Shorter Summary here:
Saint Damasus was the bishop of Rome from 366 to 384. He is known for his leadership during a time of great political and religious upheaval, and for his contributions to the development of the Catholic Church.
Damasus was born in Rome around the year 305. His father became a priest at the Church of St. Lawrence in Rome. His mother was named Laurentia.
He grew up in a Christian household, and was educated in the faith from a young age. As he grew older, he became known for his deep devotion to God and his commitment to living a life of piety and virtue. Initially, he served as a deacon in the Church of his father, eventually becoming a priest.
In 366, Damasus was elected as the bishop of Rome, and he quickly became a prominent figure in the Church. He enjoyed the peace of Constatine I as a result of the Edict of Milan, (313) which granted religious freedom to Catholics in all of the Roman Empire.
He faced many challenges during his tenure as bishop, including a contested election by a faction that desired the deacon of Pope Liberius (Ursinus) to succeed in the Throne of St. Peter.
Both were elected simultaneously, which caused considerable strife between the two factions, in which the faction of Ursinus resorted to much violence and bloodshed in order to give control of Rome to him. Antipope Ursinus ruled Rome for several months during the years 366-367, but after this temporary crisis the rightful Pope was recognized by the Catholics of Rome.
Antipope Ursinus contested this election till the end of his life, and later was found to be an adherent of the Arians. He also slander Pope St. Damasus by launching a false accusation of adultery in the year 378 in the Imperial court. But Pope St. Damasus defeated the craftiness of the antipope with prayers and patience, which resulted in him being justly exonerated by Emperor Gratian himself and shortly after by a Roman synod of forty-four Bishops, which also excommunicated his accusers.
Ursinus was exiled to Gaul (modern day France), until he returned to cause more violence, until he was exiled again. Ursinus was formally condemned by the Catholic Church at a synod held in the year 378. In the same synod Pope St. Damasus was exonerated and declared the true Pope.
He condemned the heresy of Apollinaris (Apollinarianism) which falsely said that Christ has a human body and a human soul, but no human rational mind. With the Divine Logos taking place of that last missing attribute.
The seventh anathema of Pope St. Damasus in the council of Rome, 381 reads as follows:
“We pronounce anathema against them who say that the Word of God is in the human flesh in lieu and place of the human rational and intellective soul. For, the Word of God is the Son Himself. Neither did He come in the flesh to replace, but rather to assume and preserve from sin and save the rational and intellective soul of man.”Council of rome
He also justly condemned The Pneumatomachi (Macedonianism) in the year 374, the Pneumatomachi blasphemously denied the godhood of the Holy Ghost.
This sect was started by the Bishop Macedonius I, who was installed into the See of Constantinople by the Arians, and enthroned by Emperor Constantius II.
The word Pneumatomachi comes from Greek: πνεῦμα pneuma, spirit + μάχη machē, battle which roughly translates to ‘Combators against the Spirit’
God crowned all his good works, pious desires and charity by giving him enough life to preside the Council of Rome, held in the year 382, in which the official canon of Sacred Scripture was defined.
“Likewise it has been said: Now indeed we must treat of the divine Scriptures, what the universal Catholic Church accepts and what she ought to shun. The order of the Old Testament begins here: Genesis one book, Exodus one book, Leviticus one book, Numbers one book, Deuteronomy one book, Josue Nave one book, Judges one book, Ruth one book, Kings four books, Paralipomenon [i.e. Chronicles] two books, Psalms one book, Solomon three books, Proverbs one book, Ecclesiastes one book, Canticle of Canticles one book, likewise Wisdom one book, Ecclesiasticus [i.e. Sirach] one book.
Likewise the order of the Prophets. Isaias one book, Jeremias one book, with Ginoth, that is, with his Lamentations, Ezechiel one book, Daniel one book, Osee one book, Micheas one book, Joel one book, Abdias one book, Jonas one book, Nahum one book, Habacuc one book, Sophonias one book, Aggeus one book, Zacharias one book, Malachias one book. Likewise the order of the histories. Job one book, Tobias one book, Esdras two books [i.e. Ezra & Nehemiah], Esther one book, Judith one book, Machabees two books.
Likewise the order of the writings of the New and Eternal Testament, which only the holy and Catholic Church supports. Of the Gospels, according to Matthew one book, according to Mark one book, according to Luke one book, according to John one book.
The Epistles of Paul the Apostle in number fourteen. To the Romans one, to the Corinthians two, to the Ephesians one, to the Thessalonians two, to the Galatians one, to the Philippians one, to the Colossians one, to Timothy two, to Titus one, to Philemon one, to the Hebrews one.
Likewise the Apocalypse of John, one book. And the Acts of the Apostles one book. Likewise the canonical epistles in number seven. Of Peter the Apostle two epistles, of James the Apostle one epistle, of John the Apostle one epistle, of another John, the presbyter, two epistles, of Jude the Zealut, the Apostle one epistle.”Council of rome – 382
One of Damasus’ most notable accomplishments was his role in the development of the Catholic Church. He is credited with commissioning many of the great works of early Christian literature, including the translation of the Bible to Latin (The Vulgate) and the writings of Saint Jerome, who was his confidential secretary for three years (382-385).
Jerome devoted a very brief notice to Damasus in his De Viris Illustribus, written after Damasus’ death:
“He had a fine talent for making verses and published many brief works in heroic metre. He died in the reign of the emperor Theodosius at the age of almost eighty”St. Jerome
St. Jerome also wrote a letter to Pope St. Damasus in which the primacy of the Papacy is proclaimed:
“Yet, though your greatness terrifies me, your kindness attracts me. From the priest I demand the safe-keeping of the victim, from the shepherd the protection due to the sheep. Away with all that is overweening; let the state of Roman majesty withdraw. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. But since by reason of my sins I have betaken myself to this desert which lies between Syria and the uncivilized waste, I cannot, owing to the great distance between us, always ask of your sanctity the holy thing of the Lord. Consequently I here follow the Egyptian confessors who share your faith, and anchor my frail craft under the shadow of their great argosies. I know nothing of Vitalis; I reject Meletius; I have nothing to do with Paulinus. He that gathers not with you scatters; he that is not of Christ is of Antichrist.”Letter of st jerome to st. damasus
St. Damasus also obtained the grace to see the proclamation of the edict of Theodosius I, titled “De fide Catholica” Dated on February 27, 380, which proclaimed as the religion of the Roman Empire the doctrine of Christ, that St. Peter had preached to the Romans and of which Damasus was head.
He also worked to promote the veneration of the martyrs by restoring and giving access to their tombs in the Catacombs of Rome and elsewhere, and setting up tablets with verse inscriptions composed by himself, many of which still survive to this day or are recorded in his Epigrammata.
The devotion of St. Damasus for the martyrs was so profound that he built a church devoted to St. Lawrence in his own house, now called “San Lorenzo in Damaso”
Jesus Christ blessed the Church with Pope St. Damasus for eighteen years and two months, receiving his eternal crown after all his efforts and sacrifices. He was buried beside his mother and sister in a funerary basilica, somewhere between the Via Appia and Via Ardeatina, but the exact location of his remains is lost.
He is the patron saint of Archaeologists, and also powerful intercessor against fever, his feast day is December 11.