391-461. Doctor of Doctrine, Feast Nov 10th
trust and believe in God and meet their challenges as Leo by living
out their faith by earnestly following the guidelines of doctrines,
dogmas, and ethical principles. When we follow our conscience,
coupled with the sincere, charitable efforts toward all in a high
moral manner, God will enlighten and guide us. The establishing and
the formulation of church writings and traditions were done through
the industrious efforts of Leo and catholic leadership acted out
down through the centuries. The beginning church paid a great price
to lay the foundation of our religion and faith. We might
acknowledge Leo and others like him for their significant
contributions especially the labors of those who have gone before us
marked with the sign of faith including our parents and relatives. I
have paraphrased some of the writings of Leonard Foley, O.F.M.,
Luigi Gambero, S.M., and Christopher Rengers, O.F.M. Cap. Their books
are listed in the sources.
When we use our leadership or
supervisory skills, and authority in business or at home, Leo might
guide us to become more effective and holy in our dealings with
others. Leo prayed frequently to St Peter, the first Pope, for help
and he got it. It doesn't matter the level or the degree of one's
duties. As long as we ask help from people as the saints and doctors
who will not fail us. They are there precisely for that reason: to
be petitioned and serve as models, examples and
There are only two doctors of the church who were
popes. The first was Leo and the second was Gregory. They are both
called "the great" because of the great struggles and heroic courage
they showed in meeting the difficulties of their day, their virtues
and their charity they showed to all as they lived out their faith.
You may compare the heroic lives of St Leo and St Gregory by
clicking on the below link. The Vatican links and many other links
at Gregory's site are applicable to St Leo. Both doctors give us
great examples and lessons to learn from in facing terrorist times
as the USA is experiencing after 9/11/01:
reigned as pope for twenty-one years. He was born in Tuscany, near
Rome. As a young man he assisted Africans, and then in 418, met St
Augustine who was then in the full flowering of his genius as bishop
of Hippo in Africa.
In John F. Fink's excellent book The Doctors of the Church, Volume One: Doctors of the First Millennium, the author begin his information on the chapter
on St Leo by stating:
"Perhaps surprisingly considering the amount of
teaching and writing many of our popes have done, only two of them were included among the Doctors
of the Church. These two-Pope Leo I and Pope Gregory I-are also the only popes to be
called "the Great." There obviously was something about each of them that stood out,
and we'll explore that in this chapter and the next."
John's book is listed in the sources but what he is saying is that there are only 2 out of 264 successors of St Peter that were selected to be in the august group of Doctors of the Catholic Church. That is quite a milestone.
This universal pope-doctor gives us
the same remedy he possessed to help us meet the challenges of the
power of evil, its temptations and its many enemies that confront
us. He informs us that those who will clash with visible or
invisible forces must arm himself with 1) persistence and
perseverance in prayer; 2) fasting; and 3) almsgiving.
Through our weakness we sin but we will be pardoned for our sins and obtain
forgiveness when we exercise the above three golden remedies.
Charities in almsgiving covers a multitude of sins; fasting is the
one special mortification that the devil or evil is defenseless
against; genuine prayer will united us to God in love and empower us
to keep our wills united with the holy will of God amidst repeated
Due to the wars, terrorists and immense problems
that Leo faced he strongly advocated the below works of mercy toward
others to show true Christianity:
CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY:
feed the hungry;
Give drink to the thirsty;
Clothe the naked;
Shelter the homeless;
Visit the sick;
Visit the imprisoned;
SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY:
To counsel the doubtful;
Instruct the ignorant;
Comfort the afflicted;
Bear wrongs patiently;
Pray for the living and the
We can not imagine Leo's courage and total trust
and abandonment to God when he had to face Attila the Hun. To
appreciate his confidence and bravery we need to understand who
Attila really was and how Leo faced this person. To capture this
story we might reflect that when David faced Goliath, he, at least,
had a slingshot. Leo had nothing but his total reliance on God and
St Peter who he prayed to for assistance.
The below info is
taken from Sister Catherine Goddard Clark, MICM, from the Internet
to help us capture the atmosphere when Leo met Attila.
