Skip to comments.[Catholic Caucus] Saint Boniface, Apostle of Germany, Bishop and Martyr (Gueranger)
Posted on 06/04/2018 9:00:00 PM PDT by CMRosary
THE SON OF MAN, proclaimed King in the highest heavens on his triumphant Ascension Day, leaves to his Bride on earth the task of making his sovereign dominion recognized here below: this is her glory. Pentecost gives the signal for the Church’s work of conquest; now does she awake, aroused by the breath of the Holy Ghost; replenished with this Spirit of Love, she is all eagerness, as he is, to be possessed at once of the whole earth. We have already seen the Franks and the Anglo-Saxons, pledging in her hands their oath of fealty to Christ, to whom is given all power on earth and in heaven. Today, we see how Winfrid realizes the fair name of Boniface, of well-doer, given him by Pope Gregory II. Lo! he presents himself before us, surrounded by the multitudes he has snatched, at one blow, from paganism and barbarism alike. Thanks to the Apostle of Germany, the hour is nigh when the Church may constitute in this world, apart the spiritual dominion of souls, an empire more powerful than any that has ever been or is to be.
The Eternal Father draws to his Son not men only, but nations; thee are on earth no less his inheritance than heaven is for all eternity. Now, the good pleasure that God takes in the Word made Flesh could never be content with merely seeing nations to come, one here, another there, offering an isolated homage of recognition to his Christ as their Lord and Master. No; it was the whole world that was promised as his possession, without distinction of nations, without limits, save the confines of the round orb itself; recognized or not, his power is universal. In the case of many, no doubt, the contempt or the ignorance of this regal claim of the Man-God is to last on throughout ages; for revolt, alas! is always possible and to all. Yet did it behove the Church to profit, as soon as might be, of her influence over baptized nations, so as to gather them together in one public acknowledgement of the Royalty of Christ, the source of every kingly power. At the Pontiff’s side, there seemed to be a fitting place for a mailed chieftain of Christendom—such a one, that is, as should be but lieutenant of Christ, who alone is Lord of lords and King of kings. Thus would be realized, in all its plenitude, the magnificent principality announced by the Prophets for the Son of David.
Such an institution was indeed worthy of the name it was to receive of the Holy Empire: in it we have the final result of our glorious Pentecost, as being the consummation of the testimony rendered by the Holy Ghost to Jesus, both as Pontiff and as King. In a few days, Leo III, the illustrious Pope called by the Holy Spirit to crown this, His divine work, will proclaim, to the joy of the whole world, the establishment of this new empire beneath the scepter-sway of the Man-God, in the person of Charlemagne, the representative of the King of kings. This marvellous work was not prepared on a sudden. Vast regions, destined to form the very nucleus of this future empire, for long centuries knew not so much as the very name of the Lord Jesus; or at best, preserved but confused notions of truth, derived from some earlier evangelization that had been stifled in its birth by the turmoil of invasions—a mere mixture of Christian practices and idolatrous superstitions. At length we behold Boniface arise, endued with power from on high, the worthy pecursor to Leo III. Born of those “Angel-faced” Angles, by whom ancient Britain was transformed into the “Island of Saints,” he burns to carry into the heart of Germany, whence his ancestors had sprung, the light which first shone upon them, in the land of their conquest.
Thirty years of monastic life, begun in childhood despite the tears and caresses of a tender father, had braced his soul. Matured by this long period of retreat and silence, filled with divine science and accompanied by the prayers of his cloistered brethren, he could now in all security set forth to follow the attraction of a divine call. But first and foremost, Rome beholds him at the feet of the Sovereign Pontiff, submitting his plans and prospects to him who is the only source of all “mission” in the Church. Gregory II, in every way worthy of the great Popes that have borne that name, was at that time watching with apostolic vigilance over the Christian world. Amidst the rocks and shoals of Lombard astuteness and of the heretical infatuation of Leo the Isaurian, his firm and prudent hand was safely guiding the bark of Peter, towards the glorious sovereignty that awaited the Church, in the coming eighth Century. In the humble monk prostrate at his feet, the immortal Pontiff could not but recognize a potent auxiliary sent to him by heaven; and so, armed with the Apostolic benediction, Winfrid, now become Boniface feels the powerful attraction of the Holy Spirit, drawing him irresistibly to conquests, of which ancient Rome had never dreamed.
Beyond the Rhine, farther than Roman legions ever penetrated, the Bride of the Man-God now advances into this barbarous land, along pathways tracked for her by Boniface; overturning in her victorious march, the last idols of the false gods, civilizing and sanctifying those savage hordes, the scourge of the old world. This Anglo-Saxon, a true son of Saint Benedict, gives to his work a stability that will defy the lapse of ages. Everywhere, monasteries arise, rooting themselves to the very soil, for God’s sake; and by force of example and beneficence, fixing around them its various nomad tribes. From the river banks, from the forest depths, instead of cries of war and of vengeance, is wafted the accent of prayer and of praise to the Most High. Sturm, the beloved disciple of Saint Boniface, presides over these pacific colonizations, far superior to those of pagan Rome, planted though they were by her noblest veterans and manned by the best forces of her Empire.
