Boniface V - Church Comes To England

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Boniface V was a Neopolitan, the son of John. He was very probably one of the capable clerical staff of Pope Gregory the Great. His character is indicated by the fact that he was called "the mildest of men."

Boniface was consecrated pope on December 23, 619. Almost immediately he faced an embarrassing situation. The Patrician Eleutherius, who had so vigorously put down all rebels in the time of Pope Deusdedit, now decided to play the rebel himself. First he took over Ravenna. Then he proclaimed that he wished to assume the imperial crown in Rome "where the seat of empire had its permanent place." This was to place Pope Boniface in a delicate situation. Loyalty to the far-off Emperor Heraclius would forbid any such coronation. The presence of the armed cohorts of Eleutherius would be a cogent argument in its favor. But the rebel army spared Pope Boniface the trouble of making the delicate decision. Before Eleutherius could reach Rome, his own soldiers slew him and sent his would-be crowned head to Emperor Heraclius in Constantinople.

The acolytes seem to have been a pushful group in those days, for Boniface twice had to issue decrees restraining their activity, once to prevent them from taking part in the distribution or translating of relics, and again from taking the place of deacons in the ceremony of baptism.

Boniface took a great interest in the infant church in England. He wrote letters encouraging the missionaries there. He also insisted that Pope Gregory had established Canterbury as the metropolitan see and forbade anyone to go against this. Canterbury was under the special guardianship of Rome. Meanwhile, the missionary Paulinus had been hard at work trying to convert the great northern kingdom of Northumbria. Pope Boniface came to his aid by writing letters to the royal family. He also sent gifts--an embroidered tunic and cloak for King Edwin and a silver mirror and an inlaid ivory comb for Queen Ethelberga. Doubtless these latter would console the Christian Kentish lady in her Northumbrian exile.

Pope Boniface's reign saw the rise of great troubles in the East. The Persians under King Chosroes had fought their way to Jerusalem, and to the great grief of the Christians, had carried off the true cross. Meanwhile in 622 a camel-driver with dreams, driven out of Mecca, had been forced to fly to friendly Medina. History was in the making.

Boniface finished the construction of the Cemetery of St. Nocomedes on the Via Nomentana, but when he died in 625, he was buried like his predecessors in St. Peter's.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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