St. John Damascene - Treatise
St. John Damascene,
Patristic Father and
One of the Thirty-three Doctors of the Church:
Doctor of Christian Art and Doctor of the Assumption
c. 676-749

Feast Day: March 27 [Trad.]

Whenever we look at traditional Catholic art we can thank St. John Damascene. We can thank him again when we look at the Crucifixes on our walls, or when in church we see the stained-glass windows, the paintings on the walls, the statues in their niches. All these have nourished Catholic our devotion.

St. John Damascene is the outstanding champion of sacred images. As such he is also the champion of that article in the Creed which says, "I believe in the Communion of Saints."

We often recite the Creed without thinking about each article: the precious summary of truths takes only a few moments to recite. Yet every article in it has been defended sometimes not just by verbal apologetics -----by pens dipped in ink-----but by swords that dripped blood. Men will always defend what they hold to be most precious.

Doctor of Christian Art

The Eastern Roman Emperor Leo III, the Isaurian [717-741], violently attacked a particular part of Catholic teaching on the Communion of Saints. In 726 A.D. he forbade all his subjects to keep any images, or icons, as the Greeks called them. He ordered the icons in the churches to be destroyed. A few years later, he threatened Pope Gregory II: "I will send an army to break your idols and to take you prisoner." Leo's son, Constantine V [741-775], continued the persecution. The monks were the strongest defenders of icons; many were Martyred and many monasteries were burned down. The large church of the Blessed Mother in Constantinople was stripped of its icons and repainted. People said it then looked like a bird cage or a fruit shop.

The periods of image-breaking or "iconoclasm" lasted 116 years, until the great triumphal procession when icons were carried through the streets of Constantinople on February 19, the First Sunday of Lent in 842 A.D.

Early in the controversy, about 729 A.D., St. John Damascene [St. John of Damascus] wrote three apologias defending the use of images. In these, he gave such a classical expression of the truths involved that nobody has ever had to improve upon it. He has supplied all the arguments from reason, from the past history of the Church, and from Sacred Scripture. If we wish to explain the use of statues, medals and holy pictures to ourselves or others, we need look no further.

St. John entered the conflict, not to win an argument, but to safeguard the truth. "Conquest is not my object," he said. "I raise a hand which is fighting for the truth -----a willing hand under Divine guidance."
He felt strongly the implied charge by the image-breakers that the Church could have been wrong in the past to allow the use of images.

It is supreme error to think that the Church does not know God as He is, that she degenerates into idolatry, for if she declines from perfection in but one aspect, it is as an enduring mark on a beautiful face, destroying by its unsightliness the beauty of the whole. A small thing is not small when it leads to something great, nor indeed is it a thing of no matter to give up the ancient tradition of the Church held by our forefathers, whose conduct we should observe and whose faith we should imitate.

St. John Damascene said that the repeated commands given to the Jews not to make an image referred to the making of an image of the invisible God, lest they sink into idolartry, which they were prone to. Besides until Christ, God was invisible in His Person. But, says St. John, "We have passed the stage of infancy and reached the perfection of manhood. We receive our habit of mind from God and know what may be imaged and what may not."

"Especially since the invisible God took on flesh," says St. John, "we may make images of Christ, Who was visible, and picture Him in all His activities, His birth, Baptism, transfigura tion, His sufferings and Resurrection." St. John also asks the pointed question why God, Who forbids the making of images to adore, would also command the making of the Ark of the Covenant and the cherubim above the Ark if His previous prohibition were to be absolute. Many times St. John insists that we pay an altogether particular honor to God alone, called latria.