Leo the Great mounted the throne of Saint Peter at a time of
terrible danger, both for the Church and the Empire. The fierce
barbarian tribes, one after the other, had been on the march for the
whole of the century, plundering, ravaging and threatening the
entire Empire. The dreaded Attila the self-designated "Scourge
of God," who left in the wake of his savage army burned churches,
murdered priests, devastated countrysides, people ravished and
maimed, impoverished and homeless, was on his way into
In the year 452, Attila the Hun, having with
remorseless cruelty sieged, burned, sacked and destroyed Aquileia
- the city in northeastern Italy at the head of the Adriatic
Sea - was as close as Mantua, on his march to Rome. He was
boasting, as he advanced, that the total conquest of Italy was to be
his crowning work of destruction. Rome was the dowry which he
planned to present to his bride, Honoria, the granddaughter of the
All Rome awaited the coming of the Mongol
King in hopeless terror. They had no defense left against him. And
then, in the darkest hour - as would often be the case through
the centuries ahead - the Eternal City was saved, not by its
legions, its tribunes, its senators, or its suffering citizens. Rome
was saved by its Bishop, the Holy Roman Pontiff.
alone, Pope Leo went out to meet the wanton murderer who was the
terror of the world. He climbed steadily northward, this holy and
august Vicar of Christ, and over the mountains, an arduous journey
indeed in those days. He found the Mongolian chief below Mantua, at
the point where the Mincio River, flowing down from its Alpine
source - the beautiful Lago Garda - emptied itself in the
Po. Attila's troops, hardened veterans seasoned in plunder and sack
and rape, were ready and waiting to cross the Po when Saint Leo, in
his papal robes, entered the disordered camp and stood before the
King of the Huns.
The glorious Pope threatened Attila with
the power which was his from Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, if
he did not turn back and leave Italy unmolested. And it is one of
the most dramatic, of all the dramatic facts with which the story of
the Church is so enchantingly full, that Attila, the Hun, yielded
before Leo, the Pope. The "Scourge of God" agreed to turn back. He
gave up Rome. And Leo, absorbed in thanksgiving, returned to his
Attila's servants, so the story is told, asked him why
he had reversed his custom and capitulated so easily to the Bishop
of Rome. The brigand chief answered that all the while the Pope was
speaking, he, Attila, the generator of terror in others, was himself
consumed in fear, for there had appeared in the air above the Pope's
head a figure in the dress of a priest, holding in his hand a drawn
sword with which he made as if to kill him unless he consented to do
as Leo asked. The figure was that of Peter!"
When one visits
the Vatican today one will see this scene depicted in art hanging
over the casket of St Leo in St Peters. One will see the terror,
fear and dread on Attila's face and the fearless Leo confronting him
with total trust in God.
From another version, we have the meeting of Attila the Hun and Leo at the end of this section on St Leo.
It is quite fitting that, the mortal
remains of both the doctor of unity and doctrine, St Leo and St
Gregory Nazianzus, the doctor of theology, and surnamed "The
Theologian", are in St Peter's Basilica. With sound doctrine and
theology the church is a fortress and wise guide to humanity. She is
also a loving Mother caring and leading her children to the Life,
the Truth, and the Way unerringly and incontrovertibly. Christ speaks
to us about the study of God and the church's doctrine through the
Popes down through the ages despite all human failings because he
claimed all three titles: The Life, The Truth and The
There were other challenges that Leo faced to defend the
church of God and they were all the same: God will protect his
In 455, once again he went out, alone but for
some of his clergy, to meet the invader. This time it was the Arian
Vandal King, Genseric, and while Saint Leo was able to prevail upon
him to spare his people from massacre, and Rome from burning, he was
not able to dissuade him from plunder. For fourteen days, Genseric's
army pillaged Rome; but the Romans, thanks to the Pope, remained
There has come down to us, in the words of Saint
Leo, his discourse on the supremely lovable, infinitely wistful,
majestically humble lover of Jesus Christ, the Prince of the
Apostles, the first Holy Roman Pontiff. Leo's tribute to Peter has
rung down the ages:
In the Universal Church, it is Peter
that doth still say every day:
"Thou art the Christ, the Son of the
living God," and every tongue which confesseth that JESUS is Lord is
taught that confession by the teaching of Peter. This is the Faith
that overcometh the devil and looseth the hands of his
This is the Faith which maketh men free of the
world and bringeth them to Heaven, and the gates of Hell are
impotent to prevail against it. With such ramparts of salvation hath
God fortified this rock, that the contagion of heresy will never be
able to infect it, nor idolatry and unbelief to overcome it. This
teaching it is, my dearly beloved brethren, which maketh the keeping
of this feast today to be our reasonable service, even the teaching
which maketh you to know and honor in myself, lowly though I be,
that Peter who is still entrusted with the care of all other
shepherds and of all the flocks to them committed, and whose
authority I have, albeit unworthy to be his heir. . ."
