"As the vestiges of the Roman political machine began to collapse in the fifth century A. D., the towering figure of Pope St. Leo the Great came into relief amid the rubble. Sustained by an immutable doctrine transcending institutions and cultures, the Church alone emerged from the chaos. Eventually, the Roman heritage became assimilated into Christianity and ceased to have a life of its own. It would be practically impossible to understand this monumental transition from the Roman world to Christendom without taking into account the pivotal role played by Leo the Great. His sermons provide invaluable data for the social historian. It was Leo - and not the emperor - who went out to confront Attila the Hun. It was Leo who once averted and on another occasion mitigated the ravages of barbarian incursions. As significant as his contribution was to history, Leo had an even greater impact on theology. When partisans of the monophysite heresy had through various machinations predetermined the outcome of a council held at Ephesus in 450, Leo immediately denounced it as a latrocinium (robbery) rather than a concilium (council). A year later - with cries of "Peter has spoken through Leo!" - the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, a pillar of Catholic Christianity, adopted in its resounding condemnation of monophysitism the very language formulated by Leo. Pope Leo also developed the most explicit and detailed affirmations known up to that time of the prerogatives enjoyed by successors of St. Peter. Many theological principles find their clearest, and certainly their most eloquent, expression in his sermons." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Leo extols the benefits of fasting (prescribed by both the Old and the New Testaments) in a number of his sermons. in Serm. 19.2 he refers to the spring fast of Lent, the summer fast after Pentecost, the autumn fast in the seventh month (September) and the winter fast in the tenth month (December). Leo upholds the necessity of bodily and spiritual fasts, stressing that abstinence from food must be completed with prayer and almsgiving.

He also enumerates works of mercy which must accompany fasting: defending widows, taking care of orphans, consoling mourners, making peace between factions, welcoming travelers, relieving the oppressed, clothing the naked, tending to the sick (Serms. 13.1(2) and 16.1). These public fasts derive a great beauty from the strength communicated to individuals when all pursue a common goal.

In Serm. 9 from the November Collections of 443, Leo asks his flock to reveal any hidden Manichaeans. Here, in Serm. 16.1 from the December Fast of 443, he warns his people to beware of heretics, naming Basilides, Sabellius, Photinus, Arius, and Eunomius. He mentions that Manichaeans had been investigated and brought to trial (Serm. 16.4).

Sermon 12
17 December 450

If we reflect upon the beginning of our creation with faith and wisdom, dearly beloved, we shall come to the realization that human beings have been formed according to the image of God precisely with a view that they might imitate their Designer. Our race has this dignity of nature, so long as the figure of divine goodness continues to be reflected in us as in a kind of mirror.

Indeed, the Savior's grace re-fashions us to this image on a daily basis. What fell in the first Adam has been raised up in the second. But our being re-fashioned has no other cause than the mercy of God. We would not love him but for the fact that . . .

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