Saint John Damascene: Doctor of Christian Art
Saint John Damascene (also known as St. John of Damascus) was born In Damascus, Syria around 676 AD into a rich family and spent the early years of his adult life serving as the official representative of the Christian community to the Muslim Caliph. He later abandoned this political task to join the monastery of St. Sabas near Jerusalem where he became a priest and ultimately a bishop. St. John was such a great orator that he was known as Chrysorrhoas (“golden-stream”).
Saint John Damascene is known as the last of the Greek Fathers of the Church. He was a strong defender of the use of images (icons) in Christian worship and 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. Saint John Damascene’s treatment of the sacraments is also extensive, and his emphasis on the real bodily presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is very strong. Notable, too, in his 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.
St. John Damascene’s influence on later theology was great indeed. In the Latin Middle Ages, he was known to Peter Lombard and St. Thomas Aquinas. All throughout the Middle Ages his works were known and widely used by Eastern Christian Theologians, especially the Slavs. He died some time between 754 and 787 AD and was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1890. His eloquent defense of images has deservedly procured him the title of “The Doctor of Christian Art.”
Saint John Damascene Quotes
“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”
(Defide orth. 3,24:PG 94,1089C)
“The saints must be honored as friends of Christ and children and heirs of God, as John the theologian and evangelist says: ‘But as many as received him, he gave them the power to be made the sons of God….’ Let us carefully observe the manner of life of all the apostles, martyrs, ascetics and just men who announced the coming of the Lord. And let us emulate their faith, charity, hope, zeal, life, patience under suffering, and perseverance unto death, so that we may also share their crowns of glory” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith).