St. Damasus

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St. Damasus, Pope and Confessor

A.D. 384.

POPE DAMASUS is said in the Pontifical to have been a Spaniard: which may be true of his extraction: but Tillemont and Merenda show that he seems to have been born at Rome. His father, whose name was Antony, either after the death of his wife, or by her free consent, engaged himself in an ecclesiastical state, and was successively reader, deacon, and priest of the title or parish church of St. Laurence in Rome. Damasus served in the sacred ministry in the same church, and always lived in a perfect state of continence, as St. Jerom assures us. When Liberius was banished by Constantius to Berœa, in 355, he was archdeacon of the Roman church, and attended him into exile, but immediately returned to Rome. Liberius at length was prevailed upon to sign a confession of faith in which the word consubstantial was omitted. After his return from banishment, he constantly held communion with St. Athanasius, as is clear from that holy man’s letter to the bishops of Egypt, in 360. He condemned and annulled the decrees of the council of Rimini, by a letter which he wrote to those bishops, mentioned by Siricius. 1 Liberius, after this, lay hid some time in the vaults of the cemeteries, for fear of the persecutors, as we learn from Sozomen, 2 Prosper, in his chronicle, 3 Lucifer of Cagliari, 4 and Anastasius, in the life of Pope Julius. Thus he repaired the fault which he had committed by his subscription. All this time Damasus had a great share in the government of the church, and doubtless animated the zeal of the pope. 1
Liberius died on the 24th of September 366, and Damasus, who was then sixty years old, was chosen bishop of Rome, and ordained in the basilic of Lucina, otherwise called St. Laurence’s, which title he bore before his pontificate. Soon after, Ursinus, called by some moderns Ursicinus, who could not bear that St. Damasus should be preferred before him, got together a crowd of disorderly and seditious people in the church of Sicin, commonly called the Liberian basilic, now St. Mary Major, and persuaded Paul bishop of Tibur, now Tivoli, a dull ignorant man, to ordain him bishop of Rome, contrary to the ancient canons, which require three bishops for the ordination of a bishop; and to the ancient custom of the Roman church, whose bishop was to be consecrated by the bishop of Ostia, as Baronius and Tillemont observe. Juventius, prefect of Rome, banished Ursinus, and some others of his party. Seven priests who adhered to him were seized, to be carried into exile; but were rescued by their partisans, and carried to the Liberian basilic. The people that sided with Damasus came together with swords and clubs, besieged the basilic to deliver these men up to the prefect, and a fight ensued, in which one hundred and thirty-seven persons were killed, as Ammianus Marcellinus 5 and St. Austin relate. 6 In September the following year, 367, the Emperor Valentinian allowed Ursinus to return to Rome; but, on account of new tumults, in November banished him again, with seven accomplices, into Gaul. The schismatics still kept possession of a church, probably that of St. Agnes without the walls, and held assemblies in the cemeteries. But Valentinian sent an order for that church to be put into the hands of Damasus; and Maximin, a magistrate of the city, a man naturally inclined to cruelty, put several schismatics to the torture. Rufin clears Damasus of any way concurring to, or approving of such barbarous proceedings, and the schismatics fell into the snare they had laid for him, 7 by which it seems that they demanded an inquiry to be made by the rack, which turned to their own confusion and chastisement. It appears by certain verses of Pope Damasus that he had made a vow to God in honour of certain martyrs, to engage their intercession for the conversion of some of the clergy, who continued obstinate in the schism; and that these clergymen being converted to the unity of the church, in gratitude adorned, at their own expense, the tombs of these martyrs. By the same poem we learn, that the warmest abettors of the cause of Ursinus, after some time sincerely submitted to Damasus. His election was both anterior in time, and in all its circumstances regular; and was declared such by a great council held at Aquileia in 381, composed of the most holy and eminent bishops of the western church; and by a council at Rome in 378, in both which the acts of violence are imputed to the fury of Ursinus. St. Ambrose, 8 St. Jerom, 9 St. Austin, Rufin, and others bear testimony to the demeanour, and to the due election of Damasus. 2
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