Skip to comments.On St. Boniface
Posted on 03/11/2009 7:58:14 PM PDT by ELS
On St. Boniface
"His Ardent Zeal for the Gospel Always Impresses Me"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 11, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
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Dear brothers and sisters:
Today we pause to consider a great missionary of the 8th century, who spread Christianity in Central Europe, precisely in my homeland as well: St. Boniface, who has been recorded in history as the "apostle of the Germans."
We have not a little information about his life, thanks to the diligence of his biographers: He was born to an Anglo Saxon family in Wessex around the year 675 and was baptized with the name Winfred. He joined the monastery very young, attracted by the monastic ideal. Possessing notable intellectual capacities, he seemed headed toward a tranquil and brilliant career as a scholar: He was a professor of Latin grammar, wrote a few treatises and also composed some poems in Latin.
Ordained a priest at close to 30 years of age, he felt called to the apostolate among the pagans of the continent. Great Britain, his land, evangelized just 100 years before by the Benedictines guided by St. Augustine, manifested a faith that was so solid and a charity that was so ardent that it sent missionaries to Central Europe to announce there the Gospel. In 716, Winfred, with some companions, headed to Friesland (in present day Holland), but he clashed with the opposition of the local leader and the attempt at evangelization failed.
Having returned to his homeland, he didn't lose his zest and two years later, he went to Rome to speak with Pope Gregory II and to receive direction. The Pope, according to a biographer's account, received him "with a smiling face and a gaze full of kindness," and in the following days, had with him "important discussions" (Willibaldo, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. Levison, pp. 13-14). And finally, after having given him the new name of Boniface, he entrusted him with official letters and the mission to preach the Gospel among the peoples of Germany.
Comforted and sustained by the support of the Pope, Boniface got to work in the preaching of the Gospel in those regions, fighting against the pagan cults and strengthening the bases of Christian and human morality. With a great sense of duty, he wrote in one of his letters: "We are firm in the fight in the day of the Lord, because days of affliction and misery have arrived ... We are not muted dogs, nor tacit observers, nor mercenaries who flee before the wolves. We are instead diligent pastors who watch over the flock of Christ, who announce to important persons and normal ones, to the rich and the poor, the will of God ... in opportune moments and inopportune ones ... " (Epistulae, 3,352.354: MGH).
With his tireless activity, with his organizational gifts, with his flexible and amiable character despite its firmness, Boniface obtained great results. The Pope then "declared that he wanted to confer on him episcopal dignity, so that with greater determination he could thus correct and return to the path of truth those who were mistaken, feel that he was supported by the greater authority of the apostolic dignity, and would be more accepted by everyone in the office of preaching since all the more for this reason it seemed he had been ordained by the apostolic prelate" (Otloho, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. Levison, lib. I, p. 127).
It was the Supreme Pontiff himself who consecrated him "regional bishop" -- that is, for all of Germany, and Boniface revived his apostolic efforts in the territories entrusted to him and extended his action as well to the Church of Gaul. With great prudence, he restored ecclesiastical discipline, convoked various synods to ensure the authority of the sacred canons, and reinforced the necessary communion with the Roman Pontiff, a point that he carried especially in his heart. The successors of Pope Gregory II also held him in most high consideration: Gregory III named him archbishop of all the Germanic tribes, sent him the pallium and gave him the faculty to organize the ecclesiastical hierarchy in those regions (cf. Epist. 28: S. Bonifatii Epistulae, ed. Tangl, Berolini 1916). Pope Zachary confirmed him in his post and praised his work (cf. Epist. 51, 57, 58, 60, 68, 77, 80, 86, 87, 89: op. cit.). And Pope Stephen III, recently elected, received from him a letter in which he expressed his filial attention (cf. Epist. 108: op. cit.).
The great bishop, besides this work of evangelization and organization of the Church through the foundation of dioceses and the celebration of synods, did not fail to favor the foundation of various monasteries, masculine and feminine, so that they would be like a lighthouse to irradiate the faith and human and Christian culture in the territory. From the Benedictine cenobites of his homeland, he had called men and women monks who lent a most valuable and precious service in the task of announcing the Gospel and spreading the human sciences and arts among the populations.
He considered in fact that the work for the Gospel should be also work for a true human culture. Above all the monastery of Fulda -- founded around 743 -- was the heart and center of the irradiation of the spirituality and the religious culture: There the monks, in prayer, in work and in penance, endeavored to tend toward sanctity; they formed themselves in the study of sacred and secular disciplines, preparing themselves for the announcement of the Gospel, to be missionaries. Therefore thanks to Boniface, to his men and women monks -- the women too had a very important part in this work of evangelization -- this human culture also flourished, which is inseparable from the faith and reveals its beauty.
