Pope St. Leo the Great – Universal Jurisdiction


A.D. 400-461

Epistle 65
“Through the most blessed Peter, chief of the Apostles, the holy Roman church holds the principiate over all the churches of the whole world” (Epistle #65, M.P.L. 54.879) 

Sermon 5
“…For although the pastors, each one singly, preside over their flocks with a special care and know that they have to render an account for the sheep entrusted to them, we have a duty which is shared with all; in fact the function of each one is part of our work: so that when men resort to the see of the blessed Apostle Peter from the whole world, and seek from our stewardship that love of the whole Church entrusted to him by the Lord, the greater our duty to the whole, the heavier we feel the burden to rest on us. There is further reason for our celebration: not only the Apostolic but also the episcopal dignity of the most blessed Peter, who does not cease to preside over his see, and obtains an abiding partnership with the eternal priest. For the stability which the rock himself was given by that Rock [Christ] ,he conveyed also to his successors, and wheresoever any steadfastness is apparent, there without doubt is to be seen the strength of the Shepherd.” (Leo’s Sermons #5 – PL 54 153)

Epistle to Anastasius, Bishop of Thessaloniki
“But in this present letter the affection displayed seems to us greater than usual: for it informs us of the state of the churches, and urges us to a vigilant exercise of care, by a consideration of our office, so that being placed, as it were, on a watch-tower, according to the will of the Lord, we should both lend our approval to things when they run in accordance with our wishes, and correct, by applying the remedies of compulsion, what we observe gone wrong through any aggression: hoping that abundant fruit will be the result of our sowing the seed, if we do now allow those things to increase which have begun to spring up to the spoiling of the harvest” (Leo’s Letters, # VI)

Another Epistle to Anastasius, Bishop of Thessaloniki
“Seeing that, as my predecessors acted toward yours, so too I, following their example have delegated my authority to you, beloved: so that you, imitating our gentleness, might assist us in the care which we owe primarily to all the churches by Divine institution and might to a certain extent make up for our personal presence in visiting those provinces which are far off from us….” (Letter XIV)

To the Bishops of Sicily
“By God’s precepts and the Apostle’s admonitions we are incited to keep a careful watch over the state of all the churches: and, if anywhere ought is found that needs rebuke, to recall men with speedy care either from stupidity of ignorance or from forwardness and presumption. For inasmuch as we are warned by the Lord’s own command whereby the blessed Apostle Peter had the thrice repeated mystical injunction pressed upon him, that he who loves Christ should feed Christ’s sheep, we are compelled by reverence for that SEE which, by the abyndance of the Divine grace, we hold, to shun the danger of sloth as much as possible: lest the confession of the chief Apostle whereby he testified that he loved God be not found in us: because if he [Peter], through us, carelessly feed the flock so often commended to him he is proved not to love the Chief Shepherd” (Letter XVI)

Leo’s epistle to the Synod of Ephesus (449 AD)
“The devout faith of our most clement prince, knowing that it especially concerns his glory to prevent any seed of error from springing up within the catholic church, has paid such deference to the Divine institutions as to apply to the authority of the Apostolic See for a proper settlement: as if he wished it to be declared by the most blessed Peter himself what was praised in his confession….” (Letter XXXIII)

Letter of Appeal to Bishop Leo of Rome from Flavianus of C’ople from Ephesus 449
“When I began to appeal to the throne of the Apostolic see of Peter, the prince of the Apostles, and to the whole sacred synod which is obedient to your holiness, at once a crowd of soldiers surrounded me and barred the way when I wished to take refuge at the holy altar…Therefore I beseach your holiness not to permit these things to be treated with indifference…but to rise up first on behalf of the cause of our orthodox faith, now destroyed by unlawful acts…further to issue an authoritative instruction, so that a like faith may everywhere be perached, by the assembly of a united synod of the fathers, both eastern and western. Thus the laws of the fathers may prevail and all that has been done amiss be rendered null and void: bring healing to this ghastly wound” (Dr William Carrol, The Building of Christendom, page 114)

