Vol. 4, Chapter II (Cont’d) – The Culdees


After the expulsion of the Columban monks from the kingdom of the Picts in the eighth century, the term Culdee or Ceile De, or Kaledei, first appears in history, and has given rise to much controversy and untenable theories. It is of doubtful origin, but probably means servants or worshippers of God. It was applied to anchorites, who, in entire seclusion from society, sought the perfection of sanctity. They succeeded the Columban monks. They afterwards associated themselves into communities of hermits, and were finally brought under canonical rule along with the secular clergy, until at length the name of Culdee became almost synonymous with that of secular canon.

The term Culdee has been improperly applied to the whole Keltic church, and a superior purity has been claimed for it.

There is no doubt that the Columban or the Keltic church of Scotland, as well as the early Irish and the early British churches, differed in many points from the medieval and modern church of Rome, and represent a simpler and yet a very active missionary type of Christianity.

The leading peculiarities of the ancient Keltic church, as distinct from the Roman, are:

1. Independence of the Pope. Iona was its Rome, and the Abbot of Iona, and afterwards of Dunkeld, though a mere Presbyter, ruled all Scotland.

2. Monasticism ruling supreme, but mixed with secular life, and not bound by vows of celibacy; while in the Roman church the monastic system was subordinated to the hierarchy of the secular clergy.

3. Bishops without dioceses and jurisdiction and succession.

4. Celebration of the time of Easter.

5. Form of the tonsure.

It has also been asserted, that the Kelts or Culdees were opposed to auricular confession, the worship of saints, and images, purgatory, transubstantiation, the seven sacraments, and that for this reason they were the forerunners of Protestantism.

But this inference is not warranted. Ignorance is one thing, and rejection of an error from superior knowledge is quite another thing. The difference is one of form rather than of spirit. Owing to its distance and isolation from the Continent, the Keltic church, while superior to the churches in Gaul and Italy — at least during the sixth and seventh centuries — in missionary zeal and success, was left behind them in other things, and adhered to a previous stage of development in truth and error. But the general character and tendency of both during that period were essentially different from the genius of Protestant Christianity. We find among the Kelts the same or even greater love for monasticism and asceticism, the same superstitious belief in incredible miracles, the same veneration for relics (as the bones of Columba and Aidan, which for centuries were carried from place to place), the same scrupulous and narrow zeal for outward forms and ceremonies (as the observance of the mere time of Easter, and the mode of monastic tonsure), with the only difference that the Keltic church adhered to an older and more defective calendar, and to the semi-circular instead of the circular tonsure. There is not the least evidence that the Keltic church had a higher conception of Christian freedom, or of any positive distinctive principle of Protestantism, such as the absolute supremacy of the Bible in opposition to tradition, or justification by faith without works, or the universal priesthood of all believers.

Considering, then, that the peculiarities of the Keltic church arose simply from its isolation of the main current of Christian history, the ultimate triumph of Rome, with all its incidental evils, was upon the whole a progress in the onward direction. Moreover, the Culdees degenerated into a state of indolence and stagnation during the darkness of the ninth and tenth centuries, and the Danish invasion, with its devastating and disorganizing influences. We still find them in the eleventh century, and frequently at war with the Roman clergy about landed property, tithes and other matters of self-interest, but not on matters of doctrine, or Christian life. The old Culdee convents of St. Andrews Dunkeld, Dunblane and Brechin were turned into the bishop’s chapter with the right of electing the bishop. Married Culdees were gradually supplanted by Canons-Regular. They lingered longest in Brechin, but disappeared in the thirteenth century. The decline of the Culdees was the opportunity of Rome. The Saxon priests and monks, connected with the more civilized countries, were very active and aggressive, building cathedrals, monasteries, hospitals, and getting possession of the land.


20. Extinction of the Keltic Church, and Triumph of Rome under King David I

The turning-point in the history of the Scotch church is the reign of the devout Saxon queen St. Margaret, one of the best queens of Scotland (1070-1093). She exerted unbounded influence over her illiterate husband, Malcolm III., and her sons. She was very benevolent, self-denying, well versed in the Scriptures, zealous in reforming abuses, and given to excessive fasting, which undermined her constitution and hastened her death. “In St. Margaret we have an embodiment of the spirit of her age. What ostentatious humility, what almsgiving, what prayers! What piety, had it only been freed from the taint of superstition! The Culdees were listless and lazy, while she was unwearied in doing good. The Culdees met her in disputation, but, being ignorant, they were foiled. Death could not contend with life. The Indian disappears before the advance of the white man. The Keltic Culdee disappeared before the footsteps of the Saxon priest.”

The change was effected by the same policy as that of the Norman kings towards Ireland. The church was placed upon a territorial in the place of a tribal basis, and a parochial system and a diocesan episcopacy was substituted for the old tribal churches with their monastic jurisdiction and functional episcopacy. Moreover the great religious orders of the Roman Church were introduced and founded great monasteries as centres of counter-influence. And lastly, the Culdees were converted from secular into regular Canons and thus absorbed into the Roman system. When Turgot was appointed bishop of St. Andrews, a.d. 1107 “the whole rights of the Keledei over the whole kingdom of Scotland passed to the bishopric of St. Andrews.”

From the time of Queen Margaret a stream of Saxons and Normans poured into Scotland, not as conquerors but as settlers, and acquired rapidly, sometimes by royal grant, sometimes by marriage, the most fertile districts from the Tweed to the Pentland Firth. From these settlers almost every noble family of Scotland traces its descent. They brought with them English civilization and religion.

