Pope Saint Damasus I (RM)
Born c. 304; died in Rome in 384. In short, St. Damasus was a pope whose authority was challenged but who had great literary taste. Damasus appears to have been born in Rome--the son of a priest of Spanish extraction. He never married but became a deacon in the Spanish church of St. Laurence, where his father served.
When Pope Liberius died in 366, Damasus, then about 60, was chosen bishop of Rome. His election was highly contested, and a minority elected an antipope, Ursinus, whom they supported with violence. The opposition was put down by great cruelty by the civil authorities, and Ursinus was exiled by Emperor Valentinian. The opposition was not put down immediately, however, and as late as 378, a synod cleared Damasus of a charge of incontinence cast against him by his opponents.
He enforced Valentinian's edict of 370 forbidding gifts by widows and orphans to bishops. He was also a vigorous opponent of Arianism, Apollinarianism, and other heresies. He sent legates to the Council of Constantinople in 381, which accepted papal teaching, again condemned Arianism, and denounced the view of Macedonius that the Holy Spirit is not divine. The place of the Church was stabilized when, in 380, orthodox Christianity was recognized by the emperors Gratian and Theodosius I as the religion of the Roman state.
Damasus also devoted much effort to gathering the relics and resting places of Roman martyrs, and to restoring the sacred catacombs, and to drawing up instructions for their care. He composed many beautiful epitaphs--many of which still exist--for the tombs of the martyrs and encouraged pilgrimages to the tombs. Unfortunately, these epitaphs have little historical value because the true histories of many Roman martyrs were already lost or nearly forgotten by that time.
He had placed in the papal crypt of the cemetery of St. Callistus a general epitaph that ends, "I, Damasus, wished to be buried here, but I feared to offend the ashes of these holy ones." He was buried with his mother and sister at a small church he had built on the Via Ardeatina.
By far the most influential action of Damasus was his patronage of Saint Jerome. He commissioned Jerome to write his Biblical commentaries and to revise the Latin text of the Bible, which yielded the Vulgate version of the Bible. St. Jerome, who served as his secretary for a time, called him "an incomparable man." (Elsewhere I read that St. Jerome left Rome when Damasus was elected in preference to himself--Jerome was too irascible to be pope.)
As a biblical scholar, Damasus published the canon of the Holy Scripture, specifying the authentic books of the Bible as decreed by a council in Rome in 374. He also saw to the collection and housing of papal archives (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopedia, White).
In art St. Damasus is a pope holding a ring. Sometimes he is shown with St. Jerome; or restoring sacred buildings (Roeder). Or, he may hold a screen with "Gloria Patri," etc., upon it; or be shown with a church door behind him (White). St. Damasus is the patron saint of archaeologists (White).
About Saints of the Day
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