« Boniface Boniface, Saint Bonifatius-Verein »

Boniface, Saint

BONIFACE, SAINT: The apostle of the Germans; b. at Crediton (8 m. n.w. of Exeter), Devonshire, between 675 and 683; d. a martyr on the banks of the Borne near Dokkum (13 m. n.e. of Leeuwarden), in Friesland, June 5, 755. He was an Englishman of a distinguished family of Wessex, and was originally named Winfrid or Wynfrith. His studies were begun at the monastery of Adescancastre 227(Exeter?), and continued at Nutshalling or Nursling, near Winchester. Here he won distinction for learning and practical wisdom, and at an early age was made master of the monastic school.

Early Missionary Work.

Disregarding brilliant prospects at home, from 717 Boniface gave himself to missionary work on the Continent. After a brief effort in Friesland—the field of his countryman Willibrord—he went to Rome and received a commission from the pope (Gregory II) as missionary to Central Germany. He began his labor in Thuringia and Hessia, the easternmost of the lands of the Franks, where he found not only heathen but Christians and priests who knew nothing and wanted to know nothing of Roman discipline and order. They were probably converts and disciples of Iro-Scottish and British monks, who had long been laboring among the tribes from the Rhine to the Saale and southward to the Alps (see Celtic Church in Britain and Ireland, II, 2, § 3, III, 2, § 2). For two or three years Boniface's activity was diverted to Friesland, but then he returned to the Franks, and, with the help of two landed proprietors, founded a central settlement for himself and companions at Amöneburg on the Ohm in Hessia. His success was great and led to a summons to Rome from Gregory II. There he was consecrated bishop and swore fidelity to the canons of the Church; he was charged to be on his guard against heretical priests and anti-Roman bishops. About 724 he returned to Germany, provided with letters of recommendation to the major domus, Charles Martel, to the clergy, chieftains, and people. Charles Martel granted him protection, and, after confirming recent converts in Hessia, and felling the sacred oak of Thor near Geismar, Boniface went eastward into Thuringia, and established its first monastery at Ohrdruf. He founded many churches, converted the heathen, expelled the anti-Roman priests, and in ten years had won a new province for the Church and the pope.


Being promoted to the dignity of archbishop, Boniface organized his Church by founding the sees of Würzburg, Buraburg, and Erfurt, and by building monasteries and nunneries, which he filled with monks and nuns from England and endowed and improved with the help of English money. Bavaria next claimed his attention. Anti-Roman influence was strong there and among the neighboring Alemanni, but, with the authorization of Gregory III, in a few years, Boniface placed men in sympathy with Rome in the sees of Regensburg, Passau, Salzburg, and Freising, and substituted the Benedictine rules for those of Columban in the monasteries. On the death of Charles Martel (741), his sons Karlman and Pepin, who had been brought up under monkish influence, succeeded to his power. In 742 Karlman called upon the papal legate to regulate the affairs of the Church for the East Franks. Under the guiding influence of Boniface two synods were held and measures were adopted concerning the monastic and scholastic discipline, the restoration of church estates which had been lost, the introduction of Roman marriage laws, celibacy of the clergy, the expulsion of the old British itinerant priests and bishops, the extirpation of remnants of heathenism, the establishment of the hierarchical order, and the like. There was some opposition from the nobles, certain of the bishops, and the people, who were attached to their old customs, but at court and in the Council the adversaries of the "reformation of the Church" lost all authority.


In 744 Pepin followed the example of his brother. A synod was held at Soissons, and Boniface was given a free hand, notwithstanding resistance from the Frankish clergy. For a long time, however, he was unable to alienate the people from their old priests and bishops, such as Adalbert and Clement. A general Frankish synod in 745 published new agenda for both divisions of the country and promised Boniface the metropolitan see at Cologne. In 747 the Frankish bishops with Boniface at the head signed in due form a bill of submission in which they acknowledged the papal rights, laws, and power, and promised obedience and faithfulness. By this action the bond between the Frankish empire and Rome was sealed; the "Prince of the Apostles" was to be head and master in the countries north of the Alps. Pope Zacharias had every reason to be grateful to his legate. Instead of Cologne, Boniface received Mainz as his see. Here he was near his old mission field in Hessia and Thuringia, and from Mainz he could direct the building of his favorite foundation, the abbey of Fulda. Worldly affairs now occupied him little. After the death of Willibrord he desired strongly to continue the Friesian mission. In 754 he spent some time in Friesland. The next year he again descended the Rhine with a large following and pitched his camp on the little river Borne, expecting the newly baptized would come thither for confirmation. But the camp was attacked by night by a band of heathen and Boniface and his entire company were massacred. He is buried at Fulda. An English synod shortly after his death proclaimed him patron of the English Church by the side of Gregory the Great and Augustine. Plus IX in 1875 ordered to invoke his name because of troubles in Germany and England. Many churches in Germany are dedicated to him. [A number of writings have been attributed to Boniface. Those most commonly regarded as genuine are letters, a collection of ecclesiastical statutes, a Latin poem called Ænigmata de virtutibus, and several shorter poems.]

A. Werner.

Bibliography: S. Bonifacii opera quæ extant omnia, ed. J. A. Giles, 2 vols., London, 1844, contains, besides the genuine and supposed works of Boniface, his life, written within ten years of his death by Willibald, a presbyter of Mainz. The works, Willibald's life, and a life by Othlo, a monk of St. Emmeram's at Regensburg, written at Fulda between 1062 and 1066, are in MPL, lxxxix. Better editions are: Of the letters, Willibald's life, the so-called Passio S. Bonifatii (11th century), and extracts from Othlo and a life by an unknown writer of Utrecht in Monumenta Moguntina, ed. P. Jaffé, Bibliotheca rer. 228Germ., vol. iii, 1866; the biographical matter also issued separately with title, Vitæ S. Bonifatii, Berlin, 1866; cf. also Vitæ S. Bonifatii, ed. W. Levison, Hanover, 1905; of the letters, ed. E. Dümmler, in MGH, Epist., iii (1892), Epistolæ Merovingici et Carolini ævi, i; of the poems, ed. idem, in MGH, Poet. Lat. ævi Car., i (1881), pp. 1–23; of Willibald's life, ed. A. Nürnberger, Breslau, 1895, and, with Othlo's prologue, in MGH, Script., ii (1829). For the letters consult F. Loofs, Zur Chronologie der auf die fränkischen Synoden des heiligen Bonifatius bezüglichen Briefe der bonifazischen Briefsammlung, Leipsic, 1881; G. Pfahler, Die bonifatianische Briefsammlung chronologisch geordnet, Heilbronn, 1882.

For modern accounts in German from the Roman Catholic standpoint, consult: J. C. A. Seiters, Bonifacius, . . . nach seinem Leben und Wirken geschildert, Mainz, 1845; G. Pfahler, St. Bonifacius und seine Zeit, Regensberg, 1880; F. J. von Buss, Winfred Bonifacius, ed. R. von Scherer, Gras, 1880. From the Protestant standpoint: J. P. Müller, Bonifacius. Eene kerkhistorische Studie, 2 vols., Amsterdam, 1869–70; A. Werner, Bonifacius . . . und die Romanisirung von Mitteleuropa, Leipsic, 1875; O. Fischer, Bonifatius der Apostel der Deutschen, ib. 1881; J. H. A. Ebrard, Bonifatius, der Zerstörer des columbanischen Kirchenthums auf dem Festlande, Gütersloh, 1882, cf. his Iroschottische Missionskirche des 6ten–8ten Jahrhunderts, ib. 1873; G. Traub, Bonifatius. Ein Lebensbild, Leipsic, 1884. For life in Eng. consult: G. W. Cox, Life of Boniface, London, 1853; Mrs. Hope, Boniface and the Conversion of Germany, ib. 1872; G. F. Maclear, Apostles of Mediæval Europe, pp. 110–128, London, 1888; I. G. Smith, Boniface, in Fathers for English Readers, ib.1896; J. M. Williamson, Life and Times of St. Boniface, ib. 1904. Consult also: H. Hahn, Bonafaz und Lul, Leipsic, 1883; G. Woelbing, Die mittelalterlichen Lebensbeschreibungan des Bonifatius untersucht, ib. 1883; Moeller, Christian Church, ii, 74–83; Schaff, Christian Church, iv, 92–100; DCB, i, 324–327; DNB, v, 346–350; Neander, Christian Church, iii, 46–96 et passim.

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