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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. 135-157.
Boniface thanks Egbert of York1 for gifts. He asks Egbert to pray for him and to send him the commentaries of Bede. He tells of adulterous priests. He sends wine. 746-754.
To a friend worthy of being embraced in the arms of love and held by the ties of spiritual kinship, wearing the robes of the highest priestly office, Archbishop Egbert, Boniface, a humble bishop, legate in Germany of the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church, greetings of imperishable love in Christ.
The gifts and books which you so kindly sent us, we received with gratitude and rejoicing. With hands lifted to heaven we have besought the King above that He may bestow upon you a bounteous reward in the heavenly court of the angels. And now we beg your holy clemency with sincere entreaties, that you may deign to pray for us struggling amidst toil and danger. Our great need forces us to seek the aid of the just, since it is written: “The effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”2 136 But from telling all the ills which we suffer within and without, the brevity of a letter prevents us.
We ask with earnest desire, that to bring joy into our sorrow as you have done before, you should take care to send us a tiny gleam from that candle of the Church, which the Holy Spirit lit within the limits of your province; that is, that you should deign to send across some part of the commentaries of Bede, that saintly priest and investigator of the Holy Scriptures, composed; especially, if it be possible, his Homilies, and his Proverbs of Solomon, for they will be very convenient and useful to us in our preaching. We have heard that he wrote commentaries on these subjects.
Meanwhile, the greatest necessity forces us to seek your advice and judgment. For I have found a priest who long ago fell into adultery, and after repentance was restored again to his place by the Franks; now, dwelling in a vast district occupied by faithful but erring people, alone without other priests he administers baptism, and celebrates mass. If in accordance with the most binding canons I remove this man, infants will die without the sacred waters of regeneration, owing to the scarcity of priests — provided that I have none better to take the place of the fallen one. Judge therefore between me and an erring people, whether it is better, or, at least a smaller 137 evil, that such a man should discharge the ministry of the holy altar, or that a multitude should die in unbelief, because they could not obtain a minister of purer life. But if amidst all our priests I find one who has fallen into the same sin and through repentance has been restored to his former rank — in whom all the priests and people have had confidence begotten of favourable opinion — if he is degraded in this manner, his secret sin will be revealed, a multitude will be scandalized, through the scandal many souls will be lost and there will result a great hatred of the priests and a distrust of the ministers of the church, so that believing in none they will look down upon all as false. Wherefore, we boldly ventured to suffer him to remain in the holy ministry, thinking the danger to one man a lighter thing than the ruin and damnation of the souls of almost all the people. But in all these matters I desire above all else to see in writing and to hear your holy counsels, as to what I must tolerate, forced by the necessity of avoiding scandal, or what I must reject.
Lastly, we have sent across to your grace with the bearer of this letter two measures of wine as a proof of affection that, at our loving entreaty, you may use it to spend a happy day with your brethren. We pray you, therefore, so to answer these our requests that your reward may shine forth in the heights of heaven.
1 Archbishop of York from 735 to 766.
2 James v. 16.
Boniface thanks Egbert, Archbishop of York, for gifts and books. He requests him to support his letter to Æthelbald, King of the Mercians. He asks for the works of Bede and sends the letters of Saint Gregory. 744-747.
To his beloved and revered brother Archbishop Egbert, Boniface, servant of the servants of God, legate in Germany of the Apostolic See, sincere greetings of spiritual kinship in Christ.
When I received the books and gifts from thy love, lifting my hands to heaven I returned great thanks to the Omnipotent God, for having suffered me in my long exile to find such a friend, who has sent me assistance in earthly things, and divine solace in things spiritual through prayer and common intercourse. And now I entreat thy loving kindness with the most heartfelt entreaties, that, along with those who work with me, I may deserve to be united to your1 synod; that thou mayst be my counsellor and helper in searching out and investigating the ecclesiastical rules which express the will of God. Be assured that I am asking, not in a mere playful 139 form of words, but sincerely; and do not think me arrogant or proud or unduly satisfied with my own judgment. For the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church, when it sent me, an unworthy and lowly missionary, to preach to the erring or pagan people of Germany, enjoined me, if, as I moved among the Christians, I should see anywhere people in error, or the laws of the church misused by an evil practice, or men led aside from the Catholic faith into by-paths, on the authority of the Roman pontiff to strive with all my strength to win and recall them to the way of salvation.
Desiring to keep this command I sent with the advice and consent of the bishops who are with me, a letter of admonition or entreaty to Æthelbald, King of the Mercians. This I bade to be submitted to thy sight, that whatsoever therein were badly put thou mightst change, but whatsoever were just thou mightst season with the salt of thy wisdom, and confirm by thine authority, and that shouldst thou see any shoot of these crimes, which in the letters are charged against the king of the Mercians, seeking to sprout forth among thy people, like a provident and wise farmer, with the sickle of the Lord’s authority thou mightst cut it down in time and tear it out by the roots; that I may not flourish in the vine, nor be of the tree of Sodom, nor their race be from 140 Gomorrah, nor their wine be the poison of dragons and the cruel venom of asps.2 For it is an evil unheard of in past ages, and as servants of our Lord, learned in the Scriptures, declare, surpassing three or four fold the licence of the Sodomites, that a Christian people, against the custom of the whole world, nay more against the command of God should despise lawful matrimony and practise fornication and adultery, and commit unspeakable violence upon consecrated and veiled women.
Moreover I beg thee, deign to copy and send me some portions of the works of Bede — whom lately, as we have heard, the divine grace enriched with spiritual understanding and allowed to shine forth in your province — so that we too may enjoy light from the candle which the Lord bestowed upon you.
Meanwhile, as a sign of my love, I have sent thee copies of the letters of Saint Gregory, which I have received from the library of the Roman Church; I did not think that they had yet come to Britain. I can send more of them at thy bidding, for I received many thence. I have sent also a sacramental cloth, and a towel to wipe the feet of the servants of God, when thou washest them.
It is my wish in Christ that you mayst fare well and advance in holy virtues.
1 V. note on page 41.
2 Cf. Denteron, 32, 32, 33.
Boniface asks Huetberht, Abbot of Wearmouth and Jarrow, to send him the works of Bede and a cloak. 744-747.
To the most beloved and revered brother Abbot Huetberht and all the brothers of his holy congregation, Boniface, poor servant of the servants of God, greetings of fraternal love in Christ.
With the most earnest entreaties, we ask of your fraternal piety that you aid us with your holy prayers, while we toil among the wild and ignorant people of Germany and plant the gospel-seed, so that by your prayers the cruel rage of Babylonian fire may be quenched in us and the seed scattered in the furrows may spring up and multiply in the harvest. In the words of the apostle: “Neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase; that utterance may be given unto us and the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified.”1
Meanwhile we ask that you should deign to send us copies of the works of the monk Bede, that wise investigator 142 of the Scriptures, who, as we have heard, through his knowledge of the Scriptures, but lately shone among you a candle of the church in the house of the Lord. We ask you also, if it is not too much trouble, to send a cloak, a great comfort in our exile. We have sent you as a token of deep affection some reading-desks of goat’s-horn, as they call them here. These, though they are unworthy, we beg of you to accept for memory’s sake.
May the merciful Trinity and one God keep you well, and advancing in virtue; and may He make you glorious in happiness to come, among the bright ranks of the angels.
1 1 Cor. iii. 7; Eph. vi. 19; 2 Thess. iii. 1.
Boniface asks Abbot Aldhere with his brotherhood to pray to God for himself, the Germans and certain departed friends. 732-754.
To his venerable brother Abbot Aldhere, Boniface, humble servant of the servants of God, greetings in Christ.