St. John Damascene ably demonstrates why it is good to have images:

"We proclaim Him [God] also by our senses on all sides, and we sanctify the noblest sense, which is that of sight. The image is a memorial, just what words are to a listening ear. What a book is to those who can read, that an image is to those who cannot read. The image speaks to the sight as words to the ear; it brings us understanding. Hence, God ordered the Ark to be made of imperishable wood, and to be gilded outside and in, and the tablets to be put into it, and the staff and the golden urn containing the manna, for a remembrance of the past and a type of the future. Who can say these were not images and far sounding heralds?" [1, 17]

Therefore, St. John Damascene sums up, "You see that the law and everything it ordained and all our own worship consist in the consecration of what is made by hands, leading us through matter to the invisible God." [2, 23]

Acts 6 and 7 of the seventh General Council [Nicaea II of 787 -----Source #3, p. 60] name St. John Damascene, along with St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, and St. George of Cyprus as worthy of eternal memory for their defense of sacred images. The same three men had been singled out by the Council of the Iconoclasts held in 753 in the Palace of the Hieria near Constantinople, and anathematized. Constantine V further ordered St. John to be publicly cursed or anathematized once a year. It is not without good cause that St. John Damascene is called the "Doctor of Christian Art."

A river flows through Damascus which the ancients called Chrysorrhoas, or the golden-flowing. This epithet has also been given to St. John Damascene, "who is called Chrysorrhoas because of the golden and shining grace of the Spirit which flowed in both his words and his manner of life."

Not too much can be said with certainty regarding the details of St. John Damascene's life. He was born in Damascus of a good Christian family. His father, Sergius, was a tax collector for the Mohammedan Caliph of Damascus. St. John was also known by the surname of Mansur, after his grandfather, who had held a more important job under the Caliph. St. John Damascene succeeded his father as tax collector, but retired, perhaps before 715 A.D., to the Monastery of St. Sabbas, south of Jerusalem as one goes toward the Dead Sea. He was ordained a priest by John V, Patriarch of Jerusalem, before 726. His sermons on the Assumption of Our Lady indicate that he was called upon to preach for special occasions. "Suffer me now to revert again to her praises. This is in obedience to your orders, most excellent pastors, so dear to God." [Sermon 2].

But St. John was primarily the monk, praying, leading an ascetical life, studying and writing. The traditional date for his birth is 676 A.D. He died sometime between 743 and 753; the most accepted date is December 4, 749. He was buried at the Monastery of St. Sabbas, where his empty tomb can be seen today. His relics were transferred to Constantinople, very likely by the time of the 14th century.

The original Life of St. John Damascene by John V, Patriarch of Jerusalem, tells about the cutting off of his hand. By forging a letter, the Emperor Leo III convinced the Caliph that St. John was plotting against him. Leo was smarting under the Damascene's strong defense of images. The Caliph, believing the Emperor, had St. John's hand cut off as a punishment. But St. John prayed to the Blessed Virgin, reminding her, "This hand often wrote hymns and canticles in praise of thee, and many times offered the Sacred Body and Blood of thy Son in thy honor for the salvation of all sinners." He continued his prayer all night. Then Mary appeared to him and said, "Be comforted, my son, in the Lord. He can restore thy hand Who has made the whole man from nothing." Then she took the hand from where it had been hung in the monastery, and in a moment it was restored to his arm.

In Eastern Christendom, St. John of Damascus has the stature which St. Thomas Aquinas enjoys in the West. He has summed up for them philosophy, doctrine and morals. His original work on morals is not extant, but it has come down to us in two shortened sections known as the Sacred Parallels. These are a collection of sayings for guidance in moral and ascetic living, taken from Scripture and the Fathers.
His work known as the Fount of Knowledge [also called Fount of Wisdom] is, however, a truly original synthesis of philosophy and dogma. It is St. John's greatest work. Its latest English translator says: "The Fount of Knowledge not only contains much that is original and a fresh viewpoint on many things, but is in itself something new. It is the first real Summa Theologica." [Frederick Chase, Jr., Vol. 37 in Fathers of the Church series, p. xxvi].

The third and most important part of the Fount is known as the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith in100 chapters. It was translated into Latin at the request of Pope Eugene III. Its powerful influence on the West can be surmised from the large number of Latin manuscript copies still in existence. Peter the Lombard used it and may have owed much to it, and St. Thomas Aquinas quotes from it.

St. John Damascene is especially clear in writing about the Incarnation, and the greatest of those who wrote about Christ in later ages owe him a considerable debt. St. John's words are precise and clear.

