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St. Leo IX - A True Successor Of Peter

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Portrait of Leo IXSt. Leo IX, the first of a number of truly great reform popes, was born at Egisheim in Alsace, June 21, 1002, of a family connected with the imperial house. Bruno became a cleric quite young, and already in 1017 was a canon at Toul. When his father's cousin Conrad came to the throne, Bruno was sent to serve in the royal chapel. At court as at home he distinguished himself by his goodness. In 1026 Bruno led his bishop's feudal levy into Italy to support Conrad's demonstration. The next year Bruno became bishop of Toul. He worked hard to reform his diocese.

After the death of Damasus II, Henry III named his cousin Bruno to the papacy. Bruno showed a spirit of independence by refusing to accept until the Roman clergy elected him. Already popular with the Romans, Bruno was enthusiastically received, and on February 12, 1049, he was enthroned as Leo IX. The great objective of the new Pope was reform. He held a Council at Rome in April, 1049, which once more legislated against simony and clerical marriage. Reform decrees already existed, but this time something new was added--a personal determined effort on the Pope's part to get these decrees enforced. Leo took to the road and at Pavia in North Italy, Mainz in Germany, and Rheims in France the energetic Pope filled the bishops with an ardent will to cooperate with the reform.

While Leo's pontificate saw a grand start toward reform in the West, it also witnessed the events leading to the sad Eastern Schism. Michael Caerularius, the ambitious patriarch of Constantinople, launched an anti- Western propaganda campaign to loosen the bonds of union. When he proceeded to close Latin churches in Constantinople and force Latin monks to adopt the Greek rite, Leo protested. The Emperor forced the patriarch to give in, but when Leo sent legates to investigate, they were defied by the patriarch. The legates then on July 16, 1054, excommunicated the patriarch. The patriarch thereupon revolted from Rome, and the sad Eastern Schism had begun. Leo died before this final break occurred. Leo had been hearing bitter complaints about the brutal conduct of the Normans in South Italy. He went to Germany for help, but though he got little, he decided to lead an army against the Normans anyway. The tough Normans routed the papal army and soon were battering at the gates of Civitella, the papal headquarters. To avert more bloodshed, Leo surrendered himself to the enemy.

His dignity accomplished more than his army. The Normans, embarrassed at having the Pope a prisoner, promised to become his allies! This campaign took a great deal out of Leo. A sick man, he covered the distance back to Rome, but died piously on April 9,1054. Among the interesting visitors received by Leo was Shakespeare's famous Macbeth of Scotland. Leo arranged for the appointment of a bishop for far-off Iceland.

Not only a great leader and administrator, Leo was a musician of note. He composed music for feasts of St. Gregory and St. Columban. But more than all these, Leo was kind, patient, humble--a true pope, a real saint.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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