With the most earnest and heartfelt entreaties, we beg you of your loving clemency, deign to be mindful of us in making intercession with your holy prayers, and to implore the good Lord, who is the cause of our exile, that with His right hand He may protect and steer the ship of our weakness lest it be submerged in the waves of German tempests, and bring it unharmed in His guardianship to the tranquil shore of the heavenly Jerusalem. Greet all the brothers of your holy brotherhood, our dearest brother in the Lord, with the kiss of our love and devotion. We commend ourselves to your prayers, that whether in life or in death we may be united with the fellowship of your love. And that this may be so established, we wish, by brotherly devotion to deserve 144 well of you according to the favour of your clemency, in so far as our powers avail. We beg you, also, to intercede for the German peoples given over to the worship of idols, asking the Lord, who poured out His own blood for the safety of the whole world, and “will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth,”1 to turn them to a knowledge of the Creator and to the bosom of Mother Church. Likewise we entreat you to offer your prayers and masses for the souls of our brothers at rest, who laboured with us in the Lord. The bearer of this letter will give you their names.
It is our constant wish that you have good health and holy success in Christ.
1 1 Tim. ii. 4.
Sigebald, probably Abbot of Chertsey, writes to Boniface, that through the priest Eobo,* he has asked Boniface to be, with Daniel of Winchester, his bishop. He asks to be kept in memory. 732-746.
To the most venerable lord and archbishop Boniface, the privilege of whose parental love should be made widespread, Sigebald, most unworthy and lowly servant of the servants of God, greetings in the Lord.
With humblest prayers, as though kneeling before thee on bended knees, I beg thee to pardon the request which I have made to thee through thy priest Eobo; I have asked him to tell thee of my desire and prayer, that thou shouldst be my bishop along with my bishop Daniel. Of thy clemency thou wouldst ere this have granted by petition if he had done as I asked him to do. I thought, my master, that some word of comfort would have come to me, Be it known to thee that from that time I had thy name recorded, with the names of our bishops, whenever I celebrated the holy mass. And now I shall not cease to remember it as long as I live; and if I survive thee, I 146 have thy name recorded beside the name of our father, Bishop Ercnwald. I must assure thee, however, that I write this, trusting not in my own merits, sinner that I am, but in the mercy of God, and the hope which thou hast in Him. So I pray that some memory of me, such as my lowliness deserves, may linger with thee both now and in the future. Farewell in Christ.
* Earlier in the book, the name of a priest who knew Boniface in the same period is spelled Eoba. See Letter 14. They appear not to be the same man, since there are entries in the Index for both names. — Elf.Ed.
Boniface urges a nun to pray for him. 742-746.
To the revered and beloved handmaid of Christ, * * *, Boniface, humble servant of the servants of God, greetings of pure love in Christ.
We beseech your loving clemency with heartfelt entreaties to intercede before God for us sinners, because we are buffeted and shaken by many turbulent storms, coming whether from the heathen or from false Christians or from adulterous clerks, or false priests, and that too, I fear, through our own deserts. But we beg that we may be consoled and rescued by your prayers. We trust in the Lord Jesus that through your loving prayers we may deserve to find pardon for our sins and rest from storms, since James, the apostle, who is true to his word has said: “Confess your faults one to another, that ye may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”1; and John the evangelist says in his first epistle: “And if we know that He hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we 148 desired of him.”2 And I beg you not to refuse because I made this same request before; I should ask again and again, since I would have your prayers never cease. Daily tribulations make me seek divine comfort from my brothers and sisters. I fear, moreover, that the temptations of Satan are the same there as here, according to the words of the apostle: “Be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, inasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord;”3; and again: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit ye like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity.”4 And if want touches you, do not forget the gospel-words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”5 If tribulation comes, be mindful of the words of truth: “In your patience possess ye your souls,”6 and of the psalm: “The expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever”7; if infirmity of body, let there be present with you the words of the apostle Paul where he said: “When I am weak, then am I strong,” and “my strength is made perfect in weakness.”8
1 Jas. v. 16.
2 1 John v. 15.
3 1 Cor. xv. 58.
4 1 Cor. xvi. 13, 14.
5 Matt. v. 3.
6 Luke xxi. 19.
7 Ps. ix. 19.
8 2 Cor. xii. 10, 9.
