By Fr. George Florovsky
The blessed Diadochus, bishop of Photice in ancient Epirus, stands apart in the ranks of ascetic authors. The only thing we know of him is that he was bishop in the mid-fifth century — his signature is on a letter to the Emperor Leo, a letter by the bishops of Epirus after the murder of Proterius of Alexandria by the Monophysites in 457. Contemporary historians do not mention him. St. Photius says nothing about his life but does refer to his "outstanding" address and mentions him as one of the opponents of the Monophysites at the time of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (Bibl. cod. 231).
Diadochus' works enjoyed a wide circulation — there are numerous manuscript copies which are frequently referred to by others, and excerpts from them were taken for anthologies and florilegiae. His most important work is the Capita centum de perfectione spirituali — One Hundred Chapters on Spiritual Perfection. This is a concise and coherent manual of the monastic life. A polemical motif — the refutation of Messalianism — is very strong in this work. Diadochus helps us to understand the inner difficulties and dangers in the monastic life, in the life and "ordeal" of prayer, especially in chapters 76 to 80.
Diadochus defines the ascetical “ordeal” as the way of love — αγάπη. Faith is an impassive idea or concept about God. Hope is the "progress of the mind in love towards that which is hoped for." And love "joins the soul with God's perfections, experiencing the Invisible with a kind of intelligent sensation."
Love for God is first of all a kind of self-denial and humbling of one's self before God, a kind of forgetting of one's self, non-love for one's self for God's sake. What is more, it is a kind of constant leaving of one's self for love for God. The true ascetic continually wishes that God be glorified in him, but he himself would like that he at this time remain, as it were, "non-existing." He does not know and does not feel any dignity in him.
One can, however, rise to this love only gradually. The ascent begins with fear of God. It is fear which cleanses the soul, and it is fear which befits the imperfected. Love flares up in the process of cleansing, and drives fear away. Fear of God is a land of "fire of impassivity," and therefore only those who have begun the purgative "ordeal" have genuine fear. One must court fear itself, through renunciation of all everyday cares, and through silence and great freedom from care.
Love is also psychologically impossible before purification. Then the soul is still bifurcated, bifurcated by the denunciations of the conscience, and refrains from contemplating the extra-terrestrial blessings. Only in a cleansed soul can that wholeness in which love enters be restored. Only in serenity or freedom from care can the mind feel Divine goodness and burn with love for the glory and glorification of God.
Genuine love is given by the Holy Spirit, through whose power the soul is purified, is calmed, and finds repose — however, not without man's freedom. This is not "natural love," but a spiritual gift. It is not a simple movement of the soul or will.
It is true that even in the soul itself, insofar as it approaches self-consciousness, there is a certain love for peace, and an attraction toward the God of peace. This attraction cannot be steady and constant, however, because of the poverty of the soul. It is not sufficient for courting apatheia. The "natural seeds" of the soul cannot germinate into spiritual fruit. A certain "Divine action" or Divine "energy" must yet flare up in the soul. Spiritual love is "a kind of continual kindling of the soul and its clinging to God through the power of the Holy Spirit."
In spiritual love a higher spontaneity is achieved. He who is possessed of such perfect love is already above faith, for he already possesses in his heart that which faith seeks and honors. He is already entirely with God, for he is entirely in love.
Man is created in God's image. This image is given to him, and is in his reason and his absolute power. But "image" must come to conform to "likeness," and this is accomplished in freedom and in the self-devotion of love. Likeness to God is realized in the ordeal, and it is realized by the inspiration of grace, but not without man's freedom, for the seal cannot print on unsoftened wax. The way of "ordeal," especially at first, is terrifying and arduous. This is a path among temptations, the path of struggle. In general, it is impossible to eliminate the temptations.
Apatheia does not lie in not being attacked by demons or intentions but in remaining impenetrable, insuperable. However, perfect apatheia is unattainable in this mortal life, except perhaps for martyrs. Its fullness will be revealed when "the mortal may be swallowed up by life” — "ίνα καταποθη το θνητόν υπό τής ζωής" (II Corinthians 5:4), when the soul no longer knows the temporal image of life here on earth.
The most important aspect of the "ordeal" is obedience. It is "the door and entrance of love," for it is the direct antidote for the pride of insubordination, the direct antithesis of disobedience. Then one needs abstinence, precisely as a doctoring and tempering of the body. The limit or goal of abstinence is a certain blindness for this fraudulent life — in other words, the customary “abiding in one's own heart" — "ένδημία εν τη καρδία". This is “spiritual work” or “spiritual love of wisdom,” the heeding and sobering of the mind. Here despondency, that “illness which makes one lazy,” lies in wait for the soul. The only thing which cures it is the remembrance of God, which warms the soul, and also intense prayer.
