Res divinae and res saeculares in the Perception of Pope Leo the Great: On the Prehistory of the Gelasian Theory

Gratsianskiy Mikhail V.

The article deals with two concepts present in the writings of Pope Leo the Great (440– 461): ‘divine matters’ (res divinae), which, according to the pope, belong to the Church and are managed by priests, and ‘secular matters’ (res saeculares), which fall under the authority of the Roman emperor. These concepts, the interpretation of which Leo was the first among the Roman pontiffs to provide, were later accepted by one of his successors, Gelasius I (492–496), and laid a foundation for a set of ideas, commonly known as the ‘Gelasian theory’, from which the medieval “two swords theory” evolved. The author discusses the time and political circumstances under which Pope Leo formulated his view on the distinction between ‘secular matters’ and ‘divine matters’. The need to point out the distinction between both spheres arose as a result of the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon in 449 and 451 convened by the Eastern emperors Theodosius II (407–450) and Marcianus (450–457), which were unacceptable to the papacy. Pope Leo made the first attempt in the history of the papacy to challenge the imperial decisions taken at these councils, arguing that the competence of the emperor mainly concerned ‘secular matters’, while ‘divine matters’ had a different quality and should be managed by ‘priests’ (sacerdotes). At the same time Pope Leo ignored the powers of the Roman emperor in sacris (in sacred matters), which the latter possessed as a guarantor and performer of public law. The pope’s attempt was not successful: by the end of his pontificate he fully agreed with the emperor’s leading role in ecclesiastical affairs.

Keywords: res divinae, res saeculares, the Gelasian theory, the Two Swords theory, Pope Leo the Great, Pope Nicolas I, emperor Theodosius II, emperor Marcianus, papal primacy, imperium et sacerdotium

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