Boniface urges Lioba, Tecla, Cynehilda and their sisters to pray for him. 742-746.
To my beloved sisters worthy of all honour and affection, Lioba and Tecla and Cynehilda , and all the dear sisters in Christ who live with you, greetings of undying love.
I beseech, nay all but command you, my dear daughters, to implore God with incessant prayers, as I trust that you do now and have done and will do unceasingly, that we may be delivered, in the words of the apostle, “from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith”1 — be assured that if we praise God the tribulations of our hearts are mitigated — and to pray the Lord God, who is the refuge of the poor and the hope of the humble, to snatch us from our hardships and the temptation of this evil world; “that the word of the Lord may have free course, and the glorious gospel of Christ be glorified,”2 “that the grace of God which was bestowed on me may not be in vain,”3 and that, since 150 I am the least and the worst of all the legates, whom the Catholic and Apostolic Church of Rome has sent to preach the gospel, I may not die barren without some fruit of the gospel, and may not return empty-handed in the ranks of sons and daughters; that I may not be judged guilty, when the Lord comes, of hiding the talent nor because of my sins receive instead of a reward for my labour, punishment for unfruitful toil from Him who sent me. And what is worse, many who I thought would be set on the Judgment Day as sheep at the right hand of Christ, have proved to be, on the contrary, stinking and wanton goats who must be set on the left hand. Entreat the goodness of God that He who willed that I, though unworthy, should be chosen shepherd over the people, may strengthen my heart with the spirit of a ruler, so that when the wolf comes I may not flee like a hireling, but like the good shepherd may seek to defend faithfully and loyally the lambs with their mothers, that is the Church Catholic, and its sons and daughters, against heretics and schismatics and hypocrites.
Moreover, “because the days are evil, be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”4 Wherefore, “be strong, steadfast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong; let all your things be done with 151 charity”5; and according to the gospel: “In your patience possess ye your souls.”6 Keep in mind the holy apostles and prophets: because they laboured much in the Lord, therefore have they gained eternal rewards. According to the psalmist: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth them out of them all”7; and according to the gospel: “He that endureth to the end shall be saved.”8
1 2 Thess. iii. 2.
2 2 Thess. iii. 1.
3 1 Cor. xv. 10.
4 Eph. v. 16, 17.
5 1 Cor. xvi. 13, 14.
6 Luke xxi. 19.
7 Ps. xxxiii. 20.
8 Matt. x. 22.
Ælbwald, King of the East Angles, writes to Boniface about mutual prayers. He commends his messenger. 747-749.
To the most glorious lord, deserving of every honour and reverence, Archbishop Boniface, Ælbwald, by God’s gift endowed with kingly sway over the Angles, and the whole abbey with all the brotherhood of the servants of God in our province who invoke Him, throned on high, with prayers night and day for the safety of the churches, greetings in God who rewards all.
First of all we would have thee know, beloved, how gratefully we learn that our weakness has been commended to your holy prayers; so that, whatever your benignity by the inspiration of God commanded concerning the offering of masses and the continuous prayers, we may attempt with devoted mind to fulfil. Your name will be remembered perpetually in the seven offices of our monasteries; by the number seven perfection is often designated. Wherefore, since this has been well ordered and by God’s help the rules for the soul have been duly determined and the state of the inner man is provided for, the external 153 aids of earthly substance, which by the bounty of God have been placed in our power, we wish to be at your will and command, on condition, however, that through your loving kindness you have the assistance of your prayers given to us without ceasing in the churches of God. And just as the purpose of God willed thee to become a shepherd over His people, so we long to feel in thee our patron. The names of the dead and of those who enter upon the way of all flesh, will be brought forward on both sides, as the season of the year demands, that the God of Gods and the Lord of Lords, who willed to place you in authority over bishops, may deign to bring His people through you to a knowledge of the One in Three, the Three in One. Farewell, until you pass the happy goal.
