Presentation Title

The First Pontiff: Expansion of Papal Authority Under Damasus I (366-384)

Location

Room 2908

Session Format

Paper Presentation

Research Area Topic:

Humanities & Social Sciences - History

Co-Presenters, Co- Authors, Co-Researchers, Mentors, or Faculty Advisors

Thesis Adviser: Dr. Timothy M. Teeter

Abstract

Although not as well-known as the great popes Gregory I and Leo I; Damasus I ranks as one of the most significant popes of Late Antiquity and arguably the entire history of the Christian Church. During the eight decades that comprised the life of Damasus, Christianity went from a fiercely persecuted minority sect to the state religion of the Roman Empire. During his eighteen year pontificate, the papal institution rose from its nadir to the loftiest heights of its power until that point. It would be Pope Leo who would sixty-five years later ultimately usher in the form of the institution as it is understood today, but he built on the firm foundation that Damasus laid.

This thesis focuses on primary sources, especially those penned by Damasus himself. Chief among these are the epigrams which he wrote for Christian martyrs and ordered inscribed on their tombs in the catacombs. Beyond mere commemoration of the heroes of the Christian faith, these epigrams reveal the importance with which Damasus believed Rome itself held and the function which he felt the city, and her bishop, should serve in the wider world.

The paper will go on to examine in what ways Damasus turned his vision into a reality. Sources for this theme include correspondence of Damasus with individuals as well groups such as the college of bishops. Examination of imperial rescripts and edicts will also be critical to this analysis. Very few of these documents come from the hand of Damasus or are addressed to him. All of them, however; mention him or concern events and personages that played some part in his pontificate.

Upon the accession of Damasus, the death throes of Roman paganism and the internecine conflict of divergent Christian sects combined to grievously threaten the existence of the Church. Under the leadership of Damasus, the Church in the West weathered these storms and Damasus won preeminence for the Roman See as the spoils of his victory. At the end of his life, Damasus was forced to defend his claim against the Church in the East, a battle that would continue long after his death. Damasus was not great, but under a lesser man, the institution of the papacy may well have crumbled. Instead, it was dramatically and irrevocably bolstered, and would go on to dramatically affect the history of Western civilization, and eventually the whole world, for fifteen hundred years.

Keywords

Damasus, Papacy, Late antiquity, Rome, Early Christianity, Catholicism, Epigraphs, Martyrs, Catacombs

Presentation Type and Release Option

Presentation (Open Access)

Start Date

4-24-2015 4:00 PM

End Date

4-24-2015 5:00 PM

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Apr 24th, 4:00 PM Apr 24th, 5:00 PM

The First Pontiff: Expansion of Papal Authority Under Damasus I (366-384)

Room 2908

Although not as well-known as the great popes Gregory I and Leo I; Damasus I ranks as one of the most significant popes of Late Antiquity and arguably the entire history of the Christian Church. During the eight decades that comprised the life of Damasus, Christianity went from a fiercely persecuted minority sect to the state religion of the Roman Empire. During his eighteen year pontificate, the papal institution rose from its nadir to the loftiest heights of its power until that point. It would be Pope Leo who would sixty-five years later ultimately usher in the form of the institution as it is understood today, but he built on the firm foundation that Damasus laid.

This thesis focuses on primary sources, especially those penned by Damasus himself. Chief among these are the epigrams which he wrote for Christian martyrs and ordered inscribed on their tombs in the catacombs. Beyond mere commemoration of the heroes of the Christian faith, these epigrams reveal the importance with which Damasus believed Rome itself held and the function which he felt the city, and her bishop, should serve in the wider world.

The paper will go on to examine in what ways Damasus turned his vision into a reality. Sources for this theme include correspondence of Damasus with individuals as well groups such as the college of bishops. Examination of imperial rescripts and edicts will also be critical to this analysis. Very few of these documents come from the hand of Damasus or are addressed to him. All of them, however; mention him or concern events and personages that played some part in his pontificate.

Upon the accession of Damasus, the death throes of Roman paganism and the internecine conflict of divergent Christian sects combined to grievously threaten the existence of the Church. Under the leadership of Damasus, the Church in the West weathered these storms and Damasus won preeminence for the Roman See as the spoils of his victory. At the end of his life, Damasus was forced to defend his claim against the Church in the East, a battle that would continue long after his death. Damasus was not great, but under a lesser man, the institution of the papacy may well have crumbled. Instead, it was dramatically and irrevocably bolstered, and would go on to dramatically affect the history of Western civilization, and eventually the whole world, for fifteen hundred years.