As Patrick was a missionary bishop to Irish people, sent from the Catholic Church in Englandby the Bishop of Rome (the pope), so was the English Boniface sent by the Bishop of Rome to the German peoples. Boniface was martyred June 5th, Pentecost, anno Domini 754. He had returned to Frisia (present-day Holland), one of his previous mission fields. At sunrise, while reading the Gospel to a group of the newly Baptized, a band of pagan Frisians attacked Boniface and the neophytes. Boniface and the neophytes were massacred. In Fulda, Germany, are the remains of Boniface along with the purported Gospel book he was holding with slash marks. Boniface died while catechizing.
Boniface, Missionary Bishop to the Germans and Martyr is one of my favorite saints.. I was initially dumbstruck by the phrase “missionary bishop” for the reason that I think of “bishop” only in terms of Roman hierarchical images, that is, crosiers, mitres, etc., as many of you probably do. Then reading about Boniface (and Patrick) and reading in particular his letters I learned what Boniface, the way the Church understood mission work:
- I learned that this missionary bishop established churches, schools, liturgy, monasteries and the like.
- I learned that Boniface did not act as a lone pastoral agent out in the field, but he had with him many other priests.
- I learned that he consulted the Church: three times he went to Rome for conversation about mission in the German lands and the Frankish Empire, with the Bishop of Rome and considering the 8th Century, this was quite a trip! Boniface surely needed “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.”
- I have read a volume of Boniface’s letters, letters he wrote and received, as he kept in contact with the Church for her mission work, for advice, correction, reproof so that the man of God be equipped for every good work.
- I learned that the Bishop of Rome, Gregory II, did not want the Germans to be “Roman” but, as he wrote to Boniface: “You are to teach them the service of the kingdom of God by the persuasion of the truth in the name of Christ, the Lord our God. You will pour into their untaught minds the preaching of the Old and New Testaments in the spirit of virtue and love and sobriety and with reasoning suited to their understanding.” The Church noted Boniface’s love of Scripture.
- I learned that in letter sent to Abbess Eadburga in England, “…I beg you further to add to what you have done already by making a copy written in gold of the Epistles of my master, St. Peter, the Apostle, to impress honor and reverence for the Sacred Scriptures visibly upon the carnally minded to whom I preach. I desire to have ever present before me the words of him who is my guide upon this road…here your works may shine further in golden letters for the glory of our heavenly Father.” The Liturgy is for the Word as the Liturgy is the Scriptural Word.
- I learned again that in the 8th century the Church was international: Rome, England, Germany, Frisia (Holland) were all part of the Boniface’s bio and mission. The Word created the uncommon common culture of the Church. The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord. The Church edified in the Scriptures, the Word of God, preaching, teaching, sacraments, Holy Ministry. “…..a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
- I learned that the German speaking lands had been evangelized before Boniface but the clergy and people fell into moral and doctrinal laxity of an extreme nature. This meant that the mission work took time and Boniface had his hands full in dealing with heretical clergy. Pope Zacharias wrote to Boniface, dated May 1, 748, that the “sacrilegious priests”,“…gather about them a like-minded following and carry on their false ministry, not in a catholic church, but in the open country in the huts of farm laborers, where their ignorance and stupid folly can be hidden from the bishops. They neither preach the catholic faith to pagans, nor have they themselves the true faith. They do not even know the sacred words which any catechumen old enough to use his reason can learn and understand, nor do they expect them to be uttered by those whom they are to baptize, as, for instance, the renunciation of Satan, and so forth. Neither do they fortify them with the sign of the cross, which should precede baptism, nor do they teach belief in one God and the Holy Trinity; nor do they require them to believe with the heart for righteousness or to make confession with the lips for salvation. Wherever, beloved, you find these ministers, nor of Christ but of Satan, you will a meeting of the clergy of the province and utterly reject them.”
- And so I learned that Bishop Boniface convened five councils of the Church in his German territories for the sake of reformation, especially for clergy who were justifying literally murder and adultery. Bp. Boniface to Bp. Daniel of Winchester, “…we have fightings within as well as fears, caused especially by false priests and hypocrites, enemies of God, ruining themselves, misleading the people with scandals and false doctrines, and crying to them, as the prophet says, “Peace! Peace! when there is no peace.” They strive to cover and choke with weeds or to turn into poisonous grain the seed of the Word which we have received from the bosom of the Catholic and Apostolic Church and have tried to sow. What we plant they do not water that it may increase but try to uproot that it may wither away, offering to the people and teaching them new divisions and errors of divers sorts…that murderers and adulterers who persist in their crimes may nevertheless be priests of God.”
