Monday, June 5, 2017

Feast of St. Boniface, Apostle of Germany

File:Saint Boniface by Cornelis Bloemaert.jpg
St. Boniface, by Cornelius Bloemaert, ca. 1630AD.

Today is the Feast of St. Boniface, Bishop, Martyr, and "Apostle of Germany."  St. Boniface was from England, but would become a great missionary to the unconverted east of the Rhine River.  After meeting with Pope Gregory II in 718, St. Boniface was given the papal mandate in 719 to preach the Gospel to the Germans.  He would find a mixture of peoples already familiar with Christianity -- St. Willibrord, Bishop of Utrecht, did much in Freisland, and St. Corbinian, Bishop of Freising, in Bavaria -- but also a number of heathens, especially in the land of the Hessians.  From that year until his martyrdom in 755AD, St. Boniface labored with a great deal of success for the souls of the German peoples.  He was, officially, the Archbishop of Mainz from 745-755AD.  St. Boniface has an entry, actually, at the Catholic Hierarchy page: Catholic Hierarchy: St. Boniface, Archbishop of Mainz

For more information, you might note these sites:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Boniface

Catholic Saints Info: St. Boniface

Butler's Lives of the Saints: St. Boniface

This letter of Pope Gregory II to Charles Martel of the Franks, written in 722AD, and referring to Boniface, is a splendid little read:

"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."

Bonifacius by Doepler, ca. 1905.

 Certainly the tale of St. Boniface and the Oak of Thor sacred to the German Druids bears recounting:
"At another level of symbolism, Saint Boniface (675-754) chopped down an oak tree sacred to pagans at Geismar in Germany. He did this to show them that nothing bad would happen, that Thor has no power. It is said that when he did this, he pointed out a small fir tree growing at its base and said "This humble tree's wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your comfort and your guide."
cf: Fisheaters: Customs of Christmas

Here is the fuller account of St. Boniface and Donar's Oak from the 8th century Willibald's Life of St. Boniface:
"Now at that time many of the Hessians, brought under the Catholic faith and confirmed by the grave of the sevenfold spirit, received the laying on of hands; others indeed, not yet strengthened in soul, refused to accept in their entirely the lessons of the inviolate faith. Moreover some were wont secretly, some openly to sacrifice to trees and springs; some in secret, others openly practiced inspections of victims and divinations, legerdemain and incantations; some turned their attention to auguries and auspices and various sacrificial rites; while others, with sounder minds, abandoned all the profanations of heathenism, and committed none of these things. With the advice and counsel of these last, the saint attempted, in the place called Gaesmere, while the servants of God stood by his side, to fell a certain oak of extraordinary size, which is called, by an old name of the pagans, the Oak of Jupiter. And when in the strength of his steadfast heart he had cut the lower notch, there was present a great multitude of pagans, who in their souls were earnestly cursing the enemy of their gods. But when the fore side of the tree was notched only a little, suddenly the oak's vast bulk, driven by a blast from above, crashed to the ground, shivering its crown of branches as it fell; and, as if by the gracious compensation of the Most High, it was also burst into four parts, and four trunks of huge size, equal in length, were seen, unwrought by the brethren who stood by. At this sight the pagans who before had cursed now, on the contrary, believed, and blessed the Lord, and put away their former reviling. Then moreover the most holy bishop, after taking counsel with the brethren, built from the timber of the tree wooden oratory, and dedicated it in honor of Saint Peter the apostle." [Robinson, George W. (trans.) (1916). The Life of Saint Boniface by WillibaldHarvard University Press. pages 62-64]

St. Boniface, pray for us, and pray for Germany!

Live well!

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