Oil Dedicated to St Leo the Great (Doctor of the Church)
St Leo the Great history has so far conferred on just two popes the title of “Great,” and today’s saint is one of them. Leo the Great’s origins are obscure, so nothing known with certainty of his early life. He was, though, ordained into Holy Orders and rose to prominence as a papal advisor in the 420s. He corresponded with imminent theologians and acted as a papal emissary before he elected Bishop of Rome in 440. Leo was a pope’s pope. He expanded the power and influence of the papacy at every opportunity. The Church’s earliest theological tradition rooted Rome’s primacy in the double martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul in the eternal city. No other city could claim to have been sanctified by the blood of two martyrs. Pope Leo, however, emphasized what was to become a more dominant argument for papal supremacy. That the pope’s authority is not rooted merely on the historical fact that Peter and Paul died on roman ground. But on the theological fact that the Bishop of Rome occupies the Chair of Saint Peter.
By word and action, Leo repeatedly taught that the pope’s power was unequaled and without borders. That the pope was the head of all the world’s bishops. Every bishop could have direct recourse to the pope, and not just to the local archbishop, in disputed matters. Pope Leo thus accelerated an existing tendency consolidating church governance and authority under a Roman umbrella. Regional or even local decision-making by individual dioceses or groups of dioceses did occur. But in important theological, moral, or legal matters that affected the entire church, every bishop rotated in a steady orbit within the powerful gravitational field of Rome. Pope Leo also enacted a more aggressive papal role directly overseeing and enforcing discipline over bishops, intervening in and settling disputes. The Catholic Church is not an international federation of dioceses, after all. It needs a strong center of gravity to ensure that centrifugal forces do not unwind the universal church into a galaxy of independent national churches, united in name only.