St. John of Damascus

St. John of Damascus

“The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God”- St. John of Damascus

On December 4, Catholics commemorate the life of the revered Arab Church Father St. John of Damascus.

St. John (676-749) is most recognized among Eastern Christians for his defense of Christian sacred art, especially icons. During the lifetime of St. John, the churches of Rome and Constantinople remained unified. However, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III deviated significantly from the long-standing church practice by accusing the devotion of Christian icons of being a kind of idolatry.

John was born into a family of devout Christians and raised in Damascus during the Muslim era. Given his exceptional education, especially in theological studies, he was well-equipped to counter the heresy of the so-called "iconoclasts," who would invade churches while destroying the images within.

In a series of publications during the 720s, the theologian publicly opposed the emperor's decree banning sacred images. He centered his argument around two points: first, that Christians worshiped God and the saints through images rather than idolizing them directly. Second, he said that Christ had granted permission for the Church to depict him in images by taking on an incarnate corporeal form.

By 730, the emperor had become permanently enraged with the young public official for his unwavering support of Christian artwork, and he had a letter written in John's name offering to betray the Damascus Muslim authority.

It is reported that John's hand was severed by the city's governing caliph, who had been duped by the fake. According to the saint's only known biography, it was miraculously restored by the Virgin Mary. John ultimately chose to become a monk and then a priest after persuading the Muslim monarch of his innocence.

John's support of Christian iconography was denounced by several synods organized by the imperial government, but his stance was always viewed by the Roman church as a defense of apostolic tradition. The Seventh Ecumenical Council upheld the priest and monk's orthodoxy and guaranteed the enduring presence of sacred icons in both Eastern and Western Christian devotion years after his death.

The "Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," one of St. John of Damascus's most well-known works, organizes the ideas of the ancient Greek Fathers regarding theological truths in the context of philosophy. The writings had a significant impact on St. Thomas Aquinas and later scholastic theologians. The dogmatic definition of the Virgin Mary's assumption into heaven by Pope Pius XII was based on the sermons of St. John.

In addition, the saint wrote and edited a number of the hymns and poems used in the liturgy that are still used by Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics. With good reason, his persuasive defense of images has earned him the moniker "The Doctor of Christian Art." Although the exact date of his passing is unknown, it is believed to have occurred sometime between 754 and 787.

Other Saints of the Day
Saint Abba Isa
Saint Giovanni Calabria
Saint Osmund of Salisbury
Saint Clement of Alexandria
Saint Theophanes and Companions

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