Chapter XV.—Didymus the Blind, and Aëtius the Heretic.
Didymus, 1262 an ecclesiastical writer and president of the school of sacred learning in Alexandria, flourished about the same period. He was acquainted with every branch of science, and was conversant with poetry and rhetoric, with astronomy and geometry, with arithmetic, and with the various theories of philosophy. He had acquired all this knowledge by the efforts of his own mind, aided by the sense of hearing, for he became blind during his first attempt at learning the rudiments. When he had advanced to youth, he manifested an ardent desire to acquire speech and training, and for this purpose he frequented the teachers of these branches, but learned by hearing only, where he made such rapid progress that he speedily comprehended the difficult theorems in mathematics. It is said that he learned the letters of the alphabet by means of tablets in which they were engraved, and which he felt with his fingers; and that he made himself acquainted with syllables and words by the force of attention and memory, and by listening attentively to the sounds. His was a very extraordinary case, and many persons resorted to Alexandria for the express purpose of hearing, or, at least, of seeing him. His firmness in defending the doctrines of the p. 295 Nicæan council was extremely displeasing to the Arians. He easily carried conviction to the minds of his audience by persuasion rather than by power of reasoning, and he constituted each one a judge of the ambiguous points. He was much sought after by the members of the Catholic Church, and was praised by the orders of monks in Egypt, and by Antony the Great.
It is related that when Antony left the desert and repaired to Alexandria to give his testimony in favor of the doctrines of Athanasius, he said to Didymus, “It is not a severe thing, nor does it deserve to be grieved over, O Didymus, that you are deprived of the organs of sight which are possessed by rats, mice, and the lowest animals; but it is a great blessing to possess eyes like angels, whereby you can contemplate keenly the Divine Being, and see accurately the true knowledge.” In Italy and its territories, Eusebius and Hilary, whom I have already mentioned, were conspicuous for strength in the use of their native tongue, whose treatises 1263 concerning the faith and against the heterodox, they say, were approvingly circulated. Lucifer, as the story goes, was the founder of a heresy which bears his name, 1264 and flourished at this period. Aëtius 1265 was likewise held in high estimation among the heterodox; he was a dialectician, apt in syllogism and proficient in disputation, and a diligent student of such forms, but without art. He reasoned so boldly concerning the nature of God, that many persons gave him the name of “Atheist.” It is said that he was originally a physician of Antioch in Syria, and that, as he frequently attended meetings of the churches, and thought over the Sacred Scriptures, he became acquainted with Gallus, who was then Cæsar, and who honored religion much and cherished its professors. It seems likely that, as Aëtius obtained the esteem of Cæsar by means of these disputations, he devoted himself the more assiduously to these pursuits, in order to progress in the favor of the emperor. It is said that he was versed in the philosophy of Aristotle, and frequented the schools in which it was taught at Alexandria.
Besides the individuals above specified, there were many others in the churches who were capable of instructing the people and of reasoning concerning the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures. It would be too great a task to attempt to name them all. Let it not be accounted strange, if I have bestowed commendations upon the leaders or enthusiasts of the above-mentioned heresies. I admire their eloquence, and their impressiveness in discourse. I leave their doctrines to be judged by those whose right it is. For I have not been set forth to record such matters, nor is it befitting in history; I have only to give an account of events as they happened, not supplementing my own additions. Of those who at that time became most distinguished in education and discourse and who used the Roman and Greek languages, I have enumerated in the above narrative as many as I have received an account of.
Ruf. H. E. ii. 7; i. 30, 31; Soc. iv. 25; iii. 10; ii. 35; Hieron. de vir. illust. c. cix.295:1263
He alludes to the treatises of Hilary against the Arians and Auxentius, and against Constantius.295:1264
That, namely, of the Luciferians. Cf. Soc. iii. 9.295:1265
Cf. Soc. ii. 35; Philost. iii. 15–20; supplementa from Phot. cod. 40; fragmenta from Suidas, s.v.