The Church Pertaining To The Carolingian Empire
Modern day Europe as we know it took form with the empire of the Carolingians.
This Empire encompassed all of Europe, and even lasted long enough to have what some call a “renaissance”. The main reason why the Carolingian Empire grew out of a conglomerate of agrarian tribes were the strong rulers that arose from the Carolingian family; furthermore, the reason why these rulers succeeded was their alliance with the church.
Early Christian Europe should not be discussed without mention of St. Boniface. He was a monk who left England in 716 to work at missionaries in northern Europe. Boniface was completely devoted to his work of converting the predominately Pagan (and” “uncivilized” as Boniface put it) northern European people to Christianity. His “Oath of Boniface To Pope Gregory II” states the sense of duty he has to the church and the pope. He created alliances with the Carolingian mayors and the papacy. Eventually he was appointed Archbishop of Germany. He converted thousands to Christianity. In a letter to a Bishop in England he explained how to go about converting these uncivilized people. He wrote of the conversion process telling how easy it was to convert the Pagans.
It was interesting to see that Boniface really seemed to have this conversion process down to a science.
St. Boniface also built churches and eventually, with the blessing of Pepin the short and his brother, St. Boniface reformed the whole Frankish church. What he did not only laid the groundwork for the unity between the church and the Carolingian State, but also jumpstarted the Cultural Revolution that would soon happen in the Carolnigian Empire.
The first real alliance between the Carolingian’s and the papacy was consummated in 751. Pepin the short (the palace mayor or Major Domus) sent a letter to Pope Zacharias, describing to him his situation. This is an account taken by monks in southern Germany:
…the kings of the Franks though they were of royal line and were called kings, had no power in the kingdom, except that charters and privileges were drawn up in their names. They had absolutely no kingly authority, but did whatever the Major Domus of the Franks desired….Pope Zacharias, therefore, in the exercise of his apostolic authority, replied that the man who held the power in the kingdom should be called king…
That portion of the letter means that the Pope recognized Pepin as King of the Franks, thereby establishing the relationship of the two leaders. By the way, fittingly it was St. Boniface that anointed Pepin King.
King Pepin expressed his gratitude by coming to the aid of the Pope in his time of need. The Lombards were invading Italy and the Pope had no military backing from Constantinople because the Byzantine Empire was in military conflict with the Muslims. So he turned to Pepin the short for assistance. Pepin was beholden to help out the man who gave him his crown. So Pepin defeated the Lombards and granted the Pope land around the city of Rome to act as a buffer zone, that the Pope himself could rule…thus strengthening the relationship between the Papacy and the Carolingian’s.
Now comes along Pepin the short’s son, Charles the great, or as we’ll call him, Charlemagne. He ruled from 768 to 814 and left a renowned legacy. Charlemagne struggled throughout his career to for a cultural revival in Francia. He issued laws that forbid practices that the church looked down upon. Because there was a lack of education and educated people in Western Europe, Charlemagne used Bishoprics and Monasteries of the Frankish Empire to teach literacy and other subjects. This is evident in a letter he wrote Abbot Baugulf,
Be it known therefore, to your devotion pleasing to God, that we, together with our faithful, have considered it useful that the bishoprics and monasteries entrusted by the favor of Christ to our control, in addition to the order of monastic life and the intercourse of holy religion, in the culture of letters also ought to be zealous on teaching those who by gift of God are able to learn, according to the capacity of each individual, so that just as the observance of the rule imparts order and grace to honesty of morals, so also zeal and teaching and learning may do the same for sentences, so that those who desire to please God by living rightly should not neglect to please him also by speaking correctly.
This to me says an awful lot not only about the relationship between Charlemagne and the church, but also about the ideas Charlemagne had about his empire. He was asking the church for assistance in making the people he ruled smarter. He recognized the fact that 1st an empire of more intelligent people would be a stronger, more unified empire, and 2nd that he needed the church to teach his people…that the church was a great asset and ally of his.
In addition to the church helping him, he helped the church by giving them new Christians. Charlemagne’s military campaigns eventually had the objective of spreading Christianity throughout the west. When he conquered a territory he also eventually converted it. One battle lasted thirty-two years; it was with the Saxons. “At length Saxony submitted to the remorseless pressure of Charlemagne’s forces and the monks who followed in their wake.” One reason for this immediate conversion of conquered territory (besides the reason of spreading Christianity) might be that Charlemagne thought that the Christian God was also the God of military victory. He states this clearly in a letter he wrote in 796 to Pope Leo III
It is your part father to assist the success of our arms with your hands raised in prayer to God, as Moses did, so that by your intervention, God willing and granting, the Christian people will forever achieve victory over the enemies of His name.
Charlemagne, like his father used his vast resources to build churches and missionaries. To me the way Charlemagne carried himself in thought is remarkable. To have such devotion as to revolve your political and military prowess around your faith, especially when your military and political prowess revolves around an empire covering a continent is to me, very impressive. It must have also been to the leaders of the church, specifically the Papacy…On Christmas day in the year 800 AD, Pope Leo III coronated Charlemagne Emperor in recognition for his accomplishments…
King Charles was not able to refuse this demand: in all humility he submitted to God and to the request of the whole Christian people and on the day of the nativity of our lord Jesus Christ he assumed the title of an emperor and was consecrated by Pope Leo.
Throughout his reign, Charlemagne had had a deep concern for the Christ-centered life. The Renaissance that followed Charlemagne’s death was a result of his drive to expand the church and his legacy of living a Christ-centered life. He set an example for the rulers after him to use the church as an ally and an asset. To live by the laws of the church and expect the people of the empire to do the same.