May XIV St. Boniface, M.

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May XIV


St. Boniface, M.


From his authentic Acts in Henschenius, p. 283; Fleury, &c.


About the Year 307.


here lived at Rome, about the beginning of the fourth century, & certain lady called Aglaë, young, beautiful, and well-born, and so rich and fond of making a figure in the world, that she had entertained the city three several times with public shows at her own charge. Her chief steward was one Boniface, with whom she entertained a criminal commerce. This man, though addicted to wine and all kinds of debauchery, was, however, remarkable for three good qualities, hospitality, liberality, and compassion. Whensoever he saw a stranger or traveller, he would assist him very cordially; and he used to go about the streets and into the public places, in the night time, and relieve the poor according to their necessities. After several years’ commerce in the vicious way already mentioned, Aglaë, touched with a motion of divine grace, and feeling some compunction within herself, called Boniface to her, and thus opened her mind to him: “You are sensible how deep we are plunged in vice, without reflecting that we must appear before God to give an account of all our actions. I have heard say, that they who honor those that suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ, shall have a share in their glory. In the East, the servants of Jesus Christ every day suffer torments, and lay down their lives for his sake. Go thither then, and bring me the relics of some of those conquerors, that we may honor their memories, and be saved by their assistance.” Boniface came into the proposal; and having raised a considerable sum of money to purchase the bodies of the martyrs from their executioners, and to distribute among the poor, said to Aglaë on his departure, “I won’t fail to bring back with me the relics of martys, if I find any; but what if my own body should be brought to you for that of a martyr?” She reproved him for jesting in a matter so serious. The steward set out, but was now entirely a new man. Penetrated with sentiments of compunction, in all that long journey from Rome into the East, he neither ate meat nor drank wine; and his fasts he accompanied with prayers, tears, and penitential works. The church, at that time, enjoyed peace in the West, but in the East, the persecution which had been begun by Dioclesian, was carried on with great cruelty by Galerius Maximianus and Maximinus Daie. It raged most fiercely in Cilicia, under an inhuman governor named Simplicius. Boniface therefore directed his journey to Tarsus, the capital of that country. He no sooner arrived at the city, but alighting, he sent away all his servants with the horses to an inn, and went himself straight to the court of the governor, whom he found seated on his tribunal, and many holy martyrs suffering under their tortures; one hanged up by the feet, with his head over a fire: another stretched almost to the tearing of his limbs on four planks or stakes: a third sawn asunder: a fourth had his hands cut off; a fifth was fixed to the ground by a stake run through his neck: a sixth having his hands and feet tied behind him, the executioners were beating him with clubs. There were no less than twenty tortured after this cruel manner, the sight whereof shocked the beholders, while their courage and resolution filled them with amazement. Boniface went boldly up to these champions of Christ, and having saluted them, cried out: “Great is the God of the Christians, great is the God of the holy martyrs. I beseech you, the servants of Jesus Christ, to pray for me, that I may join with you in fighting against the devil.” The governor thought himself insulted by so bold an action in his presence, and asked him in great wrath who he was. The martyr answered that he was a Christian, and that having Jesus Christ for his master, he feared nothing the governor could inflict to make him renounce that sacred name. Simplicius, in a rage, ordered some reeds to be sharpened and thrust under his nails: and this being done, he commanded boiling lead to be poured into his mouth. Boniface, after having called upon Jesus Christ for his assistance, begged he prayers of the other expiring martyrs, who all joined in putting up their petitions to God for him. The people, disgusted with so much cruelty, began to raise a tumult, and cried out, “Great is the God of the Christians.” Simplicius was alarmed, and withdrew. But the next day being seated on his tribunal, he ordered Boniface to be brought before him a second time. The martyr appeared constant and undaunted. The judge commanded him to be cast into a caldron of boiling pitch; but he came out without receiving any hurt. Lastly, he was condemned to lose his head and after a short prayer for the pardon of his sins, and the conversion of his persecutors, he cheerfully presented his neck to the executioner. His companions, in the mean time, not finding him return to the inn, searched for him in those parts of the city where they thought him most likely to be found. Being at last informed by the jailer’s brother, that a stranger had been beheaded the day before for his faith in Christ, and being shown the dead body and the head, they assured him that it was the very person they were in search of, and beseeched him to bestow the martyr’s relics upon them; this he refused to do without a reward: so they paid down five hundred pieces of gold; and having embalmed it, carried it home with them, praising God for the happy end of the blessed martyr. Aglaë, upon information of the affair, gave God thanks for his victory, and taking some priests with her, met the corpse with tapers and perfumes half a mile out of Rome, on the Latin road;* and in that very place raised a monument in which she laid them, and some years after built a chapel. She from that time led a penitential retired life, and dying fifteen years after, was buried near his relics. They were found in Rome in 1603, together with those of St. Alexius, in the church in Rome formerly called of St. Boniface, but now of St. Alexius. The bodies of both St. Boniface and St. Alexius lie under the stately high altar in two rich marble tombs. The martyrdom of St. Boniface happened about the year 307.