Lo! another sight: here, where violence has hitherto reigned supreme, in these savage wilds, a novel kind of army is organized, formed of the gentle Brides of Christ. The Spirit of Pentecost, like a mighty wind, has blown over the land of the Angles; and even as in the Cenacle, holy women had a share in its influence, consecrated Virgins, obedient to the heavenly impulse, have quitted the land of their birth, yea even the monastery that has sheltered them from childhood. Having for a while administered only, at a distance, to Winfrid’s needs and copied out for him the sacred books in letters of gold: they have at length come to join the apostle. Fearlessly have they crossed the sea and, guided by their divine Spouse, have come to share the labors undertaken here for his glory. Lioba is at their head; Lioba whose gentle majesty, whose heavenly aspect uplifts the thought from things terrene; Lioba, who by her knowledge of the scriptures, of the Fathers, and of the sacred Canons, is equal to any of the most celebrated Doctors. But the Holy Ghost has still more richly gifted the soul of Lioba with humility and Christian heroism. Behold the chosen Mother of the German nation! Germany’s scornful daughters, athirst for blood, who on their wedding day disdained all other gift save a steed, a buckler, and a lance, are to learn from her the true qualities of the valiant woman. No more shall they be seen intoxicated with slaughter, leading back to the field of battle the vanquished husbands; but the virtues of the wife and of the mother shall replace in them the fury of the camp; family life is to be founded on the Germanic soil and therewith, the “Fatherland.”
This was the thought of Boniface, when he called to his aid Lioba, Walburga, and their companions. Worn out with toil but still more with the incessant wear and fret of petty jealousies (never spared to men of God, on the part of such as would cover their paltry complaints under the cloak of false zeal), our athlete of Christ was not ashamed to come to Lioba, his well-beloved daughter, humbly seeking from her that enlightened counsel and comfort, never denied. Estimating at its true worth the share she had borne in his work, he was desirous that she should be laid to rest in the same tomb prepared for him in his Abbey of Fulda.
But not yet was his labor ended, nor the evening of life at hand. The spiritual weal of his numberless converts must be secured, and at their head must be placed such as the Holy Ghost designated for the government of God’s Church. By his means, the hierarchy was constituted and developed; the land was covered with churches; and beneath the crosier-sway of holy bishops chosen by God, these once wandering tribes now began to life a life of glory to the Most Blessed Trinity in a country, but yesterday, pagan, and wherein Satan had hoped to perpetuate his own domination.
Nor was this our saint’s only work in Germany: in certain isolated parts on the confines, the seeds of Arianism and Manicheeism had been silently taking root by means of an intruded clergy, half pagan and half Christian in their rites; and these would inevitably prove a serious scandal to his recent converts that came within reach of their influence. Even as Christ, armed with a whip of cords, drove the buyers and sellers from the temple, so did Boniface, by vigorous measures, rid the land of these sectarian priests, who, with hands polluted by heathenish sacrifices to the vanquished deities of Valhalla, dared to offer also the spotless victim to the Most High.
The powerful action of Boniface, as the precursor of the Holy Empire, was not confined to preparing the German race alone, for its share in so high a destiny. His beneficent influence was now to be exercised, and at a most critical moment upon the France, the eldest daughter of the Church; for she was chosen, in the person of her Princes, to be the first to bear the emblem of Christ’s universal kingship. The descendants of Clovis had preserved naught of his royal inheritance, save the vain title of a power that had now just passed into the hands of a new family, a more vigorous branch of his stock. Charles Martel, the head of this race, measuring his strength with the Moors had crushed their entire army near Poitiers: but in the flush of victory, the hero of the day had well nigh brought the Church of France to the brink of ruin by distributing to his comrades in arms the episcopal sees and abbeys of the land! Unless a situation no less disastrous than would have been the triumph of Abderahman was to be accepted, these usurped crosiers must at once be wrested from the hands of such strange titularies. To effect this, as much gentleness as firmness were needed, together with an ascendency belonging only to virtue, if the hero of Poitiers and his noble race were to be gained over, to respect the rights of holy Church. This victory, more glorious than had been the defeat of the Moors, was won by Boniface, a veritable triumph of disarmed holiness, as profitable to the vanquished as to the Church herself! Of this fierce warrior, he was to make the worthy father of a second dynasty, the glory whereof should far surpass the brilliant hopes of the first race of Frankish kings.
