Acta Sanctorum: St. Boniface (June 5)
June 05, 2024
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.


June 5

St. Boniface

Life (672?-754)

Although Christianity had already reached into Germany before him, St. Boniface deserves to be called its apostle because it was he who organized the German church. “Germany,” in his time, included the domains of the Frankish monarchs, the present Belgium and Holland among them. Boniface himself was an Englishman. He was born in Wessex and baptized Winfrid. Taught by the English Benedictines, he was captivated by their scholarship, devotion to the pope, and missionary spirit. He therefore joined a monastery at Nursling, near Winchester, was ordained a priest, and named director of the monastery school. Brilliant though he was as a teacher, Winfrid yearned for the mission. In 716, he tried his wings as a missionary to Frisia in the present Holland. Since conditions were adverse there, he returned to Nursling and was elected abbot. But his heart was still in the mission field, so he soon resigned his office, and going to Rome in 718-719, he asked Pope St. Gregory II to commission him formally to preach to the German peoples. The pope gladly complied, giving him a new Latin name, Boniface.

Boniface first went to Thuringia, in north central Germany, and sought to persuade the leaders to promote and reform the Church. Then he went back to Frisia for two years to work with St. Willibrord, the English missionary at Utrecht, and to study his methods. In 721, he entered Hesse, a deeply pagan district north of Frankfort. His gentle approach to the Hessians won many converts, and he established a monastery among them as a symbol of Christian presence. Then he returned to Rome to report on the religious situation in Germany. This time, Pope Gregory consecrated Boniface a bishop (722), with authority to organize the German church. Armed also with the all-important safe-conduct of the Frankish ruler, Charles Martel, he returned to Hesse. There on the advice of the Hessian Christians, he personally chopped down the oak of Geismar. This dramatic destruction, with impunity, of their sacred tree, moved many pagans to embrace the Catholic faith. The bishop then went on to Thuringia.

Admiring the zeal and loyalty of Boniface, the Holy See raised his rank to archbishop in 732 and named him papal legate in 738, with the duty of setting up dioceses throughout Germany and convoking councils for the enactment of norms and reforms. In 747, the pope assigned him a see, the diocese of Mainz, and designated him primate of Germany. Boniface had founded a monastery at Fulda in 744. One of the secrets of his success in Germany was the setting up of many abbeys. Not only were they bulwarks of the Faith; they also housed many Englishmen and Englishwomen whom he invited to people them. This English personnel served to further the missionary work. One fact that favored the whole German enterprise was that the Anglo-Saxon language, then spoken by Englishmen, was not all that different from the Germanic tongues spoken in Frisia and in “upper” Germany.

Even after he had been assigned a fixed see and the German primacy, Boniface, though now on in years, was still a missionary at heart. In 752, indeed, he resigned the diocese of Mainz and set out on one last missionary journey to Frisia. At first his efforts met with success, and he scheduled a ceremony of confirmation for new converts at Dokkum in northern Holland. However, while he and his party were there preparing for the rite, they were beset on June 5, 754, by a crowd of pagan Frieslanders. Archbishop Boniface refused to allow his attendants to defend him. He urged them to trust in God and welcome the grace to die for the faith. When the pagans attacked, they massacred him and his 53 companions. The body of this revered leader was brought back in stages to the monastery of Fulda. His tomb there has ever since been regarded as the center and heart of German Catholicism.  --Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture (Acts 26:19-23)

Paul said: “King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. On the contrary, first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem and throughout the whole country of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached the need to repent and turn to God, and to do works giving evidence of repentance. That is why the Jews seized me when I was in the temple and tried to kill me. But I have enjoyed God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here testifying to small and great alike, saying nothing different from what the prophets and Moses foretold, that the Messiah must suffer and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

(Year B) To Bishop Daniel, beloved in the Lord, Boniface, a servant of the servants of God, affectionate greetings in Christ.

It is the usual custom for men who are in trouble and anxiety to seek the consolation and advice of those on whose wisdom and affection they can rely. And so it is with me. Relying on your friendship and your experience, I come to lay before you all my difficulties and vexations of mind and beg you to support me with your comfort and advice. To quote the Apostle, all is conflict without and anxiety within; but in my case there are also conflicts within and anxiety without. This is caused in particular by false priests and hypocrites who set God at defiance, thereby rushing to their own damnation and leading the faithful astray by their scandals and errors. They say, in the words of the prophet, Peace, peace, but there is no peace. They strive to sow cockle among the wheat, to choke with weeds or pervert into a poisonous 1 weed the Word of God, which we received from the Catholic and Apostolic Church and which, to the best of our ability, we endeavour to disseminate. But what we plant they make no attempt to water in order that it may grow; in order, rather, that [117] it may wither away they use every effort to root it out by proposing to the faithful new sects and new falsehoods.

Some of them refrain from eating food which God created for our sustenance; others live on milk and honey whilst rejecting bread and other food; some, and these do most harm to the people, say that murderers and adulterers can be accepted for the priesthood even if they persist in their crimes. The people, as the Apostle says, grow tired of sound doctrine and provide themselves with a succession of new teachers as the whim takes them.

In our visits to the Frankish court to obtain assistance and protection, it is not possible, as required by canon law, wholly to avoid the company of such men. We are careful, however, not to communicate with them in the sacred body and blood of the Lord during the celebration of Mass. We also avoid taking their advice or asking their consent, for to such men, mixing with heathens and the common people, our toils and struggles are quite incomprehensible. When a priest, a deacon, a cleric or a monk, or any of the faithful, leaves the bosom of the Church, then he joins the heathens in abusing the members of the Church, and this raises terrible obstacles to the spread of the Gospel.

All I can do is to avoid condoning their conduct. I am afraid of contracting sin by associating with them, for I remember that at the time of my consecration I took an oath over the body of St. Peter at Pope Gregory's command, promising that if I was unsuccessful in bringing them back to the right path I would avoid their company. On the other hand, if, in avoiding them, I fail to approach the Frankish prince, I fear that my missionary work amongst the people win greatly suffer.

Pray, resolve my doubts and hesitations by your advice, judgment and precept. For my own part, I feel that if I dissociate myself from them, especially in cases where their manner of life is not in conformity with the canons of the Church, and if I refrain from seeking their advice, from agreeing with their views and from taking part with them in the services of the Church, I shall have done enough.

Farewell, my lord, and pray for me in Christ. (Letter to to Bishop Daniel)

Musical Selection


How beauteous are their feet,
who stand on Sion's hill,
who bring salvation on their tongues
and words of peace reveal!

How happy are our ears
that hear this happy sound,
which kings and prophets waited for,
and sought, but never found!

How blessèd are our eyes
that see this heavenly light,
prophets and kings desired it long,
but died without the sight!

The Lord makes bare his arm
through all the earth abroad:
Let every nation now behold
their Saviour and their God.


God our redeemer, 
who called your servant Boniface 
to preach the gospel among the German people 
and to build up your Church in holiness;
grant that we may preserve in our hearts
that faith which he taught with his words 
and sealed with his blood,
and profess it in lives dedicated to your Son 
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reins with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
God, now and for ever. Amen. (English Missal)