ARTICLE NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 25.1
A great chapter from Tom Lee coming up over the next few Monday's particularly in light of the storm John L Allen Jr has stirred up between two leading theologians in the United States in the last week over Council of Chalcedon matters (if you've missed it see the links in this thread on the forum). This week the dispute is between two more ancient personalities — Leo the Great and Hilary of Arles who were both eventually honoured by the Church. The story of Leo the Great is also another important brick to understanding how the Primacy of Rome became such a divisive matter in Christendom.
Papal Duplicity and Conciliar Compromise Part 25.1
Leo the Great and Hilary of Arles...
Known to history as Leo the Great, the new pope hailed from Tuscany. Leo's family name and earlier connections are unknown. He was a highly regarded cleric at Rome and throughout the empire thanks to his diplomatic skills. He was, for the times, a tall man, with the spare body of a boy and an adolescent boniness. His gaunt, rather thin-lipped face was the visage of a man who had organized his life into tasks and duties. He had, no difficulty in conveying distinction and seems to have combined the highest intelligence with natural goodness. His letters, however, evidence a considerable capacity for anger, and he often seems to have achieved what he wanted by coercing rather than coaxing. He ordered married members of the higher clergy to live with their wives "as brother and sister", with little more success than his predecessors. He has been legended out of reasonable proportion.
When he came to power he was determined to make, at least the western church, truly submissive to Roman direction. Gaul still resisted. In the year 444 Bishop Hilary of Arles, abetted by Germanus of Auxerre, held a synod and excommunicated a bishop named Celidonius, who promptly betook himself to Rome where Leo admitted him to communion and instituted an investigation, without consulting Hilary. The Bishop of Arles, on hearing of such an outrage, went to Rome himself. Hilary was careful to declare that he did not recognize the bishop of Rome's jurisdiction in the matter and protested the irregularity of it.
A Roman synod was called and Celidonius was acquitted. Hilary refused to enter into communion with the refugee and boldly challenged the authority of Rome to interfere thus in the affairs of the Gallic Church. Leo, who had an inflated view of his own position, wrote that Hilary "would not suffer himself to be subject to the blessed Apostle Peter;" that he "depreciated in arrogant terms the reverence due to the blessed Peter;" that his utterances were "such as no layman would dare to speak; no bishop to listen to".
The result was that Hilary's liberty was in danger. He fled Rome without ceremony and returned as quickly as he could to Gaul. Leo was enraged. He issued orders that Hilary be deprived of authority, prohibited from being present at ordinations, declared him cut off from the communion of the Holy See and represented it as an act of grace that he was left in the Church and not deposed.
The letter Leo wrote to the bishops of Vienne is a discreditable diatribe, revealing spite and fury. He denounced Hilary for presumption and self-seeking. He told the bishops that Hilary wanted to subject them to his own supremacy. "Whoever, puffed up with the spirit of pride, denies the dignity of Peter, only sinks himself to hell". Hilary was accused of repeated insolence. His activity in journeying through his diocese is sneered at. His diligence is more like "the speeding of a buffoon than episcopal moderation ... it is not showing the wholesomeness of pastoral visitation but resorting to the violence of a thief and a robber". Leo was likening him to the thief and brigand in the sheepfold from the Gospel of John. He charged Hilary with consecrating a bishop before the incumbent was dead, "not so desirous to consecrate a bishop as rather to kill off the one who was ill". Hilary was called an habitual liar (pro suo more mentiri). He had withdrawn himself from the apostolic communion by a "disgraceful flight". The letter casts a sinister light on Leo's domineering character, even given the rhetorical exaggeration to which bishops. were prone.
Subsequent negotiations took place, but Hilary would not yield and was never reconciled to Rome. His death in 449 saw a remarkable outpouring of grief and love from his flock and from outsiders. He is today honored as a saint of the Roman Church. We can hope that Leo meant it when he wrote of his adversary, after his death, as "Hilary of sacred memory", but one suspects that it stuck in his craw.
Enforcing the Supremacy of the Pope through secular edict...
To enforce his audacious encroachments Leo fell back on the secular arm. He obtained from the contemptible and vicious emperor Valentinian III an edict that riveted the supremacy of the Popes over hitherto independent national churches. Hilary of Arles' independence is censured as offending against "the majesty of the empire and the respect due to the Apostolic See".
"Inasmuch, then, as the primacy of the Apostolic See is assured by the merit of St. Peter, prince of the episcopal crown, by the dignity of the city of Rome and the authority of a sacred Synod, let not unlawful presumption endeavor to attempt anything contrary to the authority of that see. For then at last will the peace of the Churches be everywhere maintained if the whole body acknowledges its ruler."
After references to the contumacy of Hilary and the disorders in the Churches beyond the Alps, the edict goes on:
"Not only, then, do we put away so great a crime but in order that not even the least disturbance may arise amongst the Churches, or the discipline of religion appear in anything to be weakened, we decree by this perpetual edict that it shall not be lawful for the bishops of Gaul, or of other provinces, contrary to ancient custom, to attempt aught without the authority of the venerable Pope of the eternal city; but whatever authority of the Apostolic See has sanctioned or shall sanction let that be held by them and by all for a law; so that if any of the bishops shall neglect, when summoned, to come to the tribunal of the Roman bishop let him be compelled to attend by the governor of the province, in all respects regard being had to what our divine parents conferred on the Roman Church."
This law destroyed the freedom of the western churches and made the absolute rule of the Roman Pontiff the law of the empire. The great Roman Catholic historian, Sebastien Tillemont, acknowledges:
"This law ... makes it evident that the emperors much assisted to establish the grandeur and authority of the Popes ... We are not able to refrain from stating that in the mind of those who have any love for the liberty of the Church, or any knowledge of her discipline, it will bring always as little honor to him whom it praises [Leo] as hurt to him whom it condemns [Hilary]."
The edict was addressed to the patrician general Aetius, who had been unsuccessful in preventing Gaiseric, the heathen Vandal, from taking Spain, but had effected a sort of alliance with Attila. In the edict the dignity of the city of Rome is joined with the merit of St. Peter as the basis of its authority. A third ground is alleged, the authority of the council of Nicaea. In this Leo deceived Valentinian. As Bishop Charles Gore pointed out:
"Leo in urging, as he constantly did, Nicene authority for receiving appeals from the universal Church was distinctly and consciously guilty of a suppressio veri at any rate, which is not distinguishable from fraud."
It is noteworthy that Theodoret of Cyrus, writing to Leo, based the precedence of the Roman Church on the city being the largest, the most splendid, the most illustrious in the world, not just on the faith of the Roman Church and on her having the tombs of Peter and Paul. But there is no hint that he accepted papal jurisdiction. All that he acknowledged was a primacy of honor.
All Leo's acts and writings express a definite theory of the papal supremacy over all Christendom. In his sermons and letters and decisions one reads that the bishop of Rome has "the care of all the churches, and the lord, who made Peter the prince of the apostles, holds (the Roman bishop) responsible for it"; that the bishop of Constantinople must not presume because he is bishop of the capital — "Constantinople has its own glory and by the mercy of God has become the seat of the empire. But secular matters are based on one thing, ecclesiastical matters on another. Nothing will stand which is not built on the rock which the Lord laid in the foundation ... Your city is royal but you cannot make it apostolic". Indeed all other bishops are but assistants of the Roman bishop in the care of souls. They are appointed to "a share in his anxiety, but not to the plenitude of his authority".
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