The activity, of Gregory tended powerfully to establish the authority of the papal chair. He combined a triple dignity, episcopal, metropolitan, and patriarchal. He was bishop of the city of Rome, metropolitan over the seven suffragan (afterwards called cardinal) bishops of the Roman territory, and patriarch of Italy, in fact of the whole West, or of all the Latin churches. This claim was scarcely disputed except as to the degree of his power in particular cases. A certain primacy of honor among all the patriarchs was also conceded, even by the East. But a universal episcopate, including an authority of jurisdiction over the Eastern or Greek church, was not acknowledged, and, what is more remarkable, was not even claimed by him, but emphatically declined and denounced. He stood between the patriarchal and the strictly papal system. He regarded the four patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, to whom he announced his election with a customary confession of his faith, as co-ordinate leaders of the church under Christ, the supreme head, corresponding as it were to the four ecumenical councils and the four gospels, as their common foundation, yet after all with a firm belief in a papal primacy. His correspondence with the East on this subject is exceedingly important. The controversy began in 595, and lasted several years, but was not settled.
John IV., the Faster, patriarch of Constantinople, repeatedly used in his letters the title “ecumenical” or “universal bishop.” This was an honorary title, which had been given to patriarchs by the emperors Leo and Justinian, and confirmed to John and his successors by a Constantinopolitan synod in 588. It had also been used in the Council of Chalcedon of pope Leo I. But Gregory I. was provoked and irritated beyond measure by the assumption of his Eastern rival, and strained every nerve to procure a revocation of that title. He characterized it as a foolish, proud, profane, wicked, pestiferous, blasphemous, and diabolical usurpation, and compared him who used it to Lucifer. He wrote first to Sabinianus, his apocrisiarius or ambassador in Constantinople, then repeatedly to the patriarch, to the emperor Mauricius, and even to the empress; for with all his monkish contempt for woman, he availed himself on every occasion of the female influence in high quarters. He threatened to break off communion with the patriarch. He called upon the emperor to punish such presumption, and reminded him of the contamination of the see of Constantinople by such arch-heretics as Nestorius.
Failing in his efforts to change the mind of his rival in New Rome, he addressed himself to the patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch, and played upon their jealousy; but they regarded the title simply as a form of honor, and one of them addressed him as ecumenical pope, a compliment which Gregory could not consistently accept.
After the death of John the Faster in 596 Gregory instructed his ambassador at Constantinople to demand from the new patriarch, Cyriacus, as a condition of intercommunion, the renunciation of the wicked title, and in a letter to Maurice he went so far as to declare, that “whosoever calls himself universal priest, or desires to be called so, was the forerunner of Antichrist.”
In opposition to these high-sounding epithets, Gregory called himself, in proud humility, “the servant of the servants of God.” This became one of the standing titles of the popes, although it sounds like irony in conjunction with their astounding claims.
But his remonstrance was of no avail. Neither the patriarch nor the emperor obeyed his wishes. Hence he hailed a change of government which occurred in 602 by a violent revolution.
When Phocas, an ignorant, red-haired, beardless, vulgar, cruel and deformed upstart, after the most atrocious murder of Maurice and his whole family (a wife, six sons and three daughters), ascended the throne, Gregory hastened to congratulate him and his wife Leontia (who was not much better) in most enthusiastic terms, calling on heaven and earth to rejoice at their accession, and vilifying the memory of the dead emperor as a tyrant, from whose yoke the church was now fortunately freed. This is a dark spot, but the only really dark and inexcusable spot in the life of this pontiff. He seemed to have acted in this case on the infamous maxim that the end justifies the means. His motive was no doubt to secure the protection and aggrandizement of the Roman see. He did not forget to remind the empress of the papal proof-text: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,” and to add: “I do not doubt that you will take care to oblige and bind him to you, by whom you desire to be loosed from your sins.”
The murderer and usurper repaid the favor by taking side with the pope against his patriarch (Cyriacus), who had shown sympathy with the unfortunate emperor. He acknowledged the Roman church to be “the head of all churches.” But if he ever made such a decree at the instance of Boniface III., who at that time was papal nuntius at Constantinople, he must have meant merely such a primacy of honor as had been before conceded to Rome by the Council of Chalcedon and the emperor Justinian. At all events the disputed title continued to be used by the patriarchs and emperors of Constantinople. Phocas, after a disgraceful reign (602-610), was stripped of the diadem and purple, loaded with chains, insulted, tortured, beheaded and cast into the flames. He was succeeded by Heraclius.
In this whole controversy the pope’s jealousy of the patriarch is very manifest, and suggests the suspicion that it inspired the protest.
Gregory displays in his correspondence with his rival a singular combination of pride and humility. He was too proud to concede to him the title of a universal bishop, and yet too humble or too inconsistent to claim it for himself. His arguments imply that he would have the best right to the title, if it were not wrong in itself. His real opinion is perhaps best expressed in a letter to Eulogius of Alexandria. He accepts all the compliments which Eulogius paid to him as the successor of Peter, whose very name signifies firmness and solidity; but he ranks Antioch and Alexandria likewise as sees of Peter, which are nearly, if not quite, on a par with that of Rome, so that the three, as it were, constitute but one see. He ignores Jerusalem. “The see of the Prince of the Apostles alone,” he says, “has acquired a principality of authority, which is the see of one only, though in three places (quae in tribus locis unius est). For he himself has exalted the see in which he deigned to rest and to end his present life [Rome]. He himself adorned the see [Alexandria] to which he sent his disciple [Mark] as evangelist. He himself established the see in which he sat for seven years [Antioch]. Since, then, the see is one, and of one, over which by divine authority three bishops now preside, whatever good I hear of you I impute to myself. If you believe anything good of me, impute this to your own merits; because we are one in Him who said: ‘That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that all may be one in us’ (Joh_17:21).”
