Damasus was of Spanish descent; however, it is believed that he was born in Rome and became a deacon in the church of his father, Antonio, who had become a priest after the death of his wife. He was elected pope in 366 by a large majority, but his election was contested by a number of over-zealous followers of the deceased Liberius. They chose the deacon Ursinus, had him irregularly consecrated, and resorted to much violence and bloodshed trying to seat him in the Chair of Peter. However, Emperor Valentinian exiled Ursinus. Despite the exile of Ursinus, the opposition remained active and in 378 they charged him with adultery, but he was cleared by a synod of forty-four bishops, which also excommunicated his accusers.
Pope Damasus was zealous in his opposition to Arianism and sent legates to the General Council of Constantinople in 381, which accepted papal teaching, again condemned Arianism, and denounced the teaching of Macedonius that the Holy Spirit is not divine. It was during the pontificate of Damasus that both Emperor Theodosius the Great in the East and Emperor Gratian in the West decreed Christianity to be the religion of the Empire.
Damasus was also a Scripture scholar and as such published the canon of Holy Scripture specifying the authentic books of the Bible as decreed by the council in Rome in 382. St. Jerome served as his secretary at this time and it was Damasus who encouraged Jerome to write his Bible commentaries and translation of the Bible, the Vulgate. Damasus, declaring Rome supreme among the churches, restored the catacombs, shrines, and tombs of the martyrs and encouraged pilgrimages to visit them. He died in Rome on December 11, 384 AD.
A prayer book kept in the Vatican library, quoted by Merenda, says that the saint, burning with an ardent desire to be dissolved and be with Christ, “was seized with a fever, and having received the body and blood of the Lord, lifting up his eyes and hands to heaven, he expired in devout prayer. His intercession is particularly implored in Italy by persons that are sick [with] fevers.” He was buried near his mother and sister in an oratory which he had built and adorned at the catacombs near the Ardeatin Way, between that road and the cemetery of Calixtus or Praetextatus.
St. Damasus, as you know, the faithful in United States are currently undergoing a time of trial. Pray for us, that we will follow the will of God and fight for truth and justice, not using brute force, but through prayer and persistence in seeking truth, that we will prevail with the power of God. Amen.
Other Saints We Remember Today
Our Lady, Queen of the Angels (1212)