St. Peter Damian, Doctor of the Church and Bishop of Ostia, Italy

Born: 22 Feb.

From Butler's Lives of the Saints 1894:
ST. PETER DAMIAN was born in 988, and lost both parents at an early age. His eldest brother, in whose hands he was left, treated him so cruelly that a younger brother, a priest, moved by his piteous state, sent him to the University of Parma, where he acquired great distinction. His studies were sanctified by vigils, fasts, and prayers, till at last, thinking that all this was only serving God by halves, he resolved to leave the world. He joined the monks at Font-Avellano, then in the greatest repute, and by his wisdom and sanctity rose to be Superior. He was employed on the most delicate and difficult missions, amongst others the reform of ecclesiastical communities, which was effected by his zeal. Seven Popes in succession made him their constant adviser, and he was at last created Cardinal Bishop of Ostia. He withstood Henry IV. of Germany, and labored in defence of Alexander II. against the Antipope, whom he forced to yield and seek for pardon. He was charged, as Papal Legate, with the repression of simony; again, was commissioned to settle discords amongst various bishops, and finally, in 1072, to adjust the affairs of the Church at Ravenna. He was laid low by a fever on his homeward journey, and died at Faenza, in a monastery of his order, on the eighth day of his sickness, whilst the monks chanted matins around him.

From Butler's Lives of the Saints 1895:


From his life by his disciple, John of Lodi, in Mabill., s. 6. Ben. and
from his own writings. Fleury, {} 99, n. 48, and Hist des Ordres Relig.
Ceillier, t. 20, p. 512. Henschenius ad 23 Febr. p. 406.

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 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 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 archpriest 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 while 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 {449} 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 the 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 Ludolf, 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 ate 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.

His superior ordered him to make frequent exhortations to the religious,
and as he had acquired a very great character for virtue and learning,
Guy, abbot of Pomposia, begged his superior to send him to instruct his
monastery, which consisted of a hundred monks. Peter stayed there two
years, preaching with great fruit, and was then called back by his
abbot, and sent to perform the same function in the numerous abbey of
St. Vincent, near the mountain called Pietra Pertusa, or the Hollow
Rock. His love for poverty made him abhor and be ashamed to put on a new
habit, or any clothes which were not threadbare and most mean. His
obedience was so perfect, that the least word of any superior, or signal
given, according to the rule of the house, for the performance of any
duty, made him run that moment to discharge, with the utmost exactness,
whatever was enjoined. Being recalled home some time after, and
commanded by his abbot, with the unanimous consent of the hermitage, to
take upon him the government of the desert after his death, Peter's
extreme reluctance only obliged his superior to make greater use of his
authority till he acquiesced. Wherefore, at his decease, in 1041, Peter
took upon him the direction of that holy family, which he governed with
the greatest reputation for wisdom and sanctity. He also founded five
other numerous hermitages; in which he placed priors under his
inspection. His principal care was to cherish in his disciples the
spirit of solitude, charity, and humility. Among them many became great
lights of the church, as St. Ralph, bishop of Gubio, whose festival is
kept on the 26th of June, St. Dominick, surnamed Loricatus, the 14th of
October; St. John of Lodi, his successor in the priory of the Holy
Cross, who was also bishop of Gubio, and wrote St. Peter's life; and
many others. He was for twelve years much employed in the service of the
church by many zealous bishops, and by four popes successively, namely:
Gregory VI., Clement II., Leo IX., and Victor II. Their successor,
Stephen IX., in 1057, prevailed with him to quit his desert, and made
him cardinal bishop of Ostia. But such was his reluctance to the
dignity, that nothing less than the pope's {450} threatening him with
excommunication, and his commands, in virtue of obedience, could induce
Peter to submit.

Stephen IX. dying in 1058, Nicholas II. was chosen pope, a man of deep
penetration, of great virtue and learning, and very liberal in alms, as
our saint testifies, who assisted him in obliging John, bishop of
Veletri, an antipope, set up by the capitaneos or magistrates of Rome,
to quit his usurped dignity. Upon complaints of simony in the church of
Milan, Nicholas II. sent Peter thither as his legate, who chastised the
guilty. Nicholas II. dying, after having sat two years and six months,
Alexander was chosen pope, in 1062. Peter strenuously supported him
against the emperor, who set up an antipope, Cadolaus, bishop of Parma,
on whom the saint prevailed soon after to renounce his pretensions, in a
council held at Rome; and engaged Henry IV., king of Germany, who was
afterwards emperor, to acquiesce in what had been done, though that
prince, who in his infancy had succeeded his pious father, Henry III.,
had sucked in very early the corrupt maxims of tyranny and irreligion.
But virtue is amiable in the eyes of its very enemies, and often disarms
them of their fury. St. Peter had, with great importunity, solicited
Nicholas II. for leave to resign his bishopric, and return to his
solitude; but could not obtain it. His successor, Alexander II., out of
affection for the holy man, was prevailed upon to allow it, in 1062, but
not without great difficulty, and the reserve of a power to employ him
in church matters of importance, as he might have occasion hereafter for
his assistance. The saint from that time thought himself discharged, not
only from the burden of his flock, but also from the quality of
superior, with regard to the several monasteries, the general inspection
of which he had formerly charged himself with, reducing himself to the
condition of a simple monk.

In this retirement he edified the church by his penance and compunction,
and labored by his writings to enforce the observance of discipline and
morality. His style is copious and vehement, and the strictness of his
maxims appears in all his works, especially where he treats of the
duties of clergymen and monks. He severely rebuked the bishop of
Florence for playing a game at chess.[1] That prelate acknowledged his
amusement to be a faulty sloth in a man of his character, and received
the saint's remonstrance with great mildness, and submitted to his
injunction by way of penance, namely: to recite three times the psalter,
to wash the feet of twelve poor men, and to give to each a piece of
money. He shows those to be guilty of manifold simony, who serve princes
or flatter them for the sake of obtaining ecclesiastical preferments.[2]
He wrote a treatise to the bishop of Besanzon,[3] against the custom
which the canons of that church had of saying the divine office sitting;
though he allowed all to sit during the lessons. This saint recommended
the use of disciplines whereby to subdue and punish the flesh, which was
adopted as a compensation for long penitential fasts. Three thousand
lashes, with the recital of thirty psalms, were a redemption of a
canonical penance of one year's continuance. Sir Thomas More, St.
Francis of Sales, and others, testify that such means of mortification
are great helps to tame the flesh, and inure it to the labors of
penance; also to remove a hardness of heart and spiritual dryness, and
to soften the soul into compunction. But all danger of abuses, excess,
and singularity, is to be shunned, and other ordinary bodily
mortifications, as watching and fasting, are frequently more advisable.
This saint wrote most severely on the obligations of religious men,[4]
particularly against their strolling abroad; for one of the most
essential qualities of their state is solitude, or at least the spirit
{451} of retirement.

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