Feastday: 11 December
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 the orthodoxy, as well. He condemned
the heresies of such men as Macedonius and Apollinaris and continued the
march against Eastern Arians. Although Emperor Valentinian was a
Catholic, his less capable brother Valens was under the Arian influence.
Valens kept the Eastern bishops in turmoil until his death in 378 by the
determined Goths. Emperor Theodosius, who succeeded Valens, supported the
orthodox and 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.
Pious Pope Damasus died in December of 384 after a reign of eighteen
— The Popes: A Papal History, J.V. Bartlett