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.

Letter 133 in the letters of Leo the Great – Proterius on the calculation of Easter

A post in an online forum has drawn my attention to the letters of Pope Leo I (d.461).  He is probably best known for persuading Attila the Hun to leave the defenceless city of Rome alone.  Among patristicians, he is remembered for his Tome to Flavian, a letter sent to the Council of Chalcedon in 451 on the monophysite question, which was approved by the council and so committed the Roman see to supporting the decisions of that highly divisive council.

A collection of 173 letters, 30 of them by other people, is found in the Patrologia Latina volume 54.  Among these is letter 133, which is not by Leo but addressed to him. 

At that period the date of Easter was determined by a letter sent out by the patriarch of Alexandria.  In 455, Leo wrote, querying the date given as being wrongly calculated.  The patriarch was one Proterius.  The emperor Marcian had appointed him, and he was deeply unpopular among the Alexandrian monophysites.  After the death of Marcian in January 457, without bothering about Proterius they consecrated Timothy Aelurus (Timothy the Weasel) as patriarch, and on 28 March 457, during the celebrations of Maundy Thursday, Proterius was attacked and brutally lynched.

Proterius wrote back, commenting that possibly Leo had a bad copy or that a copyist had made a mistake.  He also sent a copy of his letter in Greek, to make sure that no mistranslations got in the way.  He justified the dating, pointing out that Easter was being celebrated a week late to avoid coinciding with the Jewish passover on 14 Nisan, which in 455 fell on a Sunday.

The online text of the PL is columns 1084-1094, although there are formidable notes so it’s probably about 7 columns of “normal” text. It’s long enough to be divided into chapters.  I suppose a translation would not be that expensive, although I can think of no special reason to translate it.

Few of the letters of Leo have ever been translated into English.  A selection by Edmund Hunt appeared in 1957 in the Fathers of the Church vol. 38.  (I was going to link to a preview of this, which I saw at lunchtime today, but annoyingly I can’t find it on Google Books now!). 

All the sermons of Leo seem to have been translated into German in the old BKV series, in the 2nd edition (vols. 54-55), here.  According to Quasten, the letters were translated by Severin Wenzlowsky in 1869 in the first BKV series.  The way in which the second edition left out material from the first — it applies to material by Tertullian also — has always baffled me.  But I can find no trace online of any such volume.  Wenzlowsky edited Der briefe der Papste in 1878 in this series, so it may be that Quasten was confused.  These are all in a  horrible Gothic font anyway.

I can find no information about French translations. René Dolle in the Sources Chretiennes series translated his sermons, in 4 volumes (22, 49, 74, 200) from 1947-73.  But an earlier translation was made by a certain Pere Quesnel in 1698, and another by Nicholas Fontaine in 1701. 

So … nothing, really.  It is remarkable, tho, that the letters of so important a figure remain inaccessible!