These days, our modern society is attacking truth in many ways. Even when we look at the Church today, we might find that the truth is sometimes diluted by others. Not surprisingly, these attacks on truth often lead to great conflicts in both the Church and in wider society.
For single Catholics seeking connection and community with others in their lives, these conflicts can feel extremely disheartening. What can we do in the face of conflicts and attacks on the truth?
Remember that nothing happens today that is that different from things that have happened in the past.
Pope Saint Leo the Great, the first Pope to be given the title of “the Great,” was a man who had many encounters with those attacking the truth. He can be a wonderful example for single Catholics to look to as we navigate such situations in our own lives.
Saint Leo’s holy life before the papacy
Pope St. Leo the Great was born around the year 400. His parents were members of the aristocracy from Tuscany. Besides that though, we don’t know much about his birth or early life.
We do know that Leo was a well-known deacon by the year 431. During the papacy of Pope Celestine I, Leo distinguished himself by his great intelligence. Others also saw that he had a deep and sincere love for God.
While serving under Pope Celestine I and Celestine’s successor, Pope Sixtus III, Leo showed that he was gifted in bringing resolution to conflicts in the Catholic Church and in society. Both of these popes often sent Leo to settle arguments in both the secular and theological realms.
Pope Sixtus III died while Leo was traveling to Gaul to settle an argument between Gaul’s chief magistrate and some important military commanders. Leo was unanimously elected as the new Pope shortly after in 440.
Preserving unity in the Church
Leo became pope at a time when there was a lot of division in the Catholic Church. This division was from many different causes. He took his new office very seriously, seeing himself as the servant of the servants of God.
Leo got to work immediately in doing what he could to strengthen unity within the Catholic Church. One of the biggest issues he faced was the spread of heresy. During his papacy, both the Pelagian heresy and the Manichean heresy were gaining traction.
Pelagianism was a false doctrine spread by a man named Pelagius and his followers. They claimed that original sin didn’t really affect people that much. Pelagianism states that humans are actually able to achieve perfection without God’s grace.
Manicheanism was the false teaching that was begun by a Persian named Mani. It taught the dualistic idea that good and evil are both eternal, and that all matter belongs to the evil side in the struggle between good and evil.
Pope Leo preached against both of these heresies. His words helped restore the unity of teaching and belief.
During his papacy, there was also a conflict with some Eastern Christians who were questioning Jesus’ divinity. Leo addressed this conflict by writing a letter to this sect, expressing true Church teaching on the matter of Christ’s divinity and humanity.
This letter Leo wrote is still well-known today. It is praised for its preservation of true Church teaching in a time of confusion, and because it successfully brought peace to the conflict in the Church.
One of the most significant papacies in Catholic Church history
Some people consider the papacy of Pope St. Leo the Great to be one of the most significant papacies in the history of the Church. He is widely recognized to have been one of the best administrators in the ancient Church.
Beyond his preaching against heresy, he was also well-known for the quality of all his preaching. He had a particular ability to preach on areas that were interesting and necessary for his listeners.
Leo also made sure that the poor were being cared for. He worked to ensure that the poor in Rome, as well as refugees and those suffering from famine, had their needs met.
One of the most well-known accomplishments of Pope St. Leo the Great was actually a peacekeeping effort he carried out in the secular world: the stop of Atilla the Hun.
Atilla the Hun invaded Italy in 452. After sacking a few Italian cities, he set out for Rome. The emperor sent Leo, as well as some other men, to meet Atilla and attempt to convince Atilla to call off the attack.
Though the specifics of the meeting with Atilla the Hun are not known for certain, many historians credit Leo with convincing Atilla to withdraw and leave Rome alone.
By the time Leo died in 461, he had accomplished many things in defense of the truth and unity.
As we struggle in our own lives to defend the truth against attack and to bring peace to the many areas of disunity around us, let us turn to Pope St. Leo the Great for inspiration and intercession.
Pope St. Leo the Great, pray for us!
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