Compendium of Church History - Notre Dame

Eighth Century
The Century of St. Boniface

Conversion of the Teutons.
The vast countries lying east of the Rhine and north of the Alps remained pagan long after the south and west of Europe had embraced the true faith. There were tribes who had received Christianity when the Romans were masters, but gradually the Faith lost all hold on them. The attempt at reconverting them made by St. Columban and the Irish monks had produced but little fruit, and up to the close of the seventh century the great mass of the Teutonic people was pagan.

During the eighth century a great missionary made his appearance in the person of St. Boniface. "He was a man of untiring zeal, high intellect, and child-like simplicity; a hero in his faith, in his dependence on Providence, and in his charity; yea, a vessel of election like St. Paul."

St. Boniface was born in England about the year 680. He received the name Winifred at his baptism, and at an early age entered the order of the Benedictines. In 716 he began missionary labors, first in Friesland, afterwards in Thuringia and among the Hessians. Here he cut down the sacred oak tree to which the inhabitants paid divine honor, and from the timber built a chapel in honor of St. Peter. By this act, paganism among the Hessians fell to rise no more. He also labored in Bavaria, in the Rhine countries, and even in France.

Finding that his life was drawing to its close, Boniface resolved to make a final effort to convert the Frisians. Shortly after his arrival in that country, as a reward of his zeal, he received the crown of martyrdom at Dorkum, on the fifth day of June, 753.

He received from Pope Gregory II the significant name of Boniface, or "doer of good,"  the dignity of Archbishop of Mayence, and was named papal legate for all Germany. His good work was continued by his disciples, to the great blessing of Germany.

Temporal Power of the Popes.
In 330, Constantine the Great left Rome to the popes and built himself a new capital at Constantinople. He also endowed Pope St. Sylvester with property in Rome yielding an income of $50,000 annually.

In 493, Theodoric endowed the Church, and up to the time of St. Gregory the Great, 570, the land estates of the Church were called Patrimonies—twentythree in number.

During the eighth century the Lombards threatened Rome, and Pope Stephen called on Pepin the Short, King of the Franks, to come to his aid. Pepin assented to the Pope's wishes, and led an army against the barbarians. He reconquered the Exarchate of Ravenna with twenty-two towns taken by Luitprand, and compelled the invading sovereign to content himself with Lombardy. Pepin then offered the regained province and towns to the Holy See. This donation, or the Patrimony of St. Peter, as it was called, was the commencement of the Temporal sovereignty of the popes, who were no longer subject to the control of any ruler.

This donation was confirmed by Charlemagne and succeeding emperors.

Heresy of the Eighth Century

The Heresy of the Iconoclasts.
From the earliest ages of the Church sacred images have been in use, and have been looked on as most useful in assisting Christians in their exercises of devotion. "Images," says St. John Damascene, "are for the unlearned what books are for those. who can read: they are to the sight what words are to the ear.

In the seventh century abuses began to creep into the Oriental Church, and this fact furnished a pretext to the Greek Emperor, Leo the Isaurian, in the year 726, to forbid all veneration of images. The conflict lasted nearly one hundred and twenty years, during which time many of the Emperors neglected the welfare of their subjects to meddle in Church affairs, and by repeated orders, fines, and penalties, endeavored to root out the veneration of images.

The Empresses Irene and Theodora upheld this ancient Christian custom, and the seventh and eighth general councils at Nicaea and Constantinople defended the veneration of images.