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BONIFACE AD 680-755


The Apostle of Germany


Donna Morley


His name was Winfrid (or Wynfrith) born in Devonshire, England in A.D. 680. At the age of five, after listening to some monks, Winfrid determined he would one day become a Benedictine monk. At the age of seven he began his education at a monastery school near Exeter and at fourteen, graduated to the abbey at a Benedictine Nursling monastery in Winchester. There he studied under a monk named Winbert and eventually, at the age of 30 was ordained.


In 716, at the age of 36, Winfrid decided to becoming a missionary. Leaving England to Friesland, Germany, he aided the mission of St. Willibrord. His mission trip wouldn't last long due because of two basic reasons. First, the political conditions were unsettling. There was tremendous hostility on the part of Radbod, king of the Frisians, then at war with Charles Martel, who became the Frankish ruler upon the death of Radbod). Another reason for returning to England was because of the people's stubborn belief in pagan gods. Winfrid returned to England feeling somewhat defeated.


Pope Gregory II saw much potential in Winfrid. Wanting to encourage him to go back in Germany, Pope Gregory gave him a new name: Boniface. As well, he wrote him a letter in 719 to encourage him on. Yet, Boniface didn't automatically respond. He would need more motivation.


By 722 Boniface received the motivation he needed to go back to Germany. It was brought about by discovering that the Frankish ruler, Radbod had been killed. As well, that Pope Gregory was willing to write a letter on Boniface's behalf to Charles Martel, the new ruler (this letter resulted in Boniface having Frankish protection). The final motivating factor that prompted Boniface to return to Germany was a letter that Pope Gregory wrote on Boniface's behalf to the German people. In that letter Pope Gregory warned the Germans saying: "... if (which God forbid) any man should attempt to hinder his efforts and oppose the work of the ministry entrusted to him and his successors, may he be cursed by the judgment of God and condemned to eternal damnation." Deeply motivated, Boniface and a few companions left England. They visited the towns Thuringia, Hesse, Franconia, and Bavaria.


When Boniface went into the town of Hess, he discovered they had some pagan superstitions. One was that of an old oak tree they paid reverence to. The tree was called the Oak of Thor, (Thor was a Norse deity) and the tree was believed to be sacred to their gods, especially to Thor. Boniface announced that their pagan gods do not exist and that he was going to cut down the tree.


The Hessians were furious. They cursed and threatened Boniface and believed that he would be struck down by the gods. Tradition has it that instead of Boniface being struck down, a great wind suddenly arose, and struck down the tree to the ground and divided into four pieces. When the Hussians saw this they took it as a sign from heaven and consented to give up their idolatry and became Catholics. Boniface used the wood to build a chapel.


Boniface not only had problems in his mission efforts with those who had their pagan beliefs, but he also had big problems with the Irish missionaries. They were brining an evangelical message that was bringing many to Christ, but not to the Catholic church. The Pope condemned these missionaries as heretics. He also feared that Boniface might be influenced by them.. Therefore, on November 30, 722, Pope Gregory made Boniface take an oath. not only in the Pope's presence, but at what is believed to be the tomb of the apostle Peter. Below is the oath that Boniface recited and has been repeated by every Catholic bishop since:


I promise thee, the first of the Apostles, and thy representative Pope Gregory, and his successors, that, with Godís help, I will abide in the unity of the Catholic faith, that I will in no manner agree with anything contrary to the unity of the Catholic church, but will in every way maintain my faith pure and my co-operation constantly for thee, and for the benefit of thy church, on which was bestowed, by God, the power to bind and to loose, and for thy representative aforesaid, and his successors. And whenever I find that the conduct of the presiding officers of churches contradicts the ancient decrees and ordinances of the fathers, I will have no fellowship or connection with them; but, on the contrary, if I can hinder them, I will hinder them; and if not, report them faithfully to the pope [Archibald, Vol. 2, pp. 23-24].


Boniface's oath to the Pope meant that he would not only bring people under the old system of the Roman hierarchy, but that he would be suppress all efforts of Christian missionaries who obviously did not agree with the papacy. Boniface was to hold true to his oath because in 743 he threw two Scotch-Iris clergymen into prison because they they preached against the veneration of apostles and saints; they proclaimed that pilgrimages to Rome were useless; they rejected canonical law as well as the writings of Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory. Boniface's actions backfired when a large protest from the people came as a result of the pastors being put in prison. Wanting to please the people, King Pepin (Charles Martel's son) set them free.

