To celebrate the feast day of Pope Leo the Great (390-461), here is an extract from Fr Jerome Bertram’s booklet, Doctors of the Church, on this vital Pope.
It fell to Pope Leo to meet Attila at the gates of Rome, and to succeed where armies had failed, in negotiating a peaceful withdrawal, and sparing the city from the attentions of a conquering army. Shortly afterwards he had to repeat these delicate negotiations with the Vandals, who did enter the city, but refrained from sacking it. It was this skilful diplomacy that earned him the affection of the Roman people, and enabled him to consolidate the role of the Papacy in guiding the world
on the ways of peace.
But at the same time the faith was under threat yet again from distorted teaching – the achievement of St Cyril of Alexandria in defining the faith at Ephesus was being over-exaggerated by those who thought the two natures of God and Man had been fused into one in the person of Christ. This may seem like too refined a point to be significant, but the effect of this error (the “Monophysite” heresy) was to undermine the reality of
Our Lord’s humanity again. If he is not truly human, we cannot truly relate to him, and he does not truly share our nature. Too busy saving Rome to attend the Council of Chalcedon (451) in person, Pope Leo dashed off a letterstating the Catholic doctrine clearly and succinctly. When it was read out at the Council the bishops sprang to their feet and shouted “this is the voice of Peter!” The resulting Definition of Chalcedon incorporated Leo’s letter (known as his “Tome”) in a beautifully poetic statement about Our Lord, true God and true Man, consubstantial with the Father according to his divinity, and consubstantial with us according to his humanity. He is thus truly the link between earth and heaven, and because we share hishuman nature, he opens for us the way to the Father.
St Leo the Great, pray for us.
Doctors of the Church is available from CTS priced £2.50
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