whose father's name was Antonius, by extraction a Spaniard, must have been born near the beginning of the fourth century (Hieron. de Viris Illustr.
c. 103), and upon the death of Liberius, in A. D. 366, was chosen bishop of Rome. His election, however, was strenuously opposed by a party who supported the claims of a certain Ursicinus or Ursinus: a fierce strife arose between the followers of the rival factions; the praefect Juventius, unable to appease or withstand their violence, was compelled to fly, and upwards of a hundred and thirty dead bodies were found in the basilica of Sicininus, which had been the chief scene of the struggle. Damasus prevailed; his pretensions were favoured by the emperor, and his antagonists were banished; but having been permitted to return within a year, fresh disturbances broke forth which, although promptly suppressed, were renewed from time to time, to the great scandal of the church, until peace was at length restored by the exertions of the praefect Praetextatus, not without fresh bloodshed. While these angry passions were still raging, Damasus was impeached of impurity before a public council, and was honourably acquitted, while his calumniators, the deacons Concordius and Calistus, were deprived of their sacred office. During the remainder of his career, until his death in A. D. 384, he was occupied in waging war against the remnants of the Arians in the West and in the East, in denouncing the heresy of Apollinaris in the Roman councils of A. D. 377 and 382, in advocating the cause of Paulinus against Meletius, and in erecting two basilicae.
He is celebrated in the history of sacred music from having ordained that the psalms should be regularly chaunted in all places of public worship by day and by night, concluding in each case with the doxology; but his chief claim to the gratitude of posterity rests upon the circumstance, that, at his instigation, St. Jerome, with whom he maintained a most steady and cordial friendship, was first induced to undertake the great task of producing a new translation of the Bible.
To Damasus was addressed the famous and most important edict of Valentinian (Cod. Theodos. 16. tit. 2. s. 20), by which, in combination with some subsequent enactments, ecclesiastics were strictly prohibited from receiving the testamentary bequests of their spiritual children,--a regulation rendered imperative by the shameless avarice displayed by too many of the clergy of that period and the disreputable arts by which they had notoriously abused their influence over female penitents. Damasus himself, who was obliged to give publicity to the decree, had not escaped the imputation of these heredipetal propensities; for his insinuating and persuasive eloquence gained for him among his enemies the nickname of Auriscalpius
At the same time, while the outward pomp and luxury of the church were for a while checked, her real power was vastly increased by the law of Valentinian (367) afterwards enforced and extended by Gratian (378), in virtue of which the clergy were relieved from the jurisdiction of the civil magistrate, and rendered amenable to their own courts alone.
The extant works of Damasus are:
Seven epistles written between the years 372-384, addressed to the bishops of Illyria, to Paulinus, to Acholius and other bishops of Macedonia, and to St. Jerome, together with an Epistola Synodica against Apollinaris and Timotheus.
These refer, for the most part, to the controversies then agitating the religious world, and are not without value as materials for ecclesiastical history.
The second, to Paulinus, consists of two parts, which in some editions are arranged separately, so as to make the whole number amount to eight.
In addition to the above, which are entire, we have several fragments of letters, and it is known that many have perished.
See the "Epistolae Pontificum Romanorum," by Coustant, Paris, 1721.
II. Short Poems
Upwards of forty short poems in various measures and styles, religious, descriptive, lyrical, and panegyrical, including several epitaphs. None of these, notwithstanding the testimony of St. Jerome (l.c.
), dictated probably by partial friendship, are remarkable for any felicity either in thought or in expression.
The rules of classical prosody are freely disregarded; we observe a propensity to indulge in jingling cadences, thus leading the way to the rhyming versification of the monks, and here and there some specimens of acrostic dexterity.
These pieces were published separately in several of the early editions of the Christian poets; by A. M. Merenda, Rom. fol. 1754
; and a selection comprising his "Sanctorum Elogia" is included in the "Opera Veterum Poetarum Latinorum" by Maittaire, 2 vols. fol. Loud. 1713.
Among the lost works of this author are to be reckoned several epistles; a tract de Virginitate,
in which prose and poetry were combined; summaries in hexameter verse of certain books of the Old and New Testament (Hieron. Epist. ad Eustoch. de Custod. Virgin.),
and Acta Martyrum Romanorum Petri Exorcistae et Marcellini
(Eginhart. apud Surium, de probatis sanctt. Histor.
vol. iii. p. 561).
a book entitled Liber de Vitis Pontificum Romanorum;
and all the epistles not named above are deemed spurious.
The earliest edition of the collected works is that prepared by Sarrazanius and published by Ubaldinus under the patronage of cardinal Francesco Barberini, Rom. 4to. 1638. They are contained also in the Bibliothec. Max. Patrum.
vol. iv. p. 543, and vol. xxvii. p. 81, and appear in their most correct form in the Bibliotheca Patrum
of Galland, vol. vi. p. 321.
For the life and character of Damasus, see the testimonies and biographies collected in the edition of Sarrazanius; Hieron. de Viris. Ill.
p. 186, ad Nepot.;
Ambros. ad v. Symmach.
ii.; Augustin. Serm.
49; Suidas, s. v. Δάμασος
; Amm. Marc. 27.3
, a very remarkable passage.
The petition of two presbyters opposed to Damasus is preserved in the first volume of the works of P. Sirmond.--Nic. Antonius, Bibliothec. Vet. Hispan.
2.6; Bayerus, Damasus et Laurentius Hispanis asserti et vindicati,
Rom. 1756; Gerbert de Cantu et Music. sacra,
i. pp. 44, 60, 91,242; Fabric. Bibl. Med. et Infim. Lat.
ii. p. 4; Funceius, de Veget. L. L. Senect.
cap. 3. § Ix., &c.; Tillemont, Mémoires Ecclesiast.
vol. viii. p. 386, &c.; Schröck, Kirchengeschichte,
viii. p. 122, &c.; Surius, de probatis saneit. Hist.
viii. p. 423.