Feast Day: June 05
Boniface, known as the apostle of the Germans, was an English Benedictine monk who gave up being elected abbot to devote his life to the conversion of the Germanic tribes. He was born in England of free, landowning Anglo-Saxon peasants and educated in monasteries. As a monk and schoolmaster, he wrote the first Latin grammar to be produced in England, besides some poems and acrostics. At the age of thirty, he was ordained priest.
Boniface was sent to Germany to establish the first diocese there in Fulda. In his knowledge of Scripture, the Lord granted him great gifts of preaching and teaching. He held strong discipline as well to learn the many dialects of language in the region. His orthodoxy and fidelity to the pope of Rome was borne out in Boniface by the conditions he found on this first missionary journey at the request of Pope Gregory II. Paganism was a way of life. What Christianity he did find had either lapsed into paganism or was mixed with error. The clergy were mainly responsible for these latter conditions since they were in many instances uneducated, lax and questionably obedient to their bishops.
These are the conditions that Boniface was to report on his first return visit to Rome. The Holy Father instructed him to reform the German church. The pope sent letters of recommendation to religious and civil leaders. Boniface was finally made a regional bishop and authorized to organize the whole German church. He was eminently successful.
Boniface literally struck a blow for Christianity in his attempt to destroy pagan superstitions in Germany. On a day previously announced, in the presence of a tense crowd, he attacked with an axe Donar’s sacred oak on Mount Gudenburg. The huge tree crashed, splitting into four parts. The people waited for the gods to strike Boniface dead—then realized their gods were powerless, nonexistent. He used planks from the tree to build a chapel. This led to widespread conversions and Boniface moved onto Thuringia, helped by letters of guidance from the pope and from Daniel, bishop of Winchester, about techniques of evangelization.
Eventually, newly converted Christians reverted to the old pagan religion in Germany during an absence of Boniface while he visited the pope in Rome. Upon his return to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation, he and fifty-three companions were massacred and martyred.
There has been a well-deserved revival of interest in Saint Boniface in the 19th-20th centuries, reflected by C. Dawson’s judgement that Boniface had a deeper influence on the history of Europe than any other Englishman. This should be understood, not only in terms of the Christian conversion but also in those of alliance he made between popes and emperors, fundamental to Europe’s future, and in the educational and literary influence of the monasteries he founded. His own character, reflected in his fluent Latin correspondence, was notable for courage, affection, loyalty, foresight, and determination.
Saint Boniface, pray for evangelists!
Farmer, David. “Oxford Dictionary of Saints.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.Foley, Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day-Updated and Expanded.” Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
Trigilio, Rev. John, Ph.D, Th.D, and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti, Ph.D. “Saints for Dummies.” Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2010.