While we praise the divine mercy, who of sinners maketh saints, we ought earnestly to pray that he change our hearts from vessels of corruption into vessels of grace and his divine charity. Regret and sorrow for sin has many degrees; but till it has entirely subdued the corruptions, changed the affections, and purified the heart, it is not a saving repentance,1 or that charity and love which animates or impregnates the new creature.2 The certain proof of regeneration or of a real conversion is victory. He that is born of God overcometh the world.3 The maxims of the gospel, the rules of the church, and reason itself, forbid us to look upon him as a sincere convert whose life is very uneven, unconstant, and contradictory to itself; if he be to-day a saint, and to-morrow a sinner; if he follow to-day the impulses of the Holy Ghost, and yield to-morrow to the temptations of the enemy; or if he has not courage to fly the dangers and renounce the occasions which are fatal to him.


St. Pachomius, Abbot


From his authentic life compiled by a monk of Tabenna soon after his death. See Tillemont, t. 7: Ceillier, t. 4; Helyot, t. 1; Rosweide, l. 1, p. 114, and Papebroke, t. 3, Maij. p. 287.


A. D. 348.


Though St. Antony be justly esteemed the institutor of the cenobitic life, or that of religious persons living in community under a certain rule, St. Pachomius was the first who drew up a monastic rule in writing. He was born in Upper Thebais about the year 292, of idolatrous parents, and was educated in their blind superstition, and in the study of the Egyptian sciences. From his infancy, he was meek and modest, and had an aversion to the profane ceremonies used by the infidels in the worship of their idols. Being about twenty years of age, he was pressed into the emperor’s troops, probably the tyrant Maximinus,* who was master of Egypt from the year 310; and in 312 made great levies to carry on a war against Licinius and Constantine. He was, with several other recruits, put on board a vessel that was falling down the river. They arrived in the evening at Thebes, or Diospolis, the capital of Thebais, a city in which dwelt many Christians. Those true disciples of Christ sought every opportunity of relieving and comforting all that were in distress, and were moved with compassion towards the recruits, who were kept close confined, and very ill-treated. The Christians of this city showed them the same tenderness as if they had been their own children; took all possible care of them, and supplied them liberally with money and necessaries. Such an uncommon example of disinterested virtue made a great impression on the mind of Pachomius. He inquired who their pious benefactors were, and when he heard that they believed in Jesus Christ the only Son of God, and that in the hope of a reward in the world to come, they labored continually to do good to all mankind, he found kindled in his heart a great love of so holy a law, and an ardent desire of serving the God whom these good men adored. The next day, when he was continuing his journey down the river, the remembrance of this purpose strengthened him to resist a carnal temptation. From his infancy he had been always a lover of chastity and temperance; but the example of the Christians had made those virtues appear to him far more amiable, and in a new light. After the overthrow of Maximinus, his forces were disbanded. Pachomius was no sooner returned home, but he repaired to a town in Thebais, in which there was a Christian church, and there he entered his name among the catechumens, or such as were preparing for baptism; and having gone through the usual course of preliminary instructions and practices with great attention and fervor, he received that sacrament at Chenoboscium, with great sentiments of piety and devotion. From his first acquaintance with our holy faith at Thebes, he had always made this his prayer: “O God, Creator of heaven and earth, cast on me an eye of pity: deliver me from my miseries: teach me the true way of pleasing you, and it shall be the whole employment, and most earnest study of my life to serve you, and to do your will.” The perfect sacrifice of his heart to God, was the beginning of his eminent virtue. The grace by which God reigns in a soul, is a treasure infinitely above all price. We must give all to purchase it.1 To desire it faintly is to undervalue it. He is absolutely disqualified and unfit for so great a blessing, and unworthy ever to receive it, who seeks it by halves, or who does not esteem all other things as dung that he may gain Christ.


