Pope Leo I
Born into an aristocratic family ten years before the sack of Rome, Leo (c. 400 - 461) is singled out by the emperor to serve as a diplomatic envoy in settling a dispute in Gaul. While he is away, the bishop of Rome dies, and Leo is unanimously elected to fill the post. He secures power, insisting that popes are in a direct line of succession from the apostles and that anyone who rejected papal authority was not within the "body of Christ." He consolidates this authority by moving against heretics, particularly Pelagians and Manicheans.
Leo, in the judgment of many historians, is the first real pope. Not always specifying the head of the church, the term pope was used for bishops and as a broad term of respect for church officials. True papal supremacy is not clearly defined until the reign of Leo, coming to full bloom under Gregory I.
Leo's rule was theological as well as political. In 448, Leo receives a letter from Eutyches, an abbot in a monastery near Constantinople. Eutyches writes of the influence of the Nestorian heresy, but then he himself comes under fire for allegedly subscribing to the same heresy and is excommunicated by Bishop Flavian. He asks Leo to reinstate him, and when Leo fails to act, he is absolved in a "robber council," an action that is perceived to be a threat to papal power and is promptly annulled by Leo.
In 449 Leo writes a letter to Bishop Flavian. This "Tome of Leo" becomes a key document as the church continues to define orthodoxy at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Here Leo's definition of the two natures of Christ is deemed the orthodox position. He accuses Eutyches of seeking to "dissolve Jesus" in his endeavor "to separate the human nature from him, and to make void by shameless inventions that mystery by which alone we have been saved." Leo charges Eutyches with thinking "the Lord's crucifixion to be unreal."
Eutyches, seventy years old and the head of a monastery of some three hundred monks, refuses to appear before Bishop Flavian, convinced that the deck is stacked against him. When he finally does appear and is questioned, he waffles on precisely what he is willing to confess. But the statement he makes leaves no doubt among the supporters of Leo that he is a heretic. "I confess that our Lord was of two natures before the union, but after the union I confess one nature."
Leo regards such a confession as blatant heresy, seeking to clarify the incarnation and the twofold nature of Christ with words that rise above dry dogma: "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."
Heresy is not the only matter weighing Leo down. Only a few years after the landmark Council of Chalcedon, he faces a desperate situation in Rome; barbarians again threaten to sack the city. Attila, nicknamed "the scourge of God," is making his way to Rome. One early account serves to establish Leo as "the Great" for the centuries that follow. According to the anonymous author, Attila "came into Italy, inflamed with fury . . . He was utterly cruel in inflicting torture, greedy in plundering, insolent in abuse." Leo stands strong, approaching Attila and saying, "We pray for mercy and deliverance. O Attila, thou king of kings . . . the people have felt thy scourge; now as suppliants they would feel thy mercy." This account records the appearance of Peter and Paul, who "threatened Attila with death if he did not obey the pope's command. Wherefore Attila . . . straightway promised a lasting peace and withdrew beyond the Danube."
That Leo served both as head of state and chief diplomat demonstrated the weakness of Imperial Rome since the events of 410. But his talking down Attila surely did not signal the end of the invasions of the city. Some years later, Vandal marauders moving northward from Africa pillaged the city despite Leo's pleas. For the next years, until his death in 461, he took charge of cleanup and restoration as well as ministering to those who had been taken captive to Africa.
God’s Most Successful Setback
By John Piper
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(Philippians 2:9–11)
Christmas marked the beginning of God’s most successful setback. He has always delighted to show his power through apparent defeat. He makes tactical retreats in order to win strategic victories.
In the Old Testament, Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, was promised glory and power in his dream (Genesis 37:5–11). But to achieve that victory he had to become a slave in Egypt. And, as if that were not enough, when his conditions improved because of his integrity, he was made worse than a slave: a prisoner.
But it was all planned. Planned by God for his good and the good of his family, and eventually for the good of the whole world! For there in prison he met Pharaoh’s butler, who eventually brought him to Pharaoh, who put him over Egypt. And finally, his dream came true. His brothers bowed before him, and he saved them from starvation. What an unlikely route to glory!
But that is God’s way — even for his Son. He emptied himself and took the form of a slave. Worse than a slave — a prisoner — and was executed. But like Joseph, he kept his integrity. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:9–10).
And this is God’s way for us too. We are promised glory -- if we will suffer with him as it says in Romans 8:17. The way up is down. The way forward is backward. The way to success is through divinely appointed setbacks. They will always look and feel like failure.
But if Joseph and Jesus teach us anything this Christmas it is this: What Satan and sinful men meant for evil, “God meant it for good!” (Genesis 50:20).
You fearful saints fresh courage take
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head.
The Final Reality Is Here
By John Piper
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. . . . They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:1–2, 5)
We’ve seen it before. But there’s more. Christmas is the replacement of shadows with the real thing.
Hebrews 8:1–2, 5 is a kind of summary statement. The point is that the one priest who goes between us and God, and makes us right with God, and prays for us to God is not an ordinary, weak, sinful, dying priest as in the Old Testament days. He is the Son of God — strong, sinless, with an indestructible life.
Not only that, he is not ministering in an earthly tabernacle with all its limitations of place and size while getting worn out and being moth-eaten and being soaked and burned and torn and stolen. No, Hebrews 8:2 says that Christ is ministering for us in a “true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” This is not the shadow. It’s the real thing in heaven. This is the reality that cast a shadow on Mount Sinai for Moses to copy.
According to Hebrews 8:1, another great thing about the reality which is greater than the shadow is that our High Priest is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. No Old Testament priest could ever say that.
Jesus deals directly with God the Father. He has a place of honor beside God. He is loved and respected infinitely by God. He is constantly with God. This is not shadow-reality like curtains and bowls and tables and candles and robes and tassels and sheep and goats and pigeons. This is final, ultimate reality: God and his Son interacting in love and holiness for our eternal salvation.
Ultimate reality is the persons of the Godhead in relationship, dealing with each other concerning how their majesty and holiness and love and justice and goodness and truth shall be manifest in a redeemed people.
[The demon Screwtape writes:] Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express—no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise— Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it.
From The Screwtape Letters
Compiled in Words to Live By
The Screwtape Letters. Copyright © 1942, C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. Copyright restored © 1996 C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers. Words to Live By: A Guide for the Merely Christian. Copyright © 2007 by C. S. Lewis Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
When I think of all Christ has done for me, there will never be enough opportunities to thank him, there will never be enough minutes, hours or days to live for him.