Friday, March 27, 2009

The Traditional Feast Day of St. John Damscene, Doctor of the Church

(The following is excerpted from the 27 March entry in Volume V of the 1983 Marian House edition of the English translation of 'The Liturgical Year' by the Benedictines of Stanbrook.)

"The feast of today was added by Pope Leo XIII in 1892, and now [Saint] John Damascene, the quondam vizier, the protégé of Our Lady, the monk, whose excellent doctrine won for him the name of 'Golden stream,' commemorates in the Western cycle the heroic struggle [against iconoclasm] in which the East rendered such glorious services to the Church and to the world."

"The account given by the Liturgy of the life of this holy Doctor is so complete that we need add nothing further. But it will be well to give a short summary of the definitions by which in the eighth and sixteenth centuries the Church has avenged the holy Images from the attacks made on them by hell. The second Council of Nicaea declares that: 'It is lawful to place in churches, in frescoes, in pictures, on vestments and the sacred vessels, on the walls of houses and in public streets, images, whether painted or mosaic or of other suitable material, representing Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, our most pure Lady, the holy Mother of God, the angels and the saints; and it is equally lawful to burn incense before them and surround them with lights' [Second Council of Nicaea, Session VII.]. 'Not that we must believe that these images have any divinity or virtue of their own,' says the Council of Trent against the Protestants, 'or that we must put our confidence in them as the pagans did in their idols. But the honour which given to the images is referred to Christ the prototype, to whom through them all our veneration is addressed, and to the saints whom we venerate in their portraits' [Council of Trent, Session XXV.]."
John, who received the name of Damascene from his native place, was of noble birth, and studied sacred and profane letters at Constantinople under the monk Cosmas [St. Cosmas of Maiuma]. When the emperor Leo the Isaurian made a wicked attack upon the cult [the veneration] of the holy Images, John, at the desire of Pope [Saint] Gregory III., earnestly defended the holiness of this cult both by words and writings. By this he enkindled so great a hatred in the heart of Leo that the Emperor accused him, by means of forged letters, of treachery to the Caliph of Damascus, whom he was serving as councilor and minister. John denied the charge, but the Caliph was deceived by it and ordered his right hand to be cut off. John implored most earnestly the help of the blessed Virgin, and she manifested the innocence of her servant by reuniting the hand and arm as though they had never been severed. This miracle moved John to carry out a design which he had long had in mind. He obtained, though not without difficulty, the Caliph's permission to leave him, distributed all his goods to the poor and freed all his slaves. He then made a pilgrimage to the holy places in Palestine, and at length withdrew with his teacher Cosmos to the monastery of St. Sabbas near Jerusalem, where he was ordained a priest."

"...[H]e never ceased earnestly to defend the Catholic doctrine as to the honouring of holy Images. Thus he drew upon himself the hatred and persecution of the Emperor Constantine Copronymus, as he had once done that of Leo the Isaurian, and this all the more because he freely rebuked the arrogance of these Emperors, who meddled with matters concerning the faith, and pronounced sentence on them according to their own judgment."

"It is a marvel how much John wrote both in prose and verse for the protection of the faith and the encouragement of devotion. He was worth of the high praise which given him by the second Council of Nicaea. He was surnamed Chrysorrhoas on account of the golden streams of his eloquence. It was not only against the enemies of the holy Images that he defended the orthodox faith, for he also stoutly opposed the Acephali, the Monothelites and the Theopaschites. He maintained the laws and the power of the Church. He asserted the primacy of the Prince of the Apostles in eloquent words, and often called him the pillar of the Churches, the unbroken rock and the teacher and ruler of the world. His writings are not only distinguished for doctrine and learning, but have a savour of simple piety, especially when he praised the Mother of God whom he honoured with a singular love and devotion. But the greatest praise of John is that he was the first to arrange in order a complete course of theology, thus preparing the way in which St. Thomas Aquinas has so clearly dealt with the whole body of sacred doctrine. This holy man, full of days and good works, fell asleep in the peace of Christ about the year 754. Pope Leo XII. declared him to be a Doctor of the Church, and ordered his office and mass to be said throughout the world."
O champion of the holy Images, obtain for us as the Church asks of thee, that we may imitate the virtues and experience the aid of those whom we see thus represented. The image directs our veneration and our prayers to those to whom they are due, to Christ the King and to the saints, who are the princes of His army and the most valiant of His soldiers, for is right that the King should share with His army the honours of His triumph. The image is the book of those who cannot read, and even the learned may gain more from an instant's gazing at an eloquent picture than from the prolonged study of many volumes. The world of the Christian artist is not only an act of religion but also an apostolate; thus it is easy to understand the opposition raised by hell....We unite ourselves with thee, O glorious saint, in thy warfare against the devil, and cry: 'Get thee behind us, Satan, with that envy which will not suffer us to look upon the image of Our Lord and thus be sanctified. Thou wilt not permit us to contemplate those sufferings which were the source of our salvation, to admire the gracious condescension of our God, to recognize and praise the power displayed in His miracles. Thou art envious of the saints and of the glory they have received from God, and wilt not have us contemplate this glory, lest the sight inspire us to imitate their courage and their faith. Thou canst not endure the thought that our confidence in them will profit us both in soul and body. We will not follow thee, O jealous demon, thou enemy of mankind' [St. John Damascene, On Holy Images, iii.3.]...."

"...Lead us from the feasts of our exile -- the Pasch of time -- through the Red Sea and the desert to the eternal feast where all images of earth will vanish before the realities of heaven, where all knowledge will pass into vision, where reigns in glory the queen who inspired thy song, Mary, the mother of us all."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you happen to know where there will be a Traditional Latin Service on Good Friday? I've checked all the MD/DC/VA parishes that normally host TLM's and don't see any offering the Good Friday Service. Thanks for your help!

11:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mathew, my Latin is very sketchy! what does the title of your blog translate as in English? Thanks

12:17 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

You can read what it means on my first post:

2:18 PM  

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