"John the Evangelist, among his fellows and companions the other Evangelists, received this special and peculiar gift from the Lord (on whose breast he reclined at the feast, hereby to signify that he was drinking deeper secrets from His inmost heart), to utter those things concerning the Son of God which may perhaps rouse the attentive minds of the little ones, but cannot fill them, as yet not capable of receiving them; while to minds, of somewhat larger growth, and coming to a certain age of inner manhood, he gives in these words something whereby they may both be exercised and fed." ~St. Augustine: Tractates (Lectures) on the Gospel of John, 18, 1.
"WE know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among human beings; he himself testifies that they saw him and many hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only those on the path to God see the Lord within their own selves, and they experience salvation. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty." ~St. Bernard of Clairvaux: from Sermo 5, In Adventu Domini.
“LET us therefore be happy and celebrate the day on which Mary gave birth to the Savior—she, given in marriage, to the Creator of marriage; she, a virgin, to the Prince of virgins; espoused to a husband, but a mother not by her husband; a virgin before marriage—a virgin with Child, a virgin nursing her Child! For indeed, when her omnipotent Son was born, He in no wise took away the virginity of His holy mother whom He had chosen when He was to be born.” ~St. Augustine: Sermons, 188.
POPE DAMASUS is said in the Pontifical to have been a Spaniard; which may be true of his extraction, but Tillemont and Merenda show that he seems to have been born at Rome. His father, whose name was Antony, either after the death of his wife or by her free consent, engaged himself in an ecclesiastical state, and was successively reader, deacon, and priest, of the title or parish Church of St. Laurence in Rome. Damasus served in the sacred ministry in the same church and always lived in a perfect state of continence, as St. Jerome assures us. When Liberius was banished by Constantius to Beraea, in 354, he was archdeacon of the Roman church, and attended him into exile, but immediately returned to Rome. Liberius at length was prevailed upon to sign a confession of faith in which the word consubstantial was omitted. After his return from banishment he constantly held communion with St. Athanasius, as is clear from that holy man's letter to the bishops of Egypt in 360. He condemned and annulled the decrees of the council of Rimini, by a letter which he wrote to those bishops, mentioned by Siricius. Liberius, after this, lay hid some time in the vaults of the cemeteries for fear of the persecutors, as we learn from Sozomen, Prosper, in his chronicle, Lucifer of Cagliari, and Anastasius, in the life of Pope Julius. Thus he repaired the fault which he had committed by his subscription. All this time Damasus had a great share in the government of the church, and doubtless animated the zeal of the pope. Liberius died on the 24th of September 366, and Damasus, who was then sixty years old, was chosen Bishop of Rome and ordained in the basilica of Lucina, otherwise called St. Laurence's, which title he bore before his pontificate. Soon after Ursinus, called by some moderns Ursicinus, who could not bear that St. Damasus should be preferred before him, got together a crowd of disorderly and seditious people in the Church of Sicin, commonly called the Liberian basilica, now St. Mary Major, and persuaded Paul, Bishop of Tibur, now Tivoil, a dull, ignorant man, to ordain him Bishop of Rome, contrary to the ancient canons, which require three bishops for the ordination of a bishop, and to the ancient custom of the Roman church, whose bishop was to be consecrated by the Bishop of Ostia, as Baronius and Tillemont observe. Juventius, prefect of Rome, banished Ursinus and some others of his party. Seven priests, who adhered to him, were seized to be carried into exile, but were rescued by their partizans and carried to the Liberian basilica. The people that sided with Damasus came together with swords and clubs, besieged the basilica to deliver these men up to the prefect, and a fight ensued in which one hundred and thirty-seven persons were killed, as Ammianus Marcellinus and St. Austin relate. In September the following year, 367, the Emperor Valentinian allowed Ursinus to return to Rome; but, on account of new tumults, in November banished him again with seven accomplices into Gaul. The schismatics still kept possession of a church, probably that of St. Agnes without the walls, and held assemblies in the cemeteries; but Valentinian sent an order for that church to be put into the hands of Damasus; and Maximin, a magistrate of the city, a man naturally inclined to cruelty, put several schismatics to the torture. Rufin clears Damasus of any way concurring to, or approving of such barbarous proceedings, and the schismatics fell into the snare they had laid for him, by which it seems they demanded an inquiry to be made by the rack, which turned to their own confusion and chastisement. It appears by certain verses of Pope Damasus that he had made a vow to God, in honour of certain martyrs, to engage their intercession for the conversion of some of the clergy who continued obstinate in the schism; and that these clergymen, being converted to the unity of the church, in gratitude adorned at their own expense the tombs of these martyrs. By the same poem we learn that the warmest abettors of the cause of Ursinus, after some time sincerely submitted to Damasus. His election was both anterior in time, and in all its circumstances regular; and was declared such by a great council held at Aquileia in 381, composed of the most holy and eminent bishops of the western church, and by a council at Rome in 378, in both which the acts of violence are imputed to the fury of Ursinus. St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Austin, Rufin, and others, bear testimony to the demeanour and to the due election of Damasus. Ammianus Marcellinus, the famous pagan historian of those times, says that the chariots, rich clothes, and splendid feasting of the bishops of Rome, whose tables surpassed those of kings, were a tempting object to ambition; and wishes they would imitate the plainness of some prelates in the provinces. Herein, at least with regard to the table, there is doubtless a great deal of exaggeration and spleen; though sometimes extraordinary entertainments were probably given by the church. However, some appearance of pomp and state was certainly then made, since, as St. Jerome reports, Praetextatus, an eminent pagan senator, who was afterwards prefect of Rome, said to Pope Damasus, "Make me Bishop of Rome, and I will be a Christian to-morrow." Damasus certainly deserved not to fall under his censure. For St. Jerome, the great admirer of this holy pope, severely inveighs against the luxury and state which some ecclesiastics at Rome affected, which he would never have done if it had been a satire on his patron; at least he was too sincere to have continued his admirer. Moreover, in 370, Valentinian, to repress the scandalous conduct of ecclesiastics who persuaded persons to bequeath estates or legacies to the church in prejudice of their heirs, addressed a law to Damasus forbidding the clergy or monks to frequent the houses of orphans and widows, or to receive from them any gift, legacy, or feoffment in trust. This edict Pope Damasus caused to be read in all the churches of Rome, and he was very severe in putting the same into execution, so as to give great offence to some unworthy persons who, on that account, went over to the schismatics; but some time after returned to their duty. Baronius thinks this law was enacted at the request of the pope, because it was addressed to him. At least it was certainly approved by him, and was not less agreeable to him than just in itself. It appears by St. Damasus's fifteenth poem, that having escaped all dangers and persecutions, in thanksgiving he' mace a pilgrimage to St. Felix's shrine at Nola, and there hung up this votive poem and performed his devotions. Arianism reigned in the East under the protection of Valens, though vigorously opposed by many pillars of orthodoxy, as St. Athanasius, St. Basil, &c. In the West, it was confined to Milan and Pannonia. Utterly to extirpate it in that part of the world, Pope Damasus, in a council at Rome in 368, condemned Ursacius and Valens, famous Arian bishops in Pannonia, and in another in 370, Auxentius of Milan. The schism of Antioch fixed the attention of the whole church. Meletius had been ordained upon the expulsion of St. Eustathius, whom the Arians had banished; Paulinus was acknowledged by the zealous Catholics, called Eustathians, because during the life of St. Eustathius they would admit no other bishop. St. Basil and other Orientals, being well informed of the orthodox faith of St.- Meletius, adhered to him; but Damasus, with the western prelates, held communion with Paulinus, suspecting the orthodoxy of Meletius on account of the doubtful principles of some of those by whom he was advanced to the see. Notwithstanding this disagreement these prelates were careful to preserve the peace of Christ with one another. The heresy of Apollinarius or Apollinaris caused a greater breach. Apollinarius, the father, taught grammar first at Berytus, afterwards at Laodicea, in Syria, where he married and had a son of the same name, who was brought up to learning, had a good genius well improved by studies, and taught rhetoric in the same town; and both embracing an ecclesiastical state, the father was priest and the son reader in that church at the same time. The younger of these was chosen Bishop of Laodicea in 362. When Julian the Apostate forbade Christians to read the classics, the two Apollinariuses composed very beautiful hymns in all sorts of verse on the sacred history and other pious subjects, which are lost except a paraphrase on the psalms in hexameter verse. In these poems they began to scatter the poison of certain errors, which were condemned by St. Athanasius in his council at Alexandria in 360; but the author was not then known. St. Athanasius wrote against these errors, without naming the author, in 362. In the council which Damasus held at Rome in 374, the same conduct was observed. But the obstinacy of the Bishop of Apollinarius appearing incurable, from that time his name was no longer spared; it was anathematized first by Pope Damasus at Rome. The heresiarch lived to a great age and died in his impiety. When Nectarius was chosen Archbishop of Constantinople, Theodosius sent deputies to Rome, to entreat Pope Damasus to confirm his election. When St. Jerome accompanied St. Epiphanius and St. Paulinus of Antioch to Rome, Damasus detained him till his death, three years after, near his person, employing him in quality of secretary to write his letters and answer consultations. This pope, who was himself a very learned man and well skilled in the Holy Scriptures, encouraged St. Jerome in his studies. That severe and holy doctor calls him "an excellent man"; and in another place, "an incomparable person, learned in the Scriptures, a virgin doctor of the virgin church, who loved chastity and heard its eulogiums with pleasure." Theodoret calls him the celebrated Damasus, and p]aces him at the head of