Between the years 745 and 747, Boniface wrote a series of letters to England, the most notable are his letters to Archbishop Cuthbert and to King Aethelbald. In his letter to Cuthbert he talks about "forced labour of monks upon royal buildings and other works" [Tangl, no. 78, p. 171]. He presided at the Council of Cloveshoe, where every priest was ordered to learn and explain to the people in their own tongue the Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the Offices of Mass and Baptism. He sent the proceedings of this council to Boniface by his deacon Cynebert and thus encouraged him to follow his example.In his letter to Aethelbald, it became a bit more personal and confrontive. Although he began his letter to Arthelbald praising him for the good he was doing, he confronted him on his immorality in various monasteries with "nuns and virgins vowed to God", on depriving depriving the churches of certain priviledges and property, and allowing the monks to be treated with violence and extortion. He also accused Aethelbald of allowing powerful laymen to take over the monasteries, allowing the drunkeness of the clergy, and allowing the monks to wear extravagant clothes.


It is said that these two letters from Boniface brought about reform when the Council of Clovesho was formed. Interestingly, along with Cuthbert, King Aethelbald presided over the council. The outcome of the council was that every priest was ordered to learn and explain to the people in their own tongue the Apostles Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the Offices of Mass and Baptism. They were prohibited from singing "in the manner of secular poets." In regard to monks, they were forbidden to mix with laymen, or conduct secular business. The council condemned "ludicrous arts" and drunkenness in monasteries. In a final canon, it protested at secular suspicion and envy of the clergy, and ordered prayers for king and laity.


Boniface wasn't personally involved with the Council of Clovesho. He was busy converting the people to Catholicism, but moreso, arduously working at connecting the people closely to the papacy. No matter how successful his efforts may have been, he needed more help. Boniface came to the realization that it was important to bring nuns into Germany.


As Boniface pleaded for nuns to consider the mission work in Germany, he was pleased to see that in 748 one of the first nuns to cross the English Channel was his niece, Sister Walburga. She was joined by her two brothers, Willibald and Winebald, who also wanted to help out their uncle. Willibald would become the first bishop of Eichstaett and would, along Winebald, start a monastery in Heidenheim. This was a monastery that had one section for monks and one for nuns. Winebald was in charge of the monks and Walburga became in charge of the nuns. Later Walburga would write two separate books, one about Willibald, the other about Winebald.


Boniface desired to settle in Cologne, but he was asked to go to Mentz (also called Mainz) to take the place of the current bishop who had just murdered a Saxon. The killing wasn't in defense, but rather revenge. Apparently the Saxon, in a former war, had killed the bishop's father. Obviously this "minister of peace" had lost all credibility, and for good reason, Boniface had to take his place. Boniface would eventually become the archbishop in Mentz with five bishops under him.

In his few remaining years, Boniface left his archbishopric and returned to Frisia, the first town he did mission work in. One evening while Boniface was reading, and awaiting to serve communion to his converts, he was murdered. A group of hostile men, called "pagans" killed not only Boniface but all 52 Frisia missionaries with the sword. Legend has it that Boniface's bloodstained book (could have possibly been a Bible) became a Catholic relic.


Since the day of his death, Boniface has been referred to as the "Apostle of the Germans." During his time in Germany he had become regionary bishop (722), and an archibishop of Mentz (745). He also created four bishoprics in Bavaria (731), and established monasteries in Reichenau (724), Murbach (728) and Fulda (744) which had become a center for learning, and the place that Boniface was buried.


During Boniface's lifetime he wrote many letters, received many, and delivered at least one from Pope Gregory. For those who may be interested, the letters mentioned in this article are displayed below.



Letter to Boniface from Pope Gregory (May 15, 719)


Gregory, the servant of the servants of God, to Boniface, a holy priest.

