Leo the Great

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St Leo the bishop of Rome.
Our father among the saints, Pope Leo I, or Saint Leo the Great, was an aristocrat who was Pope of Rome from 440 to 461. He is the first widely known pope, and even sometimes assigned the title "first pope." He stopped the invasion of Italy by Attila the Hun in 452 by his moral persuasion, and was a theologian. His feast day is commemorated on February 18.

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Early life

Leo was born in AD 400 in Tuscany, Italy. He was well-educated, but yearned for the spiritual life. He became a deacon and occupied a important position with St. Cyril of Alexandria. He became an archdeacon under Pope Sixtus III, after whose death Leo was unanimously elected Bishop of Rome.

Defender of Orthodoxy

These were difficult times for the Church, when heretics assaulted Orthodoxy with their false teachings. Leo combined pastoral attentiveness with uncompromising firmness in the confession of the Faith. He was in particular one of the basic defenders of Orthodoxy against the heresies of Eutyches and Dioscorus, who taught that there was only one nature in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was also a defender against the heresy of Nestorius.

He actively promoted the convening of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, at Chalcedon in 451, to condemn the heresy of the Monophysites.

At the Council of Chalcedon, at which 630 bishops were present, a letter of Leo to the deceased St. Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople (447-449), was read. Flavian had suffered for Orthodoxy under the Robber Council of Ephesus in the year 449. In the letter of Leo, the Orthodox teaching about the two natures of Christ, divine and human, was set forth. All the bishops present at the Council were in agreement with this teaching, and so the heretics Eutyches and Dioscorus were excommunicated from the Church.

Defender of his country

In 452, by the persuasive power of his words, he stopped Attila the Hun from pillaging Italy. Again in the year 455, when the Henzerich, the leader of the Germanic tribe of Vandals, turned towards Rome, Leo persuaded him not to pillage the city, burn buildings, nor spill blood.

Theological legacy

Leo died in the year 461. His literary and theological legacy is comprised of 96 sermons and 143 letters, of which the best known is his Epistle to St. Flavian.

Sources

External links


Succession box:
Leo the Great
Preceded by:
Sixtus III
Pope of Rome
440-461
Succeeded by:
Hilarius
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