THE IDEA OF REFORM IN LEO THE GREAT

J. PETER CONROY, Fordham University

Abstract

Historical Theology runs the risk of developing a narrowness of vision. Generally, the tendency has been to focus attention on the particular: on individual figures or periods, for example; on credal or doctrinal formulae; on definite circumscribed issues, problems, or phenomena. The obvious danger here is losing sight of the forest for the trees; of failing to integrate the particular item being scrutinized with the whole seamless garment which is the object of Historical Theology: the mystery of God's dealings with man in time and space.^ A useful way to avoid such circumscribing of one's vision is to approach the whole area of Historical Theology from fresh vantage points which illuminate many of the traditional categories of conceptualization and their interrelationship with one another. One such vantage point is that of ideological history.^ Gerhart Ladner has used the history of the idea of reform as a key to open up hidden dimensions of theology in the patristic era and the early Middle Ages. The idea of reform is a specifically Christian notion which a careful study uncovers in the many areas of the developing theology of the Early Church and in the Fathers and churchmen of the period.^ The present dissertation was prompted by the desire to apply Ladner's insight and methodology to a major Father of the Church whose reform ideology has not been studied adequately: Leo the Great (Pope, 440-461 A. D.).^ Leo combined a consummate churchmanship with a rich personal spirituality based on a mystical understanding of the meaning of Christ's Incarnation. He played a pivotal role both in formulating Christological beliefs for the Universal Church and in developing the papacy into a strong, coherent institution which not merely survived the cataclysmic social upheavals of the later Western Roman Empire, but also provided the dominant leadership to bring Europe through the dark ages. The fact that so many of Leo's sermons have survived is an indication of the value others placed on his spiritual insight. The modern reader is no less moved by the gracefulness of his message.^ In order to apply Ladner's methodology to Leo's literary legacy, authentic, definitive texts were necessary. Fortunately, such an edition of the Sermones had been edited recently by Antoine Chavasse. Moreover, although no single critical edition of all Leo's Epistolae exists as yet, most of them are contained in various critical editions concerned with other topics like the Council of Chalcedon. Meanwhile, the edition of the Epistolae in the Patrologia Latina Series, although not ideal, certainly sufficed for the pruposes of the present dissertation.^ The question whether Leo really authored any of the many liturgical texts in various ancient sacramentaries which have been attributed to him raised a thorny problem, since the result of scholarship on the subject is largely inconclusive. Consequently, only a few of the most certainly authentic liturgical formularies could be used in the dissertation, and then only to re-enforce points already established by citations from the Sermones and Epistolae.^ With the major exception of Trevor Jalland's definitive English biography, secondary source came mainly from Europe: France, in particular. Moreover, there has not been an English translation of the Sermones since 1898. Both facts seemed to support the theory that Leo has been rather badly neglected in English-speaking countries.^ Research showed that Leo's world-view is filled with reform ideology. The fundamental theological insight through which he views everything is Christ's Incarnation which enables man's reformation into God's image and empowers him to assist in perfecting his image-relationship with God in the Church by prayer (especially the Liturgy), sacraments, and charitable action. ^

Subject Area

Theology

Recommended Citation

CONROY, J. PETER, "THE IDEA OF REFORM IN LEO THE GREAT" (1981). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8124279.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8124279

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