John of Damascus

c.675-c.749. Greek theologian and last of the great Eastern fathers. After serving as chief representative of the Christians in the court of the caliph of Damascus, he left (or was compelled to leave) and entered the monastery of St. Sabas near Jerusalem where he was ordained priest. In the Iconoclastic Controversy* he defended in three treatises the use of icons. His fame, however, is particularly associated with his Fount of Wisdom (or Sources of Knowledge) which achieved lasting fame in both East and West. It is divided into three parts, covering philosophy, heresies, and the orthodox faith. The last part presents the teaching of the Greek fathers on important doctrines and has always been used as a textbook in the Orthodox Churches.

He was, however, unknown in the West, apart from references in florilegia or Catenae of patristic quotations, until the twelfth century when his Exposition of the Catholic Faith was translated into Latin as De Fide Orthodoxa. A century later the other two parts of the Fount of Wisdom were likewise translated. Peter Lombard appealed to the authority of John of Damascus twenty-seven times in his Sentences (1150). In the thirteenth century the De Fide was divided into four books on the model of the Sentences. Also, the discovery of two versions of a concordance to the De Fide, dating from the mid-thirteenth century, would seem to go far in supporting the view that the De Fide was important in the creation of Western medieval theology. In 1890 Pope Leo XIII declared John to be a “Doctor of the Church.” John also wrote a treatise on the ascetic life, a commentary on the Pauline epistles, and various poems (hymns). Some of his sermons also are extant.

Works in J.P. Migne (ed.), PG XCIV- XCVI; J. Nasrallah, Saint Jean de Damas (1950); B. Studer, Die theologische Arbeitsweise des J. von Damaskos (1956); B. Kotter, Die überlieferung der pege Gnoseos des Johannes Damaskenos (1959) and Die Schriften des J. von Damaskos (1969).