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History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590-1073.
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§ 140. Patronage of Letters by Charles the Great, and Charles the Bald.


Comp. §§ 56, 90, 134 (pp. 236, 390, 584).


Charlemagne stands out like a far-shining beacon-light in the darkness of his age. He is the founder of a new era of learning, as well as of a new empire. He is the pioneer of French and German civilization. Great in war, he was greater still as a legislator and promoter of the arts of peace. He clearly saw that religion and education are the only solid and permanent basis of a state. In this respect he rose far above Alexander the Great and Caesar, and is unsurpassed by Christian rulers.

He invited the best scholars from Italy and England to his court,—Peter of Pisa, Paul Warnefrid, Paulinus of Aquileia, Theodulph of Orleans, Alcuin of York.831831    “Toutes les provinces de l’occident,” says Ozanam, ”concoururernt au grand ouvrage des écoles carlovinggiennes.” They formed a sort of royal academy of sciences and arts, and held literary symposiacs. Each member bore a nom de plume borrowed from the Bible or classic lore: the king presided as “David” or “Solomon”; Alcuin, a great admirer of Horace and Virgil, was “Flaccus” Angilbert (his son-in-law) was “Homerus”; Einhard (his biographer), “Bezaleel,” after the skilful artificer of the Tabernacle (Ex. 31:2); Wizo, “Candidus”; Arno, “Aquila”; Fredegisus, “Nathanael”; Richbod, “Macarius,” etc. Even ladies were not excluded: the emperor’s sister, Gisela, under the name “Lucia”; his learned cousin, Gundrad, as “Eulalia;” his daughter, Rotrude, as “Columba.” He called Alcuin, whom he first met in Italy (781), his own “beloved teacher,” and he was himself his most docile pupil. He had an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and put all sorts of questions to him in his letters, even on the most difficult problems of theology. He learned in the years of his manhood the art of writing, the Latin grammar, a little Greek (that he might compare the Latin Testament with the original), and acquired some knowledge of rhetoric, dialectics, mathematics and astronomy. He delighted in reading the poets and historians of ancient Rome, and Augustin’s “City of God.” He longed for a dozen Jeromes and Augustins, but Alcuin told him to be content since the Creator of heaven and earth had been pleased to give to the world only two such giants. He had some share in the composition of the Libri Carolini, which raised an enlightened protest against the superstition of image-worship. Poems are also attributed to him or to his inspiration. He ordered Paul Warnefrid (Paulus Diaconus) to prepare a collection of the best homilies of the Latin fathers for the use of the churches, and published it with a preface in which he admonished the clergy to a diligent study of the Scriptures. Several Synods held during his reign (813) at Rheims, Tours, Chalons, Mainz, ordered the clergy to keep a Homiliarium and to translate the Latin sermons clearly into rusticam Romanam linguam aut Theotiscam, so that all might understand them.

Charles aimed at the higher education not only of the clergy, but also of the higher nobility, and state officials. His sons and daughters were well informed. He issued a circular letter to all the bishops and abbots of his empire (787), urging them to establish schools in connection with cathedrals and convents. At a later period he rose even to the grand but premature scheme of popular education, and required in a capitulary (802) that every parent should send his sons to school that they might learn to read. Theodulph of Orleans (who died 821) directed the priests of his diocese to hold school in every town and village,832832    “per villas et vicos.” to receive the pupils with kindness, and not to ask pay, but to receive only voluntary gifts.

The emperor founded the Court or Palace School (Schola Palatina) for higher education and placed it under the direction of Alcuin.833833    A similar school had existed before under the Merovingians, but did not accomplish much. It was an imitation of the Paedagogium ingenuorum of the Roman emperors. It followed him in his changing residence to Aix-la-Chapelle, Worms, Frankfurt, Mainz, Regensburg, Ingelheim, Paris. It was not the beginning of the Paris University, which is of much later date, but the chief nursery of educated clergymen, noblemen and statesmen of that age. It embraced in its course of study all the branches of secular and sacred learning.834834    Comp. Oebeke, De academia Caroli M. Aachen, 1847. Philips, Karl der Gr. im Kreise der Gelehrten. Wien, 1856. It became the model of similar schools, old and new, at Tours, Lyons, Orleans, Rheims, Chartres, Troyes, Old Corbey and New Corbey, Metz, St. Gall, Utrecht, Lüttich.835835    The Histoire litteraire de France, Tom. III., enumerates about twenty episcopal schools in the kingdom of the Franks. The rich literature of the Carolingian age shows the fruits of this imperial patronage and example. It was, however, a foreign rather than a native product. It was neither French nor German, but essentially Latin, and so far artificial. Nor could it be otherwise; for the Latin classics, the Latin Bible, and the Latin fathers were the only accessible sources of learning, and the French and German languages were not yet organs of literature. This fact explains the speedy decay, as well as the subsequent revival in close connection with the Roman church.

The creations of Charlemagne were threatened with utter destruction during the civil wars of his weak successors. But Charles the Bald, a son of Louis the Pious, and king of France (843–877), followed his grandfather in zeal for learning, and gave new lustre to the Palace School at Paris under the direction of John Scotus Erigena, whom he was liberal enough to protect, notwithstanding his eccentricities. The predestinarian controversy, and the first eucharistic controversy took place during his reign, and called forth a great deal of intellectual activity and learning, as shown in the writings of Rabanus Maurus, Hincmar, Remigius, Prudentius, Servatus Lupus, John Scotus Erigena, Paschasius Radbertus, and Ratramnus. We find among these writers the three tendencies, conservative, liberal, and speculative or mystic, which usually characterize periods of intellectual energy and literary productivity.

After the death of Charles the Bald a darker night of ignorance and barbarism settled on Europe than ever before. It lasted till towards the middle of the eleventh century when the Berengar controversy on the eucharist roused the slumbering intellectual energies of the church, and prepared the way for the scholastic philosophy and theology of the twelfth century.

The Carolingian male line lasted in Italy till 875, in Germany till 911, in France till 987.



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