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Leo I

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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Leo II
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saint and pope, surnamed the Great, noted as the real founder of the papacy, was born about the year 390, though the exact date is not ascertained. We have also no precise information as to his birthplace; for while the liber pontificalis describes him as a Tuscan,. and names Quintianus as his father, Quesnel, on the authority of an expression in one of Leo's own letters. (31:4), and an account of his election by a certain Prosper, stated that he was born at Rome, and this opinion has been accepted without further inquiry by most subsequent ecclesiastical writers. While yet an acolyte, Leo was dispatched, in A.D. 418, to Carthage, for the purpose of conveying to Aurelius and the other African bishops the sentiments of Zosimus concerning the Pelagian doctrines of Coelestius (q.v.). Under Celestine (q.v.) he discharged the duties of a deacon; and the reputation. even then (431) enjoyed by him is clearly indicated by the terms of the epistle prefixed to the seven books De Incarnatione Christi of Cassianus, who at his request had undertaken this work against the Nestorian heresy. About this time he was applied to by Cyril of Alexandria to settle a difficulty between Juvenal, bishop of Jerusalem, and the primate of the ecclesiastical province of Jerusalem. Having obtained a great reputation for his knowledge, energy, and untiring activity, he failed not to secure the full confidence of Sixtus III (432. 440), to whom he rendered valuable service. in several. important offices entrusted to him. Attracting also the notice of Valentinian III, he undertook, by request of this emperor, a mission to Gaul, to soothe the formidable dissensions existing between the two generals Aetius and Albinus. While Leo was engaged in this delicate negotiation, which was conducted with singular prudence and perfect success, Sixtus III died, Aug. 3, 440, and by the unanimous voice of the clergy and laity the absent deacon Leo was chosen to fill the vacant seat. Envoys were at once sent to Gaul to apprise him of his election, and having returned to Rome he was duly installed, Sept. 29,440.

Both the State and the Church were then in a critical position; the former in consequence of the frequent invasions of barbarians; the Church through its inner dissensions and quarrels. From the earliest ages until this epoch no man who combined lofty ambition with commanding intellect and political dexterity had presided over the Roman see; and although its influence had gradually increased, and many of its bishops had sought to extend and confirm that influence, yet they had merely availed themselves of accidental circumstances to augment their own personal authority, without acting upon any distinct and well devised scheme. But Leo, while he zealously watched over his own peculiar flock, concentrated all the powers of his energetic mind upon one great design, which he seems to have formed at a very early period, and which he kept steadfastly in view during a long and eventful life, following it out with consummate boldness, perseverance, and talent. This was nothing less than the establishment of the "apostolic chair" as a spiritual supremacy over every branch of the Catholic Church, and the exclusive appropriation for its occupant of the title of Papa, or father of the whole Christian world.

Leo may therefore be regarded as the precursor of Gregory the Great, and in this respect certainly deserved the surname of Great, which was given him. The evil days amid which his lot was cast were not unfavorable, as might at first sight be supposed, to such a project. The contending parties among the orthodox clergy, terrified by the rapid progress of Arianism, were well disposed to refer their minor disputes to arbitration. Leo, who well knew, from the example of his predecessor Innocent I, that the transition is easy from instruction to command, in the numerous and elaborate replies which he addressed to inquiries proceeding from various quarters, studiously adopted a tone of absolute infallibility, and assumed the right of enforcing obedience to his decisions as an unquestionable prerogative of his office, deriving authority for such a position from the relation of Peter to Christ and to the other apostles. He represented Peter as most intimately connected with Christ: "Petrum in consortium individine unitatis assumtum, id quod ipse erat, voluit nominari dicendo: Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam, ut oeterni templi aedificatio, mirabili munere gratia dei, in Petri soliditate consisteret; hac ecclesiam suam firmitate corroborans, ut illam nec humana temeritas posset appetere, nec portue contra illam inferi pravalerent" (Letters, 10:1). This community of person into which the Lord received Peter is then made to extend into a community of power: "Q Quia tu es Petrus, i.e. cum ego sim lapis angularis, qui facio utraque unum, ego fundamentum, prmeter quod nenmo potest aliud ponere; tamen tu quoque petra es, quia mea virtute solidaris, et qua mihi potestate sunt propria, sint tibi mecume participatione communia" (Letters, 4:2). Peter had been received into the community of person with the Lord as a reward for his recognition and worship of Christ: true, he had denied his Master, but this the Lord had intentionally permitted to happen. But, in comparison with the other apostles, he possessed not only all that every one of them did, but also much that the others did not (Letters, 4:2), and was their original chief: "Transivit quidem etiam in alios apostolos jus potestatis istius (ligandi et solvendi) et ad omnes ecclesie principes decreti hujus constitutio commeavit, sed non frustra uni commendatur, quod omnibus intimetur. Petro enim ideo hoc singulariter creditur, qui cunctis ecclesiae rectoribus Petri forma preeponitur." It is only in him that the apostles were entrusted with their mission in him they are all saved; and it is for this reason that the Lord takes special care of hinm, and that his faith is prayed for specially, "tanquam aliorum status certior sit futurus, si meus principis victa non fuerit." After identifying the Church with the incarnation of Christ, Leo identifies Peter with Christ. This primacy of Peter continues, therefore, for while the faith of Peter is retained, all the privileges attached to this faith in Peter remain also.

This primacy continues among the followers of Peter, for they hold the same relation towards Peter that Peter held towards Christ; as Christ was in Peter, so is Peter in his successors; it is still Peter who, through them, fulfills the command of Christ, "Feed my sheep!" "Christus tantam potentiam dedit ei, quem totius ecclesiae principem fecit, ut si quid etiam nostris temporibus recte per nos agitur recteque disponitur, illius operibus, illius sit gubernaculis deputandum, cui dictum est: Et tu conversus confirma fratres tuos" (Sermon. 4:4). While affecting the utmost humility when speaking of himself personally as unworthy of his high office, he speaks of that office itself as the most exalted station. It was more difficult for Leo, however, to prove that the bishop of Rome is the successor of St. Peter. Rome, says Leo, has been glorified by the death of the two greatest apostles, Peter and Paul, who brought the Gospel to the Eternal City; and Leo claims to discover a special Providence in this coming of Peter to Rome, so that that city should through him and in him become the center of the Christian world. "Ut hujus enarrabills gratise (incarnationis) per totum mundum diffunderetur effectus, Romanum regnum divina providentia praeparavit; cujus ad eos limites incrementa perducta sunt, quibus cunctarum undique gentium vicina et contigua esset universitas. Disposito namque divinitus operi maxime congruebat, ut multa regna uno confederarentur imperio et cito pervios haberet populos praedicatio generalis, quos unius teneret regimen civitatis" (Serm. 82:2). Here, finding dogmatical arguments unavailable for his purpose, Leo turns to history, which he arranges to suit himself. With regard now to the relation existing between the bishop of Rome and the other bishops, Leo says expressly, "All the bishops have indeed the same office, but not the same power. For even among the apostles, although they were all called apostles, there existed a remarkable distinction, for one only, Peter, held the first rank. From this results the difference among the bishops. It is a fundamental law of the Church that all have not the equal right to express all things, but that in each province there is one (the bishop of the principal place in the province) who has the first voice among his brethren. Again, those who occupy more important sees (the metropolitans of dioceses) have still greater power.

But the direction of the whole Church is the care of the chair of St. Peter, and no one can take anything away from him who is the head of all." Potent but unconscious instruments in forwarding Leo's ambitious schemes were found in the barbarian chiefs whose power was not yet consolidated, and who were eager to propitiate one who possessed such weight with the priesthood, and through them could either calm into submission or excite to rebellion an ignorant and fanatic multitude. But, though the minds of men were in some degree prepared and disposed to yield to such domination, it was scarcely to be expected that the efiort should not provoke jealousy and resistance. A strong opposition was speedily organized both in the West and in the East, and soon assumed the attitude of open defiance. In the West the contest was brought to an issue by the controversy with Hilary of Aries, (See HILARIUS ARELATENSIS), concerning the deposition of Chelidonius, bishop of Vesontio (Besanon), who had married a widow, which was forbidden by the canons. Chelidonius appealed to Leo, who reinstated him in his see. Hilary was summoned to Rome upon several charges brought against him by other bishops of Gaul, to whom his severity was obnoxious; and Leo obtained a rescript from the emperor Valentinian III suspending Hilary from his episcopal office. This suspension, however, does not appear to have been lasting, although the fact has been taken hold of by controversial writers as a stretch of jurisdiction in the see of Rome. Quesnel published a dissertation upon this controversy in his edition of the works of Leo (Paris, 1675). The total defeat and severe punishment of the Gallican bishop filled his supporters with terror, and the edict of Valentinian served as a sort of charter, in virtue of which the Roman bishops exercised for centuries undisputed jurisdiction over France, Spain, Germany, and Britain. In the East the struggle was much more complicated and the result much less satisfactory. The archimandrite Eutyches (q.v.), in his vehement denunciation of Nestorius. having been betrayed into errors, very different, indeed, but considered equally dangerous, was anathematized, deposed, and excommunicated, in A.D. 448, by the synod of Constantinople. Against this sentence he sought redress by soliciting the interference of the bishops of Alexandria and Rome.