The sons and successors of Margaret enriched the church by magnificent endowments. Alexander I. founded the bishoprics of Moray and Dunkeld. His younger brother, David I., the sixth son of Malcolm III., who married Maud, a grand-niece of William the Conqueror (1110) and ruled Scotland from 1124 to 1153, founded the bishoprics of Ross, Aberdeen, Caithness, and Brechin, and several monasteries and religious houses. The nobility followed his example of liberality to the church and the hierarchy so that in the course of a few centuries one half of the national wealth passed into the hands of the clergy, who were at the same time in possession of all the learning.

In the latter part of David’s reign an active crusade commenced against the Culdee establishments from St. Andrews to Iona, until the very name gradually disappeared; the last mention being of the year 1332, when the usual formula of their exclusion in the election of a bishop was repeated.

“Thus the old Keltic Church came to an end, leaving no vestiges behind it, save here and there the roofless walls of what had been a church, and the numerous old burying-grounds to the use of which the people still cling with tenacity, and where occasionally an ancient Keltic cross tells of its former state. All else has disappeared; and the only records we have of their history are the names of the saints by whom they were founded preserved in old calendars, the fountains near the old churches bearing their name, the village fairs of immemorial antiquity held on their day, and here and there a few lay families holding a small portion of land, as hereditary custodiers of the pastoral staff, or other relic of the reputed founder of the church, with some small remains of its jurisdiction.”


II. The Conversion of France, Germany, and Adjacent Countries

General Literature

I. Germany Before Christianity

Tacitus: Germania (cap. 2, 9, 11, 27, 39-45); Annal. (XIII. 57); Hist. IV. 64).

Jac. Grimm: Deutsche, Mythologie. Göttingen, 2nd ed. 1854, 2 vols.

A. F. Ozanam: Les Germains avant le christianisme. Par. 1847.

K. Simrock. Deutsche Mythologie. Bonn, 2nd ed. 1864.

A. Planck: Die Götter und der Gottesglaube der Deutschen. In “Jahrb. für Deutsche Theol.,” 1866, No. 1.


II. The Christianization of Germany

F. W. Rettberg: Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands. Göttingen, 1846-48. 2 vols.

C. J. Hefele (R.C.): Geschichte der Einführung des Christenthums im südwestl. Deutschland. Tübingen 1837.

H. Rückert: Culturgeschichte des deutschen Volkes in der Zeit des Uebergangs aus dem Heidenthum. Leipz. 1853, 2 Vols.

W. Krafft: Kirchengeschichte der German. Völker. Berlin 1854. (first vol.)

Hiemer (R.C.): Einführung des Christenthums in Deutschen Landen. Schaffhausen 1857 sqq. 4 vols.

Count de Montalembert (R.C.): The Monks of the West from St. Benedict to St. Bernard. Edinb. and Lond. 1861 sqq. 7 vols.

I. Friedrich (R.C., Since 1870 Old Cath.): Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands. Regensb. 1866, 1869, 2 vols.

Charles Merivale: Conversion of the West. The Continental Teutons. London 1878. (Popular).

G. Körber: Die Ausbreitung des Christenthums im südlichen Baden. Heidelb. 1878.

R. Cruel: Geschichte der deutschen Predigt im Mittelalter. Detmold 1879. (Chs. I. and II.)


21. Arian Christianity among the Goths and Other German Tribes

I. Editions of the remains of the Gothic Bible Version of Wulfila: by H. C. von der Gabelenz and J. Loebe, Leipz. 1836-46; Massmann, 1855-57; E. Bernhardt, 1875 (with the Greek text and notes); and Stamm, 7th ed. 1878, and in fac-simile by Uppström, 1854-1868. See also Ulphilae Opera, and Schaff, Compan. to Gr. Test., p. 150.

Ulphilae Opera (Versio Bibliorum Gothica), in Migne’s Patrolog., Tom. XVIII. pp. 462-1559 (with a Gothic glossary).

II. G. Waitz: Ueber das Leben und die Lehre des Ulfila. Hanover 1840.

W. Bessel: Das Leben des Ulfilas und die Bekehrung der Gothen zum Christenthum. Goetting. 1860.

W. Krafft: l.c. I. 213-326; and De Fontibus Ulfilae Arianismi. 1860.

A. Helfferich: Der west-gothische Arianismus und die spanische Ketzergeschichte. Berlin 1860.

We now proceed to the conversion of the Continental Teutons, especially those of France and Germany.

The first wholesale conversions of the Germanic or Teutonic race to the Christian religion took place among the Goths in the time when Arianism was at the height of power in the East Roman empire. The chief agents were clerical and other captives of war whom the Goths in their raids carried with them from the provinces of the Roman empire and whom they learned to admire and love for their virtue and supposed miraculous power. Constantine the Great entered into friendly relations with them, and is reported by Eusebius and Socrates to have subjected them to the cross of Christ. It is certain that some ecclesiastical organization was effected at that time. Theophilus, a bishop of the Goths, is mentioned among the fathers of the Council of Nicaea, 325.

The real apostle of the Goths is Ulifilas, who was consecrated bishop in 348 at Constantinople, and died there in 381, aged seventy years. He invented the Gothic alphabet, and translated the Bible into Gothic, but was an Arian, or rather a semi-Arian, who regarded Christ as a secondary God and the Holy Spirit merely as a sanctifying power.

Arianism spread with great rapidity among the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Burgundians, and Vandals. This heretical form of Christianity, however, was more a matter of accident than preference and conviction among the Germans, and soon gave way to orthodoxy when they became acquainted with it. When Alaric, the famous king of the Visigoths, captured Rome (410), he treated the city with marked leniency, which Augustin justly traced to the influence of the Christian faith even in heretical form. The Vandals, the rudest among the Teutonic tribes, made an exception; they fiercely persecuted the orthodox Christians in North Africa (since 430) and desolated this once flourishing field of the Catholic Church, the scene of the immortal labors of St. Augustin. Their kingdom was destroyed under Justinian (534), but the Catholic Church never rose from its ruins, and the weak remnant was conquered by the sword of Islâm (670).

