Today we celebrate the life and death of one of four popes that have been called great, St Leo who died in 461.
Unlike today, he was chosen as pope by the unanimous vote of the clergy and the people of Rome. He lived in very turbulent times. He was able to consolidate the teaching that the pope is the “primate of all the bishops” which had lasting consequences of great importance for the role of the papacy through our subsequent history.
I became aware of him some years ago when the Benedictine scholar Anne Field published a book “The binding of the Strong Man”: which is is collection of his sermons and letter. I would often dip in the book. In my move to Canterbury I have mislaid it and am still searching for it. If you want to get a flavour of his writing there is an extract from his writing in the Office of Readings for today and on Christmas Day we have part of his meditation of the Nativity.
Ninety seven of his sermons survive, many on the birth of Christ. This I think is because one of his greatest achievements was to have the two natures in Christ confirmed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In the political field he prevented Attila the Hun sacking Rome, to whom he offered tribute and he did the same three years later when Rome was again threatened by Genseric the Vandal.
Here is part of one of his sermons for Christmas Day.
Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom. Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.