Strangers to Patrons: Bishop Damasus and the Foreign Martyrs of Rome
Central European University, Department of Medieval Studies
According to Christian theology, Christians are foreigners on earth. This paper focuses on the theme of foreigners and foreignness in the epigrams of Bishop Damasus of Rome. What motivated the bishop to highlight this theme at a time when Christianity was growing “respectable” in Roman society? How did the Church integrate foreign Christians into the social fabric of the Roman town? In late fourth-century Rome, not only foreign martyrs were identified as such, but entire groups of foreigners for whom “national” enclaves were created in the catacombs. I examine the Damasian epigrams in the context of their religious substrate of “alienation” and in light of the cosmopolitan heritage of Rome. As bishop of the Nicene Catholic fraction in the Vrbs, whose enterprise aimed at making Rome a new Jerusalem in part through the “importation” of holy martyrs, Damasus sought to represent his Church at its most “universal” in the teeth of his local schismatic and/or heretical opponents. Roman tradition buttressed the universalist aspirations of Catholicism. As the largest metropolis of the ancient world, Rome was a “cosmopolis,” a melting pot of peoples, and Damasus did not remain a stranger to the Catholicity of Rome’s cosmopolitan history at a time when conflicting loyalties to ciuitas, Romanitas and Christianitas were hotly debated political, religious and cultural issues.