Louis I

Louis I

(German Ludwiq, Latin Ludovicus), called "Le Debonnaire," and also "the Pious," youngest son of Charlemagne, was born at Casseneuil A.D. 778. The great empire of the West had just been recreated by the heroic efforts of Charles, therefore honored with the title of "the Great;" but it was not absolutely the love of war and conquest, and the honor of his name, that had actuated Charles; he rather sought to accomplish what the great Ostrogoth Theodoric (q.v.) had contemplated, but failed to effect, viz., the unions of the Christian Germanic nations into one empire. Charlemagne, it must be remembered, was eminently "a champion of the Church," and, believing that the conversion of the Saxons and other Germanic tribes could be accomplished only by their subjection, he came to dream of a union of them all under one imperial head, and gratefully he accepted the result in his own coronation as "Charles Augustus" by pope Leo III, A.D. 800. SEE CHARLEMAGNE. But Charlemagne still believed in the independence of the imperial crown from the papal chair, and manifestly evinced this by one of his latest acts. As early as 806 he had made provision for his successors by apportioning to his three sons different parts of his possessions. To Pepin he gave Italy, to Louis, Aquitaine, and to Charles the remainder, consisting chiefly of German countries; but when, by the decease of two of these, he saw that upon Louis only would center all the responsibility of an imperial crown, he called him to his side in 813, when feeling his own end approaching, and at Aix-la-Chapelle, on a Sunday, when in the cathedral together, caused Louis to place the golden crown upon his head, and, thus crowned, presented his son as the future king of all the Franks, without first awaiting the anointment of the pope. Not so independent was our Louis, who, in the year following the event just recorded, by the death of Charlemagne, became sole emperor of the West and king of France. Thus far the race of the Carlovingians had produced consecutively four great men — a rare occurrence in history. With Louis I opened a new aera; for, though his personal appearance was by no means insignificant, being of a prepossessing countenance and of a strong frame, and so well practiced in archery and the wielding of the lance that none about him equaled him, "he was weak in mind and will, and his surname 'the Pious' implies not only that he was religious, but principally that he was so easy tempered that it required much to displease him." Or, as Milman puts it: "In his gentler and less resolute character religion wrought with an abasing and enfeebling rather than ennobling influence" (Latin Christianity, 2:514). A ruler of this description was not likely to hold in union the vast empire of Charlemagne. His first troubles arose with Bernard, son of Pepin, whom Charlemagne, on the decease of his eldest son, had made king of the Italian possessions. Bernard's ambition soared higher. He was not content with Italy; he desired the mastery over the whole of the imperial lands, and ungratefully conspired against his uncle. He was unsuccessful, however; was seized by the imperial troops, and condemned to death. Louis was determined to mitigate the lot of Bernard, but state interests compelled him to inflict the severe punishment of depriving his nephew of eyesight, which was the cause shortly after, no doubt, of his death. This conspiracy, as well as sundry the occurrences, made Louis feel the necessity of provisions for the succession, and, finally deciding in favor of the principle of primogeniture, his son Lothaire was appointed successor. Besides Lothaire, Louis had two sons, Pepin and Louis. To the former of these two he gave Aquitania; to the latter Bavaria, Bohemia, and Carinthia. Unfortunately, however, for the peace of the family, Louis lost his faithful companion, the mother of these children, shortly after this partition of his possessions, and, marrying a second wife, became the father of a fourth son, Charles, whose mother, Judith, conspired in his behalf for a portion of the imperial crown. This resulted in 830 in a revolt of Lothaire against his father, on the plea of the bad conduct of the step-mother. At a diet, however, which was held at Aix-la- Chapelle, the father and son were reconciled. Not so happily ended a second revolt in 833, when Louis, forsaken by his followers, was obliged to give himself up to his son Lothaire, who took him as prisoner to Soissons, sent the empress Judith to Tortona, and confined her infant son Charles, afterwards Charles the Bald, the object of the jealousy of his half- brothers, in a monastery. A meeting of bishops was held at Compiegne, at which the archbishop of Rheims presided, and the unfortunate Louis, being arraigned before it, was found guilty of the murder of his nephew Bernard, and of sundry other offenses. He was deposed, condemned to do public penance in sackcloth, and was kept in confinement. This misusage of the emperor enraged the youngest son, Louis of Bavaria (840-876), "an energetic prince, of lofty stature and noble figure, with a fiery eye and a penetrating mind," and, after securing the assistance of his other brother, Pepin, in the following year, he obliged Lothaire to deliver up their father, who, after having been formally absolved by the bishops, was reinstated eon the imperial throne. Not made wiser by past experience, Louis, listening to the selfish counsel of his wife, Judith, now assigned to his fourth son, Charles, the kingdom of Neustria, or Eastern France, including Paris, and, after Pepin's death, Aquitania also. Lothaire possessed all Italy, with Provence, Lyons, Suabia, Austrasia, and Saxony. But Louis of Bavaria, who had done most for his father, was favored least, and therefore set up his claim for all Germany as far as the Rhine, and being refused, determined to make war against his father, and invaded Suabia. The emperor Louis marched against him, and also assembled a diet at Worms to judge his rebellious son. Meantime, however, the emperor fell ill, and died on an island of the Rhine near Mentz, in June 840, after sending to his son Lothaire the imperial crown, his sword, and his scepter. Of what account this last act of Louis was may be inferred from the partition of the dominion. Lothaire, as emperor, held Italy, Provence, Burgundy, and Lorraine. Charles the Bald succeeded his father as king of France, and Louis of Bavaria retained all Germany. Thus ends the history of this man, whose life, notwithstanding his kind disposition, was "one continued scene of trouble and affliction, because he knew not how to govern his own house, much less his empire." Of a prince so feeble and dependent as Louis proved himself in the affairs of state, we cannot, of course, expect the same vigor and determination towards the papacy that characterized the reign of Charlemagne, and it may be safely said that with the death of the latter a new aera opens in the history of the Latin Church. Charlemagne had proved an earnest supporter of the Church and the papacy, but he had known how to oppose their pretensions. Not so Louis. His feebleness and incapacity to govern gave rise to many abuses, or gave new life to such as had before been successfully repressed. The whole reign of Louis, indeed, abounded in political disorders. "Distraction and weakness," says Neander (Ch. Hist. 3:301), "gave many opportunities for the Church to interfere in the political strifes," and for it the Church