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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 72. The Roman Schism of Damasus and Ursinus.


Rufinus: Hist. Eccl. ii. 10. Hieronymus: Chron. ad ann. 366. Socrates: H. E. iv. 29 (all in favor of Damasus). Faustinus et Marcellinus (two presbyters of Ursinus): Libellus precum ad Imper. Theodos. in Bibl. Patr. Lugd. v. 637 (in favor of Ursinus). With these Christian accounts of the Roman schism may be compared the impartial statement of the heathen historian Ammianus Marcellinus, xxvii. c. 3, ad ann. 367.


The church schism between Damasus and Ursinus (or Ursicinus) in Rome, had nothing to do with the question of discipline, but proceeded partly from the Arian controversy, partly from personal ambition.677677   Ammianus Marc., l.c., intimates the latter: “Damasus et Ursinus supra humanum modum ad rapiendam episcopatus sedem ardentes scissis studiis asperrimo conflictabantur,” etc. For such were the power and splendor of the court of the successor of the Galilean fisherman, even at that time, that the distinguished pagan senator, Praetextatus, said to Pope Damasus: “Make me a bishop of Rome, and I will be a Christian to-morrow.”678678   This is related even by St. Jerome(Comp. above § 53, p. 267, note), and goes to confirm the statements of Ammianus. The schism presents a mournful example of the violent character of the episcopal elections at Rome. These elections were as important events for the Romans as the elections of the emperors by the Praetorian soldiers had formerly been. They enlisted and aroused all the passions of the clergy and the people.

The schism originated in the deposition and banishment of the bishop Tiberius, for his orthodoxy, and the election of the Arian Felix679679   Athanasius (Historia Arianorum ad Monachos, § 75, Opera ed. Bened. i. p. 389), and Socrates (H. E. ii. 37), decidedly condemn him as an Arian. Nevertheless this heretic and anti-pope has been smuggled into the Roman catalogue of saints and martyrs. Gregory XIII instituted an investigation into the matter, which was terminated by the sudden discovery of his remains, with the inscription: “Pope and Martyr.” as pope in opposition by the arbitrary will of the emperor Constantius (a.d. 355). Liberius, having in his exile subscribed the Arian creed of Sirmium, 680680   According to Baronius, ad a. 357, the jealousy of Felix was the Delilah, who robbed the catholic Samson (Liberius) of his strength. was in 358 reinstated, and Felix retired, and is said to have subsequently repented his defection to Arianism. The parties, however, continued.

After the death of Liberius in 366, Damasus was, by the party of Felix, and Ursinus by the party of Liberius, elected successor of Peter. It came to repeated bloody encounters; even the altar of the Prince of Peace was desecrated, and in a church whither Ursinus had betaken himself, a hundred and thirty-seven men lost their lives in one day.681681   Ammian. Marc. l. xxvii. c. 3: “Constat in basilica Sicinini (Sicinii), ubi ritus Christiani est conventiculum, uno die cxxxvii. reperta cadavera peremtorum.” Then he speaks of the pomp and luxury of the Roman bishopric, on account of which it was the object of so passionate covetousness and ambition, and contrasts with it the simplicity and self-denial of the rural clergy. The account is confirmed by Augustine, Brevic. Coll.c. Donat. c. 16, and Hieron. in Chron. an. 367. Socrates, iv. 29, speaks generally of several fights, in which many lives were lost. Other provinces also were drawn into the quarrel. It was years before Damasus at last, with the aid of the, emperor, obtained undisputed possession of his office, and Ursinus was banished. The statements of the two parties are so conflicting in regard to the priority and legitimacy of election in the two cases, and the authorship of the bloody scenes, that we cannot further determine on which side lay the greater blame. Damasus, who reigned from 367 to 384) is indeed depicted as in other respects a violent man,682682   His opponents also charged him with too great familiarity with Roman ladies. The same accusation, however, was made against his friend Jerome, on account of his zeal for the spread of the ascetic life among the Roman matrons. but he was a man of learning and literary taste, and did good service by his patronage of Jerome’s Latin version of the Bible, and by the introduction of the Latin Psalter into the church song.683683   Comp. on Damasus his works, edited by Merenda, Rome, 1754, several epistles of Jerome, Tillemont, tom. viii. 386, and Butler’s Lives of the Saints, sub Dec. 11th.



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