Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Leo IX, Pope and Confessor

[Pope Saint Leo IX]Article

A.D. 1054.

This great pope received in baptism the name of Bruno. He was born in Alsace, in 1002, with his body marked all over with little red crosses: which was attributed to the intense meditation of his pious mother on the passion of Christ. He was of the illustrious house of Dapsbourgh, or Asbourgh, in that province, being the son of Hugh, cousin-german to the mother of the pious Emperor Conrad the Salic. He had his education under Berthold, the virtuous and learned bishop of Toul; and, after his first studies, was made a canon in that cathedral. His time was principally divided between prayer, pious reading, and his studies: and the hours of recreation he employed in visiting the hospitals and instructing the poor. When he was deacon, he was called to the court of the Emperor Conrad, and was much honoured by that prince. The young clergyman displayed an extraordinary talent for business; but never omitted his long exercises of devotion, or his usual fasts and other austere mortifications. In 1026, he was chosen bishop of Toul. The emperor endeavoured to persuade him to defer his consecration till the year following: but the saint hastened to the care of the church, of which he was to give an account to God, and was consecrated by his metropolitan, the archbishop of Triers; but refused to take an unjust and dangerous oath which he exacted of his suffragans, that they would do nothing but by his advice. Bruno began to discharge his pastoral office by the reformation of the clergy and monks, whom he considered as the most illustrious portion of the flock of Christ, and the salt of the earth. By his care the monastic discipline and spirit were revived in the great monasteries of Senones, Jointures, Estival, Bodonminster, Middle-Moutier, and Saint Mansu or Mansuet. He reformed the manner of celebrating the divine office, and performing the church music, in which he took great delight. A soul that truly loves God, makes the divine praises the comfort of her present exile. The saint was indefatigable in his labours to advance the service of God and the salvation of souls. Amidst his great actions, it was most admirable to see how little he was in his own eyes. He every day served and washed the feet of several poor persons. His life was an uninterrupted severe course of penance, by the practice of secret austerities, and a constant spirit of compunction. Patience and meekness were the arms by which he triumphed over envy and resentment, when many strove to bring him into disgrace with the emperor and others. Out of devotion to Saint Peter, he visited once a year the tombs of the apostles at Rome. After the death of Pope Damasus II in 1048, in a diet of prelates and noblemen, with legates and deputies of the church of Rome, held at Worms, and honoured with the presence of the pious Emperor, Henry III surnamed the Black, Bruno, who had then governed the see of Toul twenty-two years, was pitched upon as the most worthy person to be exalted to the papacy. He being present, used all his endeavours to avert the storm from falling on his head; and at length begged three days to deliberate upon the matter. This term he spent in tears and prayers, and in so rigorous a fast, that he neither ate nor drank during all that time. The term being expired, he returned to the assembly, and, hoping to convince his electors of his unworthiness, made a public general confession before them of the sins of his whole life, with abundance of tears, which drew also tears from all that were present: yet no man changed his opinion. He yielded at last only on condition that the whole clergy and people of Rome should agree to his promotion. After this declaration, he returned to Toul, and soon after Easter set out for Rome in the habit of a pilgrim; and alighting from his horse, some miles before he arrived at the city, walked to it, and entered it barefoot. He was received with universal acclamations, and his election ratified. He took possession of the see on the 12th of February, 1049, under the name of Leo IX being about forty-seven years old. He held it only five years, but they were filled with good works. He laboured strenuously in extirpating simony, and the incestuous marriages which many noblemen had presumed to contract. In a journey which he made into Germany, he signalized all his steps with religious actions, held a council at Rheims, and consecrated the new church of Saint Remigius, belonging to the abbey, in 1049: and returned from Mentz, by mount Vosge and Richenow, to Rome. In 1050, in a council at Rome, he condemned the new heresy of Berengarius, archdeacon of Angers, a man full of self-conceit, and a lover of novelty, who preached against the mystery of transubstantiation in the holy eucharist.

