Saturday was the feast of Pope St. Leo the Great. He truly earned his title of “great” as he walked among the rubble of the dying Roman Empire and held tight to the Culture Christ had given His Church, and held back the tide of destruction from the Huns.
If you can get your hands on a copy of Louis de Wohl’s great historical novel Attila or the earlier version “Throne of the World” I recommend it. de Wohl knew his history very well indeed.
Attila was coming after Rome. He was an ambitious cruel and soon gathered a reputation for his willingness to wholesale slaughter. Attila was no different from any other despotic leader. They all lack imagination it seems to me. No wonder evil looks to banal. It has no colour.
Leo is most famous for his meeting with Attila in which he persuaded the Hun leader to leave Rome alone. Many people try to make out that Leo didn’t really “win” this concession and I am sure Leo would agree. He had some powerful help. While famine and disease had left Rome very weak, and should have meant easy picking for the Huns, they also faced the prospect of fighting on empty stomachs.
Leo was well used to spiritual and political battle by the time he met Attila. He had stood his ground against many members of the Church who cut themselves off from her, running after various heresies such as Nestorianism, Pelagianism, Manichaeism and more. With those who dared to call themselves followers of Christ, being only too willing to rush off after any old golden calf. In the light of this maybe Leo didn’t see Attila as such a big problem.
juxtaposed against the feast of this saint was the story of the last stand of Judas Maccabees. In Divine Office the continuing story of how a remnant of Israel stood against the tyranny of Syria and Persia.
Just as Leo faced a threat of tyranny while many of his fellow Christians prefered an easy life than the cross of Christ, so Judas faced the battle as many of his men gave up and refused to trust in God. Judas went out with his remnant and died a hero.
Judas and Leo stood up against a pagan aggressor who believed in the right of power over the weak; survival of the fittest. The Old Covenant Peoples faced a head on assault at the point when they seemed the weakest, having mostly apostasised already, but in the end we remember the Jews and the valiant courage of Judas Maccabaeus over whoever that Syrian leader was. It isn’t a fairy tale ending. Our greatest heroes have often had to carry the cross and die on it.
But Jesus warned us very clearly, with the politically incorrect words, ”Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Fear rather the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”
So many people say they are Christians but don’t believe a word Jesus said. They have their golden calf and that will do them fine.
God has always allowed people like Antiochus Epiphanes and Attila the Hun to rise up because we are so darned daft we keep inviting them. Be He is merciful and He always gives us Leo the Greats and Judas Maccabaeus’. Thank God for that.
And Jesus said “Do not be afriad.”