Leo had a diversified background and held various offices in the church
before he became pope. Manichaeism which held that there are two
gods was the prevalent heresy and Leo attacked it vigorously in his
sermons. He also spoke out against pagan festivals and called for
the closing of their temples. Due to Leo's influences, Rome became
the "city of the pope."
His genius served the church well at
a time when a strong hand was needed to guide the bark of Peter. The
following is taken from from one of Leo's Christmas homilies:
"Dearly beloved, today
our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on
this birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life
brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness. No one is shut
out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our
Lord, victory over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came
to free us all. Let the same rejoice as he sees the palm of victory
at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of
Ninety-six sermons and one hundred forty-three letters have come down to
us and are extant. Leo is famous for his five-minute sermons. Some
of these are enshrined in the breviary readings including the little
Christmas homily from above. He emphasized almsgiving and other
social aspects of Christian living. He built many churches, wrote
many letters and expressed true values.
Leo had a strong
conviction for the importance of the Bishop of Rome and took a
strong stance on leadership. He set the precedent. The church and
her top leaders have to be a sign of Christ's presence in the world.
Leo the Great displayed endless dedication in his role as pope. He
worked tirelessly as Peter's successor guiding his bishops as equals
in the episcopacy and he had a faithful devotion to St. Peter to
Known as one of the best administrative popes of
the ancient church, he tried to counteract rampant heresies such as
Arianism, Pelagianism, Nestorianism, Manichaeism and others to
empower us with true Christian belief and practices.
Mr Fink's book
The Doctors of the Church
informs us that:
"Leo was determined to make Rome Church a pattern for other churches, so he began his papacy with a series of the sermons for which he is known, instructing his Christians about Catholic doctrine. He discovered that there were many Manichaeans in Rome, some of whom had fled the Vandals in Africa (see chapter on Saint Augustine). He invoked the civil authorities and saw to it that the Manichaeans' book were burned and that they were banished from Rome. He also wrote to the other Italian bishops warning them of the Manichaeans' presence and he preached again their false teachings."
The pope's major concern and contribution to Catholicism was on doctrinal
controversies in the west and east sections of the Church. Defining
the teaching on the nature of Christ was very important to him. He
was never discouraged and he maintained equanimity even in the most
difficult moments. By safeguarding the nature of Christ he
reinforced the unity of the church and the mystical body of the
church along authentic Christological dogmas and doctrines
proclaimed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451. He included the issue
of the Virgin Mary and her divine Son and his Marian teaching rest
on a firm Christological basis. Fr Gambero points out that the human
nature of Jesus does not differ from our own, even though he was
formed in a miraculous manner from the virginal womb. Mary's
motherhood guarantees the authenticity of Jesus' human nature which
remains distinct from his divinity.
Leo had the ability
to reach the needs and interests of his people every day. It is said
that his true significance rested on his doctrinal insistence in the
mystery of Christ and God's church and in the supernatural charisma
of the spiritual life given to humanity in Christ and in his
body-the church. St Leo won the love and admiration of rich and
poor, emperor and barbarian, clergy and lay folk.