Boniface himself has left us significant intellectual works -- above all his copious collection of letters, wherein the pastoral letters alternate with official letters and those of a private nature, which reveal social events and above all his rich human temperament and deep faith. He composed as well a treatise of "Ars grammatica," in which he explained the declinations, verbs and syntax of Latin, but which for him was also an instrument to spread the faith and the culture. Attributed to him as well is an "Ars metrica," that is, an introduction to how to make poetry, and various poetic compositions, and finally, a collection of 165 sermons.
Though he was already advanced in years -- he was close to 80 -- he prepared himself for a new evangelizing mission: With some 50 monks, he returned to Friesland, where he had begun his work. Almost as a foretelling of his imminent death, alluding to the journey of life, he wrote to his disciple and successor in the See of Mainz, Bishop Lullus: "I want to complete the aim of this trip, I cannot in any way renounce the desire to depart. The day of my end is near and the time of my death draws near; leaving the mortal remains, I will rise to the eternal reward. But you, most dear son, ceaselessly call the people from the labyrinth of error, complete the construction of the already begun basilica of Fulda, and there you will place my body grown old with long years of life" (Willibaldo, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., p. 46).
While he was beginning the celebration of Mass in Dokkum (in present day North Holland), on June 5, 754, he was assaulted by a band of pagans. Placing himself at the front with a serene face, he "prohibited his [companions] to fight, saying: "Cease, sons, to combat, abandon the war, because the testimony of Scripture warns us not to return evil for evil, but good for evil. This is the day awaited for some time, the time of our end has arrived. Courage in the Lord!" (ibid. pp. 49-50).
Those were his last words before falling beneath the blows of his aggressors. The remains of the bishop-martyr were taken to the monastery of Fulda, where he received a dignified burial. Already one of his first biographers described him with this affirmation: "The holy Bishop Boniface can be called the father of all the inhabitants of Germany, because he was the first to engender them in Christ with the word of his holy preaching; he confirmed them with his example and finally gave his life for them, greater love than this cannot be given" (Otloho, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., lib. I, p. 158).
After centuries, what message can we take from the teaching and the prodigious activity of this great missionary and martyr? A first point is evident to one who approaches Boniface: the centrality of the Word of God, lived and interpreted in the faith of the Church, a Word that he lived, preached and gave testimony to unto the supreme gift of himself in martyrdom. He was so impassioned by the Word of God that he felt the urgency and the duty of taking it to others, even at his personal risk. Upon it, he supported his faith, the spreading of which he had solemnly made a pledge to in the moment of his episcopal consecration: "I integrally profess the purity of the holy Catholic faith and with the help of God, I want to remain in the unity of this faith, in which without any doubt is all of the salvation of Christians" (Epist. 12, in S. Bonifatii Epistolae, ed. cit., p. 29).
The second obvious point, a very important one, which emerges from the life of Boniface is his faithful communion with the Apostolic See, which was a firm and central point in his missionary work. He always conserved that communion as a rule of his mission and he left it almost as a testament. In a letter to Pope Zachary, he affirmed: "I never fail to invite and to submit to the obedience of the Apostolic See those who want to remain in the Catholic faith and in the unity of the Roman Church and all those that in this mission God gives me as listeners and disciples" (Epist. 50: in ibid. p. 81).
A fruit of this determination was the firm spirit of cohesion around the Successor of Peter that Boniface transmitted to the Churches in his mission territory, uniting England, Germany and France with Rome and contributing in such a determinant way to plant the Christian roots of Europe that they have produced fecund fruits in successive centuries.
For a third characteristic that Boniface draws to our attention: He promoted the encounter between the Roman-Christian culture and the Germanic culture. He knew in fact that to humanize and evangelize the culture was an integral part of his mission as a bishop. Transmitting the ancient patrimony of Christian values, he implanted in the German peoples a new style of life that was more human, thanks to which the inalienable rights of the person were better respected. As an authentic son of St. Benedict, he knew how to unite prayer and work (manual and intellectual), pen and plow.
The valiant testimony of Boniface is an invitation for all of us to welcome in our life the Word of God as an essential point of reference, to passionately love the Church, to feel that we are co-responsible for its future, to seek unity around the Successor of Peter. At the same time, he reminds us that Christianity, favoring the spreading of culture, promotes the progress of man. It falls to us, then, to measure up to a patrimony that is so prestigious and make it bear fruit for the good of the generations to come.