"Christ was in all things and above all things, and at the same time He was existing in the womb of the Holy Mother of God, but He was there by the operation of the Incarnation. And so He was made flesh and took from her the first fruits of our clay, a body animated by a rational and intellectual soul, so that the very Person of God the Word was accounted to the flesh . . . And so we confess that even after the Incarnation He is the one Son of God, and we confess that the same is the Son of Man, one Christ, one Lord, the Only-begotten Son and Word of God, Jesus our Lord. And we venerate His two begettings
-----one from the Father before the ages and surpassing cause and reason and time and nature, and one in latter times for our own sake, after our own manner, and surpassing us."

St. John on why God creates a man He knows will be lost:

"Being comes first, and afterwards, being good or evil. However, had God kept from being made those who through His goodness were to have existence but who by their own choice were to become evil, then evil would have prevailed over the goodness of God. Thus, all things which God makes He makes good, but each one becomes good or evil by his own choice."

The Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith ends with a chapter on the resurrection of the body. St. John asks those who say this resurrection from the dust is impossible to consider how the body is formed in the first place from a little drop of seed that grows in the womb.

"And so, with our souls again united to our bodies, which will have become incorrupt and put off corruption, we shall rise again and stand before the terrible judgment seat of Christ. And the devil and his demons, and his man, which is to say, the Antichrist, and the impious and sinners will be given over to the everlasting fire . . . And those who have done good will shine like the sun together with the Angels unto eternal life with our Lord Jesus Christ, ever seeing Him and being seen, enjoying the unending bliss which is from Him, and praising Him, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost, unto the endless ages of ages. Amen.

A Little Treatise on Mary
by St. John Damascene


St. John Damascene at various places in his writings shows a clear belief in Our Lady's Immaculate Conception. He explains in a sermon on Mary's nativity why she was born of a sterile mother. "Since the Virgin Mother of God was to be born of Anne, nature did not dare to precede the product of grace, but remained sterile until grace had produced its fruit." In the homilies on the Assumption, St. John explains: that Mary, although not subject to death, died nonetheless. Death, of course, is the penalty for sin, and only one preserved even from Original Sin would be exempt.

For how could she who brought life to all, be under the dominion of death? But she obeys the law of her own Son and inherits this chastisement as a daughter of the first Adam, since her Son, Who is the Life, did not refuse it. As the Mother of the Living God, she goes through death to Him. [Sermon 2]

In the East, Marian devotion probably reached its high point with St. John of Damascus. It would be easy, for example, to go through his sermons on the Dormition and from them alone construct a litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the perennial "source of true light, the treasury of life, the richness of grace, the cause of all our good. She is life-giving ambrosia, true happiness, a sea of grace, a fountain of healing, a fruitful tree, the lily of the field, the rose among thorns, the gladness of Angels, the sweetness of patriarchs, refreshment of the weary. She is as shining as the dawn, beautiful as the moon, conspicuous as the sun; she is Queen, Virgin Mother of God, a rich treasure-house of the Godhead. Mary is the Saint of Saints, the spotless Virgin, most dear among women, all fair; her fragrance is sweeter than all ointment, the Ark of God". Over and over St. John Damascene calls her "the Mother of God".

St. John was a man who sought wisdom humbly. He did not push himself. Only near the close of his life did he write his greatest work, the Fount of Knowledge, and that at the request of Cosmas, Bishop of Maiuma, once his fellow-monk.
St. John Damascene had a penetrating and exact mind that made him a great theologian; at the same time he had the fine feeling and beauty of expression that made him an outstanding poet. This combination of talents must have made him a superb orator. But the point that seems most striking and endearing about St. John Damascene is his constant gratitude for being able to serve God and sing the praises of his Lady, the Theotokos or "God-bearer." Perhaps he expressed this best when he said: "We know that in celebrating her praises we payoff our debt, and that in so doing we are again debtors, so that the debt is ever beginning afresh."

