Damasus was 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 that scandalized the bishops of Italy. At the synod that Damasus called on 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 serious crime — probably sexual — as late as A.D. 378. He had to clear himself before both a civil court and a Church synod.

Damasus lived a simple lifestyle in contrast to other ecclesiastics of Rome. He was fierce in his denunciation of Arianism and other heresies. He was only moderately successful in dealing with a misunderstanding of the Trinitarian terminology used by Rome which threatened amicable relations with the Eastern Church.

During his pontificate, Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman state, 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 12 centuries later the Council of Trent declared to be “authentic in public readings, disputations, preaching.”

Adapted by A. J. Valentini from: St. Damasus I | Franciscan Media. (n.d.). Franciscan Media. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2020, from