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Syrian, who appears to have been an officer of his court, and in great favor with the emperor, is said to have convinced him by his arguments that the adoration of images was idolatrous, and in this he was ably seconded by Constantine, bishop of Nacolia, in Phrygia. Leo, anxious to propagate truth and preserve his subjects from idolatry, assembled the people, and with all the frankness and sincerity which mark his character, publicly avowed his conviction of the idolatrous nature of the prevailing practice, and protested against the erection of images. Hitherto no councils had sanctioned the evil, and precedents of antiquity were against it. But the scriptures, which ought to have had infinitely more weight upon the minds of men than either councils or precedents, had expressly and pointedly condemned it; yet, such deep root had the error at this time taken, so pleasing was it with men to commute for the indulgence of their crimes by a routine of idolatrous ceremonies, and, above all, so little ear had they to bestow on what the word of God taught, that the subjects of Leo murmured against him as a tyrant and a persecutor. And in this they were encouraged by Germanus, the bishop of Constantinople, who, with equal zeal and ignorance, asserted that images had always been used in the church, and declared his determination to oppose the emperor; which, the more effectually to do, he wrote to Gregory the second, then bishop of Rome, respecting the subject, who, by similar reason. ings, warmly supported the same cause.
Two original epistles from Gregory the second to the emperor Leo, are still extant, and they merit attention on account of the portrait they exhibit of the founder of the papal monarchy. “ During ten pure and fortunate years,” says Gregory to the emperor, “ we have tasted the annual comfort of your royal letters, subscribed in purple ink, with your own hand, the sacred pledges of VOL. I.
your attachment to the orthodox creed of our fathers. How deplorable is the change! How tremendous the scandal! You now accuse the Catholics of idolatry; and by the accusation, you betray your own impiety and ignorance. To this ignorance we are compelled to adapt the grossness of our style and arguments; the first elements of holy letters are sufficient for your confusion, and were you to enter a grammar-school, and avow yourself the enemy of our worship, the simple and pious children would be provoked to cast their horn-books at your head.” After this decent salutation, the pope explains to him the distinction between the idols of antiquity and the Christian images. The former were the fanciful representations of phantoms or dæmons, at a time when the true God had not manifested his person in any visible likeness—the latter are the genuine forms of Christ, his mother, and his saints. To the impudent and inhuman Leo, more guilty than a heretic, he recommends peace, silence, and implicit obedience to his spiritual guides of Constantinople and Rome. " You assault us, O tyrant,” thus he proceeds, “ with a carnal and military hand; unarmed and naked we can only implore the Christ, the prince of the heavenly host, that he will send unto you a devil, for the destruction of your body, and the salvation of your soul. You declare, with foolish arrogance, 'I will dispatch my orders to Rome; I will break in pieces the images of St. Peter; and Gregory, like his predecessor Martin, shall be transported in chains, and in exile to the foot of the imperial throne.' Would to God, that I might be permitted to tread in the footsteps of the holy Martin; but may the fate of Cosstans serve as a warning to the persecutors of the church. After his just condemnation by the bishops of Sicily, the tyrant was cut off, in the fulness of his sins, by a domestic servant; the saint is still adored by the nations of
Scythia, among whom he ended his banishment and his life. But it is our duty to live for the edification and support of the faithful people, nor are we reduced to risk our safety on the event of a combat. Incapable as you are of defending your Roman subjects, the maritime situation of the city may perhaps expose it to your depredation; but we can remove to the distance of four and twenty stadia, to the first fortress of the Lombards, and then-you may pursue the winds. Are you ignorant that the popes are the bond of union between the East and the West? The eyes of the nations are fixed on our humility; and they revere as a God upon earth, the apostle Saint Peter, whose image you threaten to destroy. The remote and interior kingdoms of the West present their homage to Christ and his vicegerent, and we now prepare to visit one of the most powerful monarchs, who desires to receive from our hands the sacrament of baptism. The Barbarians have submitted to the yoke of the gospel, while you alone are deaf to the voice of the shepherd. These pious Barbarians are kindled into rage; they thirst to avenge the persecution of the East. Abandon your rash and fatal enterprise ; reflect, tremble, and repent. If you persist, we are innocent of the blood that will be spilt in the contest; may it fall on your own head !”*
The character of Leo has been so blackened by the writers of the Catholic party, that it is difficult to form a just estimate of it; but when we consider that he not only condemned the worshipping of images, but also rejected relics, and protested against the intercession of saints, we cannot doubt of his possessing considerable strength of mind, while it may help us to account for much of the obloquy that was cast upon him.
Acts of the Nicene Council, tom. viii.
In the year 730 he issued an edict against images, and having in vain laboured to bring over Germanus, the bishop of Constantinople, to his views, he deposed him from his see, and put Anastasius in his place, who took part with the emperor. There was, in the palace of Constantinople, a porch which contained an image of the Saviour on the cross. Leo, perceiving that it was made an instrument of idolatry, sent an officer to remove it. Some females, who were then present, entreated that it might remain, but without effect. The officer mounted a ladder, and with an axe struck three blows on the face of the figure, when the women threw him down, by pulling away the ladder, and murdered him on the spot. The image, however, was removed, and burnt, and a plain cross set up in its room. The women then proceeded to insult Anastasius for encouraging the profanation of holy things. An insurrection ensued-and in order to quell it, the emperor was obliged to put several persons to death.
The news of this flew rapidly to Rome, where the same rage for idolatry prevailed, and such was the indignation excited by it, that the emperor's statues were immediately pulled down, and trodden under foot. All Italy was thrown into confusion; attempts were made to elect another emperor, in the room of Leo, and the pope encouraged these attempts. The Greek writers affirm that he prohibited the Italians from paying tribute any longer to Leo; but, in the midst of these broils, while defending idolatry and exciting rebellion with all his might, he was stopped short in his wicked career. “He was extremely insolent," says an impartial writer, “though he died with the character of a saint.” *
He was succeeded in his office by Gregory the III.
• Walch's Compend. Hist. of the Popes, p. 101.
A. D. 781, who entered with great spirit and energy into the measures of his predecessor. The reader cannot but be amused with the following letter which he addressed to the emperor, immediately on his elevation.
“ Because you are unlearned and ignorant, we are obliged to write to you rude discourses, but full of sense and the word of God. We conjure you to quit your pride, and to hear us with humility. You say that we adore stones, walls, and boards. It is not so, my lord; but these symbols make us recollect the persons whose names they bear, and exalt our grovelling minds. We do not look upon them as gods; but, if it be the image of Jesus, we say, “ Lord help us.” If it be the image of his mother, we say, “ Pray to your Son to save us." If it be of a martyr, we say, “St. Stephen pray for us." We might, as having the power of St. Peter, pronounce punishments against you ; but as you have pronounced the curse upon yourself, let it stick to you. You write to us to assemble a general council, of which there is no need. Do you cease to persecute images, and all will be quiet; we fear not your threats."
Few readers will think the style of this letter much calculated to conciliate the emperor; and though it certainly does not equal the arrogance and blasphemy which are to be found among the pretensions of this wretched race of mortals in the subsequent period of their history, it may strike some as exhibiting a tolerable advance towards it. It seems to have shut the door against all further intercourse between the parties; for in 732, Gregory, in a council, excommunicated all who should remove or speak contemptuously of images; and Italy, being now in a state of rebellion, Leo fitted out a fleet with the view of quashing the refractory conduct of his subjects, but it was wrecked in the Adriatic, and the object of the expedition frustrated.