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BONIFACE, APOSTLE OF THE GERMANS.
BONIFACE, or Winfried, as they called him in Anglo-Saxon, born at Crediton in Devonshire, in 680, deserves to be honoured as the father of the German Church, although he was by no means the first who brought the seeds of the Gospel to Germany. Many had already laboured before him; but the efforts which had been made here and there did 218not suffice to secure the endurance of Christianity amongst the many perils to which it was exposed. Christianity needs to be linked with firm ecclesiastical institutions, and this was first done by Boniface, to whose labours so many even to this moment owe their salvation.
It is remarkable in the history of the first training of Boniface, that the germs of religion were early developed in his heart. The custom had been retained in England, from the days of the first pious Irish missionaries, of the clergy visiting the houses of the laity, and giving exhortations to their families on religious subjects.. The boy used attentively to listen on these occasions, and they gladly conversed with him on matters of religion. His father sought to repress his inclination for a religious life, for he had destined him for a distinguished place in the world. But as is so frequently the case, this disposition of mind only gained the more strength, the more his father endeavoured to repress it, and the father was at length moved by a severe sickness to yield to his son’s inclination. Boniface educated himself .in many famous English convents, where he became especially learned in the Holy Scriptures, which were hereafter to serve him as a light on his way amongst the uncivilized nations. His spirit was indeed cramped by many prejudices which hindered him from perceiving the pure doctrine of the Scriptures, and which must necessarily have hindered his subsequent missionary labours—for the purer and freer 219Christianity is, the less darkened by human work, the more easily can it penetrate into the hearts of men, the more easily the Divine power of attraction in it is preserved in all situations.
When Boniface had passed his thirty-fifth year, he felt incited by the example of the earlier missionaries amongst his countrymen, to carry the message of salvation to the heathen. What would have become of our fatherland, if God had not then awakened by his Spirit, especially in England and Ireland, this zeal for missions! As we now look joyfully back on the labours of those heroes of the faith to whom we owe the blessings of Christianity and all our civilization, so one day will the Churches gathered out from the heathen in Southern India, Asia, and Africa, when they shall have received through Christianity the abundance of earthly and heavenly blessings, look thankfully back on the awakening missionary zeal of these our days. Egbert, an English priest, had given the first impulse to this missionary activity. This Egbert had vowed, in a mortal sickness, to consecrate his life, if it should be restored to him, to the service of the Lord amongst foreign nations. He afterwards set forth with other Christians to travel to the German tribes; and although he himself, when on the point of sailing, was detained by many circumstances, this was the first impulse to the great work.
Boniface himself confesses that the natural instinct implanted in his nation combined with the 220religious interest to impel him to missionary labours,—”the love of travelling, and the fear of Christ,”—as he expresses it in a letter. He calls it the fear of Christ, because he regarded it as a debt which he owed to the heathen, as a duty laid upon him by Christ, which he believed himself bound to fulfil. He would have exclaimed with the Apostle Paul, “Woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel.” He had at first assisted the zealous Willibrord in his labours, one of those missionaries who had followed the impulse given by Egbert, and founded the Church in East Friesland and the Netherlands. Willibrord wished to retain him, that he might succeed him as archbishop of Utrecht; but his Divine calling withheld him. He felt constrained to commence a new work amongst the heathen tribes of Germany. That which by day lay on his conscience recurred to him by night in admonitory dreams, and great prospects opened to him for the future, as a female friend from England afterwards reminded him, observing that God had appeared to him in a dream, and promised him a great harvest amongst the heathen.
The estimation in which he held the Holy Scriptures is shown in these words of his to a young compatriot, whom he exhorted to the diligent study of the Bible: “Cast all which hinders thee away, and direct thy whole study to the Holy Scriptures, and seek there that Divine Wisdom which is more precious than gold; for what does it become youth more to seek, what can old age more profitably 221 possess, than the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, which guide our souls without risk of shipwreck through the storm to the shores of the blessed Paradise, to the eternal and heavenly joys of the angels!” To an abbess, who had sent him some Bibles, he wrote in thanking her: “That she had consoled the exile in Germany with Divine light; for he who has to visit the dark recesses of the German tribes, would fall into the jaws of death, if he had not the Word of the Lord as a light to his feet and a lamp unto his path.” He begged his old friend Daniel, bishop of Winchester; to send him a manuscript of the prophets left behind by his deceased teacher and abbot Wimbert, which was written in clear and well-divided letters. “If God puts this into your heart,” he wrote him, “you cannot confer a greater and more living consolation to my old age; for such a manuscript of the prophets as I desire, I cannot procure in this country; and with my already decaying sight, I cannot read small and confused letters.”
