Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pope Benedict XVI: Catechesis on St. Leo the Great

This fifth-century Pontiff later named a Doctor of the Church reminds us today that the encounter with God in Christ is our true joy and salvation

On Wednesday, 5 March [2008], the holy Father conducted his General Audience in the Paul VI Hall, commenting on Pope St. Leo the Great. The following is a translation of the Pope's Catechesis, given in Italian.

St. Leo the Great

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Continuing our journey through the Fathers of the Church, true stars that shine in the distance, at our meeting today we encounter a Pope who in 1754 Benedict XIV proclaimed a Doctor of the Church: St. Leo the Great.

As the nickname soon attributed to him by tradition suggests, he was truly one of the greatest Pontiffs to have honoured the Roman See and made a very important contribution to strengthening its authority and prestige.

He was the first Bishop of Rome to have been called Leo, a name used subsequently by another 12 Supreme Pontiffs, and was also the first Pope whose preaching to the people who gathered round him during celebrations has come down to us. We spontaneously think of him also in the context of today's Wednesday General Audiences, events that in past decades have become a customary meeting of the Bishop of Rome with the faithful and the many visitors from every part of the world.

Leo was a Tuscan native. In about the year 430 A.D., he became a deacon of the Church of Rome, in which he acquired over time a very important position. In the year 440 his prominent role induced Galla Placidia, who then ruled the Empire of the West, to send him to Gaul to heal a difficult situation.

But in the summer of that year, Pope Sixtus III, whose name is associated with the magnificent mosaics in St. Mary Major's, died, and it was Leo who was elected to succeed him. Leo heard the news precisely while he was carrying out his peace mission in Gaul. Having returned to Rome, the new Pope was consecrated on 29 September 440.

This is how his Pontificate began. It lasted more than 21 years and was undoubtedly one of the most important in the Church's history. Pope Leo died on 10 November 461 and was buried near the tomb of St. Peter. Today, his relics are preserved in one of the altars in the Vatican Basilica.

The times in which Pope Leo lived were very difficult: constant barbarian invasions, the gradual weakening of imperial authority in the West and the long, drawn-out social crisis forced the Bishop of Rome — as was to happen even more obviously a century and a half later during the Pontificate of Gregory the Great — to play an important role in civil and political events. This, naturally, could only add to the importance and prestige of the Roman See.

The fame of one particular episode in Leo's life has endured. It dates back to 452 when the Pope, together with a Roman delegation, met Attila, chief of the Huns, in Mantua and dissuaded him from continuing the war of invasion by which he had already devastated the northeastern regions of Italy. Thus, he saved the rest of the Peninsula. This important event soon became memorable and lives on as an emblematic sign of the Pontiffs action for peace.

Unfortunately, the outcome of another Papal initiative three years later was not as successful, yet it was a sign of courage that still amazes us: in the spring of 455 Leo did not manage to prevent Genseric's Vandals, who had reached the gates of Rome, from invading the undefended city that they plundered for two weeks. This gesture of the Pope — who, defenceless and surrounded by his clergy, went forth to meet the invader to implore him to desist — nevertheless prevented Rome from being burned and assured that the Basilicas of St. Peter, St. Paul and St. John, in which part of the terrified population sought refuge, were spared.

We are familiar with Pope Leo's action thanks to his most beautiful sermons — almost 100 in a splendid and clear Latin have been preserved — and thanks to his approximately 150 letters. In these texts the Pontiff appears in all his greatness, devoted to the service of truth in charity through an assiduous exercise of the Word which shows him to us as both Theologian and Pastor.

Champion of Roman Primacy

Leo the Great, constantly thoughtful of his faithful and of the people of Rome but also of communion between the different Churches and of their needs, was a tireless champion and upholder of the Roman Primacy, presenting himself as the Apostle Peter's authentic heir: the many Bishops who gathered at the Council of Chalcedon, the majority of whom came from the East, were well aware of this.

This Council, held in 451 and in which 350 Bishops took part, was the most important assembly ever to have been celebrated in the history of the Church. Chalcedon represents the actual Christological goal of the three previous Ecumenical Councils: Nicea in 325, Constantinople in 381 and Ephesus in 431. By the sixth century these four Councils that sum up the faith of the ancient Church were already being compared to the four Gospels. This is what Gregory the Great affirms in a famous letter (I, 24): "I confess that I receive and revere, as the four books of the Gospel so also the four Councils", because on them, Gregory explains further, "as on a four-square stone, rises the structure of the holy faith".

The Council of Chalcedon, which rejected the heresy of Eutyches who denied the true human nature of the Son of God, affirmed the union in his one Person, without confusion and without separation, of his two natures, human and divine. The Pope asserted this faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, in an important doctrinal text addressed to the Bishop of Constantinople, the so-called Tome to Flavian which, read at Chalcedon, was received by the Bishops present with an eloquent acclamation. Information on it has been preserved in the proceedings of the Council: "Peter has spoken through the mouth of Leo", the Council Fathers announced in unison.

From this intervention in particular, but also from others made during the Christological controversy in those years, it is clear that the Pope felt with special urgency his responsibilities as Successor of Peter, whose role in the Church is unique since "to one Apostle alone was entrusted what was communicated to all the Apostles", as Leo said in one of his sermons for the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul (83, 2). And the Pontiff was able to exercise these responsibilities, in the West as in the East, intervening in various circumstances with caution, firmness and lucidity through his writings and legates. In this manner he showed how exercising the Roman Primacy was as necessary then as it is today to effectively serve communion, a characteristic of Christ's one Church.

Aware of the historical period in which he lived and of the change that was taking place — from pagan Rome to Christian Rome — in a period of profound crisis, Leo the Great knew how to make himself close to the people and the faithful with his pastoral action and his preaching. He enlivened charity in a Rome tried by famines, an influx of refugees, injustice and poverty. He opposed pagan superstitions and the actions of Manichaean groups.

He associated the liturgy with the daily life of Christians: for example, by combining the practice of fasting with charity and almsgiving above all on the occasion of the Quattro tempora, which in the course of the year marked the change of seasons. In particular, Leo the Great taught his faithful — and his words still apply for us today — that the Christian liturgy is not the memory of past events, but the actualization of invisible realities which act in the lives of each one of us. This is what he stressed in a sermon (cf. 64, 1-2) on Easter, to be celebrated in every season of the year "not so much as something of the past as rather an event of the present". All this fits into a precise project, the Holy Pontiff insisted: just as, in fact, the Creator enlivened with the breath of rational life man formed from the dust of the ground, after the original sin he sent his Son into the world to restore to man his lost dignity and to destroy the dominion of the devil through the new life of grace.

This is the Christological mystery to which St. Leo the Great, with his Letter to the Council of Ephesus, made an effective and essential contribution, confirming for all time — through this Council — what St. Peter said at Caesarea Philippi. With Peter and as Peter, he professed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God". And so it is that God and man together "are not foreign to the human race but alien to sin" (cf. Serm. 64). Through the force of this Christological faith he was a great messenger of peace and love. He thus shows us the way: in faith we learn charity.

Let us therefore learn with St. Leo the Great to believe in Christ, true God and true Man, and to implement this faith every day in action for peace and love of neighbour.

Sources: L'Osservatore RomanoWeekly Edition in English. 12 March 2008, page 11; and Vatican document.

St. Leo the Great: "The reality of Christ's Body and Blood"

“FOR when the Lord says, ‘unless you have eaten the flesh of the Son of Man, and drunk His blood, you will not have life in you’ (Jn. 6:54), you ought to be partakers at the Holy Table, as to have no doubt whatever concerning the reality of Christ’s Body and Blood. For that is taken in the mouth which is believed in Faith, and it is in vain for them to respond Amen who dispute that which is taken.”

~St. Leo the Great: Sermons, 91:3.

