St. John Damascene (675 – 749)
The Divine Nature Penetrates all Creation
The divine nature has the property of penetrating all things without mixing with them and of being itself impenetrable by anything else.
~ Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book I, Chapter 14, “The Properties of the Divine Nature.” In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. IX, Eerdmans,1989, p. 17.
Creation is not Derived Directly from God
The creation, even though it originated later, is nevertheless not derived from the essence of God, but is brought into existence out of nothing by His will and power, and change does not touch God’s nature.
~ Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, “Concerning the Holy Trinity,” Book I, Chapter 8. In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. IX, Eerdmans,1989, p. 7.
Man is a Microcosm of the Community of Life
Man, it is to be noted, has community with things inanimate and participates in the life of the unreasoning creatures, and shares in the mental processes of those endowed with reason. For the bond of union between man and inanimate things is the body and its composition out of the four elements: and the bond between man and plants consists, in addition to these things, of their powers of nourishment and growth and seeding, that is, generation: and finally, over and above these links, man is connected with unreasoning animals by appetite, that is anger and desire, and sense and impulsive movement. … plus the five physical senses….
Lastly, man’s reason unites him to incorporeal and intelligent natures, for he applies his reason and mind and judgement to everything and pursues after virtues and eagerly follows after piety, which is the crown of the virtues. And so man is a microcosm.
~ Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II, “Concerning Man,” Chapter 12. In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. IX, Eerdmans,1989, p. 32.
The Origin of Evil
There is but one kingdom delivered from evil. From whence comes evil? For it is quite impossible that evil should originate from goodness. We answer, then, that evil is no thing else than absence of goodness and a lapsing from what is natural into what is unnatural: for nothing evil is natural. For all things, whatsoever God made, are very good….
By nature therefore, all things are servants of the Creator and obdy Him. Whenever then, any of His creatures voluntarily rebels and becomes disobedient to his Maker, he introduces evil into himself. For evil is not any essence nor a property of essence, but an accident, that is, a voluntary deviation from what is natural into what is unnatural, which is sin.
~ Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, “That there are not two kingdoms,” Chapter 20. In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. IX, Eerdmans,1989, p. 94.
Criteria for a Healthy Intelligence
The intelligence is healthy when, restrained and enlightened when it has the passions under control, when it perceives the inner essences of God’s creatures spiritually, and when it is raised up toward the Blessed and Holy Trinity.
~ “On the virtues and vices,” as translated by Kallistos Ware and Philip Sherrard, The Philokalia, Vol. II, section on St. John of Damaskos, 1981, London, p. 339.
Life is Energy
We hold that there are two energies in our Lord Jesus Christ. For He possesses on the one hand, as God and being of like essence with the Father, the divine energy, and likewise, since He became man and of life essence to us, the energy proper to human nature.
But observe that energy and capacity for energy, and the product of energy, and the agent of energy, are all different. Energy is the efficient and essential activity of nature: the capacity for energy is the nature from which proceeds energy; the product of energy is that which is effected by energy; and the agent of energy is the person or substance which uses the energy….
Life itself, it should be observed, is energy, yea, the primal energy of the living creature: and so is the whole economy of the living creature, its functions of nutrition and growth, that is, the vegetative side of its nature, and the movement stirred by impulse, that is, the sentient side, and its activity of intellect and free-will. Energy, moreover, is the perfect realization of power. If, then, we contemplate all these in Christ, surely we must also hold that He possesses human energy.
The first thought that arises in us is called energy…. Again the revelation and unfolding of thought by means of articulate speech is said to be energy…. And so in connection with our Lord Jesus Christ, the power of miracles is the energy of His divinity, while the work of His hands and the willing and the saying, “I will, be thou clean,” are the energy of His humanity.
And again, if the providence that embraces all creation is not only of the Father and the Holy Spirit, but also of the Son, even after the incarnation, assuredly since that is energy, He must have even after the incarnation the same energy as the Father.
~ Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, tr. S. Salmond, 1898, reprinted by Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1989, Book III, chapter XV:1-5,7.
Why we Worship Facing toward the East
It is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the East…. Since God is spiritual light, and Christ is called in the Scriptures the Sun of Righteousness and Dayspring, the East is the direction that must be assigned to His worship. For everything good must be assigned to Him from Whom every good thing arises…. The Scripture also says, “And God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed; and when he had transgressed His command, He expelled him and made him to dwell over against the delights of Paradise, which clearly is the West. So then we worship God seeking and striving after our old fatherland. Moreover the tent of Moses had its veil and mercy seat towards the East. Also in the celebrated temple of Solomon the gate of the Lord was placed eastward. Moreover Christ, when He hung on the cross, had His face towards the West, and so we worship, striving after Him. And when He was received again into Heaven, He was borne towards the East, and thus His Apostles worship Him… So then in expectation of His coming we worship towards the East. But this tradition of the Apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten.
~ Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, tr. S. Salmond, 1898, reprinted by Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1989, Book IV, chapter XII:1-3.
The Properties of the Divine Nature
Uncreate, without beginning, immortal, infinite, eternal, immaterial, good, creative, just, enlightening, immutable, passionless, uncircumscribed, immeasureable, unlimited, unseen, unthinkable, wanting in nothing, being His own rule and authority, all-ruling, life-giving, omnipotent, of infinite power, containing and maintaining the universe and making provision for all: all these and such like attributes the Deity possesses by nature, not having received them from elsewhere, but Himself imparting all good to His own creations according to the capacity of each.
