This sculpture of the Great St. Leo, Pontiff, meeting Attila at the gate, is in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome.
St. Leo the Great, Pontiff and Doctor of the Church
Probably born in Rome of Tuscan parents, he served as deacon under Popes Celestine I and Sixtus III, acted as peacemaker between Aetius and Albinus, the imperial generals whose quarrels were leaving Gaul open to attacks by the barbarians, and was elected Pope to succeed Sixtus III while he was in Gaul. He was consecrated on September 29, 440, and at once began his pastoral duties with a series of ninety-six still extant sermons on faith and charity and strenuous opposition to Manichaeanism, Pelagianism, Priscillianism, and Nestorianism. In 448, he was faced with the Eutychian problem. Eutyches, an archimandrite in a monastery at Constantinople, had been deposed as abbot by Patriarch Flavian of Constantinople for denying the two natures of Christ. Supported by Emperor Theodosius II, Eutyches appealed to Leo for reinstatement. The Emperor summoned a packed council at Ephesus in 449 (the notorious Robber Synod), which acquitted Eutyches and at which Flavian was physically assaulted (he later died from the attack), and refused to allow papal legates to read a letter from Leo; it also declared Flavian deposed. In 451, Leo called the General Council of Chalcedon at which his letter of 449 clarifying the doctrine of the Incarnation and vindicating Flavian was read; it excommunicated and deposed Dioscorus, Eutyches' friend, who had been intruded as patriarch of Constantinople in place of Flavian by Theodosius. It was Leo's famous Tome and was received with great acclamation.
In 452, Attila and his Huns invaded Italy and were about to attack defenseless Rome when he was dissuaded by Leo in a face-to-face meeting with Leo at Peschiera. Three years later Leo was not so successful with the Vandal Genseric, who plundered Rome, though he agreed not to burn the city. Leo ministered to the stricken populace and worked to rebuild the city and the churches. He sent missionaries to Africa to minister to the captives Genseric took back with him. Leo died in Rome on November 10. Leo advanced the influence of the papacy to unprecedented heights with his authoritative approach to events, buttressed by his firm belief that the Holy See was the supreme authority in human affairs because of Divine and scriptural mandate. In a time of great disorder, he forged an energetic central authority that stood for stability, authority, action, and wisdom; his ponificate was to affect the concept of the papacy for centuries to come. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1754.