The CHURCH and the STATE - The FIRST
The coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas Day 800 AD must be seen
as a formal recognition that the Church's unity and the political unity
of the State were indivisible. One could not imagine religious unity apart
from the secular interests of government. Consequently we see that the Carolingian
age marks the establishment of the Church as a focal point in the conduct
of everyday political, religious and economic life. When Pope Stephen II
made an alliance with the new Carolingian king Pepin in 752 AD, he inexorably
tied the Church to the political and military power of a secular ruler,
although one may suggest that the papal goal was to direct and guide that
ruler to follow the views of the Church. In the preceding seven centuries
the Church had relied on the patronage, support and blessings of its secular
benefactors, and this included educational concerns. In 789 Charlemagne
decreed that every monastery must have a school for the education of boys
in "singing, arithmetic, and grammar." In a letter to the abbot
of Fulda, Charlemagne expresses his apprehension over the illiteracy of
Since in these years there were often sent to us from divers monasteries
letters in which ... owing to neglect of learning, the untutored tongue
could not express [itself] without faultiness. Whence it came that we began
to fear lest, as skill in writing was less, wisdom to understand the Sacred
Scriptures might be far less than it ought rightly to be (Quoted in: Laistner,
An interesting comment from an illiterate emperor! [The Abbot, Alcuin
acted as his reader and scribe]. But the next centuries would witness the
gargantuan struggle that would see the Church emerge as victor, with the
secular powers subservient to the wishes of the Roman Pontiff.
Peter De Rosa (1988) gives an interesting insight into the personalities
and life- styles of Charlemagne and the reigning Pontiff, Leo III (795 -
The Church's new defender...had divorced his first wife and had
six children by the second. When he dispensed with the latter's services,
he had two daughters by a third wife as well as another daughter by a concubine.
Childless by his fourth wife, when she died he kept four concubines - twelve
was his life-long tally - and had at least one child by each...
...The reigning Pope, Leo III, was desperate for Charlemagne to
come to Rome. He needed protection from outsiders; he also wanted to have
his name cleared at the highest level of a pressing charge of adultery.
Not long before Charlemagne arrived, Leo was attacked by a hostile mob.
They tore out his eyes and cut off his tongue...
(At the coronation 800 AD) Charlemagne was kneeling in front of
Peter's tomb when Leo, groping to find the head on which to place the crown,
blubbered that Charlemagne was Emperor and Augustus, and knelt to adore
him. According to Einhard [Charlemagne's biographer], his master was black
with wrath. Charlemagne later said in his hearing "that he would not
have gone to church that day, even though it was a solemn festival [Christmas],
had he guessed the pontiff's plan." He wanted the honour, of course,
but not at the expense of being elevated by a vassal. Having taken the
trouble to come to Rome to exculpate a miserable subject, he did not want
to appear the recipient of his blessing.
Charlemagne sensed what historians would see only too clearly.
By a master stroke, Leo III was laying claim to a power that, in his successors,
would triumph over the greatest temporal sovereigns on earth (De Rosa,
1989: 61 - 62).
Certainly by the end of the tenth century "the Church had taken
on an authoritarian role proclaiming the Gospel as a divine message to which
the world must humbly listen" (Dulles 1974: 83). A great deal of the
arable land of Europe passed into the hands of highly disciplined men committed
to the doctrine of hard work. Abbots and bishops were an innovatory elite
within society; many of them were aristocrats and themselves the sons of
land magnates. Certainly by this time monasticism, unlike its counterpart
in the East, became an upper class movement. It tended to reflect the natural
hierarchy in society with abbots and priors drawn from the families of tribal
chieftans and large landowners. Monks who were literate essentially came
from these upper classes, while the sons of illiterate peasants usually
were kept in lower orders and performed the menial tasks.
The power of the Church spread quickly. The Germanic and Frankish
races were still illiterate, yet by the ninth century a firm alliance was
established between Rome and her new protectors. With the coronation of
Charlemagne in 800 AD, Christian control of western society became, in theory,
complete. Within two centuries, the Church established itself as a form
of theocracy increasingly legislating on every aspect of conduct in politics,
economics, and especially the everyday lives of individuals.