The Library of Original Sources, Vol 4


Show Summary

Leo I. and the Petrine Theory of the Papacy

440–461 A. D.

To the Bishops of the Province of Vienne. In
the Matter of Hilary, Bishop of Arles

To his beloved brethren, the whole body of bishops of the province of Vienne, Leo, Bishop of Rome.

1. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Saviour of mankind, has so instituted the worship of the divine religion, which he wished by the grace of God to shine upon all people and all nations, that the truth which was formerly confined to the announcement of the Law and the Prophets should go out to the salvation of the whole world, through the trumpet of the apostles, as it is written: "Their sound has gone out into every land, and their words unto the ends of the world." (Ps. XIX, 5.) But the sacrament of this duty the Lord wished to belong to all the apostles in such a way that the principal duty should fall on the most blessed Peter, chief of all the apostles, and he desired that his gift should flow from him [Peter] as from the head to the whole body, so that he who should dare to depart from this foundation of Peter should know that he has no share in the divine mystery. And so the Lord wished to name him whom he took up into his undivided unity, what he really was, saying: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church," so that the building of the eternal temple, by the marvelous gift of the grace of God, might rest on the solid foundation of Peter; strengthening his church by this firmness so that human rashness should never attack it nor the gates of hell prevail against it….

2. …So let your brotherhood recall as we do that the Apostolic See, because of the reverence paid to it by the bishops of your province, has been consulted in very many affairs, and in the appeal of various cases, as the ancient custom warrants, it has reversed or confirmed decisions; so that "the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace" has been preserved and by the interchange of letters our holy activity has promoted perpetual love; since our solicitude, seeking notits own, but the things of Christ, has not offended the power given both to the churches and the priests of the churches. But Hilary has departed from this course, which our ancestors so well kept to and so wisely guarded, and is likely to disturb the position of the churches and the concord of the priests by his new presumptions, desiring so to subject you to his power that he may not be made subject to the Apostle Peter, claiming for himself the ordinations of all the churches in Gaul, and transferring to himself the dignity belonging to metropolitan bishops; thus diminishing by his arrogant claims the reverence owed to the most blessed Peter, to whom was given before the others the power of loosing and binding, and the special care of feeding the sheep. Whoever thinks this leadership should be denied to him, is not able in any way to diminish Peter’s dignity, but puffed up with the spirit of his pride, loses himself in the depths of hell.

2. When other bishops differ from the bishop of Thessalonica, let the bishop of Rome be consulted.

If the opinion of the brothers differs from yours in any matter which you believed should be discussed and settled with them, let everything be referred to us with the records of the proceedings, so that all differences may be removed and what is pleasing to God may be decided…. For the cementing of our unity cannot be enduring, unless the Lord of love has bound us together in inseparable solidity: since "as in one body we have many members, but all members have not the same office; so we being many are one body in Christ, and all of us members one of another." The connection of the whole body produces one health, one beauty; and this connection of the whole body requires unanimity, but especially agreement among the priests. Although they have a common dignity, yet they have not a common rank; for even among the blessed apostles along with an equality of honor, there was a certain distinction of authority, and while the choice of all was of equal force, it was given to one to lead the rest. From this example has arisen also a distinction among bishops, and it has been provided by an important ordinance, that all should not claim all things for themselves, but that there should be one in each province whose opinion should be first among the brethren; and again that certain ones in the larger cities should be given still greater authority, through whom the care of the whole church should converge to the one chair of St. Peter, and no part should ever be separated from its head.

3. If he (Anatolins, bishop of Constantinople) will observe this,I promise that my heart will be bound to him, and that the love of the Apostolic See, which has ever been devoted to the Church of Constantinople, shall never be broken by any change. For even if rash rulers fall into error, the purity of the Church of Christ remains. But the opinions of the bishops, refusing to acknowledge the rules of the holy canons given at Nicaea, we with the agreement of your piety declare null, and by the authority of the blessed Peter the apostle entirely revoke by a general definition, following in all ecclesiastical matters the laws which the Holy Spirit instituted by the 318 bishops: so that even if many more than that number should decide anything different yet whatever was opposed to their decree would have to be held in no respect.

4. …When I look upon this most splendid gathering of my venerable fellow-priests, I feel that among so many saints together there is a meeting of angels. Nor do I doubt that we are visited to-day by more abundant grace of the divine presence, when so many precious tabernacles of God, so many intimate members of the excellent body of Christ are present together and are shining with single light. Nor, I believe, is the affectionate consideration and faithful love of the most blessed apostle Peter absent from this meeting: he has not neglected your devotion in whose honor you are come together. He also rejoices in your affection, and delights in your observance of the institution of the Lord as shown towards the partakers of His honor, approving of the well-ordered love of the whole church, which perceives Peter in the chair of Peter, and because of the love of so great a shepherd does not grow lukewarm in affection for even so inferior a successor.


Related Resources

Key Events 300–1000

Download Options

Title: The Library of Original Sources, Vol 4

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: The Library of Original Sources, Vol 4

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: "Leo I. And the Petrine Theory of the Papacy," The Library of Original Sources, Vol 4 in The Library of Original Sources, ed. Oliver J. Thatcher (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: University Research Extension Co., 1907), 126–128. Original Sources, accessed November 29, 2022,

MLA: . "Leo I. And the Petrine Theory of the Papacy." The Library of Original Sources, Vol 4, in The Library of Original Sources, edited by Oliver J. Thatcher, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, University Research Extension Co., 1907, pp. 126–128. Original Sources. 29 Nov. 2022.

Harvard: , 'Leo I. And the Petrine Theory of the Papacy' in The Library of Original Sources, Vol 4. cited in 1907, The Library of Original Sources, ed. , University Research Extension Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, pp.126–128. Original Sources, retrieved 29 November 2022, from