We can see in these words of his to an English abbess, what was the ground of his confidence in all his labours and conflicts: “Pray for me, that He who dwelleth on high, and yet looks on the lowly, (Psa. cxiii, 5,) may forgive me my sins, that the Word may be given me with a joyful liberty of speech, that the Gospel of the glory of Christ may have full course amongst the heathen, and be glorified.” In his twenty-second letter to some English nuns: “I beseech you, (as I have confidence 222also towards you that ye constantly do,) pray diligently to the Lord that we may be delivered from unrighteous and cruel men; for all men have not faith. And know that we praise God, although the sufferings of our heart are many. May the Lord our God, who is the refuge of the poor and the hope of the humble, deliver us from our need, and from the temptations of this evil world, that the glorious Gospel of Christ may be glorified, that the grace of God in me may not be in vain! And although I am the last and worst of all the messengers which the Roman Church has sent forth to proclaim the Gospel, yet would I not die unfruitful, without bringing fruit to the Gospel; I would not go home without leaving some sons and daughters behind me, lest, when the Lord comes, I should be found guilty of burying my talent; lest, for the guilt of my sins, instead of the reward of labour, I should receive the punishment of unfruitful labour from Him who has sent me.” Thus (as becomes an humble labourer in the Lord’s vineyard, who can distinguish between the Divinity of the thing and the infirmity of the human organ) did he seek first in his own sinfulness and deficiencies the cause of the hinderance of his labours. In a treatise addressed to the English clergy, he says: “Seek to obtain by your prayers that our God and Lord Jesus Christ, who wills that all men should be saved and should come to the knowledge of the truth, may convert the hearts of these heathen Saxons to the faith, 223that they may be delivered out of the snares of the devil in which they are entangled, and may become children of the mother-Church. Have compassion on them; for even they are wont to say, ‘We are of one flesh and bone’ with the Anglo-Saxons.” To an English abbot: “We beseech thee earnestly, that thou wouldest aid us, who labour amongst the wild and ignorant tribes of Germany, and scatter the seeds of the Gospel, with thy prayers. For neither is he that planteth anything, nor he that watereth, but God who giveth the increase.” In a letter to an English bishop: “I need your prayers, because the sea of Germany is so perilous to navigate, that through your prayer, and under God’s guidance, without defilement or injury to my soul, I may reach the haven of eternal rest; that I may not, whilst I seek to bring the light of evangelical truth to the blind, who know not their darkness and will not look up, be myself covered by the darkness of my own sins; that I may not have run or laboured in vain; that I, supported by your intercession, may attain, unstained and enlightened, to the light of eternity.” And: “Pray the beloved Champion of our life, the only refuge of the distressed, the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, that he may preserve us uninjured by his guardian hand, that our gracious Father may place burning torches in our hands, and that He may enlighten the hearts of the heathen to see the Gospel of the glory of Christ.”224
Boniface availed himself of the help of the secular power, to guard his churches and cloisters from the devastations of the barbarous heathen, to secure the life of the monks and nuns whom he had invited from his fatherland to educate the heathen, and civilize the converts, and to procure the necessary means of sustenance; and when Christianity had gained an entrance, to destroy the old traditional objects of heathen idolatry, which were continually recalling the rude tribes to their old worship, and perpetually restored to their old uses. One remarkable incident will show how Boniface was able to work on uncivilized men by means of outward impressions. When he was preaching the Gospel in Hesse, an ancient oak, of gigantic size, consecrated to Thor the Thunderer, the sight of which filled the people with great reverence, powerfully counteracted the influence of his sermons. The people could not get freed from their faith in the Divine power of this oak, and were, therefore, even when the sermons of Boniface made a momentary impression, ever ready again to fall into heathenism. So Boniface, by the advice of those Hessian Christians who had resisted the seductions of heathenism, went with a few attendants to the oak. He himself cut down the tree with an axe, whilst the heathen crowd furiously surrounded him. When, however, they saw the oak fall asunder in four pieces, without their god being able to take vengeance on Boniface, their delusion at once fell with it. In order to perpetuate the impression of this 225circumstance, Boniface immediately caused a chapel to be built of the wood.
