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From The English Correspondence of Saint Boniface: Being for the Most Part Letters Exchanged Between the Apostle of the Germans and His English Friends: Translated and Edited with an Introductory Sketch of the Saint’s Life by Edward Kylie, M.A.; London: Chatto & Windus: 1911; pp. 158-210.
Boniface commends his messenger Ceola to Æthelbald, King of the Mercians. He expresses thanks for the kind reception given to his messengers the year before. He sends gifts. 732-751.
To his revered and beloved lord, Æthelbald, King of the Mercians, Boniface, servant of the servants of God, greetings of deepest affection.
We pray thy highness’ mercy, deign to comfort and aid this my messenger, by name Ceola, the bearer of this letter, on this journey and on any occasion, when he is in need. And may God reward thee because thou didst give every assistance to my messengers who came to thee last year, as they brought back word. Meanwhile we have sent to thee as a sign of true love and devoted friendship a hawk and two falcons, two shields and two lances. These small gifts, unworthy though they are, we ask thee to accept with our love and blessing. “Let us all 159 hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear god and keep His commandments.”1
We beg also that if any written words of ours come to thy presence by another messenger thou shouldst deign to lend thine ear and hearken to them carefully. Farewell in Christ.
1 Ecclesiastes xii. 13.
Boniface with the other bishops recalls Æthelbald, King of the Mercians, to virtue. 745-746.
To the dear lord, King Æthelbald, in the love of Christ to be put before all other kings, who wields the glorious sceptre of the empire of the English, Boniface, Archbishop, legate in Germany of the Roman Church, and Wera and Burghard and Werberht and Abel and Wilbalth, fellow-bishops, send greetings of undying love in Christ.
We confess before God and the holy angels, that whenever we hear, through faithful messengers, of your prosperity and your faith in God and good works before God and men, then, rejoicing and praying of you, we return thanks to God, entreating and beseeching the Saviour of the world that He may long keep you safe, steadfast in faith and upright in good works before God to rule over Christian people. But when some harm has befallen you, either from the state of your kingdom or from the issue of wars, or when, as is worse, the news of the perpetration of some crime dangerous to the safety 161 of souls had come to our ears, grief and sadness torture us: by the will of God we rejoice over your happiness and are saddened by your adversities.
We have heard that thou givest many alms, and upon this we congratulate thee, because those who bestow alms on the lowliest brethren in their need, by the truth of the Gospel will hear on the Judgment Day the merciful sentence of the Lord, saying; “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me: come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”1 We have heard too that thou dost strongly check theft and iniquity, perjury and rapine, and art known to be a defender of widows and the poor and hast peace established in thy kingdom. And in this too, praising God we have rejoiced, because Truth itself and our peace, which is Christ, has said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, because they shall be called the children of God.”2
But among these reports one rumour of evil character concerning your highness’ life has come to our hearing; we were cast down by it, and wish that it were not true. From many sources we have learned that thou hast never taken a wife in lawful marriage. But marriage was established 162 by God from the very beginning of the world, and has been enjoined anew by the apostle Paul, who teaches: “Nevertheless to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”3 If thou hast determined to act thus because of chastity and abstinence, that thou mayst abstain from intercourse with a wife for the love and fear of God, and hast shown this to be something truly accomplished for God’s sake, we rejoice thereat; such a course deserves not blame, but praise. If, however, as many say — God forbid — thou hast never taken a lawful wife nor preserved a chaste abstinence for God’s sake, but, under the sway of lust, thou hast destroyed by licence and adultery thy glory and renown before God and men, we are greatly grieved: such conduct must be regarded as criminal in the sight of God and destructive of your reputation before men.
And what is worse, those who tell us this, add that this crime of deepest ignominy has been committed in convents with holy nuns and virgins consecrated to God. There can be no doubt that this is a twofold sin. How guilty, for instance, is the slave in the master’s house who violates the master’s wife! How much more guilty is he who has stained a spouse of Christ, the Creator of heaven and earth, with the defilement of his lust! As says the 163 apostle Paul: “What! know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?”4 and elsewhere: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy: for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”5 And again when he mentions and enumerates the sins he joins adultery and fornication to the slavery of idolatry: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”6
Among the Greeks and Romans the candidate, before his ordination, was asked particularly about this sin, as though any one guilty of it had committed blasphemy against God, and if found guilty of having had intercourse with a nun veiled and consecrated to God, was barred from every rank of the priesthood. For this reason, beloved son, it must be carefully considered how grievous this sin is judged to be in the eyes of the Eternal Judge. He who is guilty of it is to stand among the slaves of idolatry and to be cast from the 164 divine service of the altar, even though he has already done penance and been reconciled to God. For our bodies, consecrated to God through the offering of our own vows and the words of the priest, are called in the Holy Scripture temples of God. And so those who violate them are to be regarded, according to the apostle, as sons of perdition. Saint Peter, to check the voluptuous from lust, says “For the time past may suffice,”7 and the rest. So it is written: “For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulterers will hunt for the precious life.”8 And elsewhere, “Men do not despise a thief if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry: but if he is found, he shall restore sevenfold: he shall give all the substance of his house. But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul.”9
It would take too long to enumerate how many spiritual physicians denounced the dreaded poison of this sin and laid a terrible ban upon it. Fornication is more grave and repellant than almost any other sin and can truly be called a noose of death and a pit of hell and an abyss of perdition.
Wherefore, we beseech and appeal to thy clemency, 165 beloved son, through Christ the Son of God and His coming and His kingdom, that if it be true that thou livest in this guilt, thou mayest correct thy life by repentance and amend it by purification. And thou wilt reflect how improper it is for thee to change by licence the image of God created in thee to the image and likeness of a devil malignant, and for thee, whom not thine own deserts, but the abundant goodness of God made king and ruler over many, to make thyself by self-indulgence a slave to the spirit of evil, since according to the words of the apostle whatsoever sin a man has committed, of this he is the servant.
Not only by Christians but even by pagans is this sin reckoned a disgrace and a shame. The very pagans who are ignorant of the true God, in this matter observe by instinct what is lawful and what God ordained from the beginning, because, while they preserve faithfully the tie of matrimony for their own wives, they punish fornicators and adulterers. In ancient Saxony if a virgin defiles her father’s house by adultery, or if a married woman, breaking the marriage-tie, commits adultery, at times they force the woman to hang herself by her own hand and so to end her life; and above the pyre on which she has been burned and cremated they hang her defiler. Or at times a multitude of women gathers, and the matrons lead the 166 guilty woman bound through the village, beating her with sticks and cutting away her garments to the girdle; they cut and prick her whole body with their knives, and send her from house to house bloody and torn by the many wounds; new tormentors are always joining the band out of zeal for modesty and leave her dead or scarcely alive, so that others may have fear of adultery and wantonness. And the Wends, the most degraded and depraved race of men, observe the mutual love of the married state with such zeal, that a wife, when her husband dies, refuses to live; the wife is thought deserving of praise, who brings death with her own hand and burns on the one pile with her husband.*
When, therefore, the Gentiles who, according to the word of the apostle, do not know God and have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law and “shew the work of the law written in their hearts,”10 it is now time that, thou, beloved son, who bearest in addition the name of Christian and of a worshipper of the true God, if in the flower of thy youth thou hast been defiled by the filth of licence and rolled in the mire of adultery and plunged in the sink of lust, as in a pit of hell, shouldst, mindful of thy Lord, escape from the snares of the devil and wash thy soul, stained by foul impurity. 167 It is now time that, from fear of thy Creator, thou shouldst not presume to repeat such a sin and to defile thyself further. It is time that thou shouldst spare the multitude of perishing people, who, following the example of their erring ruler, fall into the pit of death. As many as we draw by good example to the life of the heavenly kingdom, or lead to perdition by bad example, for so many, beyond a doubt, we shall receive either punishment or reward from the Eternal Judge.
If indeed the race of the English — as is noised abroad through these provinces, and is cast up to us in France and in Italy, and made a reproach even by the heathen — spurn lawful wedlock and live a foul life in adultery and licence like the people of Sodom, from such intercourse with harlots, and people degenerate, unworthy, mad with lust, will be born, and in the end the whole nation, turning to lower and baser ways, will cease to be strong in war or steadfast in faith, or honourable before men or beloved of God, just as has happened to other peoples of Spain and Provence and Burgundy: who turned from God and yielded to lust, until the Omnipotent Judge of such crimes allowed avenging punishment to come and destroy them, through ignorance of the law of God, and through the Saracens.
And it must be noted that under this crime another 168 terrible evil lies concealed, which is homicide; because when these harlots, whether in monasteries or in the world, have borne in sin children conceived in iniquity, they generally kill them; they do not fill the churches of Christ with adopted sons, but crowd graves with bodies and hell with wretched souls.
Besides, we have been told that thou hast violated many privileges of churches and monasteries, and taken from them many revenues. And this, if it be true, must be regarded as a great sin, on the testimony of Holy Scripture, which says, “Whoso robbeth his father or his mother and saith, it is no transgression, the same is the companion of a destroyer.” Our Father, without doubt, is God who created us, and our mother, the Church, which gave us spiritual regeneration in baptism. Wherefore, he who robs or plunders the moneys of Christ and the Church, will be judged a homicide in the sight of the Just Judge. Of him some one of the wise has said: “He who seizes the money of his neighbour commits a crime; but he who takes the money of the Church commits sacrilege.”
And it is said that thy prefects and counts use greater violence and oppression towards monks and priests, than other Christian kings have ever done before. Wherefore, after the apostolic Pope Saint Gregory sent preachers of 169 the Catholic faith from the Apostolic See, and converted the race of the English to the true God, the privileges of the churches in the kingdom of the English remained untouched and unviolated up to the time of Coelred, King of the Mercians, and Osred, King of the Deirans and Bernicians. At the suggestion of the devil these two kings showed, by their accursed example, that these two deadliest of sins could be committed publicly against the evangelical and apostolic precepts of our Saviour. And lingering in these sins, namely lust and adultery with nuns and the destruction of monasteries, condemned by a just judgment of God, they were cast down from their royal thrones in this life, and surprised by an early and terrible death; deprived of the light eternal they were plunged into the depths of hell and the bottom of the abyss. For while Ceolred, your worthy highness’ predecessor — as those who were present testify — was feasting splendidly among his nobles, an evil spirit, which by its persuasions had seduced him into the audacious course of breaking the law of God, suddenly turned him in his sin to madness; so that without penitence and confession, insane and distraught, conversing with the devils and cursing the priests of God, he departed from this light assuredly to the torments of hell. Osred, too, the spirit of licence drove to lust and the frenzied rape of consecrated 170 virgins in the convents of nuns, until by a mean and contemptible death he lost his glorious kingdom, his young life and impure soul.
Wherefore, beloved son, beware the pit, in which thou hast seen others fall before thine eyes. Beware the darts of the old enemy, by which thou hast seen thine own relatives fall wounded before thee. Keep from the toils of him in ambush, in which thou has beheld thy friends and comrades strangled and lose both this life and the life to come. Do not follow the course of these to perdition. For such, according to the prophecies of Holy Scripture, are those that have afflicted the just and taken away their labours. On the Day of Judment they will say: “We have erred from the way of truth and the light of justice hath not shined unto us, and the sun of understanding hath not risen upon us”11 and “The way of the Lord we have not known” and “What hath pride profited us; or what advantage hath the boasting of riches brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow, and like a post that runneth on, and as a ship that passeth through the waves, whereof the trace cannot be found: Or as when a bird flieth through the air.”12 And a little later: “So we also being born, forthwith ceased to be: we are consumed in our wickedness. Such things as 171 these the sinners said in hell: for the hope of the wicked is as dust which is blown away with the wind, and as a thin froth which is dispersed by the storm; and a smoke that is scattered abroad by the wind; and as the remembrance of a gust of one day that passeth by.” And elsewhere: “The number of the days of man at the most are a hundred years: as a drop of water of the sea are they esteemed.”13 All these things on the authority of Holy Scripture may very properly be compared. So too James, the brother of the Lord and an apostle, has declared concerning the unholy rich man: “As the flowers of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: as also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.”14 And Truth itself has set it forth in the gospel: “For what is a man profited, if he shall have the whole world and lose his own soul?”15 Wherefore, dear son, we beseech thee with fatherly and humble prayers, not to despise the counsel of thy fathers, who, for the love of God, wish to appeal to thy highness. For nothing is more beneficial for a good king than that such deeds when they are proven against 172 him should gladly be amended, for, as is said through the mouth of Solomon: “Whoso loveth instruction, loveth knowledge.”16 And so, beloved son, putting forth just counsel, we beg and pray through the living God and through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, that thou mayst remember, how fugitive is this present life, and how short and momentary is the delight of the impure flesh, and how ignominious it is for a man with his short life to leave an evil example for ever to posterity. Begin, therefore, to order thy life by better laws and to correct the past errors of youth, so that here thou mayst have praise before men and for the future rejoice in glory eternal. That thy highness may fare well and advance in good morals is our wish.
1 Matt. xxv. 34, 40.
2 Matt. v. 9.
3 1 Cor. vii. 2.
4 1 Cor. vi. 19.
5 1 Cor. iii. 16, 17.
6 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10.
7 1 Pet. iv. 3.
8 Prov. xxvi. 6.
9 Prov. vi. 30-32.
10 Rom. ii. 14, 15.
11 Sap. v. 6, 7.
12 Sap. v. 8-11.
13 Ecclesiasticus xviii 8.
14 James i. 10, 11.
15 Matt. xvi. 26.
16 Prov. xli. 1.
* Strict punishment for adultery had persisted since ancient times. See Tacitus writing on the subject in the 1st Century A.D.
Boniface urges Herefrith, a priest, to support the letter sent to Æthelbald, King of the Mercians. He sends gifts. 744-747.
To his beloved and reverend brother, Herefrith, priest, Boniface, servant to the servants of God, greetings of eternal love in Christ.
I beseech thy merciful clemency with the most earnest entreaties, that in thy holy prayers thou mayst deign to remember me, even as, from what those who come from thee tell me, thou hast done and will do. So that the words of Saint James the apostle may be fulfilled in us, when he said, “Pray for one another that ye may be healed,” and “The fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”1
We, the eight bishops who came together to a synod, and whose names are added below, in common entreat thee, beloved brother, that thou shouldst announce and explain the words of our admonition to Æthelbald, King 174 of the Mercians, and that, reviewing and interpreting them, after the same fashion and order in which we have written and sent them to you, thou shouldst bring them to his notice. For we have heard that through fear of God thou fearest no man, and that the aforesaid king deigns at certain times, to pay some heed to thy counsels. And be it known to thy love that these words of admonition we have addressed to the king solely out of pure and loving friendship. Born and nurtured of the same English race, we remain here abroad by the command of the Apostolic See. We are glad and rejoice in the good report of our nation, but by its sins and by reproaches cast upon it we are distressed and saddened. We suffer for the disgraceful conduct of our people, whether it is Christians or pagans who say that the race of the English, spurning the custom of other nations, and treating the apostolic precepts with disdain, refuse to have lawful wives, and, after the fashion of neighing horses or braying asses, by licence and adultery, cause disgrace and confusion everywhere. Wherefore, beloved brother, if this greatest of crimes is truly ours, beloved brother, let us all join in asking the aforesaid king, that he reform himself with his people; so that the whole people may not perish here and hereafter, but that, by emending and correcting his own life, through his example, again guide his people 175 to the way of salvation, and that where before he committed sin he may now deserve an eternal reward
A little incense and a towel we have sent thee for a blessing and a sign of true love.
May the Holy Trinity, beloved brother, always keep thee well, rich in good works and advancing in tried virtue.
1 1 Acts v. 16.
Boniface thanks Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury, for gifts and a letter. He indicates some matters which have been determined by him in a synod. He urges zeal. He adds a proposal about checking the pilgrimage of women to Rome. He suggests that monasteries should not be ruled through laymen, and condemns extravagance in dress. 747.
To his brother and fellow-bishop Cuthbert, bound by the tie of spiritual affinity, exalted to the archiepiscopal dignity, Boniface, legate in Germany of the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church, greetings of truest love in Christ.
It is written in the book of Solomon, “Blessed be he that findeth a true friend, with whom he can speak as with himself.” With great thanks to God and to you, we have received from your son, deacon Cyneberht, your munificent gifts and your most welcome letter underlined with fraternal love. You also lovingly communicated with us, through him, your honeysweet words of fraternal counsel. It is our wish that, as long as God grants us to live in this mortal life, such spiritual colloquies and 177 advice may always be imparted with the aid of Him, from whom alone are holy desires, just counsels, and good wishes. Lest us seek to instruct one another, you taking the larger and better part, whom God enriched with many powers and with great wisdom and ability, we in a few things, as a faithful and devoted brother, both united by the golden bond of heavenly love which cannot be broken.
For our labour is in the same ministry and for the same cause; and an equal obligation is imposed upon us to care for the Church and for the people, whether this take the form of teaching and restricting and advising, or of protecting canonical or popular ranks. I most humbly beseech you, therefore, not to fail to tell me, when God inspires you with wise counsels and informs your synodal deliberations with His spirit. And we must do the same if God inspires our weakness with anything necessary or agreeable to you. For a greater solicitude for his churches and a greater care for the people are incumbent upon us, through our having received the pall, than upon other bishops, because they care merely for their own parishes. Wherefore, beloved, not that your prudence needs to hear or to read the decrees of our ignorance, but because we think that from your good and humble and holy disposition you would prefer to know rather than not to know, 178 we send for your correction and amendment the rules which the clergy here with us have drawn up.
We decreed and acknowledged in our synod that we wished to preserve to the end of our lives the Catholic faith and unity, and submission to the Roman Church; that we bowed to Saint Peter and to his vicar; that we should call a synod together every year; that the metropolitans would seek their palls from the Holy See; that we desired to follow in everything the precepts of Saint Peter, so as to be numbered among the sheep entrusted to him. To this profession we all agreed, and set our hands: we forwarded it to the body of Saint Peter, Prince of the Apostles, where the Roman clergy and the Pope received it with rejoicing.
We determined that each year the canonical decrees and the laws of the Church and the rule of the monastic life should be read and re-enacted in the synod. We decreed that the metropolitan who has received the dignity of the pall should exhort and admonish the rest and examine who among them is concerned about the welfare of the people, and who is careless. The servants of God we forbade to hunt and wander in the woods with dogs and to keep hawks and falcons. We decreed, that each year, each priest should give to his bishop at Easter an account of his ministry, reporting on the Catholic faith 179 and baptism and on the whole order of his ministry. We decreed that each year each bishop should go carefully through his diocese, to confirm the people and to teach them, examine into and prohibit pagan practices, divinations or drawing of lots, auguries, phylacteries, incantations, and all unclean usages of the Gentiles. We forbade the servants of God to wear showy dress and military cloaks or to use arms.
We decreed that it is binding upon the metropolitan in accordance with the canon law to examine the character of the bishops subordinate to him and their solicitude for their people, of what sort it is; and that he should admonish the bishops, after coming from the synod, to meet the priests and abbots in their own parishes, and to enjoin them to keep the decrees of the synod. And each bishop, if there is anything in his diocese which he has not been able to correct or change, should mention this for correction, in the synod before the archbishop and all, as after our ordination the Roman Church bound us with an oath that if we saw the clergy or people wandering from the laws of God and could not correct them, we should always faithfully point this out to the Apostolic See and the vicar of Saint Peter for correction. Thus, unless I am mistaken, all the bishops ought to make known to the metropolitan, anything which they 180 find it impossible to correct among their people, and he should make it known to the Roman pontiff; and so they will be guiltless of the blood of lost souls.
For the rest, dear brother, equal toil but greater danger hangs over us than over other priests, because as all know the ancient canons enjoin the metropolitan to undertake the care of a whole province, and, to express my fears in a figure, we have undertaken to steer the ship among the waves of a savage sea, though we can neither guide it carefully nor lose it without a sin — because, as some one of the wise says1: “If it is dangerous not to guide a ship skilfully amid the waves, how much more dangerous is it to abandon it in the storm, as it struggles with the swelling waves.” Therefore, the Church, which like a great ship, sails over the sea of the world, and is buffeted by the many waves of temptation in this life, must not be abandoned, but steered. For examples in this connection we have the early Fathers Clement and Cornelius and several others in the city of Rome, Cyprian in Carthage, Athanasius in Alexandria, who under pagan emperors steered the ship of Christ, nay His beloved spouse, that is the Church, by teaching, and by struggling, and toiling and suffering even to the shedding of their blood. Truly I 181 can speak of myself in the words of the Song of Songs: “My mother’s children were angry with me, They made me the keeper of the vineyards: But mine own vineyard have I not kept.”2 The vineyard according to Nahum, the prophet of the Lord of Sabaoth, is the house of Israel; now it must be understood to be the Catholic Church. In it, at the command of the Roman pontiff and the request of the rulers of the Franks and Gauls, I undertook to gather and exhort a synod in the hope of restoring the law of Christ. I dug about it, I brought to it a basket of dung, but I did not guard it. When I looked that it should bring forth grapes, it brought forth but wild grapes. According to another prophet; “The labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat.”3 But alas! my duty seems to be like that of a dog on the watch, who sees thieves and robbers breaking into and bursting through and pillaging his master’s house, but because he has none to help him in the defence, only complains and grieves. But now, when, as seems just and wise for one placed in such danger, I seek and wish to know your helpful advice, I recommend liberty of speaking; I speak, as in the Acts of the Apostles Paul the apostle advised the priests, saying: “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the 182 blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves, and to all the flock over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. I preached the Kingdom of God,” said he, “as I went about among you: that I might keep myself guiltless of the ruin of all men.”4 For the apostle calls a priest of the Church overseer, the prophet calls him watchman, and the Saviour of the world calls him shepherd, and all agree that a teacher who is silent about the sins of the people is guilty through his silence of the blood of the lost souls. Wherefore, a great and terrible necessity forces us to show, in accordance with the words of the apostle, an example to the faithful: that is, unless my judgment errs, the priest must live so justly that from the contrast with his deeds his words may not be idle, and that, while he lives prudently for himself from his own, he may not by his silence be condemned for another’s sin; because for this purpose is one set over the Church of Christ, that not only by living well he may instruct others through his example, but also that, by faithful preaching, he may set out before each man’s eyes his sins, and show what punishment awaits the obstinate, what glory the 183 obedient. Because according to the word of God to Ezekiel he, to whom the dispensation of the word is entrusted, may live justly, but yet, if he is ashamed or fears to rebuke those who live abandoned lives, together with all who perish through his silence, he likewise perishes. And what will it avail him not to be punished for his own sins, who is to be punished for another’s? The silence of the priest, the Lord speaking to Ezekiel condemns terribly and calls the priest a watchman: and just as the watchman must from a loftier place see farther than all, so the priest ought to be raised higher on the elevation of his merits and to have the grace of greater wisdom, whereby he can instruct the rest of men. “Therefore hear the word of my mouth,” said the divine voice, “and thou wilt give them warning from me.”5 He means that the priest is to declare what he has learned from divine reading, what God has given him by inspiration, not what human senses have discovered. “Thou wilt give them warning from me,” said He, “from me, not from thyself; thou wilt speak my words, and wilt not boast of them as thine own. “From me,” said He, “thou wilt give them warning. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; 184 the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will be required at thine hand.”6 It is as though He said openly: If thou hast not warned him of his sins, and if thou hast not rebuked him, that he turn from his sins and live, both thee who didst not warn and him through thy silence sinned, I will hand over to eternal flames. Let us not, therefore, be so stony or iron of heart, that these words of the Lord do not alarm us. Let us not be so barren of faith, that we should not believe these words of the Lord; but let us rouse up and exhort our brethren with the revered words of Saint Peter the apostle: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist, stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”7 And let us admonish the bishops who are under our synod with the exhortation of Saint Paul the apostle, when he says to Timothy: “I charge thee, therefore, before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead, at his appearing and his Kingdom: preach the word: be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and doctrine.”8 For now is the time foretold by the apostle “when they will not 185 endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers”9 and the rest. Let us, according to the word of the prophet, cry aloud with all our strength, we who announce peace on earth to men of good will. For he cries aloud with all his strength, whom neither fear nor shame hinders from preaching the word of life. Let us strive, with the aid of the Lord, that we may not be among those false shepherds of the sheep, whom the prophet accuses, saying: “Thus saith the Lord God: Woe be to the shepherds of Israel, that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherd feed the flock? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed, but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them, and they were scattered because there is no shepherd, and they became meat to all the beasts of the field.”10 The woe of which the prophet speaks he has fixed for a curse: by the shepherd he signifies the bishops, by the flocks of the Lord, the faithful to be fed. But they feed themselves, because they strive not for the safety of the people, but 186 for their own pleasure. The fat and the wool of the sheep of Christ they take with daily offerings and tithes from the faithful; and care for the flock of Christ they put to one side. They do not heal with spiritual counsel the man sick in sin; they do not strengthen with priestly aid the man broken by many sufferings; they do not recall the erring one to the way of salvation; they do not seek out with pastoral solicitude the man lost through despair of forgiveness; nor do they defend the afflicted against the violence of the powerful, who rage against them like wild beasts; and so far from rebuking rich and powerful sinners, they do them honour. So with threats the divine word smites the pride of such, saying: “Woe to the prophets of Israel!”11 And again: “Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hands, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feel themselves any more.” What is this but to say: The shepherds who feed themselves and not the flock, I will thrust down from their high dignity, among the outcast and the accursed! At all this who will not tremble, unless it be one who believes not in the future? Everything which God wished to have observed He has so clearly fixed 187 and established with the authority of His name, that it would be easier to despise His words — and to say this is itself a sin — than to lie and declare that we did not understand things so clear and divine. When we hear: “Thus saith the Lord,” who can believe that what God says will not be, unless it be one who believes not in God? With the thought of these things and things like unto them I am terrified, and “fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror of my sins hath all but overwhelmed me;”12 and gladly should I have abandoned the helm of the Church once taken up, had I been able to do so or could I have found examples, either from the Fathers or the Holy Scriptures to approve such a course.
Wherefore, my beloved brother, since all these things are so, and truth can be sorely tried but neither conquered nor deceived, let our wearied minds take refuge in Him, who says, through the mouth of Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”13 And elsewhere: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.”14 Let us stand fast in justice, and prepare our souls against temptation, that we may have the support of God and may say to him: “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.”15 Let us put our 188 trust in Him, who hath put the burden upon us. What we cannot carry ourselves, let us carry through Him who is Omnipotent, and says: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”16 Let us stand fast in battle in the day of the Lord because the “days of tribulation and hardship” have come upon us. Let us die, if God wills it, for the sacred laws of our fathers, that with them we may deserve to win an eternal heritage. Let us not be dumb dogs nor silent watchmen, nor hirelings who flee before the wolf, but zealous shepherds, watching over the flock of Christ, preaching the whole counsel of Christ, to high and low, to rich and poor, and to all ranks or ages, so far as God gives us strength, in season, out of season, as Saint Gregory has described it in his Pastoral Care.
Wherefore, I do not conceal from your love that all the servants of God, who, either in the study of the Scriptures or in the fear of God are here most approved, feel that it would be for the welfare and the fair name and pure character of your Church, and would serve to conceal the disgrace, if your synod and rulers were to forbid to matrons and veiled women the journey to Rome, and the frequent halts which they make on the way thither and on the return. For the most part they perish, few remaining pure. There are few cities in Lombardy 189 or in France or in Gaul, in which there is not an adulteress or a harlot of English race: which is a scandal and disgrace to your whole Church.
And this too, that a layman, be he emperor or king, or one of the prefects or counts, relying on the secular power, should seize for himself a monastery from the power of the bishop or the abbot or the abbess, and begin to rule in the abbot’s stead, and have under him monks and take into his possession the money, which was gathered by the blood of Christ, such a man the Fathers of old called a plunderer, a man of sacrilege, a murderer of the poor, and a wolf of the devil entering into the fold of Christ, to be punished before the tribunal of Christ with the heaviest fetters of anathema. Concerning such remember the words of Saint Paul the apostle to Timothy: “Charge them that are rich in this world that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.”17 With such men, living or dead, if they do not receive the warning of the Church, for they are heathen men and publicans, the Church of God can have naught to do. In their ears let us both — for they are found here and there alike — sound the trumpet of the Lord, that by our silence we may not be condemned.190
Seek by every means to check the luxury of dress which is excessive and hateful to God. Because these ornaments upon clothing — such their wearers think them to be though they are a disgrace in the eyes of others — the wide stripes and scarlet borders, are sent by Anti-christ and prepare for his coming: through his ministers he craftily introduces within the gates of the monasteries the licence of youths clad in purple garments, lust, unholy intercourse, indifference to reading and prayer, and the ruin of souls. These garments, betraying a nakedness of soul, display in themselves signs of arrogance and pride and wantonness and vanity, concerning which the wise man says: “Pride and arrogancy, and the evil way and the double tongue and froward mouth do I hate.”18
In your parishes, it is said, the evil of drunkenness has greatly increased so that some bishops, so far from checking it, themselves become intoxicated through excess of drink, and, by offering cups unduly large, force others to drunkenness. This beyond doubt, is a crime for any servant of God to commit, or to have committed; and the canons of our Fathers bid us remove or degrade a drunken bishop or priest, and the Truth itself says: “And take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be over charged with surfeiting and drunkenness.”19 And Paul the apostle: 191 “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.”20 And Isaiah, the prophet: “Woe unto them that are powerful to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink.”21 This evil indeed is peculiar to the heathen and to our race. For neither the Franks, nor the Gauls, nor the Lombards, nor the Romans, nor the Greeks have it. Let us crush out this sin, if we can, by decrees of our synods and by the ban of the Scriptures; if we cannot, let us by shunning and forbidding it wash our souls clean of the blood of the damned.
Concerning the violent enslavement of monks for royal works and buildings, which in the whole Christian world has never been heard of, save only among the race of the English, the priests of God must not be silent nor give consent thereto. Such an abuse was unheard of in past ages.
May the hand of God guard you, beloved and honoured brother, unharmed against all adversities, while you intercede for us.
1 From the De vita contemplative of Julianus Pomerius, I. xvi. Migne, Patrologia Latina, LIX, 431.
2 Cant. i. 5.
3 Habac. iii. 17.
4 Acts xx. 26-28.
5 Ezech. iii. 17.
6 Ezech. iii. 18.
7 1 Peter v. 8, 9.
8 2 Tim. iv. 1, 2.
9 2 Tim. iv. 3.
10 Ezech. xxxiv. 2-5.
11 Ezech. xxxiv. 2, 9, 10.
12 Ps. iv. 6.
13 Prov. iii. 5, 6.
14 Prov. xviii. 10.
15 Ps. xc. 1.
16 Matt. xi. 30.
17 Tim. vi. 17.
18 Prov. viii. 13.
19 Luc. xxi. 34.
20 Eph. v. 18.
21 Isai. v. 22.
Some one requests Andhune to send him clothing from Friesland. He asks whether Boniface has repaired to the synod of Pippin or to Drogo. The end of 747.
To the father Andhune, most beloved in Christ, bound by the tie of affection, greetings from the heart.
Why has thou not sent the clothing, which thou shouldst have sent from the province of the Frisians? Now in the name of God the Almighty have it come at once. Tell us something about our bishop: whether he has gone to the synod held by the ruler of the Western provinces1 or to the son of Carlomann.2 Answer us by letter. Send back quickly this messenger, Hartleih by name. I pray thee, master, to make his stay there and his journey hither easy for him.
Farewell, O flower of the Church. And pray for us, as we do for you, that the peace of Christ may abide in us.
1 Pippin, afterwards king.
2 Drogo, who succeeded upon Carlomann’s retirement but played no conspicuous part.
Boniface commends to the priest Denehard, Athalhere, a slave, about to marry. 732-755.
Boniface, servant of the servants of God, to Denehard, priest, greetings in Christ.
I bid thee, beloved, with regard to this slave Athalhere, if any need befalls him in this case, to aid him as thou shouldst a free man, and to speak for him to his friends as for a free man, not a slave. I have sanctioned this since he is arranging to take a wife; that he may have no fears because he is a slave.
Farewell in Christ.
Boniface urges all the English to pray for the conversion of the Saxons to the faith of Christ. About 737.
To all the reverend bishops, venerable priests, deacons, canons, clergy, the abbots and abbesses, placed over the true flock of Christ, to the monks humble and submissive before God, to the virgins consecrated and devoted to God and all the consecrated handmaidens of Christ, and in general to all God-fearing Catholics, sprung from the English race, Boniface, or Wynfrith, an offshoot of the same stock, legate in Germany of the universal Church and servant of the Apostolic See, appointed archbishop without the claim of merit, greetings of the most humble affection and most sincere love in Christ.
We beseech your parental clemency with most earnest entreaties, that you should deign to remember our weakness in your prayers, in order that we may be delivered from the snares of Satan, the fowler, and from malicious and evil men and “that the word of God may have free course and be glorified;”1 and we beg that with your holy 195 prayers you should seek to obtain that our Lord and God Jesus Christ, “who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of God.”2 may turn to the Catholic faith the hearts of the pagan Saxons, and that they may escape from the snares of the devil, by which they are held bound, and be united with the sons of Mother Church. Have pity on them, because even they themselves are wont to say “We are of one blood and one bone,” remembering that the way of the whole earth draws near, and that no one in hell will confess the Lord nor will death praise Him; and the way of the whole earth draws near. And know that for this request I have obtained the consent and approval and benediction of two Roman pontiffs. Act now upon this our appeal, so that your reward in the heavenly court of the angels may shine and increase.
May the Creator Omnipotent keep forever the unity and bond of your love strong and effectual in Christ.
1 Thess. iii. 10.
2 1 Tim. ii. 4.
Torhthelm, Bishop of Leicester, replies to Boniface. He expresses pleasure at his efforts to have the Saxons brought to the faith of Christ. He sends a gift. 737-741.
To Archbishop Boniface, also called Wynfrith, my sweet and true master, abounding in love and above all in the grace of God, discharging the duties of his pastoral office always in Christ, Torhthelm, bishop, servant of the servants of God, greetings in the Lord.
We have received your grace’s welcome letter, and on reading it again, we see the pious devotion and the burning love which you have for a holy life; how, protected by God’s right hand, you meditate night and day, that the hearts of the pagan Saxons may be turned to the Catholic and Apostolic faith for the redemption of your soul. On hearing these pleasant tidings who would not be glad? Who would not exult and rejoice in these efforts, whereby our people may be brought to believe in Christ the Omnipotent God? With the bearer of your letter I send across to you, a gift, small indeed, but a pledge of great love, and assure you also that everything which you 197 deigned to ask of us we have very willingly undertaken; that is to say, you are constantly remembered in holy masses and in daily prayers. So do we, conscious of our weakness, desire and earnestly pray that, as you surpass us in merit you should thereby the more faithfully render this same service on our behalf. Let your grace hasten to gather in and dedicate a new people to Christ. For truly you have as protector the Saviour of the human race, our Lord Jesus Christ. We send you greetings of brotherly love and earnestly entreat the divine mercy, which deigns to aid you and all yours in all good works, that you may reign with Christ in the world to come.
Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury,1 writes to Lul and his companions of the death of Boniface. The day of the martyrdom will be observed in England. The writer recommends mutual prayers and imitation of Boniface. The end of 755.
To my reverend brother Lul, dear in the love of Christ, my fellow-bishop, and to the fellow-bishops working with thee and the priests of God, whose names should be written in the book of life, Cuthbert, servant of the servants of God, with the other fellow-priests of Christ and presbyters and abbots, greetings of eternal happiness and peace in the Lord.
We declare, beloved, with hearts pure in the sight of God and His chosen angels, that whenever we hear from the bearers of news that your love has made an advance towards greater peace and happiness, and progress in Christ for our holy religion, and has gathered through the conversion of others the abundant fruit of your holy preaching, rejoicing thereat and praying still more 199 earnestly for you, we gladly return thanks to God the bestower of all good things. But when we are told of any injury done to your church, or any loss inflicted upon it, grief and sadness distress us; just as we share your joy in Christ, so do we mourn for Christ’s sake over your adversities. For never can be obliterated from our memory the diverse and unceasing tribulations and sufferings which we in our hearts, but you with our father beloved of God, the martyr Boniface, of holy memory, out of love for your eternal country, long endured among persecuting pagans and leaders of heresy and schism on such a dangerous and barbarous mission; and now when in the agony of martyrdom he has departed gloriously and happily with his companions to the everlasting rest of his heavenly home, you, the survivors of such men, move, perchance amidst diverse temptations, with the more danger and difficulty, that you are deprived for the present of such a father and teacher.
Though the bitterness of this grief tears our hearts, yet a certain new and strong delight comes often to our minds to sweeten and assuage the sorrow. The more frequently we reflect thereon, the more joyously we thank the admirable, nay the ineffable goodness of God, that the race of the English settled in Britain deserved to send forth from itself openly before the eyes of all to spiritual 200 agonies such a famous investigator of the divine books, and such a splendid soldier of Christ, together with many well-trained and instructed disciples, — through the grace of the omnipotent God, — to the safety of many souls: that as leader and standard-bearer, going before, and with God’s help, bravely overcoming opposition, through the impulse of his holy preaching, and the example of piety and goodness he might happily lead fierce nations far and wide, wandering long in by-paths, from the broad and deep pit of eternal perdition to the bright streets of the heavenly city. What has really been accomplished the outcome of events proclaims more splendidly than words, especially in those places which no teacher before him sought to visit for the purpose of preaching. Wherefore, after the choice and the number of the apostles, a mystery unequalled in the whole world, and the ministry of other disciples of Christ who preached the gospel at that time, we lovingly place this man among the splendid and glorious doctors of the orthodox faith, and praise and venerate him.
Accordingly, in our general synod — where we also conferred fully upon other things of which we can inform you only briefly — we determined to fix the day when he and the band with him suffered martyrdom, and to celebrate it with a solemn yearly feast. We seek him especially as 201 our patron along with blessed Gregory and Augustine; we are indeed assured of having him for such before Christ our Lord, whom he always loved during his life, and whom, as by the favour of Christ he deserved, in death he gloriously exalted.
Moreover, as we have said before, we confess that we are always ready whenever and under whatever circumstances we can, to relieve and console with paternal words and brotherly comfort your own anxious watch and care and the flock of the servants of God under your charge, now that your strength has been diminished by the loss of the father of the family. Wherefore, to confirm the love which our hearts feel towards you, let us employ the words and sentiments of the apostle, saying with him: “Grace be unto you and peace. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers: remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labour of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.”2 We think it necessary to renew the mutual arrangement which was established by several letters and faithful messengers during the lifetime of Boniface of revered memory: that for ourselves and our associates, living or dead, mutual appeals and prayers and masses should be offered to the 202 Living God, the Judge of all, according to the warning of the apostle: “Pray for one another, that ye may be healed,”3 and the rest. For in this way, as we are assured, we shall satisfy the divine clemency, offering it the pure libation of our prayers: thus in adversity we shall find it ready to assist us. When by His own promise the help of the Lord is at hand, all opposition from the ill-disposed must give way. He Himself has said: “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.”4
This we judge must be undertaken more earnestly and with prudent watchfulness, because by the prophecy of the apostle “perilous times shall come,”5 and the rest to the end of the letter. There is no need of writing to you of calamities and attacks from without, such as, I think, you have often suffered, persecutions and plunder and hatred and scandals and such like. But behold how in most places the position of the Christian religion is weakened, since ecclesiastical order is disturbed both within and without, and evil sects with new ways of life have sprung up almost everywhere. Nor is it to be wondered at that, when the decrees of the early Fathers have been neglected and the 203 laws of the Church abandoned, many, according to their own invention, believe and declare and perform what is evil and injurious to the safety of many, as was pointed out in the past year by a man of great authority. In the face of these things what ought we to do, but demand without ceasing the aid of the holy apostles and martyrs of Christ and the venerable leaders of the Church of God, that in the work which we have been called and appointed to do, the grace of Christ may make us persevere with constant watchfulness, and that we may be not rejected but accepted, not languid but active, and may not scatter but gather, whomever we can to the fellowship of the Christian faith in the unity of the religious life? Thereby our ministry, our care and toil will avail to the praise and glory of the Omnipotent God, so that with those good servants who are pleasing to God we may deserve at length to hear: “Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when He cometh shall find so doing. Verily, I say unto you that He shall make him ruler over all His goods.”6
Hence, let us frequently, for the sake of the example, call to mind in what manner and with what zeal our illustrious master of honoured memory, the holy martyr Boniface, toiled in the teaching of God, what dangers 204 and difficulties for the love of Christ and the gain of souls, he bore cheerfully to his very death. And since he has now become the companion of the Omnipotent, your wisdom should carefully take thought how you should correspond with his admonitions, and follow vigorously the example of his goodness. For he, since he has become the companion of Him whom he loved before all else, will be able to obtain the greater favours from Him. Wherefore, if any of those subject to him, over whom the divine dispensation once placed him as master, dissent from his spiritual teachings and withdraw into evil ways of life, he who could have been their defender before the Eternal Judge, becomes rather their accuser, and with the Judge Himself, demands the more strictly an account from them. But, on the contrary, those who follow the rule of his holy precepts and teaching, may be certain of having, both living and dead, in prayer and the mass, as we have said above, eternal communion with the Roman and Apostolic Church, by which he was appointed their legate and instructor, and with all of us; that is, if to the last end, they are willing, for the sake of God and their eternal reward humbly and lovingly to obey you, their teachers and guides to salvation, and never fall way like unbelievers and hypocrites, but make progress always like well-disposed pupils, and adhere faithfully to the leaders 205 of their ministry in Christ until they are called by God to their reward and the glory of the heavenly kingdom.
These words of greeting we have addressed to your holiness, not that you are ignorant or need guidance from our ignorance, but for the sake of our mutual love and intercourse: we beg and entreat by the Omnipotent God and His Son, Jesus Christ, and the coming and the kingdom of Christ, that you all, beloved, together with those subject to you in Christ, may be faithful helpers one of another and co-labourers of one mind against all the enemies of the orthodox faith and heretics and schismatics and those of evil life, for thereby you will be worthy of love and praise from all good men and will be acceptable and dear to the Omnipotent God. And thus, together with the holy father himself, your predecessor, of whom we have spoken, you will deserve, each of you in the future to hear from Christ, the Judge of all, the glad words: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”7 Amen.
May the Omnipotent God long deign to keep you all safe in holy love and fear of Him, beloved brothers and sons.
Archbishop Cuthbert to his fellow bishop Lul.
1 Archbishop of Canterbury from 740 to 762.
2 1 Thess. i. 1-3.
3 Acts v. 16.
4 Matt. xviii. 19.
5 2 Tim. iii. 1.
6 Matt. xxiv. 46, 47.
7 Matt. xxv. 21.
Milret, Bishop of Worcester,1 writes to Bishop Lul concerning the death of Boniface and the love to be preserved between them. The end of 755.
To the dear lord, beloved in Christ, Bishop Lul, Milret, servant of the servants of God.
After I departed sadly and unwillingly from thy presence and the bodily sight of that holy pastor and blessed father, Boniface, through many chances and diverse hazards,2 we came, by your kindly prayers, to the land of our birth; there before the circle of the year had run, the mournful news was borne to us that the blessed father had departed from the prison-house of the flesh to the realms above, if it is right to call this a sad thing, that we have deserved to send before us to the kingdom of heaven such a patron, through whose holy intercession we trust, nay feel assured, that we are by God’s help supported. And though we have mourned 207 with many bitter tears the loss of this solace to our present life, yet the thought of him, who, by shedding his blood, has been consecrated a martyr for Christ, and, his noble work consummated by his holy agony, and his glorious end accomplished, is now the glory and support3 of all those sprung from this land, soothes and calms our sorrowing hearts with a joy greater than the sorrow. We grieve for our own lot, remaining in the vale of tears, in this life full of temptation, but he, when with great efforts he had finished his labours abroad, came, a martyr of Christ, to a glorious death, and on behalf of us sinners, if the goodness of God allows, a faithful intercessor, dwells with Christ in the heavenly Jerusalem amidst the joys of the heavenly city, sharing the happy fortune of its holy citizens. So much concerning our beloved father. That thou shouldst inform me of his noble life and glorious end I do most earnestly desire.
One thing more it occurs to me to say of our fraternal union: with heartfelt prayers I beseech thy sweet love, and beg as if in reality prostrate before thy feet, that thou shouldst store up in thy heart with a remembrance, not transitory but enduring, the brotherly affection which our common father Boniface, of blessed memory, the love of Christ assenting, made firm between us with holy words 208 and kindly counsel. I know beyond a doubt that it will greatly benefit both thee and me if we endeavor to follow the precepts of such a noble teacher. Mayst thou not grow weary, beloved pastor, of instructing me, least in merit of all thy brethren, out of fraternal love, of fortifying me with holy precepts and strengthening me with gracious prayers. In return I declare and faithfully promise that I will gladly follow your honest commands in everything according to my strength: and so long as the soul governs these limbs and the breath of life dwells in these mortal members,4 I call God to witness that I shall preserve a faithful friendship and unbroken love with thee: and with all the strength of my heart I desire that through the favour of Christ, what was written may be fulfilled: “But they had all things common.”5 All this, which we have briefly set down, I have asked the bearer of this letter, if the Omnipotent God grants him a safe journey, to indicate to thee more fully in words. We have sent also some small gifts, which we would have you accept with the same love, with which, God be our witness, we have sent them.
May Christ graciously keep you while you intercede for our offences.209
The book of Porphyrius on metre6 I did not send, because Bishop Gutbert has neglected to return it. Emmanuel.
The letter of Bishop Milret to Bishop Lul.
1 Bishop of Worcester from 743 to 775.
2 Cp. Aeneid I. 204.
3 Cp. Horace, Odes, II. 17, 34.
4 Cf. Aeneid, IV. p. 336.
5 Acts iv. 32.
6 Reading Porphyri merit for the pyrpyri metri of the manuscripts.
[End of the Letters]