Thursday, September 10, 2009

Letter #26, from America, St. Peter Damian

insidethevatican - Sep 10, 2009

Something Left Out...

Today in Rome, Pope Benedict spoke about St. Peter Damian during his General Audience -- and left something out. The mystery of Letter 31...

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from America

Today, Wednesday, September 9, 2009 (written 9/9/9, it is a date which has attracted considerable comment around the internet), Pope Benedict XVI came in from his summer palace at Castel Gandolfo to Rome for his Wednesday General Audience, held in the Paul VI Audience Hall next to St. Peter's Basilica.

The central topic of his reflection was the medieval monk, St. Peter Damian (image; 1007-1072) -- born almost exactly 1,000 years ago. (The Pope has been using these Wednesday audiences to give a brief overview of the lives and teachings of the great saints of the Catholic tradition.)

I found the talk interesting. I learned from it.

But I was also perplexed by it.


Because the Pope left something out.


(Note: The reflection which follows will contain some citations from, and links to, St. Peter Damian's works, having to do with sexual sins, so I urge those of my readers who may take offense at the description of certain sins to consider not reading further.)


In fact, the Pope did not even mention the one thing that I thought I knew well about St. Peter Damian: the uncompromising stand Damian took against a vice which Damian says "defiles all things, sullies all things, pollutes all things," and "brings death to the body and destruction to the soul."

Which vice was that?

The vice of sodomy.

When I began to read the Pope's remarks about St. Peter Damian, I said to myself, "I wonder what Benedict will say about Damian's greatest concern?"

And I was puzzled when the Pope said nothing about it at all.


Here is what the Pope said today, as reported by the Zenit news agency:

On St. Peter Damian
"Jesus Must Truly Be at the Center of Our Life"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 9, 2009 ( Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address today during the general audience in Paul VI Hall.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

During these Wednesday catecheses, I have been discussing some of the great figures of the life of the Church since its origin. Today I would like to reflect on one of the most significant personalities of the 11th century, St. Peter Damian, monk, lover of solitude and, at the same time, intrepid man of the Church, personally involved in the work of reform undertaken by the popes of the time.

He was born in Ravenna in 1007 of a noble but poor family. He was orphaned, and lived a childhood of hardships and sufferings. Even though his sister Roselinda was determined to be a mother to him and his older brother, he was adopted as a son by Damian. In fact, because of this, he would later be called Peter of Damiano, Peter Damian. His formation was imparted to him first at Faenza and then at Parma, where, already at the age of 25, we find him dedicated to teaching. In addition to keen competence in the field of law, he acquired a refined expertise in the art of writing -- "ars scribendi" -- and, thanks to his knowledge of the great Latin classics, became "one of the best Latinists of his time, one of the greatest writers of the Latin Medieval Age" (J. Leclercq, Pierre Damien, Ermite et Homme d'Eglise, Rome, 1960, p. 172).

He distinguished himself in the most diverse literary genres: from letters to sermons, from hagiographies to prayers, from poems to epigrams. His sensitivity to beauty led him to a poetic contemplation of the world. Peter Damian conceived the universe as an inexhaustible "parable" and an extension of symbols, from which it is possible to interpret the interior life and the divine and supernatural reality. From this perspective, around the year 1034, the contemplation of God's absoluteness compelled him to distance himself progressively from the world and its ephemeral realities, to withdraw to the monastery of Fonte Avellana, founded a few decades earlier, but already famous for its austerity. He wrote the life of the founder, St. Romuald of Ravenna, for the edification of the monks and, at the same time, dedicated himself to furthering his spirituality, expressing his ideal of eremitical monasticism.

A particularity must now be stressed: the hermitage of Fonte Avellana was dedicated to the Holy Cross, and the cross would be the Christian mystery that most fascinated Peter Damian. "He does not love Christ who does not love the cross of Christ," he said (Sermo XVIII, 11, p. 117) and he calls himself: "Petrus crucis Christi servorum famulus" -- Peter servant of the servants of the cross of Christ (Ep, 9, 1). Peter Damian addressed most beautiful prayers to the cross, in which he reveals a vision of this mystery that has cosmic dimensions, because it embraces the whole history of salvation: "O blessed cross," he exclaimed, "you are venerated in the faith of patriarchs, the predictions of prophets, the assembly of the apostles, the victorious army of the martyrs and the multitudes of all the saints" (Sermo XLVIII, 14, p. 304).


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