Perhaps the best known story about Leo the Great, bishop of Rome from 440 to 461, is his encounter with Attila the Hun in 452. Attila and his army of Huns were marching on Rome. The Roman emperor and senate sought to dissuade him from attacking the city, so they sent an embassy of leading Romans, including Leo, who met Attila and managed to dissuade him from plundering Rome.

This story has acquired legendary accretions that magnify the role of Leo and introduce elements of the supernatural into the story. But what it does convey accurately is the formidable personality of Leo, one of the most imposing of the bishops of Rome. Another of Leo’s exploits was his intervention in the Council of Chalcedon.

Knotty Questions

A central theological issue in the first few centuries was the person of Christ: In what sense was he God? At the beginning of the fourth century Arius claimed that only the Father was truly God. In response, the Council of Nicea proclaimed the full deity of Christ. But if Jesus was truly God, how could he be truly human as well? Indeed, was he? If he was, how can one person be both God and man? Was he, in fact, one person? These and other such questions were to dominate Greek theological debate for the next three-and-a-half centuries.

The Council of Chalcedon (451) comes in the middle—not at the end—of these debates. It marks a significant point at which four crucial issues concerning the person of Christ are clarified:

• against Arius, the full deity of Christ is affirmed

• against Apollinarius, the full humanity of Christ is affirmed

• against Nestorius, it is affirmed that Christ is one person

• against Eutyches, it is affirmed that the deity and humanity of Christ remain distinct ...

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