Pope Leo the Great (440-461)

Jesus Christ Savior | The Council of Chalcedon in 451 was the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which supported Leo’s stance that Christ had two natures, Divine and human in perfect harmony, in one Person or hypostasis.

Pope Leo entered the Papacy at a difficult time. Alaric had sacked Rome in 410, and the Huns and the Visigoths were gaining strength. However the Pope proved to be a master statesman and history has deservedly accorded him the title of Pope Leo the Great.

One of his first actions in 441 was to bless the missionary efforts of St. Patrick and to ordain him as Bishop of Ireland.

A tension in Church authority between papal leadership and collegiality of the bishops was developing over theological questions. Rome was the place of martyrdom for Saints Peter and Paul. Rome’s position as the capital of the Roman Empire was also supportive of a leadership role for the Bishop of Rome. The Bishop of Rome as successor to St. Peter was the Pastor and Shepherd of the whole Church, as seen with St. Clement of Rome in his First Letter to the Corinthians in 96 AD, and with Pope Leo the Great.

The Council of Ephesus, the Third Ecumenical Council, in 431 recognized Mary as the Mother of God, which was intrinsic to the human nature (ϕύσις – physis = nature) of Christ. The independent Church of the East in Persia believed in two distinct natures (dyophysite) in Christ and did not accept the wording. Pope Leo synthesized the thought of the differing Schools of Antioch and Alexandria in a letter known as the Tome. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 was the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which supported Leo’s stance that Christ had two natures, Divine and human in perfect harmony, in one Person or hypostasis. This set the theology for Roman and Byzantine theology and was important for European unity. However, Eastern Christians in Armenia, Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia, and India who still believed that Christ was one incarnate nature (monophysite) of the Word of God objected to Chalcedon and formed the Oriental Orthodox Churches.

Just one year later (452), Attila and the Huns were threatening outside the walls of Rome. Pope Leo met Attila, who decided to call off the invasion!

Our anonymous author is a physician and a Masters graduate in Theology and Christian Ministry from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. He teaches Sunday Bible Class at St. James Catholic Church and serves both Pastoral Care and the Medical Staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital.