that we might communicate to others those things which are known to us, so also it is necessary for the hearer to have his ears open and not, because of some defect, keep them closed to those things which are said; in this way, he may know those things which are set forth, just as he who speaks them knows them. [156] But God, since he is simple and of an uncompounded, unique nature, has neither ears nor organs by which he emits a voice, but, being a solitary and incomprehensible substance, he is composed of no members or parts. And these things must similarly be granted as true concerning the Son and the Holy Spirit. 35 [155] Nos quippe homines quando de aliqua re ad alterum loquimur, primum quod uolumus mente concipimus absque sermone. Deinde in alterius sensum uolentes transferre, linguae organum commouemus et, quasi quoddam plectrum chordis dentium collidentes, uocalem sonum emittimus. Quomodo igitur nos linguam, quam palato dentibusque collidimus, et ictum aerem in diuersa eloquia temperamus ut nobis nota communicemus in alios, ita et auditorem necesse est patulas praebere aures et nullo uitio coartatas in ea quae dicuntur erigere, ut possit ita scire quae proferuntur quomodo ea nouit ille qui loquitur. [156] Porro Deus, simplex et incompositae specialisque naturae, neque aures neque organa quibus uox emittitur habet, sed solitaria incomprehensibilisque substantia nullis membris partibusque componitur. Quae quidem et de Filio et de Spiritu Sancto similiter accipienda.
36 [157] If ever, therefore, we read in Scripture, “The Lord said to my Lord” (Ps 110:1), and, elsewhere, “God said, Let there be light” (Gen 1:3), and any other things similar to these, we ought to take such things in a way that is worthy of God. [158] For it is not the case that the Father announces to the Son his will as though the Son, who is Wisdom and Truth, were ignorant, since everything which [the Father] speaks he possesses in wisdom and in substance, as he is wise and truly subsisting. For the Father, therefore, to speak, and for the Son to hear, or, vice versa, for the Son to speak to the Father, signifies the identity of nature and of volition that is in the Father and the Son. [159] And also the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Wisdom, cannot hear the Son speaking things which he does not already know, since he himself is that which is put forth from the Son, [that is, the Spirit of Truth proceeding from the Son, Paraclete coming forth from the Paraclete (cf. Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 Jn 2:1), God proceeding from God.*] [160] Finally, lest anyone should separate him from the will and communion of the Father and the Son, it is written, “For he shall not speak of himself, but, as he shall hear, so shall he speak” (Jn 16:13). And the Savior also says something similar to this about himself: “As I hear, so I judge” (Jn 5:30), and elsewhere, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but only that which he sees the Father doing” (Jn 5:19). [161] For if there is one Son of the Father, not according to the error of Sabellius who conflates Father and Son, but according to the inseparability of essence or substance, he can do nothing without the Father, since diverse works belong to things separated; but, when he sees the Father work, he himself works, and this, not as though he were working at a secondary level and afterwards. In fact, we will start to see some works belonging to the Father, others belonging to the Son, if they are not done [by them] equally. [162] For it is written: “For those things which he (doubtless, the Father) does, those same things the Son does likewise” (Jn 5:19). So that if, when the Father and the Son work — not in an order of first and second, but in a simultaneity of working —, all those things which they make exist as identical and undifferentiated, and the Son cannot do anything of himself because he cannot be separated from the Father, so also the Holy Spirit, who is never separated from the Son in respect of his communion of will and of nature, is believed to speak, not of himself, but he speaks all that he speaks in line with the Word and Truth of God. [163] The Lord’s words that follow confirm this opinion, when he says, “He (i.e., the Paraclete) shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine” (Jn 16:14). Once more, this term, “to receive,” must be understood in a manner befitting the divine nature. 