Saint Damasus I, the Thirty-Seventh Pope (Successors of Peter – Part 37)

Saint Damasus I, the Thirty-Seventh Pope (Successors of Peter – Part 37)

Saint Damasus I, who was elected as the thirty-seventh Pope of the Holy Church, advocated the infallibility of Peter's successor in the early Church and initiated the practice of honoring martyrs in the Church.

Born in Rome, Damasus was ordained a deacon. When Liberius was exiled, the then Archdeacon, Damasus decided to follow the Pontiff. However, he soon returned to Rome and served as an aide to the anti-pope Felix II. When Pope Liberius returned from exile, he made peace with him and continued to serve him.

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Upon the demise of his predecessor, Damasus was elected to papacy in AD366 by the bishops and priests of Rome as was customary during the time. His papacy was however dissented by a group within the Church. A minority of clerics elected and consecrated a deacon, Ursinus, as the bishop of the Diocese of Tibur. The controversy between Damasus and Ursinus resulted in violent battles in two basilicas, scandalizing the bishops of Italy. Dissension between Ursinus and his followers continued throughout the reign of Pope Damasus.

Peace was restored to some extent when the entire congregation accepted the election of Damasus and agreed to place the churches, monasteries and other immovable property belonging to the Church in Rome under the control of Pope Damasus I.

The transition ignited another controversy in the Church that lasted for centuries, until about the 6th century. Rome’s theological ascendancy made its bishop the Empire’s primary source and focus of unity. But Damasus strictly enforced a decree prohibiting clergy from accepting gifts from widows and orphans, and he himself lived a holy life.

In AD379, Theodosius was crowned emperor of the Roman Empire in Constantinople. He was the first Catholic emperor of the Roman Empire. On February 27, AD380, he issued a proclamation declaring Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Pope Damasus dealt harshly with heresies and rebellious movements. He worked hard to control Arianism. Pope Damasus I held two synods in Rome, one of which excommunicated the Arian Bishop of Milan, making way for Saint Ambrose to later hold that see. Pope Damasus also sent legates to the First Council of Constantinople in AD381, which reiterated and sharpened the language of the Creed developed at Nicea in AD325. In two Roman Synods AD368 and AD369, he condemned Apollinarianism and Macedonianism.

Pope Damasus summoned and employed a talented young priest-scholar named Jerome as his personal secretary. In order to put an end to the marked divergences in the western texts of that period, Pope Damasus requested Jerome to compile from the original Greek and Hebrew texts a new Latin version of the Old and New Testaments thus replacing the poorly translated Old Latin Bibles in use. The Vulgate, as Saint Jerome’s work is known, has been the official Bible of the Catholic Church since its completion.

Pope Damasus had a special devotion to Rome’s martyrs who sacrificed their lives for their faith. He encouraged the practice of honouring martyrs in the church. He also beautified the graves of the martyrs and embellished many of their tombs with brief Latin inscriptions.

Among other things, Pope Damasus I made Latin the language of the Church and proclaimed that the Roman state was Christian.

Pope Damasus I presided over the Council of Rome in 382, which is credited with setting down the Canon of the Holy Bible.

During his papacy from AD305-384, St. Damasus played a vital role in combating significant heresies within the Church, advocating for the production of the Vulgate Bible through his support of St. Jerome. His efforts extended beyond theological matters as he worked towards reconciling relations between the Church of Rome and the Church of Antioch. Additionally, St. Damasus actively promoted the veneration of martyrs, emphasizing their importance in the faith.

Saint Damasus I was called to eternal rest on 11th December AD384.

-edit&transl. SM

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