Almost six years after the death of Saint Athanasius, in the pontificate of the glorious Pope, Saint Damasus - the patron of Saint Jerome in his biblical studies — there came to the imperial throne in the East, the great Emperor Theodosius I. In the first year of his reign, in the winter of 379, Theodosius was instructed in the Catholic Faith and baptized by Ascholius, Bishop of Thessalonica. It was Ascholius who made known to Theodosius the religious state of his Empire. “At Constantinople and throughout the East in general,” he told him, “the Arian heresy and many other sects divide the people.”
And Theodosius, seeing at once the danger, not only to the Church but to the Empire as well, published, on the twenty-eighth of February, in the year 380, that document which, together with Constantine’s Edict of Milan, is one of the great signposts on the crossroads of history. The famous edict of Theodosius made orthodox Catholicism the religion of the State. It made the Faith “delivered by the divine Apostle Peter,” the religion of the land. Theodosius ruled:
It is our will that all the peoples who are governed by our clemency hold the religion which is proved to have been delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, since it has been maintained there from his time to our own, and which it is notorious that the Pontiff Damasus follows, and Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic sanctity; that is, that according to the discipline of the Apostles and the doctrine of the Gospel, we believe one Godhead of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, of equal majesty, in the Holy Trinity. Those who follow this law, we order to take the name of Catholic Christians; the rest, whom we judge mad and insane, shall suffer the infamy of heresy; their meetings shall not take the name of churches; we reserve them, first to the divine vengeance, and next to that punishment which we shall be inspired to inflict.
During the sixteen years of his reign — he died in January, 395, at the age of forty-nine — Theodosius the Great enacted laws which dealt the deathblow to the still surviving paganism and which put an end to official Arianism in the East. Theodosius was powerless, however, to undo the work of the heretical bishops who had baptized into Arian Christianity the barbarian Goths, sojourning in Con-stantinople on their way to the West, where, as we shall see, they would bring with them the heresy of Arius, well on the wane in the East by 381.
One of the best-loved stories about the great Theodosius, and one which vividly illustrates the contrast between the attitudes of the Eastern and Western bishops toward the Emperor, is told in the firm and thorough humbling to which Theodosius was subjected at the hands of the intrepid saint and Doctor of the Church, Saint Ambrose of Milan, under whose holy influence Saint Augustine, the glory of the Church in every succeeding age, came into the Catholic Faith.
Theodosius, in a fit of grief and anger at the murder by the Thessalonians of their governor, a dear and close personal friend of his because the governor had refused to release to them on a festival day a charioteer who had seduced a young serving maid in his family at the urging of some of his officers issued a warrant, turning his soldiers loose upon the city. “Since the whole population was associated in the crime,” Theodosius ordered, “let the whole population bear the penalty.” When his anger cooled, he rescinded the order, but it was then too late. Seven thousand Thessalonians had perished.
Now the Emperor had formed a deep and lasting spiritual relationship with Saint Ambrose. Each had for the other the admiration which springs from mutual recognition of similar loves and values. They understood each other very well.And both were perfectly agreed that the spiritual and temporal welfare of the Empire was dependent upon the close cooperation of the Church and the Empire in the teaching and the living of the Faith of the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ upon Peter.
When, then, the news of the massacre at Thessalonica reached Saint Ambrose, he left Milan, and from his retreat he wrote to the Emperor the exact state of his feelings on the whole matter.
“That which was perpetrated at Thessalonica,” he wrote, “finds no parallel in the memory of men. There is only one remedy: for you to give public testimony of your repentance.” Until this was done, it would not be possible for him as bishop to celebrate the Divine Mysteries in the presence of Theodosius. He could not receive his offering, for no matter how great was his love for him, he loved God more. His love for “his majesty was not to his prejudice, but to his salvation.”
Theodosius did nothing about the letter, but after Saint Ambrose returned to Milan, he set out one day for Mass, accompanied by his entire suite. He was sure that the Bishop would not dare to censure him before the people. But he reckoned without Ambrose, a bishop of the West, who, apprised of his coming, met him at the door of the church. He forbade him to enter.
“It seems, sir,” the Saint addressed the Emperor, “that you do not yet rightly apprehend the enormity of the massacre which was so lately committed. Let not the splendor of your purple robes hinder you from being acquainted with the infirmities of that body which they cover. You are of the same mold with those subjects which you govern. And there is one common Lord and Emperor of the world! With what eyes will you behold His temple? With what feet will you tread His sanctuary? How will you lift up to Him in prayer those hands which are still stained with blood unjustly spilt? How could you with such hands presume to receive the Most Sacred Body of Our Lord? How could you carry His Precious Blood to a mouth whence the word of fury issued, commanding the wanton spilling of innocent blood? Depart, then, and do not aggravate your crime by a second offense. Quietly take upon you the yoke which the Lord has appointed for you . . .”
