St. Boniface I., Pope and Confessor
BONIFACE was a priest of an unblemished character, well versed in the discipline of the church, and advanced in years when he succeeded Zosimus in the pontificate on the 29th of December in 418. His election was made much against his will, as the relation of it, which was sent by the clergy and people of Rome, and by the neighbouring bishops to the Emperor Honorius, who resided at Ravenna, testifies. To it concurred seventy priests, some bishops, and the greatest part of the people; but three bishops and some others chose one Eulalius, an ambitious and intriguing man. Symmachus, prefect of Rome, sent an account of this division or schism to the emperor, who ordered that a synod should be assembled to determine the debate. The council which met desired that a greater number of prelates should be called, and made certain provisional decrees, to which Eulalius refused to submit. Whereupon he was condemned by a sentence of the council, and the election of Boniface ratified. This pope was a lover of peace, and remarkable for his mildness: yet he would not suffer the bishops of Constantinople to extend their patriarchate into Illyricum or the other western provinces which were then subject to the eastern empire, but had always belonged to the western patriarchate.
He strenuously maintained the rights of Rufus, bishop of Thessalonica, who was his vicar in Thessaly and Greece, and would allow no election of bishops to be made in those countries which were not confirmed by him, according to the ancient discipline. In Gaul he restored certain privileges to the metropolitical sees of Narbonne and Vienne, exempting them from any subjection to the primacy of Arles. This holy pope exerted his zeal against the Pelagians, and testified the highest esteem for the great St. Austin, who addressed to him four books against the Pelagians. St. Boniface in his third letter to Rufus, says: 1 “The blessed apostle Peter received by our Lord’s sentence and commission the care of the whole church, which was founded upon him.” 2 St. Boniface died towards the latter end of the year 422, having sat somewhat above three years and nine months, and was buried in the cemetery of St. Felicitas, which he had adorned on the Salarian Way. He had made many rich presents of silver patens, chalices, and other holy vessels to the churches in Rome. Bede quotes a book of his miracles, and the Roman Martyrology commemorates his name on this day. See his Epistles in Dom. Coutant’s complete edition of the Decretal Epistles of the Popes, of which he only lived to publish the first volume, in 1721, dying the same year at St. Germain des Prez. 3 The epistles of this pope are also printed in the collections of the councils, as in Labbe’s edition, t. 2, p. 1582, and t. 4, p. 1702. See on his life Baronius, and the Pontifical published by Anastasius the Librarian, (ap. Muratori Script. Ital. t. 3, p. 116,) with the dissertations of Ciampini, Schelstrate, Biancini, and Vignolius on that Pontifical. 1
Note 1. Decretal. epist. t. 1, p. 1039, ed. Coutant. [back]
Note 2. Matt. xvi. and xviii. [back]
Note 3. In the preliminary dissertation on the pope’s authority, Dom Coutant demonstrates by the testimonies of St. Cyprian, St. Optatus, St. Jerom, &c. what St. Boniface affirms, that the church always acknowledged the primacy of the Roman see to be derived from Christ, (who conferred the supreme authority on St. Peter,) not from the emperors, as Photius pretended in order to establish his schism. The same author shows, that all the popes to the beginning of the sixth century, except Liberius, (who rose after his fall with so much zeal and piety that St. Ambrose speaks of his virtue in strains of admiration,) are enrolled by the church among the saints. The name pope (or father) was anciently common to all bishops; but as the style with regard to titles changed, this became reserved to the bishop of Rome. St. Gelasius, St. Leo, St. Gregory, Symmachus, Hormisdas, Vigilius, and other popes, frequently styled themselves Vicars of St. Peter. That the title of Vicar of Christ was also anciently given sometimes to the popes is manifest from the fifteenth letter of St. Cyprian to Cornelius; and from the testimony of the bishops and priests who after Pope Gelasius had absolved the Bishop Misenus, unanimously cried out, that they acknowledged in his person the Vicar of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume X: October.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.