203. Virgin Territory: Peter Damian on Changing the Past

Posted on 20 December 2014

Peter Damian takes up a question with surprising philosophical implications: can God restore virginity to a woman who has lost it?

Further Reading

• A. Cantin (ed. and trans.), Pierre Damien: Lettre sur la toute-puissance divine (Paris: 1972).


• I. Binini, Possibility and Necessity in the Time of Peter Abelard (Leiden: 2021).

• R. Gaskin, “Peter Damian on Divine Power and the Contingency of the Past”, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 5 (1997) 229-47.

• T.J. Holopainen, Dialectic and Theology in the Eleventh Century (Leiden: 1996).

• L. Moonan, “Impossibility and Peter Damian,” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 62 (1980), 146-63.

• P. Ranft, The Theology of Peter Damian (Washington DC: 2012).

• P. Remnant, “Peter Damian: Could God Change the Past?” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 2 (1978), 259-68.

• I.M. Resnick, Divine Power and Possibility in St. Peter Damian’s De divina omnipotentia (Leiden: 1992).

Stanford Encyclopedia: Peter Damian


T. Franke 23 December 2014

As far as I know, Islamic scholars taught (and teach ...) that the virginity oft the virgins in paradise is restored again and again. I wonder if there are any connections to Peter Damian, or at least paralleles?

Bear 25 December 2014

Hi Peter,

I reserved the pleasure of listening to this podcast to my return from Christmas Midnight Mass - a wonderful liturgy with beautiful and ancient chant and Renaissance polyphony - and usually interminable and execrable sermons (the definite downside). My complete surprise this year was that the sermon (1) was intelligible and coherent, and (2) was not political. Instead, the sermon seemed to have cribbed from this podcast, and referenced St Peter Damian and the question of the restoration of virginity. So I am deeply indebted to you.

I am also indebted to restoring St Peter Damian to me: often St Peter is depicted as Gregory the Great's henchman and mentor. Sts Gregory and Peter Damian are essentially responsible to the introduction of clerical celebacy in the Western Church. This episode restores him to being an interesting and innovative thinker, who was educated and compassionate. I also enjoyed your descriptions of Peter Damian's style - rhetorical aggression, much like St Jerome (but without the vulgarity).

Is this the first mention of the monastry of Monte Cassino? I am sure we will be regularly visiting this place in the coming episodes: St Thomas Aquinas was educated there, and Paul the Deacon wrote histories there.

Thank you once again for this episode.

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the episode! And you're right, I hadn't mentioned Monte Cassino previously. I agree that Damian is an interesting figure, albeit that I wonder what he'd make of all the fuss that philosophers make over his treatise on changing the past! That's why I tried to contextualize it by first talking about his theological and monastic ideas.

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