Saint Peter Damian

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Saint Peter Damian, Cardinal, Bishop of Ostia

A.D. 1072.

PETER, surnamed of Damian, was born about the year 988, in Ravenna, of a good family, but reduced. He was the youngest of many children, and losing his father and mother when very young, was left in the hands of a brother who was married, in whose house he was treated more like a slave, or rather like a beast, than one so nearly related; and when grown up he was sent to keep swine. He one day became master of a piece of money, which instead of laying it out in something for his own use, he chose to bestow it in alms on a priest, desiring him to offer up his prayers for his father’s soul. He had another brother called Damian, who was arch-priest of Ravenna, and afterwards a monk; who, taking pity on him, had the charity to give him an education. Having found a father in this brother, he seems from him to have taken the surname of Damian, though he often styles himself the sinner, out of humility. Those who call him De Honestis, confound him with Peter of Ravenna, who was of the family of Honesti. Damian sent Peter to school, first at Faenza, afterwards at Parma, where he had Ivo for his master. By the means of good natural parts and close application, it was not long before he found himself in a capacity to teach others, which he did with great applause, and no less advantage by the profits which accrued to him from his professorship. To arm himself against the allurements of pleasure and the artifices of the devil, he began to wear a rough hair shirt under his clothes, and to inure himself to fasting, watching, and prayer. In the night, if any temptation of concupiscence arose, he got out of bed and plunged himself into the cold river. After this, he visited churches, reciting the psalter whilst he performed this devotion, till the church office began. He not only gave much away in alms; but was seldom without some poor person at his table, and took a pleasure in serving such, or rather Jesus Christ in their persons, with his own hands. But thinking all this to be removing himself from the deadly poison of sin but by halves, he resolved entirely to leave the world and embrace a monastic life, and at a distance from his own country, for the sake of meeting with fewer obstacles to his design. While his mind was full of these thoughts, two religious of the order of St. Benedict, belonging to Font-Avellano, a desert at the foot of the Apennine in Umbria, happened to call at the place of his abode; and being much edified at their disinterestedness, he took a resolution to embrace their institute, as he did soon after. This hermitage had been founded by blessed Ludolph, about twenty years before St. Peter came thither, and was then in the greatest repute. The hermits here remained two and two together in separate cells, occupied chiefly in prayer and reading. They lived on bread and water four days in the week; on Tuesdays and Thursdays they eat pulse and herbs, which every one dressed in his own cell: on their fast days all their bread was given them by weight. They never used any wine (the common drink of the country) except for mass, or in sickness: they went barefoot, used disciplines, made many genuflections, struck their breasts, stood with their arms stretched out in prayer, each according to his strength and devotion. After the night office they said the whole psalter before day. Peter watched long before the signal for matins, and after with the rest. These excessive watchings, brought on him an insomnie, or wakefulness, which was cured with very great difficulty. But he learned from this to use more discretion. He gave a considerable time to sacred studies, and became as well versed in the scriptures, and other sacred learning, as he was before in profane literature. 1 Continue reading


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From the Meditations for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas”, pp. 64-65, 1937 Imp.

One of the soldiers with a spear opened his side, and immediately there came out blood and water. -John xix. 34.

I. The gospel deliberately says opened and not wounded, because through Our Lord’s side there was opened to us the gate of eternal life. After these things, I looked, and behold a gate was opened in heaven (Apoc. iv. i). This is the door opened in the ark, through which enter the animals who will not perish in the flood.

II. But this door is the cause of our salvation. Immediately there came forth blood and water, a thing truly miraculous, that, from a dead body, in which the blood congeals, blood should come forth.

This was done to show that by the Passion of Christ we receive a full absolution, an absolution from every sin and every stain. We receive this absolution from sin through that blood which is the price of our redemption. You were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver, from your vain conversation with the tradition of your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb
unspotted and undefiled (i Pet. i. 18).

We were absolved from every stain by the water, which is the laver of our redemption. In the prophet Ezechiel it is said, I will pour upon you clean water, and you shall be cleaned from all your filthiness (Ezech. xxxvi. 28), and in Zacharias, There shall be a fountain open to the house of David and to the
inhabitants of Jerusalem for the washing of the sinner and the unclean woman (Zach. xiii. i).

And so these two things may be thought of in relation to two of the sacraments, the water to baptism and the blood to the Holy Eucharist. Or both may be referred to the Holy Eucharist since, in the Mass, water is mixed with the wine.
Although the water is not of the substance of the sacrament.

Again, as from the side of Christ asleep in death on the cross there flowed that blood and water in which the Church is consecrated, so from the side of the sleeping Adam was formed the first woman, who herself foreshadowed the Church.

(In John xix.)