Leo the Great

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Leo the Great depicted by Francisco de Herrera the Younger , painting is now in the Museo del Prado , Madrid .
Leo I with Attila (illumination from the 14th century)
Pope Leo I persuades the Vandal King Geiseric not to plunder Rome (miniature, approx. 1475).

Leo the Great (as Pope Leo I ; * around 400 either in Rome or - after the Liber Pontificalis - in Tuscany ; †  November 10, 461 ) was bishop of Rome from September 29, 440 until his death . He defended the teaching of the Catholic Church, especially during the Council of Chalcedony (451), by fighting the Monophysites and Pelagians .


It was first mentioned in a letter from St. Augustine , who speaks of an acolyte Leo. His work as a deacon under the Roman Popes Celestine I and Sixtus III is certain . In this office he helped solve various ecclesiastical and state political problems, which earned him a good reputation among the clergy and the population of Rome and a unanimous result in the election of bishop 440.


Leo I was the most important Roman bishop of the 5th century. In his time the Roman claim to primacy was at its first peak. Leo I took up the Roman title of Pontifex Maximus (supreme bridge builder = supreme priest), which Caesar, Augustus and other emperors had as the supreme priest of the Temple of Jupiter, but did not use it exclusively for himself as a Roman bishop, but spoke of Christ as the true, supreme pontiff or used the term as a synonym for bishops (cf. especially tr. 5,3). Prosper of Aquitaine, on the other hand, referred to Leo as "papa" and "summus sacerdos" (highest priest) during his lifetime (Chronicle a. 452). The transfer of the title of Pontifex Maximus from the emperor to the pope is not Leo's work, but his teaching on the Petrine ministry and his practice as pope provide important foundations for it. Leo intervened in many church affairs in Italy , but also in Gaul, Spain and Greece. At the Council of Chalcedon , Rome was given only a certain priority over the other major bishoprics in the east (Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople). More important was Leo's theological contribution through his great teaching letter, the so-called Tomus (ep. 28).

Leo made many comments on theological issues, he fought against various competing doctrines within Christianity, such as Monophysitism and Pelagianism , through banishment and impeachment . Leo sat in the West of alleged privileges throbbing Hilary of Arles (401-449) as the Metropolitan of Arles from, reached by Valentinian III. the recognition of the primacy of Rome, when it equated the decretals with the imperial laws, and rejected Constantinople's claim to equality with Rome (451). When Rome was threatened by the Huns under Attila in 452 , Leo opposed the Hun King in front of Mantua and (at least some sources) prevented the Huns from advancing towards Rome by paying a large sum of money. However, Attila was in fact already on the retreat and by no means on the way to Rome, so that some of the reports emphasize the role of Leo rather exaggerated. The exact background of this embassy is controversial in research, especially since it also included high-ranking imperial officials (such as the Praetorian prefect Trygetius and Gennadius Avienus, consul from 450) and Leo thus apparently by no means acted alone. Three years later, Leo stopped the Vandal King Geiserich from using too violent a method to plunder Rome .


The statement often found in literature and especially on the Internet that Leo introduced the new (additional) papal title Patriarcha Occidentis ( Patriarch of the West ) for the papacy is misleading . The title can be found in a letter from Emperor Theodosius II to Leo, who never used or accepted it himself. The emperor's letter is preserved among the letters of Leo. Pope Benedict XVI did not lead the later common title from 2006 onwards.

In 1754 Leo I was appointed Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XIV .

Among Leo's writings there are 97 sermons that address important dogmatic questions. His numerous letters (approx. 146 real) shed light on questions of church history of the time, not least on the preparation, implementation and reception of the Council of Chalcedon, the largest and most important meeting of bishops in antiquity.


Leo's theology dealt primarily with the question of the person of Christ and his mediation. This was connected with the Council of Chalcedony, in which some Roman legates of Leo took part on behalf of Leo and whose christological formula Leo had decisively prepared in his Tomus ad Flavianum of 449. Subsequently, through many letters to bishops and members of the imperial family, Leo had a great influence on the implementation and reception of the Faith of Chalcedony, also in the east of the Roman Empire. His concern was to defend the true divinity and the true humanity of the one Christ against heretical one-sidedness. He also took up this topic in many sermons and deepened his own views over the years. A central motif for Leo was the presence of Christ in the Church, more closely in the proclamation of the faith (Scripture and tradition and their interpretation), in the liturgy (sacraments and festivals), in the life of the organized Church and of the individual believer, especially in the Council. Leo made one of the most important contributions to the development of the doctrine of the papacy, shaped by personal piety of Peter and by the veneration of the apostle in Rome in the 5th century. The own relationship with Peter was u. a. illuminated with terms of Roman law. Leo considered and described himself as the (unworthy) heir and deputy of Peter, who held his apostolic authority and was committed to his example. Peter stood against him with his claim, on the other hand Leo made the apostle present because he represented his authority. But Christ always remained the source of all grace and all authority, and Leo was responsible to him for his administration (cf. Tr. 1). For Leo, Peter was the model of the relationship with Christ. The office of Roman bishop with its overall ecclesiastical significance was borne by the unique relationship between Christ and Peter, even if this relationship was unique in itself and Leo needed the assistance and example of Peter in order to be able to exercise the office of Roman bishop appropriately .

Memorial days

  • Catholic: November 10th ( due day of remembrance )
  • Protestant: November 10th
  • Anglican: November 10th
  • Orthodox: February 18

Attribute: dragon . He is the patron saint of singers, musicians and organists.


  • Leo [Papa, I.]: [All sermons] All sermons of the holy Pope and Doctor of the Church Leo the Great in 2 volumes, Kösel-Verlag, Munich 1927.
  • Leo the Great: The Passion. Transferred from M. Theresia Breme. Hegner-Verlag, Leipzig 1936.


Web links

Commons : Leo the Great  - collection of images, videos and audio files
predecessor Office successor
Sixtus III. Pope