the famous doctors of divine grace in the Latin church. The Oriental bishops in 431, profess that they follow the holy example of Damasus, Basil, Athanasius, Ambrose, and others, who have been eminent for their learning. The general council of Chalcedon styles Damasus, for his piety, the honour and glory of Rome. Theodoret says, "He was illustrious by his holy life, and ready to preach and to do all things in defence of the apostolic doctrine." This pope rebuilt, or at least repaired the Church of St. Laurence near Pompey's theatre, where he had officiated after his father, and which to this day is called from St. Laurence, in Damaso. He beautified it with paintings of sacred history, which were remaining four hundred years afterwards. He presented it with a paten of silver weighing fifteen pounds, a wrought vessel of ten pounds weight, five silver chalices weighing three pounds each, five silver sconces, to hold wax lights, of eight pounds each, and candlesticks of brass of sixteen pounds weight. He also settled upon it several houses that were near the church, and a piece of land. St. Damasus likewise drained all the springs of the Vatican which ran over the bodies that were buried there, and he decorated the sepulchres of a great number of martyrs in the cemeteries, and adorned them with epitaphs in verse, of which a collection of almost forty is extant. Some of these belong not to him; those which are his work, are distinguished by a peculiar elegance and elevation, and justify the commendation which St. Jerome gives to his poetical genius. In the few letters of this pope which we have in the editions of the councils, out of the great number which he wrote, it appears that he was a man of genius and taste, and wrote with elegance. The ancients particularly commend his constancy in maintaining the purity of our holy faith, the innocence of his manners, his Christian humility, his compassion for the poor, his piety in adorning holy places, especially the tombs of the martyrs, and his singular learning. Having sat eighteen years and two months, he died on the 10th of December 384, being near fourscore years of age. A pontifical kept in the Vatican library, quoted by Merenda, says that the saint burning with an ardent desire to be dissolved and be with Christ, he was seized with a fever, and having received the body and blood of the Lord, lifting up his eyes and hands to heaven, he expired in devout prayer. His intercession is particularly implored in Italy by persons that are sick of fevers. He was buried near his mother and sister, in an oratory which he had built and adorned at the catacombs near the Ardeatin Way, between that road and the cemetery of Calixtus or Praetextatus. Marangonus describes his sepulchre and those of his mother and sister, as they were discovered in the year 1736. Learning, the great accomplishment and improvement of the human mind, is often made its bane. This sometimes happens by the choice which a man makes of his studies, and much oftener by the manner in which he pursues them. As to the choice, there is no sloth more trifling or vain than the studies of some learned men; to whom we may apply what Plato said to the charioteer, whose dexterity in the circus struck the spectators with astonishment. But the philosopher declared he deserved to be publicly chastised for the loss of so much time as was necessary for him to have attained that dexterity in so trifling and useless an exercise. A perfect knowledge of our own, and some foreign and learned languages, is a necessary instrument, and a key to much useful knowledge, but of little use if it be not directed to higher purposes. Holy David, St. Ambrose, St. Damasus, Prudentius, St. Paulinus, and many others consecrated poetry to the divine praises; but if made an employment of life, especially when the proper studies or occupations of a state ought to have banished them, they become a pernicious idleness, and so much entertain the heart as to ruin devotion and the taste of duties, and to occupy our reason in trifles. They are particularly condemned by the fathers and councils, in clergymen, as trespassing upon their obligations and destructive of the spirit of their profession. Logic gives a justness and clearness to our thoughts, teaches accurate reasoning, and exceedingly improves the judgment and other faculties of the mind. Yet, if its rules are made too prolix or spun into refined subtleties, they puzzle and confound the understanding. The same is to be said of metaphysics, which ought properly to be called the generals of science; a just acquaintance with which is, above all other studies and accomplishments, the means of improving the mind to the highest perfection, especially its ruling faculty, the judgment, and fitting it for success and accuracy in all other sciences and arts. The principles of Aristotle in logic and metaphysics are solid, exact, complete, and far preferable to all others; but the exposition must be concise, methodical, profound, infinitely accurate, clear, elegant, or free from a Gothic dress, which disfigures the best attainments, and is the characteristic of barbarism. If fondness for any science degenerates into passion, it becomes a dangerous and vicious branch of curiosity, drains the heart, hinders holy meditation and prayer, captivates the soul, and produces all the disorders of inordinate passions. ______________________________________________________________
Endnotes 1. Siricius, Ep. ad Himer. Terrac. 2. Soz. lib. iv. c. 11 et 19. 3. See this chronicle, published entire by Canisius, ed. Basnac. t. i. 4. Lucifer adv. Constantium. 5. Ammian. lib. xxvii. c. 3. 6. St. Aug. Brevic. Collat. c. 16. St Hier. in Chron. an. 367. 7. Ruf. lib. ii. Hist. c. 10. 8. Ambr. Ep. 11. 9. In Chron. &c. 10. St Hier. Ep. 61, ad Pammach. c. 3. 11. St. Hier. Ep. 61, ad Pammach. c. 3. 12. Carm. 15, p. 230. See Muratori, Not. In Carm. Paulini xi, v, 11, et diss, 18, Ferrarius, De Nol. Coemet. c. 10 Merenda, an. 368, p. 15. 13. Bon. Ep. ad Episc. Macedon. Conc. t. iv. p. 1708. 14. St Hier. Ep. ad Eust. 15. Id. Ep. 30, p. 240. 16. Theodoret; Ep. 144. 17. Id. Ep. 145. 18. Conc. t. v. p. 825. 19. Theod. Hist. lib. v. c. 2. 20. Adrian. I, Ep. Conc. t. vii. 21. Anast. in. Pontif. 22. Fonseca. lib. i. c. 16; Merenda, ad an. 384, p. 133. Source: The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, Vol. III, by Rev. Alban Butler.
Born about 304; died 11 December, 384. His father, Antonius, was probably a Spaniards; the name of his mother, Laurentia, was not known until quite recently. Damasus seems to have been born at Rome; it is certain that he grew up there in the service of the church of the martyr St. Laurence. He was elected pope in October, 366, by a large majority, but a number of over-zealous adherents of the deceased Liberius rejected him, chose the deacon Ursinus (or Ursicinus), had the latter irregularly consecrated, and resorted to much violence and bloodshed in order to seat him in the Chair of Peter. Many details of this scandalous conflict are related in the highly prejudiced "Libellus Precum" (P.L., XIII, 83-107), a petition to the civil authority on the part of Faustinus and Marcellinus, two anti-Damasan presbyters (cf. also Ammianus Marcellinus, Rer. Gest., XXVII, c. iii). Valentinian recognized Damasus and banished (367) Ursinus to Cologne, whence he was later allowed to return to Milan, but was forbidden to come to Rome or its vicinity. The party of the antipope (later at Milan an adherent of the Arians and to the end a contentious pretender) did not cease to persecute Damasus. An accusation of adultery was laid against him (378) in the imperial court, but he was exonerated by Emperor Gratian himself (Mansi, Coll. Conc., III, 628) and soon after by a Roman synod of forty-four bishops (Liber Pontificalis, ed. Duchesne, s.v.; Mansi, op. cit., III, 419) which also excommunicated his accusers. Damasus defended with vigour the Catholic Faith in a time of dire and varied perils. In two Roman synods (368 and 369) he condemned Apollinarianism and Macedonianism; he also sent his legates to the Council of Constantinople (381), convoked against the aforesaid heresies. In the Roman synod of 369 (or 370) Auxentius, the Arian Bishop of Milan, was excommunicated; he held the see, however, until his death, in 374, made way for St. Ambrose. The heretic Priscillian, condemned by the Council of Saragossa (380) appealed to Damasus, but in vain. It was Damasus who induced Saint Jerome to undertake his famous revision of the earlier Latin versions of the Bible (see VULGATE). St. Jerome was also his confidential secretary for some time (Ep. cxxiii, n. 10). An important canon of the New Testament was proclaimed by him in the Roman synod of 374. The Eastern Church, in the person of St. Basil of Cæsarea, besought earnestly the aid and encouragement of Damasus against triumphant Arianism; the pope, however, cherished some degree of suspicion against the great Cappadocian Doctor. In the matter of the Meletian Schism at Antioch, Damasus, with Athanasius and Peter of Alexandria, sympathized with the party of Paulinus as more sincerely representative of Nicene orthodoxy; on the death of Meletius he sought to secure the succession for Paulinus and to exclude Flavian (Socrates, Church History V.15). He sustained the appeal of the Christian senators to Emperor Gratian for the removal of the altar of Victory from the Senate House (Ambrose, Ep. xvii, n. 10), and lived to welcome the famous edict of Theodosius I, "De fide Catholica" (27 Feb., 380), which proclaimed as the religion of the Roman State that doctrine which St. Peter had preached to the Romans and of which Damasus was supreme head (Cod. Theod., XVI, 1, 2). When, in 379, Illyricum was detached from the Western Empire, Damasus hastened to safeguard the authority of the Roman Church by the appointment of a vicar Apostolic in the person of Ascholius, Bishop of Thessalonica; this was the origin of the important papal vicariate long attached to that see. The primacy of the Apostolic See, variously favoured in the time of Damasus by imperial acts and edicts, was strenuously maintained by this pope; among his notable utterances on this subject is the assertion (Mansi, Coll. Conc., VIII, 158) that the ecclesiastical supremacy of the Roman Church was based, not on the decrees of councils, but on the very words of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18). The increased prestige of the early papal decretals, habitually attributed to the reign of Siricius (384-99), not improbably belongs to the reign of Damasus ("Canones Romanorum ad Gallos"; Babut, "La plus ancienne décrétale", Paris, 1904). This development of the papal office, especially in the West, brought with it a great increase of external grandeur. This secular splendour, however, affected disadvantageously many members of the Roman clergy, whose worldly aims and life, bitterly reproved by St. Jerome, provoked (29 July, 370) and edict of Emperor Valentinian addressed to the pope, forbidding ecclesiastics and monks (later also bishops and nuns) to pursue widows and orphans in the hope of obtaining from them gifts and legacies. The pope caused the law to be observed strictly. Damasus restored his own church (now San Lorenzo in Damaso) and provided for the proper housing of the archives of the Roman Church (see VATICAN ARCHIVES). He built in the basilica of St. Sebastian on the Appian Way the (yet