Spirituality for Today – May 2010 – Volume 14, Issue 10

The 45th Pope

St. Leo I

An image of Saint Leo ISaint Leo I

Pope St. Leo I (440-461)
The first of only two popes called "the Great." As we move down the list of the popes, we shall find the other reigning from the year 590 until the year 604 – Pope Gregory I. Pope Leo presents a most powerful and a most courageous figure before an exacting age.

From the ecclesiastical front, Pope Leo was an irrepressible advocate of the primacy of the pope. He affirmed that he not only was the successor of Saint Peter, but also his heir. In Roman law, the heir absorbed the totality of the rights of the predecessor. He applied outstanding administrative skill in organizing the structure of the Church, in resolving disputes, and in establishing universal standards of liturgical practice. Pope Leo's insistence over his authority regarding the Church in the East resulted in over a two year delay in approving the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon (451). Even though the Council received and affirmed his teaching that Jesus Christ had a human and a divine nature united in one divine Person, he objected to a canon that would place Constantinople on an equal footing with Rome.

From the socio-political front, Pope Leo possessed both the diplomatic skill and spiritual clout to persuade Attila the Hun to retreat across the Danube out of Italy and a few years later to convince Gaiseric, king of the Vandals, to spare Rome from plunder and its people from murder.

The remains of Pope Leo the Great are interred in the basilica of Saint Peter.

Habemus papam