A while ago, I took out a copy of St. Leo the Great’s sermons from the library, and found them a real treat to read. Unfortunately, my studies prevented me from finishing my patron’s works, but I have read enough to gain a feel for his style. St. Leo may be described as having a wonderful imagination and a virile and a confident Christianity. Though employing a very traditional spirituality, St. Leo’s emphasis on mercy and gentleness make him very accessible to a modern reader.
He especially focuses on the fundamental religious acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Of these, he emphasizes almsgiving the most with fasting taking second place. This may partially be due to the terrible plight of the poor at Rome, but St. Leo makes the excellent point that fasting without charity may be a form of greed: one abstains from indulging in food so that he may indulge himself elsewhere with the money he might have spent on these meals. Fasting cleanses our soul by enervating the power vices have over us, particularly gluttony and lust; yet, it ought to be further cleansed of greed, envy, and pride by almsgiving. (This is how I see these two actions destroying the vices. If anyone can tell me how fasting and almsgiving also destroy anger and sloth, I should be happy to hear it. But, overcoming these seem to require prayer and hard work–ora et labora.)
St. Leo often reminds us that we are constantly at war with our foes, the devil, the flesh, and the world. Our battle with the evil one is portrayed with wonderful drama, especially in one of his Christmas sermons. Toward the end of this particular sermon, the beauty of God taking human flesh and defeating the devil in the very nature which the devil had defeated in the Garden is more vividly and thrillingly portrayed than anywhere else I have seen. C. S. Lewis once commented that Christianity makes for a poor story compared to the pagan myths, but, in St. Leo’s hands, Jesus Christ stands head and shoulders above all the pagan heroes, and his glory and valor render paltry even the most interesting tales of the pagan mythology.
So, I highly recommend St. Leo to you all if you want some solid advice on the spiritual life or a truly exciting vision of Christianity.