visible) marble monument known as the "Platonia" (Platona, marble pavement) in honour of the temporary transfer to that place (258) of the bodies of Sts. Peter and Paul, and decorated it with an important historical inscription (see Northcote and Brownlow, Roma Sotterranea). He also built on the Via Ardeatina, between the cemeteries of Callistus and Domitilla, a basilicula, or small church, the ruins of which were discovered in 1902 and 1903, and in which, according to the "Liber Pontificalis", the pope was buried with his mother and sister. On this occasion the discoverer, Monsignor Wilpert, found also the epitaph of the pope's mother, from which it was learned not only that her name was Laurentia, but also that she had lived the sixty years of her widowhood in the special service of God, and died in her eighty-ninth year, having seen the fourth generation of her descendants. Damasus built at the Vatican a baptistery in honour of St. Peter and set up therein one of his artistic inscriptions (Carmen xxxvi), still preserved in the Vatican crypts. This subterranean region he drained in order that the bodies buried there (juxta sepulcrum beati Petri) might not be affected by stagnant or overflowing water. His extraordinary devotion to the Roman martyrs is now well known, owing particularly to the labours of Giovanni Battista De Rossi. For a good account of his architectural restoration of the catacombs and the unique artistic characters (Damasan Letters) in which his friend Furius Dionysius Filocalus executed the epitaphs composed by Damasus, see Northcote and Brownlow, "Roma Sotterranea" (2nd ed., London, 1878-79). The dogmatic content of the Damasan epitaphs (tituli) is important (Northcote, Epitaphs of the Catacombs, London, 1878). He composed also a number of brief epigrammata on various martyrs and saints and some hymns, or Carmina, likewise brief. St. Jerome says (Ep. xxii, 22) that Damasus wrote on virginity, both in prose and in verse, but no such work has been preserved. For the few letters of Damasus (some of them spurious) that have survived, see P.L., XIII, 347-76, and Jaffé, "Reg. Rom. Pontif." (Leipzig, 1885), nn. 232-254. ____________________________________________________________ Source: Shahan, Thomas. "Pope St. Damasus I." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.
“NOW with the exception of the holy Virgin Mary in regard to whom, out of respect for the Lord, I do not propose to have a single question raised on the subject of sin—after all, how do we know what greater degree of grace for a complete victory over sin was conferred on her who merited to conceive and bring forth Him Who all admit was without sin. . . .” ~St. Augustine: De Natura et Gratia, 42.
Immaculate Conception, by Mariano Salvador de Maella.
St. John Damascene's critique of Islam, or “the heresy of the Ishmaelites,” from his work the Fount of Knowledge, Part Two: "On Heresies."
+ + + THERE IS also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist. They are descended from Ishmael, [who] was born to Abraham of Agar, and for this reason they are called both Agarenes and Ishmaelites. They are also called Saracens, which is derived from Sarras kenoi, or destitute of Sara, because of what Agar said to the angel: ‘Sara hath sent me away destitute.’ These used to be idolaters and worshiped the morning star and Aphrodite, whom in their own language they called Khabár, which means great. And so down to the time of Heraclius they were very great idolaters. From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy. Then, having insinuated himself into the good graces of the people by a show of seeming piety, he gave out that a certain book had been sent down to him from heaven. He had set down some ridiculous compositions in this book of his and he gave it to them as an object of veneration. He says that there is one God, creator of all things, who has neither been begotten nor has begotten. He says that the Christ is the Word of God and His Spirit, but a creature and a servant, and that He was begotten, without seed, of Mary the sister of Moses and Aaron. For, he says, the Word and God and the Spirit entered into Mary and she brought forth Jesus, who was a prophet and servant of God. And he says that the Jews wanted to crucify Him in violation of the law, and that they seized His shadow and crucified this. But the Christ Himself was not crucified, he says, nor did He die, for God out of His love for Him took Him to Himself into heaven. And he says this, that when the Christ had ascended into heaven God asked Him: ‘O Jesus, didst thou say: “I am the Son of God and God”?’ And Jesus, he says, answered: ‘Be merciful to me, Lord. Thou knowest that I did not say this and that I did not scorn to be thy servant. But sinful men have written that I made this statement, and they have lied about me and have fallen into error.’ And God answered and said to Him: ‘I know that thou didst not say this word.” There are many other extraordinary and quite ridiculous things in this book which he boasts was sent down to him from God. But when we ask: ‘And who is there to testify that God gave him the book? And which of the prophets foretold that such a prophet would rise up?’—they are at a loss. And we remark that Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai, with God appearing in the sight of all the people in cloud, and fire, and darkness, and storm. And we say that all the Prophets from Moses on down foretold the coming of Christ and how Christ God (and incarnate Son of God) was to come and to be crucified and die and rise again, and how He was to be the judge of the living and dead. Then, when we say: ‘How is it that this prophet of yours did not come in the same way, with others bearing witness to him? And how is it that God did not in your presence present this man with the book to which you refer, even as He gave the Law to Moses, with the people looking on and the mountain smoking, so that you, too, might have certainty?’—they answer that God does as He pleases. ‘This,’ we say, ‘We know, but we are asking how the book came down to your prophet.’ Then they reply that the book came down to him while he was asleep. Then we jokingly say to them that, as long as he received the book in his sleep and did not actually sense the operation, then the popular adage applies to him (which runs: You’re spinning me dreams.) When we ask again: ‘How is it that when he enjoined us in this book of yours not to do anything or receive anything without witnesses, you did not ask him: “First do you show us by witnesses that you are a prophet and that you have come from God, and show us just what Scriptures there are that testify about you”’—they are ashamed and remain silent. [Then we continue:] ‘Although you may not marry a wife without witnesses, or buy, or acquire property; although you neither receive an ass nor possess a beast of burden unwitnessed; and although you do possess both wives and property and asses and so on through witnesses, yet it is only your faith and your scriptures that you hold unsubstantiated by witnesses. For he who handed this down to you has no warranty from any source, nor is there anyone known who testified about him before he came. On the contrary, he received it while he was asleep.’ Moreover, they call us Hetaeriasts, or Associators, because, they say, we introduce an associate with God by declaring Christ to the Son of God and God. We say to them in rejoinder: ‘The Prophets and the Scriptures have delivered this to us, and you, as you persistently maintain, accept the Prophets. So, if we wrongly declare Christ to be the Son of God, it is they who taught this and handed it on to us.’ But some of them say that it is by misinterpretation that we have represented the Prophets as saying such things, while others say that the Hebrews hated us and deceived us by writing in the name of the Prophets so that we might be lost. And again we say to them: ‘As long as you say that Christ is the Word of God and Spirit, why do you accuse us of being Hetaeriasts? For the word, and the spirit, is inseparable from that in which it naturally has existence. Therefore, if the Word of God is in God, then it is obvious that He is God. If, however, He is outside of God, then, according to you, God is without word and without spirit. Consequently, by avoiding the introduction of an associate with God you have mutilated Him. It would be far better for you to say that He has an associate than to mutilate Him, as if you were dealing with a stone or a piece of wood or some other inanimate object. Thus, you speak untruly when you call us Hetaeriasts; we retort by calling you Mutilators of God.’ They furthermore accuse us of being idolaters, because we venerate the cross, which they abominate. And we answer them: ‘How is it, then, that you rub yourselves against a stone in your Ka’ba and kiss and embrace it?’ Then some of them say that Abraham had relations with Agar upon it, but others say that he tied the camel to it, when he was going to sacrifice Isaac. And we answer them: ‘Since Scripture says that the mountain was wooded and had trees from which Abraham cut wood for the holocaust and laid it upon Isaac, and then he left the asses behind with the two young men, why talk nonsense? For in that place neither is it thick with trees nor is there passage for asses.’ And they are embarrassed, but they still assert that the stone is Abraham’s. Then we say: ‘Let it be Abraham’s, as you so foolishly say. Then, just because Abraham had relations with a woman on it or tied a camel to it, you are not ashamed to kiss it, yet you blame us for venerating the cross of Christ by which the power of the demons and the deceit of the Devil was destroyed.’ This stone that they talk about is a head of that Aphrodite whom they used to worship and whom they called Khabár. Even to the present day, traces of the carving are visible on it to careful observers. As has been related, this Mohammed wrote many ridiculous books, to each one of which he set a title. For example, there is the book On Woman, in which he plainly makes legal provision for taking four wives and, if it be possible, a thousand concubines—as many as one can maintain, besides the four wives. He also made it legal to put away whichever wife one might wish, and, should one so wish, to take to oneself another in the same way. Mohammed had a friend named Zeid. This man had a beautiful wife with whom Mohammed fell in love. Once, when they were sitting together, Mohammed said: ‘Oh, by the way, God has commanded me to take your wife.’ The other answered: ‘You are an apostle. Do as God has told you and take my wife.’ Rather—to tell the story over from the beginning—he said to him: ‘God has given me the command that you put away your wife.’ And he put her away. Then several days later: ‘Now,’ he said, ‘God has commanded me to take her.’ Then, after he had taken her and committed adultery with her, he made this law: ‘Let him who will put away his wife. And if, after having put her away, he should return to her, let another marry her. For it is not lawful to take her unless she have been married by another. Furthermore, if a brother puts away his wife, let his brother marry her, should he so wish.’ In the same book he gives such precepts as this: ‘Work the land which God hath given thee and beautify it. And do this, and do it in such a manner'—not to repeat all the obscene things that he did. Then there is the book of The Camel of God. About this camel he says that there was a camel from God and that she drank the whole river and could not pass through two mountains, because there was not room enough. There were people in that place, he says, and they used to drink the water on one day, while the camel would drink it on the next. Moreover, by drinking the water she furnished them with nourishment, because she supplied them with milk instead of water. Then, because these men were evil, they rose up, he says, and killed the camel. However, she had an offspring, a little camel, which, he says, when the mother had been done away with, called upon God and God took it to Himself. Then we say to them: ‘Where did that camel come from?’ And they say that it was from God. Then we say: ‘Was there another camel coupled with this one?’ And they say: ‘No.’ ‘Then how,’ we say, ‘was it begotten? For we see that your camel is without father and without mother and without genealogy, and that the one that begot it suffered evil. Neither is it evident who bred her. And also, this little camel was taken up. So why did not your prophet, with whom, according to what you say, God spoke, find out about the camel—where it grazed, and who got milk by milking it? Or did she possibly, like her mother, meet with evil people and get destroyed? Or did she enter into paradise before you, so that you might have the river of milk that you so foolishly talk about? For you say that you have three rivers flowing in paradise—one of water, one of wine, and one of milk. If your forerunner the camel is outside of paradise, it is obvious that she has dried up from hunger and thirst, or that others have the benefit of her milk—and so your prophet is boasting idly of having conversed with God, because God did not reveal to him the mystery of the camel. But if she is in paradise, she is drinking water still, and you for lack of water will dry up in the midst of the paradise of delight. And if, there being no water, because the camel will have drunk it all up, you thirst for wine from the river of wine that is flowing by, you will become intoxicated from drinking pure wine and collapse under the influence of the strong drink and fall asleep. Then, suffering from a heavy head after sleeping and being sick from the wine, you will miss the pleasures of paradise. How, then, did it not enter into the mind of your prophet that this might happen to you in the paradise of delight? He never had any idea of what the camel is leading to now, yet you did not even ask him, when he held forth to you with his dreams on the subject of the three rivers. We plainly assure you that this wonderful camel of yours has preceded you into the souls of asses, where you, too, like beasts are destined to go. And there is the exterior darkness and everlasting punishment, roaring fire, sleepless worms, and hellish demons.’ Again, in the book of The Table, Mohammed says that the Christ asked God for a table and that it was given Him. For God, he says, said to Him: ‘I have given to thee and thine an incorruptible table.’ And again, in the book of The Heifer, he says some other stupid and ridiculous things, which, because of their great number, I think must be passed over. He made it a law that they be circumcised and the women, too, and he ordered them not to keep the Sabbath and not to be baptized. And, while he ordered them to eat some of the things forbidden by the Law, he ordered them to abstain from others. He furthermore absolutely forbade the drinking of wine. ____________________________________________ Endnotes 99. Cf. Gen. 16.8. Sozomen also says that they were descended from Agar, but called themselves descendants of Sara to hide their servile origin (Ecclesiastical History 6.38, PG 67.1412AB). 100. The Arabic kabirun means ‘great,’ whether in size or in dignity. Herodotus mentions the Arabian cult of the ‘Heavenly Aphrodite’ but says that the Arabs called her Alilat (Herodotus 1.131) 101. This may be the Nestorian monk Bahira (George or Sergius) who met the boy Mohammed at Bostra in Syria and claimed to recognize in him the sign of a prophet. 102. Koran, Sura 112. 103. Sura 19; 4.169. 104. Sura 4.156. 105. Sura 5.Il6tf. 106. The manuscripts do not have the adage, but Lequien suggests this one from Plato. 107. The Ka’ba, called ‘The House of God,’ is supposed to have been built by Abraham with the help of Ismael. It occupies the most sacred spot in the Mosque of Mecca. Incorporated in its wall is the stone here referred to, the famous Black Stone, which is obviously a relic of the idolatry of the pre-Islam Arabs. 108. Gen. 22.6. 109. Koran, Sura 4. 110. Cf. Sura 2225ff. 111. Sura 2.223. 112. Not in the Koran. 113. Sura 5.114,115. 114. Sura 2. _______________________________
Source:Writings, by St. John of Damascus, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 37; pp. 153-160. (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1958)
St. John of Damascus, the last of the Greek fathers and the first of the long line of Christian Aristotelians, was also one of the two greatest poets of the Eastern church, the other being St. Romanus the Melodist. The whole of the life of St. John was spent under the government of a Mohammedan khalif, and it exhibits the strange spectacle of a Christian father of the Church protected from a Christian emperor, whose heresy he was able to attack with impunity because he lived under Moslem rule. He and St. Theodore Studites were the principal and the ablest defenders of the cultus of sacred images in the bitterest period of the Iconoclastic controversy. As a theological and philosophical writer he made no attempt at originality, for his work was rather to compile and arrange what his predecessors had written. Still, in theological questions he remains the ultimate court of appeal among the Greeks, and his treatise Of the Orthodox Faith is still to the Eastern schools what the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas became to the West. The Moslem rulers of Damascus, where St. John was born, were not unjust to their Christian subjects, although they required them to pay a poll tax and to submit to other humiliating conditions. They allowed both Christians and Jews to occupy important posts, and in many cases to acquire great fortunes. The khalif's doctor was nearly always a Jew, whilst Christians were employed as scribes, administrators and architects. Amongst the officials at his court in 675 was a Christian called John, who held the post of chief of the revenue department - an office which seems to have become hereditary in his family. He was the father of our saint, and the surname of al-Mansur which the Arabs gave him was afterwards transfered to the son. The younger John was born about the year 690 and was baptized in infancy. With regard to his early education, if we may credit his biographer, "His father took care to teach him, not how to ride a horse, not how to wield a spear, not to hunt wild beasts and change his natural kindness into brutal cruelty, as happens to many. John, his father, a second Chiron, did not teach him all this, but he sought a tutor learned in all science, skilful in every form of knowledge, who would produce good words from his heart; and he handed over his son to him to be nourished with this kind of food". Afterwards he was able to provide another teacher, a monk called Cosmas, "beautiful in appearance and still more beautiful in soul", whom the Arabs had brought back from Sicily amongst other captives. John the elder had to pay a great price for him, and well he might for, if we are to believe our chronicler, "he knew grammer and logic, as much arithmetic as Pythagoras and as much geometry as Euclid". He taught all the sciences, but especially theology, to the younger John and also to a boy whom the elder John seems to have adopted, who also was called Cosmas, and who became a poet and a singer, subsequently accompanying his adopted brother to the monastery in which they both became monks. In spite of his theological training St. John does not seem at first to have contemplated any career except that of his father, to whose office he succeeded. Even at court he was able freely to live a Christian life, and he became remarkable there for his virtues and especially for his humility. Nevertheless, after filling his responsible post for some years, St. John resigned office, and went to be a monk in the laura of St. Sabas (Mar Saba) near Jerusalem. It is still a moot point whether his earlier works against the iconoclasts were written while he was still at Damascus, but the best authorities since the days of the Dominican Le Quien, who edited his works in 1712, incline to the opinion that he had become a monk before the outbreak of the persecution, and that all three treatises were composed at St. Sabas. In any case John and Cosmas settled down amongst the brethren and occupied their spare time in writing books and composing hymns. It might have been thought that the other monks would appreciate the presence amongst them of so doughty a champion of the faith as John, but this was far from being the case. They said the new-comers were introducing disturbing elements. It was bad enough to write books, but it was even worse to compose and sing hymns, and the brethren were scandalized. The climax came when, at the request of a monk whose brother had died, John wrote a hymn on death and sang it to a sweet tune of his own composition. His master, an old monk whose cell he shared, rounded upon him in fury and ejected him from the cell. "Is this the way you forget your vows?" he exclaimed. "Instead of mourning and weeping, you sit in joy and delight yourself by singing." He would only permit him to return at the end of several days, on condition that he should go round the laura and clear up all the filth with his own hands. St. John obeyed unquestioningly, but in the visions of the night our Lady appeared to the old monk and told him to allow his disciple to write as many books and as much poetry as he liked. From that time onwards St. John was able to devote his time to study and to his literary work. The lefend adds that he was sometimes sent, perhaps for the good of his soul, to sell baskets in the streets of Damascus where he had once occupied so high a post. It must, however, be confessed that these details, written by his biographer more than a century after the saint's death, are of very questionable authority. If the monks at St. Sabas did not value the two friends, there were others outside who did. The patriarch of Jerusalem, John V, knew them well by reputation and wished to have them amongst his clergy. First he took Cosmas and made him bishop of Majuma, and afterwards he ordained John priest and brought him to Jerusalem. St. Cosmas, we are told, ruled his flock admirably until his death, but St. John soon returned to his monastery. He revised his writings carefully, "and wherever they flourished with blossoms of rhetoric, or seemed superfluous in style, he prudently reduced them to a sterner gravity, lest they should have any display of levity or want of dignity". His works in defence of eikons had become known and read everywhere, and had earned him the hatred of the persecuting emperors. If his enemies never succeeded in injuring him, it was only because he never crossed the frontier into the Roman empire. The rest of his life was spent in writing theology and poetry at St. Sabas, where he died at an advanced age. He was proclaimed doctor of the Church in 1890. The gospel of the man with the withered hand, which is appointed in the Roman Missal for the Mass of St. John Damascene, refers to a story once widely credited but now regarded as apocryphal. When the saint was still revenue officer at Damascus, the Emperor Leo III, who hated him but could not take him openly, sought to destroy him by guile. He therefore forged a letter purporting to have been written to him by John to inform him that Damascus was poorly defended and to offer his aid in case he should attack it. This forgery Leo sent to the khalif with a note to the effect that he hated treachery and wished his friend to know how his official was behaving. The infuriated khalif had John's right hand cut off, but sent him the severed member at his request. The saint bore it into his private chapel and prayed in hexameter verse before an image of the Mother of God. By our Lady's intercession it was joined again to his body and was immediately employed to write a thanksgiving. _______________________________________ Source: Butler's Lives of The Saints, Herbert J. Thurston, S.J. and Donald Attwater.
