Religion Essays – State of the Church and the world Charlemagne lived

State of the Church and the world Charlemagne lived

During the reign of Charlemagne was an era of almost continuous warfare. The church was objected by the people he ruled. He successfully concluded the conquest of all German speaking tribes and he expanded his kingdom in all direction. He also Christianized it. The word in which Charlemagne lived was experiencing a continuous war and the people were pagans. He tried to overcome the war which at last came to an end. He also tried to convert people to Christianity. (Einhard 58)

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Charlemagne was the first Holy Roman Emperor. This title symbolized the cooperation between church and state that ensured the Roman popes’ authority over the Western Church and the Frankish emperors’ authority over much of Christianized Western Europe. Under Charlemagne, King of the Franks, the influence of the Catholic Church had been strongly reinforced. A new relationship between the Frankish kings and the popes was started by Pepin, Charlemagne’s father, and Boniface, the popes’ legate. Their early program of church reform was greatly expanded by Charlemagne. Pepin had also given his protection to the popes when Rome was threatened by invaders, and Charlemagne continued the tradition. This situation resulted in a new interdependence between church and state. Charlemagne exerted great influence on the clergy and on church practice, and offered security to them. (Friedrich 87)

However, despite the general respect for Charlemagne, controversies were still rife during this era. The ninth century eventually became a pivotal epoch in terms of the influence of religion upon government and the development of Medieval Christendom, only tenuously resolved by Charlemagne. The collapse of Charlemagne’s Empire, the onset of the Viking invasions proved politically divisive in terms of governance and there were also many doctrinal controversies inherent to Christianity of the period to further tear apart Christians. The Archbishop of Rheims, Hincmar took a very strong stand against the absolutist stance of papal monarchy or kingly rule–like Charlemagne, he attempted to strike a balance between the two authorial needs of Rome and kings.” (Einhard 42)

Through his efforts to spread Christianity and stop the war he made sure that there was a connection between the state and the church. This changed people’s beliefs and attitude towards the church. By the time Charlemagne died his state and the church had a strong connection thus strengthening the people’s faith.

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Life of Charlemagne

Charlemagne was the son of Pippin III (the Short), who officially put an end to the Merovingian line of kings when he negotiated with the pope to be crowned King of the Franks, Bertrada was his Mother. When Pippin died, the kingdom of Francia was divided between Charlemagne and his brother Carloman. Charles proved himself a capable leader from early on, but his brother was less so, and their relationship was tense until Carloman’s death in 771.

The greatest of medieval kings was born in 742, at a place unknown. He was of German blood and speech, and shared some characteristics of his people- strength of body, courage of spirit, pride of race, and a crude simplicity many centuries apart from the urbane polish of the modern French. He had little book learning; read only a few books- but good ones; tried in his old age to learn writing, but never quite succeeded; yet he could speak old Teutonic and literary Latin, and understood Greek. (Friedrich 47)

When Charlemagne took the throne in 771, he immediately implemented two policies. The first policy was one of expansion. Charlemagne’s goal was to unite all Germanic people into one kingdom. The second policy was religious in that Charlemagne wanted to convert all of the Frankish kingdom, and those lands he conquered, to Christianity. As a result, Charlemagne’s reign was marked by almost continual warfare. (Donald 58)

Charlemagne being the sole rule of the government of Francia, he expanded his territory through conquest. He conquered the Lombards in northern Italy, acquired Bavaria, and campaigned in Spain and Hungary. Charles used harsh measures in subduing the Saxons and virtually exterminating the Avars of present-day Austria and Hungary. Though he had essentially amassed an empire, Charlemagne did not style himself “emperor,” but called himself the King of the Franks and Lombards.

After he conquered Lombards and became the king, Charlemagne started construction of a palace in Aachen. Unsuccessful siege of Saragossa, Spain, is followed by an ambush of Charlemagne’s retreating army by the Basques at Roncesvalles. Charlemagne’s most serious defeat took place when he failed to take Saragossa, retreated across the Pyrenees, and was ambushed by Basques. (Donald 59)

Two years later he received from Pope Hadrian II an urgent appeal for aid against the Lombard Desiderius, who was invading the Papal States. Charlemagne besieged and took Pavia, assumed the crown of Lombardy, confirmed the Donation of Pepin and accepted the role of protector of the Church in all her temporal powers. Charlemagne made a pilgrimage to Rome and his son Pippin was proclaimed King of Italy; he then met Alcuin, who agrees to come to Charlemagne’s court. (Friedrich 64)

Charlemagne launched his educational plan by ordering bishops and abbots to open schools near their churches and monasteries. Charlemagne took control of Bavaria; bringing all the territory of the Germanic tribes into one political unit he conducted a series of campaigns against the Avars in present-day Austria and Hungary. The Avars were eventually destroyed as a cultural entity. Construction on the cathedral in Aachen began and Pope Leo III was attacked in the streets of Rome and flew to Charlemagne for protection. The king had him conducted safely back to Rome. Charlemagne went to Rome to oversee a synod where Leo clears himself of the charges laid on him by his enemies. At Christmas mass, Leo crowned Charlemagne Emperor.

