3 - Mitred Lords and Crowned Ikons (450-1054)
On 23 December, in the year 800, a lengthy meeting took place in the Secret Council Chamber of the Lateran Palace in Rome. Among those present were Charlemagne, the Frankish leader, the Pope, Leo HI, Frankish, Lombard and Roman ecclesiastics and generals, and two French monks from Tours, Witto and Fridugis, who represented their abbot, the Yorkshireman Alcuin. There were two points at issue. First, should the Pope, who had been bitterly criticized, accused of a variety of crimes and vices, and very nearly assassinated by his enemies, be allowed to continue in office? And second, should western Christianity continue to recognize the imperial over lordship of the emperor in Constantinople? On the first matter, Pope Leo humiliated himself in front of Charles the Frank, swore a series of oaths that he was guiltless of the accusations against him, and was finally allowed to have 'justified himself.
The second item on the agenda was more momentous. Since the disappearance of the last 'western' emperor in 478, the Christian West had acknowledged the emperor in Constantinople as the sole international authority. But his power, if legitimate, was in practice now virtually nonexistent west of the Adriatic. Italy, Gaul and Germany, and Rome itself, were in the possession of the Frankish armies. Was it not an axiom of common sense, as well as a proposition endorsed repeatedly by the Scriptures, that a sovereign should rule as well as reign? Was not the great Charles the effective master of the West? And then, the throne in Constantinople was vacant. Three years before, its tenant had been arrested by his ferocious mother and blinded, and had died of his wounds. Not everyone recognized the 'empress'; certainly not the Franks, whose own ancient system of laws forbade an inheritance passing to a woman if there were male claimants. There was, therefore, a strong case for Charles to be accorded some form of imperial dignity. He was undoubtedly the greatest monarch in the West, perhaps in the entire world. As Abbot Alcuin, who was in effect his chief adviser, had pointed out, the English had evolved a system under which the most powerful and successful of their many kings was given the title of bretwalda, and exacted homage and obedience from the others. This argument, which presented the imperial idea in Germanic terms which Charles could grasp, was again put forward by Alcuin's two delegates at the council. And it appears to have proved conclusive. Charles agreed to become western emperor, and ceremonies of homage seem to have been carried out on that day.
Two days later, in the great basilica of St Peter's, Charles and his generals celebrated Christmas, and the Pope insisted on performing a Roman ritual under which he placed a crown on Charles's head, and then prostrated himself in an act of emperor-worship, the crowd of Romans present calling out a monotonous series of ritual acclamations. Charles was taken aback by this weird, eastern enactment, which was completely alien to anyone coming from north of the Alps, with a Germanic background. And it seemed suspicious to him that the crown, which he had won by his own achievements, should be presented to him by the Bishop of Rome, as though it were in his gift. Charles said afterwards that, if he had known what was to happen, he would have refused to attend mass in St Peter's that day. When he appointed his own eldest son the successor-emperor some years later, he insisted on placing the crown himself. The disagreement on the coronation ceremony reflected ambiguities about its precise significance which were to echo through European history for centuries. And historians still argue about how exactly the coronation of Charlemagne came about, and what it meant to those concerned. What cannot be denied is
that it was one of the key events in the evolution of western society and Christian civilization. Let us now trace the long series of interconnected events which led to it, and its vast and ramifying consequences.
Between the death of Augustine in embattled Hippo and the coronation of Charlemagne there is an interval of nearly four centuries. These are the formative centuries in the history of medieval Europe and also of the Christian Church as a world-society. The conversion of Constantine had aligned the Roman empire with the Christian Church in a working partnership. But the empire, as the earlier institution, had changed the less of the two; in some ways it had barely changed at all - it had replaced one State religion by another. The Church, by contrast, had changed a great deal. It had adapted itself to its State and imperial function; it had assumed worldly ways and attitudes, and accepted a range of secular responsibilities; and in the emperor it had acquired a protector and governor whom it might influence but could not directly control.
Hence the Church, by marrying the imperial Roman State, was necessarily influenced by changes which overcame that State in the fifth and sixth centuries. In effect the empire split into two. In the East, the government succeeded in maintaining a trading system and a strong gold-based currency; hence it could afford to pay regular armies, and so maintained its frontiers. The process of integration of Church and State, begun by Constantine, continued until the two became inseparable: the Byzantine empire became, in effect, a form of theocracy, with the emperor performing priestly and semi-divine functions, and the Orthodox Church constituting a department of State in charge of spiritual affairs. This conjunction endured for a thousand years, until the remains of the empire were overrun by the Ottoman Turks in the mid fifteenth century.
The western sector of the empire, after the closing decades of the fourth century, lacked a coordinated economic system which could be policed, and so taxed, by a central government. Unable to collect taxes, the authorities could not maintain a currency and pay the legions. There was, in effect, a vacuum of government. After 476, no further western emperors were elected; and except for a period in the mid sixth century, when Constantinople succeeded in reestablishing its authority in Italy, Spain and North Africa, the old imperial system of government was inoperative in the West. Byzantium had a powerful navy. Until the Arab-Moslem conquests of the late seventh century, the Byzantine empire had naval superiority throughout the Mediterranean, when it chose to exert it. This meant it controlled the Adriatic, and from Ravenna on the east coast of Italy it maintained a residual connection with the West. The Pope, as Bishop of Rome, ruled what was a duchy of the empire, and paid taxes accordingly. The West as a whole became an area of tribal settlement, in which semi-barbarous kingdoms existed behind fluctuating frontiers. In these circumstances, the western Church found itself the residual legatee of Roman culture and civilization, and the only channel by which it could be transmitted to the new societies and institutions of Europe. It thus faced a greater challenge and opportunity than at the time of Constantine's conversion. It had the chance to recreate the secular framework of society ab initio, and in its own Christian image. It was the only organized international body left with ideas, theories, a sophisticated hierarchy and advanced cultural technologies, in an empty world which possessed little but tribalism. Moreover, the Church, in the writings of St Augustine, possessed an outline - albeit a pessimistic one -of how a Christianized, earthly society should work.
During these four centuries, then, the Church acted as a 'carrier' of civilization rather as, in its formative period, the Hellenistic religious-culture machine had 'carried' Christian Judaism into a Roman, Universalist context. The great merit of the Latin Church - the chief reason for its success - was that it was not anchored in any particular racial, geographical, social or political context. It bore the marks of its development but it was still genuinely Universalist, the church of St Paul: 'all things to all men'. It is important, however, to appreciate the elements of continuity, as well as those of discontinuity, between the Roman world of St Augustine, and the Christian-barbarian world which succeeded it.
The great tribal confederations did not so much break up the western empire as occupy an area which had already lost its unifying institutional force. There was no sudden catastrophe; indeed, no series of catastrophes. The process was economic, rather than military and political. Skilled tribal tradesmen - carpenters, gardeners, smiths and so forth - had been emigrating into the empire for centuries, in search of money-wages, or higher wages. And they had joined the Roman army, as individuals and as units. This movement of peoples was accepted, even institutionalized. It seems to have increased in the fifth century, and taken on some of the aspects of a tribal migration into settled Roman territory. But those involved had had long contact with Roman civilization. Some of their leaders were Roman allies. Most of them were Christians in the sense that they were Arians; for the great Christian missionary Ulfilas, a Goth who had carried the new faith back to his people in the middle of the fourth century, had been an Arian. Both the Vandals, who settled in North Africa, and the various Gothic tribal groupings - Visigoths in Spain and southern Gaul, Ostrogoths in Italy - were Arians. This fact quickly became the chief differentiation between the 'barbarians' and the Romans, who accepted the Trinitarian doctrine worked out by Augustine.
The tribesmen were also hungry Arians. Most of them were after food rather than booty. There was no food in Rome when Alaric took it in 410: most of the surplus food supplies came from North Africa. Where the tribes could buy or obtain food peacefully they seldom resorted to violence. Equally, they were anxious to get land. In Gaul, for instance, a number of Gallo Roman landowners moved out; but in some cases they were paid for their property, and the deeds were transferred in a regular manner. The total number of tribesmen moving in was comparatively small, and in general they took over existing tenurial complexities. Thus, Gothic place names in southern Gaul are personal rather than topographical, indicating a high degree of cultural continuity. Indeed, the settlers accepted the local languages: the basic distinctions between French, Italian and Spanish had already begun to emerge long before the 'era of the barbarians'. Gothic and Vandal tribesmen were unable and probably unwilling to resist the drift towards Romanization; Latin or romance languages became the mother-tongue for second and succeeding generations.
Hence the environment in which the Church now found itself was not, on the whole, hostile. The Arians did not as a rule persecute; they were tolerant to orthodox Christians, as well as to the Jews and other sects. Between the Church and the 'barbarians' there was a certain rapport. In many cases, the Romanized towns may have regarded the Goths as saviours from the exactions of imperial tax-collectors based on Ravenna; and the Goths respected many aspects of Roman civilization. In the cities and towns the bishops provided the natural element of stability and local leadership. They were identified with conservation of the worthwhile past, continuity in administration, and the Roman tradition of peace and order. These were attractive characteristics in Gothic eyes too. Of course there was some fighting; a number of Catholic Roman cities were even destroyed: Aquileia was one tragic example. But most survived, with the Catholic bishop as their chief inhabitant and decision-maker. He organized the defences, ran the market economy, presided over justice, negotiated with other cities and rulers.
Who were these bishops? They were, of course, chiefly members of the old Roman ruling class. Aristocratic, landowning and official Roman families had been infiltrating the upper echelons of the church since the fourth century -perhaps even before. The movement accelerated in the fifth century: the sub-Roman or post-Roman episcopate in Italy and Gaul was essentially upper-class. Thus Augustine's friend. Paulinus, came from a rich Bordeaux family; he had been a consul, then Governor of Campania at the age of twenty-five; he sold his patrimony in Aquitania and later became Bishop of Nola, playing a leading role in resisting Alaric. Another example was Eucherius. consecrated Bishop of Lyons in 434; he had been a senator. Again, Sidonius Apollinaris, Bishop of Clermont from 470, was rich, a large landowner, the son-in-law of an emperor, a man who had been a city prefect and President of the Senate. By means of the episcopate, the Roman world projected into its barbarian successor elements of administrative continuity, and a rallying force which kept part of the city-civilization together. In some cases, the bishops organized 'civilized' resistance against the 'invaders'. Far more often, however, they negotiated with them; and in time came to act as their advisers.
The Arians, at any rate among the Goths and Vandals, were never able to develop an episcopate of comparable prestige and resolution. This was one reason why orthodox Christianity in the West was eventually able to de-Arianize the tribes, a process which began in the fifth century and continued for the next two hundred years. Almost simultaneously, orthodox Christianity began to penetrate the wholly pagan tribes further north - the Franks in north France, the Burgundians in eastern France. The Christianization of the Franks dates from the opening decades of the sixth century, at a time when the Goths were still largely Arian. The monarchical bishop, loosely tied to an international system which gave authority, but able to act with decision and flexibility within the clearly defined area of his jurisdiction, an impressive, quasi-imperial official who conducted himself with much pomp and who spanned the spiritual and secular worlds, was the ideal institution for this transition of cultures and societies.
Thus the Church saved the cities or, rather, those which remained or became bishoprics. This was particularly true of cities which were also, in accordance with Roman practice, tribal centres. Over a huge area of western Europe, the functioning of the episcopate ensured urban continuity. Often the change in the sitting of the episcopal residence was the factor which determined the growth of a town, or its decline or eclipse (this was how Maastricht and Liege were created). City and town cathedrals were at this time, and for long after, virtually the only churches in the diocese. The bishop was the first, and almost always the most influential, magistrate of the city. Only he carried out ceremonies of baptism: early baptistries were always in cathedrals. Cathedrals also possessed relics, which acted as magnets. In the West, the fashion for pilgrimages began in the Merovingian age, in the early sixth century, and it tended dramatically to increase the importance of episcopal towns, as cult-objects or stages. It was the rule for fifth- and sixth-century cathedrals to be built on the ramparts of towns, usually as an integral
part of the fortifications.
The bishops certainly had a great deal to do with the local militia, and often commanded it; in fact in some towns Angers is one example the bishop was officially listed as defensor civitatis. Where a Christian cult became associated with a particular town, the likelihood was that the town would expand. Christian 'villages' grew up around the tombs of 'saints' buried on the outskirts, beyond the original walls. Soon monasteries were built. The two groupings became the nucleus of 'burgs', which led to a progressive expansion of the towns, and the building of new enclosing walls. This happened at Paris, Tours, Reims, Metz, Rouen, Le Mans, Poitiers, Chalons and many other places. In some cases, monasteries themselves became the isolated nucleus of a new urban centre. In a variety of ways, the episcopate preserved and strengthened the towns, which in turn enhanced the power and influence of the episcopate and thus of the religion of which it formed the vertebrae.
The greatest of the bishops, of course, was the Bishop of Rome. Rome was also the greatest of cities. In the early fifth century it had eight bridges over the Tiber, fourteen aqueducts, 4,000 statues, 1,797 private palaces, 46,602 insulae or apartment blocks, and twenty-four churches. It had more than a score of fine public libraries, as well as dozens of private ones. This great city, though in economic decline, survived the disappearance of central Roman administration without disaster. There was no 'sack' by the barbarians. The late fifth-century poet Rutilius Namatianus, addressed the Romans: 'What was once a world, you have left one city.' It was still intact in his day, as it was around 500, when the African monk Fulgentius, later Bishop of Ruspe, visited it and wrote: 'How wonderful must be the heavenly Jerusalem if this earthly city can survive so greatly.' The damage to the structure of Rome occurred in the mid sixth century, when it was repeatedly besieged and plundered during the attempts of the Emperor Justinian to re-attach Italy to the Byzantine empire. The ruin of the ancient buildings was completed in 664, when the Emperor Constans II made the last imperial visit: he stripped it not only of its remaining metal statues, but of the metal parts of the buildings, bronze and lead tiles and roofs, which kept out the rain, and the metal clamps and ties which held the massive walls together - all these were pulled out to be melted down into armaments. The destruction of classical Rome was the act of the Byzantines, not the barbarians. Nevertheless, it was delayed sufficiently for Rome to survive into the new era, and establish itself as the leading Christian city, the cynosure of the western, Latin world.
Thus if, in a general sense, we find the Christian bishops bridging the gap between the Roman world and the emerging world of the Dark Ages, there was a particular role for the Bishop of Rome. It was, for instance, Leo I who negotiated with Attila in 452, and arranged his retreat into central Europe. From generation to generation, the Bishops of Rome steadily established their dominance in the city itself and its neighbourhood, and so in turn their influence throughout Italy. They had certain practical advantages: large estates, which were carefully administered, and which allowed them to carry on, as and when politic and necessary, the free distribution of food which had been a prime function of the late empire. They had had, since the fourth century, an administrative machine, consisting of a chancery modelled on Roman imperial lines, a library and a depository of records. The Bishop of Rome, in fact, had the elements of a comparatively sophisticated government.
Administrative personnel were also available. Leading Roman families, such as the Anicii and
Symmachi, had survived; this social stratum, with its traditions of authority and decision-making, provided bishops not only for Rome itself but for many other Italian sees, which were thus confirmed as appendages of the city. Just as the Roman upper class had once been associated with state paganism, so now it was tied to Christianity. Leading families claimed proprietary rights over early saints: thus the Anicii adopted the early fifth-century St Malania, and the Turcii adopted St Marius, though on the grounds that one of their ancestors had sentenced him to death. In many cases rich families invested their future in the Church by transferring their lands to Church foundations, which were then run by their descendants - the family estates would be more secure in consequence, and escape taxation.
Such families, of course, attempted to control the papacy; as did the East, stretching out long tentacles from Constantinople. The papacy, for its part, fought hard both to preserve its independence in a hard world, and to extend its doctrinal and canonical authority over a scattered Church.
We get occasional glimpses of these Dark Age Bishops of Rome. Gelasius I who was in office 492-6, reflects the importance of administration and sheer bureaucratic persistence in the pursuit of power. He had been secretary to his two predecessors; was very much a machine-man, springing from the chancery; and even as Pope 'he would pen documents in his own hand'. This last remark we owe to Dionysius Exiguus, whom Gelasius promoted to a key position in the papal see, charged with creating order out of chaos. It was Dionysius who invented the method of dating we still use in the West, that is from the birth of Christ; and who calculated an accurate date for Easter. He and Gelasius sorted out the Church's long lists of saints and martyrs, eliminating spurious claims - many of them advanced by leading Roman families who were threats to the Pope's authority - and drawing up an authoritative calendar. They also classified all the decrees of western synods, adding to them important decisions from the East, in Latin translations, and thus consolidating the teaching of both the eastern and western Church into one body of canon law. The fact that the bishopric of Rome had an accurate and authoritative list of saints, and scientific dating and calendarizing, and had a reference system, with authorities, for all questions which impinged on Church doctrine, practice and discipline, was an immeasurable advantage in dealing with bishoprics all over the West; they increasingly looked to Rome not just because they venerated St Peter and his shrine, but because Rome knew the answers. Where else was there to look?
