1 II The Carolingian Age If the age of Gregory the Great represents a transition from the Greco Roman to a new stage in European civilization, Byzantine in the East and Romano-German in the West, the rise of Islam in the seventh century, followed by the reformation of the Frankish kingdom in the eighth and ninth centuries, produced a more complete severance from the old order. With the Moslem conquests, all North Africa was lost to Christendom, and the Christians of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria were forced, as were those of most of Spain, to live under Moslem rule. Despite its losses, the eastern Roman or Byzantine empire remained a power to be reckoned with in the eastern Mediterranean and managed to retain for a while longer its lands in southern Italy; but it was no longer able to exercise a preponderant influence in the West. Meanwhile, regions formerly considered to lie beyond the frontiers of the Roman world were acquiring importance. A significant new area of western Christendom, for example, developed in the British Isles. The successors of St. Augustine of Canterbury whom Pope Gre~ory had sent to Saxon England, pushed northward, while Irish missionaries and monks (Scoti, as they were called) traveled to a land already colonized by their kindred and later named Scotland. They also penetrated Saxon England. Iona and Lindisfarne are among their most celebrated foundations. Thus it was that as St. Augustine and his successors were introducing Christianity and Latin culture to the Saxons of southern and central Britain, Irish monks were bringing religious learning to the north. By the seventh and eighth centuries, England was developing a vigorous as well as a varied Christian culture which was to contribute notably, with the help of such outstanding missionaries as St. Boniface (d. 755), to the reorganization of Christianity on the continent. By the mid-eighth century the Frankish kingdom was developing political institutions of some stability. In 732 the Frankish mayor of the palace, Charles Martel, stopped the Arab advance at Tours. In subsequent decades he and his successor, Pippin (741-68), who with papal blessing assumed the title of king, brought the kingdom of the Franks to a new unity, following more than a century of division and disorder.
2 110 THE CAROLINGIAN AGE Frankish civilization reached its climax during the reign of Charlemagne ( ). The frontiers were extended to include the Saxons beyond the Rhine, marches along the eastern borders, a march in northeastern Spain, and the northern half of Italy, an area of many diverse customs and languages. Such unity as the Frankish empire possessed resulted from Charlemagne's administrative skill and unflagging energy as well as from his ability to maintain the loyalty of a relatively small number of great magnates. For with the passing of Roman institutions and the decline in commercial life, western society, especially that newer part of it to the north and west, had become decentralized and predominantly agrarian. To assist him in guiding the destinies of his kingdom, Charlemagne gathered around him a remarkable group of men, among them Alcuin of York; Theodulf, a Spaniard who became bishop of Orleans; Paul the Deacon; and Einhard, his biographer. These and others constituted a kind of learned elite and in their respective backgrounds represented those areas of Europe where Christian-classical culture had flourished. In fact, their searching in the classical J?ast produced what has been called the Carolingian renaissance, a sigmficant if limited achievement. Although Charlemagne, after the manner of the Franks, planned to divide his kingdom, he was in fact succeeded by his oldest son, Louis the Pious (814-40). Throughout his reign Louis was beset by many difficulties-attacks on the frontiers, rebellions by his own sons, and his own hesitations. Once considered a relatively weak ruler, Louis nevertheless accomplished a number of things and did much to carry on the political and religious traditions of his father. Following Louis's death the Frankish empire was divided, and after one or two ineffectual attempts to reconstitute it in its original form, it so remained. Norse, Slav, Magyar, and Saracen attacks on the frontiers ushered in a new period of political disorder, which scarcely ended before the mid-tenth century. Nevertheless, although the political creations of the Carolingians were not destined to survive, the entire era, from the first Carolingian rulers to the later ninth century, was a period of fundamental importance in the history of western Christianity, one in which certain basic elements of western religious life were formed. One such element was the concept of a respublica christiana, a total Christian society in which the religious and the secular were merged and in which the ruler's religious role was on a par with his political one. This had been true to some extent in earlier times, but as the bonds of society in this emerging feudal age became more personal, linking man to man rather than man to government, the ruler's religious function took on a new importance. What is especially relevant here is the fact that Charlemagne, even more fully than his predecessors, regarded his royal responsibility as including ecclesiastical administration. For Charlemagne named bishops and summoned councils which dealt not only with administrative matters but with ques-
