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From The Lives of the Popes from the Time of our Saviour Jesus Christ to the Accession of Gregory VII. Written Originally in Latin by B. Platina, Native of Cremona, and translated into English (from an anonymous translation, first printed in 1685 by Sir Paul Rycaut), Edited by William Benham, Volume I, London: Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh, [1888, undated in text]; pp. 85-88.

The Lives of the Popes,
B. Platina

Volume I.

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A.D. 367-384.

DAMASUS, a Spaniard, son of Antonius, lived in the reign of Julian,1 who was certainly an extraordinary person, if we regard his fitness either for civil or military affairs. He had his education under Eubulus the sophist, and Libanius the philosopher, and made such proficiency in the liberal arts, that no prince was his superior in them. He had a capacious memory, and a happy eloquence, was bountiful towards his friends, just to foreigners, and very desirous of fame. But all these qualities were at last sullied by his persecution of the Christians, which yet he managed more craftily than others had done; for he did not persecute at first with force and torture, but by rewards, and honours, and caresses, and persuasions. He seduced greater numbers of them than if he had exercised any manner of cruelties against them. He forbade the Christians the study of heathen authors, and denied access to the public schools to any but those who worshipped the Gentile gods. Indeed, he granted a dispensation to one person, named Prohæresius, a most learned men, to teach the Christians publicly; but he with disdain refused to accept of that indulgence. He prohibited the conferring military offices upon any but heathens, and ordered that no Christians should be admitted to the government or jurisdiction of provinces, upon pretence that the laws of their religion forbade them the use of their own swords. He openly opposed and banished Athanasius, at the instigation of his sorcerers and soothsayers, with whose arts he was wonderfully pleased — they complaining to him that Athanasius was the cause why their profession was in no greater esteem. At a certain time, as he was sacrificing to Apollo at Daphne, in the suburbs of Antioch, near the Castalian fountain, and no answers were given him to those things concerning which he enquired; expostulating with the priests about the cause of that silence, the devils replied, that the sepulchre of Babylas the martyr, was too near, and therefore no responses could be given. Hereupon Julian commanded the Galileans, for so he called the Christians, to removed the martyr’s tomb further off. 86 This they applied themselves to with wondrous exultation and cheerfulness, but rehearsing at the same time that of the Psalmist, “Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols.” They hereby so heightened the rage of Julian, that he forthwith commanded multitudes of them to be put to death, which he did not before intend. I much wonder that Julian should act after this manner, having had before experience of the vanity of diabolical arts. For entering once into a cave in company with a magician, and being sorely affrighted when he heard the demons howl, in the surprise he used the sign of the cross, at which the demons immediately fled. Upon this, telling his companion that certainly there must needs be something miraculous in the sign of the cross, the sorcerer made him this answer, “That indeed the demons themselves did dread that kind of punishment.” By this slight account of the matter Julian became more obstinate than before, so strangely was he addicted to magical allusions, though he had formerly, to decline the displeasure of Constantius, feignedly embraced the Christian religion, publicly read the Holy Scriptures, and built a church in honour to the martyrs. Moreover, this emperor, on purpose to spite the Christians, permitted the Jews to rebuild their temple at Jerusalem, upon their declaring that they could not sacrifice in any other place. By which concession they were so mightily puffed up, that they used all their endeavours to raise it more magnificently than the former. But while they were carrying on the work, the new fabric fell down in an earthquake, by the fall of which multitudes of the Jews were crushed to death, and the prophesy a second time verified, “That there should not be left one stone upon another.” On the following day the very iron tools with which the workmen wrought were consumed by fire from heaven; a miracle by which many of the Jews were so wrought upon that they became proselytes of Christianity. After this Julian undertakes an expedition against the Persians, of whom he had intelligence that they were endeavouring a change in the government; but before he set forth, he spared not to threaten what havoc he would make among the Christians at his return. But having vanquished the enemy, and returning conqueror with his army, though in some disorder, he died of a wound given him near Ctesiphon. Whether he received it from any of his own men or from the enemy, is uncertain; 87 though some tell us, that he was pierced through with an arrow sent no man knew from whence, as also that when he was just expiring, with his hand lifted up to heaven, he cried out, “Thou hast overcome me, O Galilean,” for so in contempt he was wont to call our Saviour, the Galilean, or the carpenter’s Son; upon which was grounded that answer of a young man to Libanius, the sophist, asking him by way of derision, “What he thought the carpenter’s Son was doing;” to whom the youth replied, “That he was making a coffin for Julian,” a witty and prophetic reply; for soon after his saying so, Julian’s dead body was coffined up and brought away. We are told that this emperor had once been in holy orders, but that afterwards he fell away from the faith, for which reason he is commonly called the Apostate. He died in the twentieth month of his reign, and in the thirty-second year of his age.

Him Jovinian succeeded, who being voted emperor by the army, refused to own that title, till they should all with a loud voice confess themselves Christians. This they having done, and he having commended them for it, he took the government upon him, and freed his army out of the hands of the barbarous, with no other composition but that of leaving Nisibis, and part of Mesopotamia, free to Sapor the Persian king. But in the eighth month of his reign, whether from some crudity upon his stomach, as some will have it, or from the faint and suffocating steam of burning coals, as others, or by what means soever, certain it is that he died suddenly.

Damasus being chosen to the pontificate, was soon rivalled in that dignity by Ursicinus a deacon, whose party having assembled themselves in a church, thither also Damasus’s friends resorted, where the competition being managed not only by vote, but by force of arms, several persons on both sides were slain in the very church. But not long after the matter was compromised, and by the consent both of the clergy and people, Damasus was confirmed in the bishopric of Rome, and Ursicinus was made Bishop of Naples. But Damasus being afterwards accused of adultery, he made his defence in a public council, wherein he was acquitted and pronounced innocent, and Concordius and Calistus, two deacons, his false accusers, were condemned and excommunicated. Upon which a law was made, “That if any man did bear false witness against another, he was to undergo the same punishment that the person accused should have done if he had been 88 guilty.” The affairs of the church being at length settled, Damasus, taking great delight in study, wrote the lives of all the Bishops of Rome that had been before him, and sent them to St Hierom. Notwithstanding which, he neglected not to increase the number of churches, and to add to the ornaments of divine worship. For he built two churches, one near Pompey’s theatre, the other at the tombs in the Via Ardeatina, and in elegant verse wrote the epitaphs of those martyrs whose bodies had been buried, to perpetuate their names to posterity. He also dedicated a marble table with an inscription to the memory of St Peter and St Paul at the place where their bodies had once lain. Moreover, he enriched the church which he had built in honour of St Laurence, not far from Pompey’s theater, with very large donations. He ordained likewise, that the psalms should be sung alternately in the church, and that at the end of every psalm the gloria patri should be added. And whereas formerly the Septuagint only had been in vogue, Damasus first gave authority to Hierom’s translation of the Bible, which began to be read publicly, as also his psalter faithfully rendered from the Hebrew, which before, especially among the Gauls, had been very much depraved. He commanded also, that at the beginning of the Mass the confession should be used as it is at this day. But having at five ordinations made thirty-one presbyters, eleven deacons, sixty-two bishops, he died and was buried with his mother and sister in the Via Ardeatina, in the church built by himself, December the 11th. He sat in the chair seventeen years, three months, eleven days; and by his death the see was vacant twenty-one days. 2


 1  He lived certainly, but he was not elected to the papacy until the reign of Gratian. — ED.

 2  During this pontificate the great council of Constantinople was held, A.D. 381. — ED.

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Previous Pope:  38. Felix II. 39. Damasus I. Next Pope: 40. Siricius I.

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