The bureaucracy served material as well as ecclesiastical purposes. Gelasius had a full register not only of Church documents but of the lands and revenues of his see. He carried into the dangerous centuries the methods and expertise of efficient Roman estate administration. This tradition was built upon by his more careful successors. At the close of the sixth century, for instance, we have another glimpse of a Bishop of Rome, Gregory I. Later ages called him 'the Great', but he does not seem to have been popular in his own lifetime, or for long after. He was a hard and practical man, brought up to believe in efficient administration. He was almost certainly from the Anicii family. His grandfather, Felix in, had been Gelasius's predecessor; his father, Giordanus, was a wealthy lawyer in charge of the administration of the episcopal property. Gregory was born about 540, and became Prefect of the City when he was thirty- three; later he invested part of his patrimony in a family monastery, grouped round his parents' house on the Coelian Hill. He took over as Pope, probably because he was the best man available (he was already in deacon's orders), in 589, a time of terrible disasters for Rome. The Byzantine effort to recover Italy had finally been abandoned. The Lombards now held the north, and the Bishops of Rome were already looking to the Franks as possible protectors. Rome and its bishopric had suffered grievously during Justinian's wars and afterwards. In the late fifth century, papal revenues from the province of Picenum were 2,160 solidi', by 556, they had sunk to 500 or less. More recently there had been a Lombard siege and, in the year of Gregory's accession, flood and plague.
Like Gelasius, Gregory had been secretary to his predecessor. He was a man of undoubted spiritual strength, but his essential talent and interest lay in administration. Like Gelasius he was hard. A successful pope had to be in that period; indeed, Gregory's successor, Sabinian, was hated for refusing to hand out free grain from the papal stores - the mob hooted and pelted his funeral procession. No contemporary wrote a pious life of Gregory. There is nothing about him in the series of biographical annals of the Popes kept at the time. Instead we have a ninth-century account compiled by John the Deacon, who used older sources and traditions. From near-contemporary frescoes, later destroyed, he discovered that Gregory was of medium height, with a large bald head, light-brown eyes, and long, thin, arched eyebrows; he had an aquiline nose, red thick lips, a swarthy complexion, often flushed in later life. Rather like St Paul, he lacked personal dignity or impressiveness, and he called himself 'an ape forced to play the lion'. He also lamented his poor health, his weak digestion, his gout and his bouts of malaria, which he dosed with retsina wine from Alexandria. Like many frail clerics, however, he had a strong will, and much practical common sense. He might have been born to rule in the Dark Ages, when the Church could not afford frills and had to concentrate on essentials. He surrounded himself with hardworking monks. The future, he thought, lay with the 'emerging nations' north of the Alps. The job of the Bishop of Rome was to bring them into Christianity, to integrate them with the ecclesiastical system. It was no use lamenting the empire. 'The eagle', he wrote, 'has gone bald and lost his feathers. ... Where is the senate, where are the old people of Rome? Gone.' It was no use speculating on doctrinal niceties. As one of his immediate successors put it, the debate over Christ's 'will' - the fashionable Constantinople topic of the moment - was for grammarians, not active churchmen; philosophy was for 'croaking frogs'. Gregory preached a basic evangelical religion, shorn of classical complexity and elegance; and he sent his monks to teach it to wild, coarse Germanic-speaking warriors with long hair and the future in their strong arms.
Meanwhile he himself concentrated on creating a papal patrimony for the ecclesiastical administration of Italy. He developed and expanded the systematic charity which had always been a feature of the Christian Church. But he also raised funds to repair the aqueducts. We find him employing his considerable energies on such matters as horse-breeding, the slaughter of cattle, the administration of legacies, the accuracy of accounts, the level of rents and the price of leases. He took a direct part in the running of estates scattered throughout Italy, and in North Africa, Sardinia and Sicily. He obliged his peasants to pay a tax on marriage, death-duties, and a land-tax payable three times a year. All papal administrators had to be clergy, or at least tonsured. Gregory did not exactly create this system, but he enormously enlarged and strengthened it. He found the Roman clergy already with a distinctive caste structure and dress. They had a white fringed saddlecloth or mappula, and wore flat black slippers, campagi, and udones or white stockings all inherited from the imperial senate and magistrature. Here, then, we have the clergy taking over from imperial Rome in appearance as well as function. The Roman clergy were already organized in colleges, according to grade.
Gregory extended this to the regions and provinces, to the lay lawyers and defensors who ran papal towns and estates. The senior notary became the Chancellor of the Lateran, and he drew up the standard formulae for papal correspondence; thus in Gregory's day the papal scrinium was already a mighty bureaucratic engine. Cardinal-priests and cardinal-deacons were about to emerge and form the higher ranks of the Roman clergy. In all essentials, the administrative matrix of the medieval papacy was in existence. We have seen, then, that in the episcopacy, led by the senior bishop of Rome. Christianity possessed an effective institution whereby to transmit ideas and procedures from the Roman world to the new, evolving society of barbarian Europe. What, more precisely, were these ideas and procedures?
The most important of them centered around the concept and application of law Legalism had always been the great strength of the Romans; and it was a strength that did not diminish - in some ways it increased - as their relative military power declined. During the fourth century, the Church had become increasingly involved in the law-making process. Much of the first great collection of laws, the mid-fifth century Theodosian Code, was of the Church's making. There was, of course, no distinction between secular and ecclesiastical law; in administering and transmitting the one, the Church automatically made known the other. In 539, the imperial law was again codified, commentaries, or digesta or pandecta, were added in 533, plus new laws thereafter called novellae, the whole making up the Corpus Juris Civilis, or Justinian civil law, to which the papacy's own digests of canon law were added. The early Dark Age Church thus had an enormous and highly sophisticated body of written law, to transmit to the barbarian world as and when this was possible or appropriate, and to develop for its own administrative purposes.
Of more direct and immediate importance, however, was the tradition of codification which the imperial codes had created, and which the Church could now apply to new purposes. As pagan societies, all the tribal confederations possessed vast and ancient bodies of customary law, not written but memorized, and slowly and occasionally altered in the light of changing needs. When the Church came into contact with these barbarian societies, and induced them to accept baptism or, in the case of Arians, full communion with Rome, its bishops almost immediately set up arrangements to link Christian legal customs with existing pagan law codes. This was necessary, in the first instance, to ensure that the Church was protected in its missionary activities - bishops and priests had to be given high wergilds, for example. These arrangements took the form of putting the customary law in written shape, under chapters, and adding specific, ad hoc provisions for Christian purposes. The mission-bishops went over the customs with the elders of the tribal courts, wrote them down in some kind of order, read them aloud to the king, and then rewrote them with his emendations and corrections.
The process often followed swiftly on conversion. Thus, in England, the mission despatched by Gregory the Great landed in Kent in 597; between then and 616, when AEthelbert, the Kentish king and English bretwalda, died a code of ninety laws had been written down and promulgated. Although Christian matters are referred to, there is little specifically Christian in the details of the code; and it is in Old English - by far the earliest body of written law in any Germanic language which has survived. We are, in short, at an early stage in the development. Very likely other such Germanic codes appeared then, and before, drawn up under the guidance of the Church, and basically pre-Christian in content. But later
Latin superseded the Germanic tongues in most cases - except in England - and the Christian element steadily grew in importance. Already in the sixth century, the Church had produced a codification of many Frankish customary laws. The Lex Salica as it came to be known, comes to us in a ninth-century format, with an eighth-century preface; but it was originally conceived as a collection of customs designed for study and consultation by the clergy in their missionary activities, and thus written in Latin. Gradually, as repeatedly amended and revised, it became the chief body of written law available to all Frankish society. Again, in Italy, the Church made a collection of customs in 643 in the reign of King Rothari, and known as Rothari's Edict. It was written in Latin, not Lombardic, and consists of 388 chapters or titles, with an introduction and a list of Lombard kings. The introduction states that the king had decided to correct the law as he knew it, amend it, add to it, and, where necessary, subtract from it. This whole last sentence, significantly, was taken from Justinian's seventh novella. In this code, in fact, there are not only Roman elements but a formal foundation in Roman law. Rothari was an Arian; but his court had clearly been infiltrated by Catholic clergy, and his code indicates that his political and legal thinking was moving on a moral level which was plainly the result of Christian influence.