His ardent zeal for the Gospel always impresses me: At 40 years old, he leaves a beautiful and fruitful monastic life, the life of a monk and a professor, to announce the Gospel to the simple, to the barbarians; at 80 years of age, once again, he goes to a zone where he foresaw his martyrdom. Comparing this ardent faith of his, this zeal for the Gospel, to our faith so often lukewarm and bureaucratic, we see that we have to renew our faith and how to do it, so as to give as a gift to our times the precious pearl of the Gospel.
[Translation by ZENIT]
[The Pope then greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]
Dear brothers and sisters,
In our catechesis on the early Christian writers of East and West, we now turn to Saint Boniface, the Apostle of the Germans. Born in England and baptized with the name Winfrid, he embraced the monastic life and was ordained a priest. Despite his promise as a scholar, he sensed the call to proclaim the Gospel to the pagans of the Continent. After an initial setback, he visited Rome and was charged by Pope Gregory II with the mission to evangelize the Germanic peoples. Taking the name Boniface, he worked tirelessly for the spread of the faith and the promotion of Christian morality, established bishoprics and monasteries throughout northern Europe, and contributed in no small way to the growth of a Christian culture. He crowned his witness to Christ by a martyr's death, and was buried in the great monastery of Fulda. Saint Boniface continues to inspire us by his example of missionary zeal, his complete fidelity to the word of God and the integrity of the Catholic faith, his strong sense of communion with the Apostolic See, and his efforts to promote the fruitful encounter of Germanic culture with the Roman-Christian heritage.
I offer a warm welcome to the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean. I also greet the many student groups present today. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially the visitors from England, Denmark, Vietnam and the United States, I cordially invoke God's blessings of joy and peace!
[The Holy Father then said:]
It was with deep sorrow that I learned of the murders of two young British soldiers and a policeman in Northern Ireland. As I assure the families of the victims and the injured of my spiritual closeness, I condemn in the strongest terms these abominable acts of terrorism which, apart from desecrating human life, seriously endanger the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland and risk destroying the great hopes generated by this process in the region and throughout the world. I ask the Lord that no one will again give in to the horrendous temptation of violence and that all will increase their efforts to continue building - through the patient effort of dialogue - a peaceful, just and reconciled society.
© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana
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My favorite writing from +Boniface:
A letter by St Boniface
The careful shepherd watches over Christ’s flock
In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of lifes different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course.
The ancient fathers showed us how we should carry out this duty: Clement, Cornelius and many others in the city of Rome, Cyprian at Carthage, Athanasius at Alexandria. They all lived under emperors who were pagans; they all steered Christs ship or rather his most dear spouse, the Church. This they did by teaching and defending her, by their labours and sufferings, even to the shedding of blood.
I am terrified when I think of all this. Fear and trembling came upon me and the darkness of my sins almost covered me. I would gladly give up the task of guiding the Church which I have accepted if I could find such an action warranted by the example of the fathers or by holy Scripture.
Since this is the case, and since the truth can be assaulted but never defeated or falsified, with our tired mind let us turn to the words of Solomon: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own prudence. Think on him in all your ways, and he will guide your steps. In another place he says: The name of the Lord is an impregnable tower. The just man seeks refuge in it and he will be saved.
Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. Let us wait upon Gods strengthening aid and say to him: O Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations.
Let us trust in him who has placed this burden upon us. What we ourselves cannot bear let us bear with the help of Christ. For he is all-powerful and he tells us: My yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Let us continue the fight on the day of the Lord. The days of anguish and of tribulation have overtaken us; if God so wills, let us die for the holy laws of our fathers, so that we may deserve to obtain an eternal inheritance with them.
Let us be neither dogs that do not bark nor silent onlookers nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead let us be careful shepherds watching over Christs flock. Let us preach the whole of Gods plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season, as Saint Gregory writes in his book of Pastoral Instruction.
There is a line of spiritual pedigree from St. Paul to Augustine to Boniface to Luther, and for that reason this excellent cathecesis on the first missionary martyr to Germany is worth of a
Keep a Good Lent!
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I went to St. Boniface Catholic grade school! Our team was the “Blades” and it was a great little parish school, staffed by Dominican nuns.