Church's gifted holy writers, especially some pontiffs, have written
and expounded on the Holy Trinity, Jesus, Mary, Holy Scripture, the
Prophets and Holy Fathers. We will focus here on the mystical body
of Christ-the church.
We might compare the arteries and veins
of the physical body with the mystical body. The doctrines and
dogmas that Leo help established are the sources, channels and life
blood by which we are supplied spiritual blood and oxygen to our
soul, body and spirit. Spiritually, they are its life, enrichment
and sustain its existence. As veins in our physical bodies have
defined roles, so too in the mystical body. Veins extend to each
member in particular and to the entire church in general. We all
know what happens when blood is blocked to any parts of the human
body. The same happens in the mystical body. The arteries are
vessels that carry blood from the heart through the body. Likewise,
our spiritual arteries are mystical organs or parts that energizes
the entire church.
Our dogmas and doctrines are precious
documents as the Constitution and The Declaration of Independence.
Of course, these documents are only physical papers with written
words. However, if we live out what they say, not only according to
the letter but also according to the Spirit, we will discover life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness both on earth and in heaven.
The same applies to the mystical body-the church and each member.
When we live out the doctrines and dogmas in the right spirit, we
will possess rich and abundant spiritual life individually and the
church will thrive.
We should with Leo and all of our past
and current leaders from all over the world petition God to unite
all people even more as the United States is united but still needs
to be united more. Doctrine is used to unite us. Our beloved,
heavenly Father allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust
and desires more unity regardless of religion. We too, as Leo, can
help the unfortunate by active participation in the mystical body
defined by our catholic doctrine.
Catholic doctrine needs to
be formulated, known and demonstrated. We need to put our words into
action. The needy abound. A superb example of sharing our doctrine
especially through good example is Teresa of Calcutta and the
Missionary Sisters of Charity that she founded. The City of
Calcutta, India, and its surroundings, ranks as the second most
populated metropolitan area in India and one of the most crowded
cities in the world.
Reflect that India's population of
nearly one billion has many illiterates, 1/3 living below poverty
level and 25 per cent suffer from malnutrition. India ranks second
only to China among the world's most populous countries. 73 per cent
live in rural area. Only 2 per cent are Christians. By Teresa and
her sisters demonstrating Christian doctrine throughout the world,
our doctrinal faith is being seen, known and becomes more credible.
Teresa's sanctity and fame are known worldwide now and perhaps
future generations and a future pope will proclaim her the Doctor of
the Poor. Teresa is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize but her
example to the poor is our prize from the good God to all
Doctrine is the backbone of religion as in the
world of the Internet, the backbone is the source through which
power is transmitted throughout the network. A group or "body" of
believers or adherents to a philosophy, school or spirituality needs
principles. Doctrines are principles that are accepted. If you can
not accept all the doctrines of a particular religion or
organization you are not a wholehearted believer to that cause, way
or body. Once you surrender your will or acquiesce to a religion or
group, you are "hooked". This can be beautiful or plain dangerous.
Why? Because the person is "caught up" or dedicated to that way.
There are some groups who are willing to fight and die for what they
believe is a "holy" war. However, if their belief is based upon an
erroneous doctrine then what they consider holy may in reality be
unholy or evil.
In the same manner, dedicated servers in the
world of the Internet make excellent virtual host. The more that
people serve or minister to other's needs in a spirit of charity and
concern, the more they become consecrated to that way of lifestyle
or belief. Doctrine along with tenets and dogmas are accepted as
St Leo helped formulate and added to the
beautiful doctrines and dogmas of the church as did the forty-four
previous successors to the throne of St Peter. It all started with
Christ giving Peter full authority. Christ promised Peter He would
stay and remain with his Church. Jesus Christ established
Christianity and the Catholic Church claims that the Pope down
through the ages, despite their personal integrity, has the
authorization, power and leadership to guide and make laws to govern
Our saint followed this tradition and so did St
Gregory the nineteenth successor after Leo or the 64th after Peter.
Imagine that since the year 604AD, the Catholic Church has not had
any more Pope Doctors. This is remarkably significant. Why? Because,
leadership is not necessarily the only hallmark of being a catholic.