In these legal codes, and the whole complex business of cultural interchange which lay behind them, we see the Church exerting its influence at the most formative and sensitive point in the whole body politic of the new Germanic -societies - their basic customary law. In transforming memorized to written law, the missionary clerics almost imperceptibly begin to Christianize it, and so to Christianize the societies which obeyed it. Here, for the first time, Christianity is not being superimposed on society, but is meshing itself with its customs, and at a stage when they are undergoing rapid development. Of course in some respects there is a strong community of interests. Both the Church and the Germanic races exalted the family - on this point Christianity had far more in common with the Franks than with Roman society. The law-codes, therefore, reflect the bond. In other fields there was divergence: Germanic society was deeply attached to the blood-feud, whose ravages and ramifications coloured the whole of social and public behaviour; the Church was equally anxious to stamp it out, by a system of fines settled and exacted by law. In the early written law-codes we see how compromises on this and other points were reached, with the Church slowly pushing lay society in the direction of settlements in court, rather than in combat.
The Church also possessed a peculiar law-making instrument of its own: the episcopal synod, or council. This was made available to the new kingdoms at a surprisingly early stage. The first Frankish Church council we hear of took place at Orleans in 511, and it is not clear to what extent the secular element took part. But these councils dealt with the general welfare of the population, as well as purely Church matters. Orleans put the onus of providing relief for the poor squarely on the bishops. A council at Tours in 567 extended responsibility for the poor to the whole community, to be financed by the tithe or tenth. At Macon, in 585, everyone was instructed to pay their tenths into the bishop's chest; it thus became a kind of income-tax, part of which went to the poor. What is more, at this meeting we first hear of poor- houses or 'hospitals', which were attached to the cathedral or episcopal buildings. Here we see the Church moving right to the centre of the stage, performing a new and executive function of government, presumably under the instructions of the king, who must have presided at such legislative gatherings. We know a little more about similar councils held in Visigothic Spain, which became a central feature of government after King Reccared, in 587, changed from Arianism to Catholicism. He began the practice of summoning to Toledo, his chief city, gatherings of bishops and other ecclesiastics, who were joined by all the chief nobles and officials of the court, the king usually taking the chair. Clerics formed the majority of those present, but topics debated and determined covered the whole range of business, secular as well as clerical, and lay-lords affixed their seals and signatures to the decisions, alongside the bishops. These councils were, in fact, state parliaments. Hence, from a very early stage, we see the Church becoming not merely part of the governing corpus of the European kingdoms, but shaping the pattern of their law-making processes. Moreover, it is the Church which sponsors and makes possible any innovation. In these primitive, conservative, post-pagan societies, it was Christianity which stood for progress and the future.
If the Church was identified with the future in the minds of the barbarians, it also established itself as the custodian and interpreter of their past. The tribes had their memorized verse-histories, as they had their memorized customary laws; again, in the process of reducing them to written form, Church scribes inevitably gave them a Christian colouring, if often a rather superficial one. More important, however, was that the Church possessed from the start a monopoly of the writing of history. This was absolutely central to its success in making so deep an impression on Dark Age society. For Christianity was essentially a 'religion of the book' - that is, a historical religion. It taught that certain things had happened, and that certain things were going to happen. The first was a matter of record, in the shape of the Scriptures; the second a matter of prophecy, drawn from a variety of sources, not least the authority of the Church itself. The correct teaching and interpretation of history was thus central to the Church's evangelizing mission. It was in some ways well equipped to carry it out, for it could draw from a double tradition - the historical style of writing of the Old Testament, and the more sophisticated historiography of Rome. Using these techniques, Christian writers drew upon the collective ancestral memories of their tribal confederations to construct historical accounts of their national origins in which Christianization was seen to play the determining part, marking the point at which the people, or folk, passed from primitive and barbarous (and morally reprehensible) existence to civilization and the opportunities of salvation. Tribal history was thus readjusted not only to fit Christian assumptions in the present life, but to give added point to the Christian mechanic of redemption.
A good example of this 'constructive' history written with a view to influencing the present is the history of the Franks, dating from the second half of the sixth century, written by Gregory, who became Bishop of Tours in 573. Gregory was a Gallo-Roman aristocrat from the south, typical indeed of those who 'carried' elements of Roman civilization to the tribes through the episcopal institution. The Franks had been converted directly to Catholicism and were therefore seen as natural allies of orthodoxy (against Arianism) and, indeed, from the last decades of the sixth century, of the papacy itself. Gregory had no written texts to work on, and only mythical versions of Frankish origins. He regarded the Franks as the saviours of Gaul, and thus felt at liberty to present their early history as a purposeful tale of advance towards Christianity and unity, which he saw as closely connected; to do this he predated the conversion of Clovis, the first Frankish Christian king (which in fact took place c.503) to show that his conquests were the result of Christianization. He says that while Clovis was at Tours he received a legate from the Emperor Anastasius, who bestowed on the king the title of consul -'and from that day he was hailed as consul of Augustus'. Here is an example of a Christian writer retrospectively bestowing on a barbarian royal line their official legitimacy and, indeed, a form of imperial pedigree, the Church and
Christianization being the transmitting instrument.
At a somewhat later date, the history of the Lombards was written by Paul the Deacon, who was born at Pavia in 775 and spent some time both at the Lombard court and at Charlemagne's. Paul traces Lombard history from the time when the tribe first set out from the Baltic to the death of King Liutprand in 744. The theme is not the victory of the Lombards, but the victory of Catholicism, and he invited his Lombard readers to see themselves in a Roman mirror. Tribes did not have written history. This was, as it were, the consequence and reward of civility: the business of reading and writing history was itself Roman; for a Lombard to conceive of himself in a historical context was to be Roman; and to be Catholic was to be Roman. These histories assumed and emphasized a triple process of identification - Christianity with Rome, Rome with civilization. Into this framework patriotic rejoicings in the heroic deeds of tribal ancestors could easily be fitted. So these Christianized tribal histories were very popular, pushing aside pagan poetry as the chief source of popular self-knowledge; they survive in many manuscripts. They include one masterpiece: Bede's History of the English Church and Nation, written a generation or two before Paul the Deacon's Lombard history. Bede was too great a historian to readjust the past in Christian terms. Thus his book is not a national history; it is a straightforward account of how Christianity came to England, and the progress of the English Church thereafter. But the effect is much the same. Indeed in some ways it is even more successful in stressing the importance of the Christianizing process, for Bede shows that, from the moment of conversion, the history of the English people and of the English Church among them are virtually the same thing The same conclusion is implicit in the Res Gestae Saxoniae, the story of the Ottonian dukes of Saxony and Franconia, written by a monk of Corvei, Widukind. The work was dedicated to Matilda, daughter of Otto I, and abbess of Quidlinburg in the Harz Mountains, the seat of Ottonian power; and it was written in the light of Otto's coronation as the first Saxon emperor. Here, then, is Saxon tribal history presented as a success-story for Christianity.
These basic tribal histories were only one element, though for long the most important, in the comprehensive grip which Christianity established on the whole vision of the past. Christian monks also wrote lives of the saints, taken from eastern models, which in time were used as prototypes of lives of Frankish, Lombard, Saxon and English saints and notable bishops; and from the early ninth century we get the first secular biographies, notably Einhard's fine life of Charlemagne: the model here was Suetonius, but the atmosphere and moral assumptions are Christian, and there is no firm dividing-line between the life of a great king and hagiography. At about the same time we get continuations of the basic histories such as, in Burgundy, the Chronicle of Fredegarius, and in the Paris region the Historiae Francorum. These, in time, gave place to monastic and royal annals. Annals were originally drawn up by abbeys and monastic cathedrals to calculate the date of Easter - lunar calendars in fact. Then events of importance were entered for each year, and gradually grew more detailed and continuous. The royal annals in France, and the Anglo-Saxon chronicles in England developed into quasi-official records of events, compiled by monks in houses patronized by the government; and these documents were soon joined by the records of actual government business, deposited in the record-rooms of abbeys and cathedrals, modelled, in a small way, on the papal archives kept since the fourth century, which themselves were based on Roman imperial practice. In France some forty diplomas, the permanent records of grants to church communities and lay individuals, survive from Merovingian times - that is,
for the period 500-750. In Charlemagne's time, such documents were systematically collected and filed, together with cartularies, that is the king's ordinances springing from the discussion of public business, and with royal correspondence. In 791 Charlemagne himself ordered that all correspondence between himself, and his predecessors, and the papal court should be collected together; it was bound into a huge volume, called the Codex Carolinus. All this work, of course, was carried out by clerics. At every stage in the writing, collecting, transmission and preservation of Dark Age history - and its documentation and editing - the Church was the active and monitoring force. Dark Age man saw his past, as he saw his future, though exclusively Christian eyes. To him, there was no other way of looking at history except as the working out of God's purposes.
