St. Peter Damian (+21 Feb. 1072), Bishop and Doctor, Cardinal, was a great reformer. In 1823 he was declared Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XII. His youth in Ravenna was quite poor and hard. He entered into the intellectual circles of the great Universities of northern Italy and, by his mid-twenties was quite famous. He eventually sought the hermit’s life, near Gubbio (where later St. Francis would be), where he damaged his health through terrible mortifications.
From the vantage point of his monastery, he followed the life of the world, and did not refuse to travel and take part in great events of his time. There was terrible corruption in the Church. He sought to address them. For example, he attended a synod at the Lateran in Rome whcih issued a decree against simony (the selling of ecclesiastical preferments). when Benedict IX resigned in 1045 and Gregory VI ascended to the See of Rome, Peter Damian wrote to urge him to heal many wounds in the Church in Italy. He wrote specifically, pointing his finger at certain bishops.
When Stephen X was elected Pope in 1057 he desired to name Peter Damian Cardinal. After refusing for some time, he accepted and was consecrated Bishop of Ostia in 1057. When Stephen died there was a schism in the Church and Peter Damian strove against the anti-Pope "Benedict X".
In 1059 Pope Nicholas sent him to Milan, which was in horrid shape. He even had to deal with a violent riot against him and his reforming efforts with the clergy.
In the years that followed by served many Popes and was an arbiter in numerous disputes.
Although his mortal remains have been "translated" (moved) several times, his body is now in the Cathedral of Faenza.
In his writings, St. Peter Damian explored the concepts of the omnipotence of God and seriously put to the test an understanding of the principle of non-contradiction. He was very concerned that the Faith be protected, especially among those members of the Church who were less schooled. Thus, he wrote in his De divina omnipotentia (597C): "For if it should reach the common people that God is asserted to be impotent in some respect (which is a wicked thing to say), the unschooled masses would instantly be confused and the Christian faith would be upset, not without grave danger to souls." His position was that God’s remains omnipotent even though He cannot undo what has been done, change His mind, etc. However, in order to defend the faith of people in God’s omnipotence he counsels against saying that God cannot undo the past because it would be "a wicked thing to say". Thus, he understood well that a little knowledge can be a dangerous things, confusing to people who are little practiced in dealing with deeper questions.
Another of his principal contributions as an author was his devastating condemnation of homosexulity. His Liber Gomorrhianus ad Leonem IX Romanum Pontificem (PL 145: 161-190). It is particuarly a blast at clerics who are sodomites. This is a brutally explicit work, at least in Latin and it pulls no punches at all about the fate those who engage willingly in homosexual sex: "The devil’s artful fraud devises these degrees of failing into ruin such that the higher the level the unfortunate soul reaches in them, the deeper it sinks in the depths of hell’s pit" (PL 145:161).
Concede nos, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
beati Petri episcopi monita et exempla sectari,
ut, Christo nihil praeponentes
et Ecclesiae tuae servitio semper intenti,
ad aeternae lucis gaudia perducamur.
Grant us, we beseech You, Almighty God,
eagerly to follow the examples and counsels of blessed Peter the bishop,
so that, preferring nothing to Christ
and always intent upon the service of Your Church,
we may be guided through unto the joys of light eternal.
St. Peter Damian was also simultaneously the Cardinal Bishop of the Diocese of Velletri from 1060 until his death. This was before Pope Eugene III united the dioceses of Ostia and Velletri, which were then separated again by St. Pope Pius X in 1914.
The Poet Dante finds places the saint amidt the highest spheres of Paradise (go read Paradiso XXI right now – especially if you have the Sayers/Reynolds edition!! Reynolds actually took over at this very Canto after Sayers’ death) in the Heaven of Saturn: "In quel loco fu’ io Pietro Damiano…"
The saint, like a flame, responds to Dante’s questions, but at a certain point falls silent for the same reason that Beatrice does not smile in this place. He warns Dante about mortals trying to grasp the supernatural.
«Tra ’ due liti d’Italia surgon sassi,
e non molto distanti a la tua patria,
tanto che ’ troni assai suonan più bassi,
e fanno un gibbo che si chiama Catria,
di sotto al quale è consecrato un ermo,
che suole esser disposto a sola latria».
Così ricominciommi il terzo sermo;
e poi, continüando, disse: «Quivi
al servigio di Dio mi fe’ sì fermo,
che pur con cibi di liquor d’ulivi
lievemente passava caldi e geli,
contento ne’ pensier contemplativi.
Render solea quel chiostro a questi cieli
fertilemente; e ora è fatto vano,
sì che tosto convien che si riveli.
In quel loco fu’ io Pietro Damiano,
e Pietro Peccator fu’ ne la casa
di Nostra Donna in sul lito adriano.
Poca vita mortal m’era rimasa,
quando fui chiesto e tratto a quel cappello,
che pur di male in peggio si travasa.
Venne Cefàs e venne il gran vasello
de lo Spirito Santo, magri e scalzi,
prendendo il cibo da qualunque ostello.
Or voglion quinci e quindi chi rincalzi130
li moderni pastori e chi li meni,
tanto son gravi, e chi di rietro li alzi.
Cuopron d’i manti loro i palafreni,
sì che due bestie van sott’ una pelle:
oh pazïenza che tanto sostieni!».
In his letters to Popes and princes, the Saint often referred to himself simply as "peccator… sinner".