When Eulogius, in return for this exaltation of his own see, afterwards addressed Gregory as “universal pope,” he strongly repudiated the title, saying: “I have said that neither to me nor to any one else (nec mihi, nec cuiquam alteri) ought you to write anything of the kind. And lo! in the preface of your letter you apply to me, who prohibited it, the proud title of universal pope; which thing I beg your most sweet Holiness to do no more, because what is given to others beyond what reason requires is subtracted from you. I do not esteem that an honor by which I know my brethren lose their honor. My honor is that of the universal Church. My honor is the solid strength of my brethren. I am then truly honored when all and each are allowed the honor that is due to them. For, if your Holiness calls me universal pope, you deny yourself to be that which you call me universally [that is, you own yourself to be no pope]. But no more of this: away with words which inflate pride and wound charity!” He even objects to the expression, “as thou hast commanded,” which had occurred in hid correspondent’s letter. “Which word, ‘commanded,’ I pray you let me hear no more; for I know what I am, and what you are: in position you are my brethren, in manners you are my, fathers. I did not, therefore, command, but desired only to indicate what seemed to me expedient.”
On the other hand, it cannot be denied that Gregory, while he protested in the strongest terms against the assumption by the Eastern patriarchs of the antichristian and blasphemous title of universal bishop, claimed and exercised, as far as he had the opportunity and power, the authority and oversight over the whole church of Christ, even in the East. “With respect to the church of Constantinople,” he asks in one of his letters, “who doubts that it is subject to the apostolic see?” And in another letter: “I know not what bishop is not subject to it, if fault is found in him.” “To all who know the Gospels,” he writes to emperor Maurice, “it is plain that to Peter, as the prince of all the apostles, was committed by our Lord the care of the whole church (totius ecclesiae cura) …. But although the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the power to bind and to loose, were intrusted to him, and the care and principality of the whole church (totius ecclesiae cura et principatus), he is not called universal bishop; while my most holy fellow-priest (vir sanctissimus consacerdos meus) John dares to call himself universal bishop. I am compelled to exclaim: O tempora, O mores!”
We have no right to impeach Gregory’s sincerity. But he was clearly inconsistent in disclaiming the name, and yet claiming the thing itself. The real objection is to the pretension of a universal episcopate, not to the title. If we concede the former, the latter is perfectly legitimate. And such universal power had already been claimed by Roman pontiffs before Gregory, such as Leo I., Felix, Gelasius, Hormisdas, in language and acts more haughty and self-sufficient than his.
No wonder, therefore that the successors of Gregory, less humble and more consistent than he, had no scruple to use equivalent and even more arrogant titles than the one against which he so solemnly protested with the warning: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” But it is a very remarkable fact, that at the beginning of the unfolding of the greatest power of the papacy one of the best of popes should have protested against the antichristian pride and usurpation of the system.
52. The Writings of Gregory
Comp. the second part of Lau’s biography, pp. 311 sqq., and Adolf Ebert: Geschichte der Christlich-Lateinischen Literatur, bis zum Zeitalter Karls der Grossen. Leipzig, 1874 sqq., vol. I. 516 sqq.
With all the multiplicity of his cares, Gregory found time for literary labor. His books are not of great literary merit, but were eminently popular and useful for the clergy of the middle ages.
His theology was based upon the four ecumenical councils and the four Gospels, which he regarded as the immovable pillars of orthodoxy; he also accepted the condemnation of the three chapters by the fifth ecumenical council. He was a moderate Augustinian, but with an entirely practical, unspeculative, uncritical, traditional and superstitious bent of mind. His destruction of the Palatine Library, if it ever existed, is now rejected as a fable; but it reflects his contempt for secular and classical studies as beneath the dignity of a Christian bishop. Yet in ecclesiastical learning and pulpit eloquence he had no superior in his age.
Gregory is one of the great doctors or authoritative fathers of the church. His views on sin and grace are almost semi-Pelagian. He makes predestination depend on fore-knowledge; represents the fallen nature as sick only, not as dead; lays great stress on the meritoriousness of good works, and is chiefly responsible for the doctrine of a purgatorial fire, and masses for the benefit of the souls in purgatory.
His Latin style is not classical, but ecclesiastical and monkish; it abounds in barbarisms; it is prolix and chatty, but occasionally sententious and rising to a rhetorical pathos, which he borrowed from the prophets of the Old Testament.
The following are his works:
1. Magna Moralia, in thirty-five books. This large work was begun in Constantinople at the instigation of Leander, bishop of Seville, and finished in Rome. It is a three-fold exposition of the book of Job according to its historic or literal, its allegorical, and its moral meaning.
Being ignorant of the Hebrew and Greek languages, and of Oriental history and customs (although for some time a resident of Constantinople), Gregory lacked the first qualifications for a grammatical and historical interpretation.
The allegorical part is an exegetical curiosity he reads between or beneath the lines of that wonderful poem the history of Christ and a whole system of theology natural and revealed. The names of persons and things, the numbers, and even the syllables, are filled with mystic meaning. Job represents Christ; his wife the carnal nature; his seven sons (seven being the number of perfection) represent the apostles, and hence the clergy; his three daughters the three classes of the faithful laity who are to worship the Trinity; his friends the heretics; the seven thousand sheep the perfect Christians; the three thousand camels the heathen and Samaritans; the five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred she-asses again the heathen, because the prophet Isaiah says: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.”
The moral sense, which Gregory explains last, is an edifying homiletical expansion and application, and a sort of compend of Christian ethics.
2. Twenty-two Homilies on Ezekiel, delivered in Rome during the siege by Agilulph, and afterwards revised.
3. Forty Homilies on the Gospels for the day, preached by Gregory at various times, and afterwards edited.
4. Liber Regulae Pastoralis, in four parts. It is a pastoral theology, treating of the duties and responsibilities of the ministerial office, in justification of his reluctance to undertake the burden of the papal dignity. It is more practical than Chrysostom’s “Priesthood.” It was held in the highest esteem in the Middle Ages, translated into Greek by order of the emperor Maurice, and into Anglo-Saxon by King Alfred, and given to the bishops in France at their ordination, together with the book of canons, as a guide in the discharge of their duties. Gregory, according to the spirit of his age, enjoins strict celibacy even upon sub-deacons. But otherwise he gives most excellent advice suitable to all times. He makes preaching one of the chief duties of pastors, in the discharge of which he himself set a good example. He warns them to guard against the besetting sin of pride at the very outset; for they will not easily learn humility in a high position. They should preach by their lives as well as their words. “He who, by the necessity of his position, is required to speak the highest things, is compelled by the same necessity to exemplify the highest. For that voice best penetrates the hearts of hearers which the life of the speaker commends, because what he commends in his speech he helps to practice by his example.” He advises to combine meditation and action. “Our Lord,” he says, “continued in prayer on the mountain, but wrought miracles in the cities; showing to pastors that while aspiring to the highest, they should mingle in sympathy with the necessities of the infirm. The more kindly charity descends to the lowest, the more vigorously it recurs to the highest.” The spiritual ruler should never be so absorbed in external cares as to forget the inner life of the soul, nor neglect external things in the care for his inner life. “The word of doctrine fails to penetrate the mind of the needy, unless commended by the hand of compassion.”
5. Four books of Dialogues on the lives and miracles of St. Benedict of Nursia and other Italian saints, and on the immortality of the soul (593). These dialogues between Gregory and the Roman archdeacon Peter abound in incredible marvels and visions of the state of departed souls. He acknowledges, however, that he knew these stories only from hearsay, and defends his recording them by the example of Mark and Luke, who reported the gospel from what they heard of the eye-witnesses. His veracity, therefore, is not at stake; but it is strange that a man of his intelligence and good sense should believe such grotesque and childish marvels. The Dialogues are the chief source of the medieval superstitions about purgatory. King Alfred ordered them to be translated into the Anglo-Saxon.
6. His Epistles (838 in all) to bishops, princes, missionaries, and other persons in all parts of Christendom, give us the best idea of his character and administration, and of the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons. They treat of topics of theology, morals, politics, diplomacy, monasticism, episcopal and papal administration, and give us the best insight into his manifold duties, cares, and sentiments.
7. The Gregorian Sacramentary is based upon the older Sacramentaries of Gelasius and Leo I., with some changes in the Canon of the Mass. His assertion that in the celebration of the eucharist, the apostles used the Lord’s Prayer only (solummodo), has caused considerable discussion. Probably he meant no other prayer, in addition to the words of institution, which he took for granted.
8. A collection of antiphons for mass (Liber Antiphonarius). It contains probably later additions. Several other works of doubtful authenticity, and nine Latin hymns are also attributed to Gregory. They are in the metre of St. Ambrose, without the rhyme, except the “Rex Christe, factor omnium” (which is very highly spoken of by Luther). They are simple, devout, churchly, elevated in thought and sentiment, yet without poetic fire and vigor. Some of them as “Blest Creator of the Light” (Lucis Creator optime), “O merciful Creator, hear” (Audi, beate Conditor), “Good it is to keep the fast” (Clarum decus jejunii), have recently been made familiar to English readers in free translations from the Anglo-Catholic school. He was a great ritualist (hence called “Master of Ceremonies”), but with considerable talent for sacred poetry and music. The “Cantus Gregorianus” so called was probably a return from the artistic and melodious antiphonal “Cantus Ambrosianus” to the more ancient and simple mode of chanting. He founded a school of singers, which became a nursery of similar schools in other churches.
Some other writings attributed to him, as an Exposition of the First Book of Kings, and an allegorical Exposition of the Canticles, are of doubtful genuineness.
53. The Papacy from Gregory I to Gregory II a.d. 604-715
The successors of Gregory I. to Gregory II. were, with few exceptions, obscure men, and ruled but a short time. They were mostly Italians, many of them Romans; a few were Syrians, chosen by the Eastern emperors in the interest of their policy and theology.
Sabinianus (604) was as hard and avaricious as Gregory was benevolent and liberal, and charged the famine of his reign upon the prodigality of his sainted predecessor. Boniface III. (606607) did not scruple to assume the title of It universal bishop, “against which Gregory, in proud humility, had so indignantly protested as a blasphemous antichristian assumption. Boniface IV. converted the Roman Pantheon into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs (608). Honorius I. (625-638) was condemned by an ecumenical council and by his own successors as a Monothelite heretic; while Martin I. (649-655) is honored for the persecution he endured in behalf of the orthodox doctrine of two wills in Christ. Under Gregory II. and III., Germany was converted to Roman Christianity.
The popes followed the missionary policy of Gregory and the instinct of Roman ambition and power. Every progress of Christianity in the West and the North was a progress of the Roman Church. Augustin, Boniface, Ansgar were Roman missionaries and pioneers of the papacy. As England had been annexed to the triple crown under Gregory I., so France, the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia were annexed under his successors. The British and Scotch-Irish independence gave way gradually to the irresistible progress of Roman authority and uniformity. Priests, noblemen and kings from all parts of the West were visiting Rome as the capital of Christendom, and paid homage to the shrine of the apostles and to the living successor of the Galilaean fisherman.
But while the popes thus extended their spiritual dominion over the new barbarous races, they were the political subjects of the Eastern emperor as the master of Italy, and could not be consecrated without his consent. They were expected to obey the imperial edicts even in spiritual matters, and were subject to arrest and exile. To rid themselves of this inconvenient dependence was a necessary step in the development of the absolute papacy. It was effected in the eighth century by the aid of a rising Western power. The progress of Mohammedanism and its encroachment on the Greek empire likewise contributed to their independence.
54. From Gregory II to Zacharias. a.d. 715-741
Gregory II. (715-731) marks the transition to this new state of things. He quarreled with the iconoclastic emperor, Leo the Isaurian, about the worship of images. Under his pontificate, Liutprand, the ablest and mightiest king of the Lombards, conquered the Exarchate of Ravenna, and became master of Italy.
But the sovereignty of a barbarian and once Arian power was more odious and dangerous to the popes than that of distant Constantinople. Placed between the heretical emperor and the barbarian robber, they looked henceforth to a young and rising power beyond the Alps for deliverance and protection. The Franks were Catholics from the time of their conversion under Clovis, and achieved under Charles Martel (the Hammer) a mighty victory over the Saracens (732), which saved Christian Europe against the invasion and tyranny of Islâm. They had thus become the protectors of Latin Christianity. They also lent their aid to Boniface in the conversion of Germany.
Gregory, III. (731-741) renewed the negotiations with the Franks, begun by his predecessor. When the Lombards again invaded the territory, of Rome, and were ravaging by fire and sword the last remains of the property of the church, he appealed in piteous and threatening tone to Charles Martel, who had inherited from his father, Pepin of Herstal, the mayoralty of France, and was the virtual ruler of the realm. “Close not your ears,” he says, “against our supplications, lest St. Peter close against you the gates of heaven.” He sent him the keys of the tomb of St. Peter as a symbol of allegiance, and offered him the titles of Patrician and Consul of Rome. This was virtually a declaration of independence from Constantinople. Charles Martel returned a courteous answer, and sent presents to Rome, but did not cross the Alps. He was abhorred by the clergy of his own country as a sacrilegious spoiler of the property of the church and disposer of bishoprics to his counts and dukes in the place of rightful incumbents.
