This edition of my series of church fathers’ paraphrases come from Pope St. Leo the Great. His date of birth is unknown, but he died A.D. 461. In the Catholic Church he is one of the Doctors of the Church, declared so by Benedict XIV in 1754.
Leo rose to the papacy in 440, fresh off a diplomatic mission to Gaul as a deacon under his predecessor Sixtus III. It seems that Leo was still in the middle of negotiations when he received news of his election. Leo’s pontificate was marked by political and social upheaval- the once mighty Roman Empire had disintigrated, and the church became the de facto source of societal stability during such a tumultuous time. Leo continued his diplomatic efforts as pope, and was even part of a delegation that met in negotiations with Atilla the Hun in A.D. 452, a meeting which probably spared most of the Italy further war and devastation.
Leo was a prolific writer, and over 100 sermons and 150 letters of his have been preserved. Leo is probably best remembered for his doctrinal work Tome to Flavian, which was read and received by the bishops at the Council of Chalcedon. This work described the union of the divine and human natures in Christ. His Letter to the Council of Ephesus had a similar impact.
This selection comes from his 63rd Sermon.
My friends, the unspeakable wonder of Jesus’ sufferings is truly found, ironically enough, in the hiddenness of his humility. In this state of being a nobody he bought us out of slavery at a great price and began to teach us, not just to free us, but to give us something that he has and we don’t- his righteousness.
The Son of God can do anything- being all powerful and all- and because of this the Son is as much God as the Father is. Since he can do anything, he could have defeated the Devil (that wretched tyrant of us all) and snapped the chains around our necks by simply willing it- by blinking an eye or wagging a finger- but instead he had a better plan. To further the humiliation of our foe, he beat the Devil at his own game. Sin had claimed humanity as its prize, and so the Son would destroy the power of sin by means of a man- the hunter, as it were, became the hunted.
This meant that we were set free to be what God made us to be, and in the same way that our humanity was the cause of our own fall, so God would use that very same humanity to raise it back up.
So, when John says “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and when Paul says “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” it is easy to see that when God the Father’s only Son got down and dirty with our humanity, putting on skin and getting a soul like any of us, he didn’t stop being God. He didn’t become human by losing something; rather, by his becoming human we are the ones who get something, for something that God touches can’t help but shine a little brighter. Our weakness became the clothes for strength, and our weakness was thus made strong.
When God became man, it was complete- in Jesus we can see all that God really is.