The true leaders of Catholicism are the members who reflect and act
as Jesus Christ. Saints, doctors and holy members who live up to the
principles and teaching of the God-Man lead others through
Christ-like example and holiness. We do not depend on one but many
for the flourishment of the church.
There is a beautiful and
moving prayer from"Book of Saints" by Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik, SVD.
He was a Divine Word missionary that I have quoted frequently on this site. I have used pictures of Leo and other doctors from his
book. Please pray this following prayer with Leo:
Oh God, You
established Your Church on the solid rock of St Peter and You
will never allow the powers of Hell to dominate her, grant
that she may persevere in Your truth and enjoy continual peace
through the intercession of Pope St Leo the Great
could sum up in one sentence the doctrines of the catholic church I
would borrow Leo's words. It is taken from one of his many superb
homilies. This talk was about Our Lord's ascension into heaven after
his resurrection. Reflect on this inspired sentence often because
each word imparts eternal life. He said: "Our Redeemer's visible
presence has passed into the sacraments."
Why does God have
to enter into anything since the Almighty already is present
everywhere? Signs and matter encourage human beings. We need
concrete, visible contact for reinforcement. We are humans with
bodily and spiritual needs. Sacraments touch and empower us by faith
The sacraments are a part of catholic liturgical
involvement. I am indebted to Rev. James P. Moroney, the Executive
Director of the NCCB Secretariat for the Liturgy for the following.
Remembrance is at the heart of being human. The Church's
remembering, which is called anamnesis, is not about the writings
about Leo. What Leo is imparting to us about the sacraments when he
tells us that the Redeemer's visible presence passes into the
sacraments is profound and hardly expressible.
remembrance is in the memory. Divine remembrance is not only past.
It is yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is past, now, future. St Leo
explains that our participating in the sacraments is not as
spectators. We are the actors in the drama. Thus our engaging in the
sacraments "is not simply in our memories but before our very eyes".
Memory strictly speaking is not human. It is human and divine.
Animals remember. But humans know that they remember. Memory can be
a part of loving and participating in the past, present and future.
Humans act omnisciently, albeit, they do not know all things. They
can, however, love all things through the divine faculty of the
memory. Every day the church sings and celebrates "Do this in
remembrance of me" to reform, renew and sustain us along our journey
back to God. Through God's gift to us on earth, we can experience
the marvelous life and existence of God who is infinitely
Leo saw a summary of the entire Christian faith
related to Mary: "The entirety of the faithful professes its belief
in God the Father almighty, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, born
of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. By these beliefs, the
machinations of all heretics are destroyed."
that the Lord's miraculous birth poses no threat to the reality of
Jesus human nature. It is the same nature as ours, albeit, sinless.
He gives the reason for why Christ was born of a virgin in one of
his sermons when he says. "… he decided to raise up what was fallen
and restore what was broken apart and to strengthen purity for
overcoming the seductions of the flesh, so that virginity, which in
others cannot be preserved after childbirth, might be imitated even
by others, in rebirth."
When we participate in the
Eucharist, the same Christ who was held in the arms of the Blessed
Virgin Mary is with us always, even to the end of the
Could the church exist without the sacraments? We can
not fully appreciate the sacraments because they are as mysterious
as they are holy. Unlimited books have been written on them but all
we need to know is that Christ's visible presence has passed into
them. What does that mean? God is everywhere. God's presence is
everywhere but especially in an intimate, personal, tangible manner
in order to touch us physically, mentally and emotionally. We
possess the visible presence of Christ sacramentally. That is why
Catholics pay great respect and revere the sacraments. Sacraments
are as sacred as they are mysterious. Some of us can partake of the
sacraments daily, some only occasionally and some only once in a
lifetime or never.
Sacraments are for new birth, strength,
pardon and forgiveness, nourishment, vocations and when our soul
leaves our bodies at death. Only faith can grasp the invisible
presence of Jesus Christ in the sacraments and only love reveals it.
