November 10, 2015

November 10, 2015: Memorial of Saint Leo the Great

Pope St. Leo the Great facing Attila the Hun,
a sculpture in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City

Today the Church celebrates the memorial of St. Leo the Great, pope and doctor, during whose pontificate the Council of Chalcedon (451) defined that Christ is one divine person with two natures, divine and human. It was a confirmation of his Epistola Dogmatica (Tomus) to the Patriarch Flavian of Constantinople. He vigorously defended the unity of the Church. He detained the onrush of the barbarians under Attila. (See video below.)

Church historians recognize two popes with the title "Great": St. Leo I (reign 440–461) and St. Gregory I (590–604). Some add St. Nicholas I (858–867). Pope St. John Paul II’s canonization prompted discussion over whether he, too, should be afforded this title.
No one, however weak, is denied a share in the victory of the cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ.
— St. Leo the Great

Read Pope St. John XXIII's Encyclical on St. Leo, Aeterna Dei Sapientia.

St. Leo the Great

Leo I, pope and doctor of the Church, ruled from 440 to 461. He is surnamed "the Great" and ranks among the most illustrious sovereigns that ever sat on the throne of St. Peter. Of his life, we know little; with him the man seems to disappear before the Pope. He saw most clearly that one of his greatest tasks was to vindicate the primacy of the Roman bishop, St. Peter's successor, and to raise the prestige of the Holy See before the entire world. Hardly any Pope in history has occupied a like position in the ecclesiastical and political world.

Leo is highly regarded as a writer. His sermons, which occur frequently in the Divine Office, belong to the finest and most profound in patristic literature. The Council of Chalcedon was held under his direction (451). The Breviary tells us: Leo I, an Etruscan, ruled the Church at the time when Attila, King of the Huns, who was called the Scourge of God, invaded Italy. After a siege of three years, he took, sacked and burned Aquileia, and then hurried on toward Rome. Inflamed with anger, his troops were already preparing to cross the Po, at the point where it is joined by the Mincio.

Here Attila was stopped by Leo (452). With God-given eloquence, the Pope persuaded him to turn back, and when the Hun was asked by his servants why, contrary to custom, he had so meekly yielded to the entreaties of a Roman bishop, he answered that he had been alarmed by a figure dressed like a priest that stood at Leo's side; this individual was holding a drawn sword and acted as if he would kill him if he advanced farther. As a result Attila retreated to Pannonia.

Meanwhile, Leo returned to Rome, and was received with universal rejoicing. Some time later, the Vandal Genseric entered the city, and again Leo, by the power of his eloquence and the authority of his holy life, persuaded him to desist from atrocity and slaughter (455). Leo was also active in matters liturgical. The so-called Leonine sacramentary, a compendium of Missal prayers, contains many of his compositions; some liturgists give him credit for the beautiful offices of Advent.

Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch

Today's Collect

O God, who never allows the gates of hell to prevail against your Church, firmly founded on the apostolic rock, grant her, we pray, that through the intercession of Pope Saint Leo, she may stand firm in your truth and know the protection of lasting peace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Pope St. Leo the Great - His Life and Legacy

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