Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Charlemagne and Reforming the Clergy

Protestants by definition must be protesting something. Religiously we speak of Protestants protesting against the church or something within the church. Thus, Protestants usually are protesting against the clergy and something wrong or deficient in them. A reform of the clergy is a Protestant act. Charlemagne did great things to reform the clergy. He required and promoted a stricter morality and a greater education. Such acts are part of Protestantism. In his efforts is the idea that the clergy of the church are uneducated and loose morally. Thus, his work is a protest on the state of the clergy. It is a sign of the felt desire and need to reform the church to a higher standard than that of the pope or popes. His work in this area was an uphill battle, but he accomplished so much that many historians admit that there was a mini-renaissance sometimes called the Carolingian Renaissance. One must also conclude that the Dark Ages are officially over when Charlemagne is in power.

Charlemagne made sure he was surrounded with the greatest scholars on the planet. He went out and gathered men of renown. Because of the sorry state of the church most of the scholars he gathered to his royal academy were not Frankish, but foreigners. He gathered Italian Lombards like Peter of Pisa, the grammarian, Paul the Deacon, the historian, and Paulinus, the poet. Other prominent men like Theodulf and Agobard were foreigners as well. Yet, the most famous was Alcuin. Alcuin was from York, England, and he was a master of education. He wrote works of logic, grammar, rhetoric, and orthography. He kept pupils and ran schools. Alcuin was given five abbeys to run as reward for his excellent work and so he could make the monasteries improve education for the kingdom. This is true for many of those who surrounded Charlemange. Theodulf was made bishop of Orleans, and Paulinus of Aquileia as well as Agobard, who became bishop of Lyons. These men all took their great learning to their bishoprics. Charlemagne gathered them so he would be surrounded by great intellects, but also let them go because the church needed them more than he did.
More proof about his views can be found in his letters to the bishops in his domain. He called on them to have a good command of the languages in which Scripture is written to avoid gross errors, and he quoted Matthew 12:37, “For by they words thou shalt be justified and by thy words thou shalt be condemned”, as backing for this command. In 789, the orders went out for the priests to observe the canons of the church and the bishops were personally responsible for the intellectual training and schools should be run in every dioceses. Priests were required to teach all boys Latin and elementary education. Bishops were required to run schools and another school was run out of the Imperial palace. Books were regularly published by Alcuin and others explaining the liturgy step by step. The liturgy was standardized, mainly by Alcuin, and then put in place throughout the land. Book production was increased all across the land. Not only copies of the Bible, but ancient church fathers and even new books written by the educated were in circulation at that time. There is no doubt that one of the highest priorities of the church during the time of Charlemagne was education.

The moral standards of the priests also had to be raised. Boniface described the situation in France in 742, one year after Charlemagne’s father took the throne.

They have no archbishops. Most of the episcopal sees are occupied by avaricious laymen or adulterous, licentious and worldly clerics. Bishops make no claim not to be fornicators and adulterers, and they drink, neglect their duties, and spend their time hunting.

Boniface listed more problem including the bishops had not met in council together for at least 80 years. Charlemagne completed the reform of the morality of the church. Within a few years of his taking the throne, every metropolitan had an archbishop and every see had a proper bishop. The sinners were forced out or forced to do penance. The bishops were required to meet annually to discuss matters of both political and ecclesiastical significance. In addition at least 18 major Synods were called in 46 years of Charlemagne’s reign. The pope held only three in the same time frame, and one of those was called by Charlemagne to have a trial for the pope. He held inquests into the morality of the clergy in 802 and 811 to purge out those who had become to ‘worldly’ from office.

These facts tell us a great deal about the church under Charlemagne, and they also tell us a great deal about the church in general. Charlemagne’s desire to raise the morality and education of the clergy can only be seen as a protest against the standard level of both morality and education allowed by the church.


maureen said...

Charlemagne was a Protestant?
You're starting to sound like a muslim.

Lee said...


By saying the Charlemagne and the people leading the church at that time were Protestants, I am not saying they are Reformed or like modern Protestants. I am not even arguing that his policies were right. I am saying that Charlemagne clearly objected to or 'protested' many aspects of the Roman Church during the 8th and 9th Centuries.
I do not think that makes me a Muslim in anyway. I assume you are referring to the fact that Charlemagne did try to convert with the sword. He made people take vows and go to monestaries, and this is a regretable error made by Charlemagne, although it should be noted that it was opposed by many of the clergy during his time. Charlemagne also realized that these conversions were seldom true conversions and established monastaries and sent missionaries to evangelize the conquered tribes. Again, I do not think this has anything to do with topic at hand. If you mean something else, please, let me know.

This post lays out my objectives for this series of posts.