God goes beyond man's capacity of knowing On Wednesday, 6 May , at the General Audience in St Peter's Square the Holy Father commented on St John of Damascus, a wealthy man of prime importance in Byzantine history. The following is a translation of the Pope's Catechesis, which was given in Italian. Dear Brothers and Sisters, Today I should like to speak about John Damascene, a personage of prime importance in the history of Byzantine Theology, a great Doctor in the history of the Universal Church. Above all he was an eyewitness of the passage from the Greek and Syrian Christian cultures shared by the Eastern part of the Byzantine Empire, to the Islamic culture, which spread through its military conquests in the territory commonly known as the Middle or Near East. John, born into a wealthy Christian family, at an early age assumed the role, perhaps already held by his father, of Treasurer of the Caliphate. Very soon, however, dissatisfied with life at court, he decided on a monastic life, and entered the monastery of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem. This was around the year 700. He never again left the monastery, but dedicated all his energy to ascesis and literary work, not disdaining a certain amount of pastoral activity, as is shown by his numerous homilies. His liturgical commemoration is on the 4 December. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him Doctor of the Universal Church in 1890. In the East, his best remembered works are the three Discourses against those who calumniate the Holy Images, which were condemned after his death by the iconoclastic Council of Hieria (754). These discourses, however, were also the fundamental grounds for his rehabilitation and canonization on the part of the Orthodox Fathers summoned to the Council of Nicaea (787), the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In these texts it is possible to trace the first important theological attempts to legitimise the veneration of sacred images, relating them to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary. John Damascene was also among the first to distinguish, in the cult, both public and private, of the Christians, between worship (latreia), and veneration (proskynesis): the first can only be offered to God, spiritual above all else, the second, on the other hand, can make use of an image to address the one whom the image represents. Obviously the Saint can in no way be identified with the material of which the icon is composed. This distinction was immediately seen to be very important in finding an answer in Christian terms to those who considered universal and eternal the strict Old Testament prohibition against the use of cult images. This was also a matter of great debate in the Islamic world, which accepts the Jewish tradition of the total exclusion of cult images. Christians, on the other hand, in this context, have discussed the problem and found a justification for the veneration of images. John Damascene writes, "In other ages God had not been represented in images, being incorporate and faceless. But since God has now been seen in the flesh, and lived among men, I represent that part of God which is visible. I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to live in matter and bring about my salvation through matter. I will not cease therefore to venerate that matter through which my salvation was achieved. But I do not venerate it in absolute terms as God! How could that which, from non-existence, has been given existence, be God?... But I also venerate and respect all the rest of matter which has brought me salvation, since it is full of energy and Holy graces. Is not the wood of the Cross, three times blessed, matter?... And the ink, and the most Holy Book of the Gospels, are they not matter? The redeeming altar which dispenses the Bread of life, is it not matter?... And, before all else, are not the flesh and blood of Our Lord matter? Either we must suppress the sacred nature of all these things, or we must concede to the tradition of the Church the veneration of the images of God and that of the friends of God who are sanctified by the name they bear, and for this reason are possessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not, therefore, offend matter: it is not contemptible, because nothing that God has made is contemptible" (cf. Contra imaginum calumniatores, 1, 16, ed. Kotter, pp. 89-90). We see that as a result of the Incarnation, matter is seen to have become divine, is seen as the habitation of God. It is a new vision of the world and of material reality. God became flesh and flesh became truly the habitation of God, whose glory shines in the human Face of Christ. Thus the arguments of the Doctor of the East are still extremely relevant today, considering the very great dignity that matter has acquired through the Incarnation, capable of becoming, through faith, a sign and a sacrament, efficacious in the meeting of man with God. John Damascene remains, therefore, a privileged witness of the cult of icons, which would come to be one of the most distinctive aspects of Eastern spirituality up to the present day. It is, however, a form of cult which belongs simply to the Christian faith, to the faith in that God who became flesh and was made visible. The teaching of Saint John Damascene thus finds its place in the tradition of the universal Church, whose sacramental doctrine foresees that material elements taken from nature can become vehicles of grace by virtue of the invocation (epiclesis) of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by the confession of the true faith. John Damascene extends these fundamental ideas to the veneration of the relics of Saints, on the basis of the conviction that the Christian Saints, having become partakers of the Resurrection of Christ, cannot be considered simply "dead". Numbering, for example, those whose relics or images are worthy of veneration, John states in his third discourse in defence of images: "First of all (let us venerate) those among whom God reposed, he alone Holy, who reposes among the Saints (cf. Is 57:15), such as the Mother of God and all the Saints. These are those who, as far as possible, have made themselves similar to God by their own will; and by God's presence in them, and his help, they are really called gods (cf. Ps 82:6), not by their nature, but by contingency, just as the red-hot iron is called fire, not by its nature, but by contingency and its participation in the fire. He says in fact : you shall be holy, because I am Holy (cf. Lv 19:2)" (III, 33, col. 1352 A). After a series of references of this kind, John Damascene was able serenely to deduce: "God, who is good, and greater than any goodness, was not content with the contemplation of himself, but desired that there should be beings benefited by him, who might share in his goodness: therefore he created from nothing all things, visible and invisible, including man, a reality visible and invisible. And he created him envisaging him and creating him as a being capable of thought (ennoema ergon), enriched with the word (logo[i] sympleroumenon), and orientated towards the spirit (pneumati teleioumenon)" (II, 2, PG 94, col. 865A). And to clarify this thought further, he adds: "We must allow ourselves to be filled with wonder (thaumazein) at all the works of Providence (tes pronoias erga), to accept and praise them all, overcoming any temptation to identify in them aspects which to many may seem unjust or iniquitous, (adika), and admitting instead that the project of God (pronoia) goes beyond man's capacity to know or to understand (agnoston kai akatalepton), while on the contrary only he may know our thoughts, our actions, and even our future" (II, 29, PG 94, col. 964c). Plato had in fact already said that all philosophy begins with wonder. Our faith, too, begins with wonder at the very fact of the Creation, and at the beauty of God who makes himself visible. The optimism of the contemplation of nature (physike theoria), of seeing in the visible creation the good, the beautiful, the true, this Christian optimism, is not ingenuous: it takes account of the wound inflicted on human nature by the freedom of choice desired by God and misused by man, with all the consequences of widespread discord which have derived from it. From this derives the need, clearly perceived by John Damascene, that nature, in which the goodness and beauty of God are reflected, wounded by our fault, "should be strengthened and renewed" by the descent of the Son of God in the flesh, after God had tried in many ways and on many occasions, to show that he had created man so that he might exist not only in "being", but also in "well-being" (cf. The Orthodox Faith, II, 1, PG 94, col. 981). With passionate eagerness John explains: "It was necessary for nature to be strengthened and renewed, and for the path of virtue to be indicated and effectively taught (didachthenai aretes hodòn), the path that leads away from corruption and towards eternal life.... So there appeared on the horizon of history the great sea of love that God bears towards man (philanthropias pelagos)".... It is a fine expression. We see on one side the beauty of Creation, and on the other the destruction wrought by the fault of man. But we see in the Son of God, who descends to renew nature, the sea of love that God has for man. John Damascene continues: "he himself, the Creator and the Lord, fought for his Creation, transmitting to it his teaching by example.... And so the Son of God, while still remaining in the form of God, lowered the skies and descended... to his servants... achieving the newest thing of all, the only thing really new under the sun, through which he manifested the infinite power of God" (III, I, PG 94, col. 981c-984B). We may imagine the comfort and joy which these words, so rich in fascinating images, poured into the hearts of the faithful. We listen to them today, sharing the same feelings with the Christians of those far-off days: God desires to repose in us, he wishes to renew nature through our conversion, he wants to allow us to share in his divinity. May the Lord help us to make these words the substance of our lives.
