The Liturgical Year
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B.
Pope Saint Damasus
This great Pontiff comes before us in the liturgical year, not to bring us tidings of peace as St. Melchiades did, but as one of the most illustrious defenders of the great mystery of the Incarnation. He defends the faith of the universal Church in the divinity of the Word, by condemning, as his predecessor Liberius had done, the acts and the authors of the celebrated Council of Rimini. With his sovereign authority, he bore witness to the teaching of the Church regarding the Humanity of Jesus Christ, and condemned the heretic Apollinaris, who taught that Jesus Christ had assumed only the flesh and not the soul of man. He commissioned St. Jerome to make a new translation of the new Testament from the Greek, for the use of the Church of Rome; here, again, giving a further proof of the faith and love which he bore to the Incarnate Word. Let us honour this great Pontiff, whom the Council of Chalcedon calls ‘the ornament and support of Rome by his piety.’ St. Jerome, too, who looked upon St. Damasus as his friend and patron, calls him ‘a man of the greatest worth; a man whose equal could not be found, well versed in the holy Scriptures, and a virgin doctor of the virgin Church.’ The legend of the breviary gives us a brief account of his life.
Damasus was a Spaniard, a man of highest worth, and learned in the Scriptures. He called the first Council of Constantinople, in which he condemned the impious heresy of Eunomius and Macedonius. He also condemned the Council of Rimini, which had already been rejected by Liberius, inasmuch as it was in this assembly of Rimini, as St. Jerome tells us, that mainly by the craft of Valens and Ursacius, was published a condemnation of the faith which had been taught by the Nicene Council, and thus the whole world grieved to find itself made Arian.
He built two basilicas; one dedicated to St. Laurence, near Pompey’s theatre, and this he endowed with magnificent presents, with houses and with lands: the other, on the Ardeatine Way, at the Catacombs. The bodies of SS. Peter and Paul lay for some time in a place richly adorned with marbles; this place he dedicated, and composed for it several inscriptions in beautiful verses. He also wrote on virginity, both in prose and verse, and several other poems.
He established the law of retaliation for cases of false accusation. He decreed that, as was the custom in many places, the psalms should be sung in all churches in alternate choirs, day and night; and that at the end of each psalm, there should be added: ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.’ It was by his order that St. Jerome translated the new Testament from the Greek text. He governed the Church seventeen years, two months, and twenty-six days; and five times during this period, he gave ordinations, in the month of December, to thirty-one priests, eleven deacons, and sixty-two bishops, for divers places. Conspicuous for his virtue, learning, and prudence, and having lived little short of eighty years, he slept in the Lord, during the reign of Theodosius the Great. He was buried in the basilica which he had built on the Ardeatine Way, where also lay his mother and sister. His relics were afterwards translated to the church of Saint Laurence, called after him St. Laurence’s in Damaso.
Holy Pontiff Damasus! during thy life on earth, thou wast the light, which guided the children of the Church; for thou didst teach them the mystery of the Incarnation, and didst guard them against those perfidious doctrines, wherewith hell ever strives to corrupt that glorious symbol of our faith, which tells us of God’s infinite mercy towards us, and of the sublime dignity of man thus mercifully redeemed. Seated on the Chair of Peter, thou didst confirm thy brethren, and thy faith failed not; for Jesus had prayed to His Father for thee. We rejoice at the infinite recompense with which this divine Prince of pastors has rewarded the unsullied purity of thy faith, 0 thou ‘virgin doctor of the virgin Church!’ Oh that we could have a ray of that light which now enables thee to see Jesus in His glory! Pray for us, that we may have light to see Him, and know Him, and love Him, under the humble guise in which He is so soon to appear to us. Obtain for us the science of the sacred Scriptures, in which thou wast so great a master; and docility to the teachings of the Bishop of Rome, to whom, in the person of St. Peter, Christ has said: ‘ Launch out into the deep!’ (Luke 5:4)
Obtain also for all Christians, O thou the successor of this prince of the apostles, that they be animated with those sentiments, which St. Jerome thus describes in one of his letters addressed to thee: ‘It is the Chair of Peter that I will consult, for from it do I derive that faith which is the food of my soul. I will search for this precious pearl, heeding not the vast expanse of sea and land which I must pass over. Where the body is, there shall the eagles be gathered together. It is now in the west that the Sun of justice rises. I ask the Victim of salvation from the priest, and from the shepherd the protection of the sheep. On that rock I know the Church is built. He that eats the Lamb in any house but this, is profane. He that is not in Noah’s ark, shall perish in the waters of the deluge. I know not Vitalis, I reject Meletius, I pass by Paulinus. He that gathers not with thee, Damasus, scatters; for he that is not of Christ, is of Antichrist.’