Thus the Church gave barbarian society institutions, law and history: but these themselves would not be enough to explain the extraordinary degree of penetration achieved by Christianity in the period AD 400800. There had to be an economic element too - a means whereby the Church made a positive and fundamental contribution to the well-being of society, and a contribution which only the Church could make. It had to do this, in any event, to justify its existence, for the Church was a very expensive institution and absorbed an increasing share of the gross product for its own intrinsic purposes. The tribal confederations which filled the vacuum of Roman power in the West were subsistence societies; they moved because they were starving. To succeed among them, the Church had to be a carrier of superior economic techniques.
We have already seen how hard the early popes worked as estate administrators. Their assumption seems to have reflected St Ambrose's ruling: trade and commerce were necessarily evil, but farming an estate was honourable in the eyes of God. The Church did not engage in trade, at any rate on a big scale; but it was, from the fourth century at least, a landed proprietor. All over the West, bishops ran large estates; and practical-minded popes like Gelasius and Gregory I set the example. They provided an element of continuity between the best kind of Roman imperial estate management and the domanial 'high farming' of the Middle Ages, especially, for example, in Gaul, where agricultural units changed very little in many cases. In barbarian eyes, churchmen were 'modern' farmers, who kept accounts, planned ahead, invested. The Church also had a key legal instrument, the Roman-style land deed, which embodied the concept of freehold. In primitive Germanic societies there seems to have been no such thing as freehold. When the Church was first received at Frankish courts, it insisted that land made over to it for churches and so forth be conveyed in perpetual possession and the transaction embodied in the type of written deed to which it was accustomed. Laymen, naturally, were impressed and envious, since written freehold had immeasurable advantages over any other form of tenure. The result was a phenomenon we have already come across in the fourth-century empire - lay magnates transferring their lands to church-tenure as a form of family investment, to escape taxation. Bede, writing in the third decade of the eighth century, drew attention to this trend, which he rightly saw as damaging to the Church as well as to the State. More dynamic, from an economic point of view, was the development, on the example of the Church, of quasi-freehold tenures among the laity, especially in marginal and reclaimed land. Then, too, land actually farmed by the Church grew enormously in extent; throughout western and central Europe the Church established itself as the largest landowner.
This development could not have taken place, or certainly could not have endured, if clerics had not
proved themselves to be better than average farmers and land administrators. For this the development of monasticism was largely responsible; and the key figure, here also, is Gregory the Great. It was he who first perceived the economic importance of the right kind of monastic rule and organization. For it must be remembered that there was no intrinsic reason why monks should be associated with farming. On the contrary: the first Christian monks of whom we hear, in the third century, were ascetics who took refuge in the desert in order to starve themselves into sanctity; they were almost certainly repeating an earlier, pre-Christian pattern. A great many primitive biographies of the earliest monks survive, but most of them are pure fiction. This is certainly true of the life of St Barlaam, who probably never existed; and the life of Joasaph is based on Buddha. The prototype monk, by Christian calculation, was St Paul of Thebes. He may have existed; and it is clear the first monks settled in the Egyptian deserts, not far from the Nile. St Jerome, who wrote a largely imaginary life of Paul, says he lived for a hundred and thirteen years near Thebes, wore palm-leaves and was fed for sixty years by a crow, which brought him half a loaf of bread each day. When he died in 347 two lions dug his grave and then greeted his successor, St Anthony. St Anthony, too, was a historical person, though a shadowy one; we are told he spent over ninety years as a solitary, having given away his possessions in youth, never learnt to read or write, never changed his clothes or washed his face, and died in 356 aged a hundred and five.
From about this time we get primitive monkish communities in the desert. Anthony's disciple, Ammon, persuaded over 5,000 to join him in the desert of Nitre, south-east of Alexandria. These monks were nearly all lower-class illiterates. They were bankrupts fleeing from taxes, conscripts from military service, brigands from justice, slaves who had broken their bonds. Some hoped to achieve a reputation for sanctity (and possibly even wealth) by eccentric behaviour: they had more in common with Hindu fakirs than monks as we understand them. Thus Makarios of Alexandria claimed he had not spat on the ground since his baptism. For seven years he ate only raw vegetables; had a bread-fast for three years; never slept for twenty nights; exposed himself for seven months to swamp-mosquitoes; and fasted for forty days, remaining in one corner of his cell without speaking or moving, and eating only raw cabbage on Sundays. He lived to be a hundred, having lost his teeth, and with only a few hairs to mark his beard. Makarios had many exotic or miraculous adventures with animals. So did all the successful eccentrics. St Gregory and St Malo saved the damned by pulling them out of hell. St Malo also changed a stone into a chalice of rock-crystal so he could celebrate mass. St Martila and St Frontus used St Peter's staff to raise the dead, and St Hubert was converted by a ten-point stag he was pursuing - between its antlers was a cross. St Gildas commanded a dangerous monster to die, which it obligingly did; a similar tale was told of St Hilarion, at whose command a boa-constrictor roasted itself in the flames.
Sorting fact from fiction is not easy. The first cenobites, that is, monks living in communities, appear to have been gathered by Pachomius, who had a monastery of a hundred at Tabenna, on the big end in the Nile. Jerome gives a circumstantial account of their life. He says: 'Monks of the same trade are housed together under a superior, that is, weavers, mat-makers, tailors, carpenters, fullers and shoemakers . .. every week an account of their work is made to the abbot.' We have other fourth century accounts of basket-weaving monks; none of farmers. Early in the fourth-century Hilarion introduced the monastic movement to Syria: but there, too, monks were either anchorites or solitaries, or lived in large, ill- organized communities, off charity or worse. The accent was on conspicuous self-torture or deprivation. Hilarion himself ate only half a measure of lentils a day, later only bread, salt and water; later still, wild herbs and roots, and after the age of sixty-four he never touched bread again. Syrian monks were particularly ingenious in devising torments. One carried such a heavy load of iron to frustrate his tendency to wander that he had to move on hands and knees. Another devised a cell which forced him to live doubled up. A third spent ten years in a cage shaped like a wheel. Dendrite-monks perched in trees; Grazier-monks lived in the forests and ate like wild animals; some went completely naked, except for a loin-cloth of thorns. A number of these weird figures are quite well authenticated. Thus we can say with reasonable certitude that Simon Stylites was an illiterate, born on the Syrian border c.389. He was dismissed from a monastery for excessive asceticism and went to live in a cistern, where he had himself walled up with no food during Lent. His chain, with a stone attached, prevented him from walking more than a few yards - witnesses testified that the gap between the skin and chain was infested with worms. Near Antioch he lived on a column, first ten feet high, later raised to sixty. His platform was two yards square and there he prostrated himself 1,244 times a day and in Lent was, in addition, chained to a stake. He had a ladder for special occasions, but normally communicated by basket. He died in 459, having spent thirty-seven years on his column, from which he preached regularly and administered cures, so it was claimed, for infertility. The emperor dispatched 600 men to retrieve his body from the Bedouin, and a church was built over his grave, about 476-90, with the remains of his column in its central court: it can still be seen as a ruin today.
Such monks achieved notoriety, or even celebrity, as individual ascetics; or they made nuisances of themselves in a variety of ways and were hounded by the authorities. Or they acted as episcopal claques and bully-boys in Church elections and councils, as we have seen. Or they congregated in large establishments on the fringes of the desert, selling artifacts to travellers and visitors. They had no economic purpose. Indeed, they were one of the spiritual luxuries a rich society could, or at any rate did, afford. Even when eastern monasticism was placed on a more organized basis by Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, from about 360, it was still essentially parasitic. His collections of written rules, the first we possess, with their emphasis on commonsense and moderation (though monks were not allowed to comb their hair), were widely adopted and spread throughout the eastern empire. By the eighth to ninth centuries 100,000 monks were said to be living under St Basil's rule. These monasteries ran schools in some cases, and thus had an educative role. But they rarely farmed. Monks were gathered together in big city houses; or in groups of houses in the remote countryside, as at Mount Athos. They lived on charity, though they performed few social functions, and were mostly desperately poor. Indeed, like the earliest monks, they were recruited from the poorest classes, and included many illiterates; the majority, in fact, never became priests or took any orders. This was not a pattern of organization which would induce wealthy laymen to transfer lands, thus setting up family estates under clerical tenure. Nor, when the monks owned land, was it conducive to efficient farming or administration.