Chrysostom made a noble effort to convert the Eastern Goths from Arianism to Catholicity, but his mission ceased after his death (407).

The conversion of the Franks to Catholic christianity and various political circumstances led to the abandonment of Arianism among the other Germanic tribes. The Burgundians who spread from the Rhine to the Rhone and Saone, embraced Catholic Christianity in 517, and were incorporated into the French kingdom in 534. The Suevi who spread from Eastern Germany into France and Spain, embraced the Catholic faith in 550. The Visigoths in Spain, through their king, Reccared the Catholic, subscribed an orthodox creed at the third Council of Toledo, a.d. 589, but the last of the Gothic kings, Roderic, was conquered by the Saracens, breaking into Spain from Africa, in the bloody battle of Xeres de la Frontera, a.d. 711.

The last stronghold of Arianism were the Longobards or Lombards, who conquered Northern Italy (still called Lombardy) and at first persecuted the Catholics. They were converted to the orthodox faith by the wise influence of Pope Gregory I. (590616), and the Catholic queen Theodelinde (d. 625) whose husband Agilulf (590-616) remained Arian, but allowed his son Adelwald to be baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church. An Arian reaction followed, but Catholicism triumphed under Grimoald (662-671), and Liutprand (773-774). Towards the close of the eighth century, Pepin and Charlemagne, in the interest of France and the papacy, destroyed the independence of the Lombards after a duration of about two hundred years, and transferred the greater part of Italy to the Eastern empire and to the Pope. In these struggles the Popes, being then (as they have been ever since) opposed from hierarchical interest to the political unity of Italy, aided the Franks and reaped the benefit.


22. Conversion of Clovis and the Franks

Gregorius Turonensis (d. 595): Historia Francorum Eccles. (till A..D. 591).

J. W. Loebell: Gregor von Tours und seine Zeit, Leipz. 1839.

A. Thierry: Recits des temps Merovingiens. Par. 1842, 2 vols.

F. W. Rettberg: Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands. Gött. 1846, I. 258-278.

Kornhack: Geschichte der Franken unter den Merovingern. Greifsw. 1863.

Montalembert, l.c. II. 219 sqq.

Comp. also Henri Martin: Histoire de France; Sir James Stephen: Lectures on the History of France (Lond. 1859); Guizot: Histoire de la civilization en France (1830 sqq.), and his Histoire de France, 1870.

The Salian Franks were the first among the Teutonic tribes which were converted to catholic or orthodox Christianity. Hence the sovereign of France is styled by the Popes “the oldest son of the church,” and Rheims, where Clovis was baptized, is the holy city where most of the French kings down to Charles X. (1824) were consecrated. The conversion of the Franks prepared the way for the downfall of the Arian heresy among the other Germanic nations, and for the triumph of the papacy in the German empire under Charlemagne.

The old Roman civilization of Gaul, though nominally Christian, was in the last stage of consumption when the German barbarians invaded the soil and introduced fresh blood. Several savage tribes, even the Huns, passed through Gaul like a tempest, leaving desolation behind them, but the Franks settled there and changed Gaul into France, as the Anglo-Saxons changed Britain into England. They conquered the Gallo-Romans, cruelly spoiled and almost exterminated them in the North-Eastern districts. Before they accepted the Christianity of the conquered race, they learned their vices. “The greatest evil of barbarian government,” says Henri Martin, “was perhaps the influence of the greedy and corrupt Romans who insinuated themselves into the confidence of their new masters.” To these degenerate Christians Montalembert traces the arts of oppression and the refinements of debauchery and perfidy which the heathen Germans added to their native brutality. “The barbarians derived no advantage from their contact with the Roman world, depraved as it was under the empire. They brought with them manly virtues of which the conquered race had lost even the recollection; but they borrowed, at the same time, abject and contagious vices, of which the Germanic world had no conception. They found Christianity there; but before they yielded to its beneficent influence, they had time to plunge into all the baseness and debauchery, of a civilization corrupted long before it was vanquished. The patriarchal system of government which characterized the ancient Germans, in their relations with their children and slaves as well as with their chiefs, fell into ruin in contact with that contagious depravity.”

The conversion of the Salian Franks took place under the lead of their victorious king Chlodwig or Clovis (Ludovicus, Louis), the son of Childeric and grandson of Merovig (hence the name of Merovingians). He ruled from the year 481 to his death in 511. With him begins the history not only of the French empire, its government and laws, but also of the French nation, its religion and moral habits. He married a Christian princess, Chlotilda, a daughter of the king of the Burgundians (493), and allowed his child to be baptized. Before the critical battle at Tolbiac near Cologne against the invasion of the Allemanni, he prayed to Jesus Christ for aid after having first called upon his own gods, and promised, in case of victory, to submit to baptism together with his warriors. After the victory he was instructed by Bishop Remigius of Rheims. When he heard the story of the crucifixion of Christ, he exclaimed: “Would I had been there with my valiant Franks to avenge him!” On Christmas, in the year 496, he descended before the cathedral of Rheims into the baptismal basin, and three thousand of his warriors followed him as into the joys of paradise. “When they arose from the waters, as Christian disciples, one might have seen fourteen centuries of empire rising with them; the whole array of chivalry, the long series of the crusades, the deep philosophy of the schools, in one word all the heroism, all the liberty, all the learning of the later ages. A great nation was commencing its career in the world — that nation was the Franks.”

But the change of religion had little or no effect on the character of Clovis and his descendants, whose history is tarnished with atrocious crimes. The Merovingians, half tigers, half lambs, passed with astonishing rapidity from horrible massacres to passionate demonstrations of contrition, and from the confessional back again to the excesses of their native cruelty. The crimes of Clovis are honestly told by such saintly biographers as Gregory of Tours and Hincmar, who feel no need of any excuse for him in view of his services to religion. St. Remigius even advised the war of conquest against the Visigoths, because they were Arians.

