10 November 2009

Pope Saint Leo the Great

10 NOVEMBER 2009. Today the Church celebrates the memorial of Pope Saint Leo the Great. While history does not record the place or date of Saint Leo's birth, tradition tells that he was born in Tuscany. Pope Leo's pontificate began on 29 September 440 and lasted until his death on 10 November 461. Pope Leo's pontificate, besides Pope Gregory I, was the most significant and important in the Church of antiquity.

We know that by 431, Saint Leo was a deacon that held an important enough role that Cyril of Alexandria appears to have tried to persuade Saint Leo to throw the weight of Rome behind his claim to patriarchal jurisdiction over Palestine. However, nothing more showed the confidence of the Church in Saint Leo, than being dispatched to Gaul to settle a dispute between its two highest officials.

While on his mission to Gaul, Pope Sixtus III died, and the people unanimously elected Saint Leo as Pope. In 440, he began his epoch papacy, know best for centralizing the government of the Church.

In the early years of his papacy, Pope Leo disputed the authentic leadership of the Church with Pope Dioscorus, Pope of Alexandria, the metropolitan of Thessalonica, and the Gallica Church, saying that the Church must be lead by the successor of Peter: "The care of the universal Church should converge towards Peter's one seat, and nothing anywhere should be separated from its Head."

Calling on secular authorities for support, in 445 Pope Leo secured an edict from Emperor Valentinian recognizing the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

The doctrine of the Incarnation (true God and true man) was confirmed by Pope Leo in a letter to the Patriarch of Constantinople. And, at the Council of Chalceon in 451, the same letter was confirmed as the true expression of Catholic faith concerning the person of Christ.

However, aside from important governance matters of the Church, Saint Pope Leo is probably is probably most notably known for meeting Atila the Hun outside Rome in 452, and convincing him to turn back from his sack of Western Europe.

Pope Saint Leo the Great died in 461, leaving many important letters and writings of great historical value. Known for his governance efforts, Pope Leo's pontificate is most significant for the development and implementation of the doctrine of Petrine supremacy.

According to Saint Leo, the Church is built upon Peter, in pursuance of the promise of Matthew 16:16-19. Peter participates in everything which is Christ's; what the other apostles have in common with him they have through him. What is true of Peter is true also of his successors. Every bishop is charged with the care of his own special flock, but the Bishop of Rome is entrusted with the care of the whole Church. Other bishops are his assistants in this great task.

Both the Catholic Church and many Anglicans mark 10 November as the feast day of Pope Saint Leo the Great. The Eastern Orthodox churches mark 18 February as his feast day.


God, you established Your Church
on the solid rock of the Apostles
and You will never allow the powers
of hell to dominate her.
Grant that she may persevere
in Your truth
and enjoy continual peace
through the intercession of Pope Leo.


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