There are things that slip through the cracks. I was looking to get my hymn list done for the summer and I looked at my calendar and saw that June 5 was the commemoration of Boniface of Mainz, “missionary to the Germans”. I remember reading something about Boniface but I couldn’t remember much of what I read so….
His name was Winfrid (“friend of peace”), I’m not sure that bullying was as big of a deal in England around 680 A.D. as it is today but I cannot imagine any salutary effects of having that name.. He was probably called “Winnie”. but he became Boniface, the Apostle of the Germans, and therein lies a tale. I have pieced this together from a book entitled “The Life of St. Boniface”, by George Robinson and some articles on the internet.
Winfrid was one of the great missionaries of Church history. Legends usually have some basis in facts and the missionary accomplishments of Bishop Boniface are well established in history. Upon these known facts have grown some legends. Among the legends of Boniface are the story of his chopping down the great Oak Tree of Thor. Because of him people light candles on nativity wreaths and hang presents on Christmas trees, at least that is what some think. We will get to that shortly.
What I find fascinating is the zeal that he had for evangelism and missions very early in life. At the age of 5 we are told that he would run to church whenever the traveling preachers would come to visit and ask them questions. There are not too many children like that around, at least in my experience. His fathers attitude is more in line with what I see. He told his father that he wanted to be a monk and the old man argued and cajoled him for quite a while. He even threatened to disinherit him, but, as Robinson writes, “the saint was already in his boyhood filled with God’s spirit; and the more his
father held him back, the more he took stout heart, and anxiously panted to provide himself a treasure in heaven, and to join himself to the sacred study of letters. And it happened in wondrous wise, as ever the divine compassion is wont to act, that God in his foresight bestowed upon his young soldier consolation in his undertaking and an increase of anxious desire, and a hasty change of mind in the obstinate father: so that at one and the same instant of time sudden sickness crept upon the father, whom the unexpected moment of death already threatened; and the boy’s pious desire, long balked, increased most swiftly, and, with the aid of the Lord God, was fulfilled and perfected in its increase. For the saint’s father according to the flesh, when by the wonderful judgment of the dispensation of God great sickness had seized upon him, quickly put away his former obstinacy of heart, made an assembly of the kindred, and of his own free will, but moved by the Lord, directed the boy to the monastery which is called by a name of the ancients Ad-Escancastre”
So the miracles start early when God scares his old man to death by bringing him close to death. Winfrid goes to the monastery and applies and is accepted and Robinson never tells us if the old man died or if he recovered. His part of the story is pretty much over and Winfrid starts his education. He hadn’t been there very long when he starts to ask his superiors if he can go and preach about Jesus to those far away who had heard and forgot, or to those who heard and were persecuted, or to those who had not heard about Christ at all. Their answer was that he would have to study first and he did.
This is an impressive fellow even if his name is bit “iffy”. Missions and mercy are the chief interest of this blog and we are going to be studying this missionary for awhile. His life is as they say, is a gripping good yarn. More tomorrow.