Saints Bio: St. John of Damascus
John is generally accounted “the last of the Fathers”. He was the son of a Christian official at the court of the Moslem khalif Abdul Malek, and succeeded to his father’s office. In his time there was a dispute among Christians between the Iconoclasts (image-breakers) and the Iconodules (image-venerators or image-lovers). The Emperor, Leo III, was a vigorous upholder of the Iconoclast position. John wrote in favor of the Iconodules with great effectiveness. Ironically, he was able to do this chiefly because he had the protection of the Moslem khalif (ironic because the Moslems have an unbending prohibition against the religious use of pictures or images). John is also known as a hymn-writer. Two of his hymns are sung in English at Easter (“Come ye faithful, raise the strain” and “The Day of Resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad!”). Many more are sung in the Eastern Church. His major writing is The Fount of Knowledge, of which the third part, The Orthodox Faith, is a summary of Christian doctrine as expounded by the Greek Fathers. The dispute about icons was not a dispute between East and West as such. Both the Greek and the Latin churches accepted the final decision. The Iconoclasts maintained that the use of religious images was a violation of the Second Commandment (“Thou shalt not make a graven image… thou shalt not bow down to them”). The Iconodules replied that the coming of Christ had radically changed the situation, and that the commandment must now be understood in a new way, just as the commandment to “Remember the Sabbath Day” must be understood in a new way since the Resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week. Before the Incarnation, it had indeed been improper to portray the invisible God in visible form; but God, by taking fleshly form in the person of Jesus Christ, had blessed the whole realm of matter and made it a fit instrument for manifesting the Divine Splendor. He had reclaimed everything in heaven and earth for His service, and had made water and oil, bread and wine, means of conveying His grace to men. He had made painting and sculpture and music and the spoken word, and indeed all our daily tasks and pleasures, the common round of everyday life, a means whereby man might glorify God and be made aware of Him.