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Damasus I, Pope, St.


Pontificate: Oct. 1, 366, to Dec. 11, 384; born in Rome, c. 304/5; died Rome.

Very little is known about Damasus before he became pope, and the early history of his pontificate has to be based largely on documents that emanated from his opponents. His father, Antonius, may have been from Spain, but it is clear from Damasus's own testimony (Epigram 57) that Antonius rose through the ecclesiastical grades to become a priest of the titulus of Lucinalater the basilica of San Lorenzoat Rome; where it seems Damasus also served. His mother's name was Laurentia, and he had a sister, Irene. He was a deacon under Pope Liberius (352366) and accompanied him into exile (355). After his return to Rome, however, Damasus supported the antipope Felix II. On the death of Felix (Nov. 22, 365), he became reconciled with Liberius. Following the death of Liberius less than a year later (Sept. 24, 366), a violent controversy broke out over the choice of his successor. A small but powerful faction, supporters of Felix who had not become reconciled with Liberius, assembled at once in the Julian Basilica of S. Maria in Trastevere with their candidate, the deacon Ursinus, and had him irregularly consecrated by Paul, bishop of Tibur. The great majority of the clergy and people elected Damasus, who was consecrated on October 1 in the Lateran Basilica by the bishop of Ostia.

Opposition of Ursinus. Before his consecration, Damasus and his followers had routed the Ursinians, with heavy loss of life, from the Julian Basilica. Late in October another bloody battle took place at the Liberian Basilica on the Esquiline in which the Ursinians had installed themselves. Viventius, the prefect of the city, supported Damasus, and in the interests of public order sent Ursinus and his deacons, Amantius and Lupus, into exile. With imperial permission (Valentinian), however, they returned to Rome (September 367), and violence broke out anew. By the end of the year, Ursinus was again in exile in Gaul, his adherents lost the Liberian Basilica, and all supporters of Ursinus among the Roman clergy were driven from Rome. The bishops of Italy were scandalized at this exhibition of violence. When Damasus asked them, on the occasion of the synod held in honor of his natale (September 368) to approve his action, he received the sharp answer: Nos ad natale convenimus, non ut inauditum damnemus (We assembled for a birthday, not to condemn a man unheard; Avellana Collectio ep. 1).

Ursinus and his followers continued their agitation. In 370372 they were permitted to return to Italy, provided that they kept away from Rome and its environs. They established themselves at Milan, the capital of the empire in the West. In their opposition to Damasus they received Arian support and were able to prevail upon the convert Jew Isaac to accuse Damasus of a grave crimeprobably adulteryand to have him brought to trial. With Van Roey, it would seem better to put these events in the early 370s, and not in 378 as is usually done. The confirmation of the exoneration by the Council of Rome in 378 implies that the civil exoneration had taken place some time before. Damasus was exonerated; Ursinus was exiled to Cologne, and Isaac to Spain. Ursinus is last mentioned as being engaged in an intrigue against Damasus in a letter addressed by the Council of Aquileia to the emperors in 381.

Struggle against Heresy. The pontificate of Damasus was a troubled period in the history of the universal Church. From the outset he had to combat Arians of various shades of doctrine, who were especially strong through their occupancy of important sees, and the support given by the emperor, Valens, and the empress, Justina. He had to deal also with adherents of other heresies, with schismatics, and with the efforts of influential pagans to maintain their institutions. In 369 he deposed the Arian bishops of Illyricum, Ursacius and Valens, and, about the same time, seems to have taken some action against Auxentius, the Arian bishop of Milan. In any event, Auxentius remained in his see until his death in 374, when he was replaced by Ambrose, the great bishop destined to play a larger role in the suppression of Arianism in the West than Damasus himself. Damasus took strong measures against the adherents of Lucifer of Cagliari, sending their clerical leaders into exile. At the Council of Rome held in 378, one of the most significant decrees was to the effect that henceforth bishops should be tried by a court of fellow bishops and not be subjected to trial in civil courts, and that this policy should be followed, above all, in the case of the bishop of Rome. The imperial rescript of 378 dealing with the recommendations of the council did not exempt even the pope in principle from imperial jurisdiction in the instance of criminal charges, but the exemption, in practice, was permanently observed.

