Pope St. Leo’s Tome, per se, Definitive and Unalterable



Henry Chadwick (source)

I have been quite busy, but I had time to make a note of something in passing here on a matter relevant to my public articles and their critics.

It has been called into question whether Pope St. Leo truly believed that his Tome, per se (in itself), definitively settled the doctrinal controversy which broke out beginning with Eutyches and the Council of Ephesus (449). Some say that the Tome was sent to the East as a document possessing a strong authority (auctoritas), but not coercive binding authority which must be obeyed.

Oddly enough, and soon to produce no unexpected irony, it is claimed that knowing the Latin language well enough equips the reader with enough knowledge to see that St. Leo really did see himself as a universal Patriarch, limited in his capacity, acting jointly with the rest of the Church to deliberate on doctrine, rather than seeing his own decree as sufficient and authoritatively irreformable. Furthermore, there has been a question as to whether Fr. Richard Price, the Patristic scholar who translated the Acts of Chalcedon, thought that St. Leo believed his Tome as a definitive settlement.

Some have gone out of their way to deny this outright.

However, according to Price, St. Leo did believe his Tome settled the doctrinal controversy, not because others agreed to it, but because (a priori) it was the successor of St. Peter who wrote it. Price states:

In all, Pope Leo regarded the doctrinal controversy as having been settled by his Tome; if there had to be a council, he held that, apart from settling the status of persons, it should simply acknowledge and confirm the teaching of the Tome, as the definitive ruling on the points at issue: the last thing he wanted was a reopening of the debate, as if the teaching of the heir and successor of St. Peter were simply one among a plethora of competing voices” (The Acts of Chalcedon: Vol 1, p. 91)

Later in the same work, Price reiterates:

It will be remembered that Pope Leo had originally opposed the convocation of a council, since he considered that the doctrinal issue had already been resolved by his Tome and that the disciplinary matters arising from Ephesus II could be dealt with by his own representatives, acting in concert with Anatolius of Constantinople” (ibid, Vol 3, p. 108)

In his Acts of the Council of Constantinople (553), Price once again states:

“Before the council of Chalcedon, Pope Leo had claimed that an ecumenical council to discuss the faith was uncalled for since his own Tome had settled the question at issue” (Price, 56)

Now, some have tried to interpret the above passages as if all Price is suggesting is that St. Leo believed his Tome, only after being received and agreed to by the Easterners (a posteriori), would be definitive in resolving the doctrinal controversy. However, it is quite clear that Price understood Leo to believe that his Tome, per se, was definitive and sufficient, irrespective of conciliar agreements to it (although this also further confirms the truth of the Tome’ contents, c.f. Epistle 120 of the Leonine epistolary).

If the above statements aren’t clear enough, the first citation above from Price has a footnote (fn 14 from p. 91) where he refers the readers to pages 45-9 from Henry Chadwick’s 2003 publication “East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church”. I took the liberty of looking these pages up to see what Price must have seen in Chadwick’s commentary that supported his own argument about St. Leo.

Here is what Chadwick states:

In Leo’s judgment, however, the function of the Greek council was to manifest its own orthodoxy by submissively indicating its assent to the ruling already given by himself, the legitimate juridical successor of Peter the prince of the Apostles. It was axiomatic for Leo that the Roman See has received and guards the true Apostolic tradition, is predestined by God for this service to the entire Church, is therefore protected from leading the Church astray, and in jurisdiction possesses a universal responsibility inherent in being Peter’s successor” (p. 48-49)

In an earlier publication, Chadwick writes concerning the same context:

Moreover, since Leo thought his Tome settled all the theological questions, he saw no place for debate which could imply that the definition of orthodoxy was still in dispute.” (The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great, p. 570)

Some starling admissions from this late Anglican historian of incomparable prestige! While I only know that it is claimed that he was an expert in Patristic Greek, I would guess that I am not far from reason in presuming that both he and Price have been around the block or two with regard to the Latin language. All in all, I would say that Fr. Richard Price, by giving his readers the reference to Chadwick’s commentary, agrees wholeheartedly with the latter’s take on the self-consciousness of Leo’s authority in the matter of the Tome and the Council of Chalcedon (451).

2 thoughts on “Pope St. Leo’s Tome, per se, Definitive and Unalterable

  1. None of this quotes Leo’s own thought. This is mere commentary. These are just men saying what he must have thought without any reference to his own stated thought. It’s supposition.

    Do we know from Leo’s own commentary on his own acts, or from the way the tome was treated at Chalcedon? The acts of Chalcedon clearly indicate that many many bishops had initial problems and were granted leave to study the tome to determine its Orthodoxy for themselves.

    Where is Leo’s own thought on his own work?

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