Day Thirty-seven: St. Leo the Great: Letter XXVIII (called the "Tome")

Who: Leo the Great, also known as Pope St. Leo I (the Great), was Pope from 440-61 AD. Place and date of birth unknown; died 10 November, 461. Leo's pontificate, next to that of St. Gregory I, is the most significant and important in Christian antiquity, as he tried to  combat the heresies which seriously threatened church unity even in the West, such as Pelagianism.

What: A defence of the twofold nativity and nature of Christ against the false teaching of a priest called Eutyches. It is a doctrinal letter sent by Pope Leo I in the year 449 to Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople, on the Church's teaching about the person of Christ.

Why: An apologetic defending the faith to ensure sound teaching is passed on and understood by all to affirm that Christ has two natures, human and divine, united in the one divine Person of the Son of God.

Advertisement

When 3 June, 449 AD

You can find today’s reading on page 182 here: lentfatherscomplete.pdf

 

Today's reading is a defence of the faith against certain things that a priest called Eutyches was teaching, written by Pope Leo I.

Advertisement

Eutyches was speaking against the teaching of the Archbishop of Constantinople, Nestorius, who said that the human experiences of Christ were only part of the ‘the man’ which was distinct from the ‘God the Word’ part of Jesus. To combat this, Eutyches went too far in the other direction and declared that Christ was "a fusion of human and divine elements" which created a new, single nature in Jesus, rather than a twofold nature which the Creeds declare. This actually led to himself being declared a heretic also for this belief!

Now Leo is writing against the teaching of Eutyches because it seems that he was unwilling to accept any correction to his doctrine. “But what more iniquitous”, Leo says,  “than to hold blasphemous opinions, and not to give way to those who are wiser and more learned than ourself?”

Leo is quite scathing actually, and doesn’t hold back on denouncing the man or his teaching:

Now into this unwisdom fall they who, finding themselves hindered from knowing the truth by some obscurity … thus they stand out as masters of error because they were never disciples of truth...

Advertisement

He goes on to wonder how Eutyches could not have been corrected by others or more in depth study, or even want to change his view when even the the Creeds say otherwise, which is the measure by which all heresies are defeated.

[Has he] not even grasped the rudiments of the Creed? And that which, throughout the world, is professed by the mouth of everyone who is to be born again … By which ... the devices of almost all heretics are overthrown.

The Creed

He goes on to quote the statements of the Creed, which is confessed by all the Churches, to make his point and contrast with what Eutyches said and taught, which was commonly accepted as the fundamentals of the faith:

He is God from God , Almighty from Almighty, and being born from the Eternal one is co-eternal with Him; not later in point of time, not lower in power, not unlike in glory, not divided in essence: but at the same time the only begotten of the eternal Father was born eternal of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.

Advertisement

Leo goes through many instances in the New Testament, from the Gospels to Paul's letters, to Old Testament prophecies, to really point out that Jesus was the Word made flesh – and truly flesh, not some deception.

If Eutyches had read all these things closely, “then he would not speak so erroneously as to say that the Word became flesh in such a way that Christ, born of the Virgin's womb, had the form of man, but had not the reality of His mother's body”, which sounds a lot like Docetism, the heresy which was around much more a couple of centuries earlier.

Instead, and in contrast to this, the commonly accepted doctrine on the nature of Jesus is explained by Leo as being, “without detriment therefore to the properties of either nature and substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality...”. In theological terms, this concept of Jesus having two natures in one body has come to be known as the hypostatic union. Leo maintains that Jesus Christ is one person of the Trinity who has two distinct natures which are permanently united together. This letter (or “Tome”) was later recognized by the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) as a statement of orthodox Christology, which gave rise to the Chalcedonian Creed specifically for this purpose and reason.

Chalcedonian Creed

I’m going to quote the whole of the Creed here just so people can read it who haven’t before:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the virgin Mary, the mother of God, according to the manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

But Eutyches kept on which his teaching saying, “I confess that our Lord had two natures before the union but after the union I confess but one”, to which Leo responds by saying that he is “surprised that so absurd and mistaken a statement” was not picked up on by others, and that now this teaching was reaching, "the height of stupidity and blasphemy"!

