He was probably born near the city of
Hispania), in what is present-day
Portugal, or near the city of
Guimarães (in what is present-day
Damasus I is known to have been raised in the service of the church of the martyr
St. Laurence in
Rome, and following the death of
Pope Liberius, he succeeded to the Papacy amidst factional violence. A group of Damasus' supporters, previously loyal to the
Antipope Felix II, attacked and killed rivals loyal to Liberius'
Ursinus, in a
riot that required the intervention of
Valentinian I to quell.
Damasus faced accusations of murder and adultery in his early years as pope. The neutrality of these claims have come into question with some suggesting that the accusations were motivated by the schismatic conflict with the supporters of
Arianism. His personal problems were contrasted with his religious accomplishments, which included restoring the
Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, appointing the later-Saint
Jerome as his personal secretary, creating (through Jerome) a standard
Latin translation of the
Bible, known as the
Vulgate, that replaced existing
Vetus Latina, and translated from the original
Hebrew instead of the Greek
Septuagint, and presiding over the
Council of Rome in
382, at which, according to
Roman Catholic tradition and the 6th century document
Decretum Gelasianum, the modern Catholic
canon of scripture was first set down.
Damasus' parents were Antonius, a priest at the Church of San Lorenzo in Rome, and Laurentia.
When Pope Liberius was banished by Emperor
Constantius II to
354, Damasus was arch-
deacon of the Roman church and followed Liberius into exile, though he immediately returned to Rome. During the period before Liberius' return, Damasus had a great share in the government of the church.
In the early
Church, new Bishops of Rome were elected or chosen by the
clergy and the people of the diocese in the presence of the other bishops in the province, which was the manner customarily used in other
dioceses. On the death of Liberius, September 24, 366, one faction supported
Ursinus, while the other faction supported Damasus. This dissension climaxed with a riot which led to a three-day massacre. Damasus prevailed, but only with the support of the city prefect. Once he was securely consecrated bishop of Rome, his men attacked Ursinus and his remaining supporters, resulting in a massacre of one hundred and thirty seven supporters of Ursinus.
Many in both
Christian society saw in Damasus a man whose worldly ambitions outweighed his pastoral concerns.
Damasus I was active in defending the Roman Church against the threat of
schisms. In two Roman synods (368 and 369) he condemned
Macedonianism, and sent legates to the
First Council of Constantinople that was convoked in
381 to address these
Damasus also contributed greatly to the
liturgical and aesthetic enrichment of the city churches. His ceremonial embellishments and the emphasis on the Roman legacy of
Paul amounted to a general claim to the Roman upper classes that the real glory of Rome was Christian and not pagan.
The reign of
Gratian, during Damasus' papacy, forms an important epoch in ecclesiastical history, since during that period (
Orthodox Christianity, for the first time became dominant throughout the empire.
Attributes: as a pope with patriarchal cross and model of a church
Patronage: against fever