The blessed Diadochus says much about prayer, primarily the Lord's Prayer. This is not only an invocation of the name of Jesus but a kind of "continual work," a continual remembrance of God. This is contemplation of Jesus' holy and glorious name in the depths of the heart. Through the power of continual remembrance, it takes root there, and leaves its mark on the soul like the impression from a stamp.
For this to happen, the soul has to be cleansed and tranquil — there can be no continual memory in an agitated or angry soul. "And that glorious and much desired name, which by means of the mind's memory long abides in the warmth of the heart, produces in us the skill of perfectly loving his goodness, and then there are no longer any obstacles to this. For this is that precious pearl which one may acquire by selling all one's property, and in the finding of which one has an ineffable and continual joy. It is as if the soul is seized by Divine light and fire. In this is the work of the Spirit. Grace itself contends within the soul and exclaims with it: "O, Lord Jesus! And no one can call Jesus the Lord except by the Holy Spirit” — "και ούδείς δύναται ειπειν ΚΥΡΙΟΣ ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, ει μη εν πνεύματι άγίω" (I Corinthians 12:3).
The venerable Diadochus makes a distinction between theology and gnosis. Theology is a lower and earlier stage of spiritual work and life. It is contemplation and wisdom, the comprehension of God's word. But first of all it is God's gift, "the first fruit of grace." "In the beginning grace usually illumines the soul with its light in much feeling; and throughout the spiritual ordeal it frequently performs its mysteries inscrutably in the theologizing soul in order to put us joyfully on the path of Divine contemplation." This is the illumination of the soul, its illumination and enlightenment by the "fire of change." And through this man becomes like the holy angels, who always abide in Divine radiance (see pseudo-Dionysius).
However, theology is not only a gift. Of man is demanded a "test" or study of the Scriptures. It is through the Scriptures that illuminating grace works. This is not an exertion of thought — the action of love is the most important thing of all. Love entices one to delight in God's glory. And wisdom is a gift of words, a gift for speaking of and praising God with power and force, the gift of the "spiritual word." This is the gift of spiritual teaching, and it is a special gift — a lower gift, for at the higher stages everything falls silent and one must not go back to the word when one has entered the realm of silence. "For experienced knowledge joins man to God without pushing the soul toward words. That is why many of those who are philosophizing are in seclusion — although they are tangibly enlightened with knowledge, they do not approach the Divine words."
There is a certain danger in philosophy. This is more of a wide path "because of the width and unlimitedness of Divine contemplation." It is somehow easier than the narrow path of prayer. Therefore it is useful to narrow one's self and compel one's self to prayer and psalmody. This tempers the mind and guards against reverie and verbosity.
In any event prayer is the highest thing of all, "higher than any width." Gnosis is prayer, prayerful experience, silence, and freedom from care. This is total liberation from passions. To the extent that there is spiritual success, the soul becomes more and more silent, and it prays or sings in the heart alone, not in audible words.
We must make particular note of the gift of tears, "the unremitting tear." There are tears of grief, the "tear of confession," and higher forms of tears. There are the tears of tenderness and joy, "spiritual tears" — painless and joy-giving — "tears of the mind," tears of a burning love, when one's very thoughts become like tears from great emotion and joy. And after the spiritual weeping follows joy and love for silence.
The path of the spiritual "ordeal" is the path of temptation. However, one should not understand this to mean that the soul is divided between good and evil, and that "grace" and "sin" somehow co-exist in it. That is what the Messalians claim. Their mistake is their incorrect and limited understanding of baptismal rebirth. For in baptism Satan is driven away, and grace enters. Demonic temptations continue and even become stronger but they blacken the soul, as it were, from without.
The soul is not some "common abode" for God and the devil, and it cannot be. This is impossible because of the soul's simplicity. In baptism grace settles into the innermost recesses of the mind, "and where can the face of the evil one find room?" The temptations now strike through the body — "cunning spirits penetrate the corporeal feelings and take cover there, acting on still infantile souls through the easy compliance of the flesh."
Duality of desire remains, and in this is the opportunity for a fall. In the first fall the human mind somehow "slid off into a duality of knowledge — that is, a knowledge of good and evil. And "human memory divided into a certain dual intention because of Adam's disobedience" — so that man always recalls evil as well as good. Here is where the demons strike, as they try to distract and disrupt the "memory of the mind" with various kinds of reverie. But they are not allowed to penetrate deep into the soul, "as long as the Holy Spirit abides in us."
The struggle takes place in the region of the will. "The nature of good is stronger than the experience of evil, for good is, and evil is not, unless it is committed.” In other words, good is a “nature” — φύσις — and evil is only a “state” — εξις — and moreover a state of the will.
Diadochus is correcting the psychological mistake of his adversaries — they take the bifurcation of the will to be a duality of hypostases. Evil takes possession of a believer only to the extent of his spiritual backwardness, when "not all of the members of the heart are yet illumined by the light of holy grace." It is true that our heart may generate wicked thoughts of its own accord — to the extent of its remembrance of the "not-good." However, this is much more frequently a demonic attack, and it only seems to us that they come from the very heart, for we assimilate them and communicate with them. Moreover, it must be noted that the majority of temptations are tests tolerated by God for the sake of strengthening the will and as a reminder of one's weakness — it is an "educational tolerance," Satan hides inside the soul only before baptism, but then grace operates still from without, attracting the soul and still only predisposing the soul to good.
