Pope Leo IIILeo III Birth name Unknown Papacy began December 27, 795Papacy ended June 12, 816Predecessor Adrian ISuccessor Stephen IVBorn Date of birth unknown
Rome, ItalyDied June 12, 816
Place of death unknown Other popes named Leo
Leo announced his election to Charlemagne, sending him the keys of Saint Peter's tomb and the banner of Rome, requesting an envoy. Charlemagne in his reply stated that it was his function to defend the church and the popes' to pray for the realm and for victory of the army.
Leo, coming from a common-folk background, aroused the hostility of Rome's nobility, who saw the papal post as reserved for noble candidates. During his rule he was accused of adultery and perjury. In April 799 he was attacked by a gang, who unsuccessfully attempted to gouge out his eyes and cut off his tongue for his earlier actions. He was then formally deposed and sent to a monastery, but escaped and made his way to Charlemagne, who escorted him back to Rome under royal protection. On Christmas Day, Leo placed the imperial crown on Charlemagne's head, creating the office of Holy Roman Emperor (HRE).
Charlemagne went to Rome in November 800, and on December 1 held a council there with representatives of both sides. Leo, on December 23, took an oath of purgation concerning the charges brought against him, and his opponents were exiled. Two days later Leo crowned Charlemagne after the latter prayed at St. Peter's tomb. Charlemagne was to intervene in church affairs, not always being successful.
Leo helped restore King Eardwulf of Northumbria, and settled various matters of dispute between the Archbishops of York and Canterbury. He also reversed the decision of his predecessor in regards to the granting of the pallium to the bishop of Lichfield, Higbert. He believed that the English episcopate had been misrepresented before Hadrian and that therefore his act was invalid. In 803, Lichfield was a regular diocese again.
Leo forbade the addition of "filioque" to Nicene Creed which was added by Franks in Aachen in 809. He also ordered that the Nicene creed be engraved on silver tablets so that his conclusion might not be overturned in the future. He wrote «HAEC LEO POSUI AMORE ET CAUTELA ORTHODOXAE FIDEI» (I, Leo, put here for love and protection of orthodox faith)(VITA LEONIS, LIBER PONTIFICALIS (Ed.Duchene, TII, p.26)
The reasons for the coronation, the involvement beforehand of the Frankish court, and the relationship to the Byzantine Empire are all matters of debate among historians. An effective administrator of the papal territories, Leo contributed to the beautification of Rome.
Roman Catholic Church titlesPreceded by
795–816 Succeeded by
v • d • ePopesof the Roman Catholic Church
John Paul I
John Paul II
- Translation of Einhard's Life of Charlemagne (c. 817-830, translated in 1880)
- Works by or about Pope Leo III in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Opera Omnia by Migne Patrologia Latina with analytical indexes