Vol. 4, Chapter XIII (Cont’d) – Patronage of Letters by Charles the Great, and Charles the Bald


Comp. §§ 56, 90, 134.

Charlemagne stands out like a far-shining beacon-light in the darkness of his age. He is the founder of a new era of learning, as well as of a new empire. He is the pioneer of French and German civilization. Great in war, he was greater still as a legislator and promoter of the arts of peace. He clearly saw that religion and education are the only solid and permanent basis of a state. In this respect he rose far above Alexander the Great and Caesar, and is unsurpassed by Christian rulers.

He invited the best scholars from Italy and England to his court, — Peter of Pisa, Paul Warnefrid, Paulinus of Aquileia, Theodulph of Orleans, Alcuin of York. They formed a sort of royal academy of sciences and arts, and held literary symposiacs. Each member bore a nom de plume borrowed from the Bible or classic lore: the king presided as “David” or “Solomon”; Alcuin, a great admirer of Horace and Virgil, was “Flaccus” Angilbert (his son-in-law) was “Homerus”; Einhard (his biographer), “Bezaleel,” after the skilful artificer of the Tabernacle (Exo_31:2); Wizo, “Candidus”; Arno, “Aquila”; Fredegisus, “Nathanael”; Richbod, “Macarius,” etc. Even ladies were not excluded: the emperor’s sister, Gisela, under the name “Lucia”; his learned cousin, Gundrad, as “Eulalia;” his daughter, Rotrude, as “Columba.” He called Alcuin, whom he first met in Italy (781), his own “beloved teacher,” and he was himself his most docile pupil. He had an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and put all sorts of questions to him in his letters, even on the most difficult problems of theology. He learned in the years of his manhood the art of writing, the Latin grammar, a little Greek (that he might compare the Latin Testament with the original), and acquired some knowledge of rhetoric, dialectics, mathematics and astronomy. He delighted in reading the poets and historians of ancient Rome, and Augustin’s “City of God.” He longed for a dozen Jeromes and Augustins, but Alcuin told him to be content since the Creator of heaven and earth had been pleased to give to the world only two such giants. He had some share in the composition of the Libri Carolini, which raised an enlightened protest against the superstition of image-worship. Poems are also attributed to him or to his inspiration. He ordered Paul Warnefrid (Paulus Diaconus) to prepare a collection of the best homilies of the Latin fathers for the use of the churches, and published it with a preface in which he admonished the clergy to a diligent study of the Scriptures. Several Synods held during his reign (813) at Rheims, Tours, Chalons, Mainz, ordered the clergy to keep a Homiliarium and to translate the Latin sermons clearly into rusticam Romanam linguam aut Theotiscam, so that all might understand them.

Charles aimed at the higher education not only of the clergy, but also of the higher nobility, and state officials. His sons and daughters were well informed. He issued a circular letter to all the bishops and abbots of his empire (787), urging them to establish schools in connection with cathedrals and convents. At a later period he rose even to the grand but premature scheme of popular education, and required in a capitulary (802) that every parent should send his sons to school that they might learn to read. Theodulph of Orleans (who died 821) directed the priests of his diocese to hold school in every town and village, to receive the pupils with kindness, and not to ask pay, but to receive only voluntary gifts.

The emperor founded the Court or Palace School (Schola Palatina) for higher education and placed it under the direction of Alcuin. It was an imitation of the Paedagogium ingenuorum of the Roman emperors. It followed him in his changing residence to Aix-la-Chapelle, Worms, Frankfurt, Mainz, Regensburg, Ingelheim, Paris. It was not the beginning of the Paris University, which is of much later date, but the chief nursery of educated clergymen, noblemen and statesmen of that age. It embraced in its course of study all the branches of secular and sacred learning. It became the model of similar schools, old and new, at Tours, Lyons, Orleans, Rheims, Chartres, Troyes, Old Corbey and New Corbey, Metz, St. Gall, Utrecht, Luettich. The rich literature of the Carolingian age shows the fruits of this imperial patronage and example. It was, however, a foreign rather than a native product. It was neither French nor German, but essentially Latin, and so far artificial. Nor could it be otherwise; for the Latin classics, the Latin Bible, and the Latin fathers were the only accessible sources of learning, and the French and German languages were not yet organs of literature. This fact explains the speedy decay, as well as the subsequent revival in close connection with the Roman church.

