Today is the memorial of Pope St. Leo the Great. His pontificate was from 440 to 461 AD, a time of upheaval in the Church as well as in the Roman Empire. Prior to being elected pope, Leo was a deacon who played an important role in the Church-State relations of the time.
Leo gave himself completely to the task of the Chair of Peter. He clarified the primacy of the see of Rome and the bishop of Rome as Peter’s successor. He settled doctrinal disputes between the western and eastern Churches. He formulated the doctrine of the Incarnation as the Jesus having two natures, human and divine, yet being only one divine person. The Council of Chalcedon reiterated the same. Leo battled the heresies of the time, especially Pelagianism and Manichaeism. Pelagianism was, to overly simplify, the thought that one could merit salvation without the help of grace, i.e., that one could through one’s own efforts make choices leading to salvation. Manichaeism was equally complex, but essentially purported a form of dualism in which there is a cosmic battle between two opposing forces – good and evil – in the world, each having in some sense an equality. Leo met Attila the Hun at the gates of Rome and convinced him to turn back. Next to St. Pope Gregory the Great, Leo was one of the most influential popes of the early centuries of the Church.
As I was reflecting on this today, it seems in so many ways we, the Church, are in the same predicament today. We are trying to heal old divisions among the faithful. We are battling modern day heresies that are leading many away from the truth. As an example, here locally, there is a growing influence of Buddhism. More and more people are gravitating toward its philosophy and away from the truth of Christ. There is locally a burgeoning acceptance of Wiccan, which is the worship of created things and satan. There is, of course, the pervasiveness of relativism, a philosophy that truth and reality are created by humankind, largely on an individual basis. The human person creates truth and reality based on their perceptions, experiences and choices. I have always thought that those who get caught up in this philosophy are breaking the first Commandment, for God alone is creator of all that exists, and we are called to recognize his authority.
Let us always recognize that we do not have to go here or there searching for the truth. As the Gospel for today tells us, the Kingdom of God is in our midst. Let us pray for those who are caught up in the modern day errors and led astray from the Church. Let us ask St. Leo the Great for his intercession so that the Church may be strengthened and the people of God may always remain steadfast in the Gospel.