The Byzantine empire could afford such a phenomenon; the impoverished West could not. Thus eastern monasticism never really developed from its earliest forms. By the time the empire collapsed, in the fifteenth century, it was too set in its ways; and so Orthodox monks even today retain the essential characteristics they possessed in the age of St Basil. The possibility is that similar patterns would have endured in the West, if the Roman imperial structure had held firm. Monasticism came to the West along the Mediterranean trading routes, to Marseilles and then up the Rhone Valley into Gaul. The inspiration seems to have been Athanasius's popular life of St Anthony, which reached Gaul in 336 and was widely
copied. The earliest western monks were ascetics and eccentrics, like their eastern model. But they tended to be much more actively involved in the life of their society. The most famous of them all, St Martin of Tours, who died in 397, followed the eastern type of cenobitic settlement: he and his eighty companions lived in caves in the river-cliffs at Marmoutier and he himself, though formerly an army officer, was described as plebeian in appearance, small, badly dressed and uncombed. On the other hand, unlike the easterners, he seems to have been a rural missionary, preaching against paganism, working evangelical miracles, and attacking shrines with a pickaxe. He protested strongly against the executions of the Spanish Priscillians, and seems to have played a part in ecclesiastical politics at a high level. At any rate we are told that when he entered the presence of the Emperor Valentinian, and the latter refused to stand up in respect to the holy man, 'his throne became covered in fire, and the emperor was burnt in the part of the body that sat on it.'
The Life of St Martin, by a wealthy Bordelais, Sulpicius Severus, was the first example in the West of aretology, or panegyric of the virtues, and proved a highly influential treatise. Along with Martin's name and miracles it popularized the monastic cult; in France alone there are nearly 3,900 parishes bearing his name in one form or another - Martinge, Martigny, Martignac, Martincourt, Martineau, Martinet, Dammartin, and so forth. The growth of the Martin legends coincided with the introduction of what may be termed regular monastic theory in France by John Cassian, a Scythian from the Dobrudja, who established two monasteries, one for men and one for women, in the Marseilles area. Cassian was a scholar, a younger contemporary of Augustine, who steered a cautious middle course between Pelagianism and the Augustinian determinism, visited a number of eastern monasteries to gain experience, and set down his reflections on the monastic life in a series of Institutions and Conferences. Of course he was an ascetic: we hear of him and his friends dining with one Abbot Serenus and each consuming three olives, five grains of dried vetches, two prunes and a fig - plus salt. But he was anxious to escape from the aimless and undirected self-deprivation which characterized eastern monasticism. He gave the monks an aim: to convert and to educate.
In passing northwards through Gaul, therefore, the Egyptian style of monasticism acquired, in the course of the fifth century, a cultural purpose, and it was in this transformed state that it attracted the interest of upper-class Christian ascetics in the areas of Celtic dominance - Brittany, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Ireland had been Christianized from Wales, probably by a Romanized Briton called St Patrick, in the fifth century, and a 'normal' ecclesiastical system with bishops and dioceses had been established in rudimentary form. But from about 540 we hear of the first Irish monks. Ireland had trading contacts with the Loire Valley, sending shoes in exchange for wine and oil, and this, presumably, is how the Irish first acquired the monastic idea. It took root very quickly for a number of economic and social reasons, becoming, instead of a marginal Christian activity, the dominant religious form. Ireland had never had any towns; indeed it scarcely possessed villages. It was to a great extent still a nomadic and tribal society. Sixth-century monasticism, too, had a mobile element, tending to move between fixed points of reference, the sea forming the chief means of communication. In each tribe a leading family could found an abbey, plus a series of dependent houses, and retain certain rights in them. Abbots were nearly always members of the ruling clan or tribal family; and monastic holdings, embracing lands, fishing-rights and other forms of subsistence-living, covered huge areas. The monastic quest for remoteness and solitude, exported from Egypt via Gaul, thus fitted perfectly into the geography and life-style of a precarious economy on the rim of Europe. The earliest Irish monastic settlements, brought to light by an aerial survey in 1969, were small, primitive, scattered and numerous: more like shrines than abbeys. This, indeed, is what they were: religious markers covering the area of tribal activity. Thus a shrine like Skellig Michael, which consists of six stone beehive cells and a small oratory, set on a 700-foot pyramid of rock seven miles into the Atlantic off south-west Ireland, was in a tribal fishery. Irish monasticism was wholly integrated with local society: in fact it was the Church in Ireland.
Egyptian monasticism had been, to some extent, a revolt against ecclesiastical organization, and the episcopal system in particular. St Martin and his followers showed the same disposition. They believed that episcopacy and orders were among the weapons with which the devil attacked religious men. Irish monks shared this belief. The Irish Church was never consciously in rebellion against orthodoxy. It is remarkable that it Christianized the people without a single case of martyrdom, and without any recorded instance of heresy or internal persecution; there was no violence whatever. Bishops were retained: there were certain functions, such as blessing the baptismal chrism, and ordination, which only they could perform. But they were functionaries, not leaders. They were expected to be humble and obey the abbot, who of course represented tribal leadership. Not that the abbot behaved like a grand personage. One reason why the early monks disliked the episcopal system was that it was identified with the external trappings of worldly society. It was considered wrong, even sinful, for a cleric, even an abbot or a bishop, to ride a horse. By doing so he elevated himself above the common man, and denied the principle of humility. St Martin occasionally used a donkey, for long journeys: that was permissible, for Christ had done the same. Nor should an abbot dine in state with secular chieftains, or otherwise integrate himself with a vainglorious world. He and his monks should live as close to the subsistence level as possible, consistent with good health; and they should preach the gospel on foot, 'after the manner of the apostles'.
Irish monasticism was thus an insidious challenge to the early Dark Age Church and its hold on society. Like the Montanist-type sects, it advocated a return to primitive Christian purity, but unlike them it could not be attacked on grounds of doctrinal error. As with the eastern monks, it was antinomial, in the sense that it evaded the normal hierarchical system of the Church. But, unlike the easterners, it was not passive and stationary. On the contrary, the Irish monks had a tremendous cultural dynamic. They were enormously learned in the scriptures, and wonderfully gifted in the arts. They combined exquisite Latin scholarship with a native cultural tradition which went back to the La Tene civilization of the first century. Their rudimentary dry-stone houses were unpretentious without, but treasure-houses within. They had a great deal to teach western Europe. And, above all, they were nomadic. In the western part of the British Isles, in fact in western Europe as a whole, sixth and seventh-century communications were maritime. The Celtic monks were all sailors; they travelled by water and they lived on fish. The semi- mythical St Brendan, who founded the monastery of Clonfert in Galway, and died about 580. was supposed to have undertaken a remarkable series of voyages, the story of which was translated into French, Norman, Provencal, German, Italian and Norwegian. Monks were often buried at sea: the Welsh monk Gildas, the British equivalent of Gregory of Tours, though a far less gifted historian, asked, when he died, to be laid in a boat and pushed out to sea. What is more, clan relationships spanned the seas. Thus St Columba's mission from Ulster to the Western Isles of Scotland, where he founded the great monastery of Iona, was almost certainly a product of clan politics. And from western Scotland the Celtic monks penetrated east and south; during the course of a century they moved in a great arc round the north-western fringes of the British Isles, reaching the English kingdom of Northumbria in the early sixth century, where Aidan from Iona was invited by the Northumbrian court to found a sister-house at Lindisfarne in 634.
Meanwhile the Irish had moved far east. St Columbanus, born c.540, was like Columba an Irish tribal leader, head of a family monastery. He was a big man, with big ideas, a good knowledge of Latin - he had read Virgil, Pliny, Sallust, Horace, Ovid and Juvenal as well as the Fathers - and even a little Greek; and a burning passion to spread his own austere brand of Christianity. In 575 he landed in Brittany with a shipload of monks. They wore long white habits, nothing else, carried curved staffs and their liturgical books packed in waterproof leather bags; and around their necks they had water-bottles and pouches containing holy relics and consecrated wafers.
This was one of the most remarkable expeditions in history. By the time Columbanus died in 615, he, his entourage and their immediate followers had spread Celtic monasticism across a huge area of France, Italy and the Alps, and had founded about forty monasteries, including Rebais, Jumieges, St Gall, Bobbio, Fontenelle, Chelles, Marmoutier, Corbier, St Omer, St Berlin, Remiremont, Hautvilliers, Montierender, St Valery-sur-Somme, Solignac, Fontaine and Luxeuil, many of them to become among the glories of the Middle Ages. Columbanus was disgusted with the Europe he found. Travelling east through Gaul he noted that 'virtue is more or less nonexistent'. The last vestiges of ancient civilization, he thought, had disappeared. He found himself fighting loose morals, rather than ignorance, and teaching discipline instead of grammar. The rule he drew up for his new establishments was very severe, and corporal punishment harsh and frequent.