“The Franks,” says a distinguished Catholic Frenchman, “were sad Christians. While they respected the freedom of the Catholic faith, and made external profession of it, they violated without scruple all its precepts, and at the same time the simplest laws of humanity. After having prostrated themselves before the tomb of some holy martyr or confessor; after having distinguished themselves by the choice of an irreproachable bishop; after having listened respectfully to the voice of a pontiff or monk, we see them, sometimes in outbreaks of fury, sometimes by cold-blooded cruelties, give full course to the evil instincts of their savage nature. Their incredible perversity was most apparent in the domestic tragedies, the fratricidal executions and assassinations, of which Clovis gave the first example, and which marked the history of his son and grandson with an ineffaceable stain. Polygamy and perjury mingled in their daily life with a semi-pagan superstition, and in reading these bloody biographies, scarcely lightened by some transient gleams of faith or humility, it is difficult to believe that, in embracing Christianity, they gave up a single pagan vice or adopted a single Christian virtue.

“It was against this barbarity of the soul, far more alarming than grossness and violence of manners, that the Church triumphantly struggled. From the midst of these frightful disorders, of this double current of corruption and ferocity, the pure and resplendent light of Christian sanctity was about to rise. But the secular clergy, itself tainted by the general demoralization of the two races, was not sufficient for this task. They needed the powerful and soon preponderating assistance of the monastic Army. It did not fail: the church and France owe to it the decisive victory of Christian civilization over a race much more difficult to subdue than the degenerate subjects of Rome or Byzantium. While the Franks, coming from the North, completed the subjugation of Gaul, the Benedictines were about to approach from the South, and super-impose a pacific and beneficent dominion upon the Germanic barbarian conquest. The junction and union of these forces, so unequal in their civilizing power, were destined to exercise a sovereign influence over the future of our country.”

Among these Benedictine monks, St. Maurus occupies the most prominent place. He left Monte Casino before the death of St. Benedict (about 540), with four companions, crossed the Alps, founded Glanfeuil on the Loire, the first Benedictine monastery in France, and gave his name to that noble band of scholars who, more than a thousand years after, enriched the church with the best editions of the fathers and other works of sacred learning. He had an interview with King Theodebert (the grandson of Clovis), was treated with great reverence and received from him a large donation of crown lands. Monastic establishments soon multiplied and contributed greatly to the civilization of France.


23. Columbanus and the Irish Missionaries on the Continent

I. Sources

The works of Columbanus in Patrick Fleming’s Collectanea sacra (Lovanii, 1667), and in Migne: Patrolog., Tom. 87, pp. 1013-1055. His life by Jonas in the Acta Sanct. Ord. Bened., Tom. II., Sec. II., 2-26. (Also in Fleming’s Coll.)


II. Works

Lanigan (R. K.): Eccles. Hist. of Ireland (1829), II. 263 sqq.

Montalembert: Monks of the West, II. 397 sqq.

Ph. Heber: Die vorkarolingischen Glaubenshelden am Rhein, 1867.

Luetolf (R.C.): Die Glaubensboten der Schweiz vor St. Gallus. Luzern, 1871.

Ebrard: Die iroschottische Missionskirche (1873), pp. 25-31; 284-340.

Killen: Ecclesiast. Hist. of Ireland (1875), I. 41 sqq.

W. Smith and H. Wace: Dict. Christ. Biography (1877), I. 605-607.

G. Hertel: Ueber des heil. Columba Leben und Wirken, besonders seine Klosterregel. In the “Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol.,” 1875, p. 396; and another article in Brieger’s “Zeitschrift für Kirchengesch.,” 1879, p. 145.


Columbanus and the Irish Missionaries

While the Latin Benedictine monks worked their way up from the South towards the heart of France, Keltic missionaries carried their independent Christianity from the West to the North of France, the banks of the Rhine, Switzerland and Lombardy; but they were counteracted by Roman missionaries, who at last secured the control over France and Germany as well as over the British Isles.

St. Columbanus is the pioneer of the Irish missionaries to the Continent. His life has been written with great minuteness by Jonas, a monk of his monastery at Bobbio. He was born in Leinster, a.d. 543, in which year St. Benedict, his celebrated monastic predecessor, died at Monte Casino, and was trained in the monastery of Bangor, on the coast of Down, under the direction of St. Comgall. Filled with missionary zeal, he left his native land with twelve companions, and crossed over the sea to Gaul in 590, or in 585, several years before Augustin landed in England. He found the country desolated by war; Christian virtue and discipline were almost extinct. He travelled for several years, preaching and giving an example of humility and charity. He lived for whole weeks without other food than herbs and wild berries. He liked best the solitude of the woods and eaves, where even the animals obeyed his voice and received his caresses. In Burgundy he was kindly received by King Gontran, one of the grandsons of Clovis; refused the offer of wealth, and chose a quiet retreat in the Vosges mountains, first in a ruined Roman fort at Annegray, and afterwards at Luxeuil (Luxovium). Here he established a celebrated monastery on the confines of Burgundy and Austrasia. A similar institution he founded at Fontaines. Several hundred disciples gathered around him. Luxeuil became the monastic capital of Gaul, a nursery of bishops and saints, and the mother of similar institutions.

Columbanus drew up a monastic rule, which in all essential points resembles the more famous rule of St. Benedict, but is shorter and more severe. It divides the time of the monks between ascetic exercises and useful agricultural labor, and enjoins absolute obedience on severe penalties. It was afterwards superseded by the Benedictine rule, which had the advantage of the papal sanction and patronage.

