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John of Damascus, Theologian and Hymnwriter

On the commemoration of John of Damascus today, we read a devotion from History of Theology, Fourth Revised Edition.

Devotional Reading

The Christological position of the early church attained a degree of completeness in the work of John of Damascus, who lived in the eighth century (the years of his birth and death are unknown). More than anyone else, he summarized the tradition which subsequently became the norm in the Greek Orthodox Church. He also exerted a profound influence in the West.

John of Damascus strongly emphasized the unity of the person of Christ: “The hypostasis of God’s Logos is perpetually one.” This one hypostasis is, at the same time, the hypostasis of the Logos and of the human soul and body. He believed, in other words, that the human nature exists in the divine and does not have an independent personal existence.

At the same time John also emphasized the difference between the two natures and assumed the Dyothelite point of view. He gave careful consideration to the question of the relationship of the two natures to one another and contributed some new ideas in this area. Because of the unity of the person, a “mutual penetration” takes place, by which the Logos takes up the human nature and then imparts His qualities to it. Thus it can be said, for example, that “the Lord of glory” was crucified or, on the other hand, that the man Jesus is uncreated and infinite. In this way both natures retain their uniqueness and distinction.

John also gave very strong expression to something which at times would seem to contradict what he said about the idea of “mutual penetration.” For he went on record as believing that it was the divine nature alone which penetrated the human, and not vice versa. He did this to give point to the fact that divinity, as such, must remain unchanged, untouched by suffering and death.

The rays of the sun which shine upon a tree are not affected by the fact that the tree is cut down. So it is with God; He is above the suffering which Christ experienced. If one asks about the natures in an abstract sense (as “divinity” and “humanity”), they must be sharply distinguished; the divine does not become human, the human does not become divine. But if one looks upon Christ as an actual person, the unity of the natures is apparent. He is wholly and completely God and at the same time wholly and completely man—as far as the identity and unity of His person are concerned.

That which accomplishes this unity, therefore, is the hypostasis of the Word, which also becomes the hypostasis of the human nature manifested in Christ. The picture of Christ which we find in the scholastic formulations of John of Damascus is also reflected, in a way, in the iconography of the Orthodox Church, in which our Lord’s transcendent and majestic qualities clearly shine forth.

Devotional reading is adapted from History of Theology, Fourth Revised Edition, pages 103–05 © 1968, 2007 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Prayer

Lord, do not enter into judgment against your servant. Do not deal with me in accordance with my sin, and do not give me the just reward for my iniquities, but rather graciously blot out all my trespasses for the sake of Your own Son, in whose blood I have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. Amen.

Prayer is from Lutheran Book of Prayer, page 17 © 2005 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

 

Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson is a marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House. After graduating from the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, she continued her studies at the University of Colorado—Denver in education and human development. She has worked as a church youth director and served a variety of other nonprofit organizations, such as the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland. Anna loves playing video games and drinking a hot cup of tea almost as much as she loves her cat and her husband.

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