Pope Damasus was born and grew up around Rome. As a child, his parents, Antonius and Laurentia, seperated so that they could live the rest of their lives in the consecrated state. Antonius became a priest and his house became the church, San Lorenzo. Damasus served with his father in this little church. He was a child when the Edict of Milan made Christianity legal. And he watched the Church quickly mature.
In 354, Damasus was an arch-deacon for Pope Liberius and was banished with him over the factional violence question. However, Damasus was able to return soon and took control of the Church's government until the pope was allowed back by the emperor.
Pope Liberius died in September, 366 and Damasus was elected by the clergy and the people the next month. Violence erupted when Liberius' supporters voted in Ursinus and had him irregularly consecrated. The scandal got out of hand and attacks on one church lead to 137 deaths. The civil authorities were petitioned. Emperor Valentinian recognized Damasus and banished Ursinus to Gaul with some of his followers. Eventually the anti-pope moved to Milan, the seat of Arian belief, but he was forbidden to go to Rome or its environs. For the first half of Damasus' reign, the supporters persecuted the pope. This ended in 378, when a Roman synod of forty-four bishops excommunicated the various accusers. This time it seemed to work, because, by then, St. Ambrose had become bishop of Milan.
Damasus had an excellent man as his confidential secretary, the sharp-tongued, sarcastic, but orthodox, St. Jerome. Both men were very learned in Scripture. But they found the Latin translations to be weak. Greek was no longer the common language and the pope chose to move the liturgy to Latin. Jerome was persuaded to revise all the earlier Latin versions, correcting mistakes and producing the well-received Vulgate.
In support of the Faith, Damasus held two synods in Rome to condemn Apollinarianism, which taught that Jesus had a human body and soul but a divine mind, and Maceonianism, which denied the God-hood of the Holy Ghost. He also sent legates to the Council of Constantinople to again condemn these heresies.
Another problem Damasus had to face was the extreme grandeur in which a number of the clergy lived. This lifestyle attracted a certain type of person who was not dedicated to the Faith. This became enough of a problem that the emperor was required to establish laws forbidding widows and orphans to not associate with the clergy or make them beneficiaries of real property.
Damasus was very concerned with maintaining the burial grounds and the memories of the martyrs and saints. He insisted on an architectural restoration of the crypts under the Vatican and built a small church on the Via Ardeatina, where he was eventually buried with his mother and sister. He had epitaphs written for many of the saints buried in these places.
Looking to the future, he expanded the work of the two previous popes regarding maintaining a history of the Church. This pope provided a storage area for the vast amount of material which had begun to come in. Certain churches were repaired, including his own San Lorenzo.
Pope Damasus' decisions and statements shaped the future of Western Catholicism. He declared that the primacy of the Apostolic See was not due to decrees of the councils nor to imperial edicts, but due to the words of the Lord, Himself. This pope lived to hear the edict of Theodosius I, which proclaimed that the religion of Rome was the doctrine that St. Peter had preached and of which Damasus was head. The universal Church was forever branded by these statements.
Saint Jerome assessed Pope Damasus in these words: "an imcomparable person, learned in scriptures, a virgin doctor of the virgin Church, who loved chastity and heard its praises with pleasure."