St. Leo the Great: "Christ Lives in His Church"

Today Mother Church commemorates St. Leo the Great, an early Church Father. He is, I believe, one of two pope who have the designation “Great”, Gregory I being the other.

St. Leo, at first as a deacon and later as Pope, worked for unity in the Church. Pope Sixtus III died while Leo was in Gaul, and it was that same year, 440, that he became Pope. He worked for unity right away: the Huns, of course led by Attila, were set to destroy Rome. Pope Leo went out and met Attila and worked out a peace agreement. Also notable were his efforts to curb the false teaching that was taking place inside the Church by false teachers.

Here is an image of a paiting called “The Meeting of Pope Leo and Attila”, by Francesco Solimena:

We might offer a prayer to him now, as Pope Benedict works for unity especially with the Anglican community. And we might offer a prayer for the Church where her own members are oftentimes false teachers, a reality that brings nothing but disharmony to Christ’s Church.

We get a taste of his desire for one true Church in the sermon exceprt I share below, from his sermon entitled “Christ Lives in His Church”.

I think it’s particularly worthwhile to reflect on because St. Leo the Great is frequently remembered for his famous sermons and explanations of the faith. One story goes that during the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the 600 some bishops gathered felt as though St. Peter was speaking when Pope Leo addressed them.

My emphases.

My dear brethren, there is no doubt that the Son of God took our human nature into so close a union with himself that one and the same Christ is present, not only in the firstborn of all creation, but in all his saints as well. The head cannot be separated from the members, nor the members from the head. Not in this life, it is true, but only in eternity will God be all in all, yet even now he dwells, whole and undivided, in his temple the Church. Such was his promise to us when he said: See, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.

And so all that the Son of God did and taught for the world’s reconciliation is not for us simply a matter of past history. Here and now we experience his power at work among us. Born of a virgin mother by the action of the Holy Spirit, Christ keeps his Church spotless and makes her fruitful by the inspiration of the same Spirit. In baptismal regeneration she brings forth children for God beyond all numbering. These are the sons of whom it is written: They are born not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

In Christ Abraham’s posterity is blessed, because in him the whole world receives the adoption of sons, and in him the patriarch becomes the father of all nations through the birth, not from human stock but by faith, of the descendants that were promised to him. From every nation on earth, without exception, Christ forms a single flock of those he has sanctified, daily fulfilling the promise he once made: I have other sheep, not of this fold, whom it is also ordained that I shall lead; and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

Although it was primarily to Peter that he said: Feed my sheep, yet the one Lord guides all the pastors in the discharge of their office and leads to rich and fertile pastures all those who come to the rock. There is no counting the sheep who are nourished with his abundant love, and who are prepared to lay down their lives for the sake of the good shepherd who died for them.

But it is not only the martyrs who share in his passion by their glorious courage; the same is true, by faith, of all who are reborn through baptism. That is why we are to celebrate the Lord’s paschal sacrifice with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. The leaven of our former malice is thrown out, and a new creature is filled and inebriated with the Lord himself. For the effect of our sharing in the body and blood of Christ is to change us into what we receive. As we have died with him, and have been buried and raised to life with him, so we bear him within us, both in body and in spirit, in everything we do.

Beautiful, no? I love that last part especially: “For the effect of our sharing in the body and blood of Christ is to change us into what we receive.”

Other writings are available online here.

St. Leo the Great: Pray for us!

2 thoughts on “St. Leo the Great: "Christ Lives in His Church"

  1. I know I have heard this before but you don't have to be a priest to be a pope, right? If not do you have to be celibate?


  2. Kevin:

    As far as I know, any baptized male Catholic can be elected by the Cardinals as Pope.

    That said, if a layman were to be chosen as pope (FAR from likely these days; although in the medieval Church it happened), he would have to be ordained a deacon and then a priest before being consecrated Bishop of Rome.

    As for St. Leo, he was a deacon when he was elected Pope, so he was ordained a Priest after being chosen and prior to being ordained Bishop of Rome.



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