Charlemagne (Charles I, or the Great)
Charlemagne (Charles I, Or The Great),
Emperor of the West, was born at Salzburg, in Bavaria, about 742, and, jointly with his brother Karloman, succeeded his father, Pepin-le-Bref, in 768. Karloman died in 771, and Charles became sole sovereign. By his wars against the Saxons, the Lombards, and the Saracens of Spain, he increased his empire until he was master of the best part of Europe. Pepin had granted the exarchate of Ravenna to the pope and his successors forever. After Pepin's death, Diedrich, the Lombard king, attacked the pope (Adrian I), who applied to Charlemagne for aid. He crossed the Alps (A.D. 774) with a formidable army, and terminated the contest between the bishops of Rome and the kings of Lombardy forever. The exarchate of Ravenna was overthrown, its vanquished prince was sent into France, and Charlemagne proclaimed himself king of the Lombards. The conqueror visited Rome, where it is said he not only confirmed the grants which Pepin had made to its bishops, but added to them new donations. By these acts he opened a way to the attainment of an object which Pepin had contemplated, but was unable to accomplish — he was enabled to gain the authority as well as to assume the title of Emperor of the West. In A.D. 800 he visited Rome, where Pope Leo III crowned him Emperor of the West, with the title of Carolus I, Caesar Augustus. "Although this added nothing directly to his power, yet it greatly confirmed and increased the respect entertained for him, such was still the luster of a title with which were associated recollections of all the greatness of the Roman empire. Nicephorus I, emperor of Constantinople, also acknowledged him, and between them they fixed the limits of the Eastern and Western empires. A profound statesman and legislator, as well as a successful conqueror, he then devoted the remainder of his life to the internal improvement of his vast empire, and to the fortification of its frontiers against the invasions of the Normans and Danes. In 813 he named his third son, Louis (Louis le Débonnaire), his colleague in the empire, and died at Aix-la-Chapelle January 28, 814. "His last days, after the coronation of his son Louis, were occupied in correcting the text of the four Evangelists, in which he was assisted by Greeks and Syrians. Charlemagne had long shown a great zeal for religion; he never failed, while his health permitted, to attend divine service daily, morning and evening. He took great care that the service should be conducted with decorum and propriety, supplied his chapels with abundance of vestments and ornaments, and, being perfectly instructed in the best manner of reading and singing, he corrected the mode of performing both; but he himself never read publicly in church, but contented himself with singing in a low tone and with others. His alms were not only liberally bestowed in his own dominions, but on all the poor and distressed Christians in Syria, Egypt, Africa, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Carthage; and he cultivated the friendship of unbelieving princes with a view to assuage the sufferings of the Christians under their dominion" (Palmer, Church History, ch. 15).
Charlemagne was throughout his reign the champion of Christianity. He never rested until the Saxons were not only subjected, but baptized, if not Christianized; his war against the Lombards, whose kingdom he finally annexed, was originally commenced at the instance of the pope, whose power was menaced by the inroads of these barbarians. It cannot be denied, however, that Charlemagne propagated Christianity by the use of "carnal weapons." His "wholesale and indiscriminate mode of administering baptism on the conclusion of his campaigns drew forth the indignant expostulations of Alcuin and men of a kindred spirit" (Mac Lear, Missions in the Mid. Ages, p. 449). "He did not confine his benefactions to the bishop of Rome, but distributed them among all the orders of the hierarchy. He augmented their wealth, he enlarged their privileges, he exalted their dignity, he confirmed and extended their immunities. But the motives of his liberality were such as became a magnanimous and a benevolent monarch. Superstition has never been accounted among them, nor any unfounded fears or undue reverence of the ecclesiastical order; from the former he was perhaps more nearly exempt than would have appeared possible in so rude an age; and in his transactions with the clergy, even with the pope himself, he never forgot, or allowed them to forget, his own supremacy. But he was desirous to civilize his barbarous subjects; he was anxious to influence their rude manners, and correct their vicious morals, by the more general diffusion and comprehension of the Christian truths; and he was willing also to sow the seeds of secular learning, and dispel the ignorance which oppressed his people" (Waddington, Church History, ch. 5.). As a statesman he favored the Church because he considered it a school for the improvement of his people, and, while adding to the temporal power of the Church, was careful not to render it independent. He decided against image-worship, and in his Libri Carolimzi (A.D. 790, Elias Philyra, 1549; Heumann, Han. 1731), he set forth (in opposition to the decision of the second Synod of Nicaea of A.D. 787), that "God could be worshipped only in spirit," and his opinions were indorsed by the Synods of Frankfort (794) and of Paris (825), censuring Adrian's treatise in favor of image-worship. But, while Charlemagne condemned image-worship as idolatry, the Caroline books approve of the crucifix, and of reverence to the relics of saints, etc. — Hase, Ch. History (N. Y. ed.), p. 178; Chambers, Encyclopaedia, s.v. Herzog, Real-Encyklopädie, 7:379 sq.; Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. 49; Neander, Church History, 3:235 sq.; Studien u. Kritiken, 1855, Heft 2; Dippold Leben Kaiser Karl des Grossen (Tüb. 1810); Gaillard, Hist. de Charlemagne (Par. 1819, 2d ed. 4 vols.); Abel, Jahrbücher des frank. Reiches unter Karl dem Grossen (Berlin, 1866, vol. 1). SEE CAROLINE BOOKS.