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St. Leo The Great

Leo was one of the greatest of the early popes. The date and place of his birth are not known. He is thought to have been a native of Tuscany. He served as a deacon during the reign of Pope Celestine I (422-432). During this time he already had connections in Gaul and he was sent to Gaul by the Emperor Valentinian III to reconcile Aëtius, Gaul’s chief military commander with Albinus, the chief magistrate. Pope Sixtus III died while Leo was in Gaul. Though absent from Rome, Leo was elected to be pope. He was consecrated on September 28, 440. Leo battled the heresies than prevalent, particularly Manichaeism, by enforcing strict discipline. He promoted unity with Rome among all the local Churches and had several synods of bishops held. He was a brilliant writer and over a hundred of his letters and over ninety of his sermons are still extant. In 452, when Attila threatened Rome, Leo went to meet him and dissuaded him from attacking the city; the pope also secured Attila’s promise that he would withdraw from Italy and negotiate peace with the emperor. In 455, when Rome was captured by the Vandals, Leo secured the promise that the people and the city itself would not be harmed. Leo was also active in church building, restoring the lightening damaged roof of St. Paul without the Walls (St. Paul outside the Walls) and restoring the original St. Peter’s on the Vatican. Leo died on November 10, 461. He was buried in the vestibule of St. Peter’s and his body was later moved inside the Basilica. Today, his remains are in the present day St. Peter’s under the altar dedicated to St. Leo. Pope Benedict XIV proclaimed St. Leo the Great a Doctor of the Church in 1754. In the Roman Church, his feast is held April 11. The Eastern Church holds it on February 18.

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