On December 11 the Church remembers Saint Damasus, a pope who lived and was elected in the tumultuous first half of the 4th century.
Pope St. Damasus was born near the city of Idanha-a-Velha, an area that is now part of modern-day Portugal. In Damasus’s time it was part of the Western Roman Empire and his life coincided with the rise of Constantine I, the first Christian emperor. Little is known of Damasus’s mother except her name, Laurentia. His father, Antonius at some point in Damasus’s early life became a deacon then a priest at the Church of San Lorenzo in Rome. Damasus grew up in Rome, raised in service at the Church of San Lorenzo as well. Because of this, Damasus had a special devotion to the martyr St. Lawrence. Damasus became first a deacon and later a priest at San Lorenzo; he was later an assistant to Pope Liberius.
Pontificate and the Threat of Schisms
Damasus was elected Pope by a wide majority in 366 upon the death of Pope Liberius. However, there was a concentrated faction of supporters of Ursinus, who attempted to elect him instead. Papal elections in the early centuries did not take place in an organized fashion as they do now and amid rioting in the area, two elections took place – one election declared Damasus pope, the other, Ursinus. For a short time, Ursinus ruled in Rome simultaneously with Pope Damasus, before being officially declared an antipope by a synod in 368. In the early years of his pontificate, supporters of Ursinus brought false charges of adultery and murder against Pope Damasus I, but he was soon exonerated. The murder charge may have been based on the fact that several Ursinus supporters were killed by men who favored Damasus. This would not be the end of the trials and disruptions Pope Damasus would encounter. He would vigorously defend the Catholic Faith against the heresies of Apollinarianism, Macedonianism, and Arianism. He was deeply devoted to the martyrs for the Faith and had the catacombs, other tombs, and shrines to martyrs restored. He also had some local damaged churches restored and rebuilt.
Read more about Pope St. Damasus I here.