Feast of St. Leo the Great (November 10)   2 comments

Leo the Great

Pope Leo I, Bishop of Rome (440-461); died in 461

Pope Leo the Great contended with barbarian raids and invasions of the Western Roman Empire during its final decades.  To the greatest extent possible he prevented looting, pillaging, and murders.

May we honor his life and legacy.



From the New Zealand Anglicans:

Leo was one of the most significant popes of the early church. He did much to consolidate the papal office, but also won the admiration of those around him for his great pastoral and administrative skills in very difficult circumstances.

We know little of Leo’s early life, but he grew up at a time when the western Roman Empire was disintegrating. The Germanic tribes had spilled over the borders into the empire, and the organisation of the empire was completely unable to cope. Leo’s great abilities as an administrator in these trying circumstances did much to enhance the status of the papacy as both the religious and administrative heart of the west.

Leo served as one of the senior deacons of Rome from about 430, with responsibility for finances, social relief work and administration of church properties. It was a task that he did brilliantly. As a result, when Pope Sixtus III died in 440, Leo was elected as his successor. He brought to the papal office a concern for proper organisation that led to centralisation of control. Where earlier popes had merely responded with opinions when consulted by other bishops, Leo emphasised his role as successor of Peter and as an authoritative voice in the church. The clarity and precision of his statements enhanced the papal office and its widespread acceptance.

Leo took up the same approach to the church in the east, which at the time was racked by theological debates about the person of Christ and acceptance of his full divinity and full humanity in a single person. Leo wrote a long letter (the Tome of Leo), which clearly stated the need to accept the reality of the two natures in one person. In Leo’s eyes he had spoken and the matter was settled. When the document was read at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the majority in the east were grateful for the statement and approved of it, but on the grounds that it was theologically acceptable, not merely because of its papal origins.

Leo was also a consummate diplomat. When Attila and his Huns were about to sack Rome in 452 after rampaging through Milan, Leo persuaded them to withdraw and accept an annual tribute payment instead. Three years later, when Genseric led his Vandals on a pillaging expedition in Rome, Leo again interceded and persuaded them to desist from the slaughter of the citizens. Leo then gave his energies to restoring the city and its churches and the morale of the people. It is understandable that soon after his death in 461 Leo was being honoured by the people as a saint.

For Liturgical Use

Leo the Great was elected bishop of Rome in 440 and brought great skills of care and administration to the papal office. At a time when the western Roman Empire was disintegrating, he provided a central focus for decisions of the church in the west. He administered the resources of the church well and negotiated with the invading Huns and Vandals to ensure peace and stability in Rome. His letter to the eastern church on the person of Christ was accepted at Chalcedon as a helpful and orthodox statement. He died in 461.


O Lord our God, grant that your Church, following the teaching of your servant Leo of Rome, may hold fast the great mystery of our redemption, and adore the one Christ, true God and true Man, neither divided from our human nature nor separate from your divine Being; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Lamentations 3:22-33

Psalm 77:11-15

2 Timothy 1:6-14

Matthew 5:13-19


Posted September 10, 2009 by neatnik2009 in November, Saints of the 400s

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