3 THE CAROLINGIAN AGE 111 tions of doctrine and religious practice. His ordinances went out to Church dignitaries as well as to lay magnates. They were concerned with the life of the clergy, monastic as well as secular, and they dealt with the religious life of the laity. To his associates at court Charles was known as "David." Like the ancient Hebrew rulers, he was the anointed leader of the "People of God," responsible for their eternal as well as for their temporal welfare. Einhard tells us that Charlemagne was familiar with St. Augustine's City of God. Indeed, some have characterized Carolingian society as "political Augustinianism," a sort of merger or confusion of the two cities, the earthly and heavenly, an identification of the city of God with Christian society. At any rate, the first great effort in the West to create a total Christian society was made under the leadership of the king. Further, this was no less true under Charlemagne's successors. Louis the Pious, educated by the men his father had brought to the royal court, had an even more profound sense of the sacred character of kingship than his father. Among the things upon which the advisers of both Charlemagne and Louis were particularly insistent was the need for uniformity. Accordingly, they sought, though not always correctly, to reproduce the traditions of the fathers. Moreover, although they were not unwilling, if circumstances so indicated, to innovate, their norm was always what they believed to be Roman usage. The importance of this is clear. In a critical formative period in western Christian history, the customs of what was referred to as "the Roman church" came to be a standard for all. In canon law, for example, the sources available to the Carolingians left much to be desired, so that there remained confusion and room for disagreement, and usages tended to vary according to regional tradition. Three collections of decrees of popes and councils were then in fairly wide, though local, use. In the East a council of the year 692 (Trullo-Quinisext) sanctioned a collection to which later additions were made-notably the canons of the Second Council of Nicea (787). In the West, the collection known as the Hispana, compiled in Visigothic Spain and sometimes referred to as Isidoriana because of an attribution to Isidore of Seville, was accepted in Spain. Because there was no established canonical tradition in Gaul, the Frankish rulers turned to Rome. Meanwhile, in the sixth century a collection of Latin translations of Greek canons-to which were added 39 decretals of popes from Siricius (d. 398) to Anastasius (d. 498) was made by the Scythian monk, Dionysius Exiguus. This was adopted in Rome and other papal decrees were subsequently added. It was this collection which was sent by Pope Hadrian I to Charlemagne and which, as a result, became known as the Dionysio-Hadriana. Toward the middle of the ninth century certain impatient canonists, apparently alarmed at what they regarded as the anarchical state of the Frankish churches, drew up, probably at Rome, a new collection of
4 112 THE CAROLINGIAN AGE canons. This was based largely on the Isidoriana-Hispana, but included a number of additions, notably 70 letters allegedly written by pre Nicene popes but in fact invented to support positions felt to be sound. The famous Donation of Constantine was also added. Later known as Pseudo-Isidorian, these forged decretals have occasioned a vast literature. There seems, however, to be general agreement that the modern connotation of the word "forged" is inappropriate to the situation in the mid-ninth century. The purpose appears to have been to strengthen and systematize canonical procedure; moreover, as the new material gradually found its way into later collections, the centralizing tendencies of the papacy were strengthened. But in this as in other matters, the process might perhaps better be described as a short cut than as a fundamental juridical innovation. In the second half of the ninth century, and especially under the auspices of Nicholas I ( ), the papacy emerged from the eclipse it had suffered during the days of the great Carolingians. Although Nicholas I made some use of the spurious canons, certain of his most important letters contain no such references. His many letters to prelates and rulers both eastern