John writes on all the mariological questions that were current in his day: Mary's predestination, the Old Testament figures and prophecies that were usually applied to her, her Divine maternity, her perpetual virginity, and the meaning of the name Mary, which he interprets as "Lady", according to Syriac etymology. He was the first author to speak of consecration to Mary. Here we confine ourselves to certain aspects of mariological doctrine that are most original and most important to him, aspects for which the Church's Magisterium still invokes him today as an authority. Along with Germanus of Constantinople and Andrew of Crete, he is cited in Munificentissimus Deus, the document in which Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption and in John Paul II's encyclical Redemptoris Mater. His Marian thought has been the object of various studies and research, which have emphasized its value and depth.

John Damascene often speaks of Mary as a sublime creature, filled with spiritual treasures. Accordingly, his homily on the Nativity, for example, goes so far as to make clear and explicit allusions-----unprecedented in previous centuries-----to the mystery of the Immaculate Conception.

For John, both the Virgin Mary's conception and her birth took place completely under the influence of Divine grace. These two events also shaped the role played by her parents, Joachim and Anna. Their previous sterility is explained thus:

"Because it would come to pass that the Virgin Theotokos would be born of Anna, nature did not dare anticipate the seed of grace but remained unfruitful until grace bore fruit." [Homily on the Nativity, 2]

Anna's sterility was, therefore, a condition previously arranged in the Divine plan, so that the role of grace would appear fully predominant. This is why Damascene always names the Virgin's parents with profound respect: they would offer themselves as the passive instruments of God's miraculous intervention:

"O blessed loins of Joachim, whence the all-pure seed was poured out! O glorious womb of Anna, in which the most holy fetus grew and was formed, silently increasing! O womb in which was conceived the living heaven, wider than the wideness of the heavens." [Ibid, 2; "Fetus" means offspring in Latin. We mention this because in modern societies the term has lost its Latin and (and true) definition and has come to signify a "non-person" for all practical purposes, a distortion for political manipulation------The Web Master]

In these considerations [not devoid of realism], the author wants us to notice that even the physiological process of Mary's conception and birth unfolded in a sinless fashion, under the mysterious guidance of the Almighty. The very seed of which Mary was born was utterly perfect [panamomos]. This concept of perfection, then, is decidedly positive: it goes beyond a simple absence of sin and corruption to include an exceptional richness of grace.

Now one can understand why the Damascene gave himself over to the praise of Mary, seeing her as a new heaven:

"This Heaven is clearly much more Divine and awesome than the first. Indeed He Who created the sun in the first heaven would Himself be born of this second heaven, as the Sun of Justice."

Mary also appears as a lofty ladder, planted between Heaven and earth, a kind of means of communication between God and man:

Today [Christ] . . . built Himself a living ladder, whose base is planted in the earth and whose tip reaches Heaven. God rests upon it. Jacob saw a figure of it. God, unchanged, came down it. . . . He was made manifest on the earth and lived among men.

The author emphasizes the fact that Mary's spiritual beauty derives from her special relationship with God:

She is all beautiful, all near to God. For she, surpassing the cherubim, exalted beyond the seraphim, is placed near to God.

It is understandable that the author should treat the theme of Mary's exceptional purity and sanctity in this context, since he considers it a condition that belongs to the very beginning of her earthly existence.


Doctor of the Assumption

On November 27, 1950, St. Peter's in Rome Pope Pius XII raised his voice to give the blessing on the occasion that commemorated the twelfth centenary of the death of St. John Damascene, the last of the Greek Fathers, proclaimed a Doctor of the Universal Church by Leo XIII on August 19, 1890.

