What a guy. For starters, the patron saint of Germany is an Englishman. Now how did that happen?
Well, Winfred -- that's his real name -- was born to a wealthy family (funny how that happens a lot in what become "great" saints) in Wessex around 672 or so. What's Wessex? We English love contractions for stuff; Wessex is a contraction for West Saxons. Judas, isn't Saxony in Germany? Yeah, it is. We English are basically a German people, with some Roman from before, and a bunch of stuff later, largely French, though the main kind of French, Normans, are basically German too, as are the Vikings who were always raiding and conquering stuff. Probably looking for some decent food, if you've ever had lutefisk or other Scandinavian food. Unfortunately our food isn't that great either, which is probably why the raids were so fierce -- they were ticked, came all this way and the food is still crap, so they trashed the place.
A bunch of us German types came in about the time the Romans were losing their grip and the original peoples were losing what was left of theirs too. So, you had Wessex, the Kingdom of the West Saxons in the western modern United Kingdom (it really is a union of formerly separate kingdoms), Sussex, the Kingdom of the South Saxons, and Essex, the Kingdom of the East Saxons. Essex is just South of East Anglia, which is where my people came -- hey, we were invited, the locals were having trouble holding off the Scots after the Romans left -- from Anglia, in modern Schleswig-Holstein, a state in modern Germany.
Just for the record, there's seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and eventually they became a united Kingdom of England, which word comes from us, Angle-land. They are: Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia (they were some bad dudes, but I ain't getting into that now); Northumbria; Kent; Sussex; Essex. Collectively, they are traditionally called the Heptarchy.
Anyway, here's Winfrid in Wessex. Against his father's wishes, he takes off to a Benedictine monkatorium -- one extreme to another. In 716 he sets out to convert the Frisians, since his language, which we now call Old English, wasn't all that different than theirs. Oh, what's Frisia? Well, it's die deutsche Bucht, howzat -- means the German Bay, or cove or bight, the German coastal area on the southeast corner of the North Sea.
Trouble is, the was a war on between old Charles Martel, or Charles the Hammer, and the King of Frisia, so he and his company went back home. They came back though. This time he had the support and protection of Charles Martel. Whozat, came up twice now -- King of the Franks and grandfather of Charlemagne, aka Carolus Magnus, aka Karl der Grosse, whose Carolingian Empire became the Holy Roman Empire (Imperium Romanum Sacrum, or das heiliges roemisches Reich) with the blessings of the bishops of Rome, some of them in turn put there by the empire, call it a symbiotic relationship. Wanna spice it up at your next let's-impress-each-other cocktail party? Call France West Francia and Germany East Francia, which is pretty much what they are.
Anyway, the object of the game was for the Christian Carolingians to conquer the Saxons, which of course meant making them Christian which they weren't like the Carolingians. So in 723, under royal and military protection, a famous thing happened -- Winfrid, not yet known by his Benedictine name, Boniface, from the Latin Bonifacius, meaning well-made, thinking of Elijah in the Bible story, goes up to a sacred tree that was a major religious site to Thor, near Fritzlar in the modern German state of Hesse, for the as yet pagan Germans, and chops the bleeder down, saying if Thor was real he could strike him dead.
Didn't happen, and the story is they all, Germans outside the former Roman Imperial boundaries, became Christian on seeing that. Then the next year (724) he builds a chapel from wood from the oak; he set up a bishop -- guess you didn't need a papal appointment -- and established a Benedictine monastery in Fritzlar, and its first abbot, Wigbert, built a cathedral on the site of Boniface's chapel on the site of Thor's Oak. The bishop died and it became part of the bishopric of Mainz, of which Boniface became bishop in 745. The old Roman name, Moguntiaticum, became Mainz, and Boniface was its first bishop. Boniface made several (three, I think) trips to Rome and was granted the pallium (holy crap what's a pallium? -- it's a wool scarf worn by the pope as a symbol of his supposed authority, which the popes later also gave to some regional bishops to show their support of and from papal authority, which is silly enough, but these things were sold and the right to wear them brought in millions to the papal fortune) by Pope Gregory II in 732 and was given authority of what is now Germany, whereupon Charles Martel started setting up bishoprics all over with Boniface over them. Pope, king, what the hell. Boniface himself said he couldn't have done it without the military and political power of Charles Martel. (He said it to Daniel of Winchester but Godfrey was there by institutional memory and told me about the whole thing, plus it's in all the history books if that isn't good enough for you.)
