Thursday, February 21, 2019

Petrus Damianus

Today is the feast of St. Pietro Damiani, Doctor of the Church. Born in Ravenna near the end of the tenth century, Peter Damian became a university teacher until he gave it up to become a Benedictine monk in 1035; he entered the communal hermitage of Fonte Avellana, which was based on the pattern of the similar communal hermitage at Camaldoli: monks had individual cells but worshiped and ate communally. He became teacher, then manager, then prior of the hermitage. During his term the Camaldolese approach expanded massively. Being a reformer at heart, he also tightened the discipline of the hermitage quite severely; this was sharply criticized but also led to more people joining the order, because at the time it was widely held that the monastic orders were growing lax and corrupt. He wasn't ruthless, however; he also restrained disciplinary practices and instituted a daily nap so that monks would be better able to fulfill their duties in nightly prayer. He developed a significant correspondence with Popes, Emperors, and other significant figures, and in 1057 Pope Stephen IX made him a Cardinal -- against his will -- and appointed him apostolic administrator of Gubbio. He became the regular go-to Cardinal whenever the Popes needed a representative to send on matters related to reform; he was often effective, because he was good at thinking on his feet, but for exactly the same reason, he also had a recurring pattern of annoying the Pope and other powers by imposing his own solutions on problems. He died in 1072 or 1073. As this was a period in which formal canonization as a papal process was only just beginning to consolidate, there was never any formal canonization process, but he became almost universally regarded as one of the primary Benedictine saints, and was made a Doctor of the Church in 1828 by Pope Leo XII.

From St. Peter Damian's Letter 91 to Patriarch Constantine Lichoudes of Constantinople:

But if one should ask, "Since the Son is of the substance of the Father, and the Holy Spirit is also of the substance of the Father, why is one the Son and the other not also the Son?" it would not be inconsistent to reply as follows. The Son is from the Father, the Holy Spirit is from the Father, but the former is begotten, while the latter proceeds; and therefore the former is the Son of the Father, from whom he is begotten, while the latter is the Spirit of both because he proceeds from both. Nevertheless, this begetting and procession are not only ineffable but also totally incomprehensible. But in those things which we are unable to penetrate with the power of our mind, we apply a sure faith to those through whom the Holy Spirit has spoken, just as if the matter lay clearly before our eyes. And even though these hidden mysteries of profound depth are unknown to us, still we are not in doubt about what the Lord has spoken, we are also not uncertain about what is found in the pronouncements of the prophets.

[Peter Damian, Letters 91-120, Blum, tr., The Fathers of the Church: Medieval Continuation, CUA Press (Washington DC: 1998) p. 11.]

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