John of Damascus: Wikis


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Chrysorrhoas redirects here. For the river, see Barada.
Saint John of Damascus
Saint John Damascene (arabic icon)
Doctor of the Church
Born c. 676 AD, Damascus
Died December 4, 749, Mar Saba, Jerusalem
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Catholic Churches
Lutheran Church
Anglican Communion
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast December 4
March 27 (on some local calendars and among Traditional Roman Catholics)

Saint John of Damascus (Arabic: يوحنا الدمشقي Yuḥannā Al Demashqi; Greek: Ιωάννης Δαμασκήνος Iôannês Damaskênos; Latin: Iohannes Damascenus; also known as John Damascene, Χρυσορρόας/Chrysorrhoas, "streaming with gold"—i.e., "the golden speaker") (c. 676 – 4 December 749) was an Arab Christian monk and priest. Born and raised in Damascus, he died at his monastery, Mar Saba, near Jerusalem.[1]

A polymath whose fields of interest and contribution included law, theology, philosophy, and music, before being ordained, he served as a Chief Administrator to the Muslim caliph of Damascus, wrote works expounding the Christian faith, and composed hymns which are still in everyday use in Eastern Christian monasteries throughout the world. The Catholic Church regards him as a Doctor of the Church, often referred to as the Doctor of the Assumption due to his writings on the Assumption of Mary.[2]



John of Damascus.

The most commonly used source for information on the life of John of Damascus is a work attributed to one John of Jerusalem, identified therein as the Patriarch of Jerusalem.[3] It is actually an excerpted translation into Greek of an earlier Arabic text. The Arabic original contains a prologue not found in most other translations that was written by an Arabic monk named Michael who relates his decision to write a biography of John of Damascus in 1084, noting that none was available in either Greek or Arabic at the time. The main text that follows in the original Arabic version seems to have been written by another, even earlier author, sometime between the early 9th and late 10th centuries AD.[3] Written from a hagiographical point of view and prone to exaggeration, it is not the best historical source for his life, but is widely reproduced and considered to be of some value nonetheless.[4] The hagiographic novel Barlaam and Josaphat, traditionally attributed to John, is in fact a work of the 10th century.[5]


Family background

John was born into a prominent Arab Christian family known as Mansour (Arabic: Mansǔr, "victory") in Damascus in the 7th century AD.[6][7] He was named Mansur ibn Sarjun Al-Taghlibi (Arabic: منصور بن سرجون التغلبي‎) after his grandfather Mansur, who had been responsible for the taxes of the region under the Emperor Heraclius.[6] When the region came under Arab Muslim rule in the late 7th century AD, the court at Damascus remained full of Christian civil servants, John's grandfather among them.[6][8] John's father, Sarjun (Sergius) or Ibn Mansur, went on to serve the Umayyad caliphs, supervising taxes for the entire Middle East.[6] After his father's death, John also served as a high official to the caliphate court before leaving to become a monk and adopting the monastic name John at Mar Saba, where he was ordained as a priest in 735.[6][7]


Until the age of 12, John apparently undertook a traditional Muslim education.[9] One of the vitae describes his father's desire for him to, "learn not only the books of the Muslims, but those of the Greeks as well."[9] John grew up bilingual and bicultural, living as he did at a time of transition from Late Antiquity to Early Islam.[9]

Other sources describes his education in Damascus as having been conducted in a traditional Hellenic way, termed "secular" by one source and "Classical Christian" by another.[10][11] One account identifies his tutor as a monk by the name of Cosmas, who had been captured by Arabs from his home in Sicily, and for whom John's father paid a great price. Under the instruction of Cosmas, who also taught John's orphan friend (the future St. Cosmas of Maiuma), John is said to have made great advances in music, astronomy and theology, soon rivaling Pythagoras in arithmetic and Euclid in geometry.[11]

Defense of holy images

In the early 8th century AD, iconoclasm, a movement seeking to prohibit the veneration of the icons, gained some acceptance in the Byzantine court. In 726, despite the protests of St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, Emperor Leo III issued his first edict against the veneration of images and their exhibition in public places. A talented writer in the secure surroundings of the caliph's court, John of Damascus initiated a defense of holy images in three separate publications. "Apologetic Treatises against those Decrying the Holy Images", the earliest of these works gained him a reputation. Not only did he attack the emperor, but the use of a simpler literary style brought the controversy to the common people, inciting revolt among those of Christian faith. His writings later played an important role during the Second Council of Nicaea which met to settle the icon dispute.