The chief effort of Boniface was to produce an impression on the hearts of the young by religious education, and the communication of Christian culture. His zealous attention to the educational institutions attached to the convents, as well as many other things, contradict the accusation of his having endeavoured to compel the outward conversion of the people by means of the secular power, of whose co-operation he availed himself in the instances adduced above.
His fatherly care for the education and training of the new converts, is beautifully expressed in a letter, in which he entreated the Frankish court-chaplain, Fulrad, to endeavour, that after his death a zealous and able man should be placed at the head of his work, which, after twenty years of activity, he was on the point of leaving: “I beseech his majesty the king,” (Pepin,) he writes, “in the name of Christ the Son of God, that he would deign to show me in my lifetime what reward he will hereafter bestow on my scholars: for they are almost entirely strangers—some are priests, appointed in various places to the service of the Church and the congregations; some monks, who have been appointed in our cells to teach children to read; some old men, who have laboured with me long and sustained me. I am anxious on account of all these, lest after my death they should be scattered as sheep that have no shepherd, and lest the people 226who dwell on the borders of the heathen should lose their Christianity again. My clergymen on the frontiers of the heathen lead a wretched life. Bread to eat they can obtain, but clothes they cannot, if they do not get advice and assistance from other quarters, as they have from me, that they might be enabled to remain in such places in the service of the people.”
His friend Daniel, bishop of Winchester, when first he entered on his sphere of action, gave him instructions which contain much that is useful: “Before all, he should show the heathen that he was accurately acquainted with their religion; he should, by means of questions, let them find out for themselves what was unreasonable and contradictory in their doctrines, in such a manner as not to ridicule or irritate them, but with all gentleness and moderation, here and there instituting a comparison between their own and the Christian doctrines, yet letting these only appear by the way, so that the heathen should not be so much embittered against him, as disgusted with their own false opinions.”
The following is a specimen of his mode of preaching: “See, my beloved, what a message we bring you,—not a message from one from whose service you may purchase exemption;1919 According to the custom of the German tribes, of purchasing exemption from punishment; of repaying wrongs by a fine in money, which was the origin of the pernicious system of indulgences. but a message from Him to whom you are indebted for His blood 226shed for you. We exhort you, live in lawful wedlock; let no one further defile himself with a prohibited union; let no one who has so erred approach the body of so great a Lord, before he has truly repented, that it may not injure instead of benefitting him. My beloved, we are ourselves unclean men, and yet we would not suffer our limbs to be touched by anything unclean; and can we believe that the only-begotten Son of God will suffer us to approach Him with sin in our hearts? See, brethren, our King, who has deigned to send us this embassy, Himself comes to us. Let us then prepare Him a pure dwelling, that He himself may dwell in our body. We entreat you, dearest sons, that ye who are wont to fear the laws of the world, would also willingly submit to the laws of our God. It is He who speaks to you by our lips—whose Easter festival ye have lately kept—who did not withhold His only-begotten Son from the hands of His persecutors, in order to admit us into the inheritance of His children. If you have learned what wonderful grace He has shown towards us by His sufferings, obey then the more zealously His commands, lest by our disobedience to His commands we should be guilty of ingratitude for His kindness.”
He then controverts the objection which is often made amongst heathen nations to the preaching of the Gospel: “How could God, if Christianity were the only saving religion, have left men for thousands of years without it?” Undoubtedly, the missionaries, 228fettered as they were by arbitrary opinions, may have contributed to arouse such objections, by asserting more than the Holy Scriptures justified them in saying,—by applying to all unbelievers, even to such as could not have believed, because they had not heard, (Rom. x, 14,) what the Scriptures only apply to those who obstinately reject the Gospel preached to them. The example of Cornelius, and what the apostle Peter says in connexion with it, justifies us in deducing thence the general law, that those who, even without knowing anything of Christ, follow the guidance of that God, in whom we live, and move, and have our being, will, like Cornelius, if not here below, yet in another existence, be led to the knowledge of Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Without further occupying himself with answering this objection, Boniface addresses himself to that careless tendency to seek excuses for unbelief and sin, from which, in many instances, these doubts arose, and recurs to the personal necessities of each. “There are some amongst you,” he says, “and O that they may be but few! who complain of our neglect, in having so delayed to preach to you the way of salvation. Their sorrow would be more just, if they were, at least, now willing to accept the means of salvation; for how can he who, however late, refuses to suffer himself to be healed, complain of the dilatoriness of the physician? Indeed, the longer the sickness has lasted, the greater should be the submissiveness of the patient. For 229who can bear the pride of the sick man, who complains of his sickness, and yet will not take the remedies for it? How many, my beloved sons, do we find, who, whilst they continue in sin, yet murmur at Christ’s having come so late—at His having suffered so many thousands to perish before His incarnation! If we yield to the complaints of such people, we must also remain sick after the gift of such a physician. Wherefore, O man, dost thou murmur at the Sun of Righteousness, for having arisen so late, when, even after its rising, thou still walkest in darkness? Shall we, because clouds have long covered the heavens, on that account refuse to rejoice at the return of fine weather?”
