A bishop and a general. The bishop is Augustine, and the general is Boniface. We had mentioned that as part of his duties as bishop, Augustine would counsel people from all walks of life, including some significant Roman officials. One of them is Boniface.
He appears to have become a Roman general around 413 after a successful campaign against the Visigoths. He was later appointed governor of Africa. He was involved in a number of controversies, and he had a number of rivals. These rivals would often accuse him of some rather terrible things. One such rival accused him of treason and of attempting to establish his own empire, the African Empire within the Roman Empire.
Boniface had his fair share of troubles, and he would often look to his friend Augustine for advice. Boniface would end up leading the resistant efforts to the Vandal invasion of Africa. And it was Boniface’s armies that were defeated in 431, which led to the takeover of Hippo. So as Augustine was dying, he was not alone in Hippo. He was with his friend, the Roman general Boniface.
After the siege of Hippo, Boniface was back in Italy. In 432, caught up in one of those power struggles with one of his rivals, he died on the battlefield. His forces actually won the battle, but Boniface suffered a mortal wound. Within months of that battle, he died.
Right after Boniface became general and up until Augustine’s death in 430, the two were friends. A number of letters passed between Augustine and Boniface. One of them gives us great insight into how Augustine cared for people. Toward the beginning of the letter, Augustine says, “All then that I can say in the short time that I have is this: ‘Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy strength,’ and, “love thy neighbor as thyself.’ These are the words in which the Lord while upon earth summed up everything saying in the Gospel: ‘On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ In this love therefore make daily progress by both prayer and good deeds, so that by the help of [God] who enjoined it upon you and granted you to possess it, it may find nourishment and increase.”
Augustine then adds, “In this love . . . all good believers make daily progress, seeking to attain not unto an earthly kingdom, but unto the kingdom of heaven, not unto a temporal, but unto an eternal inheritance, not unto gold and silver, but unto the imperishable riches of the angels, not unto any of this world’s good things, which make life full of fear and which no one can take with him when he dies, but unto the vision of [God’s] sweetness.”
In addition to this great advice, Augustine also gives Boniface some rather practical advice about his vocation as a soldier. One of the things that Augustine says very clearly to him is this: “Do not think that it is impossible for anyone to please God while engaged in military service.” In other words, if we flip that around, you can please God by engaging in military service. For proof, Augustine pulls forth David, and the centurion who met up with Jesus in the Gospels. And he tells Boniface, “Being a soldier is your calling.”
He goes on to say that “‘everyone,’ as the apostle says, ‘has his proper gift of God, one after this manner and another after that.’ There are some, then, who by praying for you, fight against your invisible foes, while you by fighting for them are striving against the visible barbarians.” Augustine encourages Boniface to above all love God, and also to be a good soldier. That is the friendship between the bishop and the general.