Civil Patrons of Christianity


WHILE the memory of the Roman Empire perpetuated in the times of disruption a high conception of order and of empire, there came at intervals men who had the ambition and the talents to realize in a measure the ideal. Such in a pre-eminent sense were the early

The Merovingian dynasty reached the natural outcome of luxury and license. The material for real kingship became exhausted. Rois fainéants, do-nothing kings, mere figure-heads, sat upon the throne. A line of able and energetic men, commonly designated Mayors of the Palace, rose in the course of the seventh century to the place of actual sovereignty. Among these a distinguished place was held by Pepin d'Heristal, who became master of France in 687. Shortly after his death in 714, his illegitimate son Charles, to whom the glorious surname of Martel, or Hammer, was added as a memorial of his triumph over the Saracens, took the reins of government.

Charles Martel was not in all respects a wise and generous patron of the Christian Church. Not only did be seize upon church property in order to provide a recompense for his soldiers, but he indulged the utterly demoralizing expedient of appointing his chief officers to high ecclesiastical trusts, merely for the sake of the ample revenues connected therewith. But after times made little account of this trespass, in consideration of the services of Charles in turning back the tide of Mohammedan invasion. As early as 719 the Saracens of Spain had penetrated beyond the Pyrenees. In 731 they came in full force, purposing nothing less than to extend their rule over the whole of France. Charles Martel chose his ground at a point between Tours and Poitiers. For six days the two hosts confronted each other (October, 732). On the seventh day the battle began in earnest. The stalwart Franks met without recoil the impetuous charge of the Saracens. At length a detachment which had reached the enemy's rear threw them into confusion by an attack in that quarter. The Franks, now charging in their turn, drove the opposing ranks to their tents, and filled them with such alarm that they fled under cover of the night, leaving behind them immense spoils. The victory was decisive, and determined that the crescent should sink behind the Pyrenees as speedily as it had risen above them. Reports of the battle ran up the loss of the Saracens to the incredible figure of three hundred thousand slain. Charles stood now, though without a crown, in the front rank of European princes. The Pope confessed his eminence by seeking his alliance, and promising to bestow upon him the title Patrician
of Rome.

Charles Martel died before the results of the negotiations had matured. The proposed scheme, however, was carried out by his son Pepin, who not only secured the honorary title Patrician of the Romans, but also the acknowledged rank of sovereign of the Franks. By papal consent he took the crown. In answer to the question propounded by the ambassadors of Pepin, the Pope replied that he who wielded the authority and fulfilled the duties of a king should also bear the name. So the helpless Merovingian Childeric was sent to the cloister, and Pepin was crowned at Soissons in 752. In return for favors from Rome, Pepin drove the Lombards from their usurped possession of the exarchate, and made a grant of this territory to the Pope. The nature of this grant, which was renewed by Charlemagne, we shall have occasion to consider in a subsequent connection.

The foundations laid by Charles Martel and Pepin were built upon by a man of much greater breadth and genius than either of them. Charlemagne, the first Germanic ruler of pre-eminent greatness, on the death of his father, Pepin, in 768, shared the kingdom with his brother Carloman. Three years later he became sole ruler.

It was the grandeur of Charlemagne's ambition, that he aimed to restore an image of the Roman Empire. And it must be allowed that he went far toward the fulfillment of his ambition. He pushed out his borders on every side. He gained supremacy over a large part of Italy. He acquired a portion of Spain. He conquered the Saxons, though at the expense of seventeen campaigns and upwards of thirty years of struggle. He gained the sovereignty over Bavaria, penetrated into Pannonia and conquered the Avars, the descendants of the Huns whose invasions had terrified Europe in the fifth century. In fine, his empire was made to cover a large part of Western Europe, reaching from the Baltic to the Ebro, from the British Channel to the southern part of Italy, from the Atlantic to the Lower Danube and the mountains of Moravaia. In order to gain an outward badge suitable to express so great a stretch of authority, Charlemagne received the imperial crown from the hands of the Pope. The ceremonial of coronation took place on Christmas day in the year 800. Thus the ancient order of things was recalled. The West had once more its Christian Cæsar.