had been anxiously but patiently in waiting. With the coronation of Charlemagne the pope of Rome had transferred his allegiance from the East to the West, and thus, by his action, had not only conferred a most doubtful title on Charlemagne, but secured at the same time a political ascendency of the papacy. Under Charlemagne, however, the thunders of the Church were controlled by the emperor; but in Louis "the Pious" was found a willing slave, and with rapid strides the Romish Church marched onward to establish its superiority over the empire. See PAPACY. What Louis would do for the Church was clearly seen in his submissive acts — the master of Europe in 822 a penitent before the prelates assembled at the Council of Attigny. Here the triumphs of the spiritual power, under the auspices of a rapid progress towards domination, were plainly foreshadowed. The hierarchy failed not to discover the hour of Louis's weakness, and day by day new laws were proposed and enacted, the ecclesiastical fabric enlarged and strengthened, the power of the secular authority enfeebled and abrogated. Prominent among the ecclesiastics who influenced the king to favor the Church and her institutions was Wala, abbot of Corbie. What Wala (q.v.) advised was worthy of adoption, and he had no sooner made his proposals than they became law. Thus the granting of monasteries to laymen, and grants of Church property at pleasure to the vassals of the crown without consent of the bishops, were abrogated, virtually making the bishops co-legislators; and by 829 the ecclesiastic royal counselor hesitated not to declare that "everything depended on keeping the line of demarcation clearly drawn between the ecclesiastical and the civil province, the king and the bishops concerning themselves only about the affairs which belonged to their respective callings." Unfortunately, however, the concessions which the king was daily making to the clergy gave to the bishops much of the business strictly belonging to the secular authority, and "the scope and the danger of the authority thus successively conferred upon the Church were most impressively manifested when Louis was deposed by his sons (in 833),... and Lothaire determined to render impossible the restoration of his father to the throne... . The people had been invited by Louis himself, eleven years before, at Attigny, to see the bishops sit in judgment on their monarch; and the decretals (q.v.) of Siricius and Leo I, forbidding secular employment and the bearing of arms by any one who had undergone public penance, were not so entirely forgotten but that they might be revived. Accordingly, when Lothaire returned to France, dragging his captive father in his train, he halted at Compiegne, and summoned a council of his prelates to accomplish the work from which his savage nobles shrunk. With unfaltering willingness they undertook the odious task, declaring their competency through the power to bind and to loose conferred upon their order as the vicars of Christ and the turnkeys of heaven. They held the wretched prisoner accountable for all the evils which the empire had suffered since the death of Charlemagne, and summoned him at least to save his soul by prompt confession and penitence, now that his earthly dignity was lost beyond redemption.... With that overflowing hypocritical unction which is the most disgusting exhibition of clerical craft, the bishops labored with him for his own salvation, until, overcome by their eloquent exhortations, he threw himself at their feet, begged the pardon of his sons, and implored their prayers in his behalf, and eagerly demanded the imposition of such penance as would merit absolution. The request was not denied. In the church of St. Mary, before the tombs of the holy St. Medard and St. Sebastian, the discrowned monarch was brought into the presence of his son and surrounded by a gaping crowd. There he threw himself upon a sackcloth, and four times confessed his sins with abundant tears, accusing himself of offending God, scandalizing the Church, and bringing destruction upon his people, for the expiation of which he demanded penance and absolution by the imposition of those holy hands to which had been confided the power to bind and to loose. Then, handing his written confession to the bishops, he took off sword and belt, and laid them at the foot of the altar, where his confession had already been placed. Throwing off his secular garments, he put on the white robe of the penitent, and accepted from his ghostly advisers a penance which should inhibit him during life from again bearing arms. The world, however, was not as yet quite prepared for this spectacle of priestly arrogance and royal degradation. The disgust which it excited hastened a counter-revolution; and when Louis was restored to the throne, Ebbo of Rheims and St. Agobard of Lyons, the leaders in the solemn pantomime, were promptly punished and degraded. Yet the piety of Louis held that the very sentence for the imposition of which they incurred the penalty was valid until abrogated by equal authority, and accordingly he caused himself to be formally reconciled to the Church before the altar of St. Denis, and abstained from resuming his sword until it was again belted on him by the hand of a bishop" (Lea, Studies in Ch. Hist. page 319-321). "These melancholy scenes," says Milman (Lat. Christianity, book 5, chapter 2), "concern Christian history no further than as displaying the growing power of the clergy, the religion of Louis gradually quailing into abject superstition, the strange fusion and incorporation of civil and ecclesiastical affairs." For six years more Louis the Pious swayed the scepter of the Carlovingian empire, but he did it without power — a tool in the hands of contending factions, which at his death took up arms in open warfare, and continued their contest until Lothaire had been defeated on the field of Fontenay, and peace restored by the division of the empire at Verdun. But what is most eventful about these transactions in the life and reign of Louis the Pious, and leads us to assign them such prominence here, is the part which the clergy played ill arranging, conducting, and accomplishing them, and thus bringing them under the sanction of religion. This circumstance alone is enough to show how the power of the Church was growing. But there was another and more important circumstance that still more clearly indicates it. Stephen IV had died, and a successor had been chosen who assumed the responsibility of the papal chair as Paschal I. Instead of waiting for his confirmation by Louis, he took immediate possession of the high dignity conferred upon him by the Church, and thus inaugurated the principle of independence of the pope from the emperor. It is true a deprecatory epistle was prudently dispatched from Rome, but the same liberty was taken by his successor Eugenius II, who contented himself with sending a legate to apprise the emperor of his accession, instead of awaiting the imperial sanction to the election; and though the Romans were afterwards obliged to bind themselves by oath never to consent to the installation of a pope elect until the sanction of the emperor had reached Rome, the effort was unavailing. Events were hurrying on destined to render all such measures futile, and to accomplish the revolution of European institutions, resulting in the power of the priesthood and the irresponsible autocracy of the pope (comp. Lea, Studies in Ch. Hist. pages 38-42).