Here the dispute is mostly on the psychology of sin — how is one to understand the power that temptations have over Christians? What does the possibility of seduction and fall mean? Baptismal grace bears fruit only in spiritual "ordeal" and in freedom. But the path of sin is from without, through the inclination of the will.
Diadochus does not refer to his adversaries by name — there is mention of the heretical Messalians or Euchites only in the inscriptions of chapters, and these inscriptions are of later origin. It is possible to think that Diadochus had in mind the views of the author of the Spiritual Homilies — and even those conclusions which "certain brothers" could draw "in their extreme simplicity" (see Epiphanius of Cyprus).
However, here the dispute is not over the facts of the ascetic experience but only over their interpretations. It must also be added that Diadochus brusquely rejects all sensual visions — fire-like images and voices are the delusions of the enemy. In our corporeal body we are not permitted to see sensually either the Lord or anything celestial. He allows that there can be dreams from God. But even in this case it is best not to receive them and not believe any vision, lest one be mistaken in one's distinctions through the weakness of the soul. One must seek invisible and insensible attestations — and here is a new disagreement with the author of the Spiritual Homilies.
The Capita centum de perfectione spirituali — One Hundred Chapters on Spiritual Perfection — were exceedingly popular in following generations. They are quoted or cited by St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Sophronius of Jerusalem, the compiler of the Doctrina Patrum, Thalassius, and St. Photius. St. John Climacus, St. Simeon the New Theologian, and St. Gregory Palamas were inspired by the work. "It has been rightly remarked that Diadochus, through the association of these different themes: of the formless beauty of the divinity, limiting itself in order to communicate itself to us while remaining itself unlimited, and of the union of the body with the divine vision, appears as one of the clearest precursors of Palamism. He is also the precursor of Hesychasm, which St. Gregory Palamas merely wished to justify in its ascetic practice and mystical orientation... Diadochus calls the 'prayer of the heart' the 'memory or remembrance of the Lord'. He already explicitly centers all this on the constant invocation of the name of Jesus, and expects from this practice to gain the vision of the interior light."
Diadochus' work was printed in the Russian Philokalia, in a Greek spiritual florilegium of the eighteenth-century, and it was an influence on Russian literature.
Other works attributed to Diadochus are still controversial. A Homily on the Ascension was published in 1840 by Cardinal Mai. Its style has much in common with the One Hundred Chapters on Spiritual Perfection. The Homily defends the two natures in Christ and it ends with a Christological statement that is a sharp repudiation of Monophysitism. In the work the end of the Incarnation is seen as the deification of man.
All eleven manuscripts of a work tided The Vision — Oρασίς — attribute the work to Diadochus. It is a dialogue of a dream, a dream in which the author converses with St. John the Baptist. The topics about which they converse — in question and answer form — are ascetical topics: the essence of contemplation, the nature of Divine appearances, and the nature of the beatific vision. Much is reminiscent of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, especially the section which deals with angelology. The "vision" in glory of God is beautifully described: "Those who are to be judged worthy of it are constantly in the light, always rejoicing, in glory, in the love of God, but incapable of conceiving wherein consists the nature of the light of God that enlightens them. In the same way, indeed, as God limits himself as he wills while remaining unlimited, so also he allows himself to be seen by remaining invisible, and what are we to understand by the virtue of God? A beauty without form that is known only in glory." There is the constant thought that, although we can only fully grasp the heavenly vision after the transfiguration of the body, it is yet reflected on the body when we approach the vision here on earth in "gnosis." "The very energy of our spiritual gnosis teaches us that there is one natural sense of the soul, later divided into two energies in consequence of Adam's disobedience. But another sense is simple — that which comes to us from the Holy Spirit, which no one can know except those who willingly detach themselves from the advantages of this life in the hope of future blessings, those who by continence scourge the appetite of the corporeal senses. Only in these does the mind move with complete vigor thanks to its detachment, and can sense the Divine goodness in an indescribable way, following which it then communicates its own joy to its very body, according to the degree of its progress, exulting ceaselessly in its confession full of love: 'In him', says the Psalm, 'my heart has hoped, and my flesh has flourished again, and with all my will I shall confess him'. For the joy that then comes to soul and body is an infallible reminder of the incorruptible life."
A work known as The Catechesis might be the work not of Diadochus but of St. Simeon the New Theologian (d. 1022). There is much similarity between The Vision and The Catechesis and both could therefore be the work of one author. The Catechesis in its Greek original has only been known since 1952. They could also be the work of Diadochus.
From The Byzantine Ascetic and Spiritual Fathers.