Damascenes, John

, or John of Damascus, a learned priest and monk of the 'eighth century, surnamed Mansur, was born at Damascus about G76. His father, who was rich, and held several considerable offices, had him instructed in the sciences by an Italian monk, named Cosmo, and he was afterwards raised to the highest posts, and became chief counsellor to the prince of the Saracens All | these dignities, however, St. John Damascenus resigned, and entered himself a monk in the monastery of St. Sabas near Jerusalem, where he led a pious and exemplary life, and became famous in the church by his piety and writings. It is said, that the caliph Hiocham, having ordered his right hand to be cut off on account of a forged letter by the emperor Leo, the hand was restored to him the night following by a miracle, as he slept; which miracle was universally known, or as much so as many other miracles propagated in the credulous ages. He died about the year 760, aged eighty-four. He left an excellent treatise on the orthodox faith, and several other works published in Greek and Latin, by le Quien, 1712, 2 vols. fol. A book entitled <: Liber Barlaam et Josaphat Indite regis," is ascribed to St. John Damascenus, but without any foundation; it has no date of time or place, but was printed about 1470, and is scarce. There are several French translations of it, old, and little valued. Damascenus may be reckoned the most learned man of the eighth century, if we except our countryman Bede; and, what is less to his credit, ono of the first who mingled the Aristotelian philosophy with the Christian religion. He became among the Greeks what Thomas Aquinas was afterwards among the Latins. Except with regard to the doctrine of the Trinity, most of his notions were erroneous, and his learning and fame gave considerable support to the worshipping of images, and other superstitions of that time.

One merit of Damascenus has not been generally noticed. He is celebrated by the writers of his life, and by ecclesiastical historians, as the compiler and reformer of chants in the Greek church, in the same manner as St. Gregory in the Roman. Leo Allatius tells us they were composed by J. Damascenus, and Zarlino goes still farther, and informs us, that in the first ages of Christianity the ancient Greek notation by letters having been thrown aside, Damascenus invented new characters, which he accommodated to the Greek ecclesiastical tones; and that these characters did not, like ours, merely express single sounds, but all the intervals used in melody; as a semitone, tone, third minor, third major, &c. ascending and descending, with their different duration. This resembles, in many particulars, the notation of the ecclesiastical books of the Romkh church, before the time-table and characters in | present use-were invented, or, at least, generally received. 1


Gen. Dict. Mosheim. Lardner. Brucker. Milner’s Ch. Hist. vol. III. 208. Cave. Burney’s Hist, of Music, vol. II.