36 [157] Si quando ergo legimus in Scriptura: «Dixit Dominus Domino meo», et alibi: «Dixit Deus: Fiat lux», et si qua his similia, digne Deo accipere debemus. [158] Neque enim ignorante Filio qui sapientia et ueritas est, Pater suam nuntiat uoluntatem, cum omne quod loquitur, sapiens uerusque subsistens, in sapientia habeat et in substantia. Loqui ergo Patrem et audire Filium, uel e contrario Filio loquente Patrem, eiusdem naturae in Patre et Filio consensusque significatio est. [159] Spiritus quoque Sanctus, qui est Spiritus ueritatis Spiritusque sapientiae, non potest Filio loquente audire quae nescit, cum hoc ipsum sit quod profertur a Filio, [id est procedens a ueritate consolator manans de consolatore Deus de Deo Spiritus ueritatis procedens.*] [160] Denique ne quis illum a Patre et Filii uoluntate et societate discerneret, scriptum est: «Non enim a semetipso loquetur, sed sicut audiet loquetur.» Cui simile etiam de seipso Saluator ait: «Sicut audio, et iudico», et alibi: «Non potest Filius a se facere quicquam, nisi quod uideret Patrem facientem.» [161] Si enim unus est Patri Filius, non iuxta Sabellii uitium Patrem et Filium confundentis, sed iuxta indiscretionem essentiae siue substantiae, non potest quicquam absque Patre facere, quia separatorum diuersa sunt opera, sed uidens operantem Patrem, et ipse operatur, non in secundo gradu et post illum operans. Alia quippe Patris, alia Filii opera esse inciperent, si non aequaliter fierent. [162] Scriptum est autem: «Quae enim ille facit — haud dubium quin Pater —, hanc eadem Filius similiter facit.» Quod si operante Patre et Filio, non iuxta ordinem primi et secundi sed iuxta idem tempus operandi, eadem et indissimilia subsistunt uniuersa quae fiunt, et Filius non potest a semetipso quid facere quia a Patre non potest separari, sic et Spiritus Sanctus nequaquam separatus a Filio propter uoluntatis naturaeque consortium, non a semetipso creditur loqui, sed iuxta uerbum et ueritatem Dei loquitur uniuersa quae loquitur. [163] Hanc opinionem sequentia Domini uerba confirmant, dicentis: «Ille me clarificabit — id est Paracletus — quia de meo accipiet.» Rursum hic ‘accipere’ ut diuinae naturae conueniat intellegendum.
37 [164] For just as the Son, in giving, is not deprived of those things which he bestows, and does not confer upon others to his own loss, so likewise the Spirit does not receive what he did not have before. For if in fact he receives what he did not previously have, with the gift being transferred from one to another, then the giver is made empty, ceasing to have what he bestowed. [165] Accordingly, in the same manner as we understood earlier when discoursing of incorporeal natures, so also now we should acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s “receiving” from the Son to mean that which pertains to his nature, indicating, not one who gives, and one who receives, but the one substance. Since, indeed, the Son, too, is said to “receive” from the Father those same things, by which he exists. For neither is the Son anything apart from those things which are given to him by the Father, nor is there any other substance belonging to the Holy Spirit besides that which is given to him by the Son. 37 [164] Quomodo enim Filius dans non priuatur his quae tribuit neque cum damno suo impertit aliis, sic et Spiritus non accipit quod ante non habuit. Si enim prius quod non habebat accepit, translato in alium munere, uacuus largitor effectus est, cessans habere quod tribuit. [165] Quomodo igitur supra de naturis incorporalium disputantes intelleximus, sic et nunc Spiritum Sanctum a Filio accipere id quod suae naturae fuerat cognoscendum est, et non dantem et accipientem sed unam significare substantiam, siquidem et Filius eadem a Patre accipere dicitur quibus ipse subsistit. Neque enim quid aliud est Filius exceptis his quae ei dantur a Patre, neque alia substantia est Spiritus Sancti praeter id quod ei datur a Filio.

* The text bracketed in §159 appears in the Migne edition, but is consigned to the margin, as a variant reading, by the editor of the Sources Chrétiennes edition.

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