Your holy purpose, as it has been explained to us, and your well-tried faith lead us to make use of your services in spreading the Gospel, which by the grace of God has been committed to our care. Knowing that from your childhood you have been a student of Sacred Scripture and that you now wish to use the talent entrusted to you by God in dedicating yourself to missionary work, we rejoice in your faith and desire to have you as our colleague in this enterprise. Wherefore., since you have humbly submitted to us your plans regarding this mission, like a member of the body deferring to the head, and have shown yourself to be a true member of the body by following the directions given by the head, therefore, in the name of the indivisible Trinity and by the authority of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, whose government we administer in this See by the dispensation of God, we now place your humble and devout work upon a secure basis and decree that you go forth to preach the Word of God to those people who are still bound by the shackles of paganism. You are to teach them the service of the kingdom of God by persuading them to accept the truth in the name of Christ, the Lord our God. You will instil into their minds the teaching of the Old and New Testaments, doing this in a spirit of love and moderation, and with arguments suited to their understanding. Finally, we command you that in admitting within the Church those who have some kind of belief in God you will insist upon using the sacramental discipline prescribed in the official ritual formulary of the Holy Apostolic See. Whatever means you find lacking in the [69] furtherance of your work, you are to report to us as opportunity occurs.

Fare you well.

Given on the Ides of May in the third year of our most august Lord, Leo, by God crowned emperor, in the third year of his consulship, in the second indiction.




Pope Gregory's Letter to Charles Martel (December, 722)


To the glorious Lord, our son, Duke Charles.


Having learned, beloved son in Christ, that you are a man of deeply religious feeling, we make known to you that our brother Boniface, who now stands before you, a man of sterling faith and character, has been consecrated bishop by us, and after being instructed in the teachings of the Holy Apostolic See, over which by God's grace we preside, is being sent to preach the faith to the peoples of Germany who dwell on the eastern bank of the Rhine, some of whom are still steeped in the efforts of paganism, while many more are plunged in the darkness of ignorance.

For this reason we commend him without more ado to your kindness and goodwill, begging you to help him in all his needs and to grant him your constant protection against any who may stand in his way. Know for certain that any favour bestowed on him is done for God, who on sending His holy Apostles to convert the Gentiles said that any man who received them received Him.

Instructed by us in the teachings of these Apostles, the bishop aforesaid is now on his way to take up the work assigned to him. (Tangl, 20)




Pope Gregory II Letter to the Christians in Germany (December 1, 722)


Bishop Gregory, servant of the servants of God, to all the very reverend and holy brethren, fellow-bishops, religious priests and deacons, dukes, provosts, counts and all Christian men who fear God.

Knowing that some of the peoples in the parts of Germany that lie on the eastern bank of the Rhine have been led astray by the wiles of the devil and now serve idols under the guise of the Christian religion, and that others have not yet been cleansed by the waters of holy Baptism, but like brute beasts are blind to their Creator, we have taken great care to send the bearer of these letters, our revered brother and fellow-bishop Boniface, into these parts to enlighten them and to preach the word of faith, so that by his preaching he may teach them the way of eternal life, and when he finds those who have been led astray from the path of true faith or been misled by the cunning of the devil he may reprove them, bring them back to the haven of salvation, instruct them in the teachings of this Apostolic See and confirm them in the Catholic faith.

We exhort you, then, for the love of our Lord Jesus Christ and the reverence you bear to his apostles, to support him by all the [72] means at your disposal and to receive him in the name of Jesus, Christ, according to what is written of His disciples: "He who receiveth you, receiveth me." See to it that he has all he requires; give him companions to escort him on his journey, provide him with food and drink and anything else he may need, so that with the blessing of God the work of piety and salvation committed' to him may proceed without hindrance, and that you yourselves may receive the reward of your labours and through the conversion of sinners may find treasure laid up for you in heaven.

If, therefore, any man assists and gives succour to this servant of God sent by the Apostolic See for the enlightenment of the heathen, may he enjoy through the prayers of the princes of the Apostles the fellowship of the saints and martyrs of Jesus Christ.

But if (which God forbid) any man should attempt to hinder his efforts and oppose the work of the ministry entrusted to him and his successors, may he be cursed by the judgment of God and condemned to eternal damnation.

Fare ye well.



Boniface Letter to Archbishop Cuthbert of Canterbury (747)


To his brother and fellow-bishop, Cuthbert [of Canterbury], raised to the dignity of the archiepiscopate, and united to him by the bond of spiritual kinship, Boniface, Legate for Germany and the Catholic and Apostolic Church of Rome, sends greetings of intimate love in Christ.