and western left no doubt about his insistence on the Roman primacy, and his words were frequently cited by the popes of the later eleventh century. Charlemagne had intended to institute a thoroughgoing monastic reform, and he had secured from Montecassino an authentic copy of the Rule of St. Benedict. He was not, however, able to achieve this, and it remained for a second Benedict, Benedict of Aniane, under the patronage of Charlemagne's son, Louis, to make the Rule the universal norm for western monasticism. Certain additions were made to the monastic horarium, and monastic schools were reserved exclusively for boys who intended to become monks. Detailed rules were also drawn up to regulate the life of nuns, and a series of decrees on canons was designed to implement and extend an earlier rule of St. Chrodegang of Metz. In seeking to achieve liturgical uniformity according to Roman usage, the Carolingian ecclesiastics ran into difficulties. By the early eignth century, western liturgical practices had become exceedingly confused. In the Carolingian lands and in Spain, for example, many local variations had been added to form what may loosely be called the "Gallican rite." In actual fact, the Gallican rite had remained intact only in Spain where it later came to be known as Mozarabic. As in many other matters, the impetus toward reform on the Roman model came from England. Influenced presumably by St. Boniface, Pepin decided to abolish Gallican usages and inaugurate a program of liturgical uniformity. And it was Alcuin, another Englishman, to whom Charlemagne entrusted the task of carrying the work further. Carolingian churchmen also made important contributions to liturgical interpretation and embellishment. Not long after Charlemagne's death, Amalar of Metz produced an elaborate allegorical interpretation
5 THE CAROLINGIAN AGE 113 of the mass which, though adversely criticized by many, set a style that was to continue. Later in the ninth century, cantors commonly elaborated the final a of the word Alleluia into a melody known as a "sequence." Eventually the sequence became virtually a new hymn. Thus the Carolingians continued the ancient tradition of liturgical hymnody. Carolingian Christianity was molded by a relatively small elite of distinguished ecclesiastics. They were confronted with an uneducated and still largely undisciplined public, of whom the vast majority were peasants isolated in rural parishes. Inevitably there resulted a separation between a clergy, in theory though not always in practice educated, and an ignorant laity-a separation which was to remain characteristic of medieval Christianity. Even in the liturgy this separation is evident. For it was during this period that the priest began to stand before the altar with his back to the congregation instead of behind it facing the people, according to the custom of the primitive church. 1 Latin was the exclusive liturgical language, and the Slavonic liturgy devised by Constantine-Cyril and Methodius along the eastern frontiers was strenuously resisted. The faithful no longer understood the language of the service, and the celebrant recited the canon of the mass with the prayers of consecration silently. The custom whereby the faithful brought the offering of bread and wine in procession to the altar also began to be abandoned. Doubtless these things were necessary in a civilization not yet fully formed. Yet it remains true that there was formalism in Carolingian religious life. It was religion according to precept and law. This is evident in the royal and conciliar decrees. It is evident in instructions to priests. However, despite such weaknesses, the Carolingian religious achievement is impressive. Its influence was to endure long after the political structure had passed away. Suggested Readings Bainton, R. S., The Medieval Church (New York, 1962). Baldwin, M. W., The Mediaeval Church (Ithaca, N.Y., 1953). Cannon, W. R., History of Christianity in the Middle Ages (Nashville, Tenn., 1960). Daly, L. J. (see under Partl). Dawson, C., Religion and the Rise of Western Culture (London, 1950). Deanesley, M., A History of the Medieval Church (new ed., London, 196 5). 1. Apparently because the accumulation of relics on or behind the altar made the celebrant's former position impossible.
6 114 THE CAROLINGIAN AGE ---,A History of Early Medieval Europe, 476-gzz (London, 1956). Duckett, E., Alcuin, Friend of Charlemagne (new ed., Hamden, Conn., I965). ---,Anglo-Saxon Saints and Scholars (London, 1947). ---, Carolingian Portraits (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1962). Hughes, P., A History of the Church, vol. II (New York, 1935). Knowles, Dom D. (see under Part I). Russell, J. B., A History of Medieval Christianity (New York, I968). Schnurer, G., Christianity and Culture in the Middle Ages, vol. I, trans. G. J. Undreiner (Paterson, N.J., 1956).