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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VI: June. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

June 19

St. Boniface, Archbishop and Martyr

[Of the Order of Camaldoli, and Apostle of Russia.]  BRUNO, called also Boniface, was by extraction a nobleman of the first rank in Saxony, and agreeable to his high birth was his education in the study of the liberal arts, under Guido the philosopher, and other great masters. From his very cradle, piety was the predominant inclination of his heart, and he received very young the clerical tonsure. The Emperor Otho III. called him to his court, and appointed him his chaplain, with the superintendency and care of the imperial chapel. So much was this prince taken with the virtue of the young saint, and with the sweetness of his disposition, that he placed in him an entire confidence, could not forbear publicly testifying on every occasion his tender affection and esteem for him, and usually called him his soul. Boniface was not at all puffed up with his favour, and armed himself against the smiles of prosperity by the constant practice of self-denial, and by the most profound humility. Seeing himself surrounded with vanities and delights, he was sensible that he stood in need of the stronger antidotes to preserve himself from their dangerous poison. His tender devotion, and his affection for holy prayer, especially for the public service of the church, are not to be expressed. And by his watchfulness and fervour he found his sanctification in the very place where so many others lose their virtue. One day as the saint was going into a church dedicated to St. Boniface, the bishop of Mentz, and martyr, he felt his heart suddenly inflamed with an ardent desire to lay down his life for Christ, and in a pious transport, he said to himself: “Am not I also called Boniface? Why may not I be a martyr of Jesus Christ as he was, whose intercession is implored in this place?” From that time he never ceased sighing after the glory of shedding his blood for Him who redeemed us by his most precious death. St. Romuald coming to the emperor’s court in 998, Boniface, charmed with his saintly deportment, begged to be admitted into his Order, and received the habit. It was with the greatest regret that the emperor saw him quit his court; but he thought he could not oppose his holy resolution, lest by so doing he should incur the divine displeasure.  1
  Boniface inherited the spirit, and all the admirable virtues of the great St. Romuald. He who had been accustomed to sleep on soft beds, to wear rich garments of silk, and to eat at the table of an emperor to whom he was most dear; he who had long seen himself environed with the pomp and splendour of the world, and had been the first and the most favoured of the courtiers, and of all the princes of the empire; contented himself with one poor coarse habit, walked barefoot, knew no other food than insipid roots and pulse, worked with his hands, earned his bread with the sweat of his brow, led a retired life, lay on straw or boards, and often, after having worked all day, passed the whole or the greater part of the night in prayer. He often ate only twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays, and sometimes rolled himself among nettles and thorns; so that no part of his body was without wounds and pain, to punish his flesh for what he called a neglect of penance and mortification in his youth. He with David continually begged of God, that by his grace he would confirm him in the good purpose which he had begun in his soul, and he marched a giant’s pace in the road of perfection. Having spent some years, first at Mount Cassino, afterwards under the direction of St. Romuald at Piræum, near Ravenna, and lastly, in an eremitical life, he obtained his superior’s leave to go and preach the gospel to the infidels. He therefore went to Rome barefoot, singing psalms all the way, and allowing himself no other sustenance than half a pound of bread a day, with water, and on Sundays and holidays a small quantity of roots or fruit. When he had arrived at Rome, Pope John XVIII. approved his design, gave him all necessary faculties, and obliged him to accept a brief, directing that he should be ordained archbishop as soon as he should open his mission. Boniface offered himself to God as a victim ready to be sacrificed for the salvation of his brethren; and in these fervent sentiments travelled into Germany in the depth of a severe winter. He on that occasion sometimes made use of a horse, but always rode or walked barefoot, and it was often necessary to thaw his feet with warm water before he could draw them out of the stirrups in which they were frozen.  2