The Institution of the Eucharist, by Nicolas Poussin.
Oil on canvas, 1640; Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pope St. Leo I (the Great)

(Reigned 440-61).

Place and date of birth unknown; died 10 November, 461. Leo's pontificate, next to that of St. Gregory I, is the most significant and important in Christian antiquity. At a time when the Church was experiencing the greatest obstacles to her progress in consequence of the hastening disintegration of the Western Empire, while the Orient was profoundly agitated over dogmatic controversies, this great pope, with far-seeing sagacity and powerful hand, guided the destiny of the Roman and Universal Church. According to the "Liber Pontificalis" (ed. Mommsen, I, 101 sqq., ed. Duchesne, I, 238 sqq.), Leo was a native of Tuscany and his father's name was Quintianus. Our earliest certain historical information about Leoreveals him a deacon of the Roman Church under Pope Celestine I (422-32). Even during this period he was known outside of Rome, and had some relations with Gaul, since Cassianus in 430 or 431 wrote at Leo's suggestion his work "De Incarnatione Domini contra Nestorium" (Migne, P.L., L, 9 sqq.), prefacing it with a letter of dedication to Leo. About this time Cyril of Alexandria appealed to Rome against the pretensions of Bishop Juvenal of Jerusalem. From an assertion of Leo's in a letter of later date (ep. cxvi, ed. Ballerini, I, 1212; II, 1528), it is not very clear whether Cyril wrote to him in the capacity of Roman deacon, or to Pope Celestine. During the pontificate of Sixtus III (422-40), Leo was sent to Gaul by Emperor Valentinian III to settle a dispute and bring about a reconciliation between Aëtius, the chief military commander of the province, and the chief magistrate, Albinus. This commission is a proof of the great confidence placed in the clever and able deacon by the Imperial Court. Sixtus III died on 19 August, 440, while Leo was in Gaul, and the latter was chosen his successor. Returning to Rome, Leo was consecrated on 29 September of the same year, and governed the Roman Church for the next twenty-one years.

Leo's chief aim was to sustain the unity of the Church. Not long after his elevation to the Chair of Peter, he saw himself compelled to combat energetically the heresies which seriously threatened church unity even in the West. Leo had ascertained through Bishop Septimus of Altinum, that in Aquileia priests, deacons, and clerics, who had been adherents of Pelagius, were admitted to communion without an explicit abjuration of their heresy. The pope sharply censured this procedure, and directed that a provincial synod should be assembled in Aquileia, at which such persons were to be required to abjure Pelagianism publicly and to subscribe to an unequivocal confession of Faith (epp. i and ii). This zealous pastor waged war even more strenuously against Manichæism, inasmuch as its adherents, who had been driven from Africa by the Vandals, had settled in Rome, and had succeeded in establishing a secret Manichæan community there. The pope ordered the faithful to point out these heretics to the priests, and in 443, together with the senators and presbyters, conducted in person an investigation, in the course of which the leaders of the community were examined. In several sermons he emphatically warned the Christians of Rome to be on their guard against this reprehensible heresy, and repeatedly charged them to give information about its followers, their dwellings, acquaintances, and rendezvous (Sermo ix, 4, xvi, 4; xxiv, 4; xxxiv, 4 sq.; xlii, 4 sq.; lxxvi, 6). A number of Manichæans in Rome were converted and admitted to confession; others, who remained obdurate, were in obedience to imperial decrees banished from Rome by the civil magistrates. On 30 January, 444, the pope sent a letter to all the bishops of Italy, to which he appended the documents containing his proceedings against the Manichæans in Rome, and warned them to be on their guard and to take action against the followers of the sect (ep. vii). On 19 June, 445, Emperor Valentinian III issued, doubtless at the pope's instigation, a stern edict in which he established seven punishments for the Manichæans ("Epist. Leonis", ed. Ballerini, I, 626; ep. viii inter Leon. ep). Prosper of Aquitaine states in his "Chronicle" (ad an. 447; "Mon. Germ. hist. Auct. antiquissimi", IX, I, 341 sqq.) that, in consequence of Leo's energetic measures, the Manichæans were also driven out of the provinces, and even Oriental bishops emulated the pope's example in regard to thissect. In Spain the heresy of Priscillianism still survived, and for some time had been attracting fresh adherents. Bishop Turibius of Astorga became cognizant of this, and by extensive journeys collected minute information about the condition of the churches and the spread of Priscillianism. He compiled the errors of the heresy, wrote a refutation of the same, and sent these documents to several African bishops. He also sent a copy to the pope, whereupon the latter sent a lengthy letter to Turibius (ep. xv) in refutation of the errors of the Priscillianists. Leo at the same time ordered that a council of bishops belonging to the neighbouring provinces should be convened to institute a rigid enquiry, with the object of determining whether any of the bishops had become tainted with the poison of this heresy. Should any such be discovered, they were to be excommunicated without hesitation. The pope also addressed a similar letter to the bishops of the Spanish provinces, notifying them that a universal synod of all the chief pastors was to be summoned; if this should be found to be impossible, the bishops of Galicia at least should be assembled. These two synods were in fact held in Spain to deal with the points at issue (Hefele, "Konziliengesch." II, 2nd ed., pp. 306 sqq.).

The greatly disorganized ecclesiastical condition of certain countries, resulting from national migrations, demanded closer bonds between their episcopate and Rome for the better promotion of ecclesiastical life. Leo, with this object in view, determined to make use of the papal vicariate of the bishops of Arles for the province of Gaul for the creation of a centre for the Gallican episcopate in immediate union with Rome. In the beginning his efforts were greatly hampered by his conflict with St. Hilary, then Bishop of Arles. Even earlier, conflicts had arisen relative to the vicariate of the bishops of Arles and its privileges. Hilary made excessive use of his authority over other ecclesiastical provinces, and claimed that all bishops should be consecrated by him, instead of by their own metropolitan. When, for example, the complaint was raised that Bishop Celidonius of Besançon had been consecrated in violation of the canons—the grounds alleged being that he had, as a layman, married a widow, and, as a public officer, had given his consent to a death sentence—Hilary deposed him, and consecrated Importunus as his successor. Celidonius thereupon appealed to the pope and set out in person for Rome. About the same time Hilary, as if the see concerned had been vacant, consecrated another bishop to take the place of a certain Bishop Projectus, who was ill. Projectus recovered, however, and he too laid a complaint at Rome about the action of the Bishop of Arles. Hilary then went himself to Rome to justify his proceedings. The pope assembled a Roman synod (about 445) and, when the complaints brought against Celidonius could not be verified, reinstated the latter in his see. Projectus also received his bishopric again. Hilary returned to Arles before the synod was over; the pope deprived him of jurisdiction over the other Gallic provinces and of metropolitan rights over the province of Vienne, only allowing him to retain his Diocese of Arles.

