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Peter Damian

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Saint Peter Damian
Peter Damian bust.JPG
Bust of Peter Damian. Santa Maria degli Angeli, Florence.
Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church
Born c. 1007, Ravenna
Died February 21/22, 1072, Faenza
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Feast February 21
earlier February 23 (General Roman Calendar, 1823-1969)
Attributes represented as a cardinal bearing a knotted rope in his hand; also as a pilgrim holding a papal Bull; Cardinal's hat, Benedictine monk's habit

Saint Peter Damian, O.S.B. (Petrus Damiani, also Pietro Damiani or Pier Damiani; c. 1007[1] – February 21/22, 1072) was a reforming monk in the circle of Pope Gregory VII and a cardinal. In 1823, he was declared a Doctor of the Church. Dante placed him in one of the highest circles of Paradiso as a great predecessor of Saint Francis of Assisi.

Early life

He was born at Ravenna, orphaned early, and after a youth spent in hardship and privation, showed such signs of remarkable intellectual gifts that a brother, Damian, who was archpriest at Ravenna, took him away to be educated. Adding his brother's name to his own, he made such rapid progress in his studies of theology and Canon law, first at Ravenna, then at Faenza, finally at Parma, that when about twenty-five years old he was already a famous teacher at Parma and Ravenna.

Religious life

Ercole de' Roberti 007

Saint Peter Damian (far right), depicted with Saints Augustine, Anne, and Elizabeth

About 1035, however, he deserted his secular calling and, avoiding the compromised luxury of Cluniac monasteries, entered the isolated hermitage of Fonte Avellana, near Gubbio. Both as novice and as monk, his fervor was remarkable but led him to such extremes of self-mortification in penance that his health was affected. On his recovery, he was appointed to lecture to his fellow-monks, then, at the request of Guy of Pomposa and other heads of neighboring monasteries, for two or three years he lectured to their brethren also, and (about 1042) wrote the life of St. Romuald for the monks of Pietrapertosa. Soon after his return to Fonte Avellana he was appointed economus of the house by the prior, who designated him as his successor. This, in fact, he became in 1043, and he remained prior of Fonte Avellana till his death.

A zealot for monastic and clerical reform, he introduced a more severe discipline, including the practice of flagellation ("the disciplina"), into the house, which, under his rule, quickly attained celebrity, and became a model for other foundations, even the great abbey of Monte Cassino: subject-hermitages were founded at San Severino, Gamogna, Acerreta, Murciana, San Salvatore, Sitria and Ocri. There was much opposition outside his own circle to such extreme forms of penitence, but Peter's persistent advocacy ensured its acceptance, to such an extent that he was obliged later to moderate the imprudent zeal of some of his own hermits.

Another innovation was that of the daily siesta, to make up for the fatigue of the night office. During his tenure of the priorate a cloister was built, silver chalices and a silver processional cross were purchased, and many books added to the library to his collection which he cared about very much


Although living in the seclusion of the cloister, Peter Damian watched closely the fortunes of the Church, and like his friend Hildebrand, the future Pope Gregory VII, he strove for reforms in a deplorable time. When Benedict IX resigned the pontificate into the hands of the archpriest John Gratian (Gregory VI) in 1045, Peter hailed the change with joy and wrote to the new pope, urging him to deal with the scandals of the church in Italy, singling out the wicked bishops of Pesaro, of Città di Castello and of Fano.

Extending the area of his activities, he entered into communication with the Emperor Henry III. He was present in Rome when Clement II crowned Henry III and his consort Agnes, and he also attended a synod held at the Lateran in the first days of 1047, in which decrees were passed against simony.

Liber Gomorrhianus and Hildebrand's reforms

After this he returned to his hermitage. About 1050, during the pontificate of Pope Leo IX, Peter published a scathing treatise on the vices of the clergy, Liber Gomorrhianus, dedicating it to the pope. In this "Book of Gomorrah" Petrus Damiani made an attack on homosexual practices, mutual masturbation, copulation between the thighs, anal copulation and solitary masturbation, [1] as subversive disruptions against the moral order occasioned by the madness associated with an excess of lust. It caused a great stir and aroused not a little enmity against its author. Even the pope, who had at first praised the work, was persuaded that it was exaggerated and his coldness drew from Damian a vigorous letter of protest. Meanwhile the question arose as to the validity of the ordinations of simoniacal clerics. Peter Damiani wrote (about 1053) a treatise, the Liber Gratissimus, in favour of their validity, a work which, though much combatted at the time, was potent in deciding the question in their favour before the end of the twelfth century.

