04 December 2009
John of Damascus, Priest and Doctor
Saint John was born into a prominent Arab Christian family in Damascus in about the year 676. Famous for his encyclopedic knowledge and his theological method, Saint John was later a source of inspiration for Saint Thomas Aquinas.
At an early age, Saint John excelled at his studies. Some sources say that Saint John received a secular hellenistic education, and other sources say he was tutored by a monk that had been brought to Damascus from Sicily.
In the Eighth Century, iconoclasm--a movement seeking to prohibit the veneration of holy images--gained popularity. Saint John opposed iconoclasm and initiated a defense of holy images in three publications. The earliest of these three works, Apologetic Treatises against those Decrying Holy Images, gained Saint John a noted reputation as a defender of holy images.
In his writings, Saint John of Damascus directly conflicted with the Emperor of Constantinople, who was himself a promoter of iconoclasm. And, not only did he conflict with the Emporer, but Saint John also wrote in a simpler style that made his works available to the common people, which incited a revolt against iconoclasm by the Christian faithful. Saint John's writings also played an important role in the Second Council of Nicea, which was held to resolve the iconoclasm dispute.
Called to account for his writings, Saint John resigned his secular position and retired to Mar Saba near Jerusalem. There, he studied, wrote, and preached until being ordained a priest in 735. Tradition provides that before retiring to Mar Saba, Saint John's right had was cut off as a punishment, but that it was miraculously restored after John's fervent prayer before an icon of the Virgin Mary (called, in English, the Three-Handed Theotokos).
Saint John of Damascus died on 4 December 749. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1883, during the Pontificate of Leo XIII. When the feast day of Saint John of Damascus was originally placed on the General Roman Calendar, it was celebrated on 27 March. In 1969, the date of Saint John's feast day was moved to the anniversary of his death, 4 December.
Grant, O Lord,
that we may be aided by the prayers
of Saint John, Your Priest.
May the true faith
that he taught with excellence
be our constant light and strength.
FIRST IMAGE: 19th Century icon of Saint John (iconographer Ne'meh Naser Homsi).
SECOND IMAGE: the Three-Handed Theotokos.