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A Sacred Kingdom

A Sacred Kingdom: bishops and the rise of Frankish kingship, 300-850

  • Book Info
    A Sacred Kingdom
    Book Description:

    Drawing on the records of nearly 100 bishops' councils spanning the centuries, alongside royal law, edicts, and capitularies of the same period, this study details how royal law and the very character of kingship among the Franks were profoundly affected by episcopal traditions of law and social order.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1937-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-20)

    This book is an examination of the interaction between bishops and kings from the Gallic period of the fourth century to the breakup of the Carolingian Empire in about 850. We will see that kings and bishops powerfully influenced one another, and that the character of kingship was transformed in the course of the creation of the Carolingian Empire by the ideas, law, and ritual activities of bishops. Indeed, the building of the Empire and the sense of religious mission that inspired it can, to a significant extent, be attributed to the royal adoption of an episcopal platform. Royal power...

    (pp. 21-51)

    The ensuing chapter comprises an overview of key aspects of episcopal public life, legal activity, and governance. The social stature of bishops and the social doctrine of episcopal councils in Gaul were crafted during the fourth century, a period corresponding to what is customarily termed the Gallican period of episcopal law (314–506 AD). During this period, the political world of Gaul was transformed as the late imperial world of Rome gave way to newly dominant tribal kingdoms, most notably the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Franks, and Burgundians. In the late Roman world, bishops served in the important role of mediating between...

    (pp. 52-84)

    Delicate, ancient patterns of life, thought, and public activity took enduring form in the opalescent, hard shell of law. The meaning and function of ecclesiastical law and the legal authority of bishops were developed in councils of the fourth century and afterward. This chapter offers an approach to the Gallic councils, with their ancient legacy of law and aristocratic activity. The legal activity of bishops of the late Roman Empire contained new elements, but in other regards connected the bishops to ancient structures of law and aristocratic cultural values. The lives of these bishops in the cities of southern imperial...

    (pp. 85-121)

    The previous chapter examined the ways in which aristocratic bishops attempted to raise their social prestige and religious profile in the last decades of the Roman Empire, and the role of conciliar law as an authoritative expression of episcopal social doctrine. Here the story is carried forward into the sixth century and the creation of what are ordinarily termed the “barbarian kingdoms.” Bishops in Gaul sought to craft a Christian ideology relevant to the post-Roman world and to gather religious and ritual resources to confront the disquieting religious diversity (Arianism, paganisms) of the barbarian kingdoms. The figure of the bishop...

    (pp. 122-160)

    In the course of the late sixth and seventh centuries, bishops became functionally and structurally central to the Frankish system. Frankish kingdoms were organized around cities and dioceses governed by bishops, and kings recognized their importance by attempting to control the selection of bishops to important sees. This system served to stabilize an enormous region extending from the foothills of the Pyrenees to the forests along the Rhine. Acting on their position as a cultural aristocracy and serving as ritual leaders of the cult, bishops were increasingly drawn from the Frankish aristocracy and cooperated extensively with the Frankish kings. The...

    (pp. 161-202)

    This chapter offers an interpretation of Frankish liturgy in the Merovingian and early Carolingian period as a poetical and religious achievement coherent with the legal and political activities of bishops. The history of liturgy moves at a glacial pace, with changes of rituals or garments recorded only seldom and subtly over the centuries. Like episcopal law, liturgy also provided a deep connection of the Frankish bishops to the ancient past of the church. Liturgy involved bishops in a unique theatre of rituals and gestures repeated over many centuries. As in episcopal law, emphasis was laid on the duplication of antiquity....

    (pp. 203-242)

    This chapter describes the mobilization of episcopal power and ideology in the Carolingian seizure of power. Episcopal social doctrines embedded in law and liturgy were developed in a missionary theory of power that called for the use of force in pagan regions, especially to the east. The missionary bishop Boniface, and bishops established and influenced by him, shaped a new ideology of royal power based around the theme of a conflict with paganism. Boniface’s mission and the letters recording his activities served as the preamble for ambitious programs of reform. The most highly placed bishops were seemingly aware of the...

    (pp. 243-285)

    The ensuing discussion is a reinterpretation of Carolingian royal ideology in the time of Charlemagne, during the establishment of an imperial church. One of the most widely held views of Carolingian politics is that this royal ideology should be thought of as a “political Augustinianism.” The subtle hesitant political views of Augustine were not suited to the life of an aggressively expanding kingdom.¹ To understand the political culture of the Carolingian world, it is more helpful to observe the continued relevance of episcopal law and social doctrine, with their roots in aristocratic traditions of the Mediterranean shore. The meaning of...

    (pp. 286-327)

    With the reign of Louis the Pious, the religious ideal of kingship and the vision of the Frankish empire as a sacred kingdom reached a radical high point—with ambiguous results, however, in the period of civil wars that clouded the last years of Louis’s rule. The governing elites, both the warrior nobility and the bishops themselves, accepted the hieratic vision of a sacred kingdom and the holy purposes of the Carolingian state, a fact that embittered every conflict. Just as “mirrors of bishops” had long ago devised the model of an ideal bishop, so now “mirrors of princes” were...

  12. 9 THE END OF UNITY: The Abomination of Desolation
    (pp. 328-367)

    In this final chapter, the significance of conciliar law comes to the fore once again. The division of the Carolingian Empire upon the death of Louis the Pious meant the end of its stridently proclaimed and religiously interpreted politico-religious unity. These dramatic changes were reflected, as on a seismometer, in councils that record the development of new, unprecedented lines of political thought. The division of the empire called for the reconceptualization of monarchical government. This chapter includes close readings of little-studied council records, such as Aachen (836) and Yütz-bei-Diedenhofen (844). In these and other documents, we see the problem of...

  13. CONCLUSION: Yoking the Bull
    (pp. 368-376)

    An ancient political question arose for the Carolingians, as it does still today: is it possible to yoke the bull of power? This study has examined the social and political doctrines of bishops from the Gallic Church of the fourth century to the Frankish Church of the mid-ninth century, a period of some five hundred years. In relying on conciliar records I have not tried to write a history of conciliar law, but rather to trace the formation of an intellectual elite within a warrior society, and to describe how this elite built and maintained its power and functionality across...

    (pp. 377-426)