Although various forms of same-sex behaviour were discussed in contemporary handbooks of penance, such as those by Burchard of Worms and Regino of Prüm, this is the only theological tract which exclusively addresses this theme.

Damiani was also a determined foe of simony, but his fiercest wrath was directed against the married clergy. In June, 1055, during the pontificate of Victor II, Damian attended a synod held at Florence, where simony and clerical incontinence were once more condemned.


Peter often condemned philosophy. He claimed that the first grammarian was the Devil, who taught Adam to decline deus in the plural. He argued that monks should not have to study philosophy, because Jesus did not choose philosophers as disciples, and so philosophy is not necessary for salvation. But the idea (later attributed to Thomas Aquinas) that philosophy should serve theology as a servant serves her mistress originated with him[2]. However, this apparent animosity may reflect his view that logic is only concerned with the validity of argument, rather than the nature of reality. Similar views are found in Al-Ghazali and Wittgenstein.

The most well-known view defended by Peter is that God can bring it about that a past event did not exist. This is apparently a contradiction. If it had been the case that p five minutes ago, and now God brings it about that it never was p, this implies both p has been the case, and never has been. However, it may be that Peter thought God can act outside time, as Gregory of Rimini later argued[3].

Papal envoy and Cardinal

During his illness the pope died, and Frédéric, abbot of Monte Cassino, was elected pope as Stephen IX. In the autumn of 1057, Stephen IX determined to create Damian a cardinal. For a long time he resisted the offer, for he was more at ease as an itinerant hermit-preacher than a reformer from within the Curia, but was finally forced to accept, and was consecrated Cardinal Bishop of Ostia on November 30, 1057. In addition he was appointed administrator of the Diocese of Gubbio. The new cardinal was impressed with the great responsibilities of his office and wrote a stirring letter to his brother-cardinals, exhorting them to shine by their example before all. Four months later Pope Stephen died at Florence, and the Church was once more distracted by schism. Peter was vigorous in his opposition to the antipope Benedict X, but force was on the side of the intruder and Damiani retired temporarily to Fonte Avallana.


About the end of the year 1059 Peter was sent as legate to Milan by Pope Nicholas II. So bad was the state of things at Milan, that benefices were openly bought and sold and the clergy publicly married the women with whom they lived. These clergy's resistance to the reform of Ariald the Deacon and Anselm, Bishop of Lucca rendered a contest so bitter that an appeal was made to the Holy See. Nicholas II sent Damian and the Bishop of Lucca as his legates. The party of the irregular clerics took alarm and raised the cry that Rome had no authority over Milan. Peter boldly confronted the rioters in the cathedral, he proved to them the authority of the Holy See with such effect that all parties submitted to his decision.

He exacted first a solemn oath from the archbishop and all his clergy that for the future no preferment should be paid for; then, imposing a penance on all who had been guilty, he re-instated in their benefices all who undertook to live in celibacy. This prudent decision was attacked by some of the rigourists at Rome, but was not reversed. Unfortunately, on the death of Nicholas II, the same disputes broke out; nor were they finally settled till after the martyrdom of St. Ariald in 1066. Meanwhile Peter was pleading in vain to be released from the cares of his office. Neither Nicholas II nor Hildebrand would consent to spare him.

He rendered valuable assistance to Pope Alexander II in his struggle with the antipope, Honorius II. In July, 1061, the pope died and once more a schism ensued. Damian used all his powers to persuade the antipope Cadalous to withdraw, but to no purpose. Finally Anno II, Archbishop of Cologne and acting regent in Germany, summoned a council at Augsburg at which a long argument by Peter Damian was read and greatly contributed to the decision in favour of Alexander II.