Saint Leo held another council at Vercelli the same year, composed of prelates from several countries, who unanimously confirmed the censure passed at Rome on Berengarius and his tenets, and condemned a book of John Scotus Erigena to be cast into the fire. In 1051 the pope made a second visit to his ancient see of Toul, and favoured the abbey of Saint Mansu with great presents and exemptions. In 1052 he went again into Germany to reconcile, the Emperor Henry III. and Andrew, king of Hungary. In 1053 Michael Cerularius, patriarch of Constantinople, began to renew the schism of the Greek church, which had been formerly commenced by Photius, but again healed. Cerularius and Leo, bishop of Acrida, wrote a joint letter to John bishop of Trani, in Apulia, in which they objected to the Latins, that they celebrated the holy eucharist in unleavened bread, fasted on the Saturdays in Lent, refrained not from eating blood, omitted to sing halleluia in Lent, and other such like points of discipline. Malice must be to the last degree extravagant, which could pretend to ground a schism upon such exceptions. Saint Leo answered him by an exhortation to peace, alleging for these practices of discipline the ancient law and tradition from Saint Peter, especially for the use of unleavened bread in the holy eucharist. He sent cardinal Humbert, his legate, to Constantinople, to vindicate the Latin Church against the exceptions of the Greeks, and preserve them in union with the Latins. He composed a learned and ample apology for this purpose; but was not able to overcome the obstinacy of Cerularius, whose artifices drew the greater part of the Oriental churches into his schism. By his factious spirit he also embroiled the state: for which Isaac Comnenus himself, whom he had raised to the throne the year before, was preparing to chastise him, when his death prevented his punishment, in 1058.

The Normans, in the eleventh century, expelled the Saracens and Greeks out of the kingdom of Naples, but became themselves troublesome and enterprising neighbours to the holy see. Pope Leo implored against them the succours of the Emperor Henry III to whom he made over Fuld, Bamberg, and other lands, which the popes then possessed in Germany, receiving in exchange Benevento and its territory in Italy. With these succours his holiness hoped to check the Normans, but his army was defeated by them, and himself taken prisoner in a certain village, and detained near a year, though always treated with great honour and respect. He spent his time in fasting and prayer, wore a hair-cloth next his skin, lay on a mat on the floor with a stone for his pillow, slept little, and gave large alms. Falling sick, he was honourably sent back to Rome, as he desired. Perceiving his end to draw nigh, he made moving exhortations to his prelates; then caused himself to be carried into the Vatican church, where he prayed long, and discoursed on the resurrection on the side of his grave. Having received extreme unction, he desired to be carried to the altar of Saint Peter and set down before it: where he prayed an hour prostrate: then being lifted up again upon his couch he heard mass, received the viaticum, and soon after calmly expired, on the 19th of April, 1054, being fifty years old, and having held the pontificate five years and two months. Miracles which followed his death, proclaimed his glory with God. His name is inserted in the Roman Martyrology.

The devil has ever laboured with so much the greater fury to rob the church and each particular Christian soul of the most holy sacrament of the altar, or at least of its fruits, as in this adorable mystery Christ has displayed in our favour all the riches of his mercy and love, and has bestowed on us the most powerful means of grace and spiritual strength. It therefore behoves every Christian to exert his zeal in maintaining the honour of this divine sacrament, and ensuring to himself and others such incomparable advantages. Besides the general sacred deposit of faith, here love and gratitude lay us under a particular obligation. Saint John, the disciple of love, lays open the true characteristics of this adorable mystery of love by a short introduction to his account of the last supper, soaring above the other Evangelists, and penetrating into the divine sanctuary of our Lord’s breast to discover the infinite charity with which he was inflamed for us, and which prompted him to invent and institute it, saying, that Jesus, knowing the moment was come for his leaving us and returning to his Father, out of that love which he always bore us, and which he continued to bear us to the end, when it exerted itself in such a wonderful manner as to seem to cast forth all its flames, he bequeathed us this truly divine legacy. Love called him to heaven for our sake, that he might prepare us places there, and send us the holy Paraclete to perfect the great work of our sanctification. And the same boundless love engaged him to exhaust, as it were, his infinite wisdom and power to remain always corporally among us, and most intimately unite himself with us, to be our comfort and strength, and that we may most perfectly be animated by his spirit, and live by him. Shall we receive such a present with coldness and indifference? Shall we be so basely ungrateful to such a lover, as not to burn with zeal for the honour of this mystery of his love and grace, and unite ourselves to him in it by the most devout and frequent communion; and by our continual desire, and most frequent daily adoration of Jesus in this holy sacrament, endeavour to make him all the amends we are able for the insults he receives in it, and to appropriate to ourselves a greater share of its treasures, by a perpetual communion as it were with his Holy Spirit, and a participation of all his merits, graces, treasures, satisfaction, love, and other virtues?

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Leo IX, Pope and Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 15 April 2013. Web. 28 May 2018. <>