Boniface, now Legate of Pope St. Zachary, as he had formerly been of Gregory III, fixed his episcopal see at Mainz, the better at one and the same time to hold fast to Christ, both Germany, the conquest of his earlier apostolate, and France more recently rescued by his labors. Like another Samuel, he himself, with his own hands, consecrated this new regal dynasty, by conferring the sacred unction on Pepin le Bref, son of Charles Martel. This was in the year 752. Another Charles, as yet a child, who was one day to inherit that throne thus firmly fixed, attracted the notice of the aged Saint, and received his benediction; it was the future Charlemagne. But to the hand of a Sovereign Pontiff would be reserved the anointing of that royal brow; and a diadem more glorious still than that of a king of the Franks, was one day to rest thereon, exhibiting in his person the head of the new Roman Empire, the lieutenant of Christ, the King of kings.
The personal work of Boniface was now accomplished; like the old man Simeon, his eyes had seen the object of all his ambition, of all his life-long toil, the salvation prepared by God for this new Israel. He too had now no desire left save that of departing in peace to his Lord; but could the entering into peace, for such an Apostle, be by other gate than that of martyrdom? He understands this well: his hour has sounded: the old warrior has chosen his last battlefield. Friesland is still pagan: half a century ago, at the opening of his apostolic career, he had avoided this country, in order to escape the bishopric which Saint Willibrord, at that early date, was anxious to force upon him: but now that she has naught, save death, to offer him, he will enter this land. In a letter of sublime humility, prostrate at the feet of Pope Stephen III, he remits to the correction of the Apostolic See, the “awkward mistakes,” as he terms them, and the many faults of his long life; to Lullus his dearest son, he leaves the Church of Mainz; he recommends to the care of the Frankish king the several priests scattered all through Germany, the monks and virgins who from distant homes have followed him hither. Then ordering to be placed amongst the few books which he is taking with him, the winding sheet that is to enwrap his body, he designates the companions chosen by him for the journey, and sets out to win the martyr’s palm.
Let us now read the liturgical record of this grand life.
Thou wast, O great Apostle, the faithful servant of Him who chose thee as the minister of his word and propagator of his kingdom. When the Son of Man quitted earth to receive the delighted homage of the heavenly hosts, in recognition of his kingship over them, he nonetheless remained King of his lower world, which he has left but for a little while. He counted on his Church to guard his principality here below. Small indeed was the number of those who recognized him on the day of his glorious Ascension as their Master and their Lord. But that faith deposited in these first chosen souls was a treasure which they, like skillful bankers, knew how to work, and how to multiply by apostolic commerce. Transmitted from generation to generation, up to the day of the Lord’s return, this precious capital was to go on yielding, to the absent Lord, more and more accumulated interest. Thus was it with thee, O Winfrid, in that age wherein thou didst bring in to the Church that tribute of labors which she requires, though in very different proportion, at the hands of each one of her sons. Beyond these of others, thy works appeared well-done and profitable to the common Mother; in her gratitude forestalling the Spouse himself, she would, even in this world, call thee by that new name whereby thou art known in heaven.
Indeed, when did riches such as thou didst bring, come pouring at once into the hands of the Bride? When did the spouse appear to be so fully and truly Head of the whole world, as in the eighth century, in which the Frankish princes, formed by thee to their noble destinies, constituted the temporal sovereignty of the Church, and gloried in being, at the side of the Vicar of the Man-God, the Lieutenants of Christ the King? To thee, O Boniface, is the Holy Empire indebted, for the very possibility of its existence. But for thee, France would have perished, debased by a simoniacal clergy, even before a Charlemagne had appeared; but for thee, Germany would have remained a prey of pagan barbarians, enemies of all civilization and progress. O thou that didst rescue both Germans and Franks, receive our grateful homage.
At the sight of thy works, and remembering the great popes and princes of colossal build, whose glory is indeed derived from thee—our admiration equals our gratitude. But pardon us dear Saint, if the thought of those grand centuries of yore, so far removed, alas, from anything of these our days, should make us mingle sadness over ourselves, with joy over thee. Viewed in the light of thy holy policy and its results, O glorious precursor of the confederation of Christian nations, how do we not bewail the fatal errors of those princes and statesmen, so renowned in the seventeenth century, and so foolishly admired by a world whose ruin they were hastening. For by isolating Catholic nations from one another, the ties that bound them to the Vicar of Christ became loosened: princes, forgetful of their true position as representatives of the divine King, made friends with heresy in order to assert their independence of Rome, or mutually to lower one another’s power. Therefore Christendom is no more. Upon its ruins, like a woeful mimicry of the Holy Empire, Protestantism has raised its false Evangelical Empire, formed of naught but encroachments, and tracing its recognized origin, to the apostasy of that felon knight, Albert of Brandenburg.
The complicities that rendered such a thing possible have received their chastisement. Be then God’s Justice at last satisfied! O Boniface, cry out with us unto the God of armies, for Mercy. Raise up in the Church servants of Christ, powerful in word and work, as thou wast. Save France from anarchy; and restore to Germany a right appreciation of true greatness, together with the Faith of her ancient days.
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