Also found in: Dictionary.
Born circa 675 in Damascus; died before 753. Byzantine theologian, philosopher, and poet. Born into a Christian Arab family.
John Damascene received an encyclopedic education in the Greek manner. He was apparently a minion of the caliph. He later became a monk (prior to 700) and emerged as the leading ideological spokesman against iconoclasm.
John Damascene completed and systematized the Greek patristics. He did not aim at originality of thought or theory but remained true to his motto: “I will say nothing on my own.” His versatile knowledge enabled him to combine heterogeneous philosophical material into a unified closed system. Systematizing science under the aegis of church dogma and on the basis of Aristotelian logic, John Damascene laid the foundation of the Scholastic method, which was later further developed by medieval theologians in the West who learned from him. His principal work, entitled Source of Knowledge, is a compendium of philosophical and theological knowledge and an anticipation of the summae of the Western Scholastics. The Latin translation of the third part, done in the mid-12th century, influenced Peter Lombard, Albert the Great, and Thomas Aquinas. His works were well known in the countries of Eastern Christendom as well, including Georgia and ancient Rus’. His belief that philosophy was the handmaiden of theology influenced the further extension of this thesis by the Western Scholastics (particularly Peter Damian).
John Damascene is remembered in literary history as an eminent poet who composed a number of outstanding church songs. In his liturgical lyrics he restored the use of classical prosody, and he made the architectonics of his canon unusually sophisticated, embellishing his lyrics with intricate acrostics and giving them, as it were, a crystal-like structure, which affects the imagination by the elaborate design and symmetry. At the same time he was capable of expressing simple heartfelt emotions (such as the funeral hymn “Such Sweetness in This Life”). It has not been ascertained that the romance Barlaam and Josaphat was written by him.
REFERENCESOpera omnia, vols. 1–3. Paris, 1860. (Patrologiae cursus completus: Ser. graeca, vols. 94–96. Edited by J.-P. Migne.)
Schriften, vol. 1. Berlin, 1969.
In Russian translation:
Poln. sobr. tvorenii, vol. 1. St. Petersburg, 1913.
In Antologiia mirovoi filosofii, vol. 1, part 2. Moscow, 1969. Pages 621–26.
Pamiatniki vizantiiskoi literatury IV–IX vekov. Moscow, 1968. Pages270–80.
S. S. AVERINTSEV