SAINT DAMASUS I (c.305-384), pope – Patron saint of archaeologists
Today, the Church honors Pope St. Damasus I, who, according to Saint Jerome, was “an incomparable person, learned in the Scriptures, a virgin Doctor of the virgin Church, who loved chastity and heard its praises with pleasure.”
Damasus, probably a Spaniard by family lineage, was born in Rome about the year 305. His father, a widower, had received Holy Orders and served as a parish priest in the parish of Saint Laurence in Rome, and Damasus served for a time as deacon in his father’s parish, and later as priest. In a period of upheaval in the Church, Damasus was elected the 37th Bishop of Rome in the year 366.
His pontificate suffered from the rise of Arianism, and from several schisms including break-away groups in Antioch, Constantinople, Sardinia, and Rome. However, since Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman state during his reign, Pope Damasus fostered the development of the Church during this period of peace, by encouraging his longtime friend and secretary, Saint Jerome, to translate the Bible into Latin. This Vulgate edition continues to serve the Church usefully even to this date.
Pope Damasus enforced the 370 edicts of Emperor Valentinian, controlling gifts to prelates, and also opposed the heresies of Arianism and Apollinarianism. In the year 374, he supported the Council of Rome which declared the approved canon of Books of the Bible, publishing a list of the Books of both the Old and New Testaments. He also supported the Grand Council of Constantinople in the year 381 which condemned Arianism.
He is also known for restoring catacombs, shrines and the tombs of martyrs, adorning them with epitaphs [inscriptions] in verse. He lighted the passageways and stairwells of the catacombs, as well as encouraging pilgrimages to the burial sites of the martyrs. He did much to beautify existing churches, such as building the baptistery in the Basilica of Saint Peter and laying down marble pavement in the Basilica of Saint Sebastian.
Pope Damasus died from natural causes on December 11, 384. His struggles are a reminder that Jesus never promised His Rock protection from stormy winds, nor immunity from difficulties for His disciples. Our Lord’s only guarantee against the storms which assault His Church and the Chair of Peter is His abiding Presence and our final victory over evil.
Saint Damasus wrote this epitaph for himself before his death, “He who walks on the sea could calm the bitter waves, who gives life to the dying seeds of the earth; He who was able to loose the mortal chains of death, and after three days’ darkness could bring again to the upper world the brother for his sister Martha: He, I believe, will make Damasus rise again from the dust.”
We commemorate his feastday on December 11.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Damasus)
“Father, as Saint Damasus loved and honored Your martyrs, so may we continue to celebrate their witness for Christ, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”