306 – 384
Damasus was a sixty-year-old deacon when he was elected bishop of Rome in 366. His reign was marked by violence from the start when another group decided to elect a different pope. Both sides tried to enforce their selections through violence. Though the physical fighting stopped, Damasus had to struggle with these opponents throughout his years as pope.
Damasus may not have won this battle directly, but he won the war by initiating works that outlasted all his opponents. Not only did he commission the Vulgate translation but he also changed the liturgical language of the Church from Greek to Latin. He worked hard to preserve and restore the catacombs, the graves of the martyrs, and relics.
Damasus was a writer — but he didn’t author many-volumed treatises as other Christian writers did. Damasus liked to write epigrams in verse: short sayings that capture the essence of what needed to be said. He wrote many epigrams on martyrs and saints. And he wrote one about himself that shows his humility and the respect he had for the martyrs. In a Roman cemetery is the papal crypt he built. All that is left of him there, however, is this: ” I, Damasus, wished to be buried here, but I feared to offend the ashes of these holy ones.” Instead, when he died in 384, he was buried with his mother and sister.
From the Decreeof Damasus (attributed to Damasus):
The arrangement of the names of Christ, however, is manifold: Lord, because He is Spirit; Word, because He is God; Son, because He is the only-begotten son of the Father; Man, because He was born of the Virgin; Priest, because He offered Himself as a sacrifice; Shepherd, because He is a guardian; Worm, because He rose again; Mountain, because He is strong; Way, because there is a straight path through Him to life; Lamb, because He suffered; Corner-Stone, because instruction is His; Teacher, because He demonstrates how to live; Sun, because He is the illuminator; Truth, because He is from the Father; Life, because He is the creator; Bread because He is flesh; Samaritan, because He is the merciful protector; Christ, because He is anointed; Jesus, because He is a mediator; Vine, because we are redeemed by His blood; Lion, because he is king; Rock, because He is firm; Flower, because He is the chosen one; Prophet, because He has revealed what is to come.
In His Footsteps:
Damasus’ love and respect for Scripture is shown in his authorization of the Vulgate translation. Spend 30 minutes today reading and meditating on Scripture. Try to make this a daily habit. One way to do this is keep a Bible open by your bedside and read it first thing in the morning and last thing before you turn out the light at night.
Prayer: Saint Damasus, instead of worrying about the short term of life on earth, you took God’s view and looked to the things that last. Pray for me that I may be able to look beyond immediate popularity and fleeting favors, and choose to do the things that God wants me to do. Amen