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Pope Leo III
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|Papacy began||27 December 795|
|Papacy ended||12 June 816|
Rome, Exarchate of Ravenna, Roman Empire
12 June 816|
Place of death unknown
|Feast day||June 12|
|Other Popes named Leo|
Pope Saint Leo III (750 – 12 June 816) was Pope from 795 to his death in 816. Protected by Charlemagne from his enemies in Rome, he subsequently strengthened Charlemagne's position by crowning him as Roman Emperor.
Leo, who was of non-noble birth, had risen in the hierarchy of Rome and was elected Pope only one day after the burial of his predecessor, Pope Adrian I, who had worked for good relations between Rome and the Frankish Empire under Charlemagne. Leo announced his election to Charlemagne, sending him the keys of Saint Peter's tomb and the banner of Rome, requesting an envoy. Charlemagne's reply stated that it was his function to defend the Church, and the function of the Pope to pray for the realm and for the victory of his army.
Leo aroused the hostility of Rome's nobility, who saw the papal post as reserved only for noble candidates. During his rule, he was accused of adultery and perjury. In April 799, he was attacked by a gang who unsuccessfully attempted to gouge out his eyes and cut off his tongue for his earlier actions, only to be saved by Magnus Forteman and 700 Frisian nobles of his army. He was then formally deposed and sent to a monastery, but escaped and made his way to Paderborn, where he met Charlemagne.
Charlemagne ordered Leo's enemies to Paderborn, but no decision could be found. He then had Leo escorted back to Rome. In November 800, Charlemagne himself went to Rome, and on 1 December held a council there with representatives of both sides. Leo, on 23 December, took an oath of purgation concerning the charges brought against him, and his opponents were exiled.
Two days later, on Christmas Day 800, Leo crowned Charlemagne as Roman emperor. This offended Constantinople, which had traditionally been seen as the defender of Rome, but the Eastern Roman Empress Irene of Athens was too weak to oppose Charlemagne. Charlemagne was to intervene in church affairs, not always successfully.
Leo helped restore King Eardwulf of Northumbria and settled various matters of dispute between the Archbishops of York and Canterbury. He also reversed the decision of his predecessor Pope Adrian I, in regards to the granting of the pallium to Higbert, Bishop of Lichfield. He believed that the English episcopate had been misrepresented before Adrian and that therefore his act was invalid. In 803, Lichfield was a regular diocese again.
Leo forbade the addition of filioque to the Nicene Creed, which was added by Franks in Aachen in 809. He also ordered that the Nicene creed be engraved on silver tablets so that his conclusion might not be overturned in the future. He wrote «HAEC LEO POSUI AMORE ET CAUTELA ORTHODOXAE FIDEI» (I, Leo, put here for love and protection of orthodox faith).
The reasons for the coronation of Charlemagne, the involvement beforehand of the Frankish court, and the relationship to the Eastern Roman Empire are all matters of debate among historians. An effective administrator of the papal territories, Leo contributed to the beautification of Rome.
Leo was originally buried in his own monument. However, some years after his death, his remains were put into a tomb that contained the first four Pope Leos. In the 18th century, the relics of Leo I were separated from the other Leos, and he was given his own chapel.
- Vita Leonis, Liber Pontificalis (Ed.Duchene, TII, p.26)
- Reardon, Wendy (McFarland). The deaths of the Popes. Check date values in:
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Pope Leo III|
- Translation of Einhard's Life of Charlemagne (c. 817–830, translated in 1880)
- Works by or about Pope Leo III in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Opera Omnia by Migne Patrologia Latina with analytical indexes
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