The negotiations were interrupted by the death of Charles Martel Oct. 21, 741, followed by that of Gregory III., Nov. 27 of the same year.
55. Alliance of the Papacy with the New Monarchy of the Franks. Pepin and the Patrimony of St. Peter. a.d. 741-755
Pope Zacharias (741-752), a Greek, by the weight of his priestly authority, brought Liutprand to terms of temporary submission. The Lombard king suddenly paused in the career of conquest, and died after a reign of thirty years (743).
But his successor, Astolph, again threatened to incorporate Rome with his kingdom. Zacharias sought the protection of Pepin the Short, the Mayor of the Palace, son of Charles Martel, and father of Charlemagne, and in return for this aid helped him to the crown of France. This was the first step towards the creation of a Western empire and a new political system of Europe with the pope and the German emperor at the head.
Hereditary succession was not yet invested with that religious sanctity among the Teutonic races as in later ages. In the Jewish theocracy unworthy kings were deposed, and new dynasties elevated by the interposition of God’s messengers. The pope claimed and exercised now for the first time the same power. The Mayor, or high steward, of the royal household in France was the prime minister of the sovereign and the chief of the official and territorial nobility. This dignity became hereditary in the family of Pepin of Laudon, who died in 639, and was transmitted from him through six descents to Pepin the Short, a gallant warrior and an experienced statesman. He was on good terms with Boniface, the apostle of Germany and archbishop of Mayence, who, according to the traditional view, acted as negotiator between him and the pope in this political coup d’etat.
Childeric III., the last of the hopelessly degenerate Merovingian line, was the mere shadow of a monarch, and forced to retire into a monastery. Pepin, the ruler in fact now assumed the name, was elected at Soissons (March, 752) by the acclamation and clash of arms of the people, and anointed, like the kings of Israel, with holy oil, by Boniface or some other bishop, and two years after by the pope himself, who had decided that the lawful possessor of the royal power may also lawfully assume the royal title. Since that time he called himself “by the grace of God king of the Franks.” The pope conferred on him the title of “Patrician of the Romans” (Patricius Romanorum), which implies a sort of protectorate over the Roman church, and civil sovereignty, over her territory. For the title “Patrician,” which was introduced by Constantine the Great signified the highest rank next to that of the emperor, and since the sixth century was attached to the Byzantine Viceroy, of Italy. On the other hand, this elevation and coronation was made the basis of papal superiority over the crowns of France and Germany.
The pope soon reaped the benefit of his favor. When hard pressed again by the Lombards, he called the new king to his aid.
Stephen III., who succeeded Zacharias in March, 752, and ruled till 757, visited Pepin in person, and implored him to enforce the restoration of the domain of St. Peter. He anointed him again at St. Denys, together with his two sons, and promised to secure the perpetuity of his dynasty by the fearful power of the interdict and excommunication. Pepin accompanied him back to Italy and defeated the Lombards (754). When the Lombards renewed the war, the pope wrote letter upon letter to Pepin, admonishing and commanding him in the name of Peter and the holy Mother of God to save the city of Rome from the detested enemies, and promising him long life and the most glorious mansions in heaven, if he speedily obeyed. To such a height of blasphemous assumption had the papacy risen already as to identify itself with the kingdom of Christ and to claim to be the dispenser of temporal prosperity and eternal salvation.
Pepin crossed the Alps again with his army, defeated the Lombards, and bestowed the conquered territory upon the pope (755). He declared to the ambassadors of the East who demanded the restitution of Ravenna and its territory to the Byzantine empire, that his sole object in the war was to show his veneration for St. Peter. The new papal district embraced the Exarchate and the Pentapolis, East of the Apennines, with the cities of Ravenna, Rimini, Pesaro, Fano, Cesena, Sinigaglia, Iesi, Forlimpopoli, Forli, Montefeltro, Acerra, Monte di Lucano, Serra, San Marino, Bobbio, Urbino, Cagli, Luciolo, Gubbio, Comachio, and Narni.
This donation of Pepin is the foundation of “the Patrimony of St. Peter.” The pope was already in possession of tracts of land in Italy and elsewhere granted to the church. But by this gift of a foreign conqueror he became a temporal sovereign over a large part of Italy, while claiming to be the successor of Peter who had neither silver nor gold, and the vicar of Christ who said: “My kingdom is not of this world.” The temporal power made the papacy independent in the exercise of its jurisdiction, but at the expense of its spiritual character. It provoked a long conflict with the secular power; it involved it in the political interests, intrigues and wars of Europe, and secularized the church and the hierarchy. Dante, who shared the medieval error of dating the donation of Pepin back to Constantine the Great, gave expression to this view in the famous lines:
“Ah, Constantine! of how much ill was mother,
Not thy conversion, but that marriage-dower
Which the first wealthy Father took from thee.”
Yet Dante places Constantine, who “from good intent produced evil fruit,” in heaven; where
“Now he knows how all the ill deduced
From his good action is not harmful to him,
Although the world thereby may be destroyed.”
And he speaks favorably of Charlemagne’s intervention in behalf of the pope:
“And when the tooth of Lombardy had bitten
The Holy Church, then underneath its wings
Did Charlemagne victorious succor her.”
The policy of Pepin was followed by Charlemagne, the German, and Austrian emperors, and modern French rulers who interfered in Italian affairs, now as allies, now as enemies, until the temporal power of the papacy was lost under its last protector, Napoleon III., who withdrew his troops from Rome to fight against Germany, and by his defeat prepared the way for Victor Emanuel to take possession of Rome, as the capital of free and united Italy (1870). Since that time the pope who a few weeks before had proclaimed to the world his own infallibility in all matters of faith and morals, is confined to the Vatican, but with no diminution of his spiritual power as the bishop of bishops over two hundred millions of souls.