Source: L'Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English. 13 May 2009.
"FAITH, then, has [the promise of] eternal life, for it is a good foundation. Good works, too, have the same, for an upright man is tested by his words and acts. For if a man is always busy talking and yet is slow to act, he shows by his acts how worthless his knowledge is: besides it is much worse to know what one ought to do, and yet not to do what one has learned should be done. On the other hand, to be active in good works and unfaithful at heart is as idle as though one wanted to raise a beautiful and lofty dome upon a bad foundation. The higher one builds, the greater is the fall; for without the protection of faith good works cannot stand. A treacherous anchorage in a harbour perforates a ship, and a sandy bottom quickly gives way and cannot bear the weight of the building placed upon it. There then will be found the fullness of reward, where the virtues are perfect, and where there is a reasonable agreement between words and acts." ~St. Ambrose: On the Duties of the Clergy, Bk. II, Chap. 2.
Altarpiece of St. Ambrose, by Alvise Vivarini.
Oil on panel, 1503; Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice.
“CLEANSE thy vessel, that though mayest receive grace more abundantly. For though remission of sins is given equally to all, the communion of the Holy Ghost is bestowed in proportion to each man’s faith.” ~St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Catechetical Discourses, 1, 5.
"AND lest men should arrogate to themselves the merit of their own faith at least, not understanding that this too is the gift of God, this same apostle, who says in another place that he had "obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful," here also adds: "and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast." And lest it should be thought that good works will be wanting in those who believe, he adds further: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them." We shall be made truly free, then, when God fashions us, that is, forms and creates us anew, not as men— for He has done that already— but as good men, which His grace is now doing, that we may be a new creation in Christ Jesus, according as it is said: "Create in me a clean heart, O God." For God had already created his heart, so far as the physical structure of the human heart is concerned; but the psalmist prays for the renewal of the life which was still lingering in his heart." ~St. Augustine: The Enchiridion (or Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Love), Chap. 31.
“WE hold for certain that Jesus, our Lord, is God the Son of God, King the son of the King, Light of Light, Creator, Counsellor, Leader, Way, Savior, Shepherd, Gatherer, Gate, Pearl, and Lamp. He is thus called by many names. But leaving aside all the rest, let us show that He is Son of God, Himself God Who came forth from God.” ~St. Aphraates (the “Persian Sage”): Demonstrations, XVII, 2.
This fifth-century Pontiff later named a Doctor of the Church reminds us today that the encounter with God in Christ is our true joy and salvation On Wednesday, 5 March , the holy Father conducted his General Audience in the Paul VI Hall, commenting on Pope St. Leo the Great. The following is a translation of the Pope's Catechesis, given in Italian. St. Leo the Great Dear Brothers and Sisters, Continuing our journey through the Fathers of the Church, true stars that shine in the distance, at our meeting today we encounter a Pope who in 1754 Benedict XIV proclaimed a Doctor of the Church: St. Leo the Great. As the nickname soon attributed to him by tradition suggests, he was truly one of the greatest Pontiffs to have honoured the Roman See and made a very important contribution to strengthening its authority and prestige. He was the first Bishop of Rome to have been called Leo, a name used subsequently by another 12 Supreme Pontiffs, and was also the first Pope whose preaching to the people who gathered round him during celebrations has come down to us. We spontaneously think of him also in the context of today's Wednesday General Audiences, events that in past decades have become a customary meeting of the Bishop of Rome with the faithful and the many visitors from every part of the world. Leo was a Tuscan native. In about the year 430 A.D., he became a deacon of the Church of Rome, in which he acquired over time a very important position. In the year 440 his prominent role induced Galla Placidia, who then ruled the Empire of the West, to send him to Gaul to heal a difficult situation. But in the summer of that year, Pope Sixtus III, whose name is associated with the magnificent mosaics in St. Mary Major's, died, and it was Leo who was elected to succeed him. Leo heard the news precisely while he was carrying out his peace mission in Gaul. Having returned to Rome, the new Pope was consecrated on 29 September 440. This is how his Pontificate began. It lasted more than 21 years and was undoubtedly one of the most important in the Church's history. Pope Leo died on 10 November 461 and was buried near the tomb of St. Peter. Today, his relics are preserved in one of the altars in the Vatican Basilica. The times in which Pope Leo lived were very difficult: constant barbarian invasions, the gradual weakening of imperial authority in the West and the long, drawn-out social crisis forced the Bishop of Rome — as was to happen even more obviously a century and a half later during the Pontificate of Gregory the Great — to play an important role in civil and political events. This, naturally, could only add to the importance and prestige of the Roman See. The fame of one particular episode in Leo's life has endured. It dates back to 452 when the Pope, together with a Roman delegation, met Attila, chief of the Huns, in Mantua and dissuaded him from continuing the war of invasion by which he had already devastated the northeastern regions of Italy. Thus, he saved the rest of the Peninsula. This important event soon became memorable and lives on as an emblematic sign of the Pontiffs action for peace. Unfortunately, the outcome of another Papal initiative three years later was not as successful, yet it was a sign of courage that still amazes us: in the spring of 455 Leo did not manage to prevent Genseric's Vandals, who had reached the gates of Rome, from invading the undefended city that they plundered for two weeks. This gesture of the Pope — who, defenceless and surrounded by his clergy, went forth to meet the invader to implore him to desist — nevertheless prevented Rome from being burned and assured that the Basilicas of St. Peter, St. Paul and St. John, in which part of the terrified population sought refuge, were spared. We are familiar with Pope Leo's action thanks to his most beautiful sermons — almost 100 in a splendid and clear Latin have been preserved — and thanks to his approximately 150 letters. In these texts the Pontiff appears in all his greatness, devoted to the service of truth in charity through an assiduous exercise of the Word which shows him to us as both Theologian and Pastor. Champion of Roman Primacy Leo the Great, constantly thoughtful of his faithful and of the people of Rome but also of communion between the different Churches and of their needs, was a tireless champion and upholder of the Roman Primacy, presenting himself as the Apostle Peter's authentic heir: the many Bishops who gathered at the Council of Chalcedon, the majority of whom came from the East, were well aware of this. This Council, held in 451 and in which 350 Bishops took part, was the most important assembly ever to have been celebrated in the history of the Church. Chalcedon represents the actual Christological goal of the three previous Ecumenical Councils: Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381 and Ephesus in 431. By the sixth century these four Councils that sum up the faith of the ancient Church were already being compared to the four Gospels. This is what Gregory the Great affirms in a famous letter (I, 24): "I confess that I receive and revere, as the four books of the Gospel so also the four Councils", because on them, Gregory explains further, "as on a four-square stone, rises the structure of the holy faith". The Council of Chalcedon, which rejected the heresy of Eutyches who denied the true human nature of the Son of God, affirmed the union in his one Person, without confusion and without separation, of his two natures, human and divine. The Pope asserted this faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, in an important doctrinal text addressed to the Bishop of Constantinople, the so-called Tome to Flavian which, read at Chalcedon, was received by the Bishops present with an eloquent acclamation. Information on it has been preserved in the proceedings of the Council: "Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo", the Council Fathers announced in unison. From this intervention in particular, but also from others made during the Christological controversy in those years, it is clear that the Pope felt with special urgency his responsibilities as Successor of Peter, whose role in the Church is unique since "to one Apostle alone was entrusted what was communicated to all the Apostles", as Leo said in one of his sermons for the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul (83, 2). And the Pontiff was able to exercise these responsibilities, in the West as in the East, intervening in various circumstances with caution, firmness and lucidity through his writings and legates. In this manner he showed how exercising the Roman Primacy was as necessary then as it is today to effectively serve communion, a characteristic of Christ's one Church. Aware of the historical period in which he lived and of the change that was taking place — from pagan Rome to Christian Rome — in a period of profound crisis, Leo the Great knew how to make himself close to the people and the faithful with his pastoral action and his preaching. He enlivened charity in a Rome tried by famines, an influx of refugees, injustice and poverty. He opposed pagan superstitions and the actions of Manichaean groups. He associated the liturgy with the daily life of Christians: for example, by combining the practice of fasting with charity and almsgiving above all on the occasion of the Quattro tempora, which in the course of the year marked the change of seasons. In particular, Leo the Great taught his faithful — and his words still apply for us today — that the Christian liturgy is not the memory of past events, but the actualization of invisible realities which act in the lives of each one of us. This is what he stressed in a sermon (cf. 64, 1-2) on Easter, to be celebrated in every season of the year "not so much as something of the past as rather an event of the present". All this fits into a precise project, the Holy Pontiff insisted: just as, in fact, the Creator enlivened with the breath of rational life man formed from the dust of the ground, after the original sin he sent his Son into the world to restore to man his lost dignity and to destroy the dominion of the devil through the new life of grace. This is the Christological mystery to which St. Leo the Great, with his Letter to the Council of Ephesus, made an effective and essential contribution, confirming for all time — through this Council — what St. Peter said at Caesarea Philippi. With Peter and as Peter, he professed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God". And so it is that God and man together "are not foreign to the human race but alien to sin" (cf. Serm. 64). Through the force of this Christological faith he was a great messenger of peace and love. He thus shows us the way: in faith we learn charity. Let us therefore learn with St. Leo the Great to believe in Christ, true God and true Man, and to implement this faith every day in action for peace and love of neighbour. __________________________________________________________
“FOR when the Lord says, ‘unless you have eaten the flesh of the Son of Man, and drunk His blood, you will not have life in you’ (Jn. 6:54), you ought to be partakers at the Holy Table, as to have no doubt whatever concerning the reality of Christ’s Body and Blood. For that is taken in the mouth which is believed in Faith, and it is in vain for them to respond Amen who dispute that which is taken.” ~St. Leo the Great: Sermons, 91:3.