The Church established churches for the evangelization of the neo-pagan, the fallen Baptized, and the pagan a Church culture, complete with catechesis, preaching, teaching and the Divine Liturgy. This runs contrary to all what goes for mission in the latter half of the debauched 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st Century. This was no 8th century “program” or “process” with “guaranteed results”, denying the essential evangelical and catholic essence of the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But it did work! Those Christians built from the perspective of the eternity which the Lord put into us, not from the zeitgeist. And here we are evangelical, catholic and orthodox Christians in the Lutheran Church, in the LCMS, with many German surnames and give thanks to the Lord for the Englishman Boniface.
The greatest, most noted and spectacular event in Boniface’s mission work occurred in 723, when he returned to the mission fields in Hesse, “…was to fell the sacred oak tree of Thor (a Norse god), at Geisman in the region of Hesse. When Boniface was not struck down by the ‘god’, many people were converted and Boniface built a chapel in honor of St. Peter with wood from the tree.” (Festivals and Commemorations by Rev. Phillip Pfatteicher)
- What would a Liberal Protestant have done at the ‘sacred’ tree? Certainly not cut it down! Instead, begin an inter-faith dialogue to understand other religions as being essentially the same as the Christian religion, incorporating their ‘liturgy’ into the Church’s, reconciled diversity, “Christians for Thor”.
- What would a mission-minded LCMS Lutheran do with the ‘sacred’ tree? Yes, cut it down, build the chapel…but after 60 or so years, tear it down and use the wood to construct an ox-drawn large wagon to go from hut to hut to build “relationships” with the villagers with a rocking Norse band, singing NoWo (Norse worship).
Boniface built a Chapel, complete with Altar, Pulpit and Nave for the preaching and teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I find it nuts to be asked by Pr. Scheer to write an article defending church buildings from the Bible and church history, but our forebears had to respond to some nutty stuff. All of what Boniface, et. al. did was based upon the Bible:
- At least a quarter of the 40 chapters of Exodus deals with one specific project, The Building of the Tabernacle, and the Tabernacle was certainly no wooden cart complete with “Smile! Yahweh Loves You” bumper stickers. The Tabernacle had a destination.
- One of the most joyous events in the life of King David was when he finally was able to bring the Ark of the Covenant intoJerusalem.
- One of the greatest events of the United Kingdom was Solomon building the Temple as the Lord said that His Name would dwell on earth.
- Jesus and His apostle Paul went to synagogues, places of the Word, to preach the Word, the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Our Lord said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4) The Lord disestablished Jerusalem, there would be no ‘Mecca’ for the Church spread throughout time and space. Instead, wherever and whenever His people, called and sanctified by the Word, that place and time is Jerusalem, because His Body is there. “…the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” (Galatians 4: 26). We wait for that city to descend, “…the Bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21: 9) Even the new heavens and the new earth will be a place.
It is so clear from the Bible, Church history, as in Boniface, the mission work of our forebears to this land who built churches, hospitals, orphanages, schools, colleges, seminaries, that this is the clear work of His Church: to build, to edify in both mortals and mortar.
In conclusion, Dr. Luther taught of the 3rd Commandment, can be applied to church buildings, replacing the word “time”, and time-related words with “place” or sanctuary:
“… most especially, that on such day of rest (since we can get no other opportunity) freedom and time be taken to attend divine service, so that we come together to hear and treat of God’s Word, and then to praise God, to sing and pray.
However, this, I say, is not so restricted to any time, as with the Jews, that it must be just on this or that day; for in itself no one day is better than another; but this should indeed be done daily; however, since the masses cannot give such attendance, there must be at least one day in the week set apart. But since from of old Sunday [the Lord’s Day] has been appointed for this purpose, we also should continue the same, in order that everything be done in harmonious order, and no one create disorder by unnecessary innovation.”
Almighty God, who called Your faithful servant Boniface to be a witness and martyr in the lands of Germany and Friesland, and by his labor and suffering raised up a people for Your own possession, pour forth Your Holy Spirit upon your Church in every land, that by the service and sacrifice of many Your holy Name may be glorified and Your kingdom enlarged; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
(Source of quotes: The Letters of St. Boniface, translated by Ephraim Emerton)