This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 11 -- Feast of Pope Saint Damasus I

I can''t read Greek.  [I can't speak it either.]  It is a shortcoming which must be addressed some day.  Until then,  I will simply have to take the word of others that εὐδοκίας is genitive.  The difference is important so please bear with me while I wander along a path that connects grammar, Christmas carols, and today's saint.

Pope Saint Damasus I
The Great Schism between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches occurred in AD 1054, but seven centuries before that, things were already breaking down.  Had they not, I might have learned Greek instead of Latin.  The Eastern side of the Roman Empire had just about everything -- the economy was based in the East, the real capital was Constantinople (not Istanbul), and the intellectual vigor was Greek.  Rome was a bloated, crumbling city living on the fumes of its past glory and the economic production it demanded from the rest of the Western Empire.  It did however have two things: the Senate and Saint Peter's Chair.  As long as the Senate met there, Romans could pretend they lived in the capital, no matter where the Emperor happened to be or what was going on in the world.  And as long as some guy sat in Peter's Chair, wore Peter's ring, and said he was the apostolic heir to the fisherman, Romans could believe they held primacy in the Church. 

Pope Saint Damasus I lived during the turbulence that followed Constantine's legalization of Christianity.  The son of a priest (it was okay back then), he worked his way up through the clerical ranks, taking some tough knocks along the way.  In those days, when the Emperor was changed as often as the sheets, you could never be certain who might reverse the toleration and start another persecution.  Or if one of the heterodoxies would become ascendant and start suppressing the orthodoxy that became Catholicism.  Emperor Constantius II banished Pope Liberius, whom Damasus served as a deacon.  At first Damasus also left the City, but then he returned to manage church matters in the absence of the Pontiff.

When Liberius died, Damasus got elected Pope, but the election was disputed and an anti-Pope named Ursinus also claimed the throne and ring.  [How did they know which was the Pope and which the Anti-Pope?  Time told, as it usually does.  It's worth noting that Liberius' supporters were backing Ursinus, while Anti-Pope Felix's faction was backing Damasus.]  In the rioting that followed, more than one hundred people (mostly Ursines) were killed. Ursinus himself was banished to Gaul, but he and his supporters continued to plot against Damasus.  The Ursine Faction accused the Pope of murder and adultery, but rich friends intervened with the Emperor to dismiss the charges. 

I am sure he doesn't sound like much of a Pope to you, but stick with us (Damasus and me).  He was battling three schismatic heresies at the time: Arianism, Apollinarianism, and Macedonianism.  I don't think the Donatists had gone away yet either, but they don't seem to have troubled him.  He strove against these, advancing the cause of unity in the Church with two synods in Rome and a delegation to the first Council of Constantinople.  But more importantly, he appointed Saint Jerome as his confidential secretary and commissioned him to translate a Vulgate (practical Latin) version of the Bible. 

In the Vulgate, Jerome wrote "In terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis."  Now that's a genitive I recognize, and it means "On Earth, peace to men (humans) of good will." The King James Crew and Christmas Carol Crowd might have thought that everyone was deserving, but Jerome (and apparently the Greek writers before him) took a much narrower view of peace on earth.  Personally, I favor the genitive version because it throws the onus back on me:  do I have sufficient good will to deserve God's peace? 

That would have been a good place to stop, but I can't resist noting that the Altar of Victory was removed from the Senate by the Emperor Gratian during the Papacy of Damasus, with papal support.  The Emperor also stopped wearing the insignia of the Pontifex Maximus, and promulgated several other edicts to diminish the old Roman religion.  It didn't usher in peace on earth, but it did advance institutional Christianity. 

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