56. Charles the Great. a.d. 768-814
Beati Caroli Magni Opera omnia. 2 vols. In Migne’s Patrol. Lat. Tom. 97 and 98. The first vol. contains the Codex Diplomaticus, Capitularia, and Privilegia; the second vol., the Codex Carolinus, the Libri Carolini (on the image controversy), the Epistolae, Carminâ, etc.
1. The Letters of Charles, of Einhard, and of Alcuin. Also the letters of the Popes to Charles and his two predecessors, which he had collected, and which are called the Codex Carolinus, ed. by Muratori, Cenni, ad Migne (Tom. 98, pp. 10 sqq.).
2. The Capitularies and Laws of Charlemagne, contained in the first vol. of the Leges in the Mon. Germ., ed. by Pertz, and in the Collections of Baluzius and Migne.
3. Annals. The Annales Laurissenses Majores (probably the official chronicle of the court) from 788 to 813; the Annales Einhardi, written after 829; the Annales Petaviani, Laureshamenses, Mosellani, and others, more of local than general value. All in the first and second vol. of Pertz, Monumenta Germanica Hist. Script.
4. Biographies: Einhard or Eginhard (b. 770, educated at Fulda, private secretary of Charlemagne, afterwards Benedictine monk): Vita Caroli Imperatoris (English translation by S. S. Turner, New York, 1880). A true sketch of what Charles was by an admiring and loving hand in almost classical Latin, and after the manner of Sueton’s Lives of the Roman emperors. It marks, as Ad. Ebert says (II. 95), the height of the classical studies of the age of Charlemagne. Milman (II. 508) calls it “the best historic work which had appeared in the Latin language for centuries.” — Poeta Saxo: Annales de Gestis Caroli, from the end of the ninth century. An anonymous monk of St. Gall: De Gestis Caroli, about the same time. In Pertz, l.c., and Jaffe’s Monumenta Carolina (Bibl. Rer. Germ., T. IV.), also in Migne, Tom. I., Op. Caroli.
Comp. on the sources Abel’s Jachbücher des Fränk. Reichs (Berlin, 1866) and Wattenbach’s Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter (Berlin, 1858; 4th ed. 1877-78, 2 vols.)
J. G. Walch: Historia Canonisationis Caroli M. Jen., 1750.
Pütter: De Instauratione Imp. Rom. Gött., 1766.
Gaillard: Histoire de Charlemagne. Paris, 1784, 4 vols. secd ed. 1819.
Gibbon: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Ch. 49.
J. Ellendorf: Die Karolinger und die Hierarchie ihrer Zeit. Essen., 1838, 2 vols.
Hegewisch: Geschichte der Regierung Kaiser Karls des Gr. Hamb., 1791.
Dippolt: Leben K. Karls des Gr. Tüb., 1810.
G. P. R. James: The History of Charlemagne. London, 2nd ed. 1847.
Bähr: Gesch. der röm. Lit. im Karoling. Zeitalter. Carlsruhe, 1840.
Gfrörer: Geschichte der Karolinger. Freiburg i. B., 1848, 2 vols.
Capefigue: Charlemagne. Paris, 1842, 2 vols.
Warnkönig et Gerard: Hist. des Carolingians. Brux. and Paris, 1862, 2 vols.
Waitz: Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte, vols. III. and IV.
W. Giesebrecht: Geschichte der deutschen Kaiserzeit. Braunschweig, 1863 sqq. (3rd ed.). Bd. I., pp. 106 sqq.
Döllinger: Kaiserthum Karls des Grossen, in the Münchener Hist. Jahrbuch for 1865.
Gaston: Histoire poetique de Charlemagne. Paris, 1865.
P. Alberdinck Thijm: Karl der Gr. und seine Zeit. Münster, 1868.
Abel: Jachbücher des Fraenkischen Reichs unter Karl d. Grossen. Berlin, 1866.
Wyss: Karl der Grosse als Gesetzgeber. Zürich, 1869.
Rettberg: Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, I. 419 sqq., II. 382 sqq.
Alphonse Vétault: Charlemagne. Tours, 1877 (556 pp.). With fine illustrations.
L. Stacke: Deutsche Geschichte. Leipzig, 1880. Bd. I. 169 sqq. With illustrations and maps.
Comp. also Milman: Latin Christianity, Book IV., ch. 12, and Book V., ch. 1; Ad. Ebert: Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters im Abendlande (1880), vol. II. 3-108. Of French writers, Guizot, and Martin, in their Histories of France; also Parke Godwin, History of France, chs. xvi. and xvii. (vol. I. 410 sqq.).
With the death of Pepin the Short (Sept. 24, 768), the kingdom of France was divided between his two sons, Charles and Carloman, the former to rule in the Northern, the latter in the Southern provinces. After the death of his weaker brother (771) Charles, ignoring the claims of his infant nephews, seized the sole reign and more than doubled its extent by his conquests.
Character and Aim of Charlemagne
This extraordinary man represents the early history of both France and Germany which afterwards divided into separate streams, and commands the admiration of both countries and nations. His grand ambition was to unite all the Teutonic and Latin races on the Continent under his temporal sceptre in close union with the spiritual dominion of the pope; in other words, to establish a Christian theocracy, coëxtensive with the Latin church (exclusive of the British Isles and Scandinavia). He has been called the “Moses of the middle age,” who conducted the Germanic race through the desert of barbarism and gave it a now code of political, civil and ecclesiastical laws. He stands at the head of the new Western empire, as Constantine the Great had introduced the Eastern empire, and he is often called the new Constantine, but is as far superior to him as the Latin empire was to the Greek. He was emphatically a man of Providence.
Charlemagne, or Karl der Grosse, towers high above the crowned princes of his age, and is the greatest as well as the first of the long line of German emperors from the eighth to the nineteenth century. He is the only prince whose greatness has been inseparably blended with his French name. Since Julius Caesar history had seen no conqueror and statesman of such commanding genius and success; history after him produced only two military heroes that may be compared with him) Frederick II. of Prussia, and Napoleon Bonaparte (who took him and Caesar for his models), but they were far beneath him in religious character, and as hostile to the church as he was friendly to it. His lofty intellect shines all the more brightly from the general ignorance and barbarism of his age. He rose suddenly like a meteor in dark midnight. We do not know even the place and date of his birth, nor the history of his youth and education.
