Saint Peter Damian

Feast Day - February 23

Cardinal, Reformer, Doctor of the Church

St Peter DamianBorn in Ravenna on the Adriatic coast of Italy in 1007, he lost both parents when he was young and was put in the care of a brother, who ensured him an excellent education.  St Peter Damian later became a teacher. 

He was ordained to the priesthood but was drawn to the disciplined life of the monastery and its simple life of prayer, penance, and Scripture study. 

In 1035 he became a monk in the branch of the Benedictine Order known as the Camaldolese (founded by St. Romuald); these lived in cells as hermits, somewhat like Carthusians, and spent time in manual labor and study.  He rose to be abbot of the community (1043) and to be responsible for other foundations.  He proved an excellent spiritual father and was much called upon for advice.  He was much concerned with sloppiness in the faith by the bishops  downwards, and was in tune with the reforms of the then Pope, Leo IX, who was trying to tackle financial corruption in the Church and the ever-thorny question of clerical celibacy.

In 1057 he was made a cardinal and bishop of Ostia (the port of Rome) and served as a diplomat on behalf of the even more vigorous reforming Pope, Gregory VII [Hildebrand]. Aware that all this was taking him further from his monastic roots, he begged to be allowed to return to his chosen way of life; this was granted and he spent his old age in his monastery happily making wooden spoons (presumably without symbolic significance). Even in these last years he was called in as a peace-maker, this time in his native city of Ravenna. He died at Faenza in 1072.  Deeply devoted to the Virgin Mary and to Christ's Passion.

Throughout his life, Peter was known as a vehement, strident reformer, writer and speaker, and was a forerunner of the Gregorian Revolution of the 11th century.  He was a prolific writer, authoring numerous sermons, treatises and letters.  He wrote the first Latin treatise devoted to omnipotence, de Divina Omnipotencia.  In it, he argues that the traditional patristic God was unknown before Scholasticism, and God can, if he wills, annul the past.  Another of his works is Liber Gomorrhianus (Book of Gomorrah), probably written between 1048 and 1054, in which he talks against immorality.  It is the only extensive medieval treatment of sexual sins that includes homosexuality, which he termed the worst sin of all.

Peter was never formally canonized.  He is portrayed in art as a cardinal holding a discipline (a copy of a system of monastic rules), and sometimes as a pilgrim holding a papal bull.

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