Troparion in the Eighth Tone
Thou hast shown thyself, O God-inspired Boniface, as a guide to the orthodox faith, a teacher of true worship and purity, O star of the universe and companion of the bishops, O wise one. Through thy light thou hast enlightened all, O harp of the Spirit. Therefore, intercede with Christ to save our souls.
Given the apostasy sweeping Germany and the spiritual descendants of this missionary martyr the Psalmist's cry "save thy people and bless thine inheritance" should be considered part of that Troparion.
O Lord, who dost bless them that bless Thee and sanctify them that put their trust in Thee: Save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance; preserve the fullness of Thy Church, sanctify them that love the beauty of Thy house; do Thou glorify them by Thy divine power, and forsake us not that hope in Thee. Give peace to Thy world, to Thy churches, to the priests, and to all Thy people. For every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from Thee, the Father of lights, and unto Thee do we send up glory and thanksgiving and worship: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.
Very fitting words given the state of the world today.
When is St. Boniface’s feast day in the Orthodox Church? I looked on the OCA calendar, and all I got was some other Bonifaces who were from the East, not the West.
Most Western European countries have an Orthodox history, and Orthodox patron saints. America and Canada have Orthodox saints as well.
I myself bear a Western Orthodox saint-name. I only found out about him when I was a catechumen, and my priest encouraged me NOT to change my name. I’m glad he did that! It’s a blessing to learn about my patron saint, to ask him to pray for me, and to be called by the name I was baptized with when I receive Holy Communion.
Here is the lowdown on Western Orthodox saint-names, and why most converts to Orthodoxy should not change their names:
it was built in the 700's so it was likely built while St. Boniface was bishop.
Save and defend Your whole Church, purchased with the precious blood of Christ. Strengthen Your faithful people through the Word and the Holy Sacraments, making them perfect in love, and establishing in them the faith once delivered to the saints.
Send the light of Your truth into all the earth. Raise up faithful servants of Christ to advance the Gospel both at home and in distant lands.
The version printed here is from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod 2006 publication Lutheran Service Book. The wording was fairly close in the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship. Not surprisingly, this prayer was one of the many casualties of the 2007 Evangelical Lutheran Worship.--didn't make the cut.
I read the first one of those biographies, written by a relative of St. Boniface, a guy named St. Willibald, in about AD 780. It's available in translation from the original Latin.
I'm surprised the Pope didn't mention St. Boniface's most famous episode, but I guess it's not politically correct in today's green, and neo-pagan world.
At the peak of Boniface's ministry he confronted a large crowd of pagan Germans gathered around a huge ancient tree called Thor's Oak (Donner Eiche in German). Pagan Europeans had an animist religion where they worshiped the spirits of trees, rocks, and things nature in general. Such worship would include at times even human sacrifice.
Anyway, according to his first biographer Wilibald, Boniface took an axe, and started to chop the ancient evil oak down, and after a blow or two "suddenly a great wind, as if by miracle" blew the tree over...
The crowd of pagan Germans believed and were baptized! The wood from the oak was used to build a chapel on the spot.
Currently a Cathedral is there, in the incredibly charming little village of Fritzlar, in central Germany.
I've been there--and a modern statue of Boniface there makes him look like this destructive fanatic, with no sensitivity for others' religions (or trees).... I've also heard the event described this way by a graduate from a liberal seminary.
Also, at Boniface's death, he apparently used his bible as a shield, and the book got stabbed, right before he died. They later actually found that book, and it is preserved in some German library somewhere. Most images of Boniface show him holding up a bible with a sword stuck in it...
Thank you for this lesson! I got “line of spiritual pedigree from St. Paul to Augustine to Boniface to Luther” for the first time. I’m seeing more clearly than ever the value of the stories of the saints who are cheering us on.
31. And lest men should arrogate to themselves saving faith as their own work and not understand it as a divine gift, the same apostle who says somewhere else that he had "obtained mercy of the Lord to be trustworthy"51 makes here an additional comment: "And this is not of yourselves, rather it is a gift of God--not because of works either, lest any man should boast."52 But then, lest it be supposed that the faithful are lacking in good works, he added further, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God hath prepared beforehand for us to walk in them."
We are then truly free when God ordereth our lives, that is, formeth and createth us not as men--this he hath already done--but also as good men, which he is now doing by his grace, that we may indeed be new creatures in Christ Jesus.54 Accordingly, the prayer: "Create in me a clean heart, O God."55 This does not mean, as far as the natural human heart is concerned, that God hath not already created this.
Not very different from Luther's explanation of the Third Article of the Creed.