The spread of Christianity under Charlemagne

Frankish society under Charlemagne saw the spread of a massive phenomenon of Christianization of all the territories placed, directly or indirectly, under its influence. The Dilatatio Regni, that is to say the territorial expansion of the kingdom, is above all a Dilatatio Christianitatis, in other words, the Christianization of the whole of society, the diffusion of Christianity in all spheres of society.

The mechanisms that allowed the Arnulfiens-Pippinides, this characteristic family of the Frankish nobility, to reach the highest levels of power are still relevant during the "Carolingian moment". They even tend to be accentuated, and even to renew themselves, by proposing methods that are always more innovative than the others.

The conquest of new territories is characteristic of this major phenomenon of Carolingian history: the subjugation of the Lombard kingdom in 774, then of the Spanish Steps in 778, and finally of Bavaria and Carinthia in 788. As a result , the - complicated - conquest of Saxony (between 777 and 797) was accompanied by a large enterprise of Christianization, very visible in the Saxon Chapter of 785 (also called Partibus Saxony Chapter), and which reached its peak when writing theAdmonitio generalis from 789.

Admonitio generalis (789).

However, if we can observe a real desire on the part of Charlemagne to establish a policy of Christianization by force, it should be remembered that his reign is above all an opportunity to permanently strengthen the Christian institutions of the Kingdom, and in particular religious practices. Even if the Saxon Chapter of 785 had set up very harsh practices of Christianization by seeking to "force" individuals to abandon paganism, the second Saxon Chapter, promulgated in 797 and following the end of the conquest of Saxony by Charlemagne, implemented more lenient practices. For example, we abolish the death penalty that punished pagans until then, and we commute it into various and varied fines.

The whole reforming mechanism established under the first Carolingians finds its zenith in the Admonitio generalis, promulgated in 789. The scope of this document is fundamental to understanding the mechanisms of the reign of Carolus Magnus: Because he always legislates more in matters of religious justice, the king lays down the principles of a new vision of political power, which would like to be truly theocratic. TheAdmonitio generalis, which is a capitular, defines the enterprise of Christianization advocated by Charlemagne, and also confirms the provisions which have been adopted during the various reforming councils of the Church promulgated in the past. Ecclesiastical institutions are thereby invigorated, following the institutional foundations of the Church. It is for the ecclesiastics of the direct entourage of the sovereign to draw cheerfully from the canonical collections of Rome (of the papacy), such as the Collectio Dionyso-Hadriana by Dionysius the Little, written for the attention of Pontiff Hadrian I at the same time. We are really trying to regulate the relations between the king, the sovereign, and the religious, in particular by defining the terms of appointment of bishops.

L’Admonitio generalis also seeks to take care of the daily life of the Christian, of the faithful, in particular by organizing a broad control of beliefs and rites, and by defining the fundamentals of religious orthodoxy, of good behavior to be followed in matters of faith. In reality, it was for Charlemagne to fight with firmness the paganism which still prevailed at the time. L’Admonitio generalis purely and simply establishes "the parish institution", and is a direct witness of the creation of missi dominici, these envoys of the sovereign (charged with a control mission, which can be repressive in the event of disobedience of the faithful) who always go in pairs, and who are mentioned for the first time in this chapter.

The Frankish dioceses at the heart of the process

The bishops are central figures in all that concerns the management of the possessions of the kingdom of Charlemagne, then of the Empire from the year 800 (after the coronation of the Frankish sovereign in Rome, which in fact marks the foundation of the Empire Roman of the West). They are regularly sent on "mission" to the regions of the Empire as missi dominici, and can even hold the power of ban, that is to say a power of command over men. This is mainly due to the Carolingian conception of the exercise of politics, which puts forward these specific ideas in its territory. However, in Charlemagne's time, it was the sovereign who had primacy over the bishops. In this sense, it is truly an "imperial theocracy", as mentioned earlier. The sovereign has an essential prerogative over the clerics, by the simple fact that he himself has been "appointed" by God, and that Pope Leo III himself knelt before him.

This predisposition nevertheless tends to be reversed from the beginning of the reign of Louis the Pious - and therefore on the death of Charlemagne -, from 814, at the very moment when the influence of the bishops continues to increase within the Empire and its various institutions. Therefore, it is possible to evoke the existence of a true "episcopal theocracy". Councils - like that of Paris, convened in 614 - insist heavily on the primordial role that the bishops have when it comes to dealing with morality: the latter are considered as "guides", real "directors of conscience. », And tend to assert their position in an increasingly virulent way in the political sphere of the Carolingian Empire, since they can even allow themselves to judge the good moral behavior of such or such sovereign, and thus to define their probable - and possible - tyrannical behavior. Jonas d´Orléans, well known by medievalists for having advised Pépin d´Aquitaine in the 8th century in his By institutione regia, is a glaring example: he participated in the settlement of several conflicts relating to the Empire, as " missus "From Emperor Louis the Pious.

These colorful characters absolutely do not hesitate to take a stand, as evidenced in particular by the intervention of the bishops in 833, during the pronunciation of the dismissal of Louis the Pious, who was condemned by the clerics for lack of respect for the Ordinatio Imperii of 817. They even dismissed him from imperial dignity through his son Lothaire, who was crowned emperor in 817 and consecrated in Rome in 823. This dismissal led in particular to the - well-known - penance of Saint-Médard de Soissons , monastery where Louis the Pious was deposed.

The Christianization of Carolingian society is therefore an interesting phenomenon, which obviously brings into play religious factors, but also political and institutional considerations of power and of major military conquest enterprises.

Bibliographic sources

P. RICHÉ, The Carolingians, Hachette Littératures, Pluriel Histoire Collection, 1997.

G. BÜHRER-THIERRY, Carolingian Europe (714-888), Armand Colin, Campus Collection, 2001.

Video: Charlemagne Part 4 - Rise of an Empire. (January 2022).