These decisions were disclosed by Leo in a letter to the bishops of the Province of Vienne (ep. x). At the same time he sent them an edict of Valentinian III of 8 July, 445, in which the pope's measures in regard to St. Hilary were supported, and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome over the whole Church solemnly recognized "Epist. Leonis," ed. Ballerini, I, 642). On his return to his bishopric Hilary sought a reconciliation with the pope. After this there arose no further difficulties between these two saintly men and, after his death in 449, Hilary was declared by Leo as "beatæ memoriæ". To Bishop Ravennius, St. Hilary's successor in the see of Arles, and the bishops of that province, Leo addressed most cordial letters in 449 on the election of the new metropolitan (epp. xl, xli). When Ravennius consecrated a little later a new bishop to take the place of the deceased Bishop of Vaison, the Archbishop of Vienne, who was then in Rome, took exception to this action. The bishops of the province of Arles then wrote a joint letter to the pope, in which they begged him to restore to Ravennius the rights of which his predecessor Hilary had been deprived (ep. lxv inter ep. Leonis). In his reply dated 5 May, 450 (ep. lxvi), Leo acceded to their request. The Archbishop of Vienne was to retain only the suffragan Bishoprics of Valence, Tarentaise, Geneva, and Grenoble; all the other sees in the Province of Vienne were made subject to the Archbishop of Arles, who also became again the mediator between the Holy See and the whole Gallic episcopate. Leo transmitted to Ravennius (ep. lxvii), for communication to the other Gallican bishops, his celebrated letter to Flavian of Constantinople on the Incarnation. Ravennius thereupon convened a synod, at which forty-four chief pastors assembled. In their synodal letter of 451, they affirm that they accept the pope's letter as a symbol of faith (ep. xxix inter ep. Leonis). In his answer Leo speaks further of the condemnation of Nestorius (ep. cii). The Vicariate of Arles for a long time retained the position Leo had accorded it. Another papal vicariate was that of the bishops of Thessalonica, whose jurisdiction extended over Illyria. The special duty of this vicariate was to protect the rights of the Holy See over the district of Eastern Illyria, which belonged to the Eastern Empire. Leo bestowed the vicariate upon Bishop Anastasius of Thessalonica, just as Pope Siricius had formerly entrusted it to Bishop Anysius. The vicar was to consecrate the metropolitans, to assemble in a synod all bishops of the Province of Eastern Illyria, to oversee their administration of their office; but the most important matters were to be submitted to Rome(epp. v, vi, xiii). But Anastasius of Thessalonica used his authority in an arbitrary and despotic manner, so much so that he was severely reproved by Leo, who sent him fuller directions for the exercise of his office (ep. xiv).

In Leo's conception of his duties as supreme pastor, the maintenance of strict ecclesiastical discipline occupied a prominent place. This was particularly important at a time when the continual ravages of the barbarians were introducing disorder into all conditions of life, and the rules of morality were being seriously violated. Leo used his utmost energy in maintaining this discipline, insisted on the exact observance of the ecclesiastical precepts, and did not hesitate to rebuke when necessary. Letters (ep. xvii) relative to these and other matters were sent to the different bishops of the Western Empire—e.g., to the bishops of the Italian provinces (epp. iv, xix, clxvi, clxviii), and to those of Sicily, who had tolerated deviations from the Roman Liturgy in the administration of Baptism (ep. xvi), and concerning other matters (ep. xvii). A very important disciplinary decree was sent to bishop Rusticus of Narbonne (ep.clxvii). Owing to the dominion of the Vandals in Latin North Africa, the position of the Church there had become extremely gloomy. Leo sent the Roman priest Potentius thither to inform himself about the exact condition, and to forward a report to Rome. On receiving this Leo sent a letter of detailed instructions to the episcopate of the province about the adjustment of numerous ecclesiastical and disciplinary questions (ep. xii). Leo also sent a letter to Dioscurus of Alexandria on 21 July, 445, urging him to the strict observance of the canons and discipline of the Roman Church (ep. ix). The primacy of the Roman Church was thus manifested under this pope in the most various and distinct ways. But it was especially in his interposition in the confusion of the Christological quarrels, which then so profoundly agitated Eastern Christendom, that Leo most brilliantly revealed himself the wise, learned, and energetic shepherd of the Church (see MONOPHYSITISM). From his first letter on this subject, written to Eutyches on 1 June, 448 (ep. xx), to his last letter written to the new orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, Timotheus Salophaciolus, on 18 August, 460 (ep. clxxi), we cannot but admire the clear, positive, and systematic manner in which Leo, fortified by the primacy of the Holy See, took part in this difficult entanglement. For particulars refer to the articles: EUTYCHES; SAINT FLAVIAN; ROBBER COUNCIL OF EPHESUS.

Eutyches appealed to the pope after he had been excommunicated by Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople, on account of his Monophysite views. The pope, after investigating the disputed question, sent his sublime dogmatic letter to Flavian (ep. xxviii), concisely setting forth and confirming the doctrine of the Incarnation, and the union of the Divine and human natures in the one Person of Christ . In 449 the council, which was designated by Leo as the "Robber Synod", was held. Flavian and other powerful prelates of the East appealed to the pope. The latter sent urgent letters to Constantinople, particularly to Emperor Theodosius II and Empress Pulcheria, urging them to convene a general council in order to restore peace to the Church. To the same end he used his influence with the Western emperor, Valentinian III, and his mother Galla Placidia, especially during their visit to Rome in 450. This general council was held in Chalcedon in 451 under Marcian, the successor of Theodosius. It solemnly accepted Leo's dogmatical epistle to Flavian as an expression of the Catholic Faith concerning the Person of Christ. The pope confirmed the decrees of the Council after eliminating the canon, which elevated the Patriarchate of Constantinople, while diminishing the rights of the ancient Oriental patriarchs. On 21 March, 453, Leo issued a circular letter confirming his dogmatic definition (ep. cxiv). Through the mediation of Bishop Julian of Cos, who was at that time the papal ambassador in Constantinople, the pope tried to protect further ecclesiastical interests in the Orient. He persuaded the new Emperor of Constantinople, Leo I, to remove the heretical and irregular patriarch, Timotheus Ailurus, from the See of Alexandria. A new and orthodox patriarch, Timotheus Salophaciolus, was chosen to fill his place, and received the congratulations of the pope in the last letter which Leo ever sent to the Orient.

In his far-reaching pastoral care of the Universal Church, in the West and in the East, the pope never neglected the domestic interests of the Church at Rome. When Northern Italy had been devastated by Attila, Leo by a personal encounter with the King of the Huns prevented him from marching upon Rome. At the emperor's wish, Leo, accompanied by the Consul Avienus and the Prefect Trigetius, went in 452 to Upper Italy, and met Attila at Mincio in the vicinity of Mantua, obtaining from him the promise that he would withdraw from Italy and negotiate peace with the emperor. The pope also succeeded in obtaining another great favour for the inhabitants of Rome. When in 455 the city was captured by the Vandals under Genseric, although for a fortnight the town had been plundered, Leo's intercession obtained a promise that the city should not be injured and that the lives of the inhabitants should be spared. These incidents show the high moral authority enjoyed by the pope, manifested even in temporal affairs. Leo was always on terms of intimacy with the Western Imperial Court. In 450 Emperor Valentinian III visited Rome, accompanied by his wife Eudoxia and his mother Galla Placidia. On the feast of Cathedra Petri (22 February), the Imperial family with their brilliant retinue took part in the solemn services at St. Peter's, upon which occasion the pope delivered an impressive sermon. Leo was also active in building and restoring churches. He built a basilica over the grave of Pope Cornelius in the Via Appia. The roof of St. Paul's without the Walls having been destroyed by lightning, he had it replaced, and undertook other improvements in the basilica. He persuaded Empress Galla Placidia, as seen from the inscription, to have executed the great mosaic of the Arch of Triumph, which has survived to our day. Leo also restored St. Peter's on the Vatican. During his pontificate a pious Roman lady, named Demetria, erected on her property on the Via Appia a basilica in honour of St. Stephen, the ruins of which have been excavated.