The Institution of the Eucharist, by Nicolas Poussin.
Place and date of birth unknown; died 10 November, 461. Leo's pontificate, next to that of St. Gregory I, is the most significant and important in Christian antiquity. At a time when the Church was experiencing the greatest obstacles to her progress in consequence of the hastening disintegration of the Western Empire, while the Orient was profoundly agitated over dogmatic controversies, this great pope, with far-seeing sagacity and powerful hand, guided the destiny of the Roman and Universal Church. According to the "Liber Pontificalis" (ed. Mommsen, I, 101 sqq., ed. Duchesne, I, 238 sqq.), Leo was a native of Tuscany and his father's name was Quintianus. Our earliest certain historical information about Leoreveals him a deacon of the Roman Church under Pope Celestine I (422-32). Even during this period he was known outside of Rome, and had some relations with Gaul, since Cassianus in 430 or 431 wrote at Leo's suggestion his work "De Incarnatione Domini contra Nestorium" (Migne, P.L., L, 9 sqq.), prefacing it with a letter of dedication to Leo. About this time Cyril of Alexandria appealed to Rome against the pretensions of Bishop Juvenal of Jerusalem. From an assertion of Leo's in a letter of later date (ep. cxvi, ed. Ballerini, I, 1212; II, 1528), it is not very clear whether Cyril wrote to him in the capacity of Roman deacon, or to Pope Celestine. During the pontificate of Sixtus III (422-40), Leo was sent to Gaul by Emperor Valentinian III to settle a dispute and bring about a reconciliation between Aëtius, the chief military commander of the province, and the chief magistrate, Albinus. This commission is a proof of the great confidence placed in the clever and able deacon by the Imperial Court. Sixtus III died on 19 August, 440, while Leo was in Gaul, and the latter was chosen his successor. Returning to Rome, Leo was consecrated on 29 September of the same year, and governed the Roman Church for the next twenty-one years.
Leo's chief aim was to sustain the unity of the Church. Not long after his elevation to the Chair of Peter, he saw himself compelled to combat energetically the heresies which seriously threatened church unity even in the West. Leo had ascertained through Bishop Septimus of Altinum, that in Aquileia priests, deacons, and clerics, who had been adherents of Pelagius, were admitted to communion without an explicit abjuration of their heresy. The pope sharply censured this procedure, and directed that a provincial synod should be assembled in Aquileia, at which such persons were to be required to abjure Pelagianism publicly and to subscribe to an unequivocal confession of Faith (epp. i and ii). This zealous pastor waged war even more strenuously against Manichæism, inasmuch as its adherents, who had been driven from Africa by the Vandals, had settled in Rome, and had succeeded in establishing a secret Manichæan community there. The pope ordered the faithful to point out these heretics to the priests, and in 443, together with the senators and presbyters, conducted in person an investigation, in the course of which the leaders of the community were examined. In several sermons he emphatically warned the Christians of Rome to be on their guard against this reprehensible heresy, and repeatedly charged them to give information about its followers, their dwellings, acquaintances, and rendezvous (Sermo ix, 4, xvi, 4; xxiv, 4; xxxiv, 4 sq.; xlii, 4 sq.; lxxvi, 6). A number of Manichæans in Rome were converted and admitted to confession; others, who remained obdurate, were in obedience to imperial decrees banished from Rome by the civil magistrates. On 30 January, 444, the pope sent a letter to all the bishops of Italy, to which he appended the documents containing his proceedings against the Manichæans in Rome, and warned them to be on their guard and to take action against the followers of the sect (ep. vii). On 19 June, 445, Emperor Valentinian III issued, doubtless at the pope's instigation, a stern edict in which he established seven punishments for the Manichæans ("Epist. Leonis", ed. Ballerini, I, 626; ep. viii inter Leon. ep). Prosper of Aquitaine states in his "Chronicle" (ad an. 447; "Mon. Germ. hist. Auct. antiquissimi", IX, I, 341 sqq.) that, in consequence of Leo's energetic measures, the Manichæans were also driven out of the provinces, and even Oriental bishops emulated the pope's example in regard to thissect. In Spain the heresy of Priscillianism still survived, and for some time had been attracting fresh adherents. Bishop Turibius of Astorga became cognizant of this, and by extensive journeys collected minute information about the condition of the churches and the spread of Priscillianism. He compiled the errors of the heresy, wrote a refutation of the same, and sent these documents to several African bishops. He also sent a copy to the pope, whereupon the latter sent a lengthy letter to Turibius (ep. xv) in refutation of the errors of the Priscillianists. Leo at the same time ordered that a council of bishops belonging to the neighbouring provinces should be convened to institute a rigid enquiry, with the object of determining whether any of the bishops had become tainted with the poison of this heresy. Should any such be discovered, they were to be excommunicated without hesitation. The pope also addressed a similar letter to the bishops of the Spanish provinces, notifying them that a universal synod of all the chief pastors was to be summoned; if this should be found to be impossible, the bishops of Galicia at least should be assembled. These two synods were in fact held in Spain to deal with the points at issue (Hefele, "Konziliengesch." II, 2nd ed., pp. 306 sqq.).
The greatly disorganized ecclesiastical condition of certain countries, resulting from national migrations, demanded closer bonds between their episcopate and Rome for the better promotion of ecclesiastical life. Leo, with this object in view, determined to make use of the papal vicariate of the bishops of Arles for the province of Gaul for the creation of a centre for the Gallican episcopate in immediate union with Rome. In the beginning his efforts were greatly hampered by his conflict with St. Hilary, then Bishop of Arles. Even earlier, conflicts had arisen relative to the vicariate of the bishops of Arles and its privileges. Hilary made excessive use of his authority over other ecclesiastical provinces, and claimed that all bishops should be consecrated by him, instead of by their own metropolitan. When, for example, the complaint was raised that Bishop Celidonius of Besançon had been consecrated in violation of the canons—the grounds alleged being that he had, as a layman, married a widow, and, as a public officer, had given his consent to a death sentence—Hilary deposed him, and consecrated Importunus as his successor. Celidonius thereupon appealed to the pope and set out in person for Rome. About the same time Hilary, as if the see concerned had been vacant, consecrated another bishop to take the place of a certain Bishop Projectus, who was ill. Projectus recovered, however, and he too laid a complaint at Rome about the action of the Bishop of Arles. Hilary then went himself to Rome to justify his proceedings. The pope assembled a Roman synod (about 445) and, when the complaints brought against Celidonius could not be verified, reinstated the latter in his see. Projectus also received his bishopric again. Hilary returned to Arles before the synod was over; the pope deprived him of jurisdiction over the other Gallic provinces and of metropolitan rights over the province of Vienne, only allowing him to retain his Diocese of Arles.