The Emperor protested that David had also sinned. “Him whom you would have followed in sinning,” Saint Ambrose flashed in reply, “follow also in his repentance.”
For eight months, Theodosius submitted to the penance put upon him. He retired to his palace, where he remained, clad in the garments of mourning. For eight months he did not enter the church. The vigil of Christmas came, and he was still shut up in the great house. He spent much of the time weeping. This finally so moved Ruffinus his comptroller, and the officer whose advice was mainly responsible for the massacre of Thessalonica that he attempted to console him. When this failed, he endeavored by flattering him to make him less contrite, and so lead him to accept life without the approval of the Church.
“Ruffinus,” Theodosius chastised him, “you do nothing but mock me.You little know my anguish! I weep and bewail my miserable state. The Church of God is open to beggars and slaves, but its doors — and therefore the gates of Heaven — are closed to me. For Our Lord has declared, ‘Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in Heaven.’ “
Ruffinus at last was profoundly touched. (He came into the Church some months later.) “If you will allow me,” he said, “I will run to the Bishop. I will use so many arguments with him that he will be unable to refuse to absolve you.”
“You will not be able to do it,” Theodosius dolefully answered him. “I know the justice of the sentence he has passed, and he is an inflexible man where the laws of religion are concerned. He will never, out of respect to the imperial dignity, do anything against the laws of God.”
Ruffinus persisted, and the Emperor, finally daring to hope, urged him, “Go quickly, then!” And he followed after him at a little distance.
“Ruffinus!” said Saint Ambrose when he caught sight of the officer coming toward him. “Your boldness is beyond all bounds! You were the instigator of this massacre. How can you then intercede for someone else? You have put aside all shame, and you neither blush nor tremble at the remembrance of so terrible a crime, so great an assault upon the image of God!”
Ruffinus pleaded. He informed the outraged and grieving Bishop that the Emperor would be along soon. “If he comes,” said Ambrose, “I tell you plainly, I shall forbid him to enter the Church porch. And if he decides to turn his power against me for this, here I am. I am ready to undergo any death.”
When the Emperor arrived, he did not enter the Church, but made his way to where the Bishop was sitting in the auditory; and there he begged him to give him absolution.
“What!” said Saint Ambrose rising and standing above him. “You come here to trample upon the holy laws of God?”
“I respect them,” Theodosius answered humbly. “I will not enter the the sacred porch of the church contrary to the rules. But I beseech you to free me from these bonds, and not shut against me the door which the Lord has opened to all penitents!”
“What penance have you done, after such a crime?”
“It is your place to inform me what I must do!” the Emperor pleaded. “It is your place to prescribe the remedies and apply the plaster; it is mine to submit.”
“Very well,” said Ambrose. And he ordered Theodosius to take his place among the public penitents in the church. Saint Ambrose himself tells, in the great tribute which he paid to the Emperor at his death, of the beauty of the public confession which Theodosius made of his terrible sin, and of the long, long time he lay prostrate in the ranks of the penitents, beating his breast, his tears running down his cheeks, begging God’s pardon and lamenting his crime until the people, touched to their hearts’ core, wept with him.
And even then, Saint Ambrose did not give Theodosius absolution. He did not absolve him until the Emperor had drawn up a law forbidding the execution of decrees made in haste and anger, and providing for a respite of thirty days before the execution of warrants for the seizure of life and property.
Later on, while Theodosius was still in Milan, Saint Ambrose, finding him one morning within the sanctuary of the altar, asked him if he were looking for someone. The Emperor answered, no, he merely wished to assist at Mass and to partake of Holy Communion. The Bishop, after some moments had passed, sent an archdeacon to him with the message, “My lord, it is lawful for none but the sacred ministers to remain within the sanctuary. Be pleased therefore, to go out, and continue standing with the rest. The purple robe makes princes, but not priests.”
The abashed Emperor made haste to explain that he had not meant in any way to make himself an exception. He was happy to do as the other worshippers did. He had merely believed that the same custom prevailed at Milan as at Constantinople, where his place was reserved within the sanctuary; then he took his place among the laity.
On Theodosius’ return to Constantinople, the Patriarch, wondering, found him one day hearing Mass outside the sanctuary. He sent word, begging him to resume his usual place inside the altar rail.
“Alas!” the Emperor sighed, “How hard it is for me to learn the difference between the priesthood and the empire! I am surrounded by flatterers, and have found but one man who has set me right and told me the truth. I know but one true bishop in the world: Ambrose.” And from that time on, he never again, even in the East, sat within the altar. A place was made for him outside the sanctuary, a little above the people, and here all the Emperors who succeeded him took their seats.
One other lesson Saint Ambrose taught the great Emperor. At the intercession of his son, Arcadius, Theodosius, then still in Milan, ordered the Bishop of Callinicus, in the East, to rebuild from his own funds a Jewish synagogue which had been destroyed by Christians who had been insulted by the Jews as they marched in religious procession through the streets. When Saint Ambrose heard of the Emperor’s order, he protested vehemently. “Christian conscience,” he said, “could not allow a bishop to erect a temple to a false religion!”
A few days later, Saint Ambrose caught sight of Theodosius entering the church just at the moment he was prepared to say Mass. He stood, and would not begin the prayers of the Holy Sacrifice until Theodosius promised to take back his orders for the erection of the synagogue.
At the last, even though he rejoiced for his eternal happiness, it was Ambrose who mourned Theodosius. “I have loved this man,” he repeated over and over, as he wept beside his body.He believed, and rightly, that the sun had set on the Roman Empire with the death of Theodosius. The beloved and humble ruler was indeed the last of the great Emperors before the fall of Rome, but eighty-one years distant.
Saint Ambrose, because of the profundity and depth of learning contained in the imperishable works which he bequeathed to the Church — and which all ages have found to be inexhaustible treasures of Faith — as well as for his zeal, his invincible strength in the defense of doctrine, and his heroic and shining holiness, is the first of the Church’s four Western Doctors.
Pope Saint Leo the Great (440-461) is the first Pope who is a Doctor of the Church. Saint Leo followed after the glorious Popes: Saints Damasus, Siricius, Anastasius I, Innnocent I, Zosimus, Boniface I, Celestine I and Sixtus III, all of whom, as with one voice, had proclaimed that when they spoke in papal utterance, they spoke through the mouth of the Prince of the Apostles, Peter.
“The entire Catholic Church spread over the globe is the sole bridal chamber of Christ,” Pope Damasus, the most influential Pope of the fourth century, declared. “The Church of Rome has been placed above all other churches not by virtue of conciliar decree, but by virtue of the words of the Lord: ‘Thou art Peter!’ . . .”
“We bear the burden of all who are laden,” Pope Siricius wrote, “or rather the blessed Apostle Peter bears them in our person, who . . . protects and defends us as the heirs in all things of his government.”
“It is certain,” said Pope Boniface I to the bishops of Eastern Illyricum, “that this Church (of Rome) is to the churches diffused throughout the whole world what the head is to its members: from which whosoever cuts himself off, becomes an alien to the Christian religion, by ceasing to belong to the structure.”
“All bishops must observe this,” Pope Siricius again writes, in an instruction to his bishops on the Sacrament of Baptism, “unless they be willing to be torn from the solid mass of the apostolic rock, upon which Christ has built his universal Church!”
Pope Saint Celestine I (422-432) is the Pope of the Third Ecumenical Council, at Ephesus, which deposed and anathematized Nestorius, the heretical Bishop of Constantinople, who taught that Our Lady was not the Mother of God. Saint Celestine was the Pope who sent Saint Patrick to Ireland.
It is said of Pope Saint Leo the Great that he bore in his hands the keys of Peter and the sword of Paul; that he bore them for twenty-one years without haste, without passion, without fear, with the serene dignity of one whose eyes were ever fixed on the Lord Whom he represented. Known far and wide for his great learning and holiness, the deacon Leo, son of the Roman, Quintianus, was unanimously elected Pope, in August 440, while he was absent in France on a mission for the Emperor.
“More than forty days the Roman Church was without a bishop,” Saint Prosper wrote, “awaiting with wonderful peace and patience the arrival of the deacon Leo.” This alone is high praise of the virtues of Saint Leo, for the times were such as to awaken the extreme opposite of peace and patience in the hearts of men. Pope 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, devasted countrysides, people ravished and maimed, impoverished and homeless was on his way into Italy. The great Saint Augustine died with the knowledge that the Vandals were at the gates of Hippo, his episcopol city the great Saint Augustine, who for forty years was a contemporary of Pope Saint Leo; the great Saint Augustine, who cried to God:
Too late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new! Too late have I loved Thee. Thou wast with me and I was not with Thee. Thou hast called, Thou hast cried out, and hast pierced my deafness. Thou has touched me, and I am all inflamed. . . . He loveth Thee less, who lovest anything else with Thee, which he loveth not for Thee. O love, which always burnest, and art never extinguished! True Charity, my God, set me all on fire!
In the midst of a world in chaos, Pope Leo who confessed to his Lord when informed of his election to the papacy, “Lord, I have heard Your voice calling me, and I was afraid; I considered the work which was commanded of me, and I trembled, for what proportion is there between the burden assigned to me and my weakness, this elevation and my nothingness . . .?” fought with untiring courage the heresies of the Manichees, Arians, Apollinarists, Nestorians, Eutychians (or Monophysites), and the schisms of the Novatians and the Donatists!
And with the world going to pieces all around him, and the Church beset on all sides, Saint Leo, out of the calm depths of a heart completely absorbed in God, spoke and wrote on the eternal things of the Faith with so much learning and insight that he wasas unanimously declared to possess the knowledge and holiness required of a Doctor of the Church as he had been wholeheartedly acclaimed Pope. Saint Leo wrote and preached on the Holy Trinity, on Jesus and His Immaculate Mother, on Saints Peter and Paul, the Apostles, Holy Scripture, the Fathers and Doctors, the saints and martyrs, the feasts and fasts of the Church, its devotions and its liturgy, with such beauty and clarity and unction and wisdom that the hearts of the faithful of all ages have rarely failed, upon reading his words, to be uplifted to God and filled with the wonder of His love.
It was with the keys of Saint Peter in his hand that Saint Leo wrote his “Dogmatic Epistle” against Eutyches, the heretic, and saved the Faith. It was with the sword of Saint Paul, and unknowingly the vision of Saint Peter above him, that he overcame Attila the Hun and later Genseric the Vandal and saved Rome.
“PETER HAS SPOKEN BY LEO!” the Fathers of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in number, six hundred and thirty-six bishops cried out, when Pope Leo’s famous letter setting forth the true doctrine of the Incarnation was read to them. “That is the Faith of the Fathers! That is the Faith of the Apostles! PETER HAS SPOKEN BY LEO!”
The dogmatic letter of Saint Leo, or Saint Leo’s Tome, as it is called, is one of the most precious documents of the Church. The story is told and the extraordinary beauty of the Tome bears it out that when Pope Leo had finished it, he placed it on the tomb of Saint Peter, imploring the Chief of the Apostles on whom the Church was founded to correct it with his own hand. He then fasted and prayed for forty days and forty nights, after which he returned to the tomb for the letter. To his overpowering joy, he found that Saint Peter had answered the prayer of his humble successor; the Prince of the Apostles had edited the Tome of Leo.
The dogmatic letter of Saint Leo is an answer to all the attacks on the Sacred Divinity and Humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Divine Maternity of Mary which grew out of the heresy of Arius. It is of too great length to reproduce in full, but the heavenly grace and beauty of the true doctrine and the language in which it is expressed can be gleaned in the passages which follow. The letter is addressed to Saint Flavian, the great Bishop of Constantinople who later lost his life
as a result of the violence inflicted upon him in the “Robber Synod” of Ephesus, where he defended the two natures of Jesus the divine and the human against the heritical Abbot Eutyches, who declared there was but one nature the divine in the Saviour of Mankind. The heresy of Eutyches denied the reality of the flesh of Jesus, and made him out not to be true man, and Our Lady out to be not true mother. Saint Leo wrote:
. . . Eutyches there shows himself as in a high degree ignorant and lacking in intelligence . . . What knowledge of the Old and New Testament can he have who does not even understand the beginning of the creed? And that which the catechumens throughout the whole world confess, the heart of this old man cannot comprehend . . . .
If he did not know what he ought to believe respecting the Incarnation of the Divine Word, and would not search throughout the whole Scriptures on the subject, then he ought to have adhered to the creed, which all know and confess: To believe in one God, the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ His only Son Our Lord, who was born by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary. By these three propositions almost every heresy is overthrown. [Emphasis ours.] For, if one believes in God the Father Almighty, then is the Son declared to be co-eternal with Him, differing in nothing from the Father, because He is God of God, Almighty of Almighty, Co-eternal of the Eternal, not later in time, not inferior in power, not unequal in glory, not divided in essence. And this only-begotten Eternal Son of the Eternal Father was born by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary.This birth in time has taken nothing from, and added nothing to, the eternal birth (from the Father), and its only end is the Redemption of men. For we could not overcome sin and the author of death, unless our nature had been assumed and made His own by Him Whom neither sin could stain nor death could hold.