Leo does end this letter on a positive note though by saying that if Eutyches, “grieves over [his heresy] faithfully and to good purpose, and, late though it be, acknowledges how rightly the bishop's authority” is on these matters, then he can come back into the Church.

All in all, this letter is a very thorough and detailed apologetic and defence of the faith on the nature of Christ in the incarnation, so much that I think it can still stand on it’s own today. I’d recommend anyone interested in this topic to read Leo’s letter in full to really grasp his arguments.

Advertisement

 

Contribute on Patreon

Enjoying this? Consider contributing regular gifts for this content on Patreon.
* Patreon is a way to join your favorite creator's community and pay them for making the stuff you love. You can simply pay a few pounds per month or per post that a creator makes, and in return receive some perks!

Subscribe to Updates
Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to:

Have something to say? Leave a comment below.

Leave a comment   Like   Back to Top   Seen 190 times   Liked 0 times

Subscribe to Updates

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe to free email updates ?

Order my new book today from Amazon or fortydays.co.uk

Subscribe to Blog updates

Enter your email address to be notified of new posts:

Subscribe to:

Alternatively, you can subscribe via RSS

‹ Return to Blog

We never share or sell your email address to anyone.

I've already subscribed / don't show me this again

Recent Posts

On the Feast of the Nativity, a sermon by Leo the Great

| 22nd December 2018 | Christmas

In the days leading up to Christmas, I wanted to share a sermon from a man known as Leo the Great (aka Pope Leo I), who was a Pope from 440-61 AD. He was one of the most significant and important men in Christian antiquity, as he tried to combat the heresies which seriously threatened church unity in the West, such as Pelagianism. This sermon of his about the incarnation of Christ and what it means for us has always stuck with me since I first read it last April when writing my own book on the Early Church Fathers. It's not that long, so take the time to read it through and let the words sink in as we prepare for Christmas to remember and celebrate the birth of our Saviour and Lord, Christ Jesus. On the Feast of the Nativity, I. I. All share in the joy of Christmas Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin. Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth (Job 19:4). Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered. A royal Virgin of the stem of David is chosen, to be impregnated with the sacred seed and to conceive the Divinely-human offspring in mind first and then in body. And lest in ignorance of the heavenly counsel she should tremble at so strange a result, she learns from converse with the angel that what is to be wrought in her is of the Holy Ghost. Nor does she believe it loss of honour that she is soon to be the Mother of God. For why should she be in despair over the novelty of such conception, to whom the power of the most High has promised to effect it. Her implicit faith is confirmed also by the attestation of a precursory miracle, and Elizabeth receives unexpected fertility: in order that there might be no doubt that He who had given conception to the barren, would give it even to a virgin. II. The mystery of the Incarnation is a fitting theme for joy both to angels and to men Therefore the Word of God, Himself God, the Son of God who in the beginning was with God, through whom all things were made and without whom was nothing made (John 1:1-3), with the purpose of delivering man from eternal death, became man: so bending Himself to take on Him our humility without decrease in His own majesty, that remaining what He was and assuming what He was not, He might unite the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and join both natures together by such a compact that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new associate. Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the p...

Who was the real Santa Claus?