  The saint went to Mersbourg to sue for the protection of St. Henry II., emperor of Germany; which having readily obtained, he was consecrated bishop by Taymont, archbishop of Magdeburg, who conferred on him the pall which Boniface himself had brought from Rome. The holy prelate, notwithstanding the fatigues of his missions, continued his severe fasts and watchings, and devoted all his time on his journeys to prayer, especially to the reciting of the psalms, in which he found great sweetness and delight. His desire to rescue souls from the blindness of sin and idolatry seemed insatiable; and the savage inhabitants of Prussia appearing to be the fiercest and most obstinate in their malice, he made them the first objects of his zeal. Boleslas, duke of Poland, and many great lords, made him rich presents; all which he gave to the churches and to the poor, reserving nothing for himself. He would have only heaven for the recompense of his labours: everything else appeared unworthy of his ministry, and too much beneath what he hoped: he even feared that it might diminish his eternal reward, or infect his heart. It was in the twelfth year after his conversion from the world that he entered Prussia. But the time of the visit of the Lord was not yet come for the idolaters of that country. Boniface desired at least to die a martyr among them; but they remembering that the martyrdom and subsequent miracles of St. Adalbert of Prague had been an inducement to many to embrace the faith, refused him the wished-for happiness of sealing his love for Christ with his blood. Boniface being thus repulsed, left Prussia, and advancing to the borders of Russia on the other side of Poland, began there with great zeal to announce the gospel. 1 The Bollandists think 2 that in his mission in Prussia he converted to the faith the Livonians and Samogitians.  3
  The Russians at that time were all barbarous idolaters, and had abated nothing of their ancient ferocity when St. Boniface undertook to plant the gospel among them. They sent him an order to leave their territories, and forbade him to preach the faith in their dominions. The saint paid no regard to this prohibition, and as he advanced into the country, the king of a small province was desirous to hear him. But when he saw him barefoot, and meanly clad, he treated him with contempt, and would not hear him speak. The holy bishop withdrew, and having put on a plain suit of clothes which he carried with him to say mass in, returned to the court. The king told him he would believe in Christ, if he could see him walk through a great fire without receiving any hurt. The saint, by a divine inspiration, undertook to perform the miracle in presence of the king, who seeing him miraculously preserved amidst the flames, desired to be instructed in the faith, and was baptized with many others. The barbarians were alarmed at this progress of the gospel, and threatened the saint if he proceeded further into their country. But words could not daunt him who thirsted after nothing more earnestly than the glory of martyrdom. The infidels soon after seized and beheaded him, with eighteen companions, in the year 1009. The Roman Martyrology proposes him to our veneration on this day, and again under the name of Bruno on the 15th of October, probably on account of some translation. 3 See his life in Mabillon, Act. Ord. S. Bened. sæc. 6. p. 79. and St. Peter Damian in his life of St. Romuald. Also the Bollandists, t. 3. Junij, p. 907.  4
Note 1. The Russi or Rutheni derived their pedigree from the Roxolani mentioned by Strabo, Mela, and Pliny; by whom we are informed that they were the most northern people of European Scythia that were known to the Romans, being situated beyond the Borysthenes at the back of the Getæ, whom the Romans called Daci. Their territory lay west to the Alani, and their name seems originally to have been Roxi or Rossi Alani. The word Rosscia in the Russian language signifies a scattering or dispersion, and this people were called Russi, because they lived dispersed in the fields and woods, often changing their habitations, like their neighbours the Nomades, and the wandering Tartars at this day. Whence Procopius, (l. 3, de Bello Gothico, c. 14,) by translating their name into Greek, calls them Spori or scattered. See the etymology clearly proved by Herbersteinius in Comment, rerum Muscovit. by Hoffman, in Lexic. and by Jos. Assemani, Origin, Sclavorum, c. 3, p. 222. The name Roxolani was softened into Russia and Rutheni by the writers of the ninth and tenth centuries; for so they are called by Luitprand, bishop of Cremona, in 968, by the Annals of St. Bertin, and by the Greeks, as Nicetas in the Life of St. Ignatius, Simeon Metaphrastes in his Chronicon, and the continuator of Theophanes. At this day all those nations are called Russians, which use the Sclavonian, not the Greek tongue, in the divine office, yet follow the rites of the Greek Church, as the Muscovites, and certain provinces subject to Poland; some of which are Catholics, and others adhere to the Greek schism.
  N. B.—Bayer, who wrote De Origin. Scythar. in Comm. Acad. Petropolit. t. 1, p. 390, is very inaccurate in his Origines Russicæ. [back]
Note 2. Bolland, t. 3. Junij, p. 908, § 2, n. 8. [back]
Note 3. Some authors have distinguished this St. Bruno, or rather Brun, and St. Boniface; but the life of St. Brun in Ditmar, compared with that of St. Boniface, given by St. Peter Damian, demonstrates the identity of the person. And the Chronicle of Magdeburg expressly names him Brun, called Boniface. [back]