Just a few weeks before Pope Pius XII had defined the dogma of the Assumption. The tdeclarative eaching of this truth as a dogma was new, but the truth itself was revered and ancient as Tradition itself. Pope Pius' definition only brought it into its final and sharpest focus. In Munificentissimus Deus, defining the dogma of the Assumption, the Pope called St. John Damascene "the interpreter of this Tradition par excellence." He then quoted St. John:

"There was need that the body of her who in childbirth had preserved her virginity intact, be preserved incorrupt after death. There was need that she who had carried her Creator as a babe on her bosom, should linger lovingly in the dwelling of her God. There was need that the bride whom the Father had betrothed to Himself should live in the bridal chamber of Heaven, that she who had looked so closely upon her very own Son on the Cross, and who there felt in her heart the sword-pangs of sorrow which in bearing Him she had been spared, should look upon Him seated with His Father. There was need that God's Mother should enter into her Son's possessions, and as a Mother of God and hand- maid, be reverenced by all creation." [Par. 21]

The words are taken from the second of St. John's three homilies on the Assumption of Mary. From the opening words of the third sermon it seems that all three were preached on the same day at Mary's tomb in Jerusalem. The occasion was the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady-----also called her "Dormition" or "Falling Asleep."

The third sermon opens in this way:

"Lovers are wont to speak of what they love and to let their fancy run on it by day and night. Let no one, therefore, blame me if I add a third tribute to the Mother of God on her triumphant departure. I am not profiting her, but myself and you who are here present . . . She does not need our praise. It is we who need her glory . . . "

St. John Damascene's words about the Blessed Mother overflow with love, humility and gratitude. You can feel the surging emotion and understand that the beautiful words do not satisfy his yearning to say something better and more fitting. "She is greater than all praise." In his "winter of poverty" he wants to "bring garlands to our Queen, and prepare a flower of oratory for the feast of praise." [Sermon 2]

Grateful, humble love can hardly speak more convincingly: "But what is sweeter than the Mother of my God? She has taken my mind captive and held my tongue in bondage. I think of her by day and night. She, the Mother of the Word, supplies my words." [Sermon 3]

St. John addresses Mary's empty tomb and asks:

"Where is the pure gold which apostolic hands confided to you? Where is the inexhaustible treasure? Where the precious receptacle of God? Where is the new book in which the incomprehensible Word of God is written without hands . . . Where is the life-giving fountain? Where is the sweet and loved body of God's Mother?" [Sermon 2]

St. John concludes his third homily with this prayer to Our Lady:

"Accept then my goodwill, which is greater than my capacity, and give us salvation. Heal our passions, cure our diseases, help us out of our difficulties, make our lives peaceful, send us the illumination of the Spirit. Inflame us with the desire of thy Son. Render us pleasing to Him, so that we may enjoy happiness with Him, seeing thee resplendent with thy Son's glory, rejoicing forever, keeping feast in the Church with those who worthily celebrate Him Who worked our salvation through thee: Christ, the Son of God, and our God. To Him be glory and majesty, with the uncreated Father and the all-holy and life-giving Spirit, now and forever, through the endless ages of eternity. Amen.

[Source #1, pp. 241-243]

Mary Assumed into Heaven

The three homilies on the Dormition reveal the exceptional importance of Damascene's teaching for the development of doctrine on the Assumption. John explicitly teaches the truth of Mary's bodily Assumption into Heaven. In confonnity with the teaching of his two famous contemporaries, Germanus of Constantinople and Andrew of Crete, our doctor accepts the thesis that Mary's death is a premise of her imminent glorification:

"O how could the Font of life be led to life through death? O how could she, who in giving birth surpassed the limits of nature, now yield to nature's laws and have her irnrnaculate body undergo death? She had to put aside what was mortal and put on incorruptibility, seeing that even the Lord of nature did not excuse Himself from facing death. He truly died in the flesh to destroy death by means of death; in place of corruption He gave incorruptibility; He made death into a font of resurrection!" [Homily 1 on the Dormition, 10]

Even though she must pass through death before being glorified, nevertheless the personal destiny of the Mother of God had an unusual outcome:

"Even though your most holy and blessed soul was separated from your most happy and immaculate body, according to the usual course of nature, and even though it was carried to a proper burial place, nevertheless it did not remain under the dominion of death, nor was it destroyed by corruption.

"Indeed, just as her virginity remained intact when she gave birth, so her body, even after death, was preserved from decay and transferred to a better and more Divine dwelling place. There it is no longer subject to death but abides for all ages."

