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from issue no. 05 - 2005

The last Pope in perfect communion with Constantinople

A profile of the Pope Saint who is commemorated on 19 April, the day of the election of Benedict XVI

by Lorenzo Cappelletti

Leo IX

Leo IX

It was pointed out in the media that the election of Pope Benedict XVI took place on the day the Church commemorates Pope Saint Leo IX (from Alsace, whose real name was Bruno, or Brunone, of the Counts of Egisheim-Dagsburg). Some mentioned that he was one one of the numerous popes of German origin in medieval times, but didn’t go beyond that. For the Pope Saint initially didn’t seem someone who merited closer examination, neither for the name nor for the ordinal. And what little was known about his pontificate to some, he being Leo IX, that is, the Pope who reigned during the act of schism with the Greeks in July 1054, is in reality “incredible but…false”. In fact, when the schism took place, Leo had been already dead for months, dying on 19 April 1054. And therefore he can’t be made responsible for it.
Those who know something of medieval history not only know this but also remember many other interesting things about this Pope that are by no means trivial, and that lead us in fact to consider him, along with Saint Benedict, the protector of the reigning Pope.
First of all one has to recall, despite his not being a Benedictine, his devotion to Saint Benedict, to whom he attributed his cure when he fell gravely ill in the aristocratic castle of his family. The opening episode in his biography: Vita Leonis IX (PL 143, 470-471).
In the second place it’s interesting to note that Brunone, related to the emperor Henry III and designated by him for the papal throne, as was the custom and in some way the right at the time, «declared to the emperor that he could accept the appointment only if the Romans unanimously elected him as their bishop» - wrote the Jesuit Friedrich Kempf, the great historian of the medieval Church (Storia della Chiesa, [History of the Church], ed. H. Jedin, vol. IV, p. 460). So much so that he approached Rome humbly dressed as a pilgrim and, only after being elected by the clergy and people of Rome on 2 February 1049, did he take possession of the See of Peter. «Leo did not have any constitutional involvement in mind, but was fully aware of the independence of the ecclesiastical juridical order and therefore also of his own position» (Ibidem).
So aware was he of this independence that he believed he had to combat simony first of all, as he had already done as bishop of Toul. But he did not do so alone: «he attributed great importance to the cardinals, and gathered around him a group of friends and counselors» (M. Parisse, Leo IX, in Dizionario storico del papato, [Historical Dictionary of the Papacy] ed. PH. Levillain, vol. II, p. 854).
From the historical point of view, he condemned the errors about the eucharistic doctrine. He intervened against the thesis of Bérenger of Tours (for whom the eucharistic bread and wine were only symbols of the Body and Blood of the Lord), affirming that Christ is or rather is contained in the sacrament or under the sacramental species. But the intervention of Leo IX was very discreet. The theological discussion being still open, «it was the theologians who carried it on, while Rome limited itself to supervising the development» (Storia della Chiesa, ed. H. Jedin, vol, IV, p. 605). He also confronted the problem of clergy living in concubinage without haste or intransigence (cf. M. Parisse, Leone IX, in Dizionario storico del Papato, ed. Ph. Levillain, vol. II, p. 853).
And in conclusion we return to the schism of 1054 with which we started: not only can the Pope not be blamed for it, but it seems indeed that the diplomatic mission to which it owes its beginning was sent by him to Constantinople with friendly intent. «Relations between Rome and the East were still friendly», writes father Justo Collantes «although the pernicious rupture that would be consummated after the death of the Pope was already in the works» (La fede della chiesa cattolica, [The faith of the Catholic Church] p. 918 note 14). Unfortunately, in the meantime, in agreement with Byzantium, and with the help of the Germans and Italians, Leo was busy dealing with the a band of mercenaries, the Normans of central southern Italy. These took him prisoner in June 1053 and didn’t release him until he recognized their right to their possessions. Returning to Rome in March 1054, he died on the following 19 April. May Saint Leo protect and along with the flock pray for Pope Benedict XVI according to the latter’ request: «Pray for me so that I may learn to love His flock ever more – you, the Holy Church, each one of you singly and all of you together. Pray for me so that I may not flee, for fear, before the wolves. Let us pray for each other, so that the Lord will carry us and we will learn to carry each other».

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