St. Boniface (Bishop and Martyr)

The missionary bishop and martyr St. Boniface (672?-754) has been called the “Apostle to the Germans.” He was born in England and given the name Wynfrith, which he later changed to Boniface. Until about the age of forty, he was a Benedictine monk, devoted primarily to scholarship; then, in 718, Boniface permanently left England and went to Germany as a missionary.

Christianity had earlier been established among the tribes of Germany, but, largely through the weakness and ignorance of the clergy, it had become riddled with superstition, and was affected by paganism and heresy. Boniface described these conditions on a journey to Rome in 722, and Pope Gregory II thereupon appointed him an archbishop and charged him with reforming and reinvigorating the German church. Boniface worked tirelessly among the Germans, preaching to the pagans and encouraging the Christians, and his efforts met with great success.

He made a point of restoring the obedience of clergy to their bishops, thereby strengthening the larger principle of unity with Rome; he also stressed the universal nature of the Church by seeking financial support from his friends in England and by involving foreign missionaries in his work.

Additionally, Boniface aided the Frankish kings in their reform of the Church in France, and did much to promote the unity of the Church in France and Germany with Rome. Though in his seventies, Boniface desired to convert the fierce pagans of Frisia (located in modern-day Holland). He and fifty-three companions went to Frisia for this purpose, but were ambushed and killed by the natives upon their arrival; St. Boniface himself is said to have been stabbed while reading in his tent.

Lessons

1. “Old age” isn’t necessarily a hindrance to doing valuable work for God’s Kingdom. St. Boniface didn’t begin his career as a missionary until age forty, and even in his seventies, he chose not to “retire,” but to undertake a difficult and dangerous missionary journey.

2. The true Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. St. Boniface particularly emphasized the first of these marks of the Church by emphasizing the importance of obedience and unity with Rome.

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