Spirituality for Today – September 2009 – Volume 14, Issue 2

The 37th Pope

Saint Damasus

An illustration of Pope DamasusPope St. Damasus I

Pope St. Damasus I (366-384) – With the death of Pope Liberius, factionalism erupted in the process of electing the new pope. A group loyal to the deceased pope, Liberius, quickly gathered and elected a deacon named Ursinus. Another version of the story has the faction loyal to the anti-pope, Felix. A more numerous faction elected the deacon Damasus. It is said that Damasus literally drove out the faction that elected Ursinus. Resistance to Damasus continued. Ursinus and some followers were exiled. Reportedly, Pope Damasus, to the dismay of many of the local bishops, used violent means to quell the disturbances. Yet, tensions would remain.

Pope Damasus would prove an aggressive opponent of the heresies of his day: Arianism (denied the divinity of Christ), Apollinarianism (denied that Jesus possessed a human soul), and Macedonianism (denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit). He was a forceful promoter of the primacy of the pope regarding ecclesiastical matters over the entire Church. Latin would become the primary language of the liturgy.

One weakness that he shared with other popes was an inability to deal effectively with the Church in the east. In modern parlance, he might be described as "not getting it" or even "clueless." One positive aspect of the pope's character was in recognizing the talents of his secretary, Saint Jerome. The pope assigned him to translate the New Testament from the original Greek into Latin – the Vulgate.

The body of Pope Damasus rests in the Church of San Lorenso in Damaso.

Habemus papam