The life of Columbanus in France was embittered and his authority weakened by his controversy with the French clergy and the court of Burgundy. He adhered tenaciously to the Irish usage of computing Easter, the Irish tonsure and costume. Besides, his extreme severity of life was a standing rebuke of the worldly priesthood and dissolute court. He was summoned before a synod in 602 or 603, and defended himself in a letter with great freedom and eloquence, and with a singular mixture of humility and pride. He calls himself (like St. Patrick) “Columbanus, a sinner,” but speaks with an air of authority. He pleads that he is not the originator of those ritual differences, that he came to France, a poor stranger, for the cause of Christ, and asks nothing but to be permitted to live in silence in the depth of the forests near the bones of his seventeen brethren, whom he had already seen die. “Ah! let us live with you in this Gaul, where we now are, since we are destined to live with each other in heaven, if we are found worthy to enter there.” The letter is mixed with rebukes of the bishops, calculations of Easter and an array of Scripture quotations. At the same time he wrote several letters to Pope Gregory I., one of which only is preserved in the writings of Columbanus. There is no record of the action of the Synod on this controversy, nor of any answer of the Pope.

The conflict with the court of Burgundy is highly honorable to Columbanus, and resulted in his banishment. He reproved by word and writing the tyranny of queen Brunehild (or Brunehauld) and the profligacy of her grandson Theodoric (or Thierry II.); he refused to bless his illegitimate children and even threatened to excommunicate the young king. He could not be silenced by flattery and gifts, and was first sent as a prisoner to Besançon, and then expelled from the kingdom in 610.

But this persecution extended his usefulness. We find him next, with his Irish friends who accompanied him, on the lake of Zurich, then in Bregenz (Bregentium) on the lake of Constance, planting the seeds of Christianity in those charming regions of German Switzerland. His preaching was accompanied by burning the heathen idols. Leaving his disciple St. Gall at Bregenz, he crossed the Alps to Lombardy, and founded a famous monastery at Bobbio. He manfully fought there the Arian heresy, but in a letter to Boniface IV. he defended the cause of Nestorius, as condemned by the Fifth General Council of 553, and called upon the Pope to vindicate the church of Rome against the charge of heresy. He speaks very boldly to the Pope, but acknowledges Rome to be “the head of the churches of the whole world, excepting only the singular prerogative of the place of the Lord’s resurrection” (Jerusalem). He died in Bobbio, Nov. 21, 615. The poetry of grateful love and superstitious faith has adorned his simple life with various miracles.

Columbanus was a man of considerable learning for his age. He seems to have had even some knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. His chief works are his Regula Monastica, in ten short chapters; seventeen Discourses; his Epistles to the Gallic Synod on the paschal controversy, to Gregory I., and to Boniface IV.; and a few poems. The following characteristic specimen of his ascetic view of life is from one of the discourses: “O mortal life! how many hast thou deceived, seduced, and blinded! Thou fliest and art nothing; thou appearest and art but a shade; thou risest and art but a vapor; thou fliest every day, and every day thou comest; thou fliest in coming, and comest in flying, the same at the point of departure, different at the end; sweet to the foolish, bitter to the wise. Those who love thee know thee not, and those only know thee who despise thee. What art thou, then, O human life? Thou art the way of mortals, and not their life. Thou beginnest in sin and endest in death. Thou art then the way of life and not life itself. Thou art only a road, and an unequal road, long for some, short for others; wide for these, narrow for those; joyous for some, sad for others, but for all equally rapid and without return. It is necessary, then, O miserable human life! to fathom thee, to question thee, but not to trust in thee. We must traverse thee without dwelling in thee — no one dwells upon a great road; we but march over it, to reach the country beyond.”

Several of the disciples of Columbanus labored in eastern Helvetia and Rhaetia.

Sigisbert separated from him at the foot of the St. Gothard, crossed eastward over the Oberalp to the source of the Rhine, and laid the foundation of the monastery of Dissentis in the Grisons, which lasts to this day.

St. Gall (Gallus), the most celebrated of the pupils of Columbanus, remained in Switzerland, and became the father of the monastery and city called after him, on the banks of the river Steinach. He declined the bishopric of Constanz. His double struggle against the forces of nature and the gods of heathenism has been embellished with marvelous traits by the legendary poetry of the middle ages. When he died, ninety-five years old, a.d. 640, the whole surrounding country of the Allemanni was nominally Christianized. The monastery of St. Gall became one of the most celebrated schools of learning in Switzerland and Germany, where Irish and other missionaries learned German and prepared themselves for evangelistic work in Switzerland and Southern Germany. There Notker Balbulus, the abbot (died 912), gave a lasting impulse to sacred poetry and music, as the inventor or chief promoter of the medieval Laudes or Prosae, among which the famous “Media vita in morte sumus” still repeats in various tongues its solemn funeral warning throughout Christendom.

Fridold or Fridolin, who probably came from Scotland, preached the gospel to the Allemanni in South Germany. But his life is involved in great obscurity, and assigned by some to the time of Clovis I. (481-511), by others more probably to that of Clovis II. (638-656).

Kilian or Kyllina, of a noble Irish family, is said to have been the apostle of Franconia and the first bishop of Würzburg in the seventh century.


24. German Missionaries before Boniface

England derived its Anglo-Saxon population from Germany in the fifth century, and in return gave to Germany in the eighth century the Christian religion with a strong infusion of popery. Germany afterwards shook off the yoke of popery, and gave to England the Protestant Reformation. In the seventeenth century, England produced Deism, which was the first act of modern unbelief, and the forerunner of German Rationalism. The revival of evangelical theology and religion which followed in both countries, established new points of contact between these cognate races, which meet again on common ground in the Western hemisphere to commingle in the American nationality.