He frequently begged his friends in England to send him expositions of certain passages in the Bible, which he wished to use in his sermons—for instance, a manual of Bede’s expositions of the texts for Sundays and holidays, which was useful for preachers. In order to impress a due reverence for the Holy Scriptures on ignorant men, he caused a copy of a portion of the Bible, which he intended to employ in his sermons, to be written in England with golden letters. For this purpose he specially chose the Epistles of the apostle Peter, because, on account of his relations with the pope, he looked on himself as an ambassador of that apostle. “He wished,” he wrote, “to have the words of him who had preceded him on the good way, ever before his eyes.” From these words we perceive how genuine, even though prejudiced, and how far from the 230designs of worldly policy, was his reverence for the popes. His care for the diffusion of religious knowledge amongst the people, may be inferred from his repeated orders that every layman should know the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the baptismal formula of renunciation, in German, before his baptism.
How full Boniface was of the grandeur and responsibility of his calling as archbishop of the German Church, may be gathered from his letter to an English bishop: “The apostle (Paul) calls the priest an overseer, (bishop;) the prophet (Ezekiel) calls him a watchman; the Redeemer, a shepherd of the Church; and all declare that the teacher who is silent about the sins of his people, by his silence incurs the guilt of the blood of souls. Therefore a great and fearful necessity constrains us, according to the apostle’s words, to be examples to the flock,—that is, the teacher ought to live so piously, as not to paralyze his words by inconsistent deeds, and so as not, even whilst living prudently himself, by his silence, to incur condemnation for the sins of others. ‘Thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me, saith the Lord.’ Ezek. iii, 17.” He proves from this that the priest should say that which he has learned from the study of the Divine Word,—what God has committed to him, not what human wit has devised. From me—my words, not thine, shalt thou proclaim; thou hast no cause to exalt thyself on this account. “If I say to the wicked, 231 Thou shalt surely die, and thou, givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his evil way, to save his life, the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thy hand.” Ezek. iii, 18. Let us not, then, have so stony a heart, that these words of the Lord fail to strike us with dread. All that God would have observed He has so clearly revealed, and confirmed with the authority of His name, that it were better —shameful as this would be—to confess that we despise it, than lyingly say we have not understood what He has so plainly revealed. Have we not heard it, “Thus saith the Lord.” Who, then, unless he disbelieve God himself, can doubt that what God has said will happen? Since, therefore, these things are so, the weary soul flies for refuge to Him who says, through Solomon, “Trust in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not to thine own understanding. Commit thy way unto Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” And in another place, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous fleeth unto it and is safe.” Let us therefore stand firm in righteousness, armed against temptation, and bear what the Lord gives us to bear, saying to Him, “Lord God, thou art our refuge from everlasting to everlasting.” Psa. xc, 1. Let us trust in Him who hath laid the burden on us. What we cannot bear by ourselves, let us bear through Him who is Almighty, who says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Devoted as Boniface was to the popes, he yet 232by no means shrank from telling them the truth, when the welfare of the new Church required it. Relics of the old superstitious Pagan customs and excesses on New-Year’s day had been still retained at Rome; amulets were worn there by women, and recommended by the authorities. Now, as members of the new Churches frequently journeyed to Rome, such people ever after deemed such abuses, which were tolerated under the eyes of the Pope, as thereby authorized, and murmured against Boniface, who strove with so much zeal thoroughly to annihilate all Pagan superstitions and customs. Boniface made earnest remonstrances on this subject to Pope Zacharias: “Carnal men,” he wrote, “ignorant Germans, Bavarians, and Franks, when they see some of the evil things which we forbid practised at Rome, imagine that they are permitted by the priests; they then throw out accusations against us, and take offence, and thus our preaching and teaching are hindered.”