Leo was no less active in the spiritual elevation of the Roman congregations, and his sermons, of which ninety-six genuine examples have been preserved, are remarkable for their profundity, clearness of diction, and elevated style. The first five of these, which were delivered on the anniversaries of his consecration, manifest his lofty conception of the dignity of his office, as well as his thorough conviction of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, shown forth in so outspoken and decisive a manner by his whole activity as supreme pastor. Of his letters, which are of great importance for church history, 143 have come down to us: we also possess thirty which were sent to him. The so-called "Sacramentarium Leonianum" is a collection of orations and prefaces of the Mass, prepared in the second half of the sixth century. Leo died on 10 November, 461, and was buried in the vestibule of St. Peter's on the Vatican. In 688 Pope Sergius had his remains transferred to the basilica itself, and a special altar erected over them. They rest today in St. Peter's, beneath the altar specially dedicated to St. Leo. In 1754 Benedict XIV exalted him to the dignity of Doctor of the Church (doctor ecclesiæ). In the Latin Church the feast day of the great pope is held on 11 April, and in the Eastern Church on 18 February.
Leonis Opera omnia, ed. ARDICINIO DELLA PORTA, (Rome, 1470); ed. QUESNEL (2 vols., Paris, 1675); edd. PETRUS AND HIERONYMUS BALLERINI (2 vols., Venice, 1753-7); ed. in P.L., LIV-VI; AMELLI, S. Leone d'Magno e l'Oriente (Rome, 1886), 361-8; JAFFÉ Regesta Rom. Pont., 2nd ed., I, 58 sqq.; VON NOSTITZ­RIENECK, Die Briefe Papst Leos I. im Codex Monacen. 14540 in Historisches Jahrbuch (1897), 117- 33; IDEM, Die päpstlichen Urbanden f252;r Thessalonike und deren Kritik durch Prof. Friedrich inZeitsch. für kath. Theologie (1897), 1-50. Translation of letters and sermons given in FELTOE, A select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, XIId (2nd series, New York, 1896); Sacramentarium Leonianum, ed. FELTOE (Cambridge, 1897). Concerning theSacramentarium, cf. DUCHESNE, Christian Worship; its origin and evolution (London, 1903), 135 sqq.; and PROBST, Die ältesten römischen Sacramentarien und Ordines erklärt (Münster, 1892).;—Liber Pontificalis, ed. DUCHESNE, I, 238 sqq.; TILLEMONT, Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire eccles., XV, 414 sqq.; ARENDT, Leo der Grosse u. seine Zeit (Mainz, 1835); PERTHEL, Papst Leos I. Leben u. Lehren (Jena, 1843d); DE SAINT­CHÉRON, Hist. du Pontificat de Saint-Léon le Grand (Paris, 1845; 2nd ed., 1861-4); FR. AND P. BÖHRINGER, Die Väter den Papsttums Leo I und Gregor I in Die Kirche Christi u. ihre Zeugen (Stuttgart, 1879); BERTANI,Vita di Leone Magno (2 vols., Monza, 1880-2); GORE in Dict. Christ. Biog. (London, 1882), s.v.; LANGEN, Gesch. der röm. Kirche, II (Bonn, 1885), 1 sqq.; GRISAR, Gesch. Roms u. der Päpste im Mittelalter, I, 308 sqq.; IDEM, Il Primato romano nel secolo quinto inAnalecta Romana, I (Rome, 1900), 307-52; IDEM, Rom u. die fränkische Kirche vornehmlich im VI. Jahrhundert in Zeitschr. für kath. Theologie (1890), 447-93; GUNDLACH, Der Streit der Bistümer Arles u. Vienne um den Primatus Galliarum in Neues Archiv(1899), 250 sqq.; (1890), 9 sqq., 233 sqq.; KUHN, Die Christologie Leos I. des Grossen (Würtzburg, 1894); HEFELE, Konziliengesch., II (2nd ed.), passim.
Kirsch, Johann Peter. "Pope St. Leo I (the Great)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.

On St. Leo The Great

Aeterna Dei Sapientia (On St. Leo The Great)
by Pope John XXIII

To the Venerable Brethren the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops, and other Local Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See: Commemorating the fifteenth centenary of the death of St. Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church.

Venerable Brethren Health and Apostolic Benediction

God's eternal wisdom "reacheth from end to end mightily and ordereth all things sweetly." (1) Its light shone with exceptional brilliance in the soul of Pope St. Leo I, for it would seem to have burned into it the very image of itself; so fearless the moral courage displayed by this Pope—"the greatest among the great," as Our later predecessor Pius XII rightly called him (2)-yet so gentle his fatherly concern.

2. The wisdom of his government, the wealth and scope of his teaching, the loftiness of his mind, his unfailing charity—these are the things which St. Leo the Great brought to enhance the fame of Peter's See, to which Almighty God in His providence has also raised Us. And now, on this fifteenth centenary of his death, We feel it incumbent upon Us to highlight his virtues and his immortal merits, confident that these can be of great spiritual value to us all, and increase the prestige and promote the spread of the Catholic Faith.

Life-long Brilliance

3. Wherein, then, lies the true greatness of this Pope? In moral courage?—in that moral courage which he showed when, at the River Mincius in 452, with no other armor to protect him than his high-priestly majesty, he boldly confronted the barbarous king of the Huns, Attila, and persuaded him to retreat with his armies across the Danube? That was certainly an heroic act and one which accorded well with the Roman pontificate's mission of peace. Yet we must think of it as but one isolated instance of a life-long activity of remarkable brilliance devoted to the religious and social welfare, not merely of Rome and of Italy, but of the whole Church throughout the world.

"The Path of the Just. . . "

4. "The path of the just, as a shining light, goeth forwards and increaseth even to perfect day." (3) These words of Holy Scripture may well be applied to the life and activity of St. Leo. To be convinced of this we have but to consider St. Leo in his three main characteristic roles: 1) as a man singularly dedicated to the service of the Apostolic See, 2) as Christ's chief Vicar on earth, and 3) as Doctor of the universal Church.


5. Leo was born toward the end of the fourth century. The Liber Pontificalis informs us that he was "of Tuscan nationality from his father Quintian." (4) Since, however, he spent his early years in Rome, he not unnaturally called this city his patria [homeland]. (5) While still a young man he joined the ranks of the Roman clergy and in due course was ordained deacon. In this capacity he rendered signal service to Pope Sixtus III between the years 430 and 439, and played a considerable part in the conduct of Church affairs. Among the many friends he made at this time were St. Prosper, bishop of Aquitania, and Cassian, founder of the celebrated Abbey of St. Victor in Marseilles. Cassian, whom he persuaded to write De Incarnatione Domini (6) against the Nestorians, proclaimed him "the glory of the Church and the sacred ministry" (7)—praise indeed for a simple deacon!

Theologian and Diplomat

6. At the request of the court of Ravenna the Pope sent St. Leo to Gaul to settle a dispute between the patrician Aetius and the prefect Albinus. It was while Leo was engaged on this mission that Sixtus III died. Recognizing Leo's unrivalled theological learning and practical wisdom in diplomacy and the conduct of affairs, the Roman Church could think of no more worthy candidate for Christ's vicarious power on earth than this deacon.

A Most Illustrious Pope

7. Hence on September 29th, 440, he was consecrated bishop and entered upon his sovereign pontificate. He discharged this office with such masterly ability that he must be reckoned among the most illustrious of the early popes, few of whom reigned longer than he. He died in November, 461, and was buried in the porch of the Vatican Church. In 688, by order of Pope St. Sergius I, his body was removed to "Peter's Citadel" and later, on the building of the new basilica, found a resting-place in the altar dedicated to his name.


8. What then were the more notable achievements of his life? To this question We would reply that rarely in her history has Christ's Church won such victories over her foes as in the pontificate of Leo the Great. He shone in the middle of the fifth century like a brilliant star in the Christian firmament.

The Pelagian and Nestorian Heresies

9. To be convinced of this we have but to consider the way in which he discharged his office as teacher of the Catholic Faith. In this field he won for himself a name equal to that of St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Cyril of Alexandria. St. Augustine, as we know, in defending the Faith against the Pelagians, insisted on the absolute necessity of divine grace for right living and the attainment of eternal salvation. St. Cyril, faced with the errors of Nestorius, upheld Christ's Divinity and the fact that the Virgin Mary is truly the Mother of God. These truths lie at the very heart of our Catholic Faith, and St. Leo, who entered into the doctrinal inheritance of both these men of learning, the brightest luminaries of the Eastern and Western Church, was among all his contemporaries by far the most fearless protagonist of them.