His cause was eagerly espoused by the former. As for Leo, he wrote to the patriarch Flavianus (q.v.), telling him that "he had been informed of the disturbances which had taken place in the Church of Constantinople by the emperor, and was surprised that Flavianus had not at once written to him about it, and informed him thereof before the subject had been disclosed to any one else." Leo also informed Flavianus that he had received a letter from Eutyches complaining that his excommunication had been without just cause, and that his appeal to Rome had not been considered. Flavianus was to send to Rome a competent envoy, with full information of all the particulars of the case, to render final judgment in the matter. In a case like the present, says Leo, in his conclusion, the first thing of all to be attended to is "ut sine strepitu concertationum et custodiatur caritas et veritas defendatur." In a letter of the same date to the emperor, Leo rejoices that Theodosius has not only a royal, but also a priestly heart, and carefully guarded against schism, for "the state also is in the best condition when the holy Trinity is worshipped in unity." Meanwhile a general council was summoned to be held on the 1st of August, 449, at Ephesus, and thither the ambassadors of Leo repaired, for the purpose of reading publicly the above letter to Flavianus. But a great majority of the congregated fathers, acting under control of the president, Dioscurus of Alexandria, refused to listen to the document, passed tumultuously a series of resolutions favorable to Eutyches, excommunicated the most zealous of his opponents, and not only treated the Roman envoys with indignity, but even offered violence to their persons. Hence this assembly, whose acts were all subsequently annulled, is known in ecclesiastical history as the Synoldus Latrocinalis.

The vehement complaints addressed to Theodosius by the orthodox leaders proved fruitless, and the triumph of their opponents was for a time complete, when the sudden death of the emperor, in 450, again awakened the hopes and called forth the exertions of Leo. In consequence of the pressing representations of his envoys, Anatolius, the successor of Flavianus, together with all the clergy of Constantinople, was induced to subscribe the Confession of Faith contained in the Epistle to Flavianus, and to transmit it for signature to all the dioceses of the East. Encouraged by this success, Leo solicited the new monarch, Marcian, to summon a grand council for the final adjustment of the question concerning the nature of Christ, which still proved a source of discord, and strained every nerve to have it held in Italy, where his own adherents would necessarily have preponderated. In this, however, he failed, as the council was held at Chalcedon in October, 451. Although the Roman legates, whose language was of the most imperious description, did not fail broadly to assert the pretensions put forth by the representative of St. Peter, at first all went smoothly. The Epistle to Flavianus was admitted as a rule of faith for the guidance of the universal Church, and no protest was entered against the spirit of arrogant assumption in which it was conceived. But when the whole of the special business was concluded, at the very last sitting, a formal resolution was proposed and passed, to the effect that while the Roman see was, in virtue of its antiquity, entitled to take formal precedence of every other, the see of Constantinople was to stand next in rank, was to be regarded as independent from every other, and to exercise full jurisdiction over the churches of Asia, Thrace, and Pontus. The resistance of Leo was all in vain. The obnoxious canons were fully confirmed, and thus one half of the sovereignty at which he aimed was lost forever, at the very moment when victory seemed no longer doubtful. Leo made another and last effort on the 22d of May, 452, when he wrote to Marcian and to Pulcheria, threatening, but in vain, to excommunicate Anatolius. In 457, after the death of Marcian, the party of Eutyches made a last effort, and besought the new emperor to assemble a council to condemn the decrees of that of Chalcedon, but the emperor refused to yield to this request. In the mean time serious events were taking place at Rome. In 452 the dreaded king of the Huns, Attila, invaded Italy, and, after sacking and plundering Aquileia, Pavia, and Milan, he marched against Rome.

