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Boniface of Mainz, Missionary to the Germans

We remember eighth-century bishop Boniface by reading a biographical devotion about him from The Church of the Middle Ages.

Devotional Reading

The best known and most successful Anglo-Saxon missionary was Winfrid of Nursling, later known as Boniface, who for 30 years consolidated the existing churches and pushed the frontiers of Christianity north to Scandinavia. He was born in Wessex about 680, and from age five was reared in English monasteries. In 716 he went to Frisia to assist Willibrord for a short time. He worked closely with the popes, maintaining a regular and detailed correspondence with Rome. In 722 he was consecrated bishop and in 732 archbishop, having as his sphere of operation that part of Germany east of the Rhine and north of the Danube. Pope Gregory II had outlined Boniface’s mission in a letter dated 719. . . .

Five years later Boniface received a letter from the bishop of Winchester advising him on the proper approach to the pagans, “to show how . . . you may overcome with the least possible resistance this barbarous people.” The bishop warned against arguing with the pagans about their gods, as this would merely antagonize them. Rather, the missionary should frequently remind them of the works of the Christian God, the universality of the faith, and the omnipotence of the Creator. . . .

Like other Anglo-Saxons before him, Boniface was supported by the Carolingian rulers who tended to identify Christian baptism with acknowledgement of Frankish control. For several years Boniface travelled under the safe conduct of Charles Martel. It was this identification of Christianity with a political system which caused the faith to be resisted in some quarters.

Boniface used monks as his missionaries, though he began the practice of using women evangelists as well, and he established more than 60 monastic houses in Germany. The most famous of these was at Fulda, established in 743 as the motherhouse of Germany, where Boniface’s tomb remains to this day. In 747 he established an archepiscopal see at Mainz, which became the center of German Christianity. After 741 he undertook a thorough reform of the Franco-German church by holding a series of five councils in which laymen participated alongside bishops. In 751 he anointed Pepin the Short, father of Charlemagne, as king of the Franks, thus inaugurating the long line of Carolingian kings who would dominate European affairs for two centuries. Already in his mid-70s, he decided to return to Frisia to continue evangelism there. While waiting for some converts to arrive to receive confirmation, he was set upon by some pagans and murdered, thus sealing his lifelong labors with “red martyrdom.”

Devotional reading is from The Church of the Middle Ages, pages 24–26 © 1970 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Prayer

Holy triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I confess that I am unworthy of Your grace and the privilege of worship. Forgive my lukewarmness and my neglect. Help me to love You more and to worship You with a believing and thankful heart. Make me diligent in hearing and in studying Your Word. Bless Christian pastors and teachers everywhere, and open the hearts of all people to the message of Your Word. Make me a willing worker in Your kingdom, and show me how I can participate in Your work. Help me to proclaim Your wonderful love that more and more people may come to repentance and faith and to eternal life. Hear me, Lord, for the sake of Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.

Prayer is from Living for Christ, pages 76–77 © 1952, 1973 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

 

Written by

Anna Johnson

Deaconess Anna Johnson is a marketing manager at Concordia Publishing House. After graduating from the deaconess program at Concordia University Chicago, she continued her studies at the University of Colorado—Denver in education and human development. She has worked as a church youth director and served a variety of other nonprofit organizations, such as the Lutheran Mission Society of Maryland. Anna loves playing video games and drinking a hot cup of tea almost as much as she loves her cat and her husband.

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