It is written in the book of Solomon: "Happy is the man who has found a friend with whom he can speak as with himself." [Ecclus xxv.12] We have received by the hand of your son, the deacon Cynebert, together with your generous gifts, a delightful and affectionate letter. You have also sent me by him verbally a welcome discourse concerning our fraternal relations. I hope that as long as life shall last this exchange of spiritual counsel may go on, if God wills, from whom alone " all holy desires, all good counsel, and all just works do proceed". May you and I be bound together in the golden bonds of heavenly love which cannot be broken, you better and more fully because God has endowed you with greater gifts of knowledge and power, I striving to be instructed as your devoted vassal, " faithful in many things ".


The work of our ministry is in one and the same cause: an equal supervision over Churches and people is entrusted to us, whether in teaching or in reproving or in admonition or in protecting all classes of clergy and laity. Wherefore I humbly request that if at [130] any time God shall inspire you or your synods with wholesome counsel you will not hesitate to share it with me. And I likewise, if God will impart to me in my weakness anything useful or profitable to you, will do the same by you. Our responsibility towards Churches and peoples is greater than that of other bishops on account of the pallium entrusted to us and accepted by us, while they have the care of their own dioceses only. And hence, dear friend (not that you, who are so wise, need to hear or read the decisions of us simple folk), we feel that on account of your holy and humble good will towards us you would like to be informed about the decisions we have taken here and so submit them to you for correction and improvement.


We decided in our synod that we will maintain the Catholic faith and unity and our subjection to the Roman Church as long as we live: that we will be loyal subjects of St. Peter and his vicar; that we will hold a synod every year; that our metropolitan bishops shall ask for their palliums from that see; and that in all things we shall obey the orders of St. Peter according to the canons, so that we may be numbered among the flock entrusted to his care. To these declarations we have all agreed and subscribed, and we have forwarded them to the shrine of St. Peter, prince of the Apostles. The Roman clergy and Pontiff have gratefully accepted them. We have decided that every year the canonical decrees, the laws of the Church, the rule of regular life, shall be read and renewed at the synod. We have decreed that the metropolitan, having received his pallium, shall exhort the other bishops and admonish them and make enquiry as to who among them is watchful over the people's welfare and who is negligent. We have forbidden the clergy to hunt, to go about in the woods with dogs and to keep falcons or hawks.


We have ordered every priest annually during Lent to render to his bishop an account of his ministry, the state of the Catholic faith, Baptism and every detail of his administration. We have decreed that every bishop shall make an annual visitation of his diocese confirming and instructing the people, seeking out and forbidding pagan rites, divination, fortune-telling, soothsaying, charms, incantations and all Gentile vileness. We have forbidden [131] the servants of God to wear showy or martial dress or to carry arms.


We have decreed that it shall be the special duty of the metropolitan to enquire into the conduct of the bishops under him and their care for the people. He shall require them, on their return from the synod, each to hold a meeting in his own diocese with his priests and abbots and urge them to carry out the synodal decrees. And every bishop finding himself unable to reform or correct some fault in his own diocese shall lay the case openly in the synod before the archbishop for correction, just as the Roman Church at my ordination bound me by oath that if I found priests or people wandering from the law of God and could not correct them I would always faithfully report the case to the Apostolic See and the vicar of St. Peter for settlement. Thus, if I am not mistaken, should every bishop do to his metropolitan and to the Roman Pontiff if the case cannot be settled among themselves. So shall they be guiltless of the blood of lost souls.


Furthermore, dear brother, our labour is the same but our responsibility greater than that of other priests. The ancient canons prescribe, as everyone knows, that the metropolitan is to have charge of a whole province, and I fear that we have, so to speak, undertaken to steer a ship through the waves of an angry sea and can neither control it nor without sin abandon it, for as a certain wise man says:"[[1]] If it is dangerous to be negligent in steering a ship in the midst of the sea, how much more perilous to abandon it to the storm with the waves running high; and even so, the Church which makes its way through the ocean of this world like a great ship, buffeted in this life by diverse waves of temptation, is yet not to be abandoned but controlled." [1] Julianus Pomerius, De Vita Contemplativa, P.L. 59, Col. 431.


As examples we have the early Fathers, Clement and Cornelius and many others in Rome, Cyprian in Carthage, Athanasius in Alexandria, who under pagan emperors guided the ship of Christ, nay his dearest spouse the Church, teaching, defending, labouring and suffering even to the shedding of blood. Of myself I can surely say, in the words of the Song of Songs: " The sons of my mother have fought against me. They made me keeper of the [132] vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept ". According to Nahum, the prophet, the vineyard is the house of Israel: but at the present time it is the Catholic Church.


By command of the Roman Pontiff and with the sanction of the princes of the Franks and Gauls, I have undertaken to bring together and address a synod in the hope of renewing the law of Christ. In that Church I have dug the ground round about, I have enriched it with manure, but I have not guarded it. While I waited for it to bear grapes it brought forth wild grapes, and according to another prophet: "The labour of the slave shall fail and the fields yield no harvest."[Hab. Iii.17] But, alas, my labour seems like the barking of a dog that sees thieves and robbers break in and plunder his master's house, but, because he has none to help him in his defence, can only whine and complain.


But now, finding myself in this position and asking your wholesome advice as to what seems right and prudent, I suggest that it is time to speak freely. I say like the Apostle Paul in the Acts of the Apostles[Acts xx.2-8]: " I testify unto you this day that I am pure from the blood of all men ", etc. He says: "I have walked among you preaching the kingdom of God that I might keep myself guiltless of the destruction of all." The Apostle calls the priest " bishop ", and the prophet calls him " watchman", the Saviour of the world calls him " shepherd of the Church ". All agree that the teacher and guide who conceals the sins of the people in silence becomes thereby guilty of the blood of lost souls.


For this reason a dread necessity compels us to present ourselves as an example to the faithful according to the word of the Apostle; that is, if I am not mistaken, the teacher is to live so well that his deeds shall not contradict his words, and that while he himself may Eve prudently, he shall not be silently condemned for the sins of others. He is set over the Church to this end that he may set not only an example of right living to others but through his dutiful preaching may bring every man's sins before his eyes and show him what punishment awaits the hard of heart and what reward the obedient. For, according to the word of God to Ezechiel, when a man is entrusted with the preaching of the Gospel, [133] even though he live a holy life, nevertheless if he is afraid or ashamed to rebuke those who live wickedly, he shall perish together with all those who perish by his silence. And what shall it profit him to escape the penalty of his own sins if he is to be punished for those of others. [1] I have omitted here a long passage from Scripture on the responsibilities of bishops. (Ed.).


Finally, I will not conceal from Your Grace that all the servants of God here who are especially versed in Scripture and strong in the fear of God are agreed that it would be well and favourable for the honour and purity of your Church and a sure protection against vice if your synod and your princes would forbid matrons and nuns to make their frequent journeys back and forth to Rome. A great part of them perish and few keep their virtue. There arc many towns in Lombardy and Gaul where there is not a courtesan or a harlot but is of English stock. It is a scandal and a disgrace to your whole Church.


As to the point that any layman, be he emperor or king, official or courtier, relying upon secular force, may wrest a monastery from the power of a bishop, abbot or an abbess and begin to rule there in place of the abbot, have monks under him and hold property bought by the blood of Christ, the ancient Fathers called such a man a robber, sacrilegious, a murderer of the poor, a satanic wolf entering the sheepfold of Christ, to be condemned with the extreme anathema before the judgment seat of God. Remember the words of St. Paul, the Apostle, about such men, when he said to Timothy: " Charge them that are rich in this present world that they be not high-minded nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches, but on God who giveth all things." If such men receive not the correction of the Church they are heathens and publicans and the Church of God refuses all communion to them alive or dead. Against such men let us sound the trumpet of God that we may not be condemned for our silence.


Strive with all your might against foolish superstitions in dress, a thing hateful to God. These ornaments, as they call them, but which others call foulness, with their wide embroidered purple stripes, are sent by Antichrist to herald his coming. Through his [134] craftiness he introduces into monasteries his own servants, fornication and lust, sinful friendships of youths in purple garments, distaste for study and prayer, and the ruin of souls. Such attire shows the wickedness of their souls, giving proof of arrogance and pride, luxury, vanity, of which Wisdom says: " Pride and arrogance and the evil way of the froward mouth I hate."


It is said also that the vice of drunkenness is far too common in your parishes and that some bishops not only do not prohibit it but themselves drink to the point of intoxication, and by offenng large drinks to others force them into drunkenness. There can be no doubt that this is a grave offence in any servant of God, for the canons of the Church Fathers order a drunken bishop or priest to reform or be degraded. And the Truth Itself says: " Take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness."[Luke xx1.34] And St. Paul[Eph v.18] and the prophet Isaiah.3[Is. V.22] This is an evil peculiar to the heathen and to our race, for neither the Franks nor the Gauls, nor the Lombards, nor the Romans, nor the Greeks practise it. Let us, if possible, put a check upon it by synodal action and the commands of Scripture. At all events by avoiding it ourselves and prohibiting it we shall declare our souls free from the blood of the damned.


As to the forced labour of monks upon royal buildings and other works, a thing unheard of anywhere except in England, let not the priests of God keep silence or consent thereto. It is an evil unknown in times gone by.


May God's hand preserve you safe, reverend and beloved brother, against all adversity to make intercession for us. (Tangl, 78)



Boniface's Letter to King Aethelbald of Mercia (746-7)


To my most dear lord Aethelbald, King of the English, beloved in Christ above all other kings, Boniface, the archbishop, Legate in Germany of the Roman Church, with Wera, Burchard, Werberht, Abel, Willibald, Hwita and Leofwine, his fellow-bishops,[[1]] lasting and loving greetings in Christ.


[1] These seven bishops, all Anglo-Saxons, were Boniface's coadjutors. There are good reasons for thinking that Wera was Bishop of Utrecht between 741 and 753. Burchard was Bishop of Wurzburg, Willibald was Bishop of Eichstatft (whose travels are described later in this volume), Abel was Archbishop of Rheims and Hwita is usually supposed to be the Bishop of Buraburg; to the others, Werberht, Leofwine, it is not possible to ascribe sees, but it is unlikely that Leofwine is to be identified with Lebuin, whose biography occurs later in this book.


We confess before God and His holy angels that whenever reliable messengers have brought us news of your prosperity, your faith and good deeds in the sight of God and men, we have been glad and given thanks to God in our prayers. We have also prayed and entreated the Saviour of the world to keep you for many years to come firm in faith, constant in good works and just in your government of a Christian people. But whenever it has come to our ears that you have suffered a setback either in the state of your realm, the outcome of war or, what is more dangerous, in the salvation of your soul, then we have been cast down with grief and sadness, because we share in your joys and suffer with you in your troubles.


We have heard that you are generous in the giving of alms. On this we congratulate you, because they who give alms to the least [121] of their needy brethren will hear on the day of judgment, as the Gospel says, a favourable sentence from the Lord: "As long as ye did it to one of these, my least brethren, ye. did it to me. Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom which has been prepared for you from the beginning of the world."


We have heard, also, that you vigorously suppress robbery and crime, perjury and plundering, and that you are known to be a protector of the widows and the poor: hence peace is established in your kingdom. For this we rejoice and praise God, because Christ, who is our peace and truth, has said: " Blessed are the peaceable, for they shall be called the children of God."


But with these good tidings one grave accusation against your otherwise good conduct, and one which we would prefer to think was false, has reached our hearing and caused us sorrow. We have learned from several sources that you have never taken a lawful wife. Marriage was instituted by the Lord our God from the beginning of the world and has been ordained and reaTumed in his preaching by the Apostle Paul, saying: "Beware of fornication. Let each man have his own wife and let each woman have her own husband." For if you wished to act in this manner for the sake of practising chastity and continence and had refrained from taking a wife out of fear and love of God, and then had truly fulfilled your purpose, we should have been glad, because it is a laudable and not a reprehensible course to take. But if, as many say (which God forbid), you have not taken a lawful wife nor professed chastity for God's sake but have been driven by lust into the sins of fornication and adultery and have lost your good name before God and men, then we are deeply grieved.


And what is much worse, those who told us add that you have committed these sins, to your greater shame, in various monasteries with holy nuns and virgins vowed to God. Let us put the matter this way. If a slave is guilty of a heinous crime against his master, if he commits adultery with his lord's wife, how much greater is the crime of the man who besmirches with his lust the spouse of Christ, Creator of heaven and earth? Saint Paul says: "Do you not know that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost?" And in another place: "Do you not know that you are the temple [122] of God and that the spirit of God dwells in you? If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which you are." And again, he counts fornicators and adulterers, together with idolators, among the number of sinners, saying: "Know ye not that sinners will not inherit the kingdom of God. Be not deceived: neither fornicators nor idolators nor adulterers nor the effeminate, nor thieves nor drunkards nor revilers, nor extortioners shall possess the kingdom of God."


