It is the 5th of June 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 754. Today we will commemorate St. Bonfice of Mainz, who was martyred in this year. We have made mention of him before on the podcast. Today we will recognize his contribution to the church, especially in the German lands, to get a sense of the context of this famous missionary and martyr. We will be looking at the 8th century, the 700’s, from a birds-eye view.
The 8th century saw the decline of the old order, dominated by the two centers of Rome and Constantinople. For the first time on a large scale, Europeans came into contact with outsiders. This time was the age of Vikings, and it is in this century that they begin to loot and raid the coasts, sometimes raiders, sometimes traders. It depended on the strength of the civilization they came into contact with.
The Umayyad’s began their march to subdue western Europe. The Muslim dynasty would successfully take north Africa and the Iberian peninsula. Their attempt to take Constantinople and modern France was rebuffed.
However, this is also the century in which the Arabs and Persians would set sail for China. They were able to bring back some new technologies. For example, the process of paper-making was taught to these explorers, who would bring back this process to then be borrowed by the Greeks and western Europeans. Printing that not to be developed for centuries in the West was revolutionizing the East. In this century, we see our first printed book in Japan, and in China, the 8th century saw the development of the first-ever printed newspaper. As the century progressed, the western and Arabic influence on China was becoming somewhat pronounced. This influence, along with periodic violence from these visitors, had China close its ports and cease to be a significant player on the world stage for about five centuries.
Some of the firsts in this century include the invention of horse collars and horseshoes. These were necessary for the coming agricultural revolutions. In the British isles, Beowulf was written down in the 8th century, and the Picts were developing musical instruments, notably the first triangular harp. On the continent, the new fad of sleeping on beds became both a convenience and a status symbol.
This century saw the territories of the old Roman empire begin to fall into disarray. It was not until Christmas Day in the very last year of the century that Charlemagne was crowned emperor, and the Carolingian renaissance would begin.
None of the eventual gains made by the empire would have been possible if there had been no common culture across these regions. Missionaries would spread much of this shared culture. The territory we think of today as Germany was an especially tough nut to crack for the church and crown. But it would be necessary to engage these so-called barbarians for any continental unity to exist. And so, we come to the event that took place on this, the 5th of June in the year 756. Boniface of Mainz, the apostle to the Germans, was murdered by pagans on this day. Despite his life being cut short, few people influenced the development of the church across the middle ages as Boniface.
One medieval historian has suggested that Boniface is one of the “truly outstanding creators of the first Europe.” He was the apostle to the Germans, the reformer of the Frankish church, and the person most responsible for the alliance made between the papacy and the Carolingians.
Boniface was born in Anglo-Saxon England in 675 as Wynfrith. He entered a monastery at a young age to his parent's dismay. His first attempt at missionary work was a failure. But when he returned home, his abbot had died. Soon he was called to fill this position, yet he still preferred mission work and set out to go to Rome to meet with the Pope.
Pope Gregory II was impressed with Wynfrith. He gave him both a commission to the germanic people and also a new name. The name Boniface meant “good works” and was a popular medieval Christian name.
He was zealous in attacking paganism, built churches, and baptized thousands in the region. Boniface swore that neither he nor his fellow missionaries would carry weapons. And in this year, 754, he and his men were attacked by a group of raiding pagans, and Boniface was killed. But because a biography was written by a contemporary and his letters and sermons were saved, he became not only the patron saint of the Germany lands but the role model for aspiring missionaries. St Boniface, born in 675, died at the age of 79 on this day, the 5th of June, in 754.
We’ll give the final word today to St. Boniface: this short quote is a reflection on how he endured the times he did, and how we might, today, as well.
Let us trust in Him who has placed this burden upon us. What we ourselves cannot bear let us bear with the help of Christ. For He is all-powerful, and He tells us: 'My yoke is easy, and my burden light.'
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 5th of June 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who has never given in to that fad of sleeping on beds, Christopher Gillespie, as he stands sleeping up like Vici the robot. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.
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