This Christian boldness, united with a wise consideration and tolerance, were also shown by Boniface in his behaviour towards Ethelbald, king of the Mercians. As, amidst his universal activity, he still took a warm share in the affairs of his fatherland, it pained him much to hear of the unchaste life of this prince, and he resolved himself to write to him. He began his letter by acknowledging and commending what was good in the king: “I have heard that you distribute many alms, and I rejoice at this on your account; for he who gives 233alms to the least of his needy brethren, will, in the day of judgment, receive this gracious sentence from the Lord, ‘In that you did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ I have also heard that you strictly prohibit theft, rapine, and perjury; that you show yourself a friend of the widow and the poor, and preserve a steady peace in your dominions; for this also I have praised God; for He who is himself the truth and peace—our Lord Jesus Christ—says: ‘Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God.’” Then he proceeds to the reports of the disorderly life of the prince, and says, “I conjure you by Christ, the Son of God, by his coming again, and His kingdom, that if this is true you amend your life by repentance, and think how unseemly it is that by serving your lusts you should change the image of God created in you into the image of the devil; and that you, who, not for your own deserts, but by the rich grace of God, have been made a ruler over many, should, by sin, make yourself a slave of the evil spirit; for, as the Lord says, He who committeth sin is the servant of sin.’” Then, to the shame of nominal Christians, he brings forward the example of the German Saxons, who were distinguished for their chastity, even before their conversion to Christianity. “Thus the heathen who know not God, and have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, having the law written 234in their hearts.” “It is time,” he says, “that you should have compassion on the multitude of perishing people who, following the example of their sinful prince, are sinking into the abyss of destruction; for as many as we by our good example draw to the life of the heavenly country, or by our bad example mislead to destruction—for so many we shall doubtless receive either reward or punishment from the Eternal Judge.” He then declares to the king, that if the sanctity of marriage is not upheld in a nation, a race of degenerate youth, ever sinking lower and lower, will be the result, as amongst the nations of Spain, who had at length fallen under the power of the Saracens. In order to prepare the king for this letter, he sent him another shorter letter by another messenger, in which he made no allusion to the contents of the first, and which, according to the custom of the times, he accompanied with some appropriate presents for the king,2020 It was customary in that age to unite presents with letters. The gift was simple, according to the character of the age. To the Pope Zacharias, Boniface sent a woollen cloth for wiping the feet (a gift which he frequently bestowed, alluding to the washing one another’s feet as a sign of humility) and some silver; to an English bishop, two flasks of wine; to a Roman ecclesiastical officer, a silver goblet and a linen cloth. two falcons, two shields, and two lances. “Although the gifts are unworthy of your acceptance,” he writes, “yet accept them as tokens of love. And, finally, may we all hearken to these words: ‘Fear God, and keep his commandments;’ and when you 235receive another letter by another messenger, I entreat you carefully to observe what is written therein.”
But this first letter was not to come immediately into the hands of the prince; Boniface sent it to Herefried, a presbyter, to read it aloud to the king. “For we have heard,” he wrote to Herefried, “that you, by the fear of God, are delivered from the fear of man, and that this prince has often deigned in some measure to hearken to your exhortations; and you must know that I have addressed these words of exhortation to the king out of pure love, and because I was born and brought up amongst Englishmen, because I rejoice in the welfare of my people, and the praise bestowed upon it, but mourn over its sins, and the reproach cast upon it.” Thus did Boniface combine all Christian prudence with the holy zeal which bears the sword of the Spirit.
Whilst we acknowledge the work of the Divine Spirit in a man employed by God as an instrument to found His kingdom amongst an important portion of mankind, and must be careful not to deny this work of the Spirit, manifesting itself by its fruits to be such, in consequence of the imperfections of the flesh, nevertheless we must not leave these imperfections unnoticed and unexposed. We must, as in testing ourselves, so also in testing others, be ever on our guard not to confound the things of the flesh with the things of the Spirit.