In 813, Charlemagne called Louis the Pious, Charlemagne’s sole surviving legitimate son to his court to inherit all of the lands that Charlemagne had conquered and controlled. However, like his grandfather before him (and just as his father would have done if any of Louis’ brothers had lived); Louis divided the lands among his sons according to the tradition.

Charlemagne died in January 814. His achievements stand among the most significant of the early middle Ages, and although the empire he built (called “the Carolingian Empire” after him) would not long outlast his son Louis, his consolidation of lands marked a watershed in the development of Europe.

Contribution of Charlemagne’s to the medieval church

During the reign of Charlemagne, from 768 to 814 A.D., the growth of the Church in the west gained increasing power over its eastern counterparts. Charlemagne, the son of Pepin the Short, was indoctrinated with the Christian religion early in his life, and as a result he grew to become the leading proponent of Christian belief throughout the west. He continued the role of papal protector in Italy and his father’s policy of territorial conquest in the north. After defeating King Desiderius and the Lombards in 774 he crowned himself “King of the Lombards”. He began to increase the size of his kingdom by forcibly converting “pagans” into Christianity. His most difficult conquest was converting the Saxons into loyal Christian citizens. Thus, after thirty-three years of war the Saxons accepted Charlemagne’s terms and renounced their religion and customs and adopted those of Christianity, while those that refused were relocated throughout Gaul and Germany. In 800 A.D. on Christmas day Pope Leo III, who was imprisoned by the Roman aristocracy a year earlier but escaped to the protection of Charlemagne who then restored him as pope, crowned Charlemagne emperor.” (Donald 77)

Charlemagne made important reforms in the Catholic liturgy; he brought Anglo-Saxon traditions of humanism into Europe, and was the foremost scholar of the Carolingian Renaissance. He encouraged the use of “Carolingian minuscule”.

He built the beautiful basilica at Aix-la-Chapelle, which he adorned with gold and silver and lamps, and with rails and doors of solid brass. He had the columns and marbles for this structure brought from Rome and Ravenna, for he could not find such as were suitable elsewhere. He was a constant worshipper at this church as long as his health permitted, going morning and evening, even after nightfall, besides attending mass; and he took care that all the services there conducted should be administered with the utmost possible propriety, very often warning the sextons not to let any improper or unclean thing be brought into the building or remain in it. He provided it with a great number of sacred vessels of gold and silver and with such a quantity of clerical robes that not even the doorkeepers who fill the humblest office in the church were obliged to wear their everyday clothes when in the exercise of their duties. He was at great pains to improve the church reading and psalmody, for he was well skilled in both although he neither read in public nor sang, except in a low tone and with others. (Friedrich 70)

Charlemagne also was a devoted Christian. He supported the Church, giving liberally at his own expense as well as that of the state to support the Church and fighting to protect the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church’s property in Italy. On Christmas Day in 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne “Emperor and Augustus.” This could have created conflict since the emperor of the Byzantine Empire already possessed this title, but Charlemagne quickly sent gifts and envoys to appease his usurpation.

He was very forward in succoring the poor, and in that gratuitous generosity he not only gave support in his own country and kingdom, but when he discovered that there were Christians living in poverty in Syria, Egypt, and Africa, at Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Carthage, he had compassion on their wants, and used to send money over the seas to them. Charlemagne zealously strove to make friends with the kings beyond seas so as to get help and relief to the Christians living under their rule. (Claster 96)

He cherished the Church of St. Peter the Apostle at Rome above all other holy and sacred places, and heaped its treasury with a vast wealth of gold, silver, and precious stones. He sent great and countless gifts to the popes; and throughout his whole reign his wish was to re-establish the ancient authority of the city of Rome under his care and by his influence, and to defend and protect the Church of St. Peter, and to beautify and enrich it out of his own store above all other churches. Although he held it in such veneration, he only repaired to Rome to pay his vows and make his supplications four times during the whole forty-seven years that he reigned.

Charlemagne was so beloved by the Carolingian people he ruled, because he showed compassion towards the peoples he conquered, seldom manifest during the era. Emperor Charlemagne demonstrated an administrative balance between the needs of the governing state and the demands of the powerful Christian church. He embodied the perfect balance between Christian and secular demands in ruling empire. (Friedrich 87)

Through Alcuin he caused corrected copies of the Scripture to be placed in the churches, and earned great credit for his improvement of the much depraved text of the Latin Vulgate. Education, for aspirants to the priesthood at least, was furthered by the royal order of 787 to all bishops and abbots to keep open in their cathedrals and monasteries schools for the study of the seven liberal arts and the interpretation of Scriptures. (Fichtenau 35)

When Charlemagne accepted Christianity, he helped Christianity in numerous ways. Christians were no longer persecuted for their faith, and the Emperor gave many gifts to Christian leaders. With the acceptance of Christianity, the faith was able to spread throughout. With the emperor converted, Christianity became apart of the government. Children were taught Christian beliefs and these were passed down through generation. (Donald 96)

