Life of St John Damascene (ca. 650-750)

Doctor of the Church

John was born in Damascus to a noble Christian family of Arab origin, around 650. The city was then under Muslim rule. He received an education and a good knowledge of Greek and Arab culture. Like his father, he served the Umayyad caliphs for a few years.

By fidelity to the Christian faith, he left everything, gave his property to the poor, and entered the monastery of Saint Saba, near Jerusalem, as a monk. He was ordained a priest by John IV, Patriarch of Jerusalem (706 - 736), and he continued his mission as a teacher, preacher and writer, developing in particular the theology of incarnation and transfiguration. He died around 750, at a very advanced age.


Damascus was already a Muslim city. John Damascene analyzed the Koran, compared it to the Bible, and concluded that Islam was a heresy.

John Damascene emphasizes the fact that, by taking the human condition, Christ brought salvation to it and called human beings to share the divine life, to ultimately experience deification.

This is what his reflection on the icons that represent transfigured humanity and his famous Homily on the Transfiguration really highlight.

The Council of Nicaea II recognized and adopted his thought for the defense of the cult of sacred icons, because it combined the theology of the incarnation and the theology of beauty, creating a liturgical space where "heaven is come down to earth."

The Marian doctrine of John Damascene can be considered as an exhaustive and powerful synthesis of all the teaching of the Christian authors who preceded him.

Of particular importance are four Marian homilies: one on the Nativity of the Virgin, and three on the Dormition.

John Damascene is mentioned along with Germanus of Constantinople and Andrew of Crete in Pius XII’s apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus. His name also appears in Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium (chapter VIII), and in John Paul II’s encyclical letter Redemptoris Mater.

John Damascene was also a great hymnographer who celebrated the Virgin Mary in his hymns, many of which are used in the Byzantine liturgy.



- M. SCHUMPP, Zur Mariologie des hl. Johannes Damascenus, in Divus Thomas 2 (1924),222-234.

- A. MITCHEL, The Mariology of St John Damascene, Kirkwood, Missouri 1930.

- C. CHEVALIER, La Mariologie de Saint Jean Damascène, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 109, Roma 1936.

- V. GRUMEL, La Mariologie de Saint Jean Damascène, in Echos d'Orient 40 (1937),318-346.

- J. M. CANAL, San Juan Damasceno, doctor de la muerte y de la asuncion de Maria, in Estudios Marianos 12 (1952),270-330.

- L. FERRONI, La Vergine, nuova Eva, cooperatrice della divina economia e mediatrice, secondo il Damasceno, in Marianum 17 (1955),1-36.

- B. M. GARRIDO, Lugar de la Virgen en la Iglesia, segun san Juan Damasceno, in Estudios Marianos 28 (1966),333-353.

- D. DIMITRIJEVIC, Die Entwicklung der liturgischen Verehrung der Mutter Gottes nach dem Ephesinum bis rum 12. Jahrhundert, in De cultu mariano saeculis VI-XI, vol. IV, Roma 1972,101-110.

- F. M. JELLY , Mary's Mediation in the Distribution of Grace according to St John Damascene's Homilies in her Dormition, Ibid., 301-312.


Françoise Breynaert