In 1063 the pope held a synod at Rome, at which Damian was appointed legate to settle the dispute between the Abbey of Cluny and the Bishop of Mâcon. He proceeded to France, summoned a council at Châlon-sur-Saône, proved the justice of the contentions of Cluny, settled other questions at issue in the Church of France, and returned in the autumn to Fonte Avellana. While he was in France the antipope Cadalous had again become active in his attempts to gain Rome, and Damian brought upon himself a sharp reproof from Alexander and Hildebrand for twice imprudently appealing to the royal power to judge the case anew. In 1067 the cardinal was sent to Florence to settle the dispute between the bishop and the monks of Vallombrosa, who accused the former of simony. His efforts, however, were not successful, largely because he misjudged the case and threw the weight of his authority on the side of the bishop. The matter was not settled till the following year by the pope in person.

In 1069 Damian went as the pope's legate to Germany to prevent King Henry from repudiating his wife Bertha. This task he accomplished at a council at Frankfurt and returned to Fonte-Avellana, were he was left in peace for two years.

Early in 1072 he was sent to Ravenna to reconcile its inhabitants to the Holy See, they having been excommunicated for supporting their archbishop in his adhesion to the schism of Cadalous. On his return thence he was seized with fever near Faenza. He lay ill for a week at the monastery of Santa Maria degl'Angeli, now Santa Maria Vecchia. On the night preceding the feast of the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch, he ordered the office of the feast to be recited and at the end of the Lauds he died, at Faenza. He was at once buried in the monastery church, lest others should claim his relics.

Having served the papacy as legate to France and to Florence, he was allowed to resign his bishopric in 1067. After a period of retirement at Fonte Avellana, he proceeded in 1069 as papal legate to Germany, and persuaded the emperor Henry IV to give up his intention of divorcing his wife Bertha.

During his concluding years he was not altogether in accord with the political ideas of Hildebrand. He died at Faenza, the year before Hildebrand became pope, as Gregory VII. "It removed from the scene the one man who could have restrained Gregory," Norman F. Cantor remarked (Civilization of the Middle Ages, p 251).

Although he has never officially been canonised, Petrus Cardinal Damiani is considered to be a saint and was made a Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Leo XII in 1828. His body has been moved six times, each time to a more splendid resting-place. Since 1898, Damian has rested in a chapel dedicated to the saint in the cathedral of Faenza. No formal canonization ever took place, but his cult has existed since his death at Faenza, at Fonte-Avellana, at Monte Cassino, and at Cluny. In 1823 Pope Leo XII extended his feast (February 23) to the whole Church and pronounced him a Doctor of the Church. His feast is now celebrated on February 21.

The saint is represented in art as a cardinal bearing a knotted rope (the disciplina) in his hand; also sometimes he is depicted as a pilgrim holding a papal Bull, to signify his many legations.


Petrus Damiani's voluminous writings reflect the spiritual conditions of Italy: the groundswell of intense personal piety that would overflow in the First Crusade at the end of the century was an extremely vigorous controversialist, and his Latin abounds in denunciatory epithets. He was especially devoted to the Virgin Mary, and wrote an Officium Beatae Virginis, in addition to many letters, sermons, and other writings. His most famous work is De Divina Omnipotentia, a long letter in which he discusses God's power.


  1. "five years after the death of the Emperor Otto III"
  2. 1867, PL 145, p. 603
  3. Zupko


  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • Opera Omnia, in JP Migne, ed., Patrologia Latina, (PL), vols 144 and 145, Paris: Vives.
  • Zupko, J., article 'Gregory of Rimini' in A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages, e.d Gracia & Noone.

Further reading

  • Owen J. Blum, "The Monitor of the Popes: St. Peter Damian," in Studi Gregoriani vol. 2 (1947), pp 459–76
  • John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality Chicago (1980)
  • Pierre J. Payer, 1962. Book of Gomorrah : An Eleventh-Century Treatise against Clerical Homosexual Practices, Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

External links

bg:Петър Дамиани

ca:Pere Damià cs:Petr Damiánla:Petrus Damianus lv:Damiāni Petrs hu:Damiáni Szent Péterja:ペトルス・ダミアニ no:Peter Damianro:Petru Damiani ru:Пётр Дамиани sq:Shën Pjetër Damiani sk:Peter Damiani fi:Petrus Damianus sv:Petrus Damiani

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