Hand in hand with the work of conquest, Charlemagne endeavored to carry on the work of civilization. He patronized scholars, founded schools, collected libraries, and gave to his people in his own habits an example of zeal and industry in study. He endeavored to inform himself about the state and the wants of the people in all parts of his dominions, and was unwearied in efforts to provide them with suitable laws. On the whole, he used a wise discretion in adjusting his attempts to improve his people to their native characteristics. "Other barbarian princes," says Henri Martin, "have cast themselves with ardor into the work of civilization: but that which distinguishes among them all the great Charles is that he substituted an intelligent imitation for a servile copying; that he borrowed from Roman traditions only ideas and information, and not impracticable political forms; that he wished finally to civilize the race of Franks and Germans by developing, and not by destroying its native genius. In that lay its force, and he never forgot the fact." 1 Histoire de France.

The personal appearance of Charlemagne was well suited to add to the impression made by his magnificent achievements. It is not strange, therefore, that prominent faults were made little of by his contemporaries, especially as they were such as royalty not uncommonly exhibited in that age. History records in particular, to his dishonor, that he gave way to a savage ferocity in executing at one time four thousand and five hundred of the rebellious Saxons; and that in his domestic life he was guilty of concubinage, as well as of an arbitrary use of the prerogative of divorce. 1 For a summary of Charlemagne's domestic record see Einhard, Vita et Conversatio Caroli Regis Magni, cap. xviii. Such blemishes must be regarded as a serious detraction from true greatness; nevertheless, in eminent respects, the first Germanic Emperor was not unworthy of the title which has become incorporated with his name. Considering his resources, he accomplished an astonishing work. "He stands alone," says Hallam, "like a beacon upon a waste, or a rock in the broad ocean. His sceptre was as the bow of Ulysses, which could not be drawn by any weaker hand. In the dark ages of European history, the reign of Charlemagne affords a solitary resting-place between two long periods of turbulence and ignominy, deriving the advantage of contrast both from that of the preceding dynasty, and of a posterity for whom he had formed an empire which they were unworthy and unequal to maintain." 2 Europe during the Middle ages.

While the empire of Charlemagne soon went to pieces, the fruits of his labors were hot by any means wholly swept away. The pieces were far different from what they would have been but for his powerful impress. His work survived in the more progressive elements or the states into which his empire was dismembered.

It was in the lands over which the sovereignty of Charlemagne had extended, that the feudal system had its most conspicuous development. The germs of the system, no doubt, were earlier than the age of the great Carlovingian. In the disorders which followed close upon his relinquishment of the sceptre, a great impetus was given to its growth. The act of Charles the Bald in 877, in making the government of the counties hereditary, thus converting these districts into great fiefs, decidedly favored its complete ascendency. In the tenth century, feudalism appears as the dominant régime. Its essential characteristic was the grant, by a superior, of property or privilege, under the condition of service. Primarily the grant consisted of lands, upon which the holder exercised more or less of the rights of sovereignty; and service was principally discharged in rendering military aid to the patron or suzerain. In course of time, however, a variety of rights and privileges, as well as landed estates, passed under the feudal tenure. The relation of lord and vassal was held not only by the lay nobles, but also by prelates and abbots; not only by individuals, but also by cities and towns. It was a kind of neighborhood system, which was rapidly promoted by the absence of a strong central government.

