Daily Reading for June 5 • Boniface, Archbishop of Mainz, 754
To his friend in loving embrace, to his brother in the bonds of the Spirit, to Archbishop Egbert, invested with the insignia of the highest office, many greetings and unfailing love in Christ, from Bonifice, a lowly bishop, legate in Germany of the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.
The gifts and books you have sent us have been received with a joyful and grateful heart. With hands upraised to heaven we beseech the Supreme Majesty to repay you with an ample reward amongst the angels in heaven. But now we beg Your Holiness with earnest prayer that in your kindness and affection you would deign to pray for us in our struggles and trials. The great burden that weighs upon us compels us to seek the help of good men, as it is written: “The earnest prayer of the just man availeth much.” The brevity of this letter, however, prevents us from telling you all the ills we suffer both within and without.
For the present, we beg you from the bottom of our hearts to comfort us in our sorrow, as you have done before, by sending us a spark from that light of the Church which the Holy Spirit has kindled in your land; in other words, be so kind as to send us some of the works which Bede, the inspired priest and student of Sacred Scripture, has composed—in particular, if it can be done, his book of homilies for the year (because it would be a very handy and useful manual for us in our preaching), and the Proverbs of Solomon. We hear that he has written commentaries on this book.
In the meantime, we are greatly in need of your advice and counsel. When I find a priest who in the past has fallen into sin and has been restored to his office by the Franks after due penance, and now lives in a district where there are no other priests and continues to administer Baptism and celebrate Mass for a population which, though Christian, is prone to error, what should I do? If I relieve him of his post, acting on the established canons, then owing to the scarcity of priests, children will die without the sacred water of rebirth until I can find some better man to replace him.
Judge therefore between me and the living people. Is it better, or at least a lesser evil, to allow such a man to perform his sacred functions at the altar, or to leave the bulk of the people to die as pagans, seeing that they have no way of securing a better minister? Where there is no lack of priests, and I find one who has fallen into that same sin and, after doing penance, has been reinstated in his former rank, so that the whole body of priests and people have confidence in his good character, should I remove him? If at this stage he were to be degraded his secret sin would be revealed, the people would be shocked, many souls would be lost through scandal, and there would be great hatred of priests and distrust of the ministers of the Church, so that they would all be despised as faithless and unbelieving.
For this reason we have boldly ventured to tolerate the man under discussion and allow him to remain in the sacred ministry, thinking the danger from the offence of one man a lesser evil than the loss of the souls of almost the entire people. On this whole subject I earnestly desire to have your holy advice in writing. Tell me how far I must exercise forbearance in order to avoid scandal, and how much I must repress.
Finally, we are sending you by the bearer of this letter two small casks of wine, asking you in token of our mutual affection to use it for a merry day with the brethren. We beg you so to treat our requests that your reward may shine forth in the heavens.
A letter from Boniface to Archbishop Egbert asking for the works of Bede, quoted in C. H. Talbot, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany, Being the Lives of SS. Willibrord, Boniface, Leoba and Lebuin together with the Hodoepericon of St. Willibald and a selection from the correspondence of St. Boniface (London and New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954).