Eastern Catholicism

Saint John of Damascus – Doctor of Christian Art

Saint John of Damascus was born around the year 676 A.D. and was baptized in infancy. Later in his life, he would become very famous for his vast knowledge and understanding of theology. The great Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas was inspired to study theology because of St. John.

He was tutored as a child by a monk named Cosmas, a captive of the ruling Muslim empire in Syria. St. John was tutored in the subjects of grammar, logic, arithmetic, geometry, the sciences, and of course, theology. He was tutored along aside another Cosmas, who would become his brother through adoption. The two eventually went off to the monastery together in the hopes to live the consecrated life as monks.

Although St. John was gifted in theology, he ended up in his father’s position as chief of the revenue department in the empire of the Muslim rulers of Damascus in the late 7th century. As was custom at this time in Muslim ruled lands, St. John openly and freely lived his life as a Christian. He was well known for his humility and virtuous behavior. After fulfilling his duty in the post he held, he resigned and went off to be a monk in the monastery of St. Sabas outside of Jerusalem.


St. John, along with his adopted brother, Cosmas, lived with the other monks focusing their attention on the writing of books and hymns. Although the two found a passion for writing books and hymns, the other monks did not like their presence and felt scandalized by their academic dispositions.

They were not well liked at St. Sabas, but found favor with the Patriarch of Jerusalem, John V, who desired for them to be members of his clergy. John V ordained Cosmas to be the Bishop of Majuma and he then ordained John to the priesthood and brought him to Jerusalem. Tradition tells us that Cosmas was a good shepherd, ruled his flock well, and died in peace. St. John soon returned to the monastery and was persecuted by his enemies for the defense of sacred images during the iconoclast persecutions by the Constantinople Emperor, Leo the Isaurian.

The rest of his life was faced with persecutions from emperors, however he lived to a ripe old age and died a good death sometime around the year 749 A.D. While living at St. Sabas these many years, he spent all of his time writing theology and poetry. In 1890, Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church because he was a great defender of religious icons during the times of iconoclast persecutions.


Hoever, Rev. Hugo. Lives of the Saints.Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1989.

Walsh, Michael. Butler’s Lives of the Saints. HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

10 replies »

  1. Where do you get your assertion that “St. Thomas Aquinas was inspired to study theology because of St. John”? I’ve never heard that, and frankly, I’m skeptical that this assertion is backed up by the documentary evidence.

    • John – The source, Lives of the Saints by Rev. Hugo Hoever, S.O. Cist. Ph.D (the revisor of the original edition), published by Catholic Book Publishing CO states it. I would imagine that St. Thomas Aquinas was inspired by more than one theologian who came before him.

  2. That Aquinas was inspired by Damascene can be easily deduced from several areas of Aquinas’ works. St. John is one of Aquinas’ favorite sources, especially, De Fide Orthodoxa. Aquinas had particular affinity to him because he is known as one of the first (and last) of the Fathers of the Church to write a systematic treatise, named above. It is true that Aquinas was inspired by many sources before him, especially St. Augustine, his favorite author. But, Damascene ranks high among the Fathers.

    • Thanks for the link, Pedro. From the sources I used to write this blog, that’s what they stated. During this time in history, Jews and Christians were able to hold posts in the Muslim empires and could live their lives “somewhat” freely.

      • Ok, Tom, we must be careful with the sources. “Somewhat” freely is better, but maybe not enough. It demands definition, at least.

        Koran does not allow Christians to “live freely”, they must pay tax under Islam. And many argue today that Christians were always under pressure when Islam is in power, as in Islamic Spain. How many martyrs gave their lives because of Islam? Pope Benedict, in his last decree, recognized 800 (Martyrs of Otranto). And how many give lives today in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria…?

        God bless you.

  3. I have read that St. John by happening to be under Muslim rule benefitted from being out of the direct reach of Leo the Isaurian and Constantine Copronymus,

    It is pleasant to realize that the Feast of St. Sabas falls on the day following that of St. John!

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