These decisions were disclosed by Leo in a letter to the bishops of the Province of Vienne (ep. x). At the same time he sent them an edict of Valentinian III of 8 July, 445, in which the pope's measures in regard to St. Hilary were supported, and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome over the whole Church solemnly recognized "Epist. Leonis," ed. Ballerini, I, 642). On his return to his bishopric Hilary sought a reconciliation with the pope. After this there arose no further difficulties between these two saintly men and, after his death in 449, Hilary was declared by Leo as "beatæ memoriæ". To Bishop Ravennius, St. Hilary's successor in the see of Arles, and the bishops of that province, Leo addressed most cordial letters in 449 on the election of the new metropolitan (epp. xl, xli). When Ravennius consecrated a little later a new bishop to take the place of the deceased Bishop of Vaison, the Archbishop of Vienne, who was then in Rome, took exception to this action. The bishops of the province of Arles then wrote a joint letter to the pope, in which they begged him to restore to Ravennius the rights of which his predecessor Hilary had been deprived (ep. lxv inter ep. Leonis). In his reply dated 5 May, 450 (ep. lxvi), Leo acceded to their request. The Archbishop of Vienne was to retain only the suffragan Bishoprics of Valence, Tarentaise, Geneva, and Grenoble; all the other sees in the Province of Vienne were made subject to the Archbishop of Arles, who also became again the mediator between the Holy See and the whole Gallic episcopate. Leo transmitted to Ravennius (ep. lxvii), for communication to the other Gallican bishops, his celebrated letter to Flavian of Constantinople on the Incarnation. Ravennius thereupon convened a synod, at which forty-four chief pastors assembled. In their synodal letter of 451, they affirm that they accept the pope's letter as a symbol of faith (ep. xxix inter ep. Leonis). In his answer Leo speaks further of the condemnation of Nestorius (ep. cii). The Vicariate of Arles for a long time retained the position Leo had accorded it. Another papal vicariate was that of the bishops of Thessalonica, whose jurisdiction extended over Illyria. The special duty of this vicariate was to protect the rights of the Holy See over the district of Eastern Illyria, which belonged to the Eastern Empire. Leo bestowed the vicariate upon Bishop Anastasius of Thessalonica, just as Pope Siricius had formerly entrusted it to Bishop Anysius. The vicar was to consecrate the metropolitans, to assemble in a synod all bishops of the Province of Eastern Illyria, to oversee their administration of their office; but the most important matters were to be submitted to Rome(epp. v, vi, xiii). But Anastasius of Thessalonica used his authority in an arbitrary and despotic manner, so much so that he was severely reproved by Leo, who sent him fuller directions for the exercise of his office (ep. xiv).
In Leo's conception of his duties as supreme pastor, the maintenance of strict ecclesiastical discipline occupied a prominent place. This was particularly important at a time when the continual ravages of the barbarians were introducing disorder into all conditions of life, and the rules of morality were being seriously violated. Leo used his utmost energy in maintaining this discipline, insisted on the exact observance of the ecclesiastical precepts, and did not hesitate to rebuke when necessary. Letters (ep. xvii) relative to these and other matters were sent to the different bishops of the Western Empire—e.g., to the bishops of the Italian provinces (epp. iv, xix, clxvi, clxviii), and to those of Sicily, who had tolerated deviations from the Roman Liturgy in the administration of Baptism (ep. xvi), and concerning other matters (ep. xvii). A very important disciplinary decree was sent to bishop Rusticus of Narbonne (ep.clxvii). Owing to the dominion of the Vandals in Latin North Africa, the position of the Church there had become extremely gloomy. Leo sent the Roman priest Potentius thither to inform himself about the exact condition, and to forward a report to Rome. On receiving this Leo sent a letter of detailed instructions to the episcopate of the province about the adjustment of numerous ecclesiastical and disciplinary questions (ep. xii). Leo also sent a letter to Dioscurus of Alexandria on 21 July, 445, urging him to the strict observance of the canons and discipline of the Roman Church (ep. ix). The primacy of the Roman Church was thus manifested under this pope in the most various and distinct ways. But it was especially in his interposition in the confusion of the Christological quarrels, which then so profoundly agitated Eastern Christendom, that Leo most brilliantly revealed himself the wise, learned, and energetic shepherd of the Church (see MONOPHYSITISM). From his first letter on this subject, written to Eutyches on 1 June, 448 (ep. xx), to his last letter written to the new orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, Timotheus Salophaciolus, on 18 August, 460 (ep. clxxi), we cannot but admire the clear, positive, and systematic manner in which Leo, fortified by the primacy of the Holy See, took part in this difficult entanglement. For particulars refer to the articles: EUTYCHES; SAINT FLAVIAN; ROBBER COUNCIL OF EPHESUS.
Eutyches appealed to the pope after he had been excommunicated by Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople, on account of his Monophysite views. The pope, after investigating the disputed question, sent his sublime dogmatic letter to Flavian (ep. xxviii), concisely setting forth and confirming the doctrine of the Incarnation, and the union of the Divine and human natures in the one Person of Christ . In 449 the council, which was designated by Leo as the "Robber Synod", was held. Flavian and other powerful prelates of the East appealed to the pope. The latter sent urgent letters to Constantinople, particularly to Emperor Theodosius II and Empress Pulcheria, urging them to convene a general council in order to restore peace to the Church. To the same end he used his influence with the Western emperor, Valentinian III, and his mother Galla Placidia, especially during their visit to Rome in 450. This general council was held in Chalcedon in 451 under Marcian, the successor of Theodosius. It solemnly accepted Leo's dogmatical epistle to Flavian as an expression of the Catholic Faith concerning the Person of Christ. The pope confirmed the decrees of the Council after eliminating the canon, which elevated the Patriarchate of Constantinople, while diminishing the rights of the ancient Oriental patriarchs. On 21 March, 453, Leo issued a circular letter confirming his dogmatic definition (ep. cxiv). Through the mediation of Bishop Julian of Cos, who was at that time the papal ambassador in Constantinople, the pope tried to protect further ecclesiastical interests in the Orient. He persuaded the new Emperor of Constantinople, Leo I, to remove the heretical and irregular patriarch, Timotheus Ailurus, from the See of Alexandria. A new and orthodox patriarch, Timotheus Salophaciolus, was chosen to fill his place, and received the congratulations of the pope in the last letter which Leo ever sent to the Orient.
In his far-reaching pastoral care of the Universal Church, in the West and in the East, the pope never neglected the domestic interests of the Church at Rome. When Northern Italy had been devastated by Attila, Leo by a personal encounter with the King of the Huns prevented him from marching upon Rome. At the emperor's wish, Leo, accompanied by the Consul Avienus and the Prefect Trigetius, went in 452 to Upper Italy, and met Attila at Mincio in the vicinity of Mantua, obtaining from him the promise that he would withdraw from Italy and negotiate peace with the emperor. The pope also succeeded in obtaining another great favour for the inhabitants of Rome. When in 455 the city was captured by the Vandals under Genseric, although for a fortnight the town had been plundered, Leo's intercession obtained a promise that the city should not be injured and that the lives of the inhabitants should be spared. These incidents show the high moral authority enjoyed by the pope, manifested even in temporal affairs. Leo was always on terms of intimacy with the Western Imperial Court. In 450 Emperor Valentinian III visited Rome, accompanied by his wife Eudoxia and his mother Galla Placidia. On the feast of Cathedra Petri (22 February), the Imperial family with their brilliant retinue took part in the solemn services at St. Peter's, upon which occasion the pope delivered an impressive sermon. Leo was also active in building and restoring churches. He built a basilica over the grave of Pope Cornelius in the Via Appia. The roof of St. Paul's without the Walls having been destroyed by lightning, he had it replaced, and undertook other improvements in the basilica. He persuaded Empress Galla Placidia, as seen from the inscription, to have executed the great mosaic of the Arch of Triumph, which has survived to our day. Leo also restored St. Peter's on the Vatican. During his pontificate a pious Roman lady, named Demetria, erected on her property on the Via Appia a basilica in honour of St. Stephen, the ruins of which have been excavated.
Leo was no less active in the spiritual elevation of the Roman congregations, and his sermons, of which ninety-six genuine examples have been preserved, are remarkable for their profundity, clearness of diction, and elevated style. The first five of these, which were delivered on the anniversaries of his consecration, manifest his lofty conception of the dignity of his office, as well as his thorough conviction of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, shown forth in so outspoken and decisive a manner by his whole activity as supreme pastor. Of his letters, which are of great importance for church history, 143 have come down to us: we also possess thirty which were sent to him. The so-called "Sacramentarium Leonianum" is a collection of orations and prefaces of the Mass, prepared in the second half of the sixth century. Leo died on 10 November, 461, and was buried in the vestibule of St. Peter's on the Vatican. In 688 Pope Sergius had his remains transferred to the basilica itself, and a special altar erected over them. They rest today in St. Peter's, beneath the altar specially dedicated to St. Leo. In 1754 Benedict XIV exalted him to the dignity of Doctor of the Church (doctor ecclesiæ). In the Latin Church the feast day of the great pope is held on 11 April, and in the Eastern Church on 18 February. _______________________________________________________ Sources:
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