A reading from the letters of St Boniface

A watchful shepherd, guarding the flock of Christ

In this month’s Faith of our Fathers it is recommended that the reader read the letters of St Boniface (675–754) who was known as the apostle of Germany. Born in Crediton and educated at Exeter, he became a monk at Nursling as well as a scholar. Gregory II commissioned him to preach to the heathen and gave him the name Boniface. He became Archbishop of Mainz but resigned after a few years and was martyred by bandits in 754. Here is an extract from Letter 78.

The Church is like a great ship sailing the sea of the world and tossed by the waves of temptation in this life. But it is not to be abandoned-it must be brought under control.

As an example of this we have the Fathers of the past, Clement and Cornelius and many others in the city of Rome, Cyprian in Carthage and Athanasius in Alexandria. Living under pagan emperors, they steered the ship of Christ, that is the Church, his beloved spouse. And they did this by teaching defending, working and suffering even to the shedding of their blood.

When I considered the example of these men and of men like them, I was filled with fear. Dread came upon me, and trembling, and the darkness of my sins almost overwhelmed me. I should have been only too glad to give up the government of the Church which I had accepted, if only I could have found some support for this course of action in the example of the Fathers or in sacred scripture.

Therefore, since this is the situation and since the truth may become wearied but cannot be overcome or deceived, I take refuge in my weariness in the one who spoke through Solomon: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. ‘ And elsewhere : ‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.’

Let us stand firm in doing what is right and prepare to face temptations, so that we may hope for support from the Lord and be able to say to him: ‘Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to the next.’

Let us trust in the one who laid this burden upon us. What we cannot bear on our own, let us bear with the help of the one who is all-powerful and who said: ‘My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Let us stand firm in battle on the day of the Lord, because days of distress and anguish have come upon us. Let us die, if God wills, for the sacred laws of our fathers, so that we may be worthy to share an eternal inheritance with them.

Let us not be dumb watch-dogs or silent spectators: let us not be hirelings that flee at the approach of the wolf. Let us be watchful shepherds, guarding the flock of Christ, preaching to great and small alike, to rich and poor, preaching all that God has decreed to men of all degrees and ages, insofar as God gives us the power. Let us preach in season and out of season, in the way that Saint Gregory has set out in his Pastoral Rule.

Arthur Middleton is Rector of Boldon. Hon. Canon of Durham and a Tutor at St. Chad’s College