He believed that the church and state should be as close as possible. With this belief came the distortion of the Christian faith. In order to please all of his subjects, Charlemagne combined pagan worship with Christianity. However, though Constantine’s conversion is questionable when it comes to his true acceptance of the faith, he puts all his power into advancing the cause of the Church of Christ. (Eginhard and Monk 87)

With the church and state so closely intertwined, the empire became stronger. A council of 300 bishops was formed called the Council of Nicea. This council dealt with controversy about the divinity of Jesus. This council made an official statement claiming Jesus divinity, and because the church and state were so closely connected, he fought for Christianity which led people to call him “the strong right hand of God”. (Claster 36)

Through his devotion to fought for the church this brought about the spread of Christianity to many people leading to the growth of church. Charlemagne took advantage of Christianity’s moral and ethical standards, and he made laws in favor of the spreading of the faith. Also, after Charlemagne became Emperor he came up with two policies for success. The first policy was expansion, and with Charlemagne’s military experience this was not difficult to achieve. The second policy was the conversion of all his lands to Christianity. (Capitol Hill) With this policy, the Christian faith spread rapidly throughout the lands, and many were converted. (Donald 58)

In both Constantine’s and Charlemagne’s causes the spread Christianity is what made their empire successful. And with the close relationship between the church and state, the spread of Christianity was not a difficulty task. (Eginhard and Monk 39)

Charlemagne’s Legacy to church todayNo layman has exercised so great an influence on the history of the Church as Charlemagne; though his influence was, properly speaking, merely that of extension, organization and consolidation. Personally he probably did not reach far beyond a tolerably accurate fulfillment of the precepts of the Church. His character has, no doubt, been much embellished by the legendary poetry of the Church. His want of chastity, and disregard of the marriage-vow, must be freely admitted. Practically the Church was to him, not only the visible representative of Christ on earth, but also an organ of civilization, an instrument of government; and he was sometimes unscrupulous enough in the use of this instrument, as, for instance, when he compelled the Saxons, by force and with unexampled cruelty, to receive baptism. Nevertheless he contributed perhaps more than any one else to make the Church a power in the history of the race, and enabled it to form during the middle ages a much-needed and highly beneficial counterpoise to the military despotism of feudalism. (Eginhard and Monk 45)

His relation to the Church is strikingly characterized by a total absence of any distinction between spiritual and temporal power. Both were identical to him; and as he unquestionably was the holder of the one he necessarily came to consider himself as holder of the other too. Without paying the least regard to the Pope, whom, under other circumstances, he was not unwilling to recognize as the representative of the Church, he condemned at the synod of Frankfort (794) the decrees of the second council of Nicaea concerning image-worship. He was liberal to the Church, Churches and monasteries received enormous endowments everywhere. The first business he took in hand after conquering a new territory was the formation of dioceses, the building of churches, the foundation of missionary-stations, etc. But of this church, made great and rich by his liberality, he demanded absolute obedience. The metropolitans received the pallium from the Pope, but only with his consent; and the bishops he chose and appointed himself alone. He would have been very much surprised if any one had intimated to him – what, a century later on, was preached from the roofs – that there was within the Church a spiritual power to which even the emperor owed obedience. Church and State were one to him. His idea of government was theocratic, with the distinction, though, that, in his case, it was not the Church, which had absorbed the State, but the State, which identified itself with the Church. (Eginhard and Monk 47)

Nothing shows more plainly than the circle of great men, which gathered around Charlemagne that the principal problem, which he expected the Church to solve, had a general civilizing bearing. All the great men of his age were connected, either as teachers or as pupils, with that school which he had founded in his palace, and which became the fertile germ of the medieval university. All these men were theologians, but not exclusively: on the contrary, their greatness was their many-sidedness. They had studied grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, classical literature, canon law, etc. They were poets, philosophers, statesmen, practical administrators, etc. They were exactly what Charlemagne wanted, – men whom he could send out as legates to see how the counts were doing in the marches, or could settle as bishops in a diocese to take care, not only of the Church proper, but also of the school and the court. for, according to his ideas, the Church was an institution with many worldly duties of education and jurisdiction; and consequently it became, under his hands, an institution with many worldly interests of property and ambition.(Eginhard and Monk 53)

Through Charlemagne’s personality and devotion to Christianity, this led to growth and spread of Christian faith throughout the world. The church began from the medieval ages up to date. Christian faith, which started during the time of Charlemagne when he was ignited since his infancy, made a great contribution to the church today. (Claster 69)

Work Cited

Claster. J.N, (1982), the medieval experience 300-1400, New York and London, New

York University Press

Donald, B. (1965), the age of Charlemagne, London, Elek books

Einhard, (1960), the life of Charlemagne, New York, University of Michigan Press

Eginhard and Monk, (1926), early lives of Charlemagne, London, London: Chatto and


Fichtenau, H. (1978), the Carolingian empire, Toronto, University of Toronto

Friedrich, H. (1975), Charlemagne and his world, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson guide/p/sg facts.html biography.htmldat

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