In his second homily on the Dormition, Damascene uses biblical typology to present a whole series of reasons why it was fitting that Mary's body was not consumed by decay in the tomb. In this text, as in the passage cited above, one notes the homilist's tendency to explain the privilege of the Assumption by referring to the mystery of Mary's virginity in giving birth. Although this might seem to be an argument from fittingness, in Damascene's eyes it has the character of most strict necessity, because of the indispensable role played by Mary in the mystery of the Incarnation:

"It was necessary that the body of the one who preserved her virginity intact in giving birth should also be kept incorrupt after death. It was necessary that she, who carried the Creator in her womb when He was a baby, should dwell among the tabernacles of Heaven . . . .

"It was necessary that the Mother of God share what belongs to her Son and that she be celebrated by all creation. An inheritance is normally passed down from parents to children; now, however, to use the expression of a wise man, the sources of the sacred rivers flow back toward their origin, now that the Son has made all created things His Mother's slaves." [Homily 2 on the Dormition, 14]


"Your holy and all-virginal body was consigned to a holy tomb, while the Angels went before it, accompanied it, and followed it; for what would they not do to serve the Mother of their Lord.?

"Meanwhile, the Apostles and the whole assembly of the Church sang Divine hymns and struck the lyre of the Spirit: "We shall be filled with the blessings of Your house; Your temple is holy; wondrous injustice" [Ps 65:4]. And again: 'The Most High has sanctified His dwelling' [Ps 46:5]; 'God's mountain, rich mountain, the mountain in which God has been pleased to dwell' [Ps 68:16-17].

"The assembly of Apostles carried you, the Lord God's true Ark, as once the priests carried the symbolic ark, on their shoulders. They laid you in the tomb, through which, as if through the Jordan, they will conduct you to the promised land, that is to say, the Jerusalem above, mother of all the faithful, whose architect and builder is God. Your soul did not descend to Hades, neither did your flesh see corruption. Your virginal and uncontaminated body was not abandoned in the earth, but you are transferred into the royal dwelling of Heaven, you, the Queen, the sovereign, the Lady, God's Mother, the true God-bearer.

"O, how did Heaven receive her, who surpasses the wideness of the heavens? How is it possible that the tomb should contain the dwelling place of God? And yet it received and held it. For she was not wider than heaven in her bodily dimensions; indeed, how could a body three cubits long, which is always growing thinner, be compared with the breadth and length of the sky? Rather it is through grace that she surpassed the limits of every height and depth. The Divinity does not admit of comparison.

"O holy tomb, awesome, venerable, and adorable! Even now the Angels continue to venerate you, standing by with great respect and fear, while the devils shrink in horror. With faith, men make haste to render you honor, to adore you, to salute you with their eyes, with their lips, and with the affection of their souls, in order to obtain an abundance of blessings.

"A precious ointment, when it is poured out upon the garments or in any place and then taken away, leaves traces of its fragrance even after evaporating. In the same way your body, holy and perfect, impregnated with Divine perfume and abundant spring of grace, this body which had been laid in the tomb, when it was taken out and transferred to a better and more elevated place, did not leave the tomb bereft of honor but left behind a Divine fragrance and grace, making it a wellspring of healing and a source of every blessing for those who approach it with faith."

-----John Damascene, Homily 1 on the Dormition 12-13


John introduces the concept of Mary's mediation with the Old Testament image of Jacob's ladder. As already cited, he loves to use this image for Mary:

That man [Jacob] contemplated Heaven joined to earth by the two ends of a ladder and saw Angels going up and down upon it and saw himself symbolically wrestling with the Strong One, the Invincible. So you have assumed the role of a mediatrix, having become the ladder by which God comes down to us, assuming the weakness of our nature, embracing it and uniting Himself to it, and thus making man into a mind that can see God. Thus [O Mary] you have reunited what had been divided. [Homily 1 on the Dormition, 8]

He attributes great efficacy to the holy Virgin's mediation in the plan of salvation. Mary has a very active part in causing the fruits of the Incarnation to be applied. Accordingly, he ascribes the benefits of salvation to her and to her Divine Son, almost without distinction:

