Friday, 11 April 2008

Saints Leo the Great, and Guthlac of Crowland

Two great Saints share 11th April Feast Day.


During the disintegration of the Western Empire, when heresy was rife and all moral values were threatened by the barbarian invasions, Pope Leo I stands out as the resolute champion of the faith. His courage and sagacity lifted the prestige of the Holy See mightily, and earned for him the title of "The Great," a distinction bestowed on but one other pope, Gregory I. The Church honoured Leo further with the title of Doctor because of his expositions of Christian doctrine, extracts from which are now incorporated in the lessons of the Catholic breviary. Of his birth and early years we have no reliable information; his family was probably Tuscan. In 440 he was consecrated Pope. Ninety six sermons of his have survived, in which we find Leo stressing the virtues of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer, and also expounding Catholic doctrine with clarity and conciseness, in particular the dogma of the Incarnation. Also one hundred and forty-three letters written by him, and thirty letters written to him, have been preserved; they illustrate the Pope's extraordinary vigilance over the Church in all parts of the Empire.

It's amazing how people think that the Catholic Church's teachings were all made up in the Middle Ages, and yet there is so much written evidence for Her beliefs from such an early age.

Pope Leo vigorously fought against several heresies - Manichaeanism - Priscillianism - Nestorianism, and its opposite, Eutychianism.
I love the names of these heresies, but it's so hard to get the spelling right!! They are fascinating to study, and if one does, one can see how they rear their ugly heads again in some of the theories that are put about today, even amongst people who call themselves Christians. It just shows how the Church needs a leader who can definitively guide her through the murky waters.

Basically, the Manichaeans had a theory that all matter was evil. The Priscillian sect had made great headway in Spain, and as it developed there, it seems to have combined astrology and fatalism with the Manichaean beliefs - has a New Age tinge to it doesn't it?
While Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople from 428 to 431, taught a doctrine of the humanity of Christ, according to which God the divine Son and Jesus the Man were always two distinct persons; Jesus alone was born of woman, and as a man of surpassing goodness became the dwelling place of the Word, which was incarnate in him. He was deposed and excommunicated by the Council of Ephesus. This was the Council that defined Mary as "Theotokos", ie, the Mother of God, a widely-held orthodox belief, that Nestorius preached against.
I have spoken with several Protestants who do not believe that Mary is anything other than an ordinary, good woman, not entirely sinless, but one who had a special role to play. I believe that if they can not see that Mary, defined so early on in the Church as the Mother of God, had to be sinless, then they do not fully understand her Son's Divinity or humanity. They end up making up a God to suit their beliefs, rather than allowing themselves to be led to the One True God by His Immaculate Mother.

Then Abbot Eutyches of Constantinople, was condemned by a synod in 449, for falling into heresy. In his writings it seemed clear that Eutyches had fallen into the error of denying the human nature of Christ, a heresy which was the opposite of Nestorianism.

Leo's “Tome” (written in 449 ) was read by his legates in 451, to a council which was held at Chalcedon. In it he concisely defined the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation and the two natures of Christ, avoiding the pitfalls of Nestorianism on the one hand and of Eutychianism on the other. "Peter has spoken by the mouth of Leo!" exclaimed the bishops. This statement of the two-fold nature of Christ was to be accepted by later ages as the Church's official teaching.

So, any "Christians" who still don't believe that Jesus is Fully human and Fully divine, should get off the boat now! (And stop calling themselves Christian too!).

Our next wonderful Saint of the Day is said to be one of the most popular Saints among Englishmen prior to the Norman Conquest, second only to Saint Cuthbert.

He was born about 673, and died at Crowland, England, on 11 April, 714. The authority for the life of St. Guthlac is a monk called Felix, who, in dedicating it to King Æthelbald, Guthlac's friend, assures him that whatever he has written, he had derived immediately from old and intimate companions of the saint. Guthlac was born of royal blood, from the Mercian tribe of Guthlacingas. In his boyhood he showed extraordinary signs of piety; after eight or nine years spent in warfare, during which he never quite forgot his early training, he became filled with remorse and determined to enter a monastery. This he did at Repton (in what is now Derbyshire). Here after two years of great penance and earnest application to all the duties of the monastic life, (where he wasn't too popular because of his total abstinence from intoxicating drink - made all the others feel guilty, I suppose!) he became fired with enthusiasm to emulate the wonderful penance of the Fathers of the Desert. For this purpose he retired with two companions to Crowland, a lonely island in the dismal fen-lands of modern Lincolnshire. In this solitude he spent fifteen years of the most rigid penance, fasting daily taking only coarse bread and water. Apparently, he was tempted by the Devil, who came disguised as his (very holy) sister, Pega, who was also a hermit at Crowland, trying to get him to break his vow never to eat before sunset. To prevent further attempts of this nature, Guthlac ordered Pega to leave the island, and they never met again. The picture above is taken from a late 12th C. set of illustrations, usually called the Guthlac roll, now in the British Museum, and shows Pega being sent away. Thus Like St. Anthony he was frequently attacked and severely maltreated by the Evil One, and on the other hand was the recipient of extraordinary graces and powers. The birds and the fish became his familiar friends, while the fame of his sanctity brought throngs of pilgrims to his cell.
Guthlac, after his death, in a vision to Æthelbald, revealed to him that he should one day become king. The prophecy was verified in 716. During Holy Week of 714, Guthlac sickened and announced that he should die on the seventh day, which he did joyfully. The anniversary (11 April) has always been kept as his feast. Many miracles were wrought at his tomb, which soon became a centre of pilgrimage. His old friend, Æthelbald, on becoming king, proved himself a generous benefactor. Soon a large monastery arose, and through the industry of the monks, prospered. Felix's Latin "Life" was later turned into Anglo-Saxon prose by some unknown hand.

Two very inspiring men.


Lydia said...

What a great post! I love learning about the Saints.

MaggieClitheroe said...

Yes, I really enjoyed finding out about these two.