To counter his influence, Leo III is said to have had documents forged implicating John of Damascus in a plot to attack Damascus. Called to account for these writings by the caliph, John asked to leave his post and retire to Mar Saba near Jerusalem. There, he studied, wrote and preached until he was ordained a priest in 735.[7] A legendary Greek account adds that before going to Mar Saba his right hand was ordered cut off at the wrist by the caliph, and that it was miraculously restored after fervent prayer before an icon of the Virgin Mary (later named "Tricherousa" or "the image with three hands").[12]

Last Days

John died in 749 as a revered Father of the Church, and is recognized as a saint. He is sometimes called the last of the Church Fathers by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1883 he was declared a Doctor of the Church by the Holy See.


When the name of Saint John of Damascus was inserted in the General Roman Calendar in 1890, it was assigned to 27 March. This date always falls within Lent, a period during which there are no obligatory Memorials. The feast day was therefore moved in 1969 to the day of the saint's death, 4 December, the day on which his feast day is celebrated also in the Byzantine Rite calendar.[13]

List of works

John of Damascus Greek icon.

Early Works

  • Three "Apologetic Treatises against those Decrying the Holy Images" – These treatises were among his earliest expositions in response to the edict by the Byzantine Emperor Leo III, banning the worship or exhibition of holy images.[14]

Teachings and Dogmatic Works

  • "Fountain of Knowledge" or "The Fountain of Wisdom", is divided into three parts:
    1. "Philosophical Chapters" (Kephalaia philosophika) – Commonly called 'Dialectic', deals mostly with logic, its primary purpose being to prepare the reader for a better understanding of the rest of the book.
    2. "Concerning Heresy" (peri haireseon) – The last chapter of this part (Chapter 101) deals with the Heresy of the Ishmaelites. Differently from the previous 'chapters' on other heresies which are usually only a few lines long, this chapter occupies a few pages in his work. It is one of the first Christian polemical writings against Islam, and the first one written by a Greek Orthodox/Melkite.
    3. "An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith" (Ekdosis akribes tes orthodoxou pisteos) – a summary of the dogmatic writings of the Early Church Fathers, the third section of the book is known to be the most important work of John de Damascene, and a treasured antiquity of Christianity.
  • Against the Jacobites
  • Against the Nestorians
  • Dialogue against the Manichees
  • Elementary Introduction into Dogmas
  • Letter on the Thrice-Holy Hymn
  • On Right Thinking
  • On the Faith, Against the Nestorians
  • On the Two Wills in Christ (Against the Monothelites)
  • Sacred Parallels (dubious)
  • "Octoechos" (the Church's service book of eight tones)
  • On Dragons and Ghosts


  1. ^ M. Walsh, ed. Butler's Lives of the Saints(HarperCollins Publishers: New York, 1991), pp. 403.
  2. ^ Christopher Rengers The 33 Doctors Of The Church Tan Books & Publishers, 200, ISBN 0895554402
  3. ^ a b Sahas, 1972, pp. 32-33.
  4. ^ Sahas, 1972, p. 35.
  5. ^ R. Volk, ed., Historiae animae utilis de Barlaam et Ioasaph (Berlin, 2006).
  6. ^ a b c d e Brown, 2003, p. 307.
  7. ^ a b c McEnhill and Newman, 2004, p. 154.
  8. ^ Sahas, 1972, p. 17.
  9. ^ a b c Vila in Valantasis, 2000, p. 455.
  10. ^ Louth, 2002, p. 284.
  11. ^ a b Butler et al., 2000, p. 36.
  12. ^ Jameson, 2008, p. 24.
  13. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1969), pp. 109 and 119; cf. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia
  14. ^ * "St. John Damascene on Holy Images, Followed by Three Sermons on the Assumption" – Eng. transl. by Mary H. Allies, London, 1899.


External links

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