John Damascene

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

John Damascene


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.


Opera 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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(1) St John Damascene, Treatise on the Holy, Images, 1.
John Damascene represents at once a thoughtful study of John's influential corpus as well as a timely contribution to current discussions regarding the nature of tradition and innovation in early Byzantium.
St John Damascene once said that the beauty of images moved him to pray and to be drawn into the world of the Spirit.
This trinitarian sense of [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as `having (divine) reality as a hypostasis' is still current in the second decade of the sixth century, as is evident from one of the spurious letters of Pope Felix to Peter the Fuller: `...[GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].(26) As will be seen later in John Damascene, [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] can also be employed of both the Son and the Holy Spirit, but not of the Father.
The latest person from the Christian East named as a Doctor of the church (in 1890) was Saint John Damascene, the great defender of the use of icons in the church.
He sees in this tract the emergence of a truly Christian ??ilm al-kalam, responding to the agenda of the Muslim mutakallimun and drawing more on the Syriac tradition of Ephraem rather than on the Greek of John Damascene.
John Damascene's prayer for the dead in Ioann Damaskin (1859).
John Damascene in two Middle Bulgarian translations.
John Damascene became the champion of the defence of the icons and statues.
Not familiar with much postmodern philosophy or theology, I was out of my depth here, as Bachelard reads Corbin and the Persian poets by way of Wallace Stephens; as the Chabad Lubavitcher Kabbalistic teachers dialogue with Pseudo-Dionysius; and as Judith Butler, Whitehead, and Deleuze find common currency with John Damascene and Nicholas of Cusa.
Although some of the church fathers do not make a distinction between image and likeness, such as Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria or Gregory of Nyssa, others, such as Basil the Great, Maximus the Confessor and John Damascene do make this distinction, saying that by the fact of being human we already possess "image", but that through our moral struggle we acquire "likeness".
John Damascene, the divine "irradiation" is one, but it is diversified in divisible things (p.