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The Life and Works of Saint Damasus

Articles | December 10, 2023 | by Catholics for Catholics

Saint Damasus was born in Rome in the early fourth century. His father, a widower, was a priest at the Church of St. Laurence. Damasus, who was archdeacon of the Roman Church in 355, accompanied Pope Saint Liberius into exile at Berda. Afterward, Damasus returned to Rome. In 366, following Saint Liberius’ death, Damasus became Pope at the age of sixty-two.

Ursinus, an enemy of Damasus, was jealous of his election and claimed the papacy for himself. Ursinus incited a revolt in Rome in which 137 people died. Though Saint Damasus did not resort to armed defense, Emperor Valentinian protected him by driving Ursinus from Rome. Ursinus later returned and accused the Pope of adultery. Saint Damasus assembled a synod of forty-four bishops, in which he defended himself and the calumniators were excommunicated and banished.

After resolving the schism, Saint Damasus combated Arianism in the West and Apollinarianism in the East. He convened several councils for this purpose and sent Saint Zenobius to Constantinople in 381 to console persecuted believers. He commissioned Saint Jerome to create a correct Latin version of the Bible, which was named the Vulgate. He also ordered that the Psalms be sung accordingly. The Pope restored and decorated the Church of Saint Laurence, which is now known as Saint Laurence in Damaso. He drained the Vatican’s springs to prevent flooding of saints’ tombs and adorned the sepulchers of many martyrs with verse epitaphs.

Theodoret praised Saint Damasus as the leader of the prominent divine grace doctors of the Latin church. The General Council of Chalcedon called him the “honor and glory of Rome.” He ruled as pope for over eighteen years, passing away on December 10, 384, when he was almost eighty. His relics were placed in the church of Saint Laurence in Damaso, except for his head, which was kept in the Basilica of Saint Peter. He presided over the Council of Rome of 382, which established the canon of Sacred Scripture.

Throughout his papacy, Saint Damasus condemned heresies in the church and supported the production of the Vulgate Bible with Saint Jerome. He reconciled the relationship between the Church of Rome and the Church of Antioch and encouraged the veneration of martyrs.

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