The conversion of Germany to Christianity and to Romanism was, like that of England, the slow work of several centuries. It was accomplished by missionaries of different nationalities, French, Scotch-Irish, English, and Greek. It began at the close of the second century, when Irenaeus spoke of Christian congregations in the two Germanies, i.e. Germania prima and secunda, on the upper and lower Rhine; and it was substantially completed in the age of Charlemagne in the eighth century. But nearly the entire North-Eastern part of Germany, which was inhabited mostly by Slavonic tribes, remained heathen till the eleventh and thirteenth centuries.

We must distinguish especially three stages: 1) the preparatory labors of Italian, French, and Scotch-Irish missionaries; 2) the consolidating romanizing work of Boniface of England and his successors; 3) the forcible military conversion of the Saxons under Charlemagne. The fourth and last missionary stage, the conversion of the Prussians and Slavonic races in North-Eastern Germany, belongs to the next period.

The light of Christianity came to Germany first from the Roman empire in the Roman colonies on the Rhine. At the council of Arles in 314, there was a bishop Maternus of Cologne with his deacon, Macrinus, and a bishop of Treves by the name of Agroecius.

In the fifth century the mysterious Severinus from the East appeared among the savages on the banks of the Danube in Bavaria as an angel of mercy, walking bare-footed in mid-winter, redeeming prisoners of war, bringing food and clothing with the comfort of the Gospel to the poor and unfortunate, and won by his self-denying labors universal esteem. French monks and hermits left traces of their work at St. Goar, St. Elig, Wulfach, and other places on the charming banks of the Rhine. The efficient labors of Columbanus and his Irish companions and pupils extended from the Vosges to South Germany and Eastern Switzerland. Willebrord, an Anglo-Saxon, brought up in an Irish convent, left with twelve brethren for Holland (690) became the Apostle of the Friesians, and was consecrated by the Pope the first bishop of Utrecht (Trajectum), under the name of Clemens. He developed an extensive activity of nearly fifty years till his death (739).

When Boniface arrived in Germany he found nearly in all parts which he visited, especially in Bavaria and Thuringia, missionaries and bishops independent of Rome, and his object was fully as much to romanize this earlier Christianity, as to convert the heathen. He transferred the conflict between the Anglo-Saxon mission of Rome and the older Keltic Christianity of Patrick and Columba and their successors from England to German soil, and repeated the role of Augustin of Canterbury. The old Easter controversy disappears after Columbanus, and the chief objects of dispute were freedom from popery and clerical marriage. In both respects, Boniface succeeded, after a hard struggle, in romanizing Germany.

The leaders of the opposition to Rome and to Bonifacius among his predecessors and contemporaries were Adelbert and Clemens. We know them only from the letters of Boniface, which represent them in a very unfavorable light. Adelbert, or Aldebert (Eldebert), was a Gaul by nation, and perhaps bishop of Soissons; at all events he labored on the French side of the Rhine, had received episcopal ordination, and enjoyed great popularity from his preaching, being regarded as an apostle, a patron, and a worker of miracles. According to Boniface, he was a second Simon Magus, or immoral impostor, who deceived the people by false miracles and relics, claimed equal rank with the apostles, set up crosses and oratories in the fields, consecrated buildings in his own name, led women astray, and boasted to have relics better than those of Rome, and brought to him by an angel from the ends of the earth. Clemens was a Scotchman (Irishman), and labored in East Franconia. He opposed ecclesiastical traditions and clerical celibacy, and had two sons. He held marriage with a brother’s widow to be valid, and had peculiar views of divine predestination and Christ’s descent into Hades. Aldebert and Clemens were condemned without a hearing, and excommunicated as heretics and seducers of the people, by a provincial Synod of Soissons, a.d. 744, and again in a Synod of Rome, 745, by Pope Zacharias, who confirmed the decision of Boniface. Aldebert was at last imprisoned in the monastery of Fulda, and killed by shepherds after escaping from prison. Clemens disappeared.


25. Boniface, the Apostle of Germany

I. Bonifacius: Epistolae et Sermones, first ed. by Serrarius, Mogunt. 1605, then by Wuerdtwein, 1790, by Giles, 1842, and in Migne’s Patrol. Tom, 89, pp. 593-801 (together with Vitae, etc.). Jaffe: Monumenta Moguntina. Berol. 1866.

II. Biographies of Bonifacius. The oldest by Willibald, his pupil and companion (in Pertz, Monum. II. 33, and in Migne, l.c. p. 603); by Othlo, a German Benedictine monk of the eleventh cent. (in Migne, p. 634); Letzner (1602); Loeffler (1812); Seiters (1845); Cox (1853); J. P. Müller (1870); Hope (1872); Aug. Werner Bonifacius und die Romanisirung von Mitteleuropa. Leipz., 1875; Pfahler (Regensb. 1880); Otto Fischer (Leipz. 1881); Ebrard: Bonif. der Zerstoerer des columbanischen Kirchenthums auf dem Festlande (Guetersloh, 1882; against Fischer and very unjust to B.; see against it Zoepffel in the “Theol. Lit. Zeitg,” 1882, No. 22). Cf. the respective sections in Neander, Gfrörer, Rettberg (II. 307 sqq.)

On the Councils of Bonif see Hefele: Conciliengeschichte, III. 458.

Boniface or Winfried surpassed all his predecessors on the German mission-field by the extent and result of his labors, and acquired the name of the Apostle of Germany. He was born about 680 from a noble family, at Kirton in Wessex, the last stronghold of paganism among the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. He was brought up in the convent of Nutsal near Winchester, and ordained priest at the age of thirty. He felt it his duty, to christianize those countries from which his Anglo-Saxon forefathers had emigrated. It was a formidable task, requiring a heroic courage and indomitable perseverance.

