Some of you lay folks out there probably recite the Liturgy of the Hours. Maybe you also use the Office of Readings. If you don’t read Latin, you might not know how glorious the sermons of St. Leo the Great (+461) sound when pronounced. For today’s feast we have a selection from a sermon Leo delivered on the anniversary of his election as Successor of Peter. Leo was quite interested to assert his direct connection, even identity, with Peter and therefore Peter’s authority. This comes out in his preaching.
Here is the Latin of today’s second reading from the Office for 22 February. There is a podcast that goes with this. See below. This is just to give you a little taste of what Leo sounds like in Latin, though others might do better in the reading.
Ex sermonibus sancti Leonis Magni papae (s. 4 de Natali ipsius, 2-3)
Out of the whole world one man, Peter, is chosen to preside at the calling of all nations, and to be set over all the apostles and all the fathers of the Church. Though there are in God’s people many shepherds, Peter is thus appointed to rule in his own person those whom Christ also rules as the original ruler. Beloved, how great and wonderful is this sharing of his power that God in his goodness has given to this man. Whatever Christ has willed to be shared in common by Peter and the other leaders of the Church, it is only through Peter that he has given to others what he has not refused to bestow on them.
The Lord now asks the apostles as a whole what men think of him. As long as they are recounting the uncertainty born of human ignorance, their reply is always the same.
But when he presses the disciples to say what they think themselves, the first to confess his faith in the Lord is the one who is first in rank among the apostles.
Peter says: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Jesus replies: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven”. You are blessed, he means, because my Father has taught you. You have not been deceived by earthly opinion, but have been enlightened by inspiration from heaven. It was not flesh and blood that pointed me out to you, but the one whose only-begotten Son I am.
He continues: And I say to you. In other words, as my Father has revealed to you my godhead, so I in my turn make known to you your pre-eminence. You are Peter: though I am the inviolable rock, the cornerstone that makes both one, the foundation apart from which no one can lay any other, yet you also are a rock, for you are given solidity by my strength, so that which is my very own because of my power is common between us through your participation.
And upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. On this strong foundation, he says, I will build an everlasting temple. The great height of my Church, which is to penetrate the heavens, shall rise on the firm foundation of this faith.
The gates of hell shall not silence this confession of faith; the chains of death shall not bind it. Its words are the words of life. As they lift up to heaven those who profess them, so they send down to hell those who contradict them.
Blessed Peter is therefore told: To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth is also bound in heaven. Whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.
The authority vested in this power passed also to the other apostles, and the institution established by this decree has been continued in all the leaders of the Church. But it is not without good reason that what is bestowed on all is entrusted to one. For Peter received it separately in trust because he is the prototype set before all the rulers of the Church.
De toto mundo unus Petrus eligitur, qui et universarum gentium vocationi, et omnibus Apostolis cunctisque Ecclesiae patribus praeponatur: ut, quamvis in populo Dei multi sacerdotes sint multique pastores, omnes tamen proprie regat Petrus, quos principaliter regit et Christus. Magnum et mirabile, dilectissimi, huic viro consortium potentiae suae tribuit divina dignatio; et, si quid cum eo commune ceteris voluit esse principibus, numquam nisi per ipsum dedit quidquid aliis non negavit.
Omnes denique Apostolos Dominus quid de se homines opinentur interrogat; et tamdiu sermo respondentium communis est, quamdiu humanae ignorantiae ambiguitas explicatur.
At ubi quid habeat sensus discipulorum exigitur, primus est in Domini confessione, qui primus est in apostolica dignitate. Qui cum dixisset: Tu es Christus, Filius Dei vivi, respondit ei Iesus: Beatus es, Simon Bar-Iona, quia caro et sanguis non revelavit tibi, sed Pater meus qui in caelis est; id ist, ideo beatus es, quia te Pater meus docuit, nec terrena opinio te fefellit, sed inspiratio caelestis instruxit; et non caro nec sanguis, sed ille me tibi, cuius sum unigenitus Filius, indicavit.
Et ego, inquit, dico tibi: hoc est, sicut Pater meus tibi manifestavit divinitatem meam, ita et ego tibi notam facio excellentiam tuam: Quia tu es Petrus: id ist, cum ego sim inviolabilis petra, ego lapis angularis, qui facio utraque unum, ego fundamentum praeter quod nemo potest aliud ponere; tamen tu quoque petra es, quia mea virtute solidaris, ut quae mihi potestate sunt propria, sint tibi mecum participatione communia.
Et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam. Super hanc, inquit, fortitudinem aeternum exstruam templum, et Ecclesiae meae caelo inserenda sublimitas in huius fidei firmitate consurget.
Hanc confessionem portae inferi non tenebunt, mortis vincula non ligabunt: vox enim ista vox vitae est. Et sicut confessores suos in caelestia provehit, ita negatores ad inferna demergit.
Propter quod dicitur beatissimo Petro: Tibi dabo claves regni caelorum. Et quaecumque ligaveris super terram, erunt ligata et in caelis; et quaecumque solveris super terram, erunt soluta et in caelis.
Transivit quidem etiam in alios Apostolos ius potestatis istius, et ad omnes Ecclesiae principes decreti huius constituio commeavit; sed non frustra uni commendatur, quod omnibus intimetur. Petro enim ideo hoc singulariter creditur, quia cunctis Ecclesiae rectoribus Petri forma praeponitur.