Mike Aquilina

St. John of Damascus on Islam

Tuesday July 18th 2006, 7:04 am

Kevin at Biblicalia gives us a fresh translation of one of the earliest (and most knowledgable) Christian witnesses to Islam:

St. John of Damascus is a very important witness to early Islam. He was born into a priveleged family in Damascus (his grandfather had been the administrator of the city at the time the Muslims took it), and he grew up and served in the court of the caliph. He was entirely familiar with Islam (a name it did not yet possess, apparently), and thus what he has to say about it, and the context in which he places it, is of great historical importance. For one thing, this is a single chapter in his work “On Heresies,” part of his larger work, “The Fountain of Knowledge.” Thus, St. John did not consider Islam, as it was during his lifetime, to yet be a separate religion, but rather a Christian heresy. In any case, he mentions several suras of the Qur’an by name, and refers most interestingly to one which is no longer extant.

Read the text.

St. John is also the Church’s great defender of the use of images in worship. His Three Treatises on the Divine Images are passionate works, well grounded in Scripture, tradition, and common sense. An outstanding study of St. John’s life and work is Andrew Louth’s very recent St John Damascene: Tradition and Originality in Byzantine Theology. We cannot understand our own times if we don’t understand the ages that led us here. A far-sighted man, St. John wrote so that we would be able to understand our age, to live in it peacefully, and to evangelize. We have a duty to study St. John of Damascus, the “last of the Fathers.” Thanks, Kevin.