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Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
prev: Boniface, Saint Boniface, Saint Pope Boniface II next: Pope Boniface II

Pope Boniface I, Saint

Reigned: 418-422

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Boniface I, Saint, Pope; elected December 28, 418; d. at Rome, September 4, 422. Little is known of his life antecedent to his election. The "Liber Pontificalis" calls him a Roman, and the son of the presbyter Jocundus. He is believed to have been ordained by Pope Damasus I (366-384) and to have served as representative of Innocent I at Constantinople (c. 405).

At the death of Pope Zosimus, the Roman Church entered into the fifth of the schisms, resulting from double papal elections, which so disturbed her peace during the early centuries. Just after Zosimus's obsequies, December 27, 418, a faction of the Roman clergy consisting principally of deacons seized the Lateran basilica and elected as pope the Archdeacon Eulalius. The higher clergy tried to enter, but were violently repulsed by a mob of adherents of the Eulalian party. On the following day they met in the church of Theodora and elected as pope, much against his will, the aged Boniface, a priest highly esteemed for his charity, learning, and good character. On Sunday, December 29, both were consecrated, Boniface in the Basilica of St. Marcellus, supported by nine provincial bishops and some seventy priests; Eulalius in the Lateran basilica in the presence of the deacons, a few priests and the Bishop of Ostia, who was summoned from his sick-bed to assist at the ordination. Each claimant proceeded to act as pope, and Rome was thrown into tumultuous confusion by the clash of the rival factions. The Prefect of Rome, Symmachus, hostile to Boniface, reported the trouble to the Emperor Honorius at Ravenna, and secured the imperial confirmation of Eulalius's election. Boniface was expelled from the city. His adherents, however, secured a hearing from the emperor who called a synod of Italian Bishops at Ravenna to meet the rival popes and discuss the situation (February, March, 419). Unable to reach a decision, the synod made a few practical provisions pending a general council of Italian, Gaulish, and African bishops to be convened in May to settle the difficulty. It ordered both claimants to leave Rome until a decision was reached and forbade return under penalty of condemnation. As Easter, March 30, was approaching, Achilleus, Bishop of Spoleto, was deputed to conduct the paschal services in the vacant Roman See. Boniface was sent, it seems, to the cemetery of St. Felicitas on the Via Salaria, and Eulalius to Antium. On March 18, Eulalius boldly returned to Rome, gathered his partisans, stirred up strife anew, and spurning the prefect's orders to leave the city, seized the Lateran basilica on Holy Saturday (March 29), determined to preside at the paschal ceremonies. The imperial troops were required to dispossess him and make it possible for Achilleus to conduct the services. The emperor was deeply indignant at these proceedings and refusing to consider again the claims of Eulalius, recognized Boniface as legitimate pope (April 3, 418). The latter reentered Rome April 10 and was acclaimed by the people. Eulalius was made Bishop either of Nepi in Tuscany or of some Campanian see, according to the conflicting data of the sources of the "Liber Pontificalis". The schism had lasted fifteen weeks. Early in 420, the pope's critical illness encouraged the partisans of Eulalius to make another effort. On his recovery Boniface requested the emperor (July 1, 420) to make some provision against possible renewal of the schism in the event of his death. Honorius enacted a law providing that, in contested papal elections, neither claimant should be recognized and a new election should be held.

Boniface's reign was marked by great zeal and activity in disciplinary organization and control. He reversed his predecessor's policy of endowing certain Western bishops with extraordinary papal vicariate powers. Zosimus had given to Patroclus, Bishop of Arles, extensive jurisdiction in the provinces of Vienna, and Narbonne, and had made him an intermediary between these provinces and the Apostolic See. Boniface diminished these primatial rights and restored the metropolitan powers of the chief bishops of provinces. Thus he sustained Hilary, Archbishop of Narbonne in his choice of a bishop of the vacant See of Lodeve, against Patroclus, who tried to intrude another (422). So, too, he insisted that Maximus, Bishop of Valence should be tried for his alleged crimes, not by a primate, but by a synod of the bishops of Gaul, and promised to sustain their decision (419). Boniface succeeded to Zosimus's difficulties with the African Church regarding appeals to Rome and, in particular, the case of Apiarius. The Council of Carthage, having heard the representations of Zosimus's legates, sent to Boniface on May 31, 419, a letter in reply to the commonitorium of his predecessor. It stated that the council had been unable to verify the canons which the legates had quoted as Nicene, but which were later found to be Sardican. It agreed, however, to observe them until verification could be established. This letter is often cited in illustration of the defiant attitude of the African Church to the Roman See. An unbiased study of it, however, must lead to no more extreme conclusion than that of Dom Chapman: "it was written in considerable irritation, yet in a studiously moderate tone" (Dublin Review, July, 1901, 109-119). The Africans were irritated at the insolence of Boniface's legates and incensed at being urged to obey laws which they thought were not consistently enforced at Rome. This they told Boniface in no uncertain language; yet, far from repudiating his authority, they promised to obey the suspected laws, thus recognizing the pope's office as guardian of the Church's discipline. In 422 Boniface received the appeal of Anthony of Fussula who, through the efforts of St. Augustine, had been deposed by a provincial synod of Numidia, and decided that he should be restored if his innocence be established. Boniface ardently supported St. Augustine in combating Pelagianism. Having received two Pelagian letters calumniating Augustine, he sent them to him. In recognition of this solicitude Augustine dedicated to Boniface his rejoinder contained in "Contra duas Epistolas Pelagianorum Libri quatuor".

In the East he zealously maintained his jurisdiction over the ecclesiastical provinces of Illyricum, of which the Patriarch of Constantinople was trying to secure control on account of their becoming a part of the Eastern empire. The Bishop of Thessalonica had been constituted papal vicar in this territory, exercising jurisdiction over the metropolitans and bishops. By letters to Rufus, the contemporary incumbent of the see, Boniface watched closely over the interests of the Illyrian church and insisted on obedience to Rome. In 421 dissatisfaction expressed by certain malcontents among the bishops, on account of the pope's refusal to confirm the election of Perigines as Bishop of Corinth unless the candidate was recognized by Rufus, served as a pretext for the young emperor Theodosius II to grant the ecclesiastical dominion of Illyricum to the Patriarch of Constantinople (July 14, 421). Boniface remonstrated with Honorius against the violation of the rights of his see, and prevailed upon him to urge Theodosius to rescind his enactment. The law was not enforced, but it remained in the Theodosian (439) and Justinian (534) codes and caused much trouble for succeeding popes. By a letter of March 11, 422, Boniface forbade the consecration in Illyricum of any bishop whom Rufus would not recognize. Boniface renewed the legislation of Pope Soter, prohibiting women to touch the sacred linens or to minister at the burning of incense. He enforced the laws forbidding slaves to become clerics. He was buried in the cemetery of Maximus on the Via Salaria, near the tomb of his favorite, St. Felicitas, in whose honor and in gratitude for whose aid he had erected an oratory over the cemetery bearing her name. The Church keeps his feast on October 25.

JOHN B. PETERSON


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