Boniface was an Anglo-Saxon missionary to pagan Europe in the seventh- and eighth-centuries. Today we remember him by reading about the history of mission work in that region. Our devotion is from The Church from Age to Age.
When Christian missionaries ventured into pagan territory, they first established a self-sufficient monastic community, planted crops, acquired herds, and built buildings. Using the monastery as their home base, they traveled wide stretches of territory, contacting pagans wherever they could be found. Their numbers were usually small. Among the Benedictines and the Irish, twelve men were required to found a monastery. One can trace the activities of the Anglo-Saxon missionaries on the Continent by noting the monastic houses they established. The missionaries remained in close contact with their motherhouse, never wandering too far from their center.
What was the content of missionary preaching? A primary objective was undermining the pagan religion by demonstrating its impotence through a comparison with Christianity. After a group of pagans had been assembled, they were addressed in their native tongue. The missionaries do not seem to have spent much time expounding Christian theology on the assumption that this could wait until after baptism. This omission did not hold in the East, where Cyril, Methodius, and their disciples spent much time indoctrinating their converts in the Trinity, Christology, and the Church. In the West, the attacks against idolatry were sometimes accompanied by actual destruction: witness Boniface at the oak of Geismar and Tryggvesson’s toppling of Thor. The missionaries also painted heaven and hell in vivid colors for their impressionable hearers.
With very few exceptions, the missionaries sought the conversion of the king and aristocracy first, since the chieftains usually determined the religious beliefs of the people. But we cannot help deploring the tactics used by many kings who imposed faith upon their people by force. And occasionally, we find Christians offering outright bribes to the pagans.
But the moral examples and Christian integrity of the missionaries impressed the pagans. Almost all the biographers of these pioneer evangelists stress the fact that the pagans were won over by their charity, patience, mercy, and superior way of life. Willibrord helped beggars. Boniface and Gregory braved warfare, pestilence, and famine with the people rather than flee to safer territory. Liudger ate with paupers as well as with the rich. Willibrord restrained his followers from killing a man who had just made an attempt on his life. It is clear that many of the missionaries cultivated a close personal bond with their converts, and multitudes flocked to their tombs after death.
Devotional reading is adapted from The Church from Age to Age, pages 272–74 © 2011 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Lord, have mercy upon the world. Look down with pity upon all the children of men: upon all who are lonely and blind to God; upon all who prefer evil to good; upon all in high places who forget that height and depth, in the world and in the world to come, belong to You; upon the sick of mind and heart; upon all who are with You and those without You; upon those who pray and those who do not; upon those who have fallen and those who are penitent. . . . Lord, have mercy. Amen.
Prayer is from The Lord Will Answer, page 302 © 2004 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.