| 17th December 2018 | Christmas

It's that magical time of year when the lights go up, the trees get decorated and a familiar bearded man in a red suit pops up everywhere. He goes by a few names: Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Saint Nick. But who was the real Santa Claus? Well, to answer that, we need to go way back in history to the fourth century to a Bishop called Nicholas of Myra (present-day Demre, Turkey). Memes abound about St Nicholas and Arius Some early lists place him as one of the Bishops who attended the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and there are some questionable legends which states that he was temporarily defrocked (a removal from office) and imprisoned during the Council for apparently slapping the heretic Arius across the face! The following is an excerpt from a book called The Book of the Saints, which details some of the main aspects we know about St. Nicholas’ life and the miracles attributed to him: ST. NICHOLAS was born into a wealthy family at Patara, Lycia, Asia Minor. He was imprisoned during the persecution of Diocletian, attended the Council of Nicaea, and died at Myra, where he was buried in the cathedral. Nicholas was chosen Bishop of Myra and devoted himself to helping the poor. Tradition says that Nicholas devoted himself to works of charity. Hearing that an impoverished father had to sell his three daughters into prostitution because he had no money for their marriage dowry, Nicholas threw a small bag of gold into the poor man's window on three different evenings, and his daughters were able to marry. Finally, he was discovered as the bearer of these gifts. At one time, he saved three innocent young men from execution by the powerful civil governor, Eustathius. At another time he came to the aid of seamen who called for his help during a storm at sea off the coast of Lycia. Suddenly appearing on their ship, he manned the ropes and sails beside the weary sailors and brought the vessel to port. Another tale relates that during a famine in his country, Nicholas was able through his prayers to guide some passing ships filled with grain to come to relieve his starving people. Needless to say, with stories like these to his credit, Nicholas became a popular saint after his death. Seamen throughout Europe and Asia, as well as his own people, adopted him as their patron. His relics were carried to Bari, Italy, in 1087, after the Moslem invasion of Asia Minor. Countless churches in England, France and Germany bear his name. In Germany he became associated with Christmas, and as a giver of gifts on that holyday he is known in America as the kind and generous "Santa Claus." “Lord, giver of good gifts, make us generous to others, especially to the needy.”  The book of the Saints, Hoagland, V, Regina Press, pp. 288-290 From the excerpt above, it becomes clear how Nicholas became associated with gift-giving and charity, and the level of miraculous events that were part of his life could explain how “Old Saint Nick” came to be seen as a magical figure too. So how did a fourth century Bishop from Turkey end up as a jolly old man with a beard and a red suit? Well you can thank the sailors who took him on as their patron saint for that. As they travelled, stories of St. Nicholas went with them all over the world, eventually going to the Dutch who called him Sinterklaas (or Sint-Nicolaas). This, in time, became “Santa Claus” via American Dutch settlers where the tradition then came to England and merged with other ancient traditions of “Father Christmas”, a 15-17th century personification of Christmas in Britain. Sinterklaas played by Bram van der VlugtBy Gaby Kooiman, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link It’s also from the Dutch incarnation of St. Nicholas that we get the traditional red outfit and big white beard of Santa Claus. In the Dutch tradition, the Sinterklaas figure wears a red outfit styled after a liturgical vestment and traditional Bishops items, such as the mitre, alb and a crosier – a ce...

John Chau, missionary to the Sentinelese: martyr or madness?

| 03rd December 2018 | Missions

You've probably seen it in the news lately: John Chau, the American guy who tried to evangelise the secluded Sentinelese tribe off the coast of India. Much of the debate in secular media has centered around the grief of his friends and family; how he could have brought outside disease to the tribespeople and potentially killed them all (despite this not being their first contact with outsiders, with no known ill effect), or that he ventured there completely in ignorance with no preparation or wisdom — something which the missionary agency, All Nations, has recently debunked. But the question I want to look at is this: was Chau's mission total madness or is he a modern-day martyr? Well first, what is a martyr? The dictionary definition is simply: “a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs”, and the word itself comes from ancient Greek meaning “witness”. For those who may be unfamiliar with the whole story (as much as we can see), John Chau had said since 2011 that he felt called by God to go and tell the good news of Jesus to the Sentinelese people. After many years of preparation, about two weeks ago in late November, he succeeded in getting to the remote island via a fishing boat (which was illegal to visit under normal circumstances). But after a few attempts at making contact, he is believed to have been killed. The fishermen saw some tribespeople dragging Chau’s body across the beach, so it has been assumed that he is dead – and no one knows any differently to date. So in the strictest sense as the definition above, he may not be a martyr as he wasn’t necessarily killed because of his beliefs, as the tribespeople couldn’t even understand his preaching, and on the face of it, it does seem like madness. In the broader sense of the word, I think it’s fair to call him a martyr, as that would be one who “sacrifices his or her life, station, or something of great personal value, for the sake of principle or to sustain a cause”. His cause was Christ, his principle was to spread the Gospel and he sacrificed his life for it. This was living out the message of Jesus to its fullest. Luke 9:23-24 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. There are those who argue that he died purely because the islanders were hostile towards any who would try and step foot on their land, and his death had nothing to do with whatever purpose Chau went there with, therefore he wasn’t technically martyred. But if that is the case, then you could make the same point about many of the early Christian martyrs who were killed by the Romans. Sure, there were times of specific and targeted persecutions against the Church, but there was also times where persecution was more of a by-product of the Roman Empire’s hostility to those were disloyal to the Emperor. The men and women who were killed during those times were still seen and declared to be martyrs for the faith since they stood strong in their convictions in the face of death. For example in the early centuries, on pain of death, the people of the Roman Empire had to swear loyalty to the Emperor and publicly perform some act of worship and veneration towards him. This wasn’t an attempt to root out Christians necessarily, but they did refuse to partake due to their beliefs in worshipping God alone and not committing idolatry by performing an act of worship towards the reigning Caesar. As far as the Romans were concerned, the Christians were traitors and committed a treasonous act. It didn’t really matter why, only that they couldn’t be convinced otherwise and were killed for it to be an example to others. Were these early Christians martyrs or completely mad? How you answer that, I suspect, will inform you of how you view young John ...

