Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Courage of Boniface

The ancient Celts were a fierce war-like people, but also a people who were highly sensitive to poetry, music and the arts. When these warrior poets embraced Christianity, they lost none of their fierceness or their poetry, but put these qualities to the service of God’s Kingdom. Like King David, the prayers and hymns of the Celts show a vision of the Lord that was raw, rugged and untamed. It was a hardy faith that would later give birth to stalwart reformers such as John Knox.

The Celtic church was known for its incredible missionary endeavours. From bases such as the monastery established at Iona, the Celts sent evangelists deep into the Nordic lands that had previously been inaccessible to missionaries.

Because of its geographically separation from the Continent, the Celtic church was immune to many of the ecclesiastical excesses and deviations that began to surround the Roman Church. The Celts remained some of the most outspoken critics of the developing papacy during the early middle ages. The Irish poet and scholar Columban (543 – 615) even had the audacity to write to the Pope and accuse him of heresy while the Britons, whom we now call the Welsh, continued to be strongly independent of the Roman church. Not infrequently, defenders of the Roman church would lash out against the Celts, who remained detached from the growing ecclesiastical system imitating from Rome and actually allowed their clergy to marry. Even during high middle ages, Britain remaineda thorn in the side of the papacy, with such proto-reformers like John Wycliffe (mid-1320s – 1384) anticipating the Protestant cause that would later reach fruition in the Scottish reformation.

Boniface's Early Years

It was into the robust and masculine environment of the Scottish church that Boniface was born around the year 672. Although the Celtic church had been brought into communion with the Roman church in the century prior, in the border region where Boniface was born the church retained much of its original Celtic character. Though never a critic of the papacy, Boniface would imbibe all the fierce independence of the Celts. His pastor set an example to the young boy by always preaching with his sword by his side – lest anyone take umbrage with the sermon.

From his earliest years Boniface was known for his rugged toughness. After church when the villagers would eat their fellowship meal, Boniface led the boys in his favourite sport – throwing boulders at one another.

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