Saint Peter Damian

Saint Peter Damian

Peter was raised in a large family and was born in Ravenna, Italy, around 1007; however, he lost both of his parents at a young age. The youngster was taken in by an older sibling, who did not treat him well. However, one of Peter's brothers—a priest—took action to support his schooling, and the priest's name—Damian—became the last name of his younger brother.

Peter succeeded in school while also practicing asceticism, including fasting, wearing a hair shirt, and spending lengthy hours in prayer, with a focus on reading the Psalms. In an effort to serve Christ, he extended hospitality to the destitute. Ultimately, he decided to live in voluntary poverty by joining the Order of Saint Benedict.

He decided to live out his devotion to the Cross of Christ by following the strict rules of life of the monks residing in the Fonte Avellana hermitage. They performed several physical mortifications, prayed all 150 Psalms every day, and survived mostly on bread and water. At first, Peter adopted this lifestyle a little too enthusiastically, which resulted in a period of insomnia.

Well-versed in the Bible and the works of past theologians, Peter became a respected preacher and also developed his own theological acumen. He was asked to assist other monastic authorities in fostering sanctity among their monks, and in 1043 he assumed the role of prior of Fonte Avellana. He oversaw the establishment of five further hermitages.

During Peter's lifetime, the Church was beset by serious corruption, which included the selling of holy positions and immorality among a large number of the clergy. In his writings and participation in contemporary disputes, Peter urged religious order members and superiors to uphold their vows and pursue sanctity.

Pope Stephen IX was so determined to appoint Peter Damian as bishop in 1057 that he had to threaten excommunication in order to get the monk to comply. In November of that year, he took office as the Bishop of Ostia. He also became a member of the College of Cardinals and penned a letter to its members exhorting them to lead by example for the entire Church.

After Pope Stephen died in 1058 and Nicholas II was elected as his successor, Peter became more involved in ecclesiastical disputes. When a dispute arose over canonical and ethical matters, he traveled to Milan on behalf of Pope Nicholas and backed him against an adversary seeking the papacy. He had to deal with protesters there who were against papal authority.

Peter, on the other hand, desired to retreat from these disputes and resume his solitary life. However, another papal succession problem arose after Nicholas died in 1061, which the cardinal-bishop assisted in resolving in Alexander II's favor. For the next six years, the Pope kept Peter busy with a plethora of trips and meetings.

Peter Damian was permitted to retire to the Fonte Avellana convent and renounce his position as bishop in 1067. But two years later, Pope Alexander required his assistance to keep Henry IV of Germany from divorcing his wife. After spending two more years in the monastery, Peter traveled to Monte Cassino, the site of the Benedictine order's founding.

To make peace between the local church and the Pope, Peter traveled back to Ravenna, the city of his birth, in 1072. After a week at a Benedictine monastery in Faenza in February of that year, the monk passed away from his last illness, which struck him as he was returning from this last task.

In many of the locations connected to his life, St. Peter Damian was honored as a saint following his passing even though he was never formally canonized. Pope Leo XII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1823 and expanded the Western Church's celebration of his feast day.

Other Saints of the Day
Saint Paterius
Saint Gundebert
Saint Felix of Metz
Saint Avitus II of Clermont
Saint Verulus and Companions

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