Skip to comments.Pope Leo the Great
Posted on 11/01/2007 6:33:40 AM PDT by Publius64
Ensconced in the back of Saint Peters Basilica is a side altar that serves as the final resting place for Pope Saint Leo the Great, who reigned as Vicar of Christ from 440 until 461. As one would expect with the rare title of Magnus, Leos achievements are many. At the Council of Chalcedon, he authoritatively clarified the Churchs teaching regarding the human and divine natures of Christ. In addition, he relentlessly defended papal authority and theological orthodoxy in times of upheaval and uncertainty as the Western Roman Empire was crumbling.
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At another, more symbolic level, I believe this work of art is highly relevant for present times. While the days of dramatic showdowns between Popes and belligerent tribal leaders have long since passed, there are, at present, new dangers faced by the Church; forces that gravely threaten her moral authority and by extension, the dignity of the human person. We have another great pope in Benedict XVI, whose peerless force of mind and intellect is matched only by the fervor of his profound spirituality. And he is just as determined to face down nefarious enemies of truth and to defend the prerogatives of the Church as Pope St. Leo the Great was in facing down Attila the Hun. Only now, the enemies are not foreign armies or tribes but rather, and perhaps more ominously, seductive, newfangled ideologies and cultural pathologies touted by the disciples of moral relativism.
The human person and the family are threatened routinely by ideologies rooted in either the utilitarian or sentimental and the free reign of political correctness in todays society makes it extremely difficult to discuss these issues outside the cramped template of these two creeds. On the front of science and research, destructive embryonic stem-cell exploitation has become perhaps one of the most highly controversial and cutting-edge issues of the day. Should unethical research on nascent human life be sanctioned and bankrolled by the state, all in the name of progress and in the misplaced hope for medical cures? So long as it may yield a bounty of good results, should one unethical act, which would set the whole business of alleged cures in motion, be given the go-ahead? Utilitarians would enthusiastically respond, Yes! The greatest good for the greatest number. The Church answers strongly with a Yes! to the dignity of the person and, for that reason, a firm No! to any and all unethical means that would sabotage that dignity.
On the front of culture and society, the question of the nature of family life has also been a heated topic for discussion. Since time immemorial, the family has been recognized by humanity as the fundamental unit of a healthy society. Nature has arranged it that one man and one woman partake in a union and thus become co-creators in the formation of new life. Marriage is the oldest natural institution in human history. Today well-organized movements, fueled by characters who are militantly hostile not only to the Church but to societal mores once accepted by virtually everyone, have waged a full fledged attack on marriage and seek to redefine it out of existence by sapping it of its essence. In a remarkable display of irony, these self-proclaimed advocates of tolerance seek to impose their distorted vision of love and marriage on society via judicial fiat, despite an overwhelming public mandate against them, as witnessed in election after election. The advocates such of policies and practices, whose ultimate goal is to extirpate any commonly accepted recognition of objective truth, shirk rational discussion and rely heavily on rhetorical tricks and emotion-tugging (or clouding) platitudes to advance their cause. The result is often an embarrassing tumble toward an unseemly but logical conclusion. For example, if there are no limits as to what marriage actually is, then why cant eight or twenty people who love each other marry, live together in a sexual relationship, adopt children and claim benefits from the state? To deny that such conclusions must be reached, after having accepted the premise of gay marriage, is to commit what George Weigel aptly calls rational bigotry, that is to say, bigotry against reason.
A superficial overview of the situation may at times show sparse chance of success for a simple and humble worker in the Lords vineyard and for those aligned with him. The modern manifestations of Attila, powerful and numerous, often seem difficult to confront, let alone overcome. But just as in the sculpture, divine assistance and hope always lay on the horizon, even as things seem on the brink of collapse and despair. As we too take shelter behind the successor to Peter, we also glean strength from Christs promise that the gates of hell will never prevail against his Church. Keeping that in mind, we can confront with confidence the maelstrom of moral confusion and the often-violent aggressions that are concomitant. The enemies of the Church, seemingly as omnipotent and unstoppable as Attila and his army, will be confounded and forced into an ignominious retreat just as they appear on the verge of a final march on Rome.
St. Leo the Great
Feast Day: November 10, 2007
With apparent strong conviction of the importance of the Bishop of Rome in the Church, and of the Church as the ongoing sign of Christs presence in the world, Leo the Great displayed endless dedication in his role as pope. Elected in 440, he worked tirelessly as "Peters successor," guiding his fellow bishops as "equals in the episcopacy and infirmities."
Leo is known as one of the best administrative popes of the ancient Church. His work branched into four main areas, indicative of his notion of the popes total responsibility for the flock of Christ. He worked at length to control the heresies of Pelagianism, Manichaeism and others, placing demands on their followers so as to secure true Christian beliefs. A second major area of his concern was doctrinal controversy in the Church in the East, to which he responded with a classic letter setting down the Churchs teaching on the nature of Christ. With strong faith, he also led the defense of Rome against barbarian attack, taking the role of peacemaker.
In these three areas, Leos work has been highly regarded. His growth to sainthood has its basis in the spiritual depth with which he approached the pastoral care of his people, which was the fourth focus of his work. He is known for his spiritually profound sermons. An instrument of the call to holiness, well-versed in Scripture and ecclesiastical awareness, Leo had the ability to reach the everyday needs and interests of his people. One of his Christmas sermons is still famous today.
At a time when there is widespread criticism of Church structures, we also hear criticism that bishops and priestsindeed, all of usare too preoccupied with administration of temporal matters. Pope Leo is an example of a great administrator who used his talents in areas where spirit and structure are inseparably combined: doctrine, peace and pastoral care. He avoided an "angelism" that tries to live without the body, as well as the "practicality" that deals only in externals.