This should not surprise us for life itself is a mystery that no one
fully understands, not even a genius. The Christian life is steeped
in mysterious and sacramental love. The catholic church holds in her
doctrines, formulated by Leo and others that Jesus Christ is truly
alive in the world but also most active in us when we are touched,
moved and motivated by God's power, especially his TANGIBLE presence
and power. She further states that Christ is approachable,
accessible and available (waiting for us) in her sacraments and
We want all leadership to be conducted by good
example, ethics, high morals and sound administration. Leo possessed
these qualities and virtues. He upheld our Catholic tenets and
teachings. They have been passed down from generation to generation.
Sure, they have been abused, but what hasn't. There have been "bad"
popes but who among us has not been "bad"? Everyone knows that power
corrupts and the higher the authority or power, the greater the
corruption. Christ picked Peter not because he was never going to
fall in error personally but in spite of his denial of Christ.
The Christ-Spirit is the authentic leadership of the church.
These tenets or teachings have been passed down through an unbroken
chain of successors. Our doctrines and dogmas are extraordinarily
rich. They are based upon the person of Jesus and his teachings.
When Christ came into the world, Christianity began! The church has
few dogmas. Why? Because catholic dogmas imply a doctrine that is
laid down as true and beyond dispute. To believe in catholic dogma
is to belief in Christ. To be dogmatic is to be a dictator.
Accepting catholic doctrine will lead you to holiness. To act
doctrinaire is injurious or anti-Christian. Catholics pray for the
Pope and the church's leadership to guide them. They petition God to
influence all leaders to act in a just manner. Obedience to the
church and its leadership is obedience to God.
The church can
never remind us too much of the important of obedience. Jesus was
obedient to his parents for 30 years; He learned to obey; He was made
obedient unto death. In the spirit of obedience he
surrendered to civil authority knowing that they had no power over
him if it had not been given to them from above. Religious Orders in
the church take vows of obedience. When children obey their parents
in rightful commands that show a form of love and duty.
virtue of obedience offers to humankind a form of order and unity.
The church has been particularly blessed with good Pope John XXIII
among others. Fr Christopher tells us in his Doctor book, listed in
the sources, that Blessed John states that Saint Leo the Great is
celebrated above all as the Doctor of the Unity of the Church. God
inspired Leo by living and explaining that Jesus Christ as the Word
made flesh and presently alive in the church's sacraments, and is there by
his obeying the words that the priest says in the consecration of
the holy bread.
Gambero tells us that Leo compares every man
who is born again, as the waters of baptism is like the virginal womb.
The same Spirit that fills the Virgin now fills the baptismal font.
According to Pope Leo, the birth of Jesus and Mary is a type or
model of our spiritual rebirth in Baptism.
convened the 2nd Vatican Council as Leo called the Council of
Chalcedon to condemn errors and to make needed or necessary changes
for all God's people. The work, holiness and example of John Paul
II spoke volumes regarding God's great concern for others. The present Pope will continue
John Paul's legacy through his travels,
writings and holy modeling. All holy popes are signals and
sirens announcing and proclaiming to the whole world that the church
is alive in the current times as One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic
Body. As Leo has done for the church in the past so are the church's
current leaders doing for the present.
To accomplish any
leadership role in a superior manner requires courage, obedience,
confidence, experience and wisdom. These rightful powers come from
God. Everyone wants wise and competent leaders not only in an
intellectual manner but also in a trusting manner. Leaders hold a
sacred trust of the people. That is why they are usually sworn in,
as the President of the United States, by taking an oath and placing
their hand on the bible. The President has grave responsibilities
for over 300 million plus . The Pope leadership role requires
extraordinary leadership and trusting characteristics. Over one
billion Catholics or 1/6 plus of the world's population look up to the
Holy Father for leadership and example.
God's immense love
for all is evident as the Almighty calls, touches and guides all
creation and his creatures. This is especially, personally and most
intimately when we honestly seek the Creator through his beloved
Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of all.
St Leo, Father and Doctor, sermons and letters:
Links on the subject
of Doctrine. Go to the below link and clink on Doctrine:
Pope St. Leo the Great: Biography and Writings : Early Church Father and Doctor of the Church
by Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio is below:
Saint Leo the Great