He was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin, and she bore Him without injury to her virginity, even as she conceived Him without loss of the same.
Since, then, the properties of both natures and substances remained uninjured, and united in one Person, lowliness was assumed by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity . . . For He Who is true God, is at the same time true man, and in this unity there is no lie, for the lowliness of man and the loftiness of God have penetrated each other . . .
For He Who is one and the same, as must be often repeated, is truly Son of God and truly Son of man. God in this, that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”; man in this, that “the Word was made flesh, and dwealt among us”; God in this, that all things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made; man in this, that He was made of a woman, and under the law.
The birth of the flesh is the revelation of human nature; the being born of the virgin is the sign of divine power. The weakness of the child is shown by the lowliness of the cradle; the glory of the Highest is proclaimed by the voice of the angels. He is like to the children whom Herod wishes cruelly to slay; but He is Lord of all, Whom the wise men rejoice humbly to adore. And that it might not be concealed that the Godhead is covered by the veil of the flesh, the voice of the Father called from Heaven: “This is My beloved Son,” etc.
He Who as man is tempted by the cunning of the devil, He, as God, is ministered to by the angels. Hunger, thirst, weariness, and sleep are evidently human; but to feed five thousand men with five loaves, to walk on the sea, to command the storms, is without doubt divine. As it does not belong to one and the same nature to bewail a dead friend with deep compassion, and to call him back to life when he has been four days dead, or to hang upon the Cross and to make the elements tremble, so it does not belong to one and the same nature to say: “I and the Father are one,” and “the Father is greater than I.” For although in Jesus Christ there is only one Person of God and man, yet the common glory and the common lowliness of the two natures have a different source. From us He has the manhood, which is inferior to the Father; from the Father He has the Godhead, which is equal to the Father . . . .
The heresies of Nestorius and Eutyches did not, alas, die along with their founders, but are to be found today existing in several countries, where their followers are known still as Nestorians and Monophysites. Eutyches was banished several times, and finally died in a remote and deserted part of the world, unloved and alone. Nestorius, Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori tells us, died of a cancer which rotted his tongue, which was “consumed by worms engendered by the disease a fit punishment for that tongue which had uttered so many blasphemies against Jesus Christ and His Holy Mother.”
In the heresy of Arius, sprung from the Jews, there was contained the seeds of all the heresies, and so it is not surprising to find every one of the false doctrines of the first five hundred years of the Church faithfully preserved in the heretical churches of our day. The Arian doctrines flourish still in the various sects which call themselves Christian and which come under one general heading which best describes them, and which acknowledges their constant state to be one of protest against the authority which Jesus Christ vested in His Vicars, the Holy Roman Pontiffs, and protest against many or all of His doctrines, which the Popes have never failed, all through the centuries, to guard, preserve, define when necessary, and pass down unchanged, to each succeeding generation.
Arianism is as frankly alive today in Unitarianism - which declares that only the Father is God - as it ever was in the days when Arius and Eusebius of Nicodemia befouled the Eastern air with its blasphemy. It lives still, though more subtly, in the other Protestant sects whose members invariably answer the question, “Do you believe that Jesus is God?” with the reply which is so tragically revealing of just how far they are willing to go: “Well, I believe He is the son of God.” The true answer, of course, is that Jesus is both God and the Son of God, a full answer which no Protestant ever makes.
Eutyches and his Monophy-sitism, living quietly still in many of the sects, openly stalks the land of America under the name of Christian Science, which denies the reality of matter not only in the human nature of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, but in us all! Nestorianism, alas, is common to all of the Protestant sects. One has only to ask the question, “Do you believe that Mary is the Mother of God?” to receive the answer, “I believe she is the mother of Christ. I would not say that she is the Mother of God.”
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 great Theodosius!
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.
Practically 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 See.
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!
In the year 454, Saint Leo confirmed the doctrinal decrees of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. And 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 unharmed.
On the tenth day of November, in the year 461, Pope Saint Leo, glorious successor of Saint Peter and one of the greatest men the world has ever known, died a deeply holy death. His most pure soul, we may be sure, was borne at once to the throne of the Queen of Heaven by the tender and triumphant Peter, through whom Saint Leo’s battles had been fought at every hour of his blessed pontificate, against the seed of her everlasting enemy, Lucifer.
There has come down to us, in the works 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 t he hands of his prisoners. 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. . . .