The religious situation in the East was extremely complex, and Damasus had little more than moderate success in establishing peace and unity. His long negotiations with Basil of Caesarea were clouded by Basil's misunderstanding of the Trinitarian terminology as employed by Rome, and vice versa. After Basil's death, the Council of Antioch (379) accepted the formulas of Damasus, but its president, Meletius, was obviously not well disposed to a pope who had favored his rival, Paulinus. Damasus continued to support Paulinus after the death of Meletius (381) and refused to recognize Flavianus as Meletius's successor. The controversy raised by the Trinitarian heresy of Marcellus of Ancyra was largely abated by his death (374), and the heretical Christology of Apollinaris of Laodicea was formally condemned in 375.

Damasus did not participate in the Council of Constantinople I (381). The third canon of that council, which based the second preeminence of the bishop of New Rome on a political principle, was not acceptable to Rome. In the Roman Council of 382, Damasus, without formal mention of the canon in question, emphasized in unmistakable terms that the bishop of Rome's claim to supremacy was based exclusively on the succession of St. Peter. He was the first of the popes to call the See of Rome the Apostolic See.

Liturgical Reforms and Restoration of the Catacombs. Damasus took a special interest in preserving papal records and in developing the papal chancery. He carried out some liturgical reforms, and it was under his pontificate that Latin became the principal liturgical language at Rome. Jerome became his secretary in 377 and, because of his knowledge of Scripture, was commissioned to revise the Latin translations of the New Testament on the basis of the original Greek. Jerome was responsible also for the official canon of the Scriptures approved by the Roman Council of 382. In addition to other building activities, as an ardent promoter of the cult of the martyrs he restored and redecorated the tombs of the martyrs in the catacombs and composed epigrams that were inscribed on marble slabs in the beautiful letters created by Furius Dionysius Filocalus. Despite the violence associated with his election and the beginning of his pontificate, Damasus must be regarded as one of the great popes of the fourth century.

Feast: Dec. 11.

Bibliography: f. l. cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London 1957) 370371. o. perler, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 3:136137. g. bardy, Catholicisme 3:429431. a. van roey, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillart et al. (Paris 1912) 14:4853. o. bardenhewer, Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur (Freiburg 191332) 3:503507, 588591. f. x. seppelt, Geschichte der Päpste von den Anfängen bis zur Mitte des 20. Jh. (Munich 1954) 1:109126. e. caspar, Geschichte de Papsttums von den Anfängen bis zur Höhe der Weltherrschaft (Tübingen 193033) 1:196256. e. amand-demendieta, "Basile de Cesaree et Damase de Rome: Les causes de l'echec de leurs negociations," in Biblical and Patristic Studies in Memory of Robert Pierce Casey (Freiburg 1963) 12266. l. andredelastre, Saint Damase I, defenseur e la doctrine de la primaute Pierre, des Saint Ecritures et patron des archeologues (Paris 1965). g. bardy, "L'Église romaine, de Silvestre à Damase," h. chadwick, "Pope Damasus and the Peculiar Claim of Rome to St. Peter and St. Paul," Neotestamentica et Patristica (Leiden 1962) 3138. m. r. green, "Supporters of the Antipope Ursinus," Journal of Theological Studies 22 (1971) 5318. c. pietri, "Damase et Theodose: communion orthodoxe et geographie politique," Epektasis (Paris 1972) 62734. pontificio instituto di archeologia cristiana, Secularia Damasiana: atti del Convegno internazionale per il XVI centenario della morte di papa Damaso I (Rome 1986). m.h. shepherd, "The Liturgical Reforms of Damasus I," Kyriakon (1970) 84763. j. taylor, "St. Basil the Great and Pope St. Damasus I," Downside Review 91 (1973) 186203, 26274. a. fliche and v. martin, eds. Histoire de l'église depuis les origines jusqu' à nos jours (Paris 1935) 3:228236. c. j. von hefele, Histoire des conciles d'après les documents originaux, tr. and continued by h. leclercq (Paris 190738) 1.2:8251045; 2.1:165.

[m. r. p. mcguire]

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