St. Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor
Today the Church celebrates the memorial of St. Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor.
St. Leo the Great was born in Rome of Italian nobility. As a deacon of the Church, he opposed the heresy of Pelagianism, which taught that grace was not necessary for salvation, but was rather a bonus that God granted to those who earned it by their good works. He was elevated to the office of Pope in 440 and reigned as pope for twenty-one years. As pope, St. Leo labored strenuously to safeguard the integrity of the faith and vigorously defended the unity of the Church. He affirmed the full divinity and humanity of Christ. His most famous writing, commonly known as the Tome of St. Leo (449), was the basis of the Council of Chalcedon’s (451) dogmatic definition of Christ as one Divine Person possessing two complete natures, human and divine.
When Attilla the Hun marched on Rome, Leo went out to meet him and pleaded for leave. As Leo spoke, Attila saw the vision of a man in Priestly robes, carrying a bare sword, and threatening to kill the invader if he did not obey Pope Leo. As Leo had a great devotion to Saint Peter, it is generally believed the first Pope was the visionary opponent to the Huns.
When Genseric invaded Rome, Leo’s sanctity and eloquence saved the city again. Besides saving Rome, Leo earned the title “Great” because of his personal sanctity, the majesty of his bearing, his profound sermons, his desire for Church unity, and his building up of the Petrine office. He died in 461. St. Leo wrote many letters and homilies encouraging and teaching his flock, many of which survive today; it is for these writings that Leo was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1574.
Quotes from St. Leo the Great
“Virtue is nothing without the trial of temptation, for there is no conflict without an enemy, no victory without strife.”
“Short and fleeting are the joys of this world’s pleasures which endeavors to turn aside from the path of life those who are called to eternity. The faithful and religious spirit, therefore, must desire the things which are heavenly, and being eager for the Divine promises, lift itself to the love of the incorruptible Good and the hope of the true Light.”