Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Damasus, Pope

detail of a bas-relief portrait medallion of Pope Saint Damasus, date and artist unknown; Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome, ItalyArticle

Saint Damasus, one of the noblest and holiest of Popes, was by birth a Spaniard. He received his instruction in virtue, as Well as in the liberal arts, at Rome, whither he was taken by his father after his mother’s death. His progress in both was such, that he was soon esteemed one of the most pious and learned men of his time. He was ordained deacon, and when Pope Liberius died, he was placed in the papal chair, of which he was thought worthy as well on account of his great erudition and holy life, as also for the fearlessness with which he had defended the Church of Christ against heresy. He governed the Church seventeen years and two months, in the most difficult times, with so much wisdom and virtue, that all ancient historians join in praising him. Saint Jerome calls him, “a lover of chastity and a virgin teacher of a virgin church;” Theodoret, “a man adorned with virtue, and worthy of praise.” Saint Ambrose says, that Providence had especially chosen him to promote the welfare of the Church. The bishops, assembled in council at Constantinople, praise the fortitude which he displayed in protecting the true faith, and compare him to a wall of adamant. This strength of character the holy Pope evinced on several occasions. Soon after he had been elected Head of the Church, a certain man, named Ursicinus, sought to overthrow him. He made a cabal of some unruly minds, by whose aid he endeavored to gain for himself the papal throne. The holy Pope was deeply saddened by this, not because he dreaded to lose the dignity, but because he feared that the consequence might be a schism in the Church. Hence he was willing to give way to Ursicinus and pass his life in obscurity. The better disposed refused, however, to consent to this, and prevailed on the Governor of Rome to banish Urcisinus and his principal followers from the city. The others, who were allowed to remain, received the holy Pope’s pardon, who never thought of revenging himself. Notwithstanding all this, there were several among them who, instigated by Ursicinus, endeavored to rob the holy Pope of his honor and good name, as they could not take his pontifical dignity and his life. They spread the report that Damasus had been surprised in the act of committing a crime against chastity. Most of the people, convinced of the holiness of their chief Shepherd, looked upon it as a slander; but the innocent man desired to lay the wickedness of the defamers bare to the eyes of the whole world. Hence he called to Rome forty bishops who were to hear the accusation and investigate the matter with all possible rigor. The evil-doers confessed their falsehood, and the innocence of Damasus was most clearly established. Hardly had the holy Pope overcome this and other persecutions of his enemies, when he had to fight, for a long time, against the heretics, who arose in different places and even at Rome. He assembled several councils at Rome, examined the doctrines disseminated by the heretics, and anathematized them as impious and heretical. Similar councils were also held in other cities. The most renowned of these was the general council which the Emperor Theodosius, induced by the Pope, called together at Constantinople, in which the decrees of the general council at Nice were confirmed, and Macedonius and others were anathematized as heretics and banished from the city. Besides this, the watchful Shepherd did not neglect to uproot the abuses which had crept into the church, and to exhort all Christians especially the bishops, to fulfill their duties. Among other regulations, he ordered that after the recital or singing of each Psalm, the following words should be added, as a confession of the Most Holy Trinity: “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” He also built new churches and ornamented them splendidly. Many bodies of Saints he reverentially exhumed and exhibited for public veneration. The holy men who lived at that period, as Athanasius, Ambrose and Jerome, he esteemed highly and made use of their counsel. He specially honored Saint Jerome, whom he exhorted to work for the benefit of the Church by translating and expounding the Holy Scriptures. On account of these and many other endeavors, but above all, in consequence of his irreproachable life, he was so highly esteemed, that the Emperors, Theodosius, Gratian and Valentinian, commanded their subjects to profess only that faith and no other, which Saint Peter had formerly preached at Rome, and which Damasus was now teaching; and declared as heresy, all doctrines which had been denounced by the Pope. At the age of eighty years, the Saint ended his holy life by a holy death. It is known that, during his life, he restored the sight of a blind man, while after his death, many possessed were freed from the Evil One at his grave, and many infirm restored to health by his intercession.

Practical Considerations

• Saint Damasus, from the depth of his heart, pardoned his enemies the great wrong done to him, and never thought of revenging himself. Saint Anno evinced, in all persecutions a heroic patience and fortitude, without uttering a word of complaint, or punishing his offenders. Thus act the true disciples of Christ; they do not repay evil for evil; they seek no revenge, but bear wrongs patiently and pardon their persecutors. How do you act when you suffer wrong? Examine your self today in regard to this, and correct yourself where you see you are at fault. Remember the strict, plain and earnest command of Christ, in virtue of which you are obliged to pardon your enemies and persecutors, if you wish God to pardon your transgressions. You have done much greater wrong to the Almighty by your sins, than your enemies and persecutors can ever do to you. Yet you desire that God shall forgive you. How can you then hesitate to pardon the wrong your neighbor has inflicted on you. You say in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us.” You ask in these words, that God may pardon you, as you pardon the wrong your neighbor has done to you; but heed it well: if you do not pardon your neighbor perfectly, with your whole heart, you ask of the Lord, in the words of the above prayer, not to forgive you. Does not your hair stand on end if you consider this rightly? Listen to the words of Saint Anastasius: “If you do not pardon the wrong done to you, you recite no prayer, but ask and draw down upon yourself the curse of the Almighty, when you say: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us.” Saint Chrysostom says the same in the following words: “How dare you raise your hands to heaven, or move your lips to ask pardon? Should God wish to pardon you, you would prevent Him, so long as you bear malice towards your neighbor.” Yes, you even request that He would not forgive you; because you ask that He would forgive you as you forgive. Now you do not forgive; hence you ask that He may not forgive you.

• Saint Damasus died in the 81st year of his age; but he is not a Saint because he lived long, but because he lived a holy life. Holiness and piety lead to heaven, be our life short or long. The years alone have nothing to do with it. Many Saints, confessors and martyrs of both sexes, lived only thirteen, fifteen, or twenty years; and yet they are greatly reverenced on account of their virtue and holiness. Many are in hell who lived long in this world. You have, perhaps, no other wish than to live long, and have prayed to God for this favor. My opinion is that you ought rather to pray for grace to live piously; for, who knows that a long life will be beneficial to his salvation! The words of Saint Bernard apply well to only too many: “The longer we live, the greater becomes the number of our sins.” Many would have died in grace if they had died young; in later years, they fell into vices and thus went to perdition. “What avails long life to us,” says Thomas A Kempis,” if we so little improve our conduct? Long life, so far from reforming us, only increases the number of our transgressions.” According to Holy Writ, Solomon became not wicked until he was old in years. (3 Kings 11) Had he not lived so long, he would not have committed such great sins.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Damasus, Pope”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 3 June 2018. Web. 19 January 2019. <>