In the 5th century, when it should have been flourishing as a now-Christian kingdom, the Roman Empire was a disaster in every sense of the word.
Barbarian tribes—Visigoths, Vandals—were wreaking havoc on all sides. The Empire had little fight to offer them, and not because the Romans were poorly supplied or incompetent. It was because the Empire was spiritually and morally dead.
Far from becoming a kingdom of God in the century following the Edict of Milan, the Empire had fallen victim to widespread, atrocious immorality; political intrigue; and violence. It had developed an identity that was anything but Christian.
St. Augustine, during a Vandal siege of Hippo, lamented the corruption of the city’s society: “Enough of your weeping and wailing!” he told them. “Are you not yourselves responsible for this fate which is overwhelming you?”
Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the Huns showed up. Arriving from the steppes of central Asia, this equestrian horde—deadly accurate with their bows and adept at battle—struck fear into everyone who heard of them. Led by their intelligent and ruthless leader, Attila, they attacked the West in 451, tearing through Gaul (though the bishop St. Lupus turned Attila away from Troyes, and the prayers of St. Genevieve and the women of Paris spared that city as well).
After a serious setback in Gaul, Attila attacked Italy, and the trail of destruction commenced. As the Huns marched towards Rome, Pope Leo—who would be known as “the Great”—prayed intensely for God’s intervention, though he knew well that the spiritual bankruptcy of the Empire did not merit anything but a good rain of fire.
Pope Leo then went to meet Attila in person. Accompanied by monks and clerics carrying monstrances and crosses, as well as a delegation of Roman officials, Pope Leo came face-to-face with Attila at the River Mincio in northern Italy. Attila crossed the river and spoke cordially with the Pope, then went back across the river, took his armies, and left Italy.
What did Pope Leo say? No one knows. Some historians say the Roman officials gave Attila a ransom; some say the Hun had practical reasons for leaving Italy, such as climate or food shortages. But whatever transpired that day, Attila—dubbed “the Scourge of God”—had been turned away.
The story of Pope Leo the Great and Attila the Hun illustrates to us that the biggest battles are fought on the spiritual plane. Rome’s immorality was its undoing; the prayers of a holy man proved its salvation.
Let us pray as Pope Leo did for the salvation of our own country and society. Take up the weapon of the Rosary, and be not afraid of the might of the enemy. The Catholic Company offers a wide selection of rosaries to accompany you in battle, such as this Miraculous Medal Paracord Rosary, adorned with Our Lady’s image and built to last. Order yours today!