A mystery quotation attributed to Leo the Great

A tweet alerted me to a patristic quotation new to me:

“No degree of cruel inhumanity can destroy the religion founded on the mystery of the cross of Christ.” (Leo the Great)

I find a source for this: R. L. Wilken, The spirit of early Christian thought (1985), p.1, but preceded by a biblical quote:

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15).  No degree of cruel inhumanity can destroy the religion founded on the mystery of the cross of Christ.  LEO THE GREAT.

Unfortunately there is no reference to Leo’s work.  Nor have I been able to find a contact for the author.

The Patrologia Latina volume containing Leo’s sermons and letters has no index of bible passages, which might otherwise help – at least one could look up all passages containing Ps. 116:15.  Probably this is at the end of the series of volumes for the 5th century, but I don’t yet know which one that is.

Hmm.  Anyone got any ideas?

UPDATE: Thank you very much everyone who posted in the comments.  The passage comes from sermon 82, chapter 6.  A Latin text is here, and the old NPNF translation is here, and Bronwen Neil’s translation here.[1]

Pretiosa est ergo in conspectu Domini mors sanctorum ejus (Ps. CXV, 15); nec ullo crudelitatis genere destrui potest sacramento crucis Christi fundata religio.  Non minuitur persecutionibus Ecclesia, sed augetur; et semper Dominicus ager segete ditiori vestitur, dum grana, quae singula cadunt, multiplicata nascuntur.

 “Precious,” therefore, “in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints:” nor can any degree of cruelty destroy the religion which is founded on the mystery of Christ’s cross. Persecution does not diminish but increase the church, and the Lord’s field is clothed with an ever richer crop, while the grains, which fall singly, spring up and are multiplied a hundred-fold. — NPNF.

Thus the death of his holy ones is precious in the sight of the Lord (Ps. 116: 15), and no act of cruelly can destroy the religion founded on the mystery of the cross of Christ. For the church is increased, not lessened, by persecutions. And the Lord’s field is always covered with a richer crop as long as the grains which fall down singly spring up multiplied. — B.Neil.

The sermon was preached on the feast-day of St. Peter and St. Paul in the Roman calendar, and appears in the Roman breviary for the same feast-day.[2]

You will find some very useful tips on how to search for quotations in the comments.  The use of Google Translate to create a cod-Latin search string is particularly sneaky!  Too often people hide how they search for material, and leave the reader awestruck by their learning.  It is right to be open about these techniques, so that we can all learn.

Thank you once again everyone.

  1. [1]Bronwen Neil, Leo the Great, p.117.
  2. [2]Online here.

8 thoughts on “A mystery quotation attributed to Leo the Great

  1. It’s in the old Bute translation of the Roman Breviary, as the 2nd Nocturn, Fourth to Sixth Lessons, on July 3 (for the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul), but it just says “sermons” there. It’s a longer passage though, with a slightly different translation.

  2. It’s in Bronwen Neil’s book on Leo the Great. Can’t see the whole book, but there’s a similar translation to Bute’s (but much longer) visible on US Google Books. She says it’s Sermon 82. (CCSL 138a: 508-18)

    The middle volume on Psalms in Intervarsity Press’ Early Christian Bible commentary quotes a snatch from the same passage, and says it’s Sermon 82.6.

    Sermon 82 in translation is in the old Fathers books. Here’s Sermon 82 at New Advent, although I’m sure it’s elsewhere w footnotes:

  3. I searched on “Leo the Great” and “precious in the sight of the Lord”, btw.

  4. Search on “nec ullo crudelitatis genere destrui potest sacramento crucis Christi fundata religio” for an abundance of references and complete Latin texts.

  5. Oops, meant to pass on my steps for identifying the quote.
    1 – have Google translate the English phrase into a potluck Latin phrase “Nulla vis potest destruere crudelis crudelitas mysterium crucis Christi fundata religio”
    2 – search Google with the potluck words; not exact phrase
    3 – see a good match in second link
    4 – go to that link for proper Latin quote and search Google on that exact phrase

  6. Thank you very much indeed everybody! It is indeed Leo, Sermon 82, chapter 6. A Latin text is here.

    I obviously chose the wrong keywords to search on! I will update the post!

  7. @EdgarWright: thank you very much for that tip! I search on “inhumanitas”, and got nowhere. Your idea of using Google Translate as a first step was genius! Thank you so much for sharing it.

Leave a Reply