Feast Day : December 11
Damasus was born in Rome, the son of Antonius, a priest of Spanish descent, and a woman named Laurentia. He became a deacon in the Spanish church of St. Laurence, where his father served. In October 366, when Damasus was about 60, Pope Liberius died, and he was elected bishop of Rome. Though he received a substantial majority of votes, a dissident faction, adherents of Liberius (a controversial pontiff who became one of the few early popes to be revered neither as a martyr nor as a saint), rejected him and consecrated their own candidate, Ursinus. In promoting him, they were not beyond using violence, for which Emperor Valentinian had them exiled to Cologne. From Cologne and later Milan, Ursinus and his followers continued to harass Damasus. They charged him with incontinence in the imperial court in 378, but he was exonerated by Emperor Gratian. He was cleared also by a Church synod of 44 bishops, who then excommunicated his accusers. In 380, Gratian and Theodosius I recognized Christianity as the religion of the Roman state. Damasus did much to clarify and promote its teachings. He argued that the supremacy of the Roman Church was based on the words of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18). He was a vigorous opponent of Arianism (supported by Liberius and Ursinus), Apollinarianism, Macedonianism and other heresies. At a synod in 374, he promulgated a canon of the Holy Scripture, specifying the authentic books of the Bible. Most important, he commissioned St. Jerome to revise the Latin text of the Bible, resulting in the Vulgate version of the Scriptures. Like several of his immediate predecessors, Damasus promoted the construction of ecclesiastical properties in and around Rome. Among other projects, he provided for the proper housing of the Vatican archives, built a baptistery in honor of St. Peter at the Vatican, and drained and rehabilitated the sacred catacombs. He devoted much effort to gathering the relics of Roman martyrs and wrote new epitaphs for the tombs of many of them. In the papal crypt of the Catacomb of St. Callistus he placed a general epitaph that ends, “I, Damasus, wished to be buried here, but I feared to offend the ashes of these holy ones.” When he died on December 11, 384, he was buried with his mother and sister at a small church he had built on the Via Ardeatina. In art, Damasus is a pope holding a ring. He may also be shown with Jerome; restoring sacred buildings; holding a screen with “Gloria Patri” on it; or in front of a church door.