The divine nature has the property of penetrating all things without mixing with them and of being itself impenetrable by anything else.
~ Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 1, ch. XIV, Eerdmans, Vol. IX, pg. 17.
God Creates by Thought
Since God, Who is good and more than good, did not find satisfaction in self-contemplation, but in His exceeding goodness wished certain things to come into existence which would enjoy His benefits and share in His goodness. He brought all things out of nothing into being and created them, both what is invisible and what is visible. And it is by thought that He creates, and thought is the basis of the work, the Word filling it and the Spirit perfecting it.
~ Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II, ch. II, Eerdmans, Vol. IX, pg. 18.
St. John lived among the early Islamic people of Damascus in what is modern Syria. His work is often compared within the Eastern Church to what St. Thomas Aquinas accomplished in the Western Church. He is distinguished particularly by his voluminous work, “The Exposition of the True Orthodox Faith,” which lays out the parameters for a comprehensive Christian theology. His writings gather together the wisdom of the past and summarize the best and highest insights of the doctrinal, ascetical, exegetical and historical works of the Greek and Arabic Fathers. He undertook to mirror in his writings the tradition of the Greek Church of former centuries. His works especially deal with acquiring the virtues and renouncing the vices, and they have the ability to make the sharp distinctions necessary to differentiate between a right relationship of people to material things, to the world as well as to God.
Worship God and Honor the Creation
I do not worship matter. I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take His abode in matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation! I honor it, but not as God…. Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence, because God has filled it with his grace and power. Through it my salvation has come to me.
~ Anderson, David. Translator. On the Divine Images 1:16. New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980. p. 23.
The Unique Quality of Each Creature and Plant
At the bidding of the Creator, (the earth) produced all manner of living creatures, creeping things, and wild beasts and cattle. All indeed are for the seasonable use of man. Some of them are for food…; others are for service…; and others for enjoyment. Again amongst plants and herbs, some are fruit bearing, others edible, others fragrant and flowery. For there is not a single animal or plant in which the Creator has not implanted some form of energy capable of being used to satisfy man’s needs. For He Who knew all things before they were, saw that in the future man would go forward in the strength of his own will, and would be subject to corruption, and therefore He created all things for his seasonable use.
~ Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II, Chapter 10, “Concerning the earth and its products.” In A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Chruch: Second Series, Vol. IX. Eerdmans, 1989, p.28.
The Dual Nature of Paradise
Some have imagined Paradise to have been material while others have imagined it to have been spiritual. However, it appears to me that, just as man was created both sensitive and intellectual, so did this most sacred domain of his have the twofold aspect of being perceptible both to the senses and to the mind. For while in his body he dwelt in this most sacred and superbly beautiful place, spiritually he resided in a loftier and far more beautiful place. There he had the indwelling God as a dwelling place and wore Him as a glorious garment. He was wrapped about with His grace, and, like some one of the angels, he rejoiced in the enjoyment of that one most sweet fruit which is the contemplation of God, and by this he was nourished. Now this is indeed what is fittingly called the tree of life, for the sweetness of divine contemplation communicates a life uninterrupted by death to them that partake of it.
~ Exposition on the Orthodox Faith, Book II, Chapter 11, “Concerning Paradise.” In In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. IX, Eerdmans,1989, p. 29-30.
It is possible to understand by every tree the knowledge of the divine power derived from created things. In the words of the divine apostle, The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.
~ Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, “Concerning Paradise,”Chapter 11. In A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: Second Series, Vol. IX. Eerdmans, 1989, p. 30.
The Fruit of the Tree of Life
God says, “Of every tree of Paradise thou shalt eat,” meaning, I think: By means of all created things be thou drawn up to Me, their Creator, and from them reap the one fruit which is Myself, Who am the true Life. Let all things be fruitful life to thee and make participation in Me to be the substance of thy own existence; for thus thou shalt be immortal…. He made him a living being to be governed here according to this present life, and then to be removed elsewhere, that is, to the world to come, and so to complete the mystery by becoming divine through reversion to God – this however not by being transformed into the Divine substance, but by participation in the Divine illumination.
~ The Orthodox Faith II, Chapters 11-12. In Fathers of the Church, Vol. 37, CUA Press, 2010, p. 233-235.
There is Usefulness in Every Plant
Among plants and herbs, some are fruit bearing, others edible, others fragrant and flowery, given to us for our enjoyment, such as the rose. Others have healing properties. For there is not a single animal or plant in which the Creator has not implanted some form of energy capable of being used to satisfy man’s needs.
~ Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Chapter 10, “Concerning Earth and its Products.” In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. IX, Eerdmans,1989, p. 28.
The Heavens Declare the Glory of God through People
In the cosmogony of the universe, we accept the creation of a heaven…. But when we say, “The heavens declare the glory of God,” this does not mean that they send forth a voice that can be heard by bodily ears, but that from their own greatness they bring before our minds the power of the Creator: and when we contemplate their beauty we praise their Maker as the Master Craftsman.
~ Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book II, “Concerning the heaven,” ch. 6. In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. IX, Eerdmans,1989, p. 22.