Defender of Church Unity

10. St. Augustine, then, is celebrated in the universal Church as "Doctor of divine grace," and St. Cyril as "Doctor of the Incarnate Word."; By the same token St. Leo is universally proclaimed as "Doctor of the Church's unity."

11. For the integrity of doctrine was not his only concern. We have but to cast a cursory glance over the great volume of evidence of his amazing industry as pastor and writer to realize that he was equally concerned with the upholding of moral standards and the defense of the Church's unity.

12. Consider, too, the field of liturgical composition and the due regard which this religious and saintly Pope had for the unity of worship. Many of the principal prayers contained in the Leonine Sacramentary (8) were either written by him or modelled on his compositions.

On the Incarnation: His Letter to Flavian

13. Most noteworthy, perhaps, is his timely and authoritative intervention in the controversy as to whether there was in Jesus Christ a human nature in addition to the divine nature. His efforts were responsible for the magnificent triumph of the true doctrine concerning the incarnation of the Word of God. This fact alone would assure him his place in history.

14. Our principal evidence for it is his Epistle to Flavian, Bishop of Constantinople, in which he expounds the dogma of the Incarnation with remarkable clarity and precision, showing how it accords with the teaching of the Prophets, the Gospel, the apostolic writings, and the Creed. (9)

15. Let Us quote a significant passage from this Epistle: "Without detriment, therefore, to the properties of either of the two natures and substances which are joined in the one person, majesty took on humility; strength, weakness; eternity, mortality; and, in order to pay off the debt which attached to our condition, inviolable nature was united with passible nature, so that, as suited the cure of our ills, one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Jesus Christ, could die with the one nature and not die with the other. Thus true God was born in the whole and perfect nature of true man; complete in what was His own, complete in what was ours.'' (10)

Condemnation of Ephesine Council

16. Not content with this, St. Leo, having made perfectly clear "what the Catholic Church universally believes and teaches concerning the mystery of the Lord's incarnation,'' (11) followed up this Epistle to Flavian with a condemnation of the Ephesine Council of 449. At this council the supporters of Eutyches had, by violent and unconstitutional means, done all they could to impose the groundless dogmatic assertions of this "very foolish and exceedingly ignorant man,'' (12) who obstinately maintained that there was only one nature in Christ, the divine nature.

17. The Pope, with evident justification, branded this "a robber council.'' (13) In violation of the express commands of the Apostolic See, it had presumed by every means at its disposal to arrogate to itself no less a task than "the breaking down of the Catholic Faith'' (14) and "the strengthening of execrable heresy.'' (15)

The Council of Chalcedon

18. But St. Leo's principal title to fame is the Council of Chalcedon, held in 451. In spite of pressure from the Emperor Marcian, the Pope refused to allow it to be summoned except on condition that his own legates should preside over it. (16) It proved, Venerable Brethren, to be one of the greatest events in the history of the Church, renowned alike for its solemn definition of the doctrine of the two natures in God's Incarnate Word, and its recognition of the magisterial primacy of the Roman Pontiff. We need not, however, enter into any more detailed discussion of it here, for Our predecessor Pius XII has already dealt with it in an important Encyclical addressed to the entire Catholic world on the fifteenth centenary of its convocation. (17)

The Twenty-Eighth Canon

19. St. Leo's delay in ratifying the acts of this council is further proof of his genuine concern for the Church's unity and peace. We cannot attribute this delay to any remissness on his part, or to any cause of a doctrinal character. Obviously his intention—as he himself explains—was to thwart the twenty-eighth canon, which voiced the agreement of the Fathers of the council to the primacy of the See of Constantinople over all the churches of the East.

20. Whether or not this canon was inserted in defiance of the protests of the papal legates, or to win the favor of the Byzantine Emperor, is not clear. To St. Leo, it appeared to undermine the prerogatives of other more ancient and more illustrious churches, prerogatives which had been recognized by the Fathers of the Council of Nicea. He also saw it as detracting somewhat from the authority of the Apostolic See itself. His misgivings were occasioned not so much by the wording of the twenty-eighth canon as by the policies of those who framed it.

21. Two letters illustrate this point: one sent by the bishops of the council, (18) and the other written by Leo himself in refutation of their arguments and sent to the Emperor Marcian. This letter contains the following admonition:—

22. "Things secular stand on a different basis from things divine, and there can be no sure building save on that rock which the Lord has set as the foundation (Matt. 16, 18). He who covets what is not his due, loses what is rightfully his." (19)

23. The sad history of the schism that was later to separate so many illustrious Eastern churches from the church of Rome bears striking testimony to the accuracy of St. Leo's prophetic vision, here expressed, and to his presentiment of the future disruption of Christian unity.

Toward Full Catholic Unity

24. To complete this account We would mention in passing two further instances of St. Leo's unfailing solicitude for the defense of the Catholic Church's unity: his intervention in the dispute concerning the date of Easter, and his great efforts to create an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and cordiality in the Holy See's public relations with Christian princes. To see the Church at peace was the dearest desire of his heart. He frequently prevailed upon these princes to join forces with the bishops and lend them the support of their counsels "for the concord of Catholic unity," (20) so as to win from Almighty God "a priestly palm, besides a kingly crown." (21)


25. Besides being a watchful shepherd of Christ's flock and a stout-hearted defender of the true faith, St. Leo is honored also as a Doctor of the Church, one, that is, who excelled in expounding and sponsoring those divine truths which every Roman Pontiff safeguards and proclaims.

Pope Benedict's Eulogy

26. In support of this We quote that magnificent eulogy of St. Leo written by Pope Benedict XIV in his Apostolic Constitution Militantis Ecclesiae, October 12th 1754, when he made him a Doctor of the Church:—

27. "It was due to his excelling virtue, his teaching, and his most vigilant zeal as shepherd of his people, that he won from our forefathers the title Great. In expounding the deeper mysteries of our faith and vindicating it against the errors that assail it, in imparting disciplinary rules and moral precepts, the excellence of his teaching is so radiant with the majestic richness of priestly eloquence and has so won the admiration of the world and the enthusiasm alike of Councils, Fathers and writers of the Church, that the fame and reputation of this wisest of popes can hardly be rivalled by any other of the Church's holy doctors." (22)
The Sermons

28. It is through his many extant Sermons and Epistles that he principally lays claim to the title of Doctor. The Sermons cover a great variety of subjects, nearly all of which have some connection with the liturgical cycle. In all these writings he is not just the exegete elucidating a Book of Sacred Scripture, not just the theologian at pains to investigate some divinely revealed truth. He is the saintly exponent of the Christian mysteries. He explains them with clarity and with a wealth of detail, in accordance with the faith of the councils, the Fathers, and the popes who preceded him.

29. His style is simple, majestic, lofty, persuasive, a model of classic eloquence. But in declaring the truth he never sacrificed precision to mere rhetoric. He did not speak or write to be admired, but to enlighten the minds of his hearers, and to awaken in them the desire to live lives in conformity with the truths they professed.
The Epistles

30. The Epistles are the letters he wrote as Sovereign Pontiff to the princes, priests, deacons and religious of the universal Church. They display his exceptional qualities of leadership. They show him as a man of keen intellect, yet full of practical good sense; a man of character who kept to his decisions, yet a father most ready to forgive; on fire with charity which St. Paul indicated to all Christians as "a more excellent way." (23)

31. For that blend of justice and mercy, of strength and gentleness, which we observe in his character is surely attributable to that same charity which Jesus Christ demanded of Peter when He made him a shepherd to feed His lambs and His sheep. (24)

32. In very truth St. Leo's life-long endeavor was to appear before the world in the character of Christ, the Good Shepherd. In evidence of this, We may quote the following passage from the Epistles:—

33. "We are encompassed by both the gentleness of mercy and the strictness of justice. And because 'all the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth' (Ps. 24:10), We are forced according to Our loyalty to the Apostolic See so to moderate Our opinions as to weigh men's misdeeds in the balance (for, of course, they are not all of one measure), and to reckon some as to a certain degree pardonable, but others as altogether reprehensible." (25)

Devotion to Truth, Harmony, Peace

34. All in all, these Epistles and Sermons are an eloquent testimony to St. Leo's passionate devotion, in thought and feeling, word and action, to the welfare of the Catholic Church and the cause of truth, harmony and peace.


