St. Leo IX

St. Leo IX (1002-1054) was pope from 1049 to 1054. He was a man of action who opposed simony, enforced clerical celibacy, negotiated with emperors, and led an army against invaders of Italy.

The future pope Leo IX was born Bruno of Egisheim on June 21, 1002, in the district of Alsace. He was a relative of the Holy Roman emperor Conrad II, and after he was ordained a priest, he served for 2 years as chaplain at the Emperor's court. In 1026 the Emperor caused him to be named bishop of Toul in Alsace. During his 22 years as leader of the church in Toul, Bruno was concerned about both the morals of his people and the welfare of the emperors.

When the papacy was vacant in 1048 and delegates from all over the empire met in Worms to decide on the candidates, Bruno's cousin, Emperor Henry III, proposed him as the next pope. Bruno accepted but insisted that the people and clergy of the city of Rome elect him formally, as was their right. This they did, and in 1049 he was consecrated pope with the name of Leo IX.

Several months later, while presiding over the Easter Synod in Rome, Leo took over leadership of the reform movement in the Church by enacting strict regulations against priests' marrying and against simony (using religious activities to make money). He also reacted unfavorably to the teachings of Bérenger de Tours that the body and blood of Christ were present only symbolically in the sacrament of the Eucharist. After the synod Pope Leo set out to bring its message to other parts of Italy. He continued his travels throughout Germany in the company of the Emperor, presiding over synods in Reims and Mainz, and later went into France and Hungary with his words of reform and renewal. In the course of his travels he came in contact with a number of outstanding men, many of whom he later brought to Rome to be future leaders of the Church.

When King Macbeth of Scotland came to Rome to seek forgiveness for his crimes, Leo pronounced the absolution. He directed King Edward the Confessor of England to build what later came to be Westminster Abbey. When the Normans invaded the southern part of Italy in 1053, Leo led an army of German and Italian soldiers against them. He was not as successful in war as he had been in Church affairs and was taken prisoner by the Normans. When, in 1054, his health failed in prison, perhaps because of malaria, he was taken back to Rome to die. Leo IX was acknowledged after his death to have been a successful leader of men and a true reformer of the Church.

Further Reading on St. Leo IX

A scholarly, historical study of Leo is in Horace K. Mann, The Lives of the Popes in the Middle Ages, vol. 6 (1925). Frederich Gontard, The Popes (1964), contains a sketch of Leo's life. Some helpful illustrations accompany the outline of his personality and accomplishments in Geoffrey Barraclough, The Medieval Papacy (1968).

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