JOHN OF DAMASCUS
JOHN OF DAMASCUS, monk, theologian, hymnographer, St. (ca. 675-ca. 749). A child of the Mansour, a Christian family highly placed in the service of the Caliphs of Damascus (q.v.), John embraced monasticism (q.v.) around A.D. 700 following a distinguished civil career. Never other than a lay monk, he spent all of his monastic life at the monastery of Mar Sabba in Palestine. His lasting contributions to Christianity are in three particular areas. First, in dogmatic theology (qq.v.), his “Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith” (chapter three of the Fount of Wisdom) summarized the thought of the previous six centuries with penetrating brevity and concision. Second, his three Treatises in Defense of the Holy Icons during the period of iconoclasm (q.v.), led directly to their vindication at the Seventh Ecumenical Council (q.v.) at Nicaea some two generations after his death, in 787. Third, Joh n was one of the Church’s great hymnologists. Taking up the poetic form of the canon, from perhaps Andrew of Crete, his compositions permanently influenced the texts and music (q.v.) of Orthodox services. His funeral and paschal canons are especially memorable. Several homilies on the Church’s Great Feasts (q.v.), notably the Homily on the Transfiguration, are also of great value, as much for historical reasons as theological, as is his compendious summary of Christian heresies (q.v.). Another great work, Sacra Parallela, is preserved only in fragments, but collects scriptural and patristics (q.v.) sources on the ethical and ascetical life. In the West he was translated into Latin and influenced theologians such as Thomas Aquinas.