His life is filled with no less than fifty-three military campaigns conducted by himself or his lieutenants, against the Saxons (18 campaigns), Lombards (5), Aquitanians, Thuringians, Bavarians, Avars or Huns, Danes, Slaves, Saracens, and Greeks. His incessant activity astonished his subjects and enemies. He seemed to be omnipresent in his dominions, which extended from the Baltic and the Elbe in the North to the Ebro in the South, from the British Channel to Rome and even to the Straits of Messina, embracing France, Germany, Hungary, the greater part of Italy and Spain. His ecclesiastical domain extended over twenty-two archbishoprics or metropolitan sees, Rome, Ravenna, Milan, Friuli (Aquileia), Grado, Cologne, Mayence, Salzburg, Treves, Sens, Besançon, Lyons, Rouen, Rheims, Arles, Vienna, Moutiers-en-Tarantaise, Ivredun, Bordeaux, Tours, Bourges, Narbonne. He had no settled residence, but spent much time on the Rhine, at Ingelheim, Mayence, Nymwegen, and especially at Aix-la-Chapelle on account of its baths. He encouraged trade, opened roads, and undertook to connect the Main and the Danube by canal. He gave his personal attention to things great and small. He introduced a settled order and unity of organization in his empire, at the expense of the ancient freedom and wild independence of the German tribes, although he continued to hold every year, in May, the general assembly of the freemen (Maifeld). He secured Europe against future heathen and Mohammedan invasion and devastation. He was universally admired or feared in his age. The Greek emperors sought his alliance; hence the Greek proverb, “Have the Franks for your friends, but not for your neighbors.” The Caliph Harounal-Raschid, the mightiest ruler in the East, sent from Bagdad an embassy to him with precious gifts. But he esteemed a good sword more than gold. He impressed the stamp of his genius and achievements upon the subsequent history of Germany and France.
Appearance and Habits of Charlemagne
Charles had a commanding, and yet winning presence. His physique betrayed the greatness of his mind. He was tall, strongly built and well proportioned. His height was seven times the length of his foot. He had large and animated eyes, a long nose, a cheerful countenance and an abundance of fine hair. “His appearance,” says Eginhard, “was always stately and dignified, whether he was standing or sitting; although his neck was thick and somewhat short, and his belly rather prominent; but the symmetry of the rest of his body concealed these defects. His gait was firm, his whole carriage manly, and his voice clear, but not so strong as his size led one to expect.”
He was naturally eloquent, and spoke with great clearness and force. He was simple in his attire, and temperate in eating and drinking; for, says Eginhard, “he abominated drunkenness in anybody, much more in himself and those of his household. He rarely gave entertainments, only on great feast days, and these to large numbers of people.” He was fond of muscular exercise, especially of hunting and swimming, and enjoyed robust health till the last four years of his life, when he was subject to frequent fevers. During his meals he had extracts from Augustine’s “City of God” (his favorite book), and stories of olden times, read to him. He frequently gave audience while dressing, without sacrifice of royal dignity. He was kind to the poor, and a liberal almsgiver.
His Zeal for Education
His greatest merit is his zeal for education and religion. He was familiar with Latin from conversation rather than books, be understood a little Greek, and in his old age he began to learn the art of writing which his hand accustomed to the sword had neglected. He highly esteemed his native language, caused a German grammar to be compiled, and gave German names to the winds and to the months. He collected the ancient heroic songs of the German minstrels. He took measures to correct the Latin Version of the Scriptures, and was interested in theological questions. He delighted in cultivated society. He gathered around him divines, scholars, poets, historians, mostly Anglo-Saxons, among whom Alcuin was the chief. He founded the palace school and other schools in the convents, and visited them in person. The legend makes him the founder of the University of Paris, which is of a much later date. One of his laws enjoins general education upon all male children.
Charles was a firm believer in Christianity and a devout and regular worshipper in the church, “going morning and evening, even after nightfall, besides attending mass.” He was very liberal to the clergy. He gave them tithes throughout the empire, appointed worthy bishops and abbots, endowed churches and built a splendid cathedral at Aix-la-Chapelle, in which he was buried.
His respect for the clergy culminated in his veneration for the bishop of Rome as the successor of St. Peter. “He cherished the church of St. Peter the apostle at Rome above all other holy and sacred places, and filled its treasury with a vast wealth of gold, silver, and precious stones. He sent great and countless gifts to the popes; and throughout his whole reign the wish he had nearest at heart was to re-establish the ancient authority of the city of Rome under his care and by his influence, and to defend and protect the church of St. Peter, and to beautify and enrich it out of his own store above all other churches.”
Notwithstanding his many and great virtues, Charles was by no means so pure as the poetry and piety of the church represented him, and far from deserving canonization. He sacrificed thousands of human beings to his towering ambition and passion for conquest. He converted the Saxons by force of arms; he waged for thirty years a war of extermination against them; he wasted their territory with fire and sword; he crushed out their independence; he beheaded in cold blood four thousand five hundred prisoners in one day at Verden on the Aller (782), and when these proud and faithless savages finally surrendered, he removed 10000 of their families from their homes on the banks of the Elbe to different parts of Germany and Gaul to prevent a future revolt. It was indeed a war of religion for the annihilation of heathenism, but conducted on the Mohammedan principle: submission to the faith, or death. This is contrary to the spirit of Christianity which recognizes only the moral means of persuasion and conviction.
The most serious defect in his private character was his incontinence and disregard of the sanctity of the marriage tie. In this respect he was little better than an Oriental despot or a Mohammedan Caliph. He married several wives and divorced them at his pleasure. He dismissed his first wife (unknown by name) to marry a Lombard princess, and he repudiated her within a year. After the death of his fifth wife he contented himself with three or four concubines. He is said even to have encouraged his own daughters in dissolute habits rather than give them in marriage to princes who might become competitors for a share in the kingdom, but he had them carefully educated. It is not to the credit of the popes that they never rebuked him for this vice, while with weaker and less devoted monarchs they displayed such uncompromising zeal for the sanctity of marriage.
His Death and Burial
The emperor died after a short illness, and after receiving the holy communion, Jan. 28, 814, in the 71st year of his age, and the 47th of his reign, and was buried on the same day in the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle “amid the greatest lamentations of the people.” Very many omens, adds Eginhard (ch. 32), had portended his approaching end, as he had recognized himself. Eclipses both of the sun and the moon were very frequent during the last three years of his life, and a black spot was visible on the sun for seven days. The bridge over the Rhine at Mayence, which he had constructed in ten years, was consumed by fire; the palace at Aix-la-Chapelle frequently trembled; the basilica was struck by lightning, the gilded ball on the roof shattered by a thunderbolt and hurled upon the bishop’s house adjoining; and the word Princeps after Karolus inscribed on an arch was effaced a few months before his decease. “But Charles despised, or affected to despise, all these things as having no reference whatever to him.”