Through her, the long warfare waged with the Creator has been ended. Through her, the reconciliation between us and him was ratified. Grace and peace were granted us, so that men and Angels are united in the same choir, and we, who had been deserving of disdain, have become sons of God. From her we have harvested the grape of life; from her we have cultivated the seed of immortality. For our sake she became Mediatrix of all blessings; in her God became man, and man became God. [Homily 2 on the Dormition, 16]

Damascene does speak of Mary's compassion on Calvary . . . her sorrowful experience of Mary is linked to Simeon's prophecy:

It was necessary that she who contemplated her own Son on the Cross, and who had been pierced through the heart by the sword she had avoided while giving birth, should contemplate Him reigning with the Father.

Speaking of the Divine favors that the Mother of the Lord distributes to Christians in copious measure throughout the world, our doctor exhorts his audience to acquire the dispositions that will render them open to Mary's mediation:

If we firmly abstain, then, from past vices and love the virtues with all our heart, taking them as our companions in life, the Virgin will frequently visit her servants, bringing all manner of blessings. She will be accompanied by Christ her Son, the King and Lord of all, Who will dwell in our hearts.

In this passage, the author sums up the ways in which Mary exercises her power on our behalf: In giving us the incarnate Word to be our Redeemer, she has obtained for us all the graces we need for salvation, and, like an inexhaustible spring, she continues to pour them out upon us.


With regard to Marian devotion, a very practical part of Christian life, it is particularly interesting to revisit the thought of St. John Damascene. He introduces the fine distinction between the cult of adoration, or latria, owed to God alone, and the honor or veneration that ought to be given to the holy Virgin. Later on the terms dulia [and hyperdulia-----the Web Master] was introduced for this, but it was unknown to the Saint.

Here is a text:

But we, who consider God the object of adoration-----a God not made out of anything, but existing from all eternity, beyond every cause, word, or concept of time and nature -----we honor and venerate the mother of God. [Homily 2 on the Dormition, 15]

The cult of Mary, even though inferior to that owed to God, is superior to the honor paid to the other Saints and to the Angels in Heaven. Because she is queen and mistress of all things, she merits the veneration suited to her greatness and unique dignity:

If the memory of all the Saints is celebrated with panegyrics, who will refuse to praise the font of justice and the treasury of holiness? This is not done to glorify her but so that God might be glorified with an eternal glory. [Homily 1 on the Dormition, 5]

Such veneration can also be extended to images of Mary. In his discourses in defense of sacred icons, Damascene makes some extremely clear distinctions about this form of veneration. . . . As for icons of the Mother of God, they merit a special veneration because of Mary's unique personal position in the economy of salvation.

In addition to the extreme theological clarity with which our doctor resolves the objective question of Marian devotion, he is not held back by any inhibition or timidity when he wants to express his personal feelings toward her. Let us choose two texts from among the most expressive:

O daughter of Joachim and Anna, O Lady, receive the word of a sinful servant, who nevertheless burns with love and places in you his only hope of joy; in you he finds the guardian of his life, not only a Mediatrix in your Son's presence, but also a sure pledge of salvation. [Homily on the Nativity, 12]

St. John Damascene proposed a practice of Marian devotion that seems to come very close to the concept of consecration to the Blessed Virgin as understood and practiced in Marian devotion today.

He explains it in a passage from a homily on the Dormition:

We today also remain near you, O Lady. Yes, I repeat, O Lady, Mother of God and Virgin. We bind our souls to your hope, as to a most firm and totally unbreakable anchor, consecrating to you [anath émenoi] mind, soul, body, and all our being and honoring you, as much as we can, with psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles. [Homily 1 on the Dormition, 14]

The Greek word used by Damascene, anatíthēmi means [inter alia] to dedicate, consecrate, offer in a religious sense. Damascene's text, therefore, is a good description of the act of a servant and devotee of Mary, who offers his whole self to her as his sovereign and lady. Thus, a consecration.

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