Leo III of Rome

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Our father among the saints Leo III of Rome was the Archbishop and Pope of the Church of Rome from 795 to 816. He is noted for insisting on the use of the original text of the Nicene Creed. His feast day in June 12.


Little is known of the early life of Leo including his date of birth. He was from a family of ordinary people, born in Rome to Atyuppius and Elizabeth. He was a cleric from his youth and rose to be cardinal-priest of Santa Susanna Church and a high official in the papacy. He was at Santa Susanna Church when Pope Adrian, his predecessor died. Leo was elected pope on the day Adrian was buried, December 26, 795.

Leo established cordial relations with Charlemagne early after his election when he informed the king of his unanimous election as pope and received Charlemagne's response of congratulations as well as part of the treasure captured by the him from the Avars. This wealth enabled Leo to be a benefactor to the churches and charitable institutions of Rome.

In 799, a conspiracy was formed by the primicerius Paschal, a nephew of Adrian, to render Leo unfit to hold his office. While Leo was walking in the procession of the Greater Litanies on April 25, a number of armed men scattered the procession and attacked Leo, hurriedly stabbed at his eyes and tore at his tongue. They then dragged him into St. Sylvester's Church and attempted to blind him, after which they placed him in the Monastery of St. Erasmus. Surprisingly, Leo recovered the use of eyes and tongue. His friends removed him from the monastery and placed him under the protection of Duke Winichis,of Spoleto. Recovered, Leo journeyed to see Charlemagne at Paderborn. There, Leo was received with honor and sympathy and returned by Charlemagne to Rome where he was welcomed in triumph, as the conspiracy against him was not popular.

In 800, Charlemagne came to Rome to clear Leo of the serious accusations that the conspirators had brought against him. While the bishops refused to try the Leo, he willingly mounted the ambo in St. Peter's and solemnly swore that he was innocent of the charges. Charlemagne, then, ordered the conspirators to be executed, but at Leo's request, their sentence was commuted to exile.

A few days later on Christmas Day, Leo placed a crown on Charlemagne's head and revived the Empire in the West. Pope Leo saw, in that Empress Irene was alone on the throne of the Eastern Empire, a chance to reunite the two halves of the Roman empire by her marriage to Charlemagne. His proposal of marriage between the two was not well received by the nobles of the Eastern Empire, who took action and chose Nikephoros, Irene's finance minister, as emperor.

Leo was much involved in the disputes arising in the Western Church particularly among the Anglo-Saxons that included the restoration of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the See of Canterbury. He fought the heresy of Adoptionism that had arisen in Spain. Leo also helped the monks of Constantinople who, led by St. Theodore Studites, had been exiled for opposing imperial tyranny.

While Leo has harmonist relations with Charlemagne, he opposed Charlemagne's efforts to have the Filioque inserted in the Nicene Creed, going so far as to order the original (Orthodox) Nicene Creed wording to be engraved on silver tablets that he caused to be affixed at the tombs of Ss. Peter and Paul in Rome, writing "Haec Leo posui amore et cautela Orthodoxae Fidei" (I, Leo, placed these here out of love and guardianship of the Orthodox faith).

Pope Leo III died in June 816 and was buried in St. Peter's on June 12, 816 along with the relics of Popes Leo I, Leo II and Leo IV.

Succession box:
Leo III of Rome
Preceded by:
Adrian I
Pope of Rome
795 - 816
Succeeded by:
Stephen V
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