35. Venerable Brethren, the time is drawing near for the Second General Council of the Vatican. Surrounding the Roman Pontiff and in close communion with him, you, the Bishops, will present to the world a wonderful spectacle of Catholic unity. Meanwhile We, for Our part, will seek to give instruction and comfort by briefly recalling to mind St. Leo's high ideals regarding the Church's unity. Our intention in so doing is indeed to honor the memory of a most wise Pope, but at the same time to give the faithful profitable food for thought on the eve of this great event.

Church Unity in the Thought of Leo

36. First, St. Leo teaches that the Church must be one because Jesus Christ, her Bridegroom, is one. "For the Church is that virgin, the spouse of one husband, Christ, who does not allow herself to be corrupted by any error. Thus throughout the whole world we are to have one entire and pure communion." (26)

37. In St. Leo's view, this remarkable unity of the Church has its well-spring in the birth of God's Incarnate Word. "For Christ's birth is the source of life for Christian people; the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the Body. Although every individual is called in his own turn, and all the Church's sons are separated from one another by intervals of time, yet the entire body of the faithful, born in the baptismal font, is born with Christ in His nativity, just as all are crucified with Him in His passion, raised again in His resurrection, and set at the Father's right hand in His ascension." (27)

38. It was Mary who participated most intimately in this secret birth "of the body, the Church," (28) because the Holy Spirit gave fruitfulness to her virginity. St. Leo praises Mary as "the Lord's virgin, handmaid and mother," (29) "she who gave God birth" [Dei genitrix], (30) sea virgin for ever." (31)

39. Furthermore, the sacrament of Baptism—as St. Leo rightly claims—makes those who are washed in the sacred font not only members of Christ, but also sharers in His kingship and His priesthood. "All those who are reborn in Christ, the sign of the cross makes kings; the Holy Spirit's anointing consecrates them priests." (32) Confirmation, called by St. Leo "sanctification by chrism," (33) strengthens their assimilation to Jesus Christ, the Head of His body, the Church, and the sacrament of the Eucharist perfects this union. "For," as St. Leo says, "the reception of Christ's Body and Blood does nothing less than transform us into that which we consume, and henceforth we bear in soul and body Him in whose fellowship we died, were buried, and are risen again." (34)

40. But mark this well: unless the faithful remain bound together by the same ties of virtue, worship and sacrament, and all hold fast to the same belief, they cannot be perfectly united with the Divine Redeemer, the universal Head, so as to form with Him one visible and living body. "A whole faith," says St. Leo, "a true faith, is a mighty bulwark. No one can add anything to it, no one can take anything away from it; for unless it is one, it is no faith at all." (35)

41. To preserve this unity of faith, all teachers of divine truths—all bishops, that is—must necessarily speak with one mind and one voice, in communion with the Roman Pontiff. "It is the union of members in the body as a whole which makes all alike healthy, all alike beautiful, and this union of the whole body requires unanimity. It calls especially for harmony among the priests. They have a common dignity, yet they have not uniform rank, for there was a distinction of power even among the blessed apostles, notwithstanding the similarity of their honorable state, and while the election of them all was equal, yet it was given to one to take the lead over the rest." (36)

The Bishop of Rome, Center of Visible Unity

42. St. Leo, therefore, maintained that the Bishop of Rome, as Peter's successor and Christ's Vicar on earth, is the focal center of the entire visible unity of the Catholic Church. And St. Leo's opinion is clearly supported by the evidence of the Gospels and by ancient Catholic tradition, as these words show: "Out of the whole world one man is chosen, Peter. He is set before all the elect of every nation, before all the apostles and all the Fathers of the Church; so that although there are among God's people many priests and many pastors, Peter governs by personal commission all whom Christ rules by His supreme authority. Great and wonderful, beloved, is the share in its own power which the Divine Condescension assigned to this man. And if it desired other princes to share anything in common with him, never except through him did it accord what it did not deny to others." (37)

43. And since St. Leo regarded this indissoluble bond between Peter's divinely-given authority and that of the other apostles as fundamental to Catholic unity, he was never tired of insisting that "this authority [to bind and to loose] was also passed on to the other apostles, and what was established by this decree found its way to all the princes of the Church. But there was good reason for committing what was intended for all to the care of one in particular. And so it was entrusted to Peter individually because the figure of Peter was to be put ahead of all those in charge of the Church." (38)

The Magisterial Prerogative of St. Peter and His Successors

44. There is, moreover, another essential safeguard of the Church's visible unity which did not escape that notice of this saintly Pope: that supreme authority to teach infallibly, which Christ gave personally to Peter, the prince of the apostles, and to his successors. Leo's words are quite unequivocal: "The Lord takes special care of Peter; He prays especially for Peter's faith, for the state of the rest will be more secure if the mind of their chief be not overthrown. Hence the strength of all the rest is made stronger in Peter, and the assistance of divine grace is so ordained that the stability which through Christ is given to Peter, should through Peter be transmitted to the other apostles." (39)

45. Applied to St. Peter this pronouncement is clear and emphatic enough; yet unhesitatingly St. Leo claims the same prerogative for himself. Not that he wanted worldly honor, but he had no doubt whatever that he was just as much Christ's vicar as was the Prince of the Apostles. Consider, for example, this passage from his Sermons:—

46. "Mindful, then of Our God-given responsibility, We find no reason for pride in solemnly celebrating the anniversary of Our priesthood, for we acknowledge with all sincerity and truth that it is Christ who does the work of Our ministry in all that We do rightly. We do not glory in Ourselves, for without Him We can do nothing. We glory in Him who is all Our power." (40)

47. By that he did not mean that St. Peter had no further influence on the government of Christ's Church. While he trusted in the continued activity of the Church's Divine Founder, he trusted too in the protection of the Apostle Peter whose heir and successor he claimed to be, and whose office of authority "he in his turn discharged." (41) He attributed the success of his universal ministry more to the merits of the Apostle than to his own industry. Many passages from his writings might be quoted in support of this statement. We chose the following:—

48. "And so if anything is rightly done and rightly decreed by Us, if anything is won from the mercy of God by Our daily supplications, it is due to his [Peter's] works and merits, whose power lives and whose authority prevails in his See." (42)

49. Nor must we think that St. Leo was preaching a doctrine that had never before been taught. For, that his supreme office as universal pastor came from Christ Himself was also the teaching of his predecessors St. Innocent 143 and St. Boniface I, (44) and was in full accord with those passages of the Gospels which he so often expounded (Matt. 16:17-18; Luke22::31-32: John 21:15-17). He frequently referred to "the care which, principally by divine mandate, We must have for all the churches." (45)

The Spiritual Greatness of Rome

50. Small wonder then that St. Leo habitually combines the praises of Rome with those of the Prince of the Apostles. He begins one of his Sermons on the Apostles Peter and Paul by apostrophizing the City in these words:—

51. "It was through these men, O Rome, that the light of Christ's gospel shone upon you... It was they who promoted you to such glory, making you a holy nation, a chosen people, a priestly and royal state, the capital of the world through Peter's holy See. By the worship of God you gained a wider empire than you did by earthly government. For although your boundaries were extended by your many victories and you stretched your rule over land and ocean, yet your labors in war gained you less subjects than have been won for you by the peace of Christ." (46)

