“We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of His providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God ‘face to face’, will we fully know the ways by which – even through the dramas of evil and sin – God has guided His creation to that definitive Sabbath rest for which He created heaven and earth.” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #314)
800 AD The Coronation of Charlemagne, Father of Christendom
The Merovingians didn’t live up to the kingship of Clovis in the centuries following his death in 511. In time the Merovingian kings were referred to us “the do-nothing kings” because of their laziness and incompetence. One of the kings had the idea of entrusting a mayor of the palace to run the affairs of the state thereby giving the kings more time to do nothing.
The mayors of the palace ruled the Frankish state; their lineage can be traced back to two brothers from the clan of the Arnulfings. One of the brothers, Arnulf, became a saint. It is from him that one of the greatest dynasties in Christendom was founded: the Carolingians.
Among the most notable mayors was Pepin II who was a great military leader. He served from 680 – 714. Not only did he fend off invading tribes, he also encouraged missionary work among his people. He invited St. Wilibrod from England who converted pagans in the lands newly conquered by Pepin II: Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and parts of Germany. St. Wilibrod established schools and monasteries.
When Pepin II died, his son, Charles, in Latin Carolus (hence the name Carolingian) succeeded him. Like his father before him, he relied on missionaries to convert and tame the people he conquered. He invited another missionary from England, St. Boniface, an apologist and evangelist who was “astute and intelligent, as well as charitable.” He built monasteries where the monks cultivated the land, taught the peasants farming techniques and converted them. The monks served as “teachers, doctors and advisors to all.”
Charles’ greatest challenge came from attempted Muslim invasions. The Arabs had conquered Spain, repeatedly raided Italy and threatened the southern coasts of Europe.
Once most of Spain fell to the Muslims, they moved across the Pyrenees into Aquitaine. At the Battle of Tours in 732, the Franks employed the military tactic of taking a stand instead of attacking. It was late October and a Spanish writer, “Pseudo-Isodore” described the Muslims as “breaking against a ‘wall of ice’.”This decisive battle discouraged the defeated the Moors from continuing their assaults into Paris. Thereafter, Charles became known as Charles “Martel” or “The Hammer.”
Charles the Hammer died in 741. He left the territory he controlled to his two sons. One son quickly abdicated and entered a monastery so the territory was now under the rule of his other son, Pepin the Short.
Pepin the Short was unique among Frankish rulers who saw the lands they governed as their own possessions. He had been educated by Catholic monks and his thinking was along these lines: “to us the Lord hath entrusted the care of government.” Pepin moved away from the concept of tribal chiefs and moved toward a Catholic monarchy where man acted as steward of the government bestowed by God.
In 768, the last Merovingian king was sent to a monastery where he died a year later. Pepin the Short was anointed by St. Boniface and became King Pepin.
Pepin defended and built up both the Church and the state. He cracked down on corruption among the clergy and sent help to Rome when the Lombards attempted an invasion. He established the beginning of the Vatican City States and by 759, he had wiped out the last of the Muslim invaders in the Mediterranean.
Upon Pepin’s death in 768, the kingdom went to his two sons, Carloman and Charles. When Carloman died three years later, Charles became the sole ruler of the kingdom. Charles’ “keen intelligence, military talent, piety, energy and devotion to the Church make him one of the greatest Western rulers of all time.”
Charles the Great, or Charlemagne as he was known, had many notable accomplishments:
- he led sixty military campaigns
- he defended the Papacy
- under his rule, the various parts of the Frankish lands were united into an empire
- he developed a government structure that kept the law codes of the different people he governed but he added important legal principles into them. He had the laws transcribed and included Christian principles into them.
- he expressed “concern at reports of immorality in monasteries – particularly the ‘most pernicious rumour’ that ‘some of the monks [were] understood to be sodomites”. He penalized those who were found guilty.
- in order to know what was going on in the empire, he appointed trusted men throughout
- Charlemagne daily attended Mass and vespers and”cared greatly for the welfare of the Church, the purity of clerical morals…and the education of the clergy”
- he believed that the future of the Church was dependent upon education of the clergy. His order to improve monks’ education was the beginning of the Carolingian Renaissance.
- Alcuin of York, an English scholar, became the architect of the Carolingian Renaissance. He set up a new school in the palace at Aechen. It was his job to revive classical culture and heritage that had been buried during the centuries of barbarian invasion.
- he set up schools all over the empire for the education of boys and girls
- he provided religious education for all the people
- lower case letters as well as spaces between words were introduced. Before this time, all letters were capitalized and there were no spaces between words.
- books were bound and illustrated; poems, elegant letters and other forms of literature were composed. This was a time of western cultural revival.
Charles reigned over a land that was almost the size of the Western Roman Empire. Many people felt that he should be made emperor. On Christmas Day, 800, Pope Leo crowned him Emperor Charlemagne. With this act, most of the European continent was united under one ruler supported by the Church and the spiritual and temporal needs of Christians would be addressed.
And so Western Christendom was born with cooperation from Church and state. It was composed of “three elements: Christianity, classical culture and the traditions of the people of Europe.”
Crucial to the development of Western Christendom was the Catholic Church. It was the monks who taught farming techniques to give people the knowledge and motivation needed to rise out of their poverty. With their hunger appeased and poverty eliminated, they could be catechized and educated. The monks revived learning and the arts so that culture would flourish and government could function. Thus, with the work of the Church, people were brought out of ignorance and hunger and brought into the Truth.