On Leo the Great
"Defended Primacy of Rome and Knew Its Role in Maintaining Church Unity"
H.H. Benedict XVI
March 5, 2008

Leo the Great promoted the primacy of Rome because he knew its necessary role in maintaining the unity of the Churches, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope said this today during the weekly general audience in Paul VI Hall, in which he dedicated his reflection to the figure of St. Leo the Great, whom Benedict XVI called "one of the greatest Pontiffs ever to have graced the See of Rome."

"He is also the first pope of whom we have evidence of his preaching to the people who crowded around him during celebrations," said the Holy Father.

Benedict XVI continued: "It is natural to think of him in the context of the general Wednesday audiences; an appointment that has become in the last decades, a normal and expected way of meeting with the faithful and with many other visitors from all over the world."

St. Leo the Great was elected Pope in the year 440. His pontificate lasted more than two decades and included "difficult times" during which "repeated barbarian invasions, the progressive weakening of imperial power in the West and a lengthy social crisis forced the Bishop of Rome [...]to assume a role in the civil and political happenings of the time," said Benedict XVI.

For example, in 452, Leo the Great met with Attila the Hun in Mantua to dissuade him from continuing the invasion that had devastated parts of northern Italy. In 455 he similarly sought to dissuade the Geiseric Vandals and, though he did not prevent them from invading and sacking Rome, he did convince them not to raze the city and to respect the basilicas of St. Peter's, St. John Lateran and St. Paul's Outside the Walls, where part of the population had taken refuge.


In his numerous sermons and letters, St. Leo "appears in all his greatness, at the service of the truth within charity, through an indefatigable exercise of the word that reveals him both a theologian and a shepherd. [...] Constantly aware of his believers and of the people of Rome, but also of the communion between the various Churches and their needs, was a supporter and an untiring promoter of the Roman primacy."

The Holy Father explained how during
Leo's pontificate the Council of Chalcedon took place, "the most important assembly ever to be celebrated in the history of the Church," which "affirmed the union in the one Person, without confusion and without separation, of the two natures, human and divine".

"It is evident," Benedict XVI went on, "that the Pope felt the urgent responsibility of Peter’s Successor, whose role is unique in the Church, because 'only to one Apostle was entrusted what was communicated to all the apostles.'"

The Pontiff said Leo the Great "managed to exercise such responsibilities, in the West like in the East, by intervening in various circumstances with prudence, determination and lucidity through his texts and his bound manuscripts. In so doing he demonstrated the importance of the Roman primacy then, as much as today, in order to effectively serve the communion that is a feature of the one and only Church of Christ

"Conscious of the historical significance of the times in which he was living and of the change that was taking place -- in a time of deep crisis -- from pagan to Christian Rome, through preaching and pastoral care, Leo the Great was able to stay close to the people and the faithful."

(c) Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana



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