Among the Greeks and Romans a candidate for Holy Orders is closely questioned before his ordination about this sin, implying that anyone found guilty of it has committed a blasphemy against God, and if found guilty of having had intercourse with a nun veiled and consecrated to God he is debarred from entering the ranks of the clergy. For this reason one should carefully consider how grievous a sin this is in the eyes of the Eternal Judge. He who is guilty of it is classed as an idolator, and even though he has been reconciled to God by penance he is banished from the service of the altar. Our bodies, consecrated to God through the offering of our vows and the words of the priest, are said by the Holy Ghost to be the temple of God. Those, then, who violate them are to be regarded, according to the Apostle, as the sons of perdition. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, warned the lustful against the sin of fornication, saying: "The time past suffices,"[Pet iv.3-5] etc. And then: "A harlot's pay is but the price of a meal; the adulteress costs dearer, her price is a man's whole life." [Prov. Vi.26] Small blame to the thief when he steals to fill his hungry belly, and if he be caught, why, he can pay sevenfold or yield up all that he has; the adulterer, in the hunger of his heart, must risk losing life itself. [Prov vi.30-31]


It would be tedious to enumerate how many teachers have denounced the dread poison of this sin and forbidden it with terrible threats. Fornication is more grave and repellent than almost any other sin and may truly be called the snare of death, an abyss of hell and a whirlpool of perdition.


Wherefore, if you are still living in a state of sin, we beseech and entreat Your Grace through Christ, the Son of God, and through His coming, to amend your life by penance and cleanse [123] it by purification. Bear in mind how vile a thing it is to change the image of God which has been created in you into the likeness of the devil through lust. Remember that you have been set as a king and ruler over many, not for your own deserts but through the overwhelming goodness of God, and that now by your lust you are making yourself the slave of the devil. The Apostle says: "Whatsoever sin a man commits, of that he becomes a slave." Not only by Christians, but even by pagans is this sin reckoned a shame and a disgrace. For even pagans, who know not the true God, observe in this matter, as if by instinct, the essence of the law and the ordinance of God, inasmuch as they respect the bonds of matrimony and punish fornicators and adulterers. In Old Saxony, if a virgin defiles her father's house by adultery or if a married woman breaks the marriage tie and commits adultery, they sometimes compel her to hang herself by her own hand, and then over the pyre on which she has been burned and cremated they hang the seducer. Sometimes a band of women get together and flog her through the villages, beating her with rods, and, stripping her to the waist, they cut and pierce her whole body with knives and send her from house to house bloody and torn. Always new scourgers, zealous for the purity of marriage, are found to join in until they leave her dead, or half dead, that others may fear adultery and wantonness. The Wends, who are a most degraded and depraved race, have such a high regard for the bonds of matrimony that when the husband is dead the wife refuses to live. A wife is considered deserving of praise if she dies by her own hand and is burned with her husband on the same funeral pyre.


If, then, the heathen who, as the Apostle says, know not God and have not the law carry out by instinct the injunctions of the law and show the works of the law written on their hearts, it is time now that you who are called a Christian and a worshipper of the true God should, if you have been defiled with lust in your youth, wallowed in the mire of adultery or drowned in the sea of lust as in the abyss of hell, call to mind your Lord, should escape from the snares of the devil and cleanse your soul from its foul iniquities. Now is the time for you to fear your Creator and to desist from defiling yourself by committing such crimes. Now is [124] the time to spare the many people who, through following the example of a vicious prince, perish and fall into the pit of death. For it is certain that we shall be rewarded or punished by the eternal judge according to the number of people we have led to heaven by our good example or swept into hell by our evil courses.


If the English race, as people in the provinces say and as the French, Italians and even the heathens insultingly proclaim, are despising lawful marriage and living in open adultery like the people of Sodom, then we must expect that from such intercourse with harlots, a people degenerate, degraded and mad with lust will be begotten. In the end the whole race, turning to base and ignoble ways, will cease to be strong in war, steadfast in faith, honoured by men or pleasing in the sight of God. So has it befallen other peoples of Spain, Provence and Burgundy. They turned away from God and yielded to lust until Almighty God allowed the penalties of such crimes to destroy them, first by letting them lose the knowledge of God and then by loosing the attacks of the Saracens upon them.


