The last few mornings I’ve been watching “Catholic Canvas” on EWTN which is an explanation of the art of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican museums. I had known about the restoration of the frescoes, but the restoration of the tapestries is less known (at least to me). The cape that appears to surround God in the most famous panel of Michelangelo (God reaching to touch Adam’s finger with his other arm around the baby Jesus), says a doctor, is a model of the human brain. My minimal understanding of perspective puts me in awe of the “foreshortening” of his style, where the viewer looks up and the figures move into our space, with arms and legs and clothing hanging down. Michelangelo knew his Bible and Christian theology. But you can’t watch much EWTN without a lot of “Mary,” adoration and stories completely unfamiliar to Protestants—at least this Lutheran. We Lutherans give Mary a lot of attention at Christmas as an obedient, chaste young woman, and some at Easter as a grieving follower of Christ, but otherwise, not so much. I was looking up a quote of St. Leo today, one of the few Popes ever elected who was not a Bishop, who had to deal not only with barbarian invaders of the Roman empire, but terrible fights within the church. I came across this interesting item about Mary as the Mother of God.
Pope Leo wrote many letters and instructions in his lifetime. 140 of these letters and numerous sermons he preached exist to this day. He is known as one of the prime witnesses for the Primacy of the Pope and his authority to lead the Catholic Church. This was a controversial fact and in great dispute in his day. One of his greatest writings is known as the "Tome of St. Leo" and was a defense of the belief that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. This defense of the Incarnation of Jesus also had implications on the Church's understanding of Mary. The Church Council of Ephesus had debated the identity of Jesus and it's discussion was based on the role of Mary, was she "Christokos", i.e., the mother of Jesus the man, or was she "Theotokos", i.e., the mother of God. The sway in the Council was about to declare that she could only be the mother of the human part of Jesus, but this would imply a split in the reality of Jesus. For this to be a fact, Jesus would have only been human until his birth when at that moment the divine took form in the newborn human. Thankfully, the people of Ephesus intervened and refused to allow the Bishops to conclude their vote. They had a powerful attachment to Mary as she had spent her last years of life on this world in their city. The Council was deadlocked until delegates from Leo arrived and announced by his letter that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. This belief, would later become a formal part of our Nicene Creed. When the letter was read the delegates declared that truly "St. Peter speaks though Leo."
Today all Christians agree on the Nicene Creed; those on the fringes who do not may still argue about the divinity and humanity of Jesus. That he was born human and became divine is just one of the many heresies still floating today. Thank you, Pope Leo, for battling both the outside evil and the inside fighting.