Damasus, pope, said to have been a Spaniard, the son of Antonius. On the death of Liberius (Sept. a.d. 366) the factions which had disgraced his election broke out with redoubled violence. The original root of bitterness had been Arianism; and Felix the Arian antipope [See Felix II.] had been expelled by Liberius. Seven days after the death of Liberius, Felix's partisans met and proclaimed Damasus pope in the Lucina [qy. the crypt of St. Lucina in the catacomb of Callistus?]. Damasus had previously taken up a middle position between the contending parties, which may have specially recommended him to the electors, who could not hope to carry an extreme man. Yet, about the same time apparently the party of Liberius met in the Julian basilica and elected Ursicinus or Ursinus.
It is difficult to ascertain the truth with regard to the strife between the rival popes. Our most detailed account is by personal enemies of Damasus, and the incidents of the struggle are recorded under Ursinus.
Damasus used his success well, and the chair of St. Peter, even if, as his enemies alleged, acquired by violent means, was never more respected nor vigorous than during his bishopric. He appears as a principal opponent of Arian and other heretics. Bp. Peter of Alexandria was his firm friend all along; and was associated with him in the condemnation of Apollinaris (Soz. vi. 25), and in affixing the stigma of Arianism to Meletius of Antioch and Eusebius, who were upheld by Basil (Basil, Ep. cclxvi. iii. 597, ed. Bened.). On Meletius's death Damasus struggled hard to gain the chair of Antioch for Paulinus, and to exclude Flavianus; nor was he reconciled to the latter till some time later (Socr. v. 15).
His correspondence with Jerome, his attached friend and secretary, begins a.d. 376, and closes only with his death a.d. 384. Six of Jerome's letters to him are preserved, two being expositions of difficult passages of Scripture elicited by letters of Damasus asking the aid of his learning. Jerome's desire to dedicate to him a translation of Didymus's work on the Holy Ghost was only stopped by his death. In later letters Jerome speaks in high terms of Damasus; calls him "that illustrious man, that virgin doctor of the virgin church," "eager to catch the first sound of the preaching of continence"; who "wrote both verse and prose in favour of virginity" (Epp. Hieron. 22, 48). From this Milman ( Latin Christ. i. 69) conjectures that Damasus was a patron of the growing monastic partyâ€”a not improbable conjecture, rendered more likely by the ardent attachment of Jerome, and the veneration in which the memory of pope Damasus was held by later times, when monasticism had taken firm root in the Roman church. But the best-known record of Damasus will always be his labour of love in the catacombs of Rome. Here he searched ardently and devotedly for the tombs of the martyrs, which had been blocked up and hidden by the Christians during the last persecution. He "removed the earth, widened the passages, so as to make them more serviceable for the crowd of pilgrims, constructed flights of stairs leading to the more illustrious shrines, and adorned the chambers with marbles, opening shafts to admit air and light where practicable, and supporting the friable tufa walls and galleries wherever it was necessary with arches of brick and stone work. Almost all the catacombs bear traces of his labours, and modern discovery is continually bringing to light fragments of the inscriptions which he composed in honour of the martyrs, and caused to be engraved on marble slabs, in a peculiarly beautiful character, by a very able artist, Furius Dionysius Filocalus. It is a singular fact that no original inscription of pope Damasus has ever yet been found executed by any other hand; nor have any inscriptions been found, excepting those of Damasus, in precisely the same form of letters. Hence the type is well known to students of Christian epigraphy as the 'Damasine character'" ( Roma Sotterranea , by Northcote and Brownlow, p. 97). Damasus also laid down a marble pavement in the basilica of St. Sebastian, recording by an inscription the temporary burial in that church of SS. Peter and Paul (ib. p. 114). He built the baptistery at the Vatican in honour of St. Peter, where de Rossi thinks, from an inscription in the Damasine character, was an actual chair which went by the name of St. Peter's seat ( ib. p. 393). and he drained the crypts of the Vatican, that the bodies buried there might not be disturbed by the overflow of water ( ib. p. 334). He died in Dec. 384, after a pontificate of 18 years. Before his death he had prepared his own tomb above the catacomb of Callistus, giving his reason in an inscription in what is called the Papal crypt of that catacomb:
(ib. p. 102). Cf. Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, vols. i. and ii.