Champions of Catholic Orthodoxy

St. Leo II, Pope & Confessor (†683; Feast — July 3)

Pope St. Leo the Great and Attila

Pope St. Leo the Great repelled Attila the Hun and condemned the Monophysites. Pope St. Leo II finished this work by condemning the Monothelites.

The triumph of St. Peter, celebrated on June 29, shines out with all the more splendor in proportion as the testimony he rendered to the Son of God is shown to have been maintained with all fidelity by the inheritors of his Primacy. For a considerable time the 28th of June was consecrated by the memory of St. Leo the Great; it was the day chosen by Pope Sergius I for the translation of the illustrious Doctor, and indeed a more magnificent usher for the solemnity could hardly be desired. From no other lips than his has Rome ever set forth, in such elevated language, the glories of these two Princes of the Apostles and her own fame; never since the incomparable scene enacted at Caesarea Philippi has the mystery of the Man-God been affirmed in a manner so sublime as on that day whereon the Church, striking the impious heretic Eutyches at the Council of Chalcedon, received from Leo the immortal formula of Christian dogma. Peter once more spoke by the mouth of Leo; yet the evil was far from ended: two centuries more were needed; and another Leo, he whose Feast we celebrate today, had the honor of ending it at the Sixth General Council.

The Spirit of God, ever watchful over the development of the Sacred Liturgy, by no means wished any change to be effected in the train of thought of the faithful. Thus when towards the beginning of the 14th century April 11 was again assigned to St. Leo I (for this was really the original place occupied by him in the cycle), St. Leo II, the anniversary of whose death was June 28, and who hitherto had been merely commemorated thereon, being now raised in rank, came forward to remind the faithful of the glorious struggles maintained both by his predecessor and by himself, in the order of apostolic confession. Later his feast was transferred to this day, in order that St. Irenaeus may be commemorated on the Vigil of the Apostles.

How was it that the clear and complete exposition of the dogma by St. Leo I and the anathemas of the Council of Chalcedon did not succeed in silencing the arguments of that heresy which refused to our nature its noblest title, by denying that it had been assumed in its integrity by the Divine Word? Because for truth to win the day it suffices not merely to expose the lie uttered by error. More than once, history gives instances of the most solemn anathemas ending in nothing but lulling the vigilance of the guardians of the holy city. The struggle seemed ended, the need of repose was making itself felt amidst the combatants, a thousand other matters called for the attention of the Church's rulers; and so whilst feigning utmost deference, nay, ardor even, if needful, for the new enactments, error went on noiselessly, making profit of the silence which ensued after its defeat. Then did its progress become all the more redoubtable at the very time it was pretending to have disappeared without leaving a trace behind.

Thanks, however, to the Divine Head, Who never ceases to watch over His work, such trials seldom reach to such a painful depth as that into which St. Leo II had to probe with steel and fire in order to save the Church. Once only has the terrified world beheld anathema strike the summit of the holy mount. Pope Honorius, placed on the pinnacle of the Church, "had not made Her shine with the splendor of Apostolic doctrine, but by profane treason had suffered the Faith, which should be spotless, to be exposed to subversion" (Epistle of Pope Leo II Confirming the Third Council of Constantinople). St. Leo II, therefore, sending forth his thunders in unison with the assembled Church against the new Eutychians and their accomplices, did not spare even his predecessor. And yet, as all acknowledge, Honorius had otherwise been an irreproachable Pope; and even in the question at stake he had been far from professing heresy or teaching error. Wherein, then, did his fault lie?