Valentinian, proving himself unfit for his high position: remained at Ravenna, and AEtius himself saw safety in flight only. The Roman senate assembled to deliberate on what should be done in this emergency, and resistance being considered impossible, Leo was chosen as a mediator and sent to Attila. What the arguments employed by the eloquent suppliant may have been history has failed to record; but the Huns spared Rome, and, in consideration of a sum paid by the inhabitants, withdrew from Italy and retired beyond the Danube. This action of Attila appeared so strange that it was considered impossible to account for it except by a miracle. According to the legend, Attila confessed to his officers that during the address of Leo a venerable old man appeared to him, holding a sword with which he threatened to slay him if he resisted the voice of God. When again in 455 Rome lay at the mercy of the Vandals, who, taking advantage of the disturbances which followed the death of Valentinian, had invaded Italy, the senate had a second time recourse to Leo, and sent him to Genseric. But this time his eloquence did not prove so successful. Genseric consented only to promise not to burn the city, and to spare the life of the inhabitants, and from plunder three of the most important churches. The other parts of the town were abandoned to the soldiers for a fortnight. The remainder of Leo's life passed without further disturbance. While engaged in his schemes of aggrandizement, he never neglected for a moment to pursue and repress heresy within the states where his authority was recognized. Having learned that there were still a large number of Manichaeans in Rome, he caused them to be hunted up and punished. He acted with as much severity against the Pelagians and the Priscillianists. Barbeyrac (Traite de la morale des Peres, 100:17, § 2) even accuses him of having approved, and perhaps instigated, the violent measures taken against the heretics during his pontificate, and adduces in proof the letter of this pope to Turibius, bishop primate of Spain, concerning the Priscillianists. Beausobre (in his Histoire du Manich., 50:9, 100:9, t. 2, p. 756) goes further, and charges Leo with having falsely accused the Manichaeans and Priscillianists of the misdeeds for which they were condemned.

Leo is said to have been the originator of the fasts of Lent and Pentecost. An old legend, found in a number of ancient writers, relates that in the latter part of his life Leo cut off one of his hands; some, Th. Raynaud among them, give as the reason that a woman of great beauty having once, on Easter-day, been permitted to kiss his hand, the pope felt unholy desires, and thus punished this rebellion of the flesh, and they add that it is from that time the custom of kissing the pope's foot was introduced. Sabellicus and others assert that the pope only punished himself for having conferred orders on a mall who proved unworthy. All state that his hand was finally restored to him by a miracle. He died April 11,461.

The works of Leo consist of discourses delivered on the great festivals of the Church, or on other solemn occasions, and of letters. I. SERMONES. Of these, the first by the Roman pontiffs which have come down to posterity, we possess 96. There are 5 De Natali ipsius, preached on anniversaries of his ordination, 6 De Collectis, 9 De Jejunio Decimi Mensis, 10 De Nativitate Domini. 8 In Epiphania Domini. 19 De Passione Domini. 2 De Resurrectione Domii. 2 De Ascensione Domini. 3 De Pentecoste, 4 De Jejunio Pentecostes, 1 Ins Natali Apostolorun Petri et Pauli. 1 In Natali S. Petri Apostoli. 1 In Octavis Apostolorum Petri et Pauli. 1 In Natali S. Laurentii Mabrtyris, 9 De Jejunio Septimi iMensis, 1 De Gradibus Ascensionis ad Beatitudinem, 1 Tractatus contra Hoeresim Eutychis. Milman (Hist. Lat. Christianity, 1:258) thus comments on these productions of Leo: "His sermons singularly contrast with the florid, desultory, and often imaginative and impassioned style of the Greek preachers. They are brief, simple, severe, without fancy, without metaphysic subtlety, without passion; it is the Roman censor animadverting with nervous majesty on the vices of the people; the Roman proctor dictating the law, and delivering with authority the doctrine of the faith. They are singularly Christian Christian as dwelling almost exclusively on Christ, his birth, his passion, his resurrection; only polemic so far as called upon by the prevailing controversies to assert with special emphasis the perfect deity and the perfect manhood of Christ."

II. EPISTOLAE. These, extending to the number of 173, are addressed to the reigning emperors and their consorts, to synods, to religious communities, to bishops and other dignitaries, and to sundry influential personages connected with the ecclesiastical history of the times. They afford an immense mass of most valuable information on the prevailing heresies, controversies, and doubts on matters of doctrine, discipline, and Church government. Besides the 96 Sermones and 173 Epistolae mentioned above, a considerable number of tracts have from time to time been ascribed to this pope, but their authenticity is either so doubtful or their spuriousness so evident that they are now universally set aside. A list of these, and an investigation of their origin, will be found in the edition of the brothers Ballerini, more particularly described below. In consequence of the reputation deservedly gained by Leo, his writings have always been eagerly studied. But, although a vast number of MSS. are still in existence, none of these exhibit his works in a complete form, and no attempt seems to have been made to bring together any portion of them for many hundred years after his death. The Sermones were dispersed in the Lectionaria, or select discourses of distinguished divines, employed in places of public worship until the 11th century, when they first began to be picked out of these cumbrous storehouses and transcribed separately, while the Epistolae were gradually gathered into imperfect groups, or remained embodied in the general collections of papal constitutions and canons.