The Charlemagne of Poetry
The heroic and legendary poetry of the middle ages represents Charles as a giant of superhuman strength and beauty, of enormous appetite, with eyes shining like the morning star, terrible in war, merciful in peace, as a victorious hero, a wise lawgiver, an unerring judge, and a Christian saint. He suffered only one defeat, at Roncesvalles in the narrow passes of the Pyrenees, when, on his return from a successful invasion of Spain, his rearguard with the flower of the French chivalry, under the command of Roland, one of his paladins and nephews, was surprised and routed by the Basque Mountaineers (778).
The name of “the Blessed Charles” is enrolled in the Roman Calendar for his services to the church and gifts to the pope. Heathen Rome deified Julius Caesar, Christian Rome canonized, or at least beatified Charlemagne. Suffrages for the repose of his soul were continued in the church of Aix-la-Chapelle until Paschal, a schismatical pope, at the desire of Frederic Barbarossa, enshrined his remains in that city and published a decree for his canonization (1166). The act was neither approved nor revoked by a regular pope, but acquiesced in, and such tacit canonization is considered equivalent to beatification.
I. Judgments on the Personal Character of Charlemagne
Eginhard (whose wife Emma figures in the legend as a daughter of Charlemagne) gives the following frank account of the private and domestic relations of his master and friend (chs. 18 and 19, in Migne, Tom. XCVII. 42 sqq.):
“Thus did Charles defend and increase as well as beautify his kingdom; and here let me express my admiration of his great qualities and his extraordinary constancy alike in good and evil fortune. I will now proceed to give the details of his private life. After his father’s death, while sharing the kingdom with his brother, he bore his unfriendliness and jealousy most patiently, and, to the wonder of all, could not be provoked to be angry with him. Later” [after repudiating his first wife, an obscure person] “he married a daughter of Desiderius, King of the Lombards, at the instance of his mother” [notwithstanding the protest of the pope]; “but he repudiated her at the end of a year for some reason unknown, and married Hildegard, a woman of high birth, of Swabian origin [d. 783]. He had three sons by her, — Charles, Pepin, and Lewis — and as many daughters, — Hruodrud, Bertha, and Gisela.” [Eginhard omits Adelaide and Hildegard.] “He had three other daughters besides these — Theoderada, Hiltrud, and Ruodhaid — two by his third wife, Fastrada, a woman of East Frankish (that is to say of German) origin, and the third by a concubine, whose name for the moment escapes me. At the death of Fastrada, he married Liutgard, an Alemannic woman, who bore him no children. After her death he had three [according to another reading four] concubines — Gerswinda, a Saxon, by whom he had Adaltrud; Regina, who was the mother of Drogo and Hugh; and Ethelind, by whom he had Theodoric. Charles’s mother, Berthrada, passed her old age with him in great honor; he entertained the greatest veneration for her; and there was never any disagreement between them except when he divorced the daughter of King Desiderius, whom he had married to please her. She died soon after Hildegard, after living to see three grandsons and as many grand-daughters in her son’s house, and he buried her with great pomp in the Basilica of St. Denis, where his father lay. He had an only [surviving] sister, Gisela, who had consecrated herself to a religious life from girlhood, and he cherished as much affection for her as for his mother. She also died a few years before him in the nunnery where she had passed her life. The plan which he adopted for his children’s education was, first of all, to have both boys and girls instructed in the liberal arts, to which he also turned his own attention. As soon as their years admitted, in accordance with the custom of the Franks, the boys had to learn horsemanship, and to practise war and the chase, and the girls to familiarize themselves with cloth-making, and to handle distaff and spindle, that they might not grow indolent through idleness, and he fostered in them every virtuous sentiment. He only lost three of all his children before his death, two sons and one daughter …. When his sons and his daughters died, he was not so calm as might have been expected from his remarkably strong mind, for his affections were no less strong, and moved him to tears. Again when he was told of the death of Hadrian, the Roman Pontiff, whom he had loved most of all his friends, he wept as much as if he had lost a brother, or a very dear son. He was by nature most ready to contract friendships, and not only made friends easily, but clung to them persistently, and cherished most fondly those with whom he had formed such ties. He was so careful of the training of his sons and daughters that he never took his meals without them when he was at home, and never made a journey without them; his sons would ride at his side, and his daughters follow him, while a number of his body-guard, detailed for their protection, brought up the rear. Strange to say, although they were very handsome women, and he loved them very dearly, he was never willing to marry either of them to a man of their own nation or to a foreigner, but kept them all at home until his death, saying that he could not dispense with their society. Hence though otherwise happy, he experienced the malignity of fortune as far as they were concerned; yet he concealed his knowledge of the rumors current in regard to them, and of the suspicions entertained of their honor.”
Gibbon is no admirer of Charlemagne, and gives an exaggerated view of his worst vice: “Of his moral virtues chastity is not the most conspicuous; but the public happiness could not be materially injured by his nine wives or concubines, the various indulgence of meaner or more transient amours, the multitude of his bastards whom he bestowed on the church, and the long celibacy and licentious manners of his daughters, whom the father was suspected of loving with too fond a passion.” But this charge of incest, as Hallam and Milman observe, seems to have originated in a misinterpreted passage of Eginhard quoted above, and is utterly unfounded.
Henry Hallam (Middle Ages I. 26) judges a little more favorably: The great qualities of Charlemagne were, indeed, alloyed by the vices of a barbarian and a conqueror. Nine wives, whom he divorced with very little ceremony, attest the license of his private life, which his temperance and frugality can hardly be said to redeem. Unsparing of blood, though not constitutionally cruel, and wholly indifferent to the means which his ambition prescribed, he beheaded in one day four thousand Saxons — an act of atrocious butchery, after which his persecuting edicts, pronouncing the pain of death against those who refused baptism, or even who ate flesh during Lent, seem scarcely worthy of notice. This union of barbarous ferocity with elevated views of national improvement might suggest the parallel of Peter the Great. But the degrading habits and brute violence of the Muscovite place him at an immense distance from the restorer of the empire.