The Emperor Heraclius, who by victory had reached the height of power, beheld with much concern how continual division persisted between the Catholics of his empire and the late disciples of Eutyches. The bishop of the imperial city, the patriarch Sergius, fostered these misgivings in his master's mind. Vain of a certain amount of political skill which he fancied himself to possess, he now aimed at re-establishing, by his sole effort, that unity which the Council of Chalcedon and St. Leo the Great had failed to obtain; thus would he make himself a name. The disputants agreed in acknowledging two natures in Jesus Christ; hence to reply to their advances one thing was needed, he thought — to impose silence on the question as to whether there are in Him two wills or only one. The Monophysites, or partisans of only one Nature in Christ, made no difficulty in henceforth being called by the name of Monothelites, or partisans of only one will. Sergius, the apostle of this novel unity, might well congratulate himself; Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, hailed with one accord the benefit of this peace. Was not the whole East here represented by her patriarchs? If Rome in her turn would but acquiesce, the triumph would be complete! Jerusalem, however, proved a jarring note in this strange concert.

Jerusalem, the witness of the anguish suffered by the Man-God in His human nature, had heard Him cry out in the garden of His agony, "Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me; yet, not My will, but Thine be done!" (Luke 22:42) The city of dolors knew better than any other what to believe concerning these two wills, which, by the heroism of incomparable love, were maintained in such full harmony, and the time for her to bear testimony had come. The monk Sophronius, now her Bishop, was by his sanctity, courage and learning ready for the task that lay before him. But while, in the charity of his soul, he was seeking to reclaim Sergius, the heretical "bishop" of Constantinople, before appealing against him to the Roman Pontiff, Sergius himself took the initiative; he succeeded thus by a hypocritical letter in circumventing Pope Honorius, and in getting him to impose silence on the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Hence, when at last St. Sophronius (Feast—March 11), at the head of the bishops of his province assembled in council, thought it had become his positive duty to turn towards Rome, it was but to receive for answer a confirmation of the prohibition to disturb the peace. This was a sad mistake on the part of Honorius, which, though it did not directly implicate the infallible magisterium because it was a measure exclusively political, was one that cost the Church bitter tears and much blood, and which resulted fifty years later in the condemnation of the unfortunate Honorius.

The Holy Ghost, Who has guaranteed the infallible purity of the doctrine taught officially from the Apostolic Chair, has not pledged Himself to protect in a like degree from all failure either the virtue, or the private judgment, or even the administrative acts of the Sovereign Pontiff. In order to promote this marvelous union which the Creator made to reign both upon Earth and in Heaven, Our Lord, when He founded the society of Saints upon the authentic and immutable basis of the faith of Peter, willed that the prayers of the faithful should complete His work, by obtaining for the successors of St. Peter the graces to live lives of personal holiness — graces which do not necessarily spring from the Divine constitution of the Church (e.g. infallibility).

Meanwhile Mohammed was just letting loose his hordes upon the world. Heraclius was now to learn the worth of his patriarch's lying peace, and was to come down lower in shame than he had been exalted in glory by his victories over the Persians, in the days when he had acted as the hero of the Cross (when he reclaimed the Relic of the Cross from the Persians, and brought it back to Jerusalem). Palestine, Syria and Egypt fell simultaneously beneath the blows of the lieutenants of the false prophet. St. Sophronius, placed as he was in the very midst of the scene of the invasion, grew still greater under trial. Abandoned by the emperor where the defense of the empire was at stake, disavowed by Rome as to Faith, he alone intrepidly treated with Omar as power opposed to power; and when about to die, still hoping against all hope in Rome, though thence had come a blow harder far to bear than that of the Caliph, he confided to Stephen of Dora the supreme mission, which the latter thus relates: "In his justice strong as a lion, contemning calumnies and intrigues, blessed Sophronius took me, unworthy as I am, and conducted me to the sacred spot of Calvary. There he bound me by an indissoluble engagement, in these words: 'Thou shalt have to render account to Him Who being God was voluntarily crucified for us according to the flesh on this spot, when on the day of His terrible coming He will appear in glory to judge the living and the dead, if thou defer or neglect the interests of His Faith now in peril. Thou knowest that I cannot in the body do this thing, being hindered by the incursion of the Saracens which our sins have deserved. Set out as soon as possible, and go from here to the farthest ends of the earth, until thou reach the Apostolic See, where the foundations of orthodox dogma are set. Go again and again, not once, not twice, but endlessly, and make known to those living there the shock that our land has sustained. Importunately, ceaselessly implore and supplicate, until apostolic prudence at length determine, by its canonical judgments, the victory over these perfidious teachings'" (Acts of the Lateran Council).