In the question of image-worship alone, perhaps, it can be said that Louis played an independent part. It was under his commission that Claudius of Turin labored in the interests of iconoclasm, and it was by his influence, also, that Eugenius II was forced to amity towards the Eastern advocates of iconoclasm. Compare Milman, Latin Christianity, book 5, chapter 2, A.D. 839, and the articles SEE CLAUDIUS; SEE CLEMENS; SEE ICONOCLASM.

The most celebrated acts in the life of Louis worthy of special record in our work are his efforts to advance the Christian religion by the foundation of two religious institutions, viz., the monastery of Corvey and the archbishopric of Hamburg. The former he built for laborers among the Saxon colony he had caused to settle on the Weser, and it speedily became not only a religious center, but the best school for education in that country. The latter furthered the missionary cause among the northern nations, especially among the Juts, SEE JUTLAND, by the zealous labors of Anschar, SEE ANSCHAR, generally known as the "Apostle of the North" (compare Maclear, Hist. of Christian Missions in the Middle Ages, chapter 11). The kind treatment which Louis afforded to the Jews deserves particular mention. He took them under his especial protection, and suffered neither nobles nor clergy to do them harm. In this respect he simply carried out the policy of his father, but he certainly improved their condition during his reign (comp. Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, 5, chapter 8; and our article JEWS, volume 4, page 908, col. 2). See Funck, Ludwigs der Fromme (Frkf.-a.-M. 1832); Himly, Wala et Louis le Debonnaire (Par. 1849); Milman, Hist. of Lat. Christianity (N.Y. 1864, 8 volumes, 12mo), 2, book 4, chapter 12; Neander, Ch. Hist. 3:351 sq.; Reichel, Roman See in the Middle Ages, chapter 4; Lea, Studies in Ch. hist. (see Index); Kohlrausch, Hist. of Germany, chapters 5 and 6; Baxmann, Politik der Papste, 1 (see Index). (J.H.W.)

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