Of the numerous printed editions of Leo I's works, the first was published by Sweynheym and Pannartz (Rome, 1470, fol.), under the inspection of Andrew, bishop of Aleria, comprising 92 Sermones and 5 Epistole. The best two editions were published at Paris (1675, 2 vols. 4to) by Pasquier Quesnel and by the Ballerini (Verona, 1755-57, 3 vols. fol.). Of Quesnel's edition it is due to say that, by the aid of a large number of MSS., preserved chiefly in the libraries of France, he was enabled to introduce such essential improvements into the text, and by his erudite industry illustrated so clearly the obscurities in which many of the documents were involved, that the works of Leo now for the first time assumed an unmutilated, intelligible, and satisfactory aspect. But the admiration excited by the skill with which the arduous task had been executed soon received a check. Upon attentive perusal the notes and dissertations were found to contain such free remarks upon many of the opinions and usages of the primitive Church, and, above all, to manifest such unequivocal hostility to the despotism of the Roman see, that the volumes fell under the ban of the Inquisition very shortly after their publication, and were included in the Index Librorum Prohibitorurn of 1682.

Notwithstanding these denunciations, the book enjoyed great popularity, and was reprinted, without any suppression or modification of the obnoxious passages, at Lyons, in 1700. Hence the heads of the Romish Church became anxious to supply an antidote to the poison so extensively circulated. This undertaking was first attempted by Peter Cacciari, a Carmelite monk of the Propaganda, whose labors (S. Leonis Magni Opera omnia [Rome, 1753- 1755, 2 vols. fol. ]; Exercitationes in Universa S. Leonis Magni Opera [Rome, 1751, fol.]) might have attracted attention and praise had they not been, at the very moment when they were brought to a close, entirely thrown into the shade by those of the brothers Peter and Jerome Ballerini, presbyters of Verona. Their edition, indeed, is entitled to take the first place, both on account of the purity of the text, corrected from a great number of MSS., chiefly Roman, not before collated, the arrangement of the different parts, and the notes and disquisitions. A full description of these volumes, as well as of those of Quesnel and Cacciari, is to be found in Schonemann (Bibl. Patrumn Lat. vol. ii, § 42), who has bestowed more than usual care upon this section. See Maimbourg, Histoire da Pontificat de Leon (Paris, 1687,4to); Arendt, Leo d. Grosse (Mainz, 1835, 8vo); Gesch. d. Romans Literat. (Suppl. Band. 2d part, § 159-162); Alex. de Saint-Cheron, Histoire du Pontificat de St. Leon le Grand et de son siecle (2 vols. 8vo.); Ph. de Mornay, Histoire Pontificals (1612, 12mo, p. 71); Bruys, Hist. des Papes (La Haye, 1732, 5 vols. 4to), 1:218; Baronius, Annales Ecclesiastici (Lucques, 1738, 19 vols. fol.), 7:535-638; 8:1-240; G. Bertazzolo, Breve Descrittione della Vita di san Leone primo et di Attila Flagello di Dio (Mantua, 1614, 4to); Gfrö rer, Kirchengesch. 2:1; E. Perthel, Pabst Leo's I Leben u. Lehren (1843); C. T. Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, vol. 2; Milman, Hist. Latin Christianity, vol. 1, ch. 4; Neander, Church History, 2:104, 169 sq., 508 sq., 708 sq.; Dumoulin, Vie et Religion de deux bons Papes Leon I et Gregoire I (1650); Baxmann, Politik der Papste, 1:13 sq. Lea, Studies in Ch. Hist. (Philippians 1869, 8vo: see its Index); Riddle, Hist. Papacy, 1:171 sq.; Schrockh, Kirchengesch. 17:90 sq.; Herzog, Real-Encykl. 8:296-311; Smith, Dict. of Greek and Roman Biog. and Myth. 2:746 sq.; Migne, Nouv. Encyc. Theol. 2:1152; Bergier, Dict. de Theol. 4:34 sq.; Hoefer, Nouv. Bio. Generale, 30:704 -708; Engl. Cyclop. s.v.; Christian Remembrancer. 1854, p. 291 sq.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Leo I'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​l/leo-i.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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