St. Peter Damian, Pray for Us.

St. Peter Damian, Pray for Us.

Today is the Feast Day of St. Peter Damian- Benedictine Cardinal, Doctor of the Church

The traditional account of Damian’s childhood, featuring abandonment by his parents, rearing by sacerdotal foster parents, and hardships bordering on starvation, stems from hagiographical embroidering by his biographer, John of Lodi (Patrologia Latina, 144:113–146). His later career points to a sound primary education provided by his older brother at Ravenna and continued later at Parma, Modena, and Faenza. A brief but successful teaching career in Ravenna and ordination to the priesthood preceded his entry into the religious life at Fonte Avellana (1035). By 1043 he was elected prior of this congregation of hermits; as prior he reorganized their life by statutes combining the ideals of St. Benedict and St. Romuald. The result was an Eremitico-cenobitic amalgam, with stern but rational practices of asceticism, in which Damian claimed to carry out the mind of St. Benedict.

From this self-reforming base, Damian turned his attention to the reform interests of the Church at large, making contact with the German court of Henry III and with the papal Curia. At first tentative in the reigns of Gregory VI and Clement II, his role matured during the pontificate of Leo IX. Two of his significant reform writings, theLiber gratissimus, defending the validity of orders conferred gratis by simonists, and the Liber gomorrhianus, attacking the moral decadence of the 11th-century clergy, date from this period. Unlike Humber of Silva Candida and Gregory VII (Hildebrand), Damian viewed the reform movement as a joint project, conducted by both papacy and empire.

As a churchman his services to reform stemmed primarily from his relation to the papal Curia. He was elevated to the cardinalate against his will by Stephen IX. Damian’s active participation in the public life of the Church by synodal work, by diplomatic missions, and by his writings, which display an almost compulsive need to communicate, spanned nearly a quarter of the 11th century. His missions took him to Milan (1059–60) to settle the conflict between the archbishop and the Patarines, soothing Milanese sensibilities while pointing up the Roman primacy. During the schism of antipope Honorius II (Cadalus of Parma), he strenuously defended the interests of Alexander II, in whose cause he produced the Disceptatio synodalis, a fictitious debate between representatives of church and state, attempting to settle Alexander’s disputed election. Cluny was the beneficiary of his Iter Gallicum(Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores, 30.2:1034–46) in 1063 when, by on-the-spot arbitration, he upheld Abbot Hugh in his exemption dispute with Bp. Drogo of Mâcon.

During the last decade of his life he traveled to Mainz (1069), hoping to stabilize the marriage of young King Henry IV and his wife, Bertha. In 1071, at the invitation of his friend Abbot Desiderius (see Victor III), he took part in the dedication of the basilica of St. Benedict at Monte Cassino. In 1072 he paid a last visit to his native Ravenna, working for better relations with the Roman See. On his return he died in the monastery of S. Maria in Faenza; his remains now rest in the cathedral. In 1828 his cult was approved when he was declared a Doctor of the Church.

Few medieval writers can compare with Damian in the number and range of his writings. His extant letters (c. 170), sermons (53), vitae (7), treatises, and minor works in prose and verse (epigrams, prayers, hymns, liturgical Offices) mark him as one of the great Latin stylists of the Middle Ages. The sources of his inspiration range from the Sacred Scriptures, allegorically interpreted, through the Latin and Greek Fathers (the latter in translation—Damian knew no Greek), the works of the Carolingian age, the Latin writings of antiquity, Roman law, and to a surprising degree, the pre-Gregorian collections of Canon Law. His favored canonical source was the Decretum of Burchard of Worms; he made no direct use of the False Decretals of Pseudo-Isidore. The content of his theological and ascetical writing is distinguished by its practicality rather than by its theory. He preferred anecdote and example to the methodical presentation of principle. In contact with most of the problems of his day, he nevertheless showed a perplexing unconcern for the contemporary struggle between the Greek and Latin Churches (see EASTERN SCHISM). Affairs of church and state outside of Italy and the Empire—in England, Spain, and the Middle East—seem to have been beyond his horizon of interest. The “dialectic” of his career was that between the active and the contemplative life, which he resolved classically in his search for an ordered society in a world to which he always remained a stranger.

Today’s Mass Collect:
Let us pray.
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that we may so follow the teaching and example
of the Bishop Saint Peter Damian,
that, putting nothing before Christ
and always ardent in the service of your Church,
we may be led to the joys of eternal light.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

St. Peter Damian, Pray for Us!

Source: BLUM, O. J. “Peter Damian, St.” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 11, Gale, 2003, pp. 186-187.