SAN LORENZO IN DAMASO – The great work of Pope Damasus

– Anastasios

The church of San Lorenzo in Damaso is another very ancient church in Rome. Of course, this does not come as a piece of big news for this city, because we are aware that Christianity was present in the city since the first century of the Christian era. As the Pope’s official residence is located in the city for the most part of Christian history, it is also understandable that the same city has developed beautiful buildings for worship since ancient times.

The Church of San Lorenzo in Damaso was founded by Pope Damasus in the 4th century and was restored a few centuries later by the Popes Adrian I and Leo III. In the 16th century, the church become a parish.  Many great artists have worked for this church, like Donato Bramante, il Vignola, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Cavalier d’Arpino and others. The church has also a very important musical tradition and part of the historical archive is still preserved.

On March 11, 2017, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza spoke about Pope Damasus. Among other things he has said: “The total and passionate dedication of Pope Saint Damasus to the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, in the faithful and proud exercise of the Petrine office, has innervated and still innervates the entire history of the Church. Suffice it to recall the adoption of the Latin language as the official language of liturgical prayer in the Roman rite, the consequent translation of the Holy Bible into Latin, entrusted by the Pope to St Jerome and reached to us in the Vulgate, the organization of a centralized Curia and the use of decretal letters as a direct expression of the pontifical authority and therefore binding on the universal Church, the strenuous affirmation of Roman centrality, the fundamental role in relations with the emperor Theodosius and the proclamation of Christianity as the religion of the empire, with the ‘Edict of Thessalonica of 380’ which, for the first time in an official way, calls Christians ‘Catholics’ those who adhere to the faith ‘which the Divine Apostle Peter has transmitted to the Romans and follow the Pontiff Damasus.’ But it is to a particular aspect – apparently marginal perhaps – of his ministry, that we want to pay attention.

While Christianity finally savored religious freedom, after more than two centuries of violent persecution, and the worship of the Church moved from the darkness of the catacombs to the great Roman churches and basilicas, while pax Christiana was born. Pope Saint Damasus took care to preserve the now abandoned catacombs and to ‘mark’ the tombs of the martyrs with epitaphs of its refined and affectionate composition – the Damasi Epigrammata – who would sing their praises and transmit their memory to posterity. While Christianity knew the first ‘providential’ favor of political power and also the first benefits that sometimes arose from dealing with heresies and disagreements within the Church, Saint Damasus was concerned with preserving the recent past, the memory of the martyrs, of those who had witnessed the Truth of Christ with words, with deeds, and with their own blood. This attention to the past did not cause him any reluctance to deal with power but quite the opposite, let alone apostolic fervor. That of San Damaso was a look of faith that, objectively, transcended the visible and extended with certainty to the future.”

This magnificent Basilica, majestic in its interior, teaches us that in order to look rightly at the future we need to be well-grounded in the past. (Photo from Wikimedia)