52. Recalling St. Paul's magnificent testimony to the faith of the first Christians in Rome, this great Pope bids the Romans preserve the faith whole and entire and without flaw. These are the words of fatherly encouragement he uses:—

53. "You, therefore, beloved of God and honored by apostolic approval—for it is to you that the teacher of the Gentiles, the blessed Apostle Paul, says: 'Your faith is spoken of in the whole world' (Rom. 1:8)—preserve in yourselves that which you know to have been the cause of this great preacher's good opinion of you. Let not a man of you make himself undeserving of this praise, or allow so much as a taint of Eutyches' impious doctrine to infect a people that has remained for so long untouched by heresy, taught by the Holy Spirit." (47)

The Vast Influence of St. Leo's Work

54. St. Leo's heroic efforts to safeguard the authority of the Church of Rome were not in vain. It was principally due to his personal prestige that "the citadel of the apostolic rock" was extolled and venerated not only by the Western bishops who took part in the councils held at Rome, but by more than five hundred Eastern bishops assembled at Chalcedon,(48) and even by the Byzantine emperors.(49)

55. We might also quote that magnificent tribute paid by Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus, to the Roman Bishop and his privileged flock. Writing in 449, before the famous Council of Chalcedon, Theodoret says:—

56. "It is fitting that you should in all things have the pre-eminence, in view of the many peculiar privileges possessed by your See. Other cities are distinguished for their size or beauty or population . . . but your city has the greatest abundance of good things from the Giver of all good. k is of all cities the greatest and most famous, the mistress of the world and teeming with population... It has, too, the tombs of our common fathers and teachers of the Truth, Peter and Paul, to illumine the souls of the faithful. These two saintly men did indeed have their rising in the East, but they shed their light in all directions, and voluntarily underwent the sunset of life in the West, from whence now they illumine the whole world. It is they who have made your See so glorious. This is the foremost of all your goods. Their See is still blessed by the light of God's presence, for He has placed Your Holiness in it to shed abroad the rays of the one true Faith."(50)

57. Nor did these great honors paid to Leo by the official representatives of the Eastern Churches terminate with his death. The Byzantine liturgy keeps the 18th of February as his feast day, and most truly proclaims him as "leader of orthodoxy, teacher renowned for his holiness and majesty, star of the world, glory and light of Christians, lyre of the Holy Spirit." (51)

58. The Gelasian Menology reechoes these praises: "As bishop of great Rome, this father of ours, Leo, whom we admire for his self-mastery and purity and his many other virtues, gained by these virtues many notable achievements, but his most brilliant achievements are those which concern the true Faith." (57)


59. Our purpose, Venerable Brethren, in focusing attention on these facts has been to establish beyond doubt that in ancient times East and West alike were united in the generosity of their tribute to the holiness of St. Leo the Great. Would that it were so today; that those who are separated from the Church of Rome yet still have the welfare of the Church at heart, might bear witness once more to that ancient, universal esteem for St. Leo.

60. For if only they will settle their differences—those lamentable differences concerning the teaching and pastoral activity of this great Pope—then the Faith in which they believe will shine forth with renewed splendor; namely, that "there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (53)

Universality of Christ's Command

61. We are St. Leo's successor in Peter's See of Rome. We share in Peter's See of Rome. We share his firm belief in the divine origin of that command which Jesus Christ gave to the apostles and their successors to preach the gospel and bring eternal salvation to the whole world. We cherish, therefore, St. Leo's desire to see all men enter the way of truth, charity and peace.

The Council

62. It is to render the Church better able to fulfill this high mission of hers that We have resolved to summon the Second General Council of the Vatican. We are fully confident that this solemn assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy will not only reinforce that unity in faith, worship and discipline which is a distinguishing mark of Christ's true Church, (54) but will also attract the gaze of the great majority of Christians of every denomination, and induce them to gather around "the great Pastor of the sheep" (55) who entrusted His flock to the unfailing guardianship of Peter and his successors. (56)

St. Irenaeus

63. Our fervent appeal for unity is intended, therefore, to be the echo of that which was made many times by St. Leo in the fifth century. We wish, too, to make Our own those words which St. Irenaeus addressed to the faithful of all the churches, when God's Providence called him from Asia to rule the See of Lyons and confer on it the fame of his martyrdom. Recognizing that the Bishops of Rome were heirs to that power which had been handed down in uninterrupted succession from the two Princes of the Apostles,(57) he went on to address the following appeal to all Christians:—
64. "For with this church, by reason of its pre-eminent superiority, all the churches—that is, all Christians everywhere—must be united; and it is through communion with it that all these faithful (or those who preside over the churches) have preserved the apostolic tradition." (58)

That All May Be One

65. But out greatest desire is that this Our call to unity shall re-echo the Saviour's prayer to His Father at the Last Supper: "That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in men, and I in thee; that they also may be one in Us." (59)
66. Are we to say that this prayer went unheeded by the heavenly Father, who yet accepted the sacrifice of Christ's blood on the Cross? Did not Christ say that His Father never failed to hear Him? (60) He prayed for the Church; He sacrificed Himself on the Cross for it, and promised it His unfailing presence. Assuredly, then, we must believe that this Church has always been, and still is, one, holy, catholic and apostolic; for thus was it founded.

Some Hopeful Signs

67. Unfortunately, however, the sort of unity whereby all believers in Christ profess the same faith, practise the same worship and obey the same supreme authority, is no more evident among the Christians of today than it was in bygone ages. We do, however, see more and more men of good will in various parts of the world earnestly striving to bring about this visible unity among Christians, a unity which truly accords with the Divine Saviour's intentions, commands and desires; and this to Us is a source of joyous consolation and ineffable hope. This desire for unity, We know, is fostered in them by the Holy Spirit, and it can only be realized in the way in which Jesus Christ has prophesied it: "There will be one fold and one shepherd." (61)

Day of Peace and Reconciliation

68. We therefore beg and implore Christ Our Mediator and Advocate with the Father (62) to give all Christians the grace to recognize those marks by which His true Church is distinguished from all others, and to become its devoted sons. May God in His infinite kindness hasten the dawn of that long-awaited day of joyful, universal reconciliation. Then will all Christ's redeemed, united in a single family, join in praising the divine Mercy, singing in joyous harmony those words of the psalmist of old: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity". (63)

69. That day of peace and reconciliation between sons of the same heavenly Father and coheirs of the same eternal happiness, will indeed be a day of triumph for the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.


70. Venerable Brethren, the fifteenth centenary of the death of St. Leo the Great finds the Catholic Church in much the same plight as she was at the turn of the fifth century. The same waves of bitter hostility break upon her. How many violent storms does she not enter in these days of ours—storms which trouble Our fatherly heart, even though our Divine Redeemer clearly forewarned us of them!

71. On every side We see "the faith of the gospel" (64) imperilled. In some quarters an attempt is being made—usually to no avail—to induce bishops, priests and faithful to withdraw their allegiance from this See of Rome, the stronghold of Catholic unity.

Leo's Patronage Invoked

72. To rid the Church of these dangers We confidently invoke the patronage of that most vigilant of Popes who labored and wrote and suffered so much for the cause of Catholic unity.

