Monday, October 02, 2006

Charlemagne and the Pope

The first question that must be asked to see if Charlemagne’s church was a Protestant one, is did the church submit to the Pope, or did they reject his authority? This is one that can be seen better in acts than words. Most everyone mouthed the words that the Pope was the supreme head of the church and sat in St. Peter’s chair. However, did they follow that up with action, or were those words mere flattery?

First, the Seventh Ecumenical Council or Council of Nicaea II serves as an appropriate illustration. Nicaea was attended by Papal legates, and approved by Charlemagne’s close friend, Pope Adrian. This council allowed the use of images and accounted for them to be venerated, but not worshiped. The church of Charlemagne, by this I mean France and parts of Spain and Germany, rejected this Pope approved General Synod of the church. They rejected veneration of the images, denied they served any useful purpose at all, and repudiated the authority of the council. These things were published under the title, Libiri Carolini. Pope Adrian pleaded with Charlemagne, but at the Council of Frankfurt (794), Nicaea was denounced. At least 300 bishops from France, England, Spain, Italy, and Germany signed on to the rejection of the Council of Nicaea II, which had already received papal approval. This was not just the influence of Charlemagne. The church continued this position under Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, by denouncing the use of images at the Council of Paris in 825. The Council of Paris also openly rebuked the pope for supporting such a council. Hardly the actions of a church submitting to papal authority.

Second, the Filoque controversy shows the rejection of papal authority. The Filoque controversy is about adding the phrase “and the Son” to the Nicene Creed. Thus, the revised version reads that that Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This was in use by the 6th century in Spain, but it was Charlemagne’s church that made it official. Alcuin, Theodulf, and Paulinus, the greatest scholars of the Carolingian church, and later Ratramnus of Corbie all argued heavily for the inclusion of the phrase ‘and the Son’. They viewed it essential to understand the Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son. Again, Pope Adrian pleaded against such an idea, and later Pope Leo would not accept it either, although he treaded much lighter. In 809, at the Council of Aix-la-Chappelle the phrase was included in the Nicene Creed officially, and always used that way in the areas controlled by Charlemagne. Since even the Pope now recognizes that phrase, we can see which side gave in.

Third, an incident involving Pope Leo III is also telling for it shows how the church under Charlemagne viewed the Pope. Leo had been accussed of some sins, including adultery if I remember correctly, and the people of Rome were in an uproar. Arno, archbishop of Salzburg, led a delegation of two archbishops and five bishops to investigate the charges. This act in and of itself is unheard of. Archbishops and bishops were investigating the Head of the Church. The Pope sitting under judgment of fellow bishops runs counter to everything claimed by the Pope. Yet, Arno not only led this delegation, they found Leo guilty. They would not reinstall Leo as the bishop of Rome. Charlemagne did reinstall Leo for political reasons, but the very idea that the church under the dominion of Charlemagne would try the pope and find him guilty is astounding and says quite a lot about the view of the papacy held by the bishops of the Carolingian Kingdom.

Fourth, the constant use of Councils and Synods. I have already mentioned at least three. Charlemagne required yearly synods of his church. They bishops met together and discussed affairs of the church and kingdom. This practice is not in keeping with the Roman practice. It speaks volumes about where the church turned for judicial and theological matters. It was to itself and not toward Rome.

Fifth, the views of individuals should also say large amounts. In addition to the men mentioned above such as Arno of Salzburg, we can add the thoughts of many others. People like Theodulf who thought the Pope was not over Charlemagne and at least rejected the idea that the pope had temporal authority at all. Haymo Bishop of Halberstadt rejected the idea of the Pope as a universal bishop and the idea that Peter founded the seat in Rome! However, Claudius bishop of Turin speaks the loudest. This man was given his bishopric by Louis the Pious and was never removed from his seat. He states concerning Matthew 16,

‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church: and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ under pretence of which words the stupid and ignorant common people, destitute of all spiritual knowledge, betake themselves to Rome in hope of acquiring eternal life. . . . Know thou that he only is apostolic who is the keeper and guardian of the apostle’s doctrine, and not he who boasts himself to be seated in the chair of the apostle.(J.A. Wylie, History of Protestantism, Vol. 1. pg.22)

Hardly the word of a man upholding the authority of the Pope. Hopefully this brief look at the history of the Carolingian church will show that the Pope held no real power in the church, and was regularly disobeyed in matters of doctrine and faith. I believe this requires one to view the Carolingian church as a church ‘protesting’ the authority of the bishop of Rome, and finding its own way without him.