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From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

IT were fitting that our attention should not be diverted during this Octave from the feast which the Church is keeping. But the triumph of Peter will shine out with all the more splendour in proportion as the testimony he rendered to the Son of God is shown to have been maintained with all fidelity during the long series of succeeding ages by the Pontiffs, inheritors of his Primacy. For a considerable time the twentyeighth of June was consecrated by the memory of St Leo the Great; it was the day chosen by 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 Eutyches at 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 being ended: two centuries more were needed; and another Leo, he whom we this day honour, had the honour of ending it at the sixth 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 people. Thus when towards the beginning of the fourteenth century April 11 was again assigned to St Leo I (for that was really the primitive 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 to the rank of a semi-double, came forward to remind the faithful of the glorious struggles maintained both by his predecessor and by himself, in the order of apostolic confession. Latterly his feast was transferred to this day, in order that St Irenæus may be commemorated on the Vigil of the Apostles.

How was it that St Leo’s clear and complete exposition of the dogma and the anathemas 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, ardour 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 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. Honorius, placed on the pinnacle of the Church, ‘had not made her shine with the splendour of apostolic doctrine, but by profane treason had suffered the faith, which should be spotless, to be exposed to subversion';[1] 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 enthusiasm with which this evident compromise was hailed by the various sects rebellious to the fourth General Council showed that they still preserved all the venom of error; and the fact that they denied, or hesitated to acknowledge, that in the Man-God there is any other will than that proper to the divine Nature, was equivalent to declaring that he had assumed but a semblance of human nature, since this nature could by no means exist devoid of that will which is proper to it. Therefore, the Monophysites, or partisans of the one Nature in Christ, made no difficulty in henceforth being called by the name of Monothelites, or partisans of the 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!'[2] The city of dolours 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 before appealing against him to the Roman Pontiff, the bishop of Constantinople took the initiative; he succeeded thus by a hypocritical letter in circumventing Honorius, and in getting him to impose silence on the patriarch of Jerusalem. Hence, when at last St Sophronius, 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, which though it did not directly implicate the infallible magistracy 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 judgement, or even the administrative acts of the Sovereign Pontiff. In order to promote this marvellous 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 to the prayers of all should be confided the charge of completing his work by obtaining for the successors of Peter such preservative graces as do not of themselves necessarily spring from the divine constitution of the Church.

Meanwhile Mahomet 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. Palestine, Syria and Egypt fell simultaneously beneath the blows of the lieutenants of the prophet. Sophronius, placed as he was in the very midst of the scene of invasion, grew still greater under trial. Abandoned by the emperor where the defence 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 judgement, the victory over these perfidious teachings."’[3]

The bishop of Dora was faithful to this command. When, twelve years later, he gave this touching narrative at the Council of 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 remedy for the wound that has been inflicted upon us.'[4] 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 impostor. 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 an odious silence rectified by holy Church: now were her doctors to be seen, with tongue plucked out, still continuing by divine power to proclaim that Christian dogma which cannot be enchained;[5] still with lopped-off hands finding means, in their indomitable zeal, to affix to the mutilated arm the pen whose function, now made doubly glorious, continued thus to carry throughout the world the refutation of falsehood.

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. St Agatho had assembled the sixth General Council at Constantinople, at the request of another Constantine, 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 liberty is not cramped.'[6]

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

Leo Secundus, Pontifex Maximus, Siculus, humanis et divinis litteris græce et latine doctus, musicis etiam eruditus fuit: ipse enim sacros hymnos et psalmos in Ecclesia ad concentum meliorem reduxit. Probavit acta sextæ Synodi, quæ Constantinopoli celebrata est, præsidentibus legatis apostolicæ sedis, præsente quoque Constantino imperatore, et duobus patriarchis Constantinopolitano et Antiocheno, ac centum septuaginta episcopis: quam et in latinum transtulit.

In eo concilio Cyrus, Sergius, et Pyrrhus condemnati sunt, unam tantummodo voluntatem et operationem in Christo prædicantes. Hic fregit superbiam antistitum Ravennatum, qui Exarchorum freti potentia, sedi apostolicæ non obtemperabant. Quamobrem decrevit, ut electio cleri Ravennatis irrita esset, nisi Romani Pontificis auctoritate comprobaretur.