He sacrificed his splendid prospects at home, crossed the channel, and began his missionary career with two or three companions among the Friesians in the neighborhood of Utrecht in Holland (715). His first attempt was a failure. Ratbod, the king of Friesland, was at war with Charles Martel, and devastated the churches and monasteries which had been founded by the Franks, and by Willibrord.

But far from being discouraged, he was only stimulated to greater exertion. After a brief sojourn in England, where he was offered the dignity of abbot of his convent, he left again his native land, and this time forever. He made a pilgrimage to Rome, was cordially welcomed by Pope Gregory II. and received a general commission to Christianize and romanize central Europe (718). Recrossing the Alps, he visited Bavaria and Thuringia, which had been evangelized in part by the disciples of Columban, but he was coldly received because he represented their Christianity as insufficient, and required submission to Rome. He turned his steps again to Friesland where order had been restored, and assisted Willibrord, archbishop of Utrecht, for three years. In 722 he returned to Thuringia in the wake of Charles Martel’s victorious army and preached to the heathen in Hesse who lived between the Franks and the Saxons, between the middle Rhine and the Elbe. He founded a convent at Amanaburg (Amöneburg) on the river Ohm.

In 723 he paid, on invitation, a second visit to Rome, and was consecrated by Gregory II. as a missionary bishop without a diocese (episcopus regionarius). He bound himself on the grave of St. Peter with the most stringent oath of fealty to the Pope similar to that which was imposed on the Italian or suburban bishops.

From this time his work assumed a more systematic character in the closest contact with Rome as the centre of Christendom. Fortified with letters of commendation, he attached himself for a short time to the court of Charles Martel, who pushed his schemes of conquest towards the Hessians. Aided by this secular help and the Pope’s spiritual authority, he made rapid progress. By a master stroke of missionary policy he laid the axe to the root of Teutonic heathenism; with his own hand, in the presence of a vast assembly, he cut down the sacred and inviolable oak of the Thunder-God at Geismar (not far from Fritzlar), and built with the planks an oratory or church of St. Peter. His biographer, Willibald, adds that a sudden storm from heaven came to his aid and split the oak in four pieces of equal length. This practical sermon was the death and burial of German mythology. He received from time to time supplies of books, monks and nuns from England. The whole church of England took a deep interest in his work, as we learn from his correspondence. He founded monastic colonies near Erfurt, Fritzlar, Ohrdruf, Bischofsheim, and Homburg. The victory of Charles Martel over the Saracens at Tours (732) checked the westward progress of Islâm and insured the triumph of Christianity in central Europe.

Boniface was raised to the dignity of archbishop (without a see) and papal legate by the new Pope Gregory III. (732), and thus enabled to coerce the refractory bishops.

In 738 he made his third and last pilgrimage to Rome with a great retinue of monks and converts, and received authority to call a synod of bishops in Bavaria and Allemannia. On his return he founded, in concert with Duke Odilo, four Bavarian bishoprics at Salzburg, Freising, Passau, and Ratisbon or Regensburg (739). To these he added in central Germany the sees of Würzburg, Buraburg (near Fritzlar), Erfurt, Eichstädt (742). He held several synods in Mainz and elsewhere for the organization of the churches and the exercise of discipline. The number of his baptized converts till 739 is said to have amounted to many thousands.

In 743 he was installed Archbishop of Mainz or Mayence (Moguntum) in the place of bishop Gervillius (Gewielieb) who was deposed for indulging in sporting propensities and for homicide in battle. His diocese extended from Cologne to Strasburg and even to Coire. He would have preferred Cologne, but the clergy there feared his disciplinary severity. He aided the sons of Charles Martel in reducing the Gallic clergy to obedience, exterminating the Keltic element, and consolidating the union with Rome.

In 744, in a council at Soissons, where twenty-three bishops were present, his most energetic opponents were condemned. In the same year, in the very heart of Germany, he laid the foundation of Fulda, the greatest of his monasteries, which became the Monte Casino of Germany.

In 753 he named Lull or Lullus his successor at Mainz. Laying aside his dignities, he became once more an humble missionary, and returned with about fifty devoted followers to the field of the baffled labors of his youth among the Friesians, where a reaction in favor of heathenism had taken place since the death of Willibrord. He planted his tents on the banks of the river Borne near Dockum (between Franecker and Groningen), waiting for a large number of converts to be confirmed. But, instead of that, he was assailed and slain, with his companions, by armed pagans. He met the martyr’s death with calmness and resignation, June 5, 754 or 755. His bones were deposited first at Utrecht, then at Mainz, and at last in Fulda. Soon after his death, an English Synod chose him, together with Pope Gregory and Augustin, patron of the English church. In 1875 Pope Pius IX. directed the Catholics of Germany and England to invoke especially the aid of St. Boniface in the distress of modern times.

The works of Boniface are epistles and sermons. The former refer to his missionary labors and policy, the latter exhibit his theological views and practical piety. Fifteen short sermons are preserved, addressed not to heathen, but to Christian converts; they reveal therefore not so much his missionary as his edifying activity. They are without Scripture text, and are either festal discourses explaining the history of salvation, especially the fall and redemption of man, or catechetical expositions of Christian doctrine and duty. We give as a characteristic specimen of the latter, the fifteenth sermon, on the renunciation of the devil in baptism:


Sermon XV

“I. Listen, my brethren, and consider well what you have solemnly renounced in your baptism. You have renounced the devil and all his works, and all his pomp. But what are the works of the devil? They are pride, idolatry, envy, murder, calumny, lying, perjury, hatred, fornication, adultery, every kind of lewdness, theft, false witness, robbery, gluttony, drunkenness, Slander, fight, malice, philters, incantations, lots, belief in witches and were-wolves, abortion, disobedience to the Master, amulets. These and other such evil things are the works of the devil, all of which you have forsworn by your baptism, as the apostle says: Whosoever doeth such things deserves death, and shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven. But as we believe that, by the mercy of God, you will renounce all these things, with heart and hand, in order to become fit for grace, I admonish you, my dearest brethren, to remember what you have promised Almighty God.

II. For, first, you have promised to believe in Almighty God, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, one almighty God in perfect trinity.

III. And these are the commandments which you shall keep and fulfil: to love God, whom you profess, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourselves; for on these commandments hang the whole law and the prophets. Be patient, have mercy, be benevolent, chaste, pure. Teach your sons to fear God; teach your whole family to do so. Make peace where you go, and let him who sits in court; give a just verdict and take no presents, for presents make even a wise man blind.

IV. Keep the Sabbath and go to church — to pray, but not to prattle. Give alms according to your power, for alms extinguish sins as water does fire. Show hospitality to travelers, visit the sick, take care of widows and orphans, pay your tithes to the church, and do to nobody what you would not have done to yourself. Fear God above all. Let the servants be obedient to their masters, and the masters just to their servants. Cling to the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed, and communicate them to your own children and to those whose baptismal sponsors you are. Keep the fast, love what is right, stand up against the devil, and partake from time to time of the Lord’s Supper. Such are the works which God commands you to do and fulfil.

V. Believe in the advent of Christ, the resurrection of the body, and the judgment of all men. For then the impious shall be separated from the just, the one for the everlasting fire, the others for the eternal life. Then begins a life with God without death, a light without shadows, a health without sickness, a plenty without hunger, a happiness without fear, a joy with no misgivings. Then comes the eternal glory, in which the just shall shine like suns, for no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard, no heart has ever dreamed, of all that which God has prepared for those whom he loves.

VI. I also remind you, my beloved brethren, that the birth-day of our Lord is approaching, in order that you may abstain from all that is worldly or lewd or impure or bad. Spit out all malice and hatred and envy; it is poison to your heart. Keep chaste even with respect to your own wives. Clothe yourselves with good works. Give alms to the poor who belong to Christ; invite them often to your feasts. Keep peace with all, and make peace between those who are at discord. If, with the aid of Christ, you will truly fulfil these commands, then in this life you can with confidence approach the altar of God, and in the next you shall partake of the everlasting bliss.”


Bonifacius combined the zeal and devotion of a missionary with worldly prudence and a rare genius for organization and administration. He was no profound scholar, but a practical statesman and a strict disciplinarian. He was not a theologian, but an ecclesiastic, and would have made a good Pope. He selected the best situations for his bishoprics and monasteries, and his far-sighted policy has been confirmed by history. He was a man of unblemished character and untiring energy. He was incessantly active, preaching, traveling, presiding over Synods, deciding perplexing questions about heathen customs and trivial ceremonies. He wrought no miracles, such as were usually expected from a missionary in those days. His disciple and biographer apologizes for this defect, and appeals as an offset to the invisible cures of souls which he performed.

The weak spot in his character is the bigotry and intolerance which he displayed in his controversy with the independent missionaries of the French and Scotch-Irish schools who had done the pioneer work before him. He reaped the fruits of their labors, and destroyed their further usefulness, which he might have secured by a liberal Christian policy. He hated every feature of individuality and national independence in matters of the church. To him true Christianity was identical with Romanism, and he made Germany as loyal to the Pope as was his native England. He served under four Popes, Gregory II., Gregory III., Zacharias, and Stephen, and they could not have had a more devoted and faithful agent. Those who labored without papal authority were to him dangerous hirelings, thieves and robbers who climbed up some other way. He denounced them as false prophets, seducers of the people, idolaters and adulterers (because they were married and defended clerical marriage). He encountered from them a most determined opposition, especially in Bavaria. In connection with his servile Romanism is his pedantic legalism and ceremonialism. His epistles and sermons show a considerable knowledge of the Bible, but also a contracted legalistic spirit. He has much to say about matters of outward conformity to Roman authority and usages and about small questions of casuistry, such as whether it was right to eat horse flesh, rabbits, storks, meat offered to idols, to marry a widow after standing god-father to her son, how often the sign of the cross should be made in preaching. In his strength and his weakness, his loyalty, to Rome, and in the importance of the work he accomplished, he resembled Augustin, the Roman apostle of his Anglo-Saxon ancestors.

Boniface succeeded by indomitable perseverance, and his work survived him. This must be his vindication. In judging of him we should remember that the controversy between him and his French and Scotch-Irish opponents was not a controversy between Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism (which was not yet born), but between organized Catholicism or Romanism and independent Catholicism. Medieval Christianity was very weak, and required for its self-preservation a strong central power and legal discipline. It is doubtful whether in the barbarous condition of those times, and amid the commotions of almost constant civil wars, the independent and scattered labors of the anti-Roman missionaries could have survived as well and made as strong an impression upon the German nation as a consolidated Christianity with a common centre of unity, and authority.

Roman unity was better than undisciplined independency, but it was itself only a preparatory school for the self-governing freedom of manhood.

After Boniface had nearly completed his work, a political revolution took place in France which gave it outward support. Pepin, the major domus of the corrupt Merovingian dynasty, overthrew it with the aid of Pope Zacharias, who for his conquest of the troublesome Lombards rewarded him with the royal crown of France (753). Fifty years afterwards this political alliance of France and Germany with the Italian papacy was completed by Charlemagne and Leo III., and lasted for many centuries. Rome had the enchantment of distance, the prestige of power and culture, and promised to furnish the strongest support to new and weak churches. Rome was also the connecting link between medieval and ancient civilization, and transmitted to the barbarian races the treasures of classical literature which in due time led to the revival of letters and to the Protestant Reformation.