Lives of the Saints

Our Models and Protectors

April 11
  November 10

Saint Leo the Great

Pope
(398-461)

Saint Leo the Great
Saint Leo the Great

Saint Leo was born in Rome. He embraced the sacred ministry, was made Archdeacon of the Roman Church by Pope Saint Celestine, and under the same Vicar of Christ and Saint Sixtus III, had a large share in governing the Church. On the death of Sixtus, Leo was chosen Pope, and consecrated on Saint Michael's day, 440, amid great joy.

It was the time of terrible trial which preceded by thirty years the definitive fall of the Roman Empire. Vandals and Huns were wasting the provinces of the empire, and Nestorians, Pelagians, and other heretics wrought still more grievous havoc in souls. While Leo's zeal was making headway against these perils, there arose the new heresy of Eutyches, who confounded the two natures of Christ. At once the vigilant pastor proclaimed the true doctrine of the Incarnation in his famous tome; but fostered by the Byzantine court, the heresy gained a strong hold upon the Eastern monks and bishops. After three years of unceasing toil, Saint Leo brought about its solemn condemnation by the Council of Chalcedon, the Fathers all signing his tome, and exclaiming, Peter has spoken by Leo.

Soon after, Attila with his Huns broke into Italy, and marched through its razed cities upon Rome. Leo went out boldly to meet him, and prevailed on him to turn back. His chieftains were astonished to see the terrible Attila, the Scourge of God, fresh from the sack of Aquileia, Milan and Pavia and with the rich prize of Rome within his grasp, turn his great host back to the Danube at the Saint's word. They asked him why he had acted so strangely. He told them he had seen two venerable personages — who are generally supposed to be Saints Peter and Paul — standing behind Saint Leo; and impressed by this vision, he withdrew. Two years later the city fell a prey to the Vandals, but Leo saved it again from total destruction. He died in 461 after having ruled the Church for a little over twenty years.

Reflection. Saint Leo loved to ascribe all the fruits of his unsparing labors to the glorious Head of the Apostles, who, he often declared, lives and governs in his successors. If the perils of the Church are as great now as in Saint Leo's day, Saint Peter's solicitude is not less.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler's Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).