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Yuri Koszarycz

The CHURCH and the STATE - The FIRST 1000 YEARS

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 the clergy:

    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, 1931: 196-197).

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 - 816 AD):

    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.

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Copyright ©1999, Yuri Koszarycz. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.The contents of ORB are copyright © 1995-1999 Laura V. Blanchard and Carolyn Schriber except as otherwise indicated herein.