The creations of Charlemagne were threatened with utter destruction during the civil wars of his weak successors. But Charles the Bald, a son of Louis the Pious, and king of France (843-877), followed his grandfather in zeal for learning, and gave new lustre to the Palace School at Paris under the direction of John Scotus Erigena, whom he was liberal enough to protect, notwithstanding his eccentricities. The predestinarian controversy, and the first eucharistic controversy took place during his reign, and called forth a great deal of intellectual activity and learning, as shown in the writings of Rabanus Maurus, Hincmar, Remigius, Prudentius, Servatus Lupus, John Scotus Erigena, Paschasius Radbertus, and Ratramnus. We find among these writers the three tendencies, conservative, liberal, and speculative or mystic, which usually characterize periods of intellectual energy and literary productivity.

After the death of Charles the Bald a darker night of ignorance and barbarism settled on Europe than ever before. It lasted till towards the middle of the eleventh century when the Berengar controversy on the eucharist roused the slumbering intellectual energies of the church, and prepared the way for the scholastic philosophy and theology of the twelfth century.

The Carolingian male line lasted in Italy till 875, in Germany till 911, in France till 987.


141. Alfred the Great, and Education in England

Comp. the Jubilee edition of the Whole Works of Alfred the Great, with Preliminary Essays illustrative of the History, Arts and Manners of the Ninth Century. London, 1858, 2 vols. The biographies of Alfred, quoted on p. 395, and Freemann’s Old English History 1859.

In England the beginning of culture was imported with Christianity by Augustin, the first archbishop of Canterbury, who brought with him the Bible, the church books, the writings of Pope Gregory and the doctrines and practices of Roman Christianity; but little progress was made for a century. Among his successors the Greek monk, Theodore of Tarsus (668-690), was most active in promoting education and discipline among the clergy. The most distinguished scholar of the Saxon period is the Venerable Bede (d. 735), who, as already stated, represented all historical, exegetical and general knowledge of his age. Egbert, archbishop of York, founded a flourishing school in York (732), from which proceeded Alcuin, the teacher and friend of Charlemagne.

During the invasion of the heathen Danes and Normans many churches, convents and libraries were destroyed, and the clergy itself relapsed into barbarism so that they did not know the meaning of the Latin formulas which they used in public worship.

In this period of wild confusion King Alfred the Great (871-901), in his twenty-second year, ascended the throne. He is first in war and first in peace of all the Anglo-Saxon rulers. What Charlemagne was for Germany and France, Alfred was for England. He conquered the forces of the Danes by land and by sea, delivered his country from foreign rule, and introduced a new era of Christian education. He invited scholars from the old British churches in Wales, from Ireland, and the Continent to influential positions. He made collections of choice sentences from the Bible and the fathers. In his thirty-sixth year he learned Latin from Asser, a monk of Wales, who afterwards wrote his biography. He himself, no doubt with the aid of scholars, translated several standard works from Latin into the Anglo-Saxon, and accompanied them with notes, namely a part of the Psalter, Boëthius on the Consolation of Philosophy, Bede’s English Church History, Pope Gregory’s Pastoral Theology, Augustin’s Meditations, the Universal History of Orosius, and Aesop’s Fables. He sent a copy of Gregory’s Pastoral Theology to every diocese for the benefit of the clergy. It is due to his influence chiefly that the Scriptures and service-books at this period were illustrated by so many vernacular glosses.

He stood in close connection with the Roman see, as the centre of ecclesiastical unity and civilization. He devoted half of his income to church and school. He founded a school in Oxford similar to the Schola Palatina; but the University of Oxford, like those of Cambridge and Paris, is of much later date (twelfth or thirteenth century). He seems to have conceived even the plan of a general education of the people. Amid great physical infirmity (he had the epilepsy), he developed an extraordinary activity during a reign of twenty-nine years, and left an enduring fame for purity, and piety of character and unselfish devotion to the best interests of his people.

His example of promoting learning in the vernacular language was followed by Aelfric, a grammarian, homilist and hagiographer. He has been identified with the archbishop Aelfric of Canterbury (996-1009), and with the archbishop Aelfric of York (1023-1051), but there are insuperable difficulties in either view. He calls himself simply “monk and priest.” He left behind him a series of eighty Anglo-Saxon Homilies for Sundays and great festivals, and another series for Anglo-Saxon Saints’ days, which were used as an authority in the Anglo-Saxon Church.