After Charlemagne, the next illustrious patron of Christian civilization was Alfred the Great of England, --a name that will suffer no eclipse when placed beside that of any prince of the period. He moved indeed in much narrower circle than did the ambitious restorer of the Roman Empire. In intellectual force and daring very likely he was not his equal. But he was more than his equal in the highest and finest traits. In purity of life and symmetry of character he bore a title to lasting reverence and affection such as Charlemagne was never able to earn. He gained the heart of England for all time, and an Englishman must exercise self-restraint not to kindle to eloquence as he mentions his name. "Alfred," says Green, "was the noblest, as he was the most complete, embodiment of all that is great, all that is lovable, in the English temper. Ha combined as no other man has ever combined its practical energy, its patient and enduring force,its profound sense of duty, the reserve and self-control that steadies in it a wide outlook and a restless daring, its temperance and fairness, its frank geniality, its sensitiveness to affection, its poetic tenderness, its deep and passionate religion. Religion, indeed, was the groundwork of Alfred's character. Everywhere throughout his writings that remain to us, the name of God, the thought of God, stir him to outbursts of ecstatic adoration. But he was no mere saint. He felt none of that scorn of the world about him which drove the nobler souls of his day to monastery or hermitage. Vexed as he was by sickness and constant pain, his temper took no touch of asceticism. His rare geniality, a peculiar elasticity and mobility of nature, gave color and charm to his life. A sunny frankness and openness of spirit breathes in the pleasant chat of his books, and what he was in his books he showed himself in his daily converse." 1 History of the English People.

Alfred came to the throne (871) at a time of great national peril and distress. The inroads made by the Danes in the closing years of the preceding century had been followed by new and greater invasions, until at length they seemed ready to gain complete mastery over England. In this crisis the valor and patience of Alfred came to the rescue. He inspired the hearts of the people with his own hopefulness, met the enemy in battle after battle, and saved the country from the yoke of their dominion. He was not able, indeed, to expel the Danes; but he held them in check, and laid the foundation for that work of his successors by which the strangers became incorporated into the English people, instead of taking its place or reducing it to a subordinate rank. England, it is true, came in time to have its Danish sovereign; but Canute and those of his house who succeeded him for a brief interval brought about no ascendency of the Danes in England at large. They were Danish rulers over an English people.

But the sword was by no means the only weapon with which Alfred served his people. He had a care to provide them with improved laws, and with new means of religious and intellectual training. He beheld with grief the gross ignorance which had been settling upon the nation since the Northern pirates had begun to lay the torch to cloister and church. Teachers were called in from abroad. Nor did the King stop with patronizing instructors: he turned instructor himself, and wrought diligently at the translator's task, rendering into English for the benefit of the unlearned the work of Boëthius on the Consolation of Philosophy, the Pastoral of Pope Gregory, the Universal History of Orosius, and the History of the Anglo-Saxon Church by Beda. In fine, we see in Alfred a consecration of princely talents that has rarely been equalled in the history of royalty.

The Norman conquest effected a great revolution in the political and social state of England, and had also an important bearing upon its ecclesiastical affairs. But the effects of the Norman ascendency may better-be considered in the following period.

Germany presents us next with an example of illustrious sovereigns. On the deposition of Charles the Fat in 888, Germany returned to the status of a separate realm which had been assigned to her in the treaty of Verdun in 843. The first of her rulers mere of no special note. But with the introduction of the Saxon house, in 919, came men who knew how to add honor to the imperial dignity. The most distinguished in this line of rulers were the first two, Henry the Fowler and Otho I. The former won the gratitude of Europe by the effectual check which he put upon the inroads of the Hungarians. The latter in ambition and personal force recalled the image of Charlemagne. No less than the mighty Frank he aimed to restore the Roman Empire. Having consolidated his rule in Germany, he pushed on into Italy, received the imperial crown from the hand of the Pope, exercised his pleasure in filling the papal office, and established his supremacy over a large part of the peninsula. He may be regarded as the chief founder of the power which before the expiration of the next century was to match arms with the papacy. Three rulers followed him from the Saxon house; namely, Otho II., Otho III, and Henry II. Then came (1024) the Franconian house, represented by Conrad II., Henry III., Henry IV., and Henry V.