The Reality of Sin

| 19th November 2018 | Sin

Sin is like a mold on us, like a rotting, black skin disease. If only we could see it on us, we'd be disgusted and repulsed! Zombies are popular on TV etc. right now, think of the grossness of those images and realise that when we sin and keep sinning, that's what we end up looking like before God! We are living stones, together building up the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 2:5; 1 Cor 6:19). Think about that for a moment. Think of the splendor of Solomon's temple when it was built (re-read it again if you can’t remember: 1 Kings 6:14-36). We are that and SO much more! But now imagine it with mold and mildew and all that horrible black damp growing and spreading across the walls. Totally unbefitting of a holy temple for the Lord! You'd clean it up straight away if that happened in your home, but for some reason we just let it fester in the temple of God like it's no big deal. But what happens if it's left? It can destroy the wall with rot and become poisonous causing sickness. These days we can just buy some spray to squirt on the walls and wipe clean, but how did God command his people to deal with mold and mildew in the Old Testament? Leviticus 14:45He shall have the house torn down, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and taken outside the city to an unclean place. Pretty drastic, right? But it's a serious thing! And sin is an even more serious thing to God, much more than mold in a house, but if WE are that house and WE have that mold then how much more serious will God take that? How much more will God tear down our bodies in order to save us from the disease festering in our lives? Look at what Paul told the Corinthian church to do with a man living in sin: 1 Corinthians 5:5you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Did you catch that? They were to hand this person over to Satan! How? By putting them out of the church— excommunication, basically, so that the "rotten" one wouldn't infect the rest. 1 Corinthians 5:13God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” Deuteronomy 17:7 So you shall purge the evil from your midst. God takes sin amongst his own people very seriously, as you can see from the verses above. And he will deal with us as he sees fit so that he can form and shape us into the image of his Son, Christ Jesus. That is the aim and purpose of our salvation (cf. Phil 2:5; Rom 12:2). As Irenaeus (and Athanasius) said: Jesus became what we are so that we might become what He is! In other words, we are to be renewed and transformed into the image of Christ so that, as Peter wrote, we “may become participants of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Remember, judgement begins with the house of God! (1 Peter 4:17). We aren't spared from God's judgement simply by being Christians; no, if anything we will be judged more! We represent Christ on earth (2 Cor 5:20), we should be doing good works in the power and name of Jesus for the glory of the Father. God will judge those works and our lives as Christians (Matt 5:16; Eph 2:10; Rom 2:13), which is a different kind of judgement to non-believers. Consider the following verses; God will judge and destroy any of those who destroy his temple! Are we exempt from that judgement simply by being that temple if we are still partaking in that destruction through our sin? 1 Corinthians 3:16-17Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. We can have hope though, if we are judged, because the Lord doesn't judge us without purpose or just to punish for the sake of it, but he does it for our own good and salvation; so that we are disciplined in order not to be condemned with the world (1 Cor 11:32; cf. Rev 3:4-6) — sometimes that judgement includes ...