P. S. — Besides, holy father, we would have thee know that we have sent across the bearer of the present letter with a devout intention; just as we have found him faithful to you, so wilt thou find that he speaks the truth in anything relating to us.
Æthelbert the Second, King of Kent, urges Boniface in fulfilment of a promise made to Abbess Bugga, to pray to God for him. He sends gifts, and asks for some falcons. 748-754.
To the most blessed lord, deservedly adorned with pontifical robes, Archbishop Wynfrith, called Boniface, Æthelbert, King of Kent, greetings in the Lord of Lords.
A few years ago the venerable Abbess Bugga, after she had visited the sacred places in the city of Rome for the purpose of prayer, and returning thither had reached her fatherland and the monastery of consecrated women, which formerly she governed well under the law of the Church — when at her invitation I came at once to speech with her, among the things pleasant to hear, this especially she took care to convey to my ears, that thou hadst given her permission to speak freely in thy gracious and lovable presence of her pressing necessities, while you were both in Rome, and were zealous in frequently and wearing away the threshold of the holy Apostles’ shrine. 155 She went on straightway to tell how, reminded as it were by the ties of our blood relationship, she likewise addressed thy fraternity with humblest prayers as a suppliant on my behalf, that just as she, while present, merited to be imbued with thy salutary precepts and strengthened with the blessing of thy prayers, so too might I, though absent and unknown to thee in the body, yet present in the spirit, be enriched by thine accustomed beneficence, with this same gift so necessary to me. When she said that thou hadst promised on thy undoubted word to do this, I confess truly that I cannot easily set forth in words, how much pleasure and consolation I received therefrom. And on this account I was the more delighted because such precious gifts sprang suddenly from a hope that did not expect fulfilment.
Wherefore, it seems alike useful and proper for me to address thy holiness, distinguished far and wide, by the exchange of friendly letters or the words of faithful messengers. And this I think I can scarcely do better and more efficaciously at any time than now, when holy men from your excellency are present, who have been sent by you across hither to Britain, as prudent and faithful messengers, and deserve to return as soon as possible with God’s aid to your gracious sight and presence. Hence it seemed to me best to send the bearer of this 156 letter, by name Ethelhun, in religion a monk, with your men on a safer and surer journey, and to forward through him my greetings and requests to your love. And first of all we declare that we all in common pay fervent thanks to the Omnipotent God, who has so bestowed on you the favour of His mercy as to convert through the words and efforts of your preaching an innumerable multitude of the Gentiles, miserably deceived by the old error of idolatry, to the rule of Christian faith. Wherefore, we still hope and desire many things through the help of God, assured that He, who has begun to work through you, will not cease to accomplish still greater things from day to day.
With the bearer of these lines my devotion has directed to your reverence some gifts accompanied by great love, a silver bowl lined with gold, weighing three pounds and a half, and two cloaks. These presents we have sent to you with no intention or expectation of receiving them for any earthly reward or temporal recompense. But instead, as is much the more necessary for me, I humbly beg, from the depths of my heart, that, since the days are evil, and there multiply daily various unexpected difficulties in this world full of scandal, thou shouldst deign to aid us with the strong and constant assistance of thy prayers. And may thy beloved and respected authority be mindful always to urge to this same course others whom it can 157 influence either by command or suggestion, not merely while thou hearest that I am still in this mortal flesh, but also after my death, should I deserve to have thee as my survivor.
Now that these matters have been thus briefly and summarily touched upon, one thing besides I would have you secure for me, which, from what has been told me, I do not think will be difficult for you to obtain; I mean two falcons whose skill and courage consist in freely attacking cranes, seizing them and bring them to earth. We make of you this request, to secure and send the birds, because, in our country, that is to say in Kent, very few falcons of this kind are found, which will produce such good brood, and can be trained and subdued to quickness and courage in the aforementioned art.
Finally, at the conclusion of this letter, I beg thee to answer; and in thy letter deign to tell me, if these things which I have addressed to thee, have come safe.
May the divine goodness grant thee a long life to pray for us.