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Charlemagne (c.742 - 814)

Synopsis

CHARLEMAGNE, b. April 2, 742; d. Jan. 28, 814; succeeded, together with his younger brother Carloman, his father, Pepin the Short, as King of the Franks in 768; became sole ruler of the Frankish Empire by Carloman’s death in 774; was crowned Roman emperor by Leo III. in the Church of St. Peter in Rome, Christmas Day, 800, and stood, in the latter part of his reign, as one of the three great rulers of the world, the equal of the Emperor of Constantinople, and the Caliph of Bagdad.

No layman has exercised so great an influence on the history of the Church as Charlemagne; though his influence was, properly speaking, merely that of extension, organization. and consolidation. Personally he probably did not reach far beyond a tolerably accurate fulfilment of the precepts of the Church. His character has, no doubt, been much embellished by the legendary poetry of the Church. His want of chastity, and disregard of the marriage-vow, must be freely admitted. Practically the Church was to him, not only the visible representative of Christ on earth, but also an organ of civilization, an instrument of government; and he was sometimes unscrupulous enough in the use of this instrument, as, for instance, when he compelled the Saxons, by force and with unexampled cruelty, to receive baptism. Nevertheless he contributed perhaps more than any one else to make the Church a power in the history of the race, and enabled it to form during the middle ages a much-needed and highly beneficial counterpoise to the military despotism of feudalism.

His relation to the Church is strikingly characterized by a total absence of any distinction between spiritual and temporal power. Both were identical to him; and as he unquestionably was the holder of the one he necessarily came to consider himself as holder of the other too. Without paying the least regard to the Pope, whom, under other circumstances, he was not unwilling to recognize as the representative of the Church, he condemned at the synod of Francfort (794) the decrees of the second council of Nicaea concerning image-worship, and with as little ceremony he introduced the Filioque of the Spanish churches into the Nicene Creed at the synod of Aix-la-Chapelle (809). He was liberal to the Church. The exarchate of Ravenna was his splendid donation to the papal see. Churches and monasteries received enormous endowments everywhere in his. realm; and the first business he took in hand after conquering a new territory was the formation of dioceses, the building of churches, the foundation of missionary-stations, etc. But of this church, made great and rich by his liberality, he demanded absolute obedience. The metropolitans received the pallium from the Pope, but only with his consent; and the bishops he chose and appointed himself alone. He would have been very much surprised if any one had intimated to him - what, a century later on, was preached from the roofs - that there was within the Church a spiritual power to which even the emperor owed obedience. Church and State were one to him. His idea of government was theocratic, with the distinction, though, that, in his case, it was not the Church which had absorbed the State, but the State which identified. itself with the Church.

Nothing shows more plainly than the circle of great men which gathered around Charlemagne that the principal problem which he expected the Church to solve had a general civilizing bearing. All the great men of his age, such as Alcuin, Leidrade, Angilbert, Eginhard, Agobard, Paschasins Radbertus, Rabanus Maurus, Scotus Erigena Hincmar, were connected, either as teachers or as pupils, with that school which he had founded in his palace, and which became the fertile germ of the medieval university. All these men were theologians, but not exclusively: on the contrary, their greatness was their many-sidedness. They had studied grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, classical literature, canon law, etc. They were poets, philosophers, statesmen, practical administrators, etc. They were exactly what Charlemagne wanted, - men whom he could send out as legates to see how the counts were doing in the marches, or could settle as bishops in a diocese to take care, not only of the Church proper, but also of the school and the court; for, according to his ideas, the Church was an institution with many worldly duties of education and jurisdiction; and consequently it became, under his hands, an institution with many worldly interests of property and ambition.

Clemens Petersen, "Charlemagne," Philip Schaff, ed., A Religious Encyclopaedia or Dictionary of Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology, 3rd edn, Vol. 1. Toronto, New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. pp.436-437.

Primary Sources

Book or monograph Two Lives of CharlemagneAbbot of Seligenstadt Einhard & Balbulus Notker, Two Lives of Charlemagne, Lewis Thorpe, ed, new edn. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969. Pbk. ISBN: 0140442138. pp.240. {Amazon.com}
On-line Resource Einhard: The Life of Charlemagne (Medieval Sourcebook)
On-line Resource The Monk of Saint Gall: The Life of Charlemagne, 883/4 (Medieval Sourcebook)

Secondary Sources

Book or monograph Jacques Boussard, The Civilization of Charlemagne. McGraw-Hill, 1968. Pbk. ISBN: 0070067104. {Amazon.com}
Article in Journal or Book Donald A. Bullough, "Europae Pater: Charlemagne and his Achievement in the Light of Recent Scholarship," English Ecclesiastical History 85 (1970): 59-105.
Book or monograph Donald A. Bullough, The Age of Charlemagne, 2nd edn. London: Elek, 1973. Pbk. ISBN: 023617696X. pp.212. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Roger Collins, Charlemagne. Palgrave Macmillan, 1998. Hbk. ISBN: 0333650549. pp.256.
Book or monograph François Louis Ganshof, Frankish Institutions under Charlemagne. Providence, RI: Brown University Press, 1968. pp.xvi + 191.
Article in Journal or Book A. Grabois, "The Legendary Figure of Charlemagne in Medieval Hebrew Sources," Tarbiz 36 (1966): 22-58.
Book or monograph Thomas Hodgkin, Charles the Great. Associated Faculty Press Inc., 1976. Hbk. ISBN: 0804610754. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Harold Lamb, Charlemagne: The Legend and the Man. New York: Doubleday, 1954. Hbk. ISBN: 0385040660. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Rosamund McKitterick, The Frankish Church and the Carolingian Reforms 789-895. The Lincoln Record Society, 1977. Hbk. ISBN: 0901050326. pp.122-33. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph McKittrick: The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751-987Rosamund McKitterick, The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751-987. Longman, 1983. Pbk. ISBN: 0582490057. pp.59-105. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Morrissey: Charlemagne and FranceRobert Morrissey, Charlemagne and France, Catherine Tihanyi, translator. University of Notre Dame Press, 2002. Hbk. ISBN: 0268022771. pp.456. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Peter Munz, Life in the Age of Charlemagne. Putnam Pub Group (T), 1969. Hbk. ISBN: 0399201246. {Amazon.com}
Book or monograph Nicolle: The Age of CharlemagneDavid Nicolle, The Age of Charlemagne. Osprey Publishing Compnay, 2000. Pbk. ISBN: 1841761257. pp.48. {CBD} {Amazon.com}
On-line Resource Charlemagne (Thomas J. Shahan & E. MacPherson)
Article in Journal or Book Steven Vanderputten, "Faith and Politics in Early Medieval Society: Charlemagne and the Frustrating Failure of an Ecclesiological Project," Revue d'Histoire Ecclesiastique 96-3-4 (2001): 311-332.
Book or monograph Wallace-Hadrill: The Frankish ChurchJ.M. Wallace-Hadrill, The Frankish Church. Oxford History of the Christian Church. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. Hbk. ISBN: 0198269064. pp.150-61. {Amazon.com}

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