Lanternarius Press

POPE BONIFACE V, THE MILDEST OF MEN

Boniface Fouminios was born around 575 in Naples, at that time part of the Byzantine Empire. He appears to have been of Greek extraction, which was very common at that time in the southern part of the Italian peninsula.

Little seems to be known about him before he was elected Pope. Pope Adeodatus died November 8, 618. Boniface would have been well known, since he was the cardinal- priest of San Sisto, a minor basilica on the Via Appia in Rome. Although he seems to have been elected soon afterwards, the consent of Emperor Heraclius was needed before he could be consecrated. It took a year to get that consent and the consecration took place December 23, 619.

The emperor was embroiled in wars on two fronts. He was battling the Persians as they invaded and conquered the Holy Land. But the emperor was also battling his own exarch, Eleutherius. After this general had gone to Ravenna to punish the murderers of John the previous exarch, he had marched to Naples and attacked. He must have been quite proud of himself, for he proceeded to proclaim himself emperor. His next move was to march on to Rome, thinking to make it the capital of the empire, again. He could also persuade the new pope to give him a crown. However, at the fortress of Laceoli, a stopover on the way to Rome, Eleutherius was attacked and killed by his own men in early 620. They sent his head to the emperor.

Escaping the fate of refusing the exarch, Boniface proceeded to try to organize the Italian peninsula. He was concerned that canon law had to be applied to civil law, so he required ecclesiastical notaries to obey the laws of the empire on the subject of wills. He developed the concept of the right of asylum for all who asked for safety from the Church. His decrees made churches sanctuaries. Other rules included acolytes not being able to translate the relics of martyrs. The pope also insisted that acolytes at the Lateran could not replace deacons for baptism. On a physical level, he had the cemetery of St. Nicomedes completed and consecrated.

The “Liber Pontificalis” writes that Boniface was the “mildest of Men” and describes his chief distinction was his great love of the clergy. This is demonstrated in his attention to the Christianizing of England. He affirmed that Canterbury was the metropolitan see under the specific protection of Rome and he wrote edifying letters to both Bishop Mellitus and his successor. In 624, when Justus of Canterbury was consecrated, Boniface sent a pallium to the new bishop, asking him to ordain more bishops as he saw fit. With the help of the elderly Paulinus, Boniface encouraged King Edwin of Northumbria to embrace the faith. He even sent gifts to Edwin and his Christian wife, Ethelburg of Kent, including embroidered tunics, a mirror and a comb. Edwin did convert, as did many of his subjects.

Boniface was pope of the Church for almost five years, dying October 25, 625, aged about 50.

This man’s love of his fellow clergy is noted in this quote to Bishop Justus: “The unspeakable rewards of the eternal kingdom are reserved for those who labor for Almighty God.”

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