That which marred the operations of Boniface 236was, that he did not recognise in its full extent the liberty of the children of God, who are dead with Christ to the elements of the world, whose life no longer belongs to this world, but, hidden with Christ in God, belongs to heaven, and therefore cannot be led captive by the elements of this world. He knew, indeed, the basis of Christianity, and possessed it in his inward life; he possessed in this more than he knew how to explain in words, because his knowledge was not yet developed in proportion to the life of his faith. But with this inward Christianity he combined a certain clinging to outward things which are foreign to it. He did indeed build on the only foundation, which is Christ; and therefore his work, as a Divine thing, was sure to endure, and to be unfolded by Divine power in the course of centuries, and to be purified in the fire; but on this foundation he had built not pure gold alone, but also wood, hay, and stubble. And here it ought to be said in excuse for him that he was not himself the originator of this confusion, but that it was already existing before his time. It was fiat by the fire enkindled by the Lord at the Reformation that the wood, hay, and stubble were consumed, so that the foundation shone out in its genuine brilliancy.
What the apostle Paul says to the Galatians is applicable, in a measure, to the whole Church:— “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh? Why therefore do ye turn again to the weak and beggarly elements whereunto 237 ye desire to be in bondage?” But in this development of the Church also we recognise the guiding wisdom of her invisible Ruler, who suffered the law again to become the schoolmaster of uncivilized humanity, in order to lead to the righteousness of faith, to the Gospel of the Spirit, which was again clearly brought to light in the Reformation, in opposition to the old confused mixture of the law and the Gospel. Even under the shell of these ordinances respecting outward things, the kernel of the Gospel was ever preserved, and it only needed to burst this shell in order to manifest itself in its genuine energy. And even this mixture of the law and the Gospel diffused itself in the Church after the things of the Spirit were fettered by outward traditions; the Spirit of the Gospel was ever awaking individual witnesses, who manifested more purely the things of the Spirit, and who felt themselves constrained to resist this bondage under the elements of the world. They were the lights shining in the dark place until the day should break, and the day-star arise on the Church of God. To this number would seem to belong Clement of Ireland, the opposer of Boniface. The British and Irish missionaries were, in freedom of spirit and purity of Christian knowledge, far superior to Boniface. It is a beautiful memorial of the “spirit of Christian freedom, that answer of an abbot of the British Abbey of Bangor to the claim of Augustine, of obedience to the Roman Church: “Know ye, and be assured that we all are subject 238to the Church of God, to the Pope of Rome, and also to every believer in Christ, inasmuch as we are ready to love every one in his degree, and to help every one in word and deed. Of any other obedience which we owe to him whom you call the pope or the father of the fathers, I know nothing. This obedience we are ready eternally to render to him and to every Christian.” Thus also had Clement brought with him from his fatherland a pure Christian wisdom, free from the human traditions of the Roman Church. In questions of faith he would only recognise the authority of the Holy Scriptures; he contested the authority of the ecclesiastical laws, and of those eminent fathers of the Western Church, whose opinions were even then referred to as an arbitrating power. He asserted, in conformity with the teaching of the New Testament, that a bishop might be married without injuring the dignity of his office. And how much might he have effected, had he united the spirit of love and wisdom with this free insight, and built the German Church upon the basis that the Scriptures, explained by themselves, were the only fountain of Christian knowledge! What fruits would Christianity, thus embraced in its purity, have produced!
Yet it may be questioned whether Clement were as well fitted as Boniface to deal with uncivilized men: whether he knew how appropriately to distinguish between the milk and the strong meat; to separate the practically important from the unimportant; 239to exercise due consideration for the powers of comprehension of uncivilized men. If Providence designed to lead uncivilized men through the discipline of the law to the Gospel, we can clearly see that a Boniface, and not a Clement, must have been chosen as the instrument for the formation of the German Church.
Beside this Clement, stands Adalbert the Frank, who must not be compared with Clement as to insight and practical wisdom. He was a predecessor of those mystic sects who opposed a certain inward religion of the heart, to ceremonial services and the traditions of men; but, inasmuch as they followed only their feelings and their imagination, whilst the Holy Scriptures were not at their side to remind them to watch over themselves,—as a warning voice against the angels of darkness who clothe themselves as angels of light in lowly guise, and a guide to the discerning of spirits,—or, inasmuch as they made themselves masters of the Holy Scriptures, instead of following them,—they fell into many perilous self-delusions of enthusiasm, and often opposed, to the errors against which they contended, errors of another kind. A sincere piety is breathed in this prayer of Adalbert’s: “Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Thou who art the Alpha and the Omega, (the beginning and the end of all being,) who sittest enthroned above the cherubim and seraphim; Thou great love, sum of all joy, Father of the holy angels; Thou who halt created heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is; 240on Thee I call, to Thee I cry, to me, an insignificant creature, I entreat Thee to come; for Thou halt graciously promised, ‘Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name, that will I do.’ Thus, it is only Thee I desire; for on Thee my soul doth wait,” He spoke also against the too high estimation of pilgrimages to Rome. But, from the extraordinary names of angels mixed up with this form of prayer, as from much besides, it may be seen that Adalbert was the victim of much enthusiasm, which it would have been most pernicious to have diffused amongst an uncivilized people; especially as the rude multitude paid him an exaggerated reverence, which he perhaps did not desire.
