To his secretary St Jerome, Damasus was "an incomparable person, learned in the
Scriptures, a virgin doctor of the virgin Church, who loved chastity and heard its praises with
Damasus seldom heard such unrestrained praise. Internal political struggles, doctrinal
heresies, uneasy relations with his fellow bishops and those of the Eastern Church marred the peace
of his pontificate.
The son of a Roman priest, possibly of Spanish extraction, Damasus started as a deacon in his
father's church, and served as a priest in what later became the basilica of San Lorenzo in Rome. He
served Pope Liberius (352-366) and followed him into exile.
When Liberius died, Damasus was elected bishop of Rome; but a
minority elected and consecrated another deacon, Ursinus, as pope. The controversy between Damasus
and the antipope resulted in violent battles in two basilicas, scandalizing the bishops of Italy. At
the synod Damasus called on the occasion of his birthday, he asked them to approve his actions. The
bishops' reply was curt: "We assembled for a birthday, not to condemn a man unheard." Supporters of
the antipope even managed to get Damasus accused of a grave crime—probably sexual—as late as A.D.
378. He had to clear himself before both a civil court and a Church synod.
As pope his lifestyle was
simple in contrast to other ecclesiastics of Rome, and he was fierce in his denunciation of Arianism
and other heresies. A misunderstanding of the Trinitarian terminology used by Rome threatened
amicable relations with the Eastern Church, and Damasus was only moderately successful in dealing
with the situation.
During his pontificate Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman state
(380), and Latin became the principal liturgical language as part of the pope's reforms. His
encouragement of St. Jerome's biblical studies led to the Vulgate, the Latin translation of
Scripture which the Council of Trent (12 centuries later) declared to be "authentic in public
readings, disputations, preachings."
Other Saints of the