Wednesday, March 5, 2008

St. Leo the Great as Model for Papal Primacy

Vatican, Mar. 5, 2008 ( - At his regular Wednesday public audience on March 5, Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) spoke of about the pontificate of St. Leo the Great as an example of the effective use of papal primacy.

Elected to the papacy in 440, St. Leo led the Church through turbulent times that included both barbarian invasions and christological controversies. He was among the greatest of all Roman Pontiffs, the Holy Father said, and his leadership strengthened both the office of the Pope and the Church at large.

Speaking to a crowd of about 6,000 people gathered in the Paul VI auditorium, Pope Benedict observed that St. Leo is "the earliest Pope whose sermons have come down to us." The writings of St. Leo thus provide the earliest account of a Pope's addresses to his people-- the forerunners of today's weekly audiences-- Pope Benedict remarked.

Pope Leo the Great is famous for dissuading Attila the Hun from an all-out attack on Rome, and later convincing Genseric, the Vandal chieftain, that he should not destroy the city's great basilicas. As the Roman empire collapsed, Pope Leo assumed a greater burden of leadership.

As a Church leader, meanwhile, St. Leo "tirelessly supported and promoted Roman primacy," the Pontiff continued. He felt keenly the obligation to act as a focus of unity in the Church and a guarantor of doctrinal integrity, because as Peter's successor he was "one Apostle is entrusted with what is communicated to all the Apostles."

It was during St. Leo's pontificate, the Pope recalled, that the Council of Chalcedon took place, affirming the union of human and divine natures in the one Person of Christ. Pope Benedict said that countil was "the most important assembly in the history of the Church up to that time." Throughout his pontificate, St. Leo exercised his leadership in the liturgy, in teaching, in guiding his brother bishops, and in nurturing the growing public strength of the Christian community. "Thus," Pope Benedict concluded, "he showed how the exercise of Roman primacy was necessary then, as it is now, as an effective service to communion, which is a characteristic of the one Church of Christ."

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