Tightly as the spirit of Boniface was bound, on many sides, by the traditions of the Roman Church, the quickening spirit of Christianity seems sometimes to have raised him above them. For instance: he was sorely perplexed when he heard that, according to the laws of the Church, the so-called spiritual relationship of sponsorship, was a hinderance to the conclusion of a marriage, and could not conceive how, in this one instance, spiritual relationship could be so great a barrier to a temporal union, whereas by baptism all were made sons and daughters of Christ and the Church,— brothers and sisters.2121 In a similar way did Luther, the second apostle of Germany, arrive at the knowledge of the nothingness of these traditions of the canon law. In a letter of the year 1523 (v. De Wette, vol. 1, p. 351,) he says: “And it is to be observed, that it is a very great thing that we all have one baptism, one sacrament, one God, and one Spirit, by virtue whereof we are all spiritual brethren and sisters. Since, then, this spiritual brotherhood does not hinder me from taking a wife, who has the same baptism with myself, why should my having stood for her at the font hinder me, which is far less? The evil spirit has invented this law, to confound God in his free governance.”241
Even the last days of his threescore and ten years, Boniface would not spend in comfortable repose. As he could then happily leave the continuance of his work in Germany to his successor Lall, the constraint of love impelled him to go where the labourers were few, where great conflicts had still to be endured for the Gospel. The thought of labouring for the conversion of the Frieslanders, for whom, since the fifty years’ labours of the zealous Willibrord, nothing had been done, and of whom a great number were still heathens,—this thought had never left him; and now that there was no more for him to do in Germany, it possessed his soul with fresh power.
He took leave of Lall, his successor, saying to him, “I can do no otherwise,—I must go forth, as the impulse of my heart constrains me,—for the time of my departure is at hand. But thou, my beloved son, finish the foundation of the churches in Thuringia, which I have begun; call back the people diligently from errors; complete the erection of the church at Fulda, (the darling institution of Boniface;) and there be the resting-place of my 242body, bowed down as it is with the burden of years.” He desired Lall to provide all things necessary for his journey, and especially to place in his trunk books (be always carried religious books with him, from which he used to read on the way) and a cloth, in which they might wrap his body when they brought it back to Fulda.
He collected the last strength of his old age, increased by the inspiration of faith, and travelled through Friesland in his seventieth year with the energy of youth; he preached, he convinced, and baptized thousands, he destroyed heathen temples, and founded churches. The baptized had been scattered, and he; desired them all to assemble on a certain day, before him, to receive confirmation. Boniface and his companions had, meanwhile, pitched their tents by the river Burde, near the city of Dorkingen, then the boundary between East and. West Friesland. When the morning of the appointed day broke, Boniface watched, with a full heart, the arrival of his new converts. He heard the tramp of a coming crowd; but it was a great host of armed and furious heathen, who had bound themselves by an oath to destroy on that day the foe of their gods. The Christian youths who accompanied Boniface wished to defend him, and a battle was about to begin; but as soon as he heard the tumult, he came forth, attended by his clergy bearing the relics which they had with them, and he said to the youths, “Cease to strive; for the Holy Scriptures teach us plainly, not to recompense 243evil with evil, but with good. Long have I desired this day, and of itself the day of my departure cannot be far off. Be strong in the Lord, and bear with thankful resignation what His grace shall send. Trust in Him, and he will deliver your souls.” And to the priests he said, “My brethren, be of good cheer, and suffer not yourselves to be terrified by those who can indeed kill the body, but cannot touch the soul destined for eternal life. Rejoice in the Lord, and cast the anchor of your hope upon Him, who will soon bestow on you the meed of eternal joy. Endure steadfastly the brief moment of death, that ye may reign everlastingly with Christ.” Thus, on the 5th of June, 755, he died the martyr’s death.
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