Vere pater pauperum fuit: non enim pecunia solum, sed opera, labore, et consiliis, egentium, viduarum, et pupillorum inopiam ac solitudinem sublevabat. Qui dum singulos non magis prædicatione quam vita ad pie sancteque vivendum adhortaretur; obdormivit in Domino mense sui pontificatus undecimo, quinto nonas Julii, anno sexcentesimo octogesimo tertio, sepultusque est in basilica sancti Petri. Ordinatione una mense Junio, creavit presbyteros novem, diaconos tres, episcopos diversis in locis viginti tres.
Pope Leo II was a Sicilian. He was learned in sacred and profane letters, 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, under the presidency of the legates of the apostolic see, in the presence of the emperor Constantine, the patriarchs of Constantinople and Antioch, and one hundred and seventy 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. Leo broke the pride of the archbishops of Ravenna, who had puffed themselves up, under the power of the exarchs, to set at naught the power of the apostolic see. Wherefore, he decreed that the elections of the clergy of Ravenna should be worth nothing, until they had been confirmed by the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

He was a true father to the poor. Not by money only, but by his deeds, his labours, 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, having sat as Pope eleven months, in the year 683, and was buried in the church of Saint Peter, the fifth of the Nones of July. In the month of June he held one ordination, whereat he ordained nine priests, three deacons, and twenty-three bishops, for divers places.

O glorious Pontiff, to thee was granted the privilege of completing the apostolic confession by giving the furthest development to the testimony rendered by Peter to the Son of the living God, who is at the same time Son of man. Thou wast to finish the work of Sylvester, Celestine and that other Leo, a Pontiff beloved of earth and of heaven. Convoking, inspiring, confirming the illustrious Councils of Nicæa, Ephesus and Chalcedon, they had triumphantly proved in our Emmanuel both his Divinity consubstantial with the Father, and his unity of person which causes Mary to be truly his Mother, and furthermore his twofold Nature, without which he could not have been our Brother. Satan, who had allowed himself to be more easily overcome on the first two points, disputed the third with utmost rage. As on that great battle-day when he was hurled from heaven, the form of his revolt had been a refusal to adore God under human features; so now, together with all hell, enforced by holy Church to bend the knee, his jealousy would fain pretend that at least God had taken of man but a mutilated nature. Let it be granted that the Word was made Flesh, but in this Flesh do not allow that he had other impulses, other energies, save those of the Divinity itself; such an inert nature as this, uncrowned of its proper will, would in reality be no human nature, even though it were to retain all the rest. Then would Lucifer, in his pride, have less cause to blush; for then man, the object of his infernal envy, would have nothing in common with the divine Word save a vain appearance! Thanks be to thee, O Leo, in the name of all mankind! By thee, in face of heaven, earth and hell, is promulgated authentically the incomparable title whereby, without any restriction, our nature is established at the right hand of the Father, in the highest heavens; by thee our Lady crushes the vile serpent's head once again.

But what craft was displayed by Satan in this campaign, prolonged for two centuries, noiselessly, the better to secure success! What exultation rang through the abyss when one sad day saw the representative of him who is essential Light appear to side for a moment with the powers of darkness! A cloud seemed to have come between heaven and those mountains of God, where he dwells with his Vicar; it is probable that the social aid of intercession was weaker just then than it should have been. Be ever at hand, O Leo, to ward off all similarly dangerous situations. Uphold, in every age, the Pastor who rules Christ's Church, that he may keep himself aloof from the darkening mists that earth exhales; keep ever alive in the hearts of the faithful flock that strong prayer, which should continually be made without ceasing for him by the Church:[7] and then Peter, were he even chained in the depths of the darkest dungeon, will be reached by the Sun of justice and clearly see his way in that pure ray; then will the whole body of the Church be lightsome. For Jesus hath said, 'the light of the body is the eye: if the eye be single the whole body will be lightsome.'[8]

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.[9] For surely the efforts of the spirits of darkness never 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, not to his 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 behoves 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!


[1] Leon. II Epist. Confirm. Concil. Constantinop. III.
[2] St Luke xxii 42.
[3] Concil. Later. Actio seu Secret. II.
[4] Ibid.
[5] 2 Tim. ii 9.
[6] Epist. confirm. Concil. Constantinop. III.
[7] Acts xii 5.
[8] St Matt. vi 22.
[9] Ibid. xvi 18.