Thursday, February 21, 2008

Theodulf of Orleans and the Libri Carolini

It is no surprise to long time readers of this blog that I really enjoy the Carolingian era of history. So, when an avalanche of sales, discounts, and gift cards piled high enough to make Ann Freeman’s Theodulf of Orelans: Chralemagne’s Spokesman against the Second Council of Nicaea available I jumped at the chance. I wanted this book for several reasons. One, I cannot get enough about the Carolinigian era, a time that is ignored by historians both secular and religious. Two, I want to know all I can about Theodulf. Three, the general consensus is that Alcuin must be the author of the Libri Carolini. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia claims Alcuin as the best possibility. This book argues, I believe convincingly, that Theodulf of Orleans is the author.

The book is scholarly, so if you are not interested in the subject save your money. Also, if you are limited intelligence like me be prepared to read many sections multiple times. However, the book is really a collection of essays and articles so that each chapter makes a nice breaks and some chapters recover material often in an easier to understand format before expanding your information base. The book does deal with other issues other than just authorship. It has a great chapter about the view of images and icons put forth by the Libri Carolini, as well as books that speak to the general history of the Frankish church about images and about Theodulf himself.

The main point of Ann Freeman’s contention is that the original uncorrected version (found only in this century) provides much new information. Seeing the corrections made by the correcter over the original shows us that the corrector was a person who learned Latin as a second language or book Latin and the original author was a native speaker whose Latin was already turning colloquial. In fact, one can even track the author’s Latin to Visigothic Spain. This makes Theodulf a leading candidate since he was a Visigoth from Spain. It hurts Alcuin as the candidate since he would have learned Latin as a second language in England. The thrust of her research revolves around the Liturgy in common use in Spain. She is able to show that many times in the Libri Carolini the scripture quotes are from the Liturgy. There are a few examples of the corrector not taking off the liturgical phrases like ‘and the people said Amen’ (my example, the real ones are in the book). The Spanish Liturgy at the time was not using the Vulgate, and the Scripture quotes can be shown to be from this alternate version. This evidence makes one overwhelmingly favor Theodulf as the author. When matched up with the traditional objections to Alcuin, such as it does not fit his known timeline (he is supposed to have been in England at the time) and that his earliest biographer does not include the Libri Carolini as one of his works, the evidence demands a verdict of Theodulf of Orleans as the author of the Libri Carolini.

I do admit that this evidence does not point to Theodulf directly, but rather only to a Visigoth from Spain. This is the weakness in the book. There were more than one Visigoth at Charlemagne’s court, and they cannot be ruled out from any of the arguments I read. However, it is not disputed that Theodulf was the greatest Visigoth scholar at the court and probably stood only behind Alcuin when ranking the scholars at court (an argument could be made Alcuin stood behind Theodulf). It is obvious from other actions that Charlemagne trusted Theodulf with big responsibilities. Thus, it stands to reason that Theodulf would be the author. It just needs to be noted that the arguments do not point directly to him, but rather to his region of the world and he is the top candidate from that region.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book, and I learned a great deal from it.