A time of schism

Boniface did not want to become pope; he took up the role in 418 during a major crisis, and seems to have been chosen because, at such a dire time, only a saint would do. An old man, known for his orthodoxy, kindness and virtue, Boniface immediately faced a faction of Roman clergy which had violently seized control of the Lateran Basilica and elected their own pope, a certain Eulalius.

Boniface had 70 bishops on his side, but Eulalius managed to get the approval of the Emperor Honorius, who declared Eulalius the true pope. Boniface was expelled from Rome. However, Boniface’s allies managed to get the emperor to think again. He told Eulalius to leave Rome as well, and to wait for a general council to rule on who was the actual pope.

Eulalius defeated

Eerily, as Lent drew to a close, there was no pope in Rome; a bishop was sent to celebrate the Easter liturgy instead. But Eulalius marched back in and, in another violent coup, took control of the Lateran on Holy Saturday. This irritated Emperor Honorius, who declared Boniface the legitimate pope.

A wise ruler

Once established, Boniface proved a wise and fatherly Pontiff in matters of both doctrine and discipline. He restrained over-ambitious prelates in some areas, and restored the forgotten rights of the less powerful. He also saw off the threat of the Pelagian heresy, which taught that we can live a good life without the grace of God. St Augustine paid tribute to Boniface’s behind-the-scenes support in his struggle against the heresy.

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