When Pachomius was baptized, he began seriously to consider with himself how he should most faithfully fulfil the obligations which he had contracted, and attain to the great end to which he aspired. There is danger even in fervor itself. It is often an artifice of the devil to make a novice undertake too much at first, and run indiscreetly beyond his strength. If the sails gather too much wind, the vessel is driven ahead, falls on some rock and splits. Eagerness is a symptom of secret passion, not of true virtue, where it is wilful and impatient at advice. Pachomius was far from so dangerous a disposition, because his desire was pure, therefore his first care was to find a skilful conductor. Hearing that a venerable old man named Palemon, served God in the desert in great perfection, he sought him out, and with great earnestness begged to live under his direction. The hermit having set before him the difficulties and austerities of his way of life, which several had already attempted in vain to follow, advised him to make a trial of his strength and fervor in some monastery; and, to give him a sketch of the difficulties he had to encounter in the life he aspired to, he added: “Consider, my son, that my diet is only bread and salt: I drink no wine, use no oil, watch one half of the night, spending that time in singing psalms or in meditating on the holy scriptures, and sometimes pass the whole night without sleeping.” Pachomius was amazed at this account, but not discouraged. He thought himself able to undertake every thing that might be a means to render his soul pleasing to God, and readily promised to observe whatever Palemon should think fit to enjoin him; who thereupon admitted him into his cell, and gave him the monastic habit. Pachomius was by his example enabled to bear solitude, and an acquaintance with himself. They sometimes repeated together the psalter, at other times they exercised themselves in manual labors (which they accompanied with interior prayer,) with a view to their own subsistence and the relief of the poor. Pachomius prayed above all things, for perfect purity of heart, that being disengaged from all secret attachment to creatures, he might love God with all his affections. And to destroy the very roots of all inordinate passions, it was his first study to obtain the most profound humility, and perfect patience and meekness. He prayed often with his arms stretched out in the form of a cross; which posture was then much used in the church. He was in the beginning often drowsy at the night office. Palemon used to rouse him, and say: “Labor and watch, my dear Pachomius, lest the enemy overthrow you and ruin all your endeavors.” Against this weakness and temptation he enjoined him, on such occasions, to carry sand from one place to another, till his drowsiness was overcome. By this means the novice strengthened himself in the habit of watching. Whatever instructions he read or heard, he immediately endeavored fervently to reduce to practice. One Easter-day Palemon bade the disciple prepare a dinner for that great festival. Pachomius took a little oil, and mixed it with the salt, which he pounded small, and added a few wild herbs, which they were to eat with their bread. The holy old man having made his prayer, came to table; but at the sight of the oil he struck himself on the forehead, and said, with tears: “My Saviour was crucified, and shall I indulge myself so far as to eat oil?” Nor could he be prevailed upon to taste it. Pachomius used sometimes to go into a vast uninhabited desert, on the banks of the Nile, called Tabenna, in the diocese of Tentyra, a city between the Great and Little Diospolis. While he was there one day in prayer, he heard a voice which commanded him to build a monastery in that place, in which he should receive those who should be sent by God to serve him faithfully. He received, about the same time, from an angel who appeared to him, certain instructions relating to a monastic life.* Pachomius going back to Palemon, imparted to him this vision; and both of them coming to Tabenna, built there a little cell towards the year 325, about twenty years after St. Antony had founded his first monastery. After a short time, Palemon returned to his former dwelling, having promised his disciple a yearly visit, but he died soon after, and is honored in the Roman Martyrology on the 11th of January.


