St Leo the Great, pope. (Feast November 10)

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Home > Media > News > St Leo the Great, pope. (Feast November 10)
St Leo the Great, pope. (Feast November 10)

The Western Empire was disintegrating, heresy was rife, moral values were under threat by the barbarian invasions and Pope Leo stands as the resolute champion of the faith. Leo worked tirelessly for Christian unity and to contain the heresies of Pelagianism (overemphasising human freedom), Manichaeism (seeing everything material as evil) and Nestorianism (a belief that Jesus experienced his two natures independently of one another). He convened the fourth ecumenical council in such a way as to help stem the spread of error on Christ's divine and human natures.

Leo is remembered for leading the defence of Rome against barbarian attack. According to legend, the miraculous apparition of Saints Peter and Paul armed with swords during the meeting of Pope Leo and Attila (452 A.D.) caused the king of the Huns to desist from invading Italy and marching on Rome. Attila reportedly joked that he knew how to conquer men, but the Lion (Pope Leo) and the Wolf (Saint Lupus - from Troyes) were too strong for him.

Leo was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Benedict XIV in 1754. A significant volume of his epistles and sermons survives, and can be read in translation. Indeed, one of his sermons is used in the Office of Readings on Christmas.

In his encyclical Aeterna dei sapientias, Pope St John XXIII described Leo’s sermons and epistles as providing “clarity and with a wealth of detail, in accordance with the faith of the councils, the Fathers, and the popes who preceded him.”

John XXIII tells us that like St. Leo he longed to see “the whole company of the redeemed in Jesus Christ's precious blood reunited around the single standard of the militant Church”. Then, says John XXIII, “can the battle commence in earnest to resist the adversary's assaults… threatening to annihilate our Christian faith”.

By Michael McKenna, Director, Office of Liturgy