This week’s pope was born Leo Manelius, in Sicily about 611 AD. His father was known as Paulus. This was a time when many Sicilians headed to the mainland. The Islamic Caliphate, still less than 50 years old, was conducting raids on Sicily. It was not a safe place to live, especially for those who were Christian.
Leo Manelius had been in Rome long enough to show his abilities when he was nominated a cardinal on 5 December 680 by the current Pope Agatho. Within a month, Agatho was dead and Leo was elected to succeed him on January 10.
At the time of his death, Agatho had been negotiating with Emperor Constantine IV about papal elections. One thing he had been offered was a reduction or possibly elimination of the papal tax. This was a century-old policy requiring newly elected popes to pay a sizeable fee to Constantinople for the privilege of being consecrated. It appears that the fee needed to be paid before the consecration could be held. After Agatho’s death, the negotiations continued under Leo. A long delay stayed the consecration until 17 August 682, a year and a half.
Once consecrated, however, Leo got right to work. The Acts of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, held 680 – 681, finally arrived for him to review. He accepted the Acts, in which two legates of Agatho had participated. Leo’s responsibility was to send out letters explaining the Acts to bishops and kings. A man thoroughly learned in both Greek and Latin, he had no need to wait for a translation; he did this quickly. We have extant letters to the bishops of Spain and to King Ervig, among others. He explained that Pope Honorius was anathematized for not doing enough to oppose the Monothelite heresy which had gone on for one hundred years. He explained that the condemnation of Honorius was “for failing to illuminate the Church with the apostolic doctrine.” He also wrote about the Byzantine patriarchs and bishops. “In addition to these we decide that Honorius also, who was pope of elder Rome, be with them cast out of the holy Church of God, and be anathematized with them, because we have found by his letter to Sergius that he followed his opinion in all things, and confirmed his wicked dogmas.” Leo asked that decrees by followed by all.
The archbishop of Ravenna, who had wanted independence from Rome, was put in his place. The Emperor put a stop to this by revoking a previous decree granting independent status. Pope Leo added an incentive by revoking a tax charged at the time of receiving the pallium.
The Lombards, the German tribe which had invaded the northern part of the Italian peninsula some time previously, had broken down in chaos following the splitting of the tribe into two. This resulted in raids as far south as Rome by the barbarians. Leo ordered the transfer of martyrs’ relics from the catacombs outside the city to churches within the walls of Rome, for safety. In addition, he dedicated two churches, ST. Paul and Sts. Sebastian and George.
The Liber Pontificalis describes this 80th pope as a “man of great eloquence, competently versed in Holy Scripture, proficient in Greek and Latin, and distinguished for his chanting and psalmody.” Leo reformed Gregorian chant and composed hymns for the divine office. In addition to all that, he was also known for his care of the poor and needy.
Pope Leo II was not to rule very long. He died on 28 June 683 and was buried 3 July 683. He was buried in the Chapel of Madonna della Calonna. His relics were later translated to a tomb with several other popes. His feast day is 3 July.
Pope Saint Leo II pray for us.