This was all very well: Columbanus's success indicates the appeal of his mission. But his activities, for the first time, brought the nature of Celtic monasticism firmly to the attention of the Church authorities - to western bishops in general, and to the Bishop of Rome in particular. The Irish monks were not heretical. But they were plainly unorthodox. They did not look right, to begin with. They had the wrong tonsure. Rome, as was natural, had 'the tonsure of St Peter', that is, a shaven crown. Easterners had the tonsure of St Paul, totally shaven; and if they wished to take up an appointment in the West they had to wait until their rim grew before being invested. But the Celts looked like nothing on earth: they had their hair long at the back and, on the shaven front part, a half-circle of hair from one ear to the other, leaving a band across the forehead. More serious was their refusal to celebrate Easter according to the calculations made by Rome. There were a number of divergent calendar systems in the Mediterranean area; the one used by the Celts corresponded with none of them. The issue was more important than it may seem to us. Getting the right date for Easter was the most obvious instance of the problem of calculating time - man's effort to orient himself in relation to events. There had been liturgical rows about Easter going back to the second century, perhaps even to the distant conflicts between gentile and Jewish Christians. In western Europe, the newly Christianized barbarian societies had adjusted their sense of the annual routine, from the court downwards, to fit the Christian year. Divergence over the most important and awesome event in the yearly round was not merely indecorous but sinister. And how could the Church claim unity if it could not even agree on the date of the resurrection, the core of its belief?
Behind these discrepancies, which reflected not so much deliberate defiance on the part of the Celts as a drifting apart on details during a period when contact with Rome and Gaul had been lost, there was a much more fundamental difference about the nature of the Church. In a sense, the parallel was with the Donatists. Was the Church to embrace and reflect society, in the process of transforming it, as Augustine had taught, and as Rome and the Gaulish episcopate still assumed? Or was it an alternative to society? Celtic monasticism, so well adjusted to its native economic and social framework, seemed to pose impossible standards in areas of settled culture. Even in Northumbria, Aidan had appeared to reject integration: invited, as the leading ecclesiastic, to dine at court, 'his practice was to go with one or two clerks, and having taken a small meal, make haste to be gone with them, either to read or write'. Then there was the issue of the use of horses, a practical symbol of conflicting ideas - which ultimately involved the whole question of the wealth, status, and attitude of the Church in the world - wherever the Celts and Rome came in contact. In immediate terms, Columbanus would not brook supervision or interference by local bishops in monastic houses founded by him in their dioceses. Summoned to defend himself at an episcopal conference held at Chalons in 603, he declined, was declared contumacious, and expelled from Gaul. He went to Italy where he founded more monasteries without resolving the issue.
The Celtic penetration of Europe was of great importance culturally, as we shall see; in ecclesiastical terms it threatened to undermine the Church's oldest and central institution, the episcopate, which was already being integrated with the barbarian societies, and to produce a different kind of Church, in which the monastic ideal would become normative. This would allow a cleavage to develop between clerical and secular society and so make impossible the realization of the Augustinian dream. Of course such a challenge had always been implicit in the notion of the monastic life - it was the old withdrawal principle, going back to the Essenes. Celtic monasticism presented it, however, in a new and attractive form.
The response of Rome was to take over, to discipline and so to contain the monastic movement. The process took several generations, but it was set in decisive motion by Gregory I, a younger contemporary of Columbanus, who was Bishop of Rome when the Celts were most active in eastern Gaul. It is not clear why Rome had so far refused to sponsor a definite type of monasticism, and had allowed the movement to develop without any guidance. The answer is no doubt that Italy was in too disturbed a state for most of the middle decades of the sixth century. It was, in fact, the accident of the troubles which followed the collapse of Justinian's restored empire in Italy, and the Lombard invasions, which gave Gregory a monastic policy. Benedict of Nursia, according to Gregory's later account, was born about 480, of wealthy parents, and educated at Rome. First at Subiaco, later at Monte Cassino, he alienated some of the family property to establish a monastery following a rule he devised himself. He died in 547; about thirty years later, when the Lombards swept through Italy, some of the Monte Cassino monks escaped to Rome with the autograph copy of their rule in Benedict's hand. They handed it to Gregory, who was enormously impressed. He not only wrote Benedict's biography, which became famous, but did everything in his very considerable power to push the Benedictine rule as the norm for monasticism in the West.
The great merit of Benedict's system is common sense. It steered a skilful middle way between severity
and decency. Monks were to have separate beds, except the younger ones, who were to be 'dispersed among the seniors'. They were to be properly and warmly clad, with two tunics and cowls each; and they were issued with a mattress, a woolen blanket, under-blanket and pillow, shoes, stockings, girdle, knife, pen and writing tablets, needle and handkerchiefs. Otherwise no property was to be held individually, 'neither a book, nor tablets, nor a pen ... nothing at all'; and beds were to be searched frequently for private possessions. Monks were to be adequately but simply fed: two cooked dishes a day, a pound of bread, a pint of wine, and fruit and vegetables in season, but no meat, at any rate of four-footed beasts. On the other hand monks who were ill were to have a special diet; they must be kept healthy. 'Before all things, and above all things, care must be taken of the sick'. 'All guests are to be received as Christ himself, for which a special separate kitchen (also used by the abbot) was to be provided. The monks were to spend their time in manual labour and sacred reading, when not attending divine services. They were to 'practise silence at all times, especially during the night'. Grumbling was the 'greatest sin', and 'idleness is the enemy of the soul'. Infractions of the rules were to be met by withdrawal of communion; the abbot and the older and wiser brothers were to try to reconcile the excommunicated; but 'the punishment of the lash' was to be used if necessary, and 'the surgeon's knife' (expulsion) in the last resort; boys were to be 'punished with extra fasts or coerced with severe blows'.
We possess the Benedictine rule in virtually its original state. In the time of Charlemagne, the then Abbot of Monte Cassino, Theodemar, had a copy made direct from Benedict's holograph, and sent to him at Aix; there a fine copy was made, which still survives. It is perhaps unique in antique texts, a copy separated from the original by a single intermediary. It is written in Vulgar Latin - the vernacular of the day in central Italy - for comparatively simple men. It does not envisage the monastery as a great centre of learning, or indeed of anything else except piety and hard work. But one can see exactly why it appealed to the practical-minded Gregory. It is wholly lacking in eccentricity. It does not expect heroic virtue. It is full of provisions for exceptions, changes and relaxations in its rules; yet at the same time it insists that rules must be kept, once made. The monk must live to a timetable, and he must be doing something all the time, even if this only takes the form of eating and sleeping to enable him to labour afresh. 'Idleness is the enemy of the soul': that is the keynote, echoing Paul's advice to the earliest Christians as they awaited the parousia. And then the rule exuded the universality which had always been the object of Catholic Christianity, of Rome, and above all of Gregory himself as a missionary pope who wanted to convert the world and society. The rule is classless and timeless; it is not grounded in any particular culture or geographical region, and it will fit into any society which allows it to operate.
Gregory's endorsement of the Benedictine rule, and the vigorous efforts he and his successors made to secure its general adoption, thus flung into the business of Christianizing the convert societies of Europe and evangelizing the pagan an immensely powerful and flexible institution. The new monks were neither wholly withdrawn from society nor wholly integrated with it; they canalized the ascetic urge while enabling it to perform useful services to man and Church; their rule was compatible with papal leadership and the episcopal structure. Above all, and this especially appealed to the efficient estate manager in Gregory, they had a decisive economic contribution to make.
We must not imagine that the Benedictine rule immediately and generally became the norm. It was already well known in the seventh century but it did not become the exclusive rule until the ninth-tenth.
Individual abbots usually devised their own rule when setting up a new house. Thus Augustine, sent to Kent by Gregory to evangelize the pagan English in 597, laid down his own regulations for his house at Canterbury. An abbot or founding bishop might like to draw from a variety of traditions. In Whitby, founded by Bishop Wilfrid, Rome and Irish traditions were mingled. Royal founders, too, were often eclectic. Benedict Biscop, founder of Wearmouth and Jarrow in conjunction with the kings of Northumbria, 674-81, wrote: 'You cannot suppose that it was my untaught heart which dictated this rule to you. I learnt it from seventeen monasteries, which I saw during my travels, and most approved of. ...' But he added that he thought Benedict's rule had special authority, and from the mid-seventh century it provided the basic framework for the overwhelming majority of new monastic foundations, particularly those lavishly endowed by kings and landed magnates.
