Archive for the ‘Ditta Annibale Gammarelli’ Tag

Holy Smoke, 137 Dead in Massacre After Papal Election

 Born in what is now Portugal in what was part of the Holy Roman Empire, Pope Damascus succeeded to the papacy amidst factional violence in 366 AD.

 On the death of Pope Liberius on September 24, 366, the Roman Catholic Church was highly divided. The lingering dispute had been over the doctrine of Arianism. During the previous papacy, Emperor Constantius II had banished Pope Liberius, installing antipope Felix II as his successor, because of the emperor’s view in support of Arianism. Damascus had followed Liberius into exile. When Pope Felix II died, Pope Liberius was re-installed as pope.

 (It is of note that Pope Liberius remains the earliest pope never yet canonized by the Church of Rome.)

 Himself the son of Laurentia and Antonius, a priest at the Church of San Lorenzo in Rome –when priests could marry– Damascus faced off against a rival who was elected Pope Ursinus at the same time, across town.   The former supporters of Pope Liberiius, both deacons and laity, had backed Ursinus. As  the Christian congregation of Rome grew in size, the acclamation of a new bishop of Rome was fraught with division.  

 Conclaves, as a place of concentration. Ghetto-like. The Ark of the Covenant and the elections of popes: when the movement of time was like the movement to a new place, with the love for an institution, like the Ark of the Covenant, transporting God from one generation to the next. When a generation itself was like the founding a new town. In the way of formation.

 Ursinus and Damascus were elected simultaneously, in this atmosphere of rioting, as violence and bloodshed followed. At the Church of San Lorenzo at Lucina, the son of a priest at the Church of San Lorenzo in Rome was elected pope. So at the time of the two rival conclaves, one group mainly of clergy supported Ursinus, while another group of upper-class partisans previously loyal to antipope Felix II supported the election of Damasus, at different locations in the city of Rome. In the beginning of October 366, the dissension climaxed with a riot as both sides clashed in the streets which led to a three-day massacre, with the rare intervention of Emperor Valentinian. Damasus prevailed, but only with the support of the city prefect.

 This other Pope Ursinus ruled for several months as the same time that Pope Damascus did, with certain class hostility. Could you feel the real post traumatic stress in the story, before reaching the acceptance level, long before Elizabeth Kubler-Ross met Judy Herman? Once he was securely consecrated Bishop of Rome, his men pursued Ursinus and his supporter who were driven to the outskirts of Rome where 137 were massacred in the Basilica of Sicininus. All of this happened in the early days of the Holy Roman Empire, less than thirty years after the death of Constantine the Great. In the ever changing church, with the theme of living under a dominant power.

 Church historians such as Rufinus and St. Jerome (biased as the secretary for Pope Damascus) championed Damasus. From Edward Gibbons’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:  “The enemies of Damascus styled him Auriscalpius Matronarum, the ladies’ear-scratched.”


Note the disbelief in this story of blood shed, over themes of legitimacy, after the persecution of the Christians. At a synod in 378, Ursinus was condemned and Damasus exonerated and declared the true pope. The former antipope continued to plot for the next few years against Damasus, attempting unsuccessfully to revive his claim as pope on Damasus’s death.

 Damasus did face accusations of murder and adultery (despite having not been married in in his early years as pope). Later accused of murder before a perfect, Damascus was rescued from the charges by the personal interventions of the emperor. It is written that the neutrality of these claims has come into question, with some suggesting that the accusations were motivated by the schismatic conflict with the supporters of Arianism though the reputation of the Church of Rome did suffer from the events surrounding his election, in the land that was not theirs,  

 As a post scripts, the theological dispute now known as Arianism was about the nature of Jesus in relation to the trinity. A priest in Alexandria Egypt named Arius disputed the concept that Jesus was “of one essence” with the Father. The controversy within the church over the two natures in one person of Jesus spread throughout the Christian world.  At the time, Alexandria was considered the second-most important seat of Christianity next to Rome.  In a land of refugees, since the time, in the rhyme, of Moses. 

At first, Bishop Alexander seemed unsure of what to do about the question that Arius was raising which had been left unsettled two generations previously. Today virtually all positive writings on the theology of Arius have been suppressed or destroyed.  It is interesting that these latter day follower of Jesus worried about things that neither the Apostles who so personally felt avid persecutors like Mark who spread the faith in Egypt or Peter who spread the faith to Rome ever did — over who came first, Jesus or the Father.

 It is significant that Constantine the Great had been baptized only on his deathbed by the Arian bishop, Eusebius of Nicomedi.  Constantine’s successors were all sympathizers to Arianism until Theodosius I who through imperial decree, persecution, and the calling of an ecumenical council in 381 AD effectively wiped out Arianism once and for all – as if-you-never-even-existed-at-all – among the non-Germanic peoples of the Roman Empire.