Sub-Saharan Africa, 04 December, 2023 / 11:10 am (ACI Africa).
Catholics remember and celebrate the life of the great Arab Church Father St. John of Damascus on Dec. 4.
Eastern Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics, whose tradition has been particularly shaped by his insights, celebrate the saint's feast on the same day as the Roman Catholic Church.
Among Eastern Christians, St. John (676-749) is best known for his defense of Christian sacred art, particularly in the form of icons. While the churches of Rome and Constantinople were still united during St. John's life, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III broke radically from the ancient tradition of the church, charging that the veneration of Christian icons was a form of idolatry.
John had grown up under Muslim rule in Damascus, as the child of strongly Christian parents. His excellent education – particularly in theology – prepared him well to defend the tradition of sacred iconography, against the heresy of the “iconoclasts,” so-called because they would enter churches and destroy the images therein.
During the 720s, the upstart theologian began publicly opposing the emperor's command against sacred images in a series of writings. The heart of his argument was twofold: first, that Christians did not actually worship images, but rather, through them they worshiped God, and honored the memory of the saints. Second, he asserted that by taking an incarnate physical form, Christ had given warrant to the Church's depiction of him in images.