32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney
St. Leo the Great
"By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
11 November 2012
Yesterday was the feast of St. Leo the Great, who was bishop of Rome and therefore pope from 440 - 461 A.D. With Gregory the Great, who sent early missionaries to England in 597 after the Church there had petered out because of the Saxon invasions, and our own Pope John Paul the Great, Leo is one of the three popes to whom history has given the title "great".

We all know that the position of St. Peter is well established in the New Testament as head of the apostles. It was Jesus who renamed Simon as Peter i.e. the rock man (I tell the youngsters Jesus renamed him as "Rocky") on whom the Church was to be built. He was regularly listed first among the apostles; received the keys of the kingdom and the power to bind and loose from Jesus. He was also called to strengthen the faith of his brothers and feed the lambs and sheep.

The two thousand year history of the papacy is built on these scriptural foundations. In parallel, the Church of Rome was always the most important guardian and judge of the authenticity of the apostolic tradition, because it was founded by both Peter and Paul, extraordinary apostles and missionaries.

Obviously we need to travel quite a distance from the simplicity and tiny following of St. Peter to the magnificence of the Vatican as the Pope leads 103 billion Catholics across the world.

The Holy Father now lives in the tiny Vatican State, but has world-wide visibility. It was not always like this and Leo the Great was one of the founders of the modern Papacy.

For more than a thousand years the Pope ruled a significant section of central Italy and some areas around Avignon in Southern France. This territory grew slowly in fits and starts and Leo was an important agent in this development, which began with the first Christian emperor, Constantine, who gave religious freedom to Christians in 313.
Leo lived at a bad time as the Roman Empire was disintegrating in the West. Different barbarian armies from Northern Europe roamed at will across Italy. The Papacy's secular prestige increased greatly when Leo persuaded the Huns to withdraw north to the other side of the Danube River in 451 and then when the Vandals occupied Rome in 452, he dissuaded them from destroying the city and from mass killing. However he could not prevent many Romans being taken as slaves and their treasures were looted. Our words "vandal" and "vandalism" are taken from this wild grouping. People could rely on the Pope and bishops for help and protection, to provide basic administration.

I believe I saw something similar in 1995 in Rabaul when the volcano Tavurvur erupted and buried most of Rabaul city. For a week no government help arrived and then officials did come who were more inclined to help their "one talks" than the general population.
The only authority who had the expertise and resources to help the people from day one was the magnificent German Archbishop of Rabaul, Karl Hesse. I was up in Rabaul soon afterwards and everywhere we went he was greeted as a hero. Such a contemporary example helps us understand how the popes developed into secular rulers.

Leo had no such territorial ambitions. Almost certainly he came from a distinguished Roman family, because he wrote beautiful Latin, clear and precise, modelled on the style of imperial edicts.

He was very secure in his beliefs that Peter's powers were his, as the successor of St. Peter and was deeply attached to the ideals of the disintegrating Roman Empire. In one sermon he explained that St. Peter and St. Paul had replaced Romulus and Remus, the traditional founders of Rome, as patrons of the city.

He was an active pastor sponsoring a good deal of charitable work. He opposed those who still regarded December 25th as the feast of the sun, rather than a celebration of Our Lord's birth, as he opposed the extremist Manichees, who believed material creation and because human flesh were evil. He promoted the four annual fasts, which came to be known as Ember Days
His major doctrinal contribution was made at the 451 Council of Chalcedon (in modern Turkey) which accepted his teaching, conveyed to them in the Tome of Leo; that Jesus is true God and true man, with a divine and human nature. This is the way we regard Jesus today.

Some major Christian Churches, such as the Copts and Armenians, followed a doctrine called monophysitism, believing Jesus had only one divine nature.

The humanity of Christ, our brother is mightily important, but it is a pity that differences could not be reconciled. These serious divisions remain to this day and this helped the invading Muslim forces some hundreds of years later.

The papacy is a unique human institution, the oldest surviving system of government in history. The Chinese emperors began earlier, but were replaced by Sun Yat Sen early in the twentieth century.
We should conclude by praying for our present pope, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict. Rarely in Papal history have we possessed a greater writer and teacher. He carries an enormous burden, which is not made any easier by the fact the Popes continue in office until they die.

Let us then pray: "May the Lord preserve him, the Pope, and give him life and make him blessed upon the earth and hand him not into the power of his enemies."

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen."

We thank God for Cardinal Pell and pray that He may confound his enemies.

Alas His Eminence's prayer for Pope Benedict did not accord with God's Will it seems. 


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