Boniface V


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(23 Dec. 619–25 Oct. 625)

A Neapolitan, son of John, he had to wait some thirteen months after election before the imperial sanction for his consecration arrived. The reason for the delay was the preoccupation of Emperor Heraclius (610–41) with his campaigns against the Persians; it is significant that the responsibility for confirming a papal election was now delegated to the exarch at Ravenna. Nothing is known about Boniface's earlier career except that it was probably spent in the service of the Roman church, but like Deusdedit he represented the reaction against Gregory I's pro-monastic policy. The sources stress his regard for the secular clergy, and his legislation showed his keenness to preserve their prerogatives: for example, he insisted that only priests, not acolytes, should transfer the relics of martyrs, and that acolytes should not act for subdeacons at baptisms. Loyal to the emperor, he refused to be drawn when the exarch Eleutherius revolted against Heraclius. A businesslike administrator, he formally confirmed the right of asylum in churches, and brought ecclesiastical practice in the matter of bequests into line with civil law. Like Boniface IV, he took a special interest in the English church, writing to Mellitus (d. 624), archbishop of Canterbury, and to Bishop Justus of Rochester (d. c.627), and conferring the pallium and the status of metropolitan on Justus (one of the monks sent to England by Gregory I) when he became archbishop (624). He also wrote directly to Edwin, king of Northumbria (616–33), and to his consort Ethelburga, who was already a Christian, with the object of securing the conversion of the king and his subjects. A compassionate and kindly man, he was generous to the needy and distributed his personal fortune in alms. He completed the cemetery of S. Nicomedes on the Via Nomentana, and when he died left handsome bequests to his clergy.

Further Reading

PL 80: 429–40JW i. 222 f., ii. 698LP i. 321 f. (Davis 1: 65)Bede, Hist. eccl. 2. 7 f., 2. 10 f.Caspar ii. 517–22DCB i. 330 (T. R. Buchanan)DHGE ix. 899 (G. Bardy)Levillain i. 187–8 (J. Durliat)NCE ii. 500 (P. J. Mullins)DBI xii. 140–42 (P. Bertolini)Seppelt ii. 46 f.JR 178 f., 244, 263 f.

Subjects: Christianity.

Reference entries