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History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590-1073.
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§ 24. German Missionaries before Boniface.


England derived its Anglo-Saxon population from Germany in the fifth century, and in return gave to Germany in the eighth century the Christian religion with a strong infusion of popery. Germany afterwards shook off the yoke of popery, and gave to England the Protestant Reformation. In the seventeenth century, England produced Deism, which was the first act of modern unbelief, and the forerunner of German Rationalism. The revival of evangelical theology and religion which followed in both countries, established new points of contact between these cognate races, which meet again on common ground in the Western hemisphere to commingle in the American nationality.

The conversion of Germany to Christianity and to Romanism was, like that of England, the slow work of several centuries. It was accomplished by missionaries of different nationalities, French, Scotch-Irish, English, and Greek. It began at the close of the second century, when Irenaeus spoke of Christian congregations in the two Germanies,115115    αἱἐνταῖς Γερμανίαιςἱδρυμέναιἐκκλησίαι. Adv. haer. I. 10, 2 i.e. Germania prima and secunda, on the upper and lower Rhine; and it was substantially completed in the age of Charlemagne in the eighth century. But nearly the entire North-Eastern part of Germany, which was inhabited mostly by Slavonic tribes, remained heathen till the eleventh and thirteenth centuries.

We must distinguish especially three stages: 1) the preparatory labors of Italian, French, and Scotch-Irish missionaries; 2) the consolidating romanizing work of Boniface of England and his successors; 3) the forcible military conversion of the Saxons under Charlemagne. The fourth and last missionary stage, the conversion of the Prussians and Slavonic races in North-Eastern Germany, belongs to the next period.

The light of Christianity came to Germany first from the Roman empire in the Roman colonies on the Rhine. At the council of Arles in 314, there was a bishop Maternus of Cologne with his deacon, Macrinus, and a bishop of Treves by the name of Agröcius.

In the fifth century the mysterious Severinus from the East appeared among the savages on the banks of the Danube in Bavaria as an angel of mercy, walking bare-footed in mid-winter, redeeming prisoners of war, bringing food and clothing with the comfort of the Gospel to the poor and unfortunate, and won by his self-denying labors universal esteem. French monks and hermits left traces of their work at St. Goar, St. Elig, Wulfach, and other places on the charming banks of the Rhine. The efficient labors of Columbanus and his Irish companions and pupils extended from the Vosges to South Germany and Eastern Switzerland. Willebrord, an Anglo-Saxon, brought up in an Irish convent, left with twelve brethren for Holland (690) became the Apostle of the Friesians, and was consecrated by the Pope the first bishop of Utrecht (Trajectum), under the name of Clemens. He developed an extensive activity of nearly fifty years till his death (739).

When Boniface arrived in Germany he found nearly in all parts which he visited, especially in Bavaria and Thuringia, missionaries and bishops independent of Rome, and his object was fully as much to romanize this earlier Christianity, as to convert the heathen. He transferred the conflict between the Anglo-Saxon mission of Rome and the older Keltic Christianity of Patrick and Columba and their successors from England to German soil, and repeated the role of Augustin of Canterbury. The old Easter controversy disappears after Columbanus, and the chief objects of dispute were freedom from popery and clerical marriage. In both respects, Boniface succeeded, after a hard struggle, in romanizing Germany.

The leaders of the opposition to Rome and to Bonifacius among his predecessors and contemporaries were Adelbert and Clemens. We know them only from the letters of Boniface, which represent them in a very, unfavorable light. Adelbert, or Aldebert (Eldebert), was a Gaul by nation, and perhaps bishop of Soissons; at all events he labored on the French side of the Rhine, had received episcopal ordination, and enjoyed great popularity from his preaching, being regarded as an apostle, a patron, and a worker of miracles. According to Boniface, he was a second Simon Magus, or immoral impostor, who deceived the people by false miracles and relics, claimed equal rank with the apostles, set up crosses and oratories in the fields, consecrated buildings in his own name, led women astray, and boasted to have relics better than those of Rome, and brought to him by an angel from the ends of the earth. Clemens was a Scotchman (Irishman), and labored in East Franconia. He opposed ecclesiastical traditions and clerical celibacy, and had two sons. He held marriage with a brother’s widow to be valid, and had peculiar views of divine predestination and Christ’s descent into Hades. Aldebert and Clemens were condemned without a hearing, and excommunicated as heretics and seducers of the people, by a provincial Synod of Soissons, a.d. 744, and again in a Synod of Rome, 745, by Pope Zacharias, who confirmed the decision of Boniface. Aldebert was at last imprisoned in the monastery of Fulda, and killed by shepherds after escaping from prison. Clemens disappeared.116116    Comp. besides the Letters of Boniface, the works of Neander, Rettberg, Ebrard, Werner and Fischer, quoted below.



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