Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume XII/Leo the Great/Letters/Letter 9
To Dioscorus, Bishop of Alexandria.
Leo, the bishop, to Dioscorus, bishop of Alexandria, greeting.
I. The churches of Rome and Alexandria should be at one in everything.
How much of the divine love we feel for you, beloved, you will be able to estimate from this, that we are anxious to establish your beginnings on a surer basis, lest anything should seem lacking to the perfection of your love, since your meritorious acts of spiritual grace, as we have proved, are already in your favour. Fatherly and brotherly conference, therefore, ought to be most grateful to you, holy brother, and received by you in the same spirit as you know it is offered by us. For you and we ought to be at one in thought and act, so that as we read, in us also there may be proved to be one heart and one mind. For since the most blessed Peter received the headship of the Apostles from the Lord, and the church of Rome still abides by His institutions, it is wicked to believe that His holy disciple Mark, who was the first to govern the church of Alexandria, formed his decrees on a different line of tradition: seeing that without doubt both disciple and master drew but one Spirit from the same fount of grace, and the ordained could not hand on aught else than what he had received from his ordainer. We do not therefore allow it that we should differ in anything, since we confess ourselves to be of one body and faith, nor that the institutions of the teacher should seem different to those of the taught.
II. Fixed days should be observed for ordaining priests and deacons.
That therefore which we know to have been very carefully observed by our fathers, we wish kept by you also, viz. that the ordination of priests or deacons should not be performed at random on any day: but after Saturday, the commencement of that night which precedes the dawn of the first day of the week should be chosen on which the sacred benediction should be bestowed on those who are to be consecrated, ordainer and ordained alike fasting. This observance will not be violated, if actually on the morning of the Lord’s day it be celebrated without breaking the Saturday fast: for the beginning of the preceding night forms part of that period, and undoubtedly belongs to the day of resurrection as is clearly laid down with regard to the feast of Easter. For besides the weight of custom which we know rests upon the Apostles’ teaching, Holy Writ also makes this clear, because when the Apostles sent Paul and Barnabas at the bidding of the Holy Ghost to preach the gospel to the nations, they laid hands on them fasting and praying: that we may know with what devoutness both giver and receiver must be on their guard lest so blessed a sacrament should seem to be carelessly performed. And therefore you will piously and laudably follow Apostolic precedents if you yourself also maintain this form of ordaining priests throughout the churches over which the Lord has called you to preside: viz. that those who are to be consecrated should never receive the blessing except on the day of the Lord’s resurrection, which is commonly held to begin on the evening of Saturday, and which has been so often hallowed in the mysterious dispensations of God that all the more notable institutions of the Lord were accomplished on that high day. On it the world took its beginning. On it through the resurrection of Christ death received its destruction, and life its commencement. On it the apostles take from the Lord’s hands the trumpet of the gospel
which is to be preached to all nations, and receive the sacrament of regeneration which they are to bear to the whole world. On it, as blessed John the Evangelist bears witness when all the disciples were gathered together in one place, and when, the doors being shut, the Lord entered to them, He breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Ghost: whose sins ye have remitted they are remitted to them: and whose ye have retained, they shall be retained.” On it lastly the Holy Spirit that had been promised to the Apostles by the Lord came: and so we know it to have been suggested and handed down by a kind of heavenly rule, that on that day we ought to celebrate the mysteries of the blessing of priests on which all these gracious gifts were conferred.
III. The repetition of the Holy Eucharist on the great festivals is not undesirable.
Again, that our usage may coincide at all points, we wish this thing also to be observed, viz. that when any of the greater festivals has brought together a larger congregation than usual, and too great a crowd of the faithful has assembled for one church to hold them all at once, there should be no hesitation about repeating the oblation of the sacrifice: lest, if those only are admitted to this service who come first, those who flock in afterwards, should seem to be rejected: for it is fully in accordance with piety and reason, that as often as a fresh congregation has filled the church where service is going on, the sacrifice should be offered as a matter of course. Whereas a certain portion of the people must be deprived of their worship, if the custom of only one celebration be kept, and only those who come early in the day can offer the sacrifice. We admonish you, therefore, beloved, earnestly and affectionately that your carefulness also should not neglect what has become a part of our own usage on the pattern of our fathers’ tradition, so that in all things we may agree together in our beliefs and in our performances. Consequently, we have given this letter to our son Possidonius, a presbyter, on his return, that he may bear it to you, brother; he has so often taken part in our ceremonials and ordinations, and has been sent to us so many times that he knows quite well what Apostolic authority we possess in all things. Dated 21 June (? 445).
- Sc. in Acts iv. 32.
- S. Mark, the evangelist and disciple of S. Peter, is the radional founder of the church of Alexandria.
- That is to say, the weekly resurrection festival (Sunday) begins with the vespers of the preceding evening: this is notably the case in the yearly festival of Easter, at least in Western use.
- Sacramentum regenerationis: the reference in the first part of the sentence seems to be S. Mark xvi. 15, and here in the latter part to S. Matt. xxviii. 19, and both these records seem to refer to the same manifestation. S. Matthew says it was to “the eleven disciples” in Galilee, in “the mountain where Jesus had appointed them,” that He gave the command, if indeed vv. 16–20 of the xxviiith chapter form one continuous narrative. The author of S. Mark xvi. 9–20 says it was to the eleven “as they sat at meat.” Is it possible that Leo took ἀνακειμένοις to mean as they were partaking of the Holy Eucharist? if not, what countenance is there for his assertion of its being on the first day of the week?
- S. John xx. 22, 23.
- Basilica, q.v. in Smith’s Dict. of Christian Antiquities.
- It can hardly escape notice that the people here are distinctly said “to offer the sacrifice” in the person of their representative and mouthpiece, the priest. And this is the language and intention of all Liturgies (ancient and modern) of the Church.