It should be noted that in this crime another and much greater crime is involved, because when these harlots, whether nuns or not, bring forth their children conceived in sin they generally kill them and so, instead of enlarging the Church by bringing in adoptive sons of Christ, they fill graves with corpses and hell with unhappy souls.


We have also been informed that you have violated the privileges of churches and monasteries and filched away their revenues. If this is true, it must be regarded as a grievous sin on the testimony of the Holy Ghost, which says: "Shall he who robs father or mother make light of it? He is next door to a murderer."It cannot be doubted that God, who created us, is our Father and the Church who regenerated us spiritually is our Mother. Therefore he who robs or plunders the money of Christ and the Church will be regarded as a murderer in the sight of the just Judge. Of him a certain wise man said: " He who steals from his neighbour is a robber; he who robs the Church of her possessions is guilty of sacrilege."


It is said that your governors and earls use greater violence and [125] oppression towards monks and priests than any other Christian kings have ever done before. Ever since St. Gregory sent missionaries to convert the English people to the Catholic faith the privileges of the Church remained inviolate and sacrosanct until the days of Ceolred, King of Mercia and Osred, King of Deira and Bernicia. At the evil suggestion of the devil these two kings showed, by their accursed example, how these two deadly sins could be committed publicly against the commands of the Gospel and the teachings of our Saviour. They persisted in their crimes, namely, in the violation and seduction of nuns and the destruction of monasteries, until they were condemned by the just judgment of God and cast down from their royal state, overtaken by sudden and terrible death, deprived of eternal light and plunged into the depths of hell. For while Ceolred, Your Highness's predecessor, as those who were present testify, sat feasting amidst his nobles, an evil spirit which had seduced him into defying the law of God suddenly struck him with madness, so that still in his sins, without repentance or confession, raving mad, gibbering with demons and cursing the priests of God, he departed from this life and went certainly to the torments of hell. Osred, also, maddened and spurred on by his lust, outraged consecrated virgins in their convents until a shameful and ignominious death deprived him of his glorious kingdom, his young wife and his impure soul.


Wherefore, beloved son, beware of the pit into winch you have seen others fall before you. Beware the darts of the old foe with which you have seen your relatives fail wounded. Be on your guard against him who lays the snares that have entrapped your friends and companions, and by which you have seen them lose this life and the life to come. Follow not the example of such to your ruin. Such are they who, according to Holy Writ, have oppressed the good and taken away their works. On the day of judgment they will say: "Far, it seems, did our thoughts wander from the true path; never did any ray of justice enlighten them, never the true sun shone."


The riches of this world are of no avail on the day of judgment if a man comes to the end of his life stiff making evil use of them, for after the death of the body he shall fail into eternal punishment [126] of the soul. Take these warnings to heart, my dear son; I pray you yield to the prudent Words of God's law and reform your life. Turn away from your vices, make an effort to acquire holy virtues. So shall you prosper in this world and receive eternal reward in the world to come.


May Almighty God so turn your life to better things that you may be worthy of the grace of our Lord Himself for evermore [Tangl, 73].


Bibliography:


The best edition of the correspondence is that of M. Tangl, Die Briefe des heiligen Bonifatius (1919). Several translations have appeared: The English Correspondence of Saint Boniface, by Edward Kylie (London, 1911); Letters of Saint Boniface to the Popes and Others, by George Washington Robinson, in Papers of the American Society of Church History (1923), second series, vii, pp. 157-86; The Letters of Saint Boniface, by Ephraim emerton (New York, 1940), in the series, Records of Civilization, Vol 31. Boniface's letters can be found in the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history. Faith & Reason Forum has changed the electronic form of these documents. Permission to copy and distribute Boniface's letters is granted for educational purposes and personal use.


For another perspective on Saint Boniface's importance in Western history, read Pope Pius XII's Ecclesiae Fastos (Encyclical on Saint Boniface promulgated on June 5, 1954 (Walsh, White).


C. H. Talbot, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany, Being the Lives of SS. Willibrord, Boniface, Leoba and Lebuin together with the Hodoepericon of St. Willibald and a selection from the correspondence of St. Boniface, (London and New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954).

Bower, Archibald. The History of the Popes, 3 vols., 1748-1766. English translation by L. Johnson, Philadelphia, 1844-47.


Encyclopaedia Britannica (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1956), Volume 3.



Copyright © 2003 by Donna Morley