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Pope Leo the Great (400-461) on the Death of Christ

August 10, 2009

Leo:

Sins of the world:

1) What hope then do they, who deny the reality of the human person in our Savior’s body, leave for themselves in the efficacy of this mystery? Let them say by what sacrifice they have been reconciled, by what blood-shedding brought back.  Who is He “who gave Himself for us an offering and a victim to God for a sweet smell:” or what sacrifice was ever more hallowed than that which the true High priest placed upon the altar of the cross by the immolation of His own flesh? For although in the sight of the Lord the death of many of His saints has been precious, yet no innocent’s death was the propitiation of the world.  The righteous have received, not given, crowns:  and from the endurance of the faithful have arisen examples of patience, not the gift of justification.  For their deaths affected themselves alone, and no one has paid off another’s debt by his own death: one alone among the sons of men, our Lord Jesus Christ, stands out as One in whom all are crucified, all dead, all buried, all raised again. Of them He Himself said “when I am lifted from the earth, I will draw all (things) unto Me ” True faith also, that justifies the transgressors and makes them just, is drawn to Him who shared their human natures and wins salvation in Him, in whom alone man finds himself not guilty; and thus is free to glory in the power of Him who in the humiliation of our flesh engaged in conflict with the haughty  foe, and shared His victory with those in whose body He had triumphed. Leo the Great, “The Letters and Sermons of  Leo the Great,” in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 12:92-93, Letter 124. [Some spelling modernized; underlining mine.]

Christ died for all:

1) Whilst the height of all virtues, dearly-beloved, and the fullness of all righteousness is born of that love, wherewith God and one’s neighbor is loved, surely in none is this love found more conspicuous and brighter than in the blessed martyrs; who are as near to our Lord Jesus, Who died for all men, in the imitation of His love, as in the likeness of their suffering.  For, although that Love, wherewith the Lord has redeemed us, cannot be equaled by any man’s kindness, because it is one thing that a man who is doomed to die one day should die for a righteous man, and another that One Who is free from the debt of sin should lay down His life for the wicked:  yet the martyrs also have done great service to all men, in that the Lord Who gave them boldness, has used it to show that the penalty of death and the pain of the cross need not be terrible to any of His followers, but might be imitated by many of them.  If therefore no good man is good for himself alone, and no wise man’s wisdom befriends himself only, and the nature of true virtue is such that it leads many away from the dark error on which its light is shed, no model is more useful in teaching God’s people than that of the martyrs.  Eloquence may make intercession easy, reasoning may effectually persuade; but yet examples are stronger than words, and there is more teaching in practice than in precept.   Leo the Great, “The Letters and Sermons of  Leo the Great,” in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 12:197, Sermon 85.  [Some spelling modernized; underlining mine.]

[Note: Leo is important because both Kimdoncius and Bastingius sought to establish a case for continuity between their view of the extent of the expiation and redemption and that of Leo’s. C.f., Kimedoncius, Bastingius and here.]

[To be continued…]

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