St. Peter Damian - Feast Day: February 21
"One of the most significant figures of the 11th century."
Saint Peter Damian was a Benedictine monk who served three popes in the 11th century and who strove to eliminate corruption in the Medieval Church.
Peter was born in the Italian city of Ravenna in 1007, but he lost both parents early in his life. An older brother took over the care of the household, but he treated Peter poorly. Fortunately, another brother, Damian, who was an archpriest in the city, took Peter under his wing, making sure he received a good education. Peter was an excellent student and would later become a professor.
Peter’s devotion to Christ took the form of asceticism. He fasted, wore a hair shirt, and spent long hours in prayer, with a particular emphasis on reciting the psalms. When not praying, he studied the Bible. He eventually gave up teaching to devote himself even more fully to prayer, joining the Benedictines of the reform of Saint Romuald at Fonte Avellana.
“As a hermit, he embodied that Gospel radicalism and unreserved love for Christ, so well expressed in the Rule of St Benedict: ‘Prefer nothing, absolutely nothing, to the love of Christ,’” Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2007, on the 1000th anniversary of St. Peter Damian’s birth.
Peter became a skilled preacher, and when the abbot died, Peter succeeded him. He encouraged his brother monks in their lives of prayer and solitude and founded five additional hermitages. He was known as a man of great wisdom, so much so that he was called upon by the Holy See to solve disputes between abbeys or among officials who had disagreements with Rome.
In 1057, Pope Stephen IX made Peter Damian the Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia. Although he would have preferred his simpler life of prayer, Peter worked hard in his new position, striving to wipe out corruption, such as the buying of church offices. He also promoted lives of prayer and simplicity among clergy.
“He reminded priests of the highest ideal of their mission that they were to exercise by cultivating purity of morals and true personal poverty,” Pope Benedict wrote, calling St. Peter Damian "one of the most significant figures of the 11th century ... a lover of solitude and at the same time a fearless man of the Church, committed personally to the task of reform."
St. Peter Damian was a prolific writer and many of his letters, teachings, and sermons still exist today.
He died on February 22, 1072, and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1828 by Pope Leo XII, who extended the observance of his feast day throughout the Western Church.