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December 4

St John Damascene - December 4

Saint John Damascene

Priest, Doctor of the Church

(Around 676 – 749)

“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”

Saint john Damascene

His Early Life

John was born in Damascus, Syria around 676. John grew up in the rich, luxurious court of the Muslim ruler of Damascus. Here, his father, Sarjun (Sergius), was a wealthy Christian court official – a chief financial officer for caliph Abdul Malek. Amid a group of sad Christian captives, his father found in the public square one day, a priest of Italian origin named Cosmas, who had been condemned to slavery. His father ransomed Cosmas and assigned him to be John’s tutor. John made extraordinary progress in grammar, dialectic, mathematics, music, poetry, astronomy but above all in theology, the discipline imparting knowledge of God. John became famous for his encyclopedic knowledge and theological method, later a source of inspiration to Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Defended Use of Church Icons and Images

John succeeded his father’s post and filled it for several years. He defended the use of icons and images in churches through a series of letters opposing the anti-icon decrees of Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople. Legend says that Germanus plotted against John and forged a letter in which John betrayed the calip. The caliph ordered John’s writing hand chopped off, but the Virgin Mary appeared and re-attached the hand, a miracle which restored the caliph’s faith in him.

Monk at Mar Saba

After this incident around 716, John resigned from his post. He gave away all his money to his relatives and joined the monastery of Mar Saba in the wilderness between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

Here, together with a close friend also named Cosmas he spent his time composing hymns which Cosmas sang and writing theological treatises. The singing disturbed the quiet life of the monastery, but the patriarch of Jerusalem John V appreciated the pair and took them out of the monastery. He appointed Cosmas a bishop and ordained John a priest. John feared the prospect of being an administrator for the rest of his life and returned to the monastery.

The Iconoclasts

This was the time when the controversy between the iconoclasts (who opposed the use of images) and the iconodoules (who were devoted to their use) broke out. The controversy was greatly fanned by the rise of Islam which also opposed images and in 726 the emperor Leo III at Constantinople took a public stand against icons.

John’s Arguments for Icons

John explained the honor given to icons like this: “Often, doubtless, when we have not the Lord’s passion in mind and see the image of Christ’s crucifixion, his saving passion is brought back to remembrance, and we fall down and worship not the material but that which is imaged: just as we do not worship the material of which the Gospels are made, nor the material of the Cross, but that which these typify.”

Second, John drew support from the writings of the early fathers like Basil the Great, who wrote, “The honor paid to an icon is transferred to its prototype.” That is, the actual icon is only a point of departure for the expressed devotion; the recipient is in the unseen world.

Third, John claimed that, with the birth of the Son of God in the flesh, the depiction of Christ in paint and wood demonstrated faith in the Incarnation. Since the unseen God had become visible, there was no blasphemy in painting visible representations of Jesus or other historical figures. To paint an icon of him was, in fact, a profession of faith, deniable only by a heretic! “I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter,” he wrote. “I will not cease from honouring that matter which works for my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God.”

His theological reflections on icons laid the groundwork for the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, which affirmed the place of icons in Christian worship.

His Fame

John is famous in five areas.

1) John is known for his writings against the iconoclasts, who opposed the veneration of images. Paradoxically, it was the Eastern Christian emperor Leo who forbade the practice, and it was because John lived in Muslim territory that his enemies could not silence him.

2) John is famous for his treatise, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, a summary of the Greek Fathers (of which he became the last). It is said that this book is to Eastern schools what the Summa Theologica of Aquinas became to the West. Indeed St Thomas was influenced by him.

3) John is known as a poet, one of the two greatest of the Eastern Church, the other being Romanus the Melodist. His devotion to the Blessed Mother and his sermons on her feasts are well known. Three of his sermons deal with the bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven after her death.

4) John is famous for his treatise “Exposition of the Orthodox Faith” that sums up the doctrinal heritage of the earlier Greek Fathers. In this great synthesis, we find a systematic treatment of the central Christian doctrines, especially the Trinity, Creation, and the Incarnation.

5) In John’s teaching is a fully developed doctrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary including her perpetual virginity, her freedom from sin throughout the whole of her life, and her bodily assumption into heaven.

In addition, John wrote The Fountain of Wisdom, the first real compendium of Christian theology, along with commentaries on Saint Paul the Apostle, poetry, and hymns. John was such a great orator that he was known as Chrysorrhoas (“golden-stream”). He also adapted choral music for use in the liturgy.

His Death

John died in 749 in Mar Saba, Jerusalem, Israel. He was last of the Greek Fathers of the Church. John was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1890 by Pope Leo XIII.

Born :                   Around 676 in in Damascus, Syria

Died:                    749 in Mar Saba, Jerusalem, Israel

Beatified:            Pre-Congregation

Canonized:         Pre-Congregation

Feast Day:          December 4, March 27 (prior to 1969), May 6 on some calendars

Patron Saint:     Icon Paintings; Pharmacists; Theology Students

Source:

Reflection 

Saint John Damascene is well known for his staunch defense of the veneration of icons during the iconoclastic controversy of the 8th century. He wrote extensively in support of the use of religious images, arguing that they were legitimate aids to Christian worship and devotion. Saint John Damascene also played a crucial role in consolidating and explaining Christian doctrine with his works becoming foundations for later Christian theologians. While you may not be a great orator like Saint John, your live is a Christian icon aiding others.

How will your life today be an icon to help everyone you encounter come closer to Jesus?

Prayers

Saint John Damascene, faithful servant of Christ and defender of the true faith, in your wisdom, you illuminated the teachings of the Church, defended the veneration of holy icons and lived a life of deep contemplation and devotion. As I face the challenges of my own journey of faith, I seek your intercession.

Inspire in me a love for the profound mysteries of our Christian faith, guide me in defending the truth with humility and compassion, and grant me the wisdom to navigate the complexities of my spiritual journey. Help me to cultivate a spirit of prayer and contemplation in my own life, that I may draw closer to God and experience His grace.

Saint John Damascene, pray for us. Amen

 

Saint Links 

Aleteia – 5 Saints who consecrated themselves to Mary

Bartleby – Rev. Alban Butler Volume V: May. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. May 6 St. John Damascen, Father of the Church

Catholic Exchange – St. John Damascene: On the Incarnation and the Renewal of Creation by Constance T. Hull

Catholic News Agency – St. John of Damascus Feast day: Dec 04

Catholic Online – St. John of Damascus

Franciscan Media – Saint John Damascene

Heralds of the Gospel – St. John Damascene – Theology Enlivened by Love

Independent Catholic News – St John Damascene

Loyola Press – Saint John of Damascene (late 600s-mid 700s) Feast Day December 4

My Catholic Life – December 4: Saint John Damascene, Priest, Religious and Doctor

New Advent – O’Connor, J.B. (1910). St. John Damascene. In The Catholic Encyclopedia

Reason2bCatholic – Saints Alive! | St John Damascene (of Damascus)

RC Spirituality (Uncle Eddy) – St John Damascene

Saint of the Day – December 4 St. John of Damascus

Saint Mary’s Press – Saint John Damascene (645-749)

Saints, Feast, Family – Saint John Damascene’s Story

Sanctoral – Saint John Damascene Doctor of the Church (676-780)

uCatholic – Saint John Damascene, Doctor of the Church

Vatican – General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI May 6, 2009 – Saint John Damascene

Video Link

Cradio Saint of the Day: Saint John Damascene – YouTube (CatholicSaints.Info)

St John of Damascus – YouTube (Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network – USA)

Saint of the Day — John of Damascus — December 04 – YouTube (Church Militant)