“A strong sympathy for intellectual excellence was the leading characteristic of Charlemagne, and this undoubtedly biassed him in the chief political error of his conduct — that of encouraging the power and pretensions of the hierarchy. But, perhaps, his greatest eulogy is written in the disgraces of succeeding times and the miseries of Europe. He stands alone, like a beacon upon a waste, or a rock in the broad ocean. His sceptre was the bow of Ulysses, which could not be drawn by any weaker hand. In the dark ages of European history the reign of Charlemagne affords a solitary resting-place between two long periods of turbulence and ignominy, deriving the advantages of contrast both from that of the preceding dynasty and of a posterity for whom he had formed an empire which they were unworthy and unequal to maintain.”
G. P. R. James (History of Charlemagne, Lond., 1847, p. 499): “No man, perhaps, that ever lived, combined in so high a degree those qualities which rule men and direct events, with those which endear the possessor and attach his contemporaries. No man was ever more trusted and loved by his people, more respected and feared by other kings, more esteemed in his lifetime, or more regretted at his death.
Milman (Book V. ch. 1): “Karl, according to his German appellation, was the model of a Teutonic chieftain, in his gigantic stature, enormous strength, and indefatigable activity; temperate in diet, and superior to the barbarous vice of drunkenness. Hunting and war were his chief occupations; and his wars were carried on with all the ferocity of encountering savage tribes. But he was likewise a Roman Emperor, not only in his vast and organizing policy, he had that one vice of the old Roman civilization which the Merovingian kings had indulged, though not perhaps with more unbounded lawlessness. The religious emperor, in one respect, troubled not himself with the restraints of religion. The humble or grateful church beheld meekly, and almost without remonstrance, the irregularity of domestic life, which not merely indulged in free license, but treated the sacred rite of marriage as a covenant dissoluble at his pleasure. Once we have heard, and but once, the church raise its authoritative, its comminatory voice, and that not to forbid the King of the Franks from wedding a second wife while his first was alive, but from marrying a Lombard princess. One pious ecclesiastic alone in his dominion, he a relative, ventured to protest aloud.”
Guizot (Histoire de la civilisation en France, leçon XX.): “Charlemagne marque la limite à laquelle est enfin consommée la dissolution de l’ancien monde romain et barbare, et où commence la formation du monde nouveau.”
Vétault (Charlemagne, 455, 458): “Charlemagne fut, en effet, le père du monde moderne et de la societé européenne …. Si Ch. ne peut être légitemement honoré comme un saint, il a droit du moins à la première place, parmis tous les héros, dans l’admiration des hommes; car on ne trouverait pas un autre souverain qui ait autant aimé l’humanité et lui ait fait plus de bien. Il est le plus glorieux, parce que … il a mérite d’ être proclamé le plus honnête des grands hommes.”
Giesebrecht, the historian of the German emperors, gives a glowing description of Charlemagne (I. 140): “Many high-minded rulers arose in the ten centuries after Charles, but none had a higher aim. To be ranked with him, satisfied the boldest conquerors, the wisest princes of peace. French chivalry of later times glorified Charlemagne as the first cavalier; the German burgeoisie as the fatherly friend of the people and the most righteous judge; the Catholic Church raised him to the number of her saints; the poetry of all nations derived ever new inspiration and strength from his mighty person. Never perhaps has richer life proceeded from the activity of a mortal man (Nie vielleicht ist reicheres Leben von der Wirksamkeit eines sterblichen Menschen ausgegangen).”
We add the eloquent testimony of an American author, Parke Godwin (History of France, N. Y., 1860, vol. i. p. 410): “There is to me something indescribably grand in the figure of many of the barbaric chiefs — Alariks, Ataulfs, Theodoriks, and Euriks — who succeeded to the power of the Romans, and in their wild, heroic way, endeavored to raise a fabric of state on the ruins of the ancient empire. But none of those figures is so imposing and majestic as that of Karl, the son of Pippin, whose name, for the first and only time in history, the admiration of mankind has indissolubly blended with the title the Great. By the peculiarity of his position in respect to ancient and modern times — by the extraordinary length of his reign, by the number and importance of the transactions in which he was engaged, by the extent and splendor of his conquests, by his signal services to the Church, and by the grandeur of his personal qualities — he impressed himself so profoundly upon the character of his times, that he stands almost alone and apart in the annals of Europe. For nearly a thousand years before him, or since the days of Julius Caesar, no monarch had won so universal and brilliant a renown; and for nearly a thousand years after him, or until the days of Charles V. of Germany, no monarch attained any thing like an equal dominion. A link between the old and new, he revived the Empire of the West, with a degree of glory that it had only enjoyed in its prime; while, at the same time, the modern history of every Continental nation was made to begin with him. Germany claims him as one of her most illustrious sons; France, as her noblest king; Italy, as her chosen emperor; and the Church as her most prodigal benefactor and worthy saint. All the institutions of the Middle Ages — political, literary, scientific, and ecclesiastical — delighted to trace their traditionary origins to his hand: he was considered the source of the peerage, the inspirer of chivalry, the founder of universities, and the endower of the churches; and the genius of romance, kindling its fantastic torches at the flame of his deeds, lighted up a new and marvellous world about him, filled with wonderful adventures and heroic forms. Thus by a double immortality, the one the deliberate award of history, and the other the prodigal gift of fiction, he claims the study of mankind.”
II. The Canonization of Charlemagne is perpetuated in the Officium in festo Sancti Caroli Magni imperatoris et confessoris, as celebrated in churches of Germany, France, and Spain. Baronius (Annal. ad ann. 814) says that the canonization was, not accepted by the Roman church, because Paschalis was no legitimate pope, but neither was it forbidden. Alban Butler, in his Lives of Saints, gives a eulogistic biography of the “Blessed Charlemagne,” and covers his besetting sin with the following unhistorical assertion: “The incontinence, into which he fell in his youth, he expiated by sincere repentance, so that several churches in Germany and France honor him among the saints.”
Illustration, Charlemagne’s Monogram
The monogram of Charles with the additions of a scribe in a document signed by Charles at Kufstein, Aug. 31, 790. Copied from Stacke, l.c.