Following the Footsteps of the Invisible: The Complete Works of Diadochus of Photike introduction, translation and notes by Cliff Ermatinger (Cistercian Studies Series: Cistercian Publications, Liturgical Press)
Fifth-century Christianity was a theological battlefield. With the Messalian heretics and their experientialist spirituality on the one side and the intellectualist school on the other, representatives of both extremes found themselves condemned by the Church. In this milieu of subjectivist notions of grace and negative anthropology, there appeared a true mystic, Diadochus, Bishop of Photik in Epiros. His is a theology whose two poles are God's grace and man's ability to cooperate with it by way of discernment of spirits. Diadochus's ability to salvage what was orthodox from the Messalians and the intellectualists proves that, rather than a reactionary, he was a true theologian capable of synthesis, open to the truth even if found in his adversary, and yet firm in his faith, unwilling to compromise. He is among the earliest witnesses of the Jesus Prayer. Diadochus is the most important spiritual writer of his century, whose influence can be found in the writings of Maximus the Confessor, Simeon the New Theologian, Gregory of Palamas, and the author of The Way of the Pilgrim. Following the Footsteps of the Invisible is the first translation of his complete works into English.
Translator and author of the introduction and the notes, Cliff Ermatinger is associate pastor of two parishes. According to Ermatinger, in Diadochus of Photike we find a pure Greek specimen. Even as Greece was busy hellenizing the East, its own culture was undergoing latinization from the West. The price of exportation was unintended imports. The Attic Peninsula seemed to be undergoing an identity crisis that brought with it social, religious, and linguistic syncretism all of which Diadochus managed to resist. Since the overall level of Greek had deteriorated and writers of the fifth century became increasingly aware of how far their language had drifted from the beauty of Classical Greek, many writers clumsily attempted to rectify this. Others simply kept on writing as the linguistically mixed masses spoke. As the beauty of his language attracted many more adepts it also proved to be a worthy platform for his solid doctrine. Diadochus set a new standard for subsequent generations.
In Following the Footsteps of the Invisible, first comes The Discourses on Judgment and Spiritual Discernment, by far Diadochus's most famous and influential work, also known as One Hundred Gnostic Chapters. Diadochus seems to offer yet another title as an afterthought, calling it his Ascetical Treatises on the last page.
Diadochus has his own style; rather than offer weighty, challenging aphorisms, his chapters, with their multiple ideas, offer much more in one chapter than other century writers. He makes his point and then, having gotten the reader's attention, uses the opportunity to engage his theological foes. Other times he uses colorful metaphors to exemplify his rules for discernment. But all that he says remains on the level of experiential theology and is quite practical.
The ten definitions with which Diadochus begins this work set the foundation for everything he is about to say. It seems that such distinctions are not only necessary to understand his usage but also offer readers a glimpse into his spiritual experience. A large portion of the Gnostic Chapters offers insightful rules of discernment, and this seems to be the methodology of the Diadochan corpus. He wants to define terminology, distinguish the provenance of the interior movements that accompany the spiritual life, guide the spiritually perplexed to the heights of divine union, and separate orthodox teaching from the dominant heresies of his age.
Two further manuscripts complete Following the Footsteps of the Invisible the Homily on the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ is similar to his Gnostic Chapters in its elevated and rhythmic Greek style and its elongated phrases that can give headaches to translators. The Homily has the clear purpose of defending Christ's divinity and human natures and Diadochus carries this out masterfully. In it he makes the crowning victory of the Incarnation the divinization of man. His finale is a christological confession meant to trump the Monophysites.
Finally, the Vision is a communication with Saint John the Baptist in the guise of a dream. Using an effective question-answer format, Diadochus's inquiries regarding contemplation, the beatific vision, apparitions, and angels are all satisfied, in some regard aspects of his teaching resemble Pseudo-Dionysius's angelology. No manuscript of The Vision prior to the thirteenth century exists and the eleven existing texts all attribute this work to the bishop of Photike.
The Catechesis is an enigma. Although it follows the same question-answer format as the Vision, some have attributed its authorship to Simeon the New Theologian. Nonetheless, it is absent from lists of Simeon's works and most recent scholarship seems unwilling to attribute it to Simeon. This work considers God's relationship to the world, the divine attributes, and angelology, ending with a reminder of the role of good works in the order of salvation.
Following the Footsteps of the Invisible offers modern readers the first translation of Diadochus complete works. Diadochus's insight and balance, in obvious abundance, have influenced posterior generations from the sixth to the eighteenth centuries.
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