December 11, 2015

Optional Memorial of Saint Damasus I, Pope and Confessor

St. Damasus I
Saint Damasus was Supreme Pontiff from 366 to 384. He was a learned man, well versed in the Scriptures. He commissioned St. Jerome to complete the translation of the Bible into Latin. In order to put an end to the marked divergences in the western texts of that period, Damasus encouraged the highly respected scholar to revise the available versions of the Bible into a more accurate Latin based on the Greek New Testament and the Septuagint, resulting in the Vulgate.

Damasus defended the rights of the Holy See, and beautified the Roman resting places of the Christian dead and of the saints. He confirmed the practice of singing the Psalms day and night in the churches and adding a Glory Be at the conclusion of each Psalm. During Damasus' pontificate Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman state, [380] and Latin became the Church's principal liturgical language.

The Life of St. Damasus

On Liberius' death, riots broke out over the election of a successor. The majority favored Damasus, who was born in Rome of Spanish descent. He had served as a deacon under Liberius and upheld the Nicene Creed. In less than a month, Damasus was installed in the Lateran palace. A minority, however, refused to accept the decision; they set up the antipope Ursinus. As the violence continued, Emperor Valentinian, who now ruled the West, was compelled to intercede and expel the antipope.

Pope Damasus fostered the development of the Church during this period of peace by publishing a list of the books of both the Old and New Testaments. He also encouraged his longtime friend and secretary, St. Jerome, to translate the Bible into Latin. This Vulgate edition continues to serve the Church usefully. Damasus himself composed eloquent verse which he had inscribed on marble slabs and placed over the tombs of martyrs and popes alike. But Damasus is best known for his devoted project in the catacombs. He ardently searched for the tombs of martyrs which had been both blocked up and hidden during previous persecutions. He lighted the passages and stairwells of the catacombs, encouraging pilgrimages to the martyrs. He did much to beautify existing churches, such as building the baptistery in St. Peter's and laying down marble pavement in the basilica of St. Sebastian.

Damasus was a vigorous defender of orthodoxy. He condemned the heresies of Macedonius and Apollinaris and continued the march against Eastern Arians. Although Emperor Valentinian was Catholic, his less capable brother Valens was under Arian influence. Valens kept the Eastern bishops in turmoil until his death in 378. Emperor Theodosius, who succeeded Valens, convened the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381. The council settled the dispute by recondemning Arianism and adopting the pope's teachings.

The chair of St. Peter was never more respected than during the pontificate of Damasus. He tirelessly promoted the Roman primacy, successfully persuading the government to recognize the Holy See as a court of first instance, although it declined to give the pope himself any particular immunity against the civil courts. Next in hierarchy came Alexandria, founded by St. Mark, and then Antioch, where Peter reigned before leaving for Rome.

Pope Damasus died in December of 384 after a reign of eighteen years.

Adapted from, The Popes: A Papal History, J.V. Bartlett.
The holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront, not by the conciliar decisions of other churches, but by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church." The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the apostle, that of the Roman Church..
— St. Damasus I

Pope St. Damasus - Defender of Orthodoxy


He who walking on the sea could calm the bitter waves, who gives life to the dying seeds of the earth; he who was able to loose the mortal chains of death, and after three days' darkness could bring again to the upper world the brother for his sister Martha: he, I believe, will make Damasus rise again from the dust [epitaph St. Damasus wrote for himself].

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