Thus a great and increasing part of the arable land of Europe passed into the hands of highly disciplined men committed to a doctrine of hard work. They were literate. They knew how to keep accounts. Above all, perhaps, they worked to a daily timetable and an accurate annual calendar - something quite alien to the farmers and landowners they replaced. Thus their cultivation of the land was organized, systematic, persistent. And, as owners, they escaped the accidents of deaths, minorities, administration by hapless widows, enforced sales, or transfer of ownership by crime, treason and folly. They brought continuity of exploitation. They produced surpluses and invested them in the form of drainage, clearances, livestock and seed. Of course earlier monastic patterns had occasionally produced economic drive. In the Vosges, for instance, where Columbanus founded a monastery at Annegray, his monks began the process of forest clearance. But Celtic monasticism was rather a cultural than an agricultural instrument. The transformation took place when the Benedictine or Benedictine-type rule was grafted on to earlier forms. Thus the foundation at Fontenelle on the banks of the lower Seine, near Rouen, originally an offshoot of the Celtic Columbanus movement, became a major agricultural colony after adopting a regular discipline in the mid-seventh century. In less than three generations it had converted an area of brushwood and swamp into prime arable land, and had become very wealthy. In west, north-west and central Europe, the clearance of forest and the draining of swamp were the prime economic facts of the entire Dark Ages. In a sense they determined the whole future history of Europe: they were the foundation of its world primacy. The operation was so huge, and took place over so long a period - nearly a millenium - that no one element in society can claim exclusive credit: it was a collective effort. But it was the monasteries which led the movement and for long sustained it. Among the greatest clearers were the abbeys of Jumieges, Saint Riquier, Saint Berlin, Corbier, Stavelot, Plum, Murbach, Luxeuil, Moissac, St Benoit-sur-Loire, all Merovingian foundations, and destined to remain among Europe's leading abbeys until the age of the French revolution. The continuity and permanence of these foundations, the merging of the individual life-span in the eternal collectivity, was particularly well adapted to the slow transformation of forest, scrub and marsh into arable and pasture. But great abbots supplied the dynamism of individualist ambition: they were, like Gregory himself, drawn from the ruling class, administrators by blood, whose masterful gifts allowed them to play a role in the making of Europe comparable to the captains of industry in the nineteenth century.
Some records survive of their efforts. From the late eighth and early ninth centuries comes the Polyptyque of Abbot Irminon as it is called. A polyptyque was an ecclesiastical land survey or inventory, in this case dealing with the Parisian Abbey of St Germain-des-Pres, which had wide estates
in the area now covered by the Paris suburban belt. Within the compass of this single document, the abbot amassed a staggering amount of information about the twenty-four manors it covers; everything, down to the last egg and the odd piece of spare roof-timber, is carefully listed. The polyptyque indicates how the optimum use was made of the total labour force on the acres available. In many cases the Church found that most efficient returns could be secured by settling manors with coloni, peasant tenant- farmers. In this way the Church led the move away from slavery, and hopelessly unproductive slave- farming. It had never opposed slavery root and branch, while always urging that manumission was meritorious. What the monastery showed was that slavery was economically unnecessary - indeed, undesirable. Of course close supervision was needed: the St Germain records show that the closer the estate lay to Paris the more effectively it was worked. So branch houses were set up further afield; and often these in turn expanded into major houses and so began a new cycle of growth. The monks also moved into fresh areas where the vine could be cultivated. The Church needed wine to celebrate mass, and the liturgy gave it a decisively higher status than beer, so the monks pushed the vineyards north and east, and the Franks got wine as part of their Roman (and Christian) inheritance. The monks were innovators in other ways. We find them pioneering the systematic and large-scale use of hedges, banks and ditches. And they founded towns - Laval, for instance, created by the monks of Marmoutier - and developed markets for their surplus produce.
The great Gaulish abbeys were mostly of the sixth and seventh centuries; east of the Rhine, monasticism followed in the wake of conversion and Carolingian expansion, especially in the eighth to ninth centuries, where huge monastic foundations were established in the heart of Europe, where they still flourish in one way or another today. Parallel to this monastic development, often working in conjunction with it, was the expansion of the episcopal estates which had been founded in the fourth and fifth centuries. In many provinces the bishop was the real master, running it from his episcopal town. Bishops were the equals, almost the superiors, of the greatest landed magnates, next on the rung to kings and emperors. The abbots were only a little way behind them. Of course in some areas, especially England, it was hard to distinguish between the two, since cathedrals were usually monastic foundations, and the monks formed the chapter. Together, bishoprics and abbacies constituted the core of the agricultural economy of Europe. Bishops and abbots were the innovatory elite of society. But the situation did not last. The Church estates reached their peak in the mid ninth century, and thereafter tended to contract. The ravagers from Scandinavia proved too powerful and persistent either for the declining Carolingian state or the rising House of Wessex. They could not protect Church estates, and bishops and abbots could not protect themselves. The heavily armoured and professional lay soldier-lord moved in. In many cases the Viking attacks broke up large-scale monastic estates; and in the tenth century lay seigneuries were founded on what had once been episcopal lands. In Maine, for instance, the Bishop of Le Mans was replaced as the leading territorial magnate by the Viscounts, later to flower into the House of Plantagenet. Both bishops and abbots built up their wealth again; but more often on the basis of tithes and quit-rents, rather than domanial farming. Nevertheless, the monks still continued to play a pioneering role in agriculture. We have evidence from the cartularies of a number of abbeys - St Aubin d'Angers, La Trinite de Vendome, St Vincent du Mans, Marmoutier, to give examples from only one part of France - that the monks were still hard at it clearing the forests in the eleventh century, after the worst period of the Viking attacks was over.
From the end of the eleventh century, in fact, there was a second great wave of monastic enterprise in agriculture, with the establishment of the Cistercian type of Benedictine house. The Cistercians claimed to be the only true followers of St Benedict, in the stark and true simplicity of primitive monasticism. It is significant that they interpreted this return to an idealized past in economic terms. Population was rising rapidly in the eleventh century, very rapidly in the twelfth; land was becoming scarce. Kings and great magnates who had once made over to the Church huge chunks of marginal and underdeveloped land were no longer able to do so. If generous, they endowed new foundations with bits and pieces rather than unitary estates. Wealth was increasing fast and there were, for example, more foundations in the period 1060-1120 than ever before. But new monastic resources were made up of small parcels, often widely dispersed, and items of money income. The lord who founded the priory of St Mont in Gascony, for instance, endowed it with the profits of forty-seven churches, one hamlet, seven manors, four small parcels of land, one vineyard, six arable lots, one wood, one stretch of fishing rights and various small rents and tolls. This produced an income, but gave the monks no real economic role. The Cistercians would have nothing to do with such arrangements. They would take only agricultural property, and they demanded full possession. Moreover, they would not make up their income by saying masses and performing other sacramental functions for the laity; on the contrary, their rules stipulated that they were to place their houses far away from towns, castles and other sources of temptation.
Thus perhaps by accident, perhaps by conscious design, they took on a frontier role, pushing the areas of cultivation and pasturage well beyond anything hitherto attempted in Europe. In an expanding society it was the marginal lands which alone offered opportunities for development; and the Cistercians became the agricultural apostles of Europe's internal colonization. Other individuals were engaged on this task; but the Cistercians worked on a vast scale, and with terrific organization and panache. Most of them were aristocrats, the younger sons of magnates. They saw themselves as a small, pure elite. Their discipline was ferocious. They developed a great driving-force, became outstanding managers, and so prospered enormously. Their twelfth-century expansion is an economic phenomenon almost without parallel in history. The first house was founded in 1108; twenty years later there were seven. By 1152 there were 328, and by the end of the century 525. By this means, in just a century, a huge addition was made to the available resources of Europe, chiefly in Spain and Portugal (which included the world's biggest monastery, Alcobaca), Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Austria, Wales, northern England and the Scottish border. One monastery, Goldenkron in Bohemia, covered nearly 1,000 square miles, and its agricultural exploitation involved the creation of seventy villages. But the Cistercians might also destroy villages if their spiritual and economic purposes required it. They uprooted three villages, for instance, to create the Abbey of Revesby in Lincolnshire in 1142: the peasants broke the solitude and were not needed to work on the abbey lands. The Cistercians were completely ruthless. Like the Israel kibbutzim, which they resembled in some ways, they were not allowed either to spend money on themselves, or to decorate their churches with expensive ornaments, so they saved money and invested their surpluses. They had a strong chain of authority from top to bottