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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. 113-134.
Wiehtberht, a priest, sends word to the monks of Glastonbury that he has come into the territories of the Hessians and Saxons, and has been well received by Boniface. 732-735.
To those holy men who dwell in the monastery of Glastonbury, fathers and brothers beloved in Christ, Wiehtberht, priest, your lowly servant and servant of all the servants of God, greetings in the Lord.
Blessed be God, “who will have all men to be saved and to come into a knowledge of the truth,”1 in that of His will, He directed our journey into these provinces, on the confines of the heathen Hessians and Saxons, safely over the sea and among the dangers of this world, not through any merit of ours, but through your consent and prayers and His own clemency.
Be assured, my brothers, that no earthly distances divide us, whom the love of Christ binds together. Wherefore, my fraternal regard for you, and my prayers for you to God are unceasing; I would have you know 114 also, beloved, that Boniface, our archbishop, when he heard of our arrival, himself deigned to come far to meet us, and to receive us with great kindness. Be assured, indeed, my friends, that our toil is not vain in the Lord, and that the reward thereof will come to you, for the Omnipotent God, through His mercy and your merits, grants a good issue to our labour, though the life here is in every respect dangerous and hard, from hunger and thirst and cold, and the attacks of the heathen. Wherefore, I beg, pray diligently for us, “that utterance may be given unto us,”2 and that our labours may abide and bring forth fruit.
Farewell in the Lord. Give my greetings to the brethren in the circle, especially to Abbot Ingeld and our community, and tell my mother Tetta and her sisterhood of our safe journey. I beg of you one and all, with humble prayers, to alternate with us in earnest intercession, and wish that the divine clemency may keep you safe to pray for us.
1 1 Tim. ii. 4.
2 Eph. vi. 19.
Boniface consults Daniel, Bishop of Winchester, about associating with bad priests. He asks that a volume of the prophets copied by Abbot Winbert be secured for him. He sends gifts, and offers his sympathy to Daniel, who is troubled with his eyes. 742-746.
To his beloved master, Bishop Daniel, Boniface, servant of the servants of God, affectionate greetings of love in Christ.
It is a recognized custom among men, that when something sad and grievous has happened to them, they should seek solace or counsel for the anxious mind, from those in whose friendship or wisdom and attachment they put the greatest trust. Trusting after this manner in your proved wisdom and friendship I unfold the troubles of my weary mind and seek counsel and consolation from your piety. There befall us, not merely in the words of the apostle, “fightings without and fears within”1 but fightings within as well as fears, due especially to false priests and hypocrites who are adversaries of God and rush into 116 destruction themselves and mislead the people by countless scandals and varied errors, saying to the people in the words of the prophet, “Peace, peace; when there is no peace”2; and the seed of the word, taken from the bosom of the Catholic and Apostolic Church and entrusted to us, which we seek to sow, they strive to oversow with cockle and suffocate or to convert into a baneful weed. And that which we plant they do not water that it may grow, but try to tear up that it may die, offering and teaching to the people new sects and errors of diverse kinds; some “abstaining from food which God hath created to be received”3 some, feeding only on honey and milk, reject bread and other food; some actually declaring, and this greatly harms the people, that homicides and adulterers, even though they persevere in their crimes, can yet become priests of God. The people, in the words of the apostle, “will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts will they heap to themselves teachers,” and the rest.4
When seeking protection and aid in the court of the Franks, we cannot abstain from personal contact with such priests or keep apart from them as the canons enjoin, though during the celebration of the holy mass in the 117 sacred mysteries of the body and blood of the Lord we have no association with them. But their counsel and approval we avoid, for to such men our toil and struggles with the heathen and with a mixed and lowly multitude, seem quite alien. Nay more, when out of the fold of Mother Church any priest or deacon, cleric or monk departs from the way of faith and truth, then, together with the heathen they break out at once into abuse of the sons of the Church; and this is a terrible obstacle to the gospel of Christ’s glory.
Wherefore, in all these things that without injury to our souls we may complete the course of our ministry, we seek, first of all, the intercession of your paternity before God. And through Him we beg you with the most earnest prayers, to intercede for us that the merciful Consoler of those in sorrow may deign to keep our souls, amid such storms, unharmed and safe from sin.
Concerning the above mentioned intercourse with these priests I crave to hear and obey your wise counsel. Without the protection of the King of the Franks I can neither rule the people of the Church nor defend the priests and clergy, the monks and nuns of God; nor can I avail to check even the heathen rites and the worship of idols in Germany without his mandate, and the fear of him. But when, seeking aid for these causes, I come to him, I 118 cannot as the canon law requires, by any means avoid personal contact with such men, even though I may not take counsel with them. I fear guilt from the intercourse, because I recall that, at the time of my ordination, according to the precepts of Gregory the Pope, I swore on the body of Saint Peter to avoid association with such if I could not turn them back to the canonical path. But I fear still more the loss of the teaching which I am bound to give to the people, if I do not come to the ruler of the Franks. Deign to point out in these matters what your paternity can decide and judge and advise for you dependent and hesitating son. I think I am really almost completely separated from them, if, where they are not canonical, I abstain from common counsel and deliberation with them and from participating with them in the services of the church.
Besides, if I may venture, I should like with earnest prayers to ask for one solace to my mission: that is, that you would send across to me the Book of the Prophets, which Winbert, of revered memory, once my abbot and master, left when departing this life to the Lord, and wherein the six prophets will be found written in the one volume in clear and finished letters. And if God inspires your heart to do this, you cannot send me anything which will be a greater comfort to my age, or a greater pledge 119 of your reward; because I cannot get in this land such a book of the prophets as I desire, and with my eyes growing dim I cannot well distinguish minute and connected letters. I ask for this book since it is written in such clearly separated and finished characters.
Meanwhile I am sending you with the priest, Forthere, this letter and a small gift as a sign of true love, a coverlet, not silken, but shaggy, mixed with goat’s-wool, to cover your feet.
But lately, of a priest who came from your presence to Germany, I heard of your blindness. You know well, my master, Who said and through whom He said: “Whom the Lord loveth, He reproveth,” and the rest5; and the apostle Paul: “For when I am weak, then am I strong,” and “My power is made perfect in weakness”6; and the writer of the Psalms: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous,”7 and the rest. You have, my father, as Antony of Didimus is related to have said, eyes, with which God and His angels can be seen, and the glorious delights of the heavenly Jerusalem. On this account, trusting in your wisdom and patience I believe that God has given you this illness, for the advance of your virtues and the increase of your merits, whereby you 120 may the better with the eyes of the spirit behold those things which God enjoins and loves and the less regard and crave what God does not love but has forbidden; for in this dangerous time what are the eyes of the body but, for the most part, if I may say so, truly windows of sin, through which we either look upon sins or at sinners, or what is worse, through beholding and desiring them draw the vices to ourselves.
It is my earnest wish that your holiness may have health and may pray for me.
1 2 Cor. vii. 5.
2 Jer. vi. 14.
3 1 Tim. iv. 3.
4 2 Tim. iv. 3.
5 Prov. iii. 12.
6 2 Cor. xii. 10, 9.
7 Ps. xxxiii. 20.
Daniel, Bishop of Winchester, replies to Boniface. He urges him to persevere. He discusses the priestly character of adulterers and murderers, and the unavailable intercourse with false brethren. He thanks Boniface for his sympathy. 742-746.
To the most reverend lord, deserving of reverence from all orthodox Christians, conspicuously adorned with varied knowledge and the grace of many virtues, Archbishop Boniface, Daniel, servant of the people of God, the most sincere greetings in the Lord, who reigns supreme over all the summits of the heavens.
When we read thy letter we were much moved by sorrow because it seems intolerable to those who love, if a misfortune befalls those by whom they are beloved. But after much reflection we found consolation in this thought that the unfathomable guile of the crafty enemy would never have tried to storm the rites of your faith with such violence or such varied assaults of war or error through the persons of high-placed priests or any other reprobates, if he did not recognise in it the excellence of 122 greater merit. And so it behooves you, first of all, to attend to it, that the glorious undertaking which is, in my opinion, to be compared with the struggles of the apostles, be not abandoned because of the snares of those, who, trained in guile, are accustomed to resist saving doctrine. But the burden of difficulties laid upon us must be the more willingly borne, the more certain we are that for the saints and martyrs there is in the world, only distress, but in heaven, by the promise of the Lord, the most abundant recompense. If only we have patience in tribulation we shall deserve to have Him as our helper here, and there where we shall rejoice with the Lord, as the giver of our reward. Therefore, since thy love has deigned to seek advice from my weakness, we think it will be helpful, if with unconquered patience thou dost try to endure still further what cannot come without the providence of God.
Wherefore, although the danger of attacks from without is cruel and terrible, strife within works yet more fearful harm; — and at this I do not wonder, since Jesus Christ once declared that for His name’s sake, brother must be delivered up to death by brother, and the child must be slain by his father and the parents by their children; though they seek to destroy the work of God by superstitious practices in the taking of food, which will perish as surely in the use of men, though, in the pursuit of false 123 gain, or to win flattery or praise for themselves, and abuse for you, they falsely promise the people safety, and with a feigned friendliness keep repeating the name of peace, and according to the prophecy of Isaiah, “call evil good and good evil” and the rest1; though they try to choke the seed entrusted to you by sowing with it the barren cockle which, as we shall explain more fully below, it is forbidden to root out at any time before it ripens to the harvest; — though, I say, to deceive the hearts of the ignorant they bring forth doctrines hitherto unheard of, which, when introduced for the moment, are likely to escape you, excellently trained in the Holy Scriptures, as little as the arguments which may fittingly be used against them; although, and I shall put it briefly, not to delay thee longer by proceeding from point to point, they try every wicked and factious argument to harass and vanquish you, yet, following the example of the saints who have gone before, you must at least bear with perseverance what you cannot cure by correction.
Concerning the priestly character of homicides and adulterers, who without any repentance, stubbornly persist in their sins, the holy canons and the decrees of the pontiffs give you sufficient explanation. If to homicides, who at the end of their lives do instant penance, absolution, 124 that is the grace of communion with Christ, is granted, how can the care of ruling a Christian community be entrusted to them while they are yet unchanged? But an adulterer, who even late in the day has not repented of his lust, how can he justly usurp the priestly office, when, according to the decrees of Pope Innocent and others, he who marries a widow or a second wife, must be barred, not only from the holding of ecclesiastical office, but even from the clerical state? And while concessions have been granted because of the weakness of the flesh, yet adultery is forbidden by all authorities.
From intercourse with false brethren or priests, what counsel could avail to separate thee in bodily things, unless perchance thou art to withdraw entirely from this world? These persons strive to push in everywhere and always; by such dangers the apostle Paul asserted that he was ensnared. And other founders of the Christian religion confess that they have suffered the like or that it must be borne by posterity.
Thou sayst that thou keepst entirely apart from them in the offering of the holy sacrifice, lest thou mightst seem to give the host to dogs — what Saint Augustine thought on this we shall work in below with the rest of the argument — and that thou dost never dwell among them 125 freely, of thine own will and consent, but only from the force of necessity; concerning which Jerome2 declares: “In the gospel the will is desired and even if it has not a result it does not lose its reward.” But if, let us allow for argument’s sake, thou must associate with these in the taking of food or in thy habitation, did not He, “who came not to call the just but sinners to repentance,”3 go to the tables of sinners, that he might have the opportunity of teaching. So if thou must associate with these so far as sometimes to approach the king with them and beg for the peace of the Church, because these pretend generally like true shepherds to intercede for the sheep, let us first of all be assured that what was written must be fulfilled: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man” and the rest,4 and “to all the higher powers” and the rest.5
Secondly, it must be considered that the parable of the wheat and the tares is put before us to suggest the mixture of good men and bad. And, as Augustine remarks,6 “clean and unclean animals are said to have entered into the ark. Nor did the unclean animals enter in at will through a broken corner of the ark, but undisturbed 126 through one and the same door, which the builder had wrought. There is not given to the good,” he says, “through these figures and analogies any counsel of sloth, by which they may neglect what they ought to check, but the counsel of patience, by which they are to bear, so long as the doctrine of truth is preserved, what they cannot change.” And he says,7 “Wherefore when we find in the Church evildoers, whom we cannot correct or repress by ecclesiastical discipline, then let there not ascend into our hearts an unholy and harmful presumption, whereby we think that we may be separated from these, so as not to be defiled by their sins, and that we must try to bring after us clean and holy disciples, withdrawn, as it were, by a common bond from the companionship with the wicked. Let there come into the mind those parables from Scripture, which show that the bad are mingled with the good in the Church and to the end of time and the Day of Judgment, and that no harm will come to the good from a union and share in the sacraments with them because they have not consented to their deeds.”
“But since with those through whom the Church is ruled there rests, without prejudice to peace, the power of discipline to be exercised against the wicked and abandoned, then, lest we should sleep in supineness and 127 neglect, we must be roused by the good spur of the other precepts which enjoin stern repression. As there is a method of dissembling and of tolerating the wicked in the Church, there is likewise a way of castigating and improving them, without losing or driving them from the fold8: so that we must not grow slack in the name of patience, nor show undue severity under the pretence of diligence.”9
I shall tell thee, too, what I have gleaned from the works of ancient writers; in such dangerous and barbarous times it may usefully by committed to memory. If, perchance, in showing such toleration thou art falsely accused by any one for practising a kind of pretence or even deceit, we read that a useful simulation may be practised on occasion. Employing it Cephas “withdrew and separated himself, fearing them”10 and the rest. And the vessel of election had his head shorn, and circumcised Timothy. The Son of God himself made as though He would go farther, and as though He did not know what He knew, as it is written in the gospel, “Who is it that touched Me?”11 and “Where have ye laid him?”12 And the psalmist changed his countenance 128 before Abimelech13; and Joseph spoke in jest to his brothers. So, too, Israel covered his loins with goat skins. This he did that he might be thought to be another than he was; which if studied diligently and faithfully becomes not a lie, but a mystery. By the goat skins are signified the sins and by him who concealed himself in them is denoted one who bears the sins of others.
These things we have written to thy love with much hesitation, not thinking thee unacquainted with the ancient authorities or in need of advice from our ignorance, but in order that we should not fail to meet thy wishes in anything, and because we had learned that thou hadst difficulties with powerful people. Yet we have spoken, urged on rather by love and obedience than through reliance on our own skill or courage, merely to explain, not to command. We should not wish to oppose in anything those who are beyond measure excellent.
Thine exhortations to bear patiently grievous bodily illness we have gladly received. And so far as our strength suffices, with the help of the Lord, who of His mercy has admonished us, we shall obey thy helpful words.
This in your loving kindness you should know, that 129 though we are separated by a wide stretch of land, and the immensity of the sea, and the uneven climate of the sky, yet we are oppressed by the same burden of suffering. Satan’s activity is the same here as there, and so I diligently beg you, that we vigorously fortify ourselves with mutual interchange of prayer, remembering the words which the Lord has said: “For where two or three are gathered together,” and the rest.14
Farewell, farewell, my hundredfold beloved.15
1 Isa. v. 20.
2 Commentary on Matt. xi. 30.
3 Matt. ix. 13.
4 1 Pet. ii. 13.
5 Rom. xiii. 1.
6 Augustine, De fide et operibus, c. 49.
7 Augustine, De fide et operibus, c. 49.
8 Augustine, De fide et operibus, c. 4.
9 Ibid. c. 7.
10 Gal. ii. 12.
11 Lu. viii. 45.
12 John xx. 13.
13 Ps. xxxiv. 1.
14 Matt. xviii. 19.
15 For the last words of the letter, et alia manu, referring possibly to a postscript in another hand, see Neues Archiv. IX, 25, n. 2.
Boniface asks Eadburga, Abbess of Thanet, to pray for him and for the heathen. 742-746.
To his sister, Abbess Eadburga, to be united with him by a golden bond of spiritual love and by the pure and holy kiss of charity, Boniface, bishop, legate of the Roman Church, greetings in Christ.
We beseech your loving clemency with heartfelt prayers, deign to interceded for us with the Author of all. That you may not be ignorant of the cause of this prayer, know that because of our sins the course of our mission is threatened by many storms. Everywhere toil, everywhere sorrow. “Without, fightings, within, fears.”1 And most serious of all, the snares of false brethren surpass the malice of the heathen. Wherefore, entreat the sacred defender of my life, the one safe refuge of those in trouble, “the lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world,”2 with His protecting hand to keep me unharmed, as I pass through the lairs of such wolves; that where there should be found the fair feet of 131 those who carry the lamp of the gospel of peace, there may not be discovered the footsteps of apostates who wander in darkness; but rather that the Father Most Holy, when our loins are girt up, may put burning lights in our hands and illumine the hearts of the Gentiles to behold the gospel of Christ’s glory.
Meantime I pray you of your goodness to intercede for those heathen who have been entrusted to us by the Apostolic See; that the Saviour of the world may snatch them from the worship of idols and unite them with the sons of their true mother, the Catholic Church, to the praise and glory of His name “Who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”3
1 2 Cor. vii. 5.
2 John i. 29.
3 1 Tim. ii. 4.
Boniface consoles Abbess Bugga. 723-745.
To his honoured and beloved sister, Bugga, Boniface or Wynfrith, servant of the servants of God, greetings of love in Christ.
O my dear sister, after the fear of Christ and the love of faring abroad separated us by a long stretch of land and sea, from many lips I have heard of the storms of tribulation, which by God’s will have come upon thee in thine old age. I was sad and grieved for thee thinking how, when thou hadst put aside the greater anxiety of caring for the monasteries and sought the quiet of the contemplative life, more numerous and pressing sorrows visited thee.
So now, honoured sister, feeling for thee in thy distress and mindful of thy kindness and of our old time friendship, I send across to thee a brotherly letter of cheer and consolation, and ask thee not to let pass from thy mind the word of Truth, where it says: “In your patience possess ye your souls”;1 and the word of Solomon the 133 wise: “For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth;”2 and the judgment of the psalmist: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth him out of them all”;3 and elsewhere: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”4 Recall the words of the apostle where he said: “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God;”5 and elsewhere: “We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed.”6 In that hope, my dear sister, always rejoice and be glad, because thou wilt not be made ashamed. The tribulations of this world despise with all the strength of thy mind, because all the soldiers of Christ, men and women, have looked down upon the storms and tribulations and infirmities of this life, and held them as nothing, on the witness of Saint Paul, who says: “When I am weak, them am I strong”;7 and elsewhere: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation?” and the rest to “him that loveth us.”8 Thy Father 154 who loves thy virgin chastity, in the first years of thy youth, inviting thee to Him with the voice of parental love, called thee daughter, saying through the prophet: “Hearken, O daughter, and consider and incline thine ear: forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house: so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty.”9 He it is who in thy old age desires to decorate and adorn the fair beauty of thy soul with toil and tribulation. Rejoicing then, beloved, in the hope of thy future inheritance in thy heavenly home, to all adversities that assail thy heart or body, oppose the shield of faith and patience: that, with the aid of Christ thy spouse, in a happy old age thou mayst complete for the glory of God the tower of the spirit, which thou didst begin to build in the goodly days of thy youth, and that when Christ comes, thou mayst with the wise virgins carry to meet him thy lamp filled with oil and lighted. Meanwhile I beg thee with earnest entreaties to be mindful of thine old promise and to pray for me, that the Lord, who is our redeemer and the safety of all, may snatch my soul in the fruit of the spirit from these manifold dangers.
Farewell in Christ.
1 Luc. xxi. 19.
2 Prov. iii. 12.
3 Ps. xxxiv. 19.
4 Ps. li. 17.
5 Acts xiv. 22.
6 Rom. v. 3-5.
7 2 Cor. xii. 10.
8 Rom. viii. 35-37.
9 Ps. xlv. 10, 12.