Pope St. Martin I suffered martyrdom under the Monothelite Emperor Constans II.

Pope St. Martin I suffered martyrdom under the Monothelite Emperor Constans II.

The Bishop of Dora was faithful to this command. When, twelve years later, he gave this touching narrative at the Council of the Lateran in 649, it was then the third time that, in spite of the snares and other difficulties of the times, he could say: "We have taken the wings of a dove, as David speaks, and we have come to declare our situation to this See, elevated in the sight of all, this Sovereign, this principal See, where is to be found the remedy for the wound that has been inflicted upon us." Pope St. Martin I, who received this appeal, was one worthy to hear it; and soon afterwards he repaired by his own martyrdom the fault committed by Honorius in suffering himself to be tricked by an imposter. His glorious death, followed by the tortures endured for the truth by the saintly abbot Maximus and his companions, prepared the victory which the heroic faith of Sophronius had announced to the Roman Pontiff. Thus was a sad and odious silence rectified by Holy Mother Church: now were Her doctors to be seen, some with tongues plucked out, still continuing by divine power to proclaim that Christian dogma which cannot be enchained; others, in their indomitable zeal, even with mutilated or cut-off hands, still finding means to write the refutation of error and heresy and carry it throughout the world.

But it is time to come to the issue of this memorable contest. It is to be found in him whose Feast we are celebrating. Pope St. Agatho had assembled the Sixth General Council at Constantinople, at the request of another Constantine (the Fourth), an enemy of heresy and a victor over Islam. Faith and justice now did the work hand in hand; and St. Leo II could at last sing aloud: "O Holy Mother Church, put off Thy garb of mourning, and deck Thee in robes of gladness. Exult now with joyous confidence; Thy freedom is not constrained" (Epistle Confirming the Third Council of Constantinople).

The holy liturgy devotes the following lines to the history of this pontificate, short indeed, but well filled:

Pope Leo II, a Sicilian, was learned in sacred and profane subjects, as also in the Greek and Latin tongues, and was moreover an excellent musician. He rearranged and improved the music of the sacred hymns and psalms used in the Church. He approved the Acts of the Sixth General Council, which was held at Constantinople, the Legates of the Apostolic See presiding, in the presence of the Emperor Constantine, the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch, and 170 Bishops; Leo also translated these said Acts into Latin. It was in this Council that Cyrus, Sergius, and Pyrrhus were condemned for teaching that there is in Christ only one will and one operation... He was a true father to the poor. Not by money only, but by deeds, his labors, and his advice, he relieved the poverty and loneliness of widows and orphans. He was leading all to live holy and godly lives, not by mere preaching, but by his own life, when he fell asleep in the Lord in the year 683, having reigned as Pope for eleven months, and was buried in the Church of St. Peter on the fifth of the Nones of July (July 3). In the month of June he held one ordination, whereat he ordained 9 priests, 3 deacons, and 23 bishops for divers places.

O glorious Pontiff, by thy teaching we realize more fully the strength of the Rock whereon the Church stands; we know that the gates of Hell shall never prevail against Her. For surely the efforts of the spirits of darkness never (until our own evil times) went to such lengths as they did in that sad crisis to which thou didst put an end; nor was their success, however great in appearance, contrary to the divine promise; for it is to the teaching of Peter and his successors, not to their silence, that the unfailing assistance of the Holy Ghost is guaranteed. O loving Pontiff, obtain for us uprightness of faith and heavenly enthusiasm wherewith it behooves us to hail Peter and Christ acting together in the unity divinely established between them. The liturgy is deeply indebted to thee; grant us to relish more and more the hidden manna it contains, and may our hearts and voices fittingly render these sacred melodies!

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