Thursday, June 4, 2015

Leo - The Traditionalist

There are good and bad things about being something of a traditionalist. You can help preserve many good things that need to be preserved. But you can also end up fighting for things it is not really a good idea to uphold.

One such traditionalist was Pope Leo the First. Now it is important to understand from the outset that "pope" was an evolving position. It started out as being the name for any major archbishop and only later became attached particularly to the bishop of Rome. And while that bishop seems to have early had a degree of respect, being the in the city that was the head of the empire and where Peter and Paul were martyred, it was only over time that they came to be seen as having absolute authority. Leo did both good and bad things that added to this.

Leo was active in dealing with the various dubious teachings of his time. He was a key leader in convincing people that Christ was both God and man, and He used good Scriptural interpretation to show how this was necessary to accomplish our salvation. He also stood up to other questionable teachings of the day.   He was willing to twice go out unarmed to negotiate with armies coming to sack Rome. He was not, in the end, able to prevent it being sacked, but he may have had enough prestige to prevent this from being worse than it could have been.

But as a traditionalist, he had too much of a concern for position and prerogative. He held that the pope of Rome had authority as being descended from Peter, per Matthew 16:18. Now he still argued doctrinal issues based on Scripture and reason and not his own decrees. He seemed to be arguing for something more along the lines of an administrative ruler. It certainly was not something universally acknowledged and uncontested. In Gaul a bishop named Hilary became embroiled with Leo in an administrative dispute in which Leo only partially  won the day. He was unable to check the rising power of the patriarch of Constantinople. Pope Gregory the First, who was considerably after Leo, firmly opposed anyone regarding themselves as universal bishop or head of the church. It is hard to know exactly what each man meant by the words they used, and it would have been interesting to see a debate between them.

Leo does not seem so much interested in exalting himself as in maintaining the established order. Sometimes this can be more dangerous than the purely self-centered person. The person simply looking for personal power  will often go too far and be found out. But the person who is fighting to uphold their perceived appropriate prerogatives can do much harm and do it with a clear conscience. There is, I am convinced, a place for a traditionalist. They can help maintain order in times of chaos, like Leo did. But they need to be balanced out, or they can take authority too far.

No comments:

Post a Comment