December 1, 2017

Saint Leontius, Bishop of Fréjus (+ 448)

St. Leontius of Frejus (Feast Day - December 1)

Saint Leontius (Leonce) was born probably at Nîmes to a noble Gallo-Roman family, towards the end of the fourth century. There is reason to believe that he was a brother of Saint Castor, Bishop of Apt, and that consequently like him he was a native of Nîmes. The date of his Episcopal ordination is uncertain, but most likely it took place between the years 400 and 419. It is however, indisputable that he was a man of eminent sanctity, and his episcopate was marked with important results, else he would not have been from an early date associated with the Blessed Virgin as patron of the Cathedral Church of Fréjus in Provence. The Cathedral of Fréjus is dedicated to Saint Leontius, and has been the seat of the Bishop of Fréjus since the fifth century.

The principal occurrence during the episcopate of Leontius of Fréjus was the establishment of the Monastery of Lérins at the beginning of the fifth century. The name of this bishop is inseparably united to that of Honoratus, the founder of the monastery, and he seems to have played an important part in the development of the monastic life in the southeast of Gaul. Honoratus called him his superior and his father, whilst Saint John Cassian who governed the numerous monastics of the Abbey of Saint Victor at Marseilles, dedicated most of his "Conferences" to him. In 431, Leontius was suspected by Pope Celestine I of what is known as Semi-Pelagianism, but in reality is the orthodox doctrine of salvation as opposed to the extremes of Pelagianism and Augustinianism, and is a doctrine defended by Saint John Cassian and the monks of Lérins as well.

The relations of the Monastery of Lérins to the diocesan bishop were most cordial. Some writers believe that this was due merely to the common custom of the age, but others hold, and not without reason it would seem, that it was the result of special privileges granted by Leontius to Honoratus, with whom he was intimately united in the bonds of friendship. Be that as it may, these regulations, which, while safeguarding the episcopal dignity, assured the independence of the monastery, and were confirmed by the Third Synod of Arles, seem to have been the beginning of those immunities which henceforward were enjoyed in an increasing degree by the monastic communities.

Cathedral of Saint Leontius of Frejus

Moreover, the most cordial relations existed between the Saint and the Pope of Rome. This is proved by the fact that Saint Leo I, after his memorable quarrel with Saint Honoratus, Bishop of Arles, deprived the latter of the prerogatives which gave him a kind of primacy over the district of Vienne, and bestowed them on Leontius. It is true that this important event took place only in 445, whilst Leontius had been succeeded in the episcopate by Theodore in 433. That is why some authorities have held that these prerogatives were granted to another Bishop of Fréjus, likewise named Leontius, who would have been a successor of Theodore.

To this the supporters of a loved tradition reply that Saint Leontius abandoned his see in 432 to go and preach the gospel to the Teutonic tribes, and returned to his diocese in 442 dying only in 445 or even 448. Unfortunately no very solid proof of this apostolate can he adduced. Consequently, it is still quite uncertain whether or not the Diocese of Fréjus had more than one bishop called Leontius. Another tradition, making Saint Leontius a martyr, does not seem older than the beginning of the thirteenth century, and merits no credence. Earlier and better authenticated documents give him the title of Confessor, which alone is accurate.