St John Damascene
John Damascene - that is, of Damascus, Syria - came from a family of wealthy and influential Christians, who were distinguished in serving the Muslim rulers of their city and state. John’s father before him and indeed John himself as a young man, were highly placed finance ministers whose opinions were sought at court.
John received his education at the hands of a former Christian slave from Sicily, Cosmas, and with him joined a monastery near Jerusalem. He was ordained priest and gained renown as a teacher, public preacher and adviser to bishops. John’s moment of fame arrived when he took a public position against the Byzantine Emperor, Leo ‘the Iconoclast’. The emperor had decreed that the veneration of sacred images was unlawful and prohibited it, both in public and in private. John challenged the Emperor and argued that the ‘image’ was a perfectly valid form of worship and veneration, as Christ himself had sanctified ‘physical reality’ through his incarnate body.
In the ‘Fountain of Wisdom’, John put together and interpreted all the opinions of the great Christian theological writers of the past. It is the first “theological compendium” which covers not only learned and saintly writers, but also heretical opinions through the ages.
John was a gifted composer and writer of hymns. Many of them have been translated from their original Greek and are still sung in churches today.
Pope Leo XIII made John Damascene a doctor of the Church. With John, the age of the ‘Greek Fathers’, those distinguished theologians of early Christianity, draws to a close.
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