On this day: Pope Leo XIII

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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On this day in 1903, Pope Leo XIII died. He was 93 years old. He had reigned since 1878.

In 1887, when Therese of Lisieux kissed his slipper and begged him to allow her to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen, he appeared "so old that one would say he is dead; I would never have pictured him like this. He can hardly say anything". But Pope Leo XIII lasted another sixteen years.

Click here to listen to him chanting the Ave Maria a few months before his death.

For information about the life of Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci, who became Pope Leo XIII, click here for the Catholic Encyclopedia article, and here for Wikipedia.

Eamon Duffy, in Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, Yale University Press, 2006, explains some of Leo's actions, such as making John Henry Newman a Cardinal, and places some of his encyclicals, including Rerum Novarum, in historical context.

All of Pope Leo XIII's encyclicals may be found here.

(There is no Search Inside at Amazon for Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy, by John Julius Norwich, Random House, 2011, but Bill Keller, in his review in the New York Times Book Review, said Norwich "admires" "Leo XIII, who steered the Church into the industrial age".)

Pope Leo XIII was a poet. Poems, Charades, Inscriptions of Pope Leo XIII, with English Translations by Hugh Thomas Henry, American Ecclesiastical Review, 1902, contains many examples of his poetry. Notice "Moralia", near the end, the Pope's resolutions. His poems about his brother Joseph are lovely, and the Notes at the end are interesting. Here is one of Leo XIII's poems with a translation:



EXPRESSA solis spiculo
Nitens imago, quam bene
Frontis decus, vim luminum
Refers, et oris gratiam.

O mira virtus ingeni,
Novumque monstrum ! Imaginem
Naturae Apelles aemulus
Non pulchriorem pingeret.



SUN-WROUGHT with magic of the skies,
The image fair before me lies:
Deep-vaulted brain and sparkling eyes
And lip's fine chiselling.

O miracle of human thought,
O art with newest marvels fraught—
Apelles, Nature's rival, wrought
No fairer imaging !

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