Pachomius received first his own eldest brother John, and after his death many others, so that he enlarged his house; and the number of his monks in a short time amounted to a hundred. Their clothing was of rough linen; that of St. Pachomus himself often haircloth. He passed fifteen years without ever lying down, taking his short rest sitting on a stone. He even grudged himself the least time which he allowed to necessary sleep, because he wished he could have been able to employ all his moments in the actual exercises of divine love. From the time of his conversion he never ate a full meal. By his rule, the fasts and tasks of work were proportioned to every one’s strength; though all are together in one common refectory, in silence, with their cowl or hood drawn over their heads, that they might not see one another at their meals. Their habit was a tunic of white linen without sleeves, with a cowl of the same stuff; they wore on their shoulders a white goatskin, called a Melotes. They received the holy communion on the first and last days of every week. Novices were tried with great severity before they were admitted to the habit, the taking of which was then deemed the monastic profession, and attended with the vows. St. Pachomius preferred none of his monks to holy orders, and his monasteries were often served by priests from abroad; though he admitted priests, when any presented themselves, to the habit, and he employed them in the functions of their ministry. All his monks were occupied in various kinds of manual labor: no moment was allowed for idleness. The saint, with the greatest care, comforted and served the sick himself. Silence was so strictly observed at Tabenna, that a monk, who wanted any thing necessary, was only to ask for it by signs. In going from one place to another, the monks were ordered always to meditate on some passage of the holy scripture, and sing psalms at their work. The sacrifice of the mass was offered for every monk that died, as we read in the life of St. Pachomius.2 His rule was translated into Latin by St. Jerom, and is still extant. He received the sickly and weak, rejecting none for the want of corporal strength, being desirous to conduct to heaven all souls which had fervor to walk in the paths of perfection. He built six other monasteries in Thebias, not far asunder, and from the year 336, chose often to reside in that of Pabau, or Pau, near Thebes, in its territory, though not far from Tabenna, situated in the neighboring province of Diospolis, also in Thebais. Pabau became a more numerous and more famous monastery than Tabenna itself. By the advice of Serapion, bishop of Tentyra, he built a church in a village for the benefit of the poor shepherds, in which for some time he performed the office of Lector, reading to the people the word of God with admirable fervor; in which function he appeared rather like an angel than a man. He converted many infidels, and zealously opposed the Arians, but could never be induced by his bishop to receive the holy order of priesthood. In 333, he was favored with a visit of St. Athanasius at Tabenna. His sister, at a certain time, came to his monastery desiring to see him; but he sent her word at the gate, that no woman could be allowed to enter his enclosure, and that she ought to be satisfied with hearing that he was alive. However, it being her desire to embrace a religious state, he built her a nunnery on the other side of the Nile, which was soon filled with holy virgins. St. Pachomius going one day to Panè, one of his monasteries, met the funeral procession of a tepid monk deceased. Knowing the wretched state in which he died, and to strike a terror into the slothful, he forbade his monks to proceed in singing psalms, and ordered the clothes which covered the corpse to be burnt, saying: “Honors could only increase his torments; but the ignominy with which his body was treated, might move God to show more mercy to his soul; for God forgives some sins not only in this world, but also in the next.” When the procurator of the house had sold the mats at market at a higher price than the saint had bid him, he ordered him to carry back the money to the buyers, and chastised him for his avarice.