Letter from Galla Placidia Augusta (wife of Western Emperor) to Theodosius (Eastern Emperor)
“…the synod held at Ephesus (the Robber synod) is alleged to have rather stirred up hatred and contention, intimidating by the presence of soldiers, Flavianus, the bishop of Constantinople, because he had sent an appeal to the Apostolic SEe, and to all the bishops of these parts by the hands of those who had been deputed to attend the Synod by the most reverend bishop of Rome, who have been always wont to attend, most sacred Lord and Son and adored King, in accordance with the provisions of their Nicene Synod. For this cause we pray your clemency to oppose such disturbances with the Truth, and to order the faith of the catholic religion to be preserved without spot, in order that according to the standard and decision of the Apostolic See, wherein assuredly He first adorned primacy, who was deemed worthy to receive the Keys of heaven: for it becomes us in all things to maintain the respect due to this great city which is the mistress of all the earth; and this too we must most carefully provide that what in former times our house guarded seem not in our day to be infringed, and that by the present example schisms be not advanced either between the bishops of the most holy churches” (Letter LVI from Leo’s collections)

Pope Leo’s letter to Chalcedon
” [The Emperor]…has desired your holy brotherhood to assemble for the purpose of destroying the snares of the devil and restoring the peace of the Church, so far respecting the rights and dignity of the most blessed Apostle Peter as to invite us too by letter to vouchsafe our presence at your venerable Synod….” (Letter XCIII)

Letter from Chalcedon to Leo
“.For if where two or three are gathered together in His name, He has said that there He is in the midst of them , must He not have been much more particularly present with 520 priests, who preferred the spread of knowledge concerning Him to their country and their ease? Of whom you were chief, as the head to the members, showing your goodwill in the person of those who represented you; while our religious Emperors presided to the furtherance of due order, inviting us to restore the doctrinal fabric of the Church, even as Zerubbabel invited Joshua to rebuild Jerusalem…..and besides all this, he [heretic Dioscorus of Alexandria] stretched forth his fury even against him who had been charged with the custody of the vine by the Saviour, we mean of course, your holiness…Accordingly, we entreat you, honour our decision by your assent, and as we have yielded to the head our agreement on things honourable, so may the head also fulfil for the children what is fitting.” (Letter XCVIII)

In response to canon 28, Leo writes to Pulcheria, wife of Marcian (Eastern Emperor)
“…But the bishops’ assents (in passing canon 28), which are opposed to the regulations of the holy canons composed at Nicaea, in conjunction with our faithful grace, we do not recognize, and by the blessed Apostle Peter’s authority, we absolutely dis-annul in comprehensive terms….”

Bishop Anatolius of C’ople to Leo conceding not to accept canon 28
“As for those things which the universal Council of Chalcedon recently ordained in favor of the church of Constantinople, let Your Holiness be sure that there was no fault in me, who from my youth have always loved peace and quiet, keeping myself in humility. It was the most reverend clergy of the church of Constantinople who were eager about it, and they were equally supported by the most reverend priests of those parts, who agreed about it. Even so, the whole force of confirmation of the acts was reserved for the authority of Your Blessedness. Therefore, let Your Holiness know for certain that I did nothing to further the matter, knowing always that I held myself bound to avoid the lusts of pride and covetousness.” — Patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople to Pope Leo, Ep 132 (on the subject of canon 28 of Chalcedon).

Letter from Leo to Theodoret, bishop of Cyrus, on perservering in the faith of Chalcedon
“…But blessed be our God, whose invincible Truth has shown you free from all taint of heresy in the judgement of the Apostolic See. To whom you will repay due thanks for all these labours, if you keep yourself such a defender of the universal Church as we have proved and do still prove you. For that God has dispelled all calumnious fallacies, we attribute to the blessed Peter’s wondrous care of us all, for after sanctioning the judgement of his See in defining the faith, he allowed no sinister imputation to rest on any of you, who have laboured with us for the catholic faith….” (Letter CXX)

4 thoughts on “Pope St. Leo the Great – Universal Jurisdiction

  1. Pingback: Orthodox Popes of Rome and Their Authority – Ancient Insights

  2. What is your source for the letter from Anatolius to Leo? I have Schaff’s edition of Leo’s letters and though the description of the letter certainly matches the snippet presented here, it doesn’t have the actual text of the letter.

  3. AVE

    Just a precision :
    the epistle 65 is not written by pope Leo. It’s written to the pope from the Bishops of the Province of Arles (see this on page 126 https://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/01p/0440-0461,_SS_Leo_I._Magnus,_Epistolae_%5BSchaff%5D,_EN.pdf)

    Maybe it will be intersting to see the response of Leo to those bishops (see the letter 66).
    I’ve just read it, and on the paragraph 2 we can some proof of papal authority and juridiction.

    Sorry for my bad English (I’m French)

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