73. To those of you who suffer patiently in the cause of truth and justice, We speak the consoling words which St. Leo once addressed to the clergy, public officials and people of Constantinople: "Be steadfast, therefore, in the spirit of Catholic truth, and receive apostolic exhortation through Our ministry. 'For unto you it is given for Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him' (Phil. 1:29)." (65)

74. We pray, too, for those of you who have the security and stability of Catholic unity. Unworthy as We are, We are nonetheless the Divine Redeemer's Vicar, and Our prayer for you is the same as that which Christ prayed to the heavenly Father for His own beloved disciples and for those who would believe in Him: "Holy Father... I pray... that they may be made perfect in one." (66)

Charity, the Bond

75. That perfection and consummation of unity which We most earnestly beg God to grant to all the Church's sons, can be achieved only through charity. For charity is "the bond of perfection." (67) It is charity alone that makes it possible for us to love God above all else, and makes us ready and glad to do all the good we can to others in a spirit of generosity. It is charity alone which makes "the temple of the living God", (68) the holy Church, and all her sons throughout the world, radiant with supernatural beauty.

Perfect in the Whole, Perfect in the Individual

76. These sons of the Church, therefore, We counsel once more in the words of St. Leo: "The faithful, wholly and singly, are God's temple; and just as His temple is perfect in the whole, so must it be perfect in the individual. For although all the members are not equally beautiful, nor can there be parity of merits in so great a variety of parts, nevertheless the bond of charity makes them all alike sharers in the beauty of the whole. For they are all united in the fellowship of holy love, and though they do not all make use of the same gifts of grace, they nevertheless rejoice with one another in the good things which are theirs. Nor can the object of their love be anything which bears no relation to themselves, for in the very fact of rejoicing in another's progress they are enriched by their own growth." (69)

Around a Single Standard

77. We cannot end this Encyclical, Venerable Brethren, without referring once more to Our own and St. Leo's most ardent longing: to see the whole company of the redeemed in Jesus Christ's precious blood reunited around the single standard of the militant Church. Then let the battle commence in earnest, as we strive with might and main to resist the adversary's assaults who in so many parts of the world is threatening to annihilate our Christian faith.

78. "Then are God's people strongest," said St. Leo, "when the hearts of all the faithful unite in one common act of holy obedience; when in the camp of the Christian army the same preparation is made on all sides for the fight and for defence," (70)

79. For in the Church of Christ, if love is queen, no prince of darkness can prevail. "The devil's works are then most effectually destroyed when men's hearts are reunited in the love of God and the love of one another." (71)
80. In furtherance of this expectation, Venerable Brethren, We lovingly impart to each and every one of you, and to the flocks committed to your watchful care, that earnest of the blessings of heaven, Our Apostolic Benediction.
Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, on the eleventh day of November in the year 1961, the fourth of Our Pontificate.


LATIN TEXT: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 53 (1961), 785-803.
ENGLISH TRANSLATION: The Pope Speaks, 8 (July, 1962), 7-22.
(1) Wisd. 8:1.
(2) Sermon, 12 Oct., 1952, in AAS 44 (1952) 831.
(3) Prov. 4:18.
(4) Cf. Ed. Duchesne, I, 238.
(5) Cf. Ep. 31, 4, Migne, PL 54. 794.
(6) Migne, PL 59. 9-272.
(7) De Incarn. Domini, contra Nestorium, lib. VII, prol. PL 50. 9.
(8) Migne, PL 55. 21-156.
(9) Cf. Ibid. 54. 757.
(10) Ibid. col. 759.
(11) Ep. 29 to the Emperor Theodosius, PL 54. 783.
(12) Cf. Ep. 28, PL 54. 756.
(13) Cf. Ep. 95. 2, to the Empress Pulcheria, PL 54. 943.
(14) Cf. ibid.
(15) Cf. ibid.
(16) Cf. Ep. 89. 2, to the Emperor Marcian, PL 54.931; Ep. 103 to the Gallic Bishops, PL 54. 988-991.
(17) Encycl. letter Sempiternus Rex, 8th Sept. 1951, AAS 43 (1951) 625-644.
(18) Cf. C. Kirch, Enchir. fontium hist. eccl. antiquae, Freiburg in Br., edn. 4, 1923, n. 943.
(19) Ep. 104. 3 to the Emperor Marcian, PL 54. 995; cf. Ep. 106, to Antolius, bishop of Constantinople, PL 54. 995.
(20) Ep. 114. 3 to the Emperor Marcian, PL 54. 1022.
(21) Ibid.
(22) Benedict XIV. Pont. Max. Opera omnia, vol. 18, Bullarium, tom. III, part II, Prati 1847, p. 205.
(23) 1 Cor. 12:31.
(24) Cf. John 21:15-17.
(25) Ep. 12. 5 to the African Bishops, PL 54. 652.
(26) Ep. 80. 1 to Anatolius, Bishop of Constantinople, PL 54. 913.
(27) Sermon 26. 2 on the Feast of the Nativity, PL 54. 213.
(28) Col. 1:18.
(29) Cf. Ep. 165. 2 to the Emperor Leo, PL 54. 1157.
(30) Cf. ibid.
(31) Cf. Serm. 22. 2. on the Feast of the Nativity, PL 54. 195.
(32) Serm. 4. 1, on the Feast of the Nativity, PL 54. 149; cf. Serm. 64. 6 on the Passion, PL 54. 357; Ep. 69. 4, PL 54.870.
(33) Serm. 66. 2 on the Passion, PL 54. 365-366.
(34) Serm. 64. 7 on the Passion, PL 54. 357.
(35) Serm. 24. 6 on the Feast of the Nativity, PL 54.207.
(36) Ep. 14. 11 to Anastasius, bishop of Thessalonica, PL 54. 676.
(37) Serm. 4. 2 on the Anniversary of his Elevation, PL 54. 149-150.
(38) Ibid. col. 151; cf. Serm. 83. 2 on the Feast of the Apostle Peter, PL 54. 430.
(39) Serm. 4. 3, PL 54. 151-152; cf. Serm. 83. 2, PL 54. 451.
(40) Serm. 5. 4 on the Anniversary of his Ordination, PL 54. 154.
(41) Cf. Serm. 3. 4 on the Anniversary of his Elevation, PL 54. 147.
(42) Serm. 3. 3 on the Anniversary of his Elevation, PL 54. 146; cf. Serm. 83. 3 on the Feast of the Apostle Peter, PL 54.432.
(43) Ep. 30 ad Concil. Milev., PL 20. 590.
(44) Ep. 13 to Rufus, bishop of Thessaly, 11 Mar., 422, in C. Silva-Tarouca S. 1. Espistolarum Romanorum Pontificum collect. Thessal., Rome 1937, p. 27.
(45) Ep. 14.1 to Anastasius, bishop of Thessalonica, PL 54. 668.
(46) Serm. 82. 1 on the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, PL 54. 422-423.
(47) Serm. 86. 3 against the heresy of Eutyches, PL 54. 468.
(48) Mansi, Concil. ampliss, collect. VI, p. 913.
(49) Ep. 100. 3 from the Emperor Marcian, PL 54. 972; Ep. 77. 1 from the Empress Plucheria. PL 54. 907.
(50) Ep. 52. 1 from Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus, PL 54. 847.
(51) Menaia tou holou eniautou III, Rome 1896, p. 612.
(52) Migne PG 117. 319.
(53) 1 Tim. 2:5.
(54) Cf. conc. Vat. I, Sess. III, cap. 3 de fide.
(55) Heb. 13:20.
(56) Cf. John 21:15-17.
(57) Adv. Haer. 1. III, c. 2, n. 2, PG 7.848.
(58) Ibid.
(59) John 17:21.
(60) Cf. John 11:42.
(61) Ibid. 10:16.
(62) Cf. 1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 2:1.
(63) Ps. 132:1.
(64) Cf. Phil. 1:27.
(65) Ep. 50. 2 to the people of Constantinople, PL 54. 843.
(66) John 17:11, 20, 23.
(67) Col. 3:14.
(68) Cf. 2 Cor. 6:16.
(69) Serm. 48. 1, on Lent, PL 54. 298-9.
(70) Ep. 88.2, PL 54. 441-442.
(71) Ep. 95. 2 to the Empress Pulcheria, PL 54. 943.

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