Among many miracles wrought by him, the author of his life assures us, that though he had never learned the Greek or Latin tongues, he sometimes miraculously spoke them; he cured the sick and persons possessed by devils with blessed oil. But he often told sick or distressed persons, that their sickness or affliction was an effect of the divine goodness in their behalf; and he only prayed for their temporal comfort, with this clause or condition if it should not prove hurtful to their souls. His dearest disciple, St. Theodorus, who after his death succeeded him in the government of his monasteries, was afflicted with a perpetual headache. St. Pachomius, when desired by some of the brethren to pray for his health, answered: “Though abstinence and prayer be of great merit, yet sickness, suffered with patience, is of much greater.” He chiefly begged of God the spiritual health of the souls of his disciples and others, and took every opportunity to curb and heal their passions, especially that of pride. One day a certain monk having doubled his diligence at work, and made two mats instead of one, set them where St. Pachomius might see them. The saint perceiving the snare, said, “This brother hath taken a great deal of pains from morning till night, to give his work to the devil.” And, to cure his vanity by humiliations, he enjoined him, by way of penance, to keep his cell five months, with no other allowance than a little bread, salt, and water. A young man named Sylvanus, who had been an actor on the stage, entered the monastery of St. Pachomius with the view of doing penance, but led for some time an undisciplined life, often transgressing the rules of the house, and still fond of entertaining himself and others with buffooneries. The man of God endeavored to make him sensible of his danger by charitable remonstrances, and also employed his more potent arms of prayer, sighs, and tears, for his poor soul. Though for some time he found his endeavors fruitless, he did not desist on that account; and having one day represented to this impenitent sinner, in a very pathetic manner, the dreadful judgments which threaten those that mock God, the divine grace touching the heart of Sylvanus, he from that moment began to lead a life of great edification to the rest of the brethren; and being moved with the most feeling sentiments of compunction, he never failed, wheresoever be was, and howsoever employed, to bewail with bitterness his past misdemeanors. When others entreated him to moderate the floods of his tears, “Ah,” said he, “how can I help weeping, when I consider the wretchedness of my past life, and that by my sloth I have profaned what was most sacred? I have reason to fear lest the earth should open under my feet, and swallow me up, as it did Dathan and Abiron. Oh! suffer me to labor with ever-flowing fountains of tears, to expiate my innumerable sins. I ought, if I could, even to pour forth this wretched soul of mine in mourning; it would be all too little for my offences.” In these sentiments of contrition he made so great progress in virtue, that the holy abbot proposed him as a model of humility to the rest; and when, after eight years spent in this penitential course, God had called him to himself by a holy death, St. Pachomius was assured by a revelation, that his soul was presented by angels a most agreeable sacrifice to Christ. The saint was favored with a spirit of prophecy, and with great grief foretold the decay of monastic fervor in his order in succeeding ages. In 348 he was cited before a council of bishops at Latopolis, to answer certain matters laid to his charge. He justified himself against the calumniators, but in such a manner that the whole council admired his extraordinary humility. The same year, God afflicted his monasteries with a pestilence, which swept off a hundred monks. The saint himself fell sick, and during forty days suffered a painful distemper with incredible patience and cheerfulness, discovering a great interior joy at the approach of the end of his earthly pilgrimage. In his last moments he exhorted his monks to fervor, and having armed himself with the sign of the cross, resigned his happy soul into the hands of his Creator in the fifty-seventh year of his age. He lived to see in his different monasteries seven thousand monks. His order subsisted in the east till the eleventh century: for Anselm, bishop of Havelburgh, writes, that he saw five hundred monks of this institute in a monastery at Constantinople. St. Pachomius formed his disciples to so eminent a degree of perfection chiefly by his own fervent spirit and example; for he always appeared the first, the most exact, and the most fervent, in all the exercises of the community. To the fervor and watchfulness of the superior it was owing that in so numerous a community discipline was observed with astonishing regularity, as Palladius and Cassian observe. The former says that they ate with their cowl drawn so as to hide the greatest part of their faces, and with their eyes cast down, never looking at one another. Many contented themselves with taking a very few mouthfuls of bread and oil, or of such like dish; others of pottage only. So great was the silence that reigned among them while every one followed his employment, that in the midst of so great a multitude, a person seemed to be in a solitude. Cassian tells us,3 that the more numerous the monastery was, the more perfect and rigorous was regular observance of discipline, and all constantly obeyed their superior more readily than a single person is found to do in other places. Nothing so much weakens the fervor of inferiors as the example of a superior who easily allows himself exemptions or dispensations in the rule. The relaxation of monastic discipline is often owing to no other cause. How enormous is the crime of such a scandal!


St. Pontius,


an illustrious primitive martyr


He suffered in the persecution of Valerian about the year 258, at Cimelé, a city in the Alps, which was afterwards destroyed by the Lombards; when, from its ruins, arose in the neighborhood the town of Nice, in Savoy. Of the old city, only the famous abbey of St. Pons at Cimilé, or Cimies, subsists; and the relics of the holy martyr were translated to the monastery of Tomieres in Languedoc, where pope John XXII. erected an episcopal see, called St. Pons de Tomieres. The abbey of Tomieres was secularized in 1625. St. Valerian, bishop of Cimelé in the fifth century, in the three panegyrics which he has left us of this martyr, assures us that many miracles were wrought at his relics. See the Bollandists.


St. Carthagh,*


commonly called mochudu, bishop of lismore


This eminent director of souls in the narrow paths of Christian perfection was a native of Munster in Ireland. The famous monastery of Raithin or Ratheny in Westmeath, was founded by him. He drew up a particular monastic rule, which is said to be still extant in very old Irish; but it was afterwards incorporated into that of the regular canons of St. Austin, when the abbey of Raithin adopted that institute, which, though it has been since mitigated, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, seems to have been scarce less austere than that of La Trappe at present. St. Carthagh is said to have had under his direction above eight hundred and sixty monks, who confined themselves to feed on vegetables, which they raised and cultivated with their own hands. In 631, or according to the annals of Inisfallen in 636, he was driven out of Raithin, which he had then governed forty years, by king Blathmac, and retired to the territory of Nandesi, or Desies, in Munster. Here, upon the banks of a river, he laid the foundation of a great monastery and school, which flourished exceedingly for many ages. The place before his coming thither was called Magh-Sgiath; it then took the name of Dunsginne, and afterwards Lismore, which name it has ever since retained. St. Carthagh founded here the episcopal see of Lismore, which was united to that of Waterford by pope Urban V. in 1363, at the request of king Edward III., this latter having only been founded in 1096. The city of Lismore, from the reputation of the sanctity and miracles of St. Carthagh, its first bishop, was esteemed in succeeding ages a holy city, which appellation its great school and monastery continued to maintain. Half of this city was an asylum into which no woman dared to enter, it being full of cells and holy monasteries. Thither holy men flocked from all parts of Ireland, many also from Britain, being desirous to remove from thence to Christ. St. Carthagh left an eminent share of his spirit to his disciples and successors, but died himself soon after he had erected his cathedral, on the 14th of May, in 637, or 638. He was buried in his own church at Lismore. See Colgan in MSS. ad 14 Maij; Ware, t. 1, pp. 547, 548, 549; Usher, Primord. Brit. Eccl., p. 910; Allemaigne, Monast. Hibern. introd. et p. 43; Annals of lnisfall. ad an. 637.


* We cannot be surprised at this circumstance in the acts, on reflecting that the church at Rome then enjoyed peace. Consurgens Aglaës confestim accepit secum clericos et viros rellgiosos; et sic cum hymnis at canticis spirituallbus et omni veneratione obviavil sancto corpori. (Ruin p. 290, fol.) The like is related of the martyr St. Cyprian, even in the heat of the persecution, that his disciples carried off his body with wax-lights and torches. Inde per noctem sublatum cum cereis. &c: Ib. p. 218


1 2 Cor. 7:10.


2 Gal. 5:6


3 1 John 5:4.


* Those who place the conversion of St. Pachomias later think this emperor was Constantine. But for our account see Tillemont, Hist.: Eccl. note 2, t. 7, j. 675.


1 Matt 13:44.


* Some late editions say the angel gave St. Pachomius the whole rule in writing which he prescribed to his monks: but this is an interpolation not found in the genuine life published by the Bollandists, Maij, t. 3, 10, p. 201


2 Acta Sanctorum, Maij, t. 3, p. 321.


3 Cassian, l. 4, Instit., c. 1


* This St. Carthagh is called the younger, to distinguish him from St. Carthagh the elder, who succeeded St. Kiaran Saigir in Ossory.


This river was called Nem: afterwards Abhan-mor, i. e., Great-river; and now has the name of Black-water.


Dun signifies a fort, or place seated on an eminence, and again a flight; which seems to allude to the flight of the saint to this place, and to the name then given it. For It was before called Magh-sgiath, of the field of the shield. Lismore denotes a great house; Lis, or Lios, in the old Irish signifying a house or village, and mor, great.


Butler, Alban, The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints (New York 1903) II, 321-329.