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Damian, Peter


DAMIAN, PETER (10071072), also known as Pier Damiani; Italian author, monk, cardinal, doctor of the church, and Christian saint. Born in Ravenna, Damian acquired his training in the liberal arts, his superior command of Latin, and his knowledge of Roman law at Ravenna, Faenza, and Parma, where an urban culture survived. Ravenna, capital of Romagna and the old Byzantine exarchate, regained importance through the Ottonian revival. Throughout his lifetime, Damian retained ties with Ravenna's civil and clerical circles.

In 1035, when already a priest and teacher, he changed careers to join the disciples of the extreme ascetic Romuald (d. 1027) in the wilderness at Fonte Avellana, a hermitage near Monte Catria in the Marches. Damian is reticent about his conversion, but it is known that it was not sudden. Vita Romualdi, Damian's first datable work (1042), is as valuable for its view of eremitical life as the apex of Benedictine observance as it is as a source for the life of Damian's revered mentor. Chosen prior in 1043, Damian turned the colony into a stable community with a written rule, a library, and a temporal base, and saw it grow into a widespread congregation.

Damian's conviction that his pursuit of evangelical perfection did not exempt him from public service helped him cope with an important challenge of his day, namely the reform of the church, appeals for which mounted from outside monasteries, from Emperor Henry III, from Archdeacon Hildebrand (later Pope Gregory VII), and from others. A rare insight into the mystery of the church as the union of every member in Christ complemented his strong support of its hierarchical structure in the Roman tradition. His collaboration with the popes began under Leo IX (10491054) and was closest with the moderate Alexander II (10611073). Damian became cardinal bishop of Ostia in 1057, carrying out delicate missions in Italy, France, and Germany. After reconciling the archbishop of Ravenna with the Roman see, he died at Faenza, where his cult began.

The flow of writings from Damian's pen, matching his tireless activity in the church, includes 175 letters, small tracts, some 50 sermons, saints' lives, prayers, hymns, and poems. His efforts at reform, based on the norms of church law, reflect the issues of his times: clerical immorality (Liber Gomorrhianus ), theological problems raised by traffic in church offices (Liber gratissimus ), and political-ecclesiastical strife (Disceptatio synodalis ). Of lasting interest are the fruits of his beloved solitude: his ideal of Christian virtue and fidelity to duty in all walks of society, and his spiritual counsel, scriptural comments, and meditations. He was steeped in the Bible and drew on the church fathers, especially Augustine, whose works he procured for Fonte Avellana. Still prized in the twelfth century, his writings were eclipsed by the intellectualism of the Scholastic age, but Dante's praise assured Damian recognition outside the church as well (Paradiso 21.106111). Thanks to excellent transmission of the manuscripts, Damian's corpus was secured for the modern age in the Editio princeps of Costantino Gaetani (four volumes, Rome, 16061640). Scholarship has shifted from its earlier selectivity to a consideration of Damian's whole legacy and of the man himself, as evidenced in the studies published in 1972 for the ninth centennial of his death. Perhaps the major significance of Peter Damian for Western religion lies in the fact that he, like the Camaldolese and Carthusians, gave new life and form to the strain of contemplative life and asceticism stemming from the Desert Fathers of Egypt.


The collected works are available in Patrologia Latina, edited by J.-P. Migne, vols. 144 and 145, (Paris, 1853). Single items have modern editions, and an edition of the letters is in preparation for the "Monumenta Germaniae Historica" series. The only anthology in English is Saint Peter Damian: Selected Writings on the Spiritual Life, translated with an introduction by Patricia McNulty (London, 1959). Both Owen J. Blum's Saint Peter Damian: His Teachings on the Spiritual Life (Washington, D.C., 1947) and my own Saint Peter Damiani and His Canonical Sources: A Preliminary Study in the Antecedents of the Gregorian Reform (Toronto, 1956) have ample bibliographies. An expert portrayal is Jean Leclercq's Saint Pierre Damien: Ermite et homme d'église (Rome, 1960). Two important collections of new studies are San Pier Damiano: Nel IX centenario della morte, 10721972, 4 vols. (Cesena, 19721978); and San Pier Damiani: Atti del convegno di studi nel IX centenario della morte (Faenza, 1973).

J. Joseph Ryan (1987)

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