St Boniface and the Dark Ages – Ours

St. Boniface was chosen by God to reform the Church already somewhat established in the Frankish world and to evangelize and to create a true Church structure among the Germans in the central and southern areas of the Germanic peoples. He is renowned as the Apostle to the Germans and is honored as such today.

He lived, worked and died in a period of time often referred to as the Dark Ages, simply, and rather simplistically defined by the Merriam Webster as  “a time during which a civilization undergoes a decline.” Certainly, this describes certain aspects of the period between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the High Middle Ages, but that should not be taken to suggest that barbarism had ever been fully overcome by the Roman Empire and replaced everywhere by a high civilization. That is true because the Christianizing of the barbarians was cut short by the collapse of the structures of the Empire, and the work of civilizing the vast regions of Europe was interrupted and slowed by the descent of these peoples into their native, barbaric cultures.

So Boniface and his co-workers were faced with a might challenge to continue the evangelizing work of the Church in an area where this work had been greatly stymied by the collapse of any unified and peaceful civil order. It was dangerous and slow work, and what made it possible to go forward more effectively was the protection of the virtual head of the Frankish “empire” Charles Martel. This great military and civil leader is perhaps best known by the Christian world for his victory over the Muslims at Tours, which really put an end to the Islamic threat to conquer Europe and the West, and began the long process of re-conquest.

But Charles Martel also began the process of reunification of the old Roman Empire which had fallen into complete disarray politically and civilly, which was devastating for the process of Christianizing the rest of Europe, and which was largely responsible for the decline of whatever civilization the Romans had been able to establish in that part of the world. Practically speaking, what it meant was the breakdown of the civil order, which causes a certain dissent and barbarism where life becomes very dangerous. Martel was about the business of reconstituting some kind of civil order on a broad scale like the old Empire which would bring greater stability and peace to the peoples who were now so disunited and often hostile to one another.

Martel wisely decided to befriend Boniface and to protect his work which could not but complement the work of unifying and civilizing these disparate populations via a common religion. It was this inspired cooperation between the Church, the great civilizer of man, and the only real civil authority capable of establishing some kind of order which would bring peace in its wake, making possible the growth of a true civilization.

Nonetheless, Boniface still faced many trials due to the darkness in civil life, the lack of an educated population, and the lack of any unified Church to speak of. It was very dangerous work and Boniface would eventually be martyred by a band of roving barbaric robbers on the coast of modern-day Holland. He accomplished his work of evangelization by establishing monastic communities as centers of learning and education, a critical element for civilizational growth, and by creating Church structures – diocese, parishes etc. – so that the work of building up the church could take place in an effective and stable environment. All of this was accomplished in the midst of constant turmoil in the civil order and in the lives of people on a daily basis.

But I wonder what Boniface would think about our age, where he to come back for a visit to our civilization? We are horrified when we think of some of the barbaric acts that were carried out in these as yet uncivilized parts of the European continent. But I wonder if Boniface would think his age was as dark as ours? In his age, the barbaric acts were out in the open and their horror could not be hidden from the human heart. But the horrors of the last hundred years, the    new barbarism which took hundreds of millions of lives, certainly makes the barbarism of his age pale in comparison. Moreover, that barbarism continues not only in the very visible acts of the new barbarians in the Middle East, but  much more in a hidden way in the hospitals and clinics of our world. While the Muslim extremists kill their thousands, the enlightened masses in the Western world kill their millions in the hidden barbarism of abortion mills.

And what would Boniface think of the destruction of marriage which is at least facilitated by the policies of the civil order, and the breakdown of discipline in the Christian churches as well. What would he think of a “civilization” that has descended into complete moral relativism which calls good evil and evil good, and which elevates homosexual relationships to the state of a civil marriage? Would Boniface not look upon his age as superior to ours in the moral and spiritual aspects of civilization, in spite of its own barbarisms? Would he not think that are dissent into barbarism is far worse than the dissent that occurred after the collapse of the Roman Empire?

Nonetheless,  I very much doubt that Boniface would run away from the task at hand. What he not take up the challenge to evangelize or rather re-evangelize this formerly Christian peoples and thus to re-civilize these formerly Christian civilizations. One thing he would absolutely teach us is that there is no real hope for a fully human civilization without the Church and her mission, just as there is no hope for such without a civil order that promotes true principles of justice and creates the necessary conditions for peace among men.

The big problem the Church faces today is that there are no Charles Martels today with the kind of power and influence necessary to establish such a civil order. It’s the big problem with democracy once it has turned away from the natural law and from its critical dependency upon the Church for her unique contributions to the establishment of civilization. The State, the contemporary civil authority, has today totally divorced itself from the Church and religion in general. It has become largely the enemy and not the friend that Boniface found in Charles Martel. That is a huge problem. It is one big reason why the dissent of the barbarism shows no let up, and why the contribution of the church to civilization itself is so stymied in the contemporary world.

So Boniface makes a great patron for our mission today, for our missionary task, as Christians in the midst of a new and even more terrible dark age than Boniface lived in, caused by the collapse of significant aspects of any  true civilization, its moral and spiritual aspects. In him, we find a courageous , wise and zealous model of bringing the Gospel to the new barbarians of our day and creating the necessary elements for a renewal of civilization itself, a civilization based on justice and charity, as the recent Popes have described it. Pray that the leaders of the civil order come to recognize and support the complimentary and necessary contributions of the Church to rebuilding our civilization. St. Boniface be with us and pray for us.

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