But there was still these frigging Frisians, who weren't converted yet. Bloody coastal areas anyway. So in 754 he sets out to get them after all, but they weren't so hot to be gotten, and he ended up getting killed. His remains were taken to Utrecht, and then to Fulda, where Boniface's disciple Sturm -- hey, didn't he have a brother named Drang (if you're laughing, a special welcome to Past Elder) -- started a Benedictine monastery on 12 March 744, which lasted until Napoleon shut it down in 1802, in what we call in German -- ready for this -- Reichsdeputationschauptschluss. Relax, that's just the nickname. Its real name is Hauptschluss der ausserordentlichen Reichsdeputation, which means the Main Conclusion of the Extraordinary Imperial Delegation, which was the last thing the Reichstag of the Holy Roman Empire really did, on 25 February 1803, before the HRE ended in 1806. Basically, caved to Napoleon and secularised religious stuff.
If you're thinking continuity, or hermeneutics thereof, forget it. Fulda started up again as an episcopal see, meaning a bishopric, in 1829. The German Catholic bishops still have their conferences there, but this is not the old Fulda. Likewise, the current Catholic Diocese of Mainz is not the old Archbishopric of Mainz; the latter ended and the new one began in 1802 too and they ain't the Kurfuerstentum Mainz no more either. Who the hell were they? One of the seven guys who elected Holy Roman Emperors, that's who.
For the record, the other six electors besides the Prince-Archbishop of Mainz were the Prince-Archbishop of Trier (man I love Trier, Judas Priest even Constantine was there, that's where he ditched his wife and married another, whom he later had killed along with their son, in a power deal as part of becoming "Great" and "Equal of the Apostles", haven't been able to get that utterly captivating city out of my mind since I was there in 1969, man I love Trier), the Prince-Archbishop of Koeln (Cologne, couldn't understand bupkis of the local dialect there), the King of Bohemia (a Habsburg since 1526, think Austria), the Count Palatine of the Rhine (always a Wittlesbach, the royal family of Bavaria, yay!, whose money started the Benedictine place in Minnesota where I, well, I don't know exactly what the hell I did there), the Duke of Saxony (a Wettin since 1423) and the Margrave of Brandenburg (a Hohenzollern since 1415, think Prussia).
Oh yeah, Boniface. His body is still there in the Fulda cathedral. Before we get all misty about the "Apostle to the Germans" and all, we should remember that the spread of Christianity through the Apostles took no such course as described above. That was anything but the increase of the state church right along with the increase of the state to which it belonged. This is not a story of the triumph of the Gospel, because as Boniface himself said, it would hardly have been possible without the triumph of the state, therefore, one must also get misty about the, or that, state. And its prince-bishops including the biggest one of all, the pope of Rome, still bearing the title of the chief priest of the pagan Imperial religion, pontifex maximus. Which is exactly what happened.
The head of state no longer carries that title, the church of Christ knows neither such a title nor regional versions. The spread of Christianity brought with it the same things that would later make the Reformation necessary; as the church had become deformed so it would need to be reformed. And so it was. While we might admire the zeal, Christianity should never be spread in this way, and the Christianity that is spread in this way is a deformed Christianity that will eventually need to be reformed.
Thanks be to God that it was. Or rather, is being so reformed; the Lutheran Reformation is a process, not a past historical fact. And to-day as needed by some church bodies with "Lutheran" in their names as the state church now without a state, the RCC.
PS. Old Boniface didn't totally get rid of the Thor, or in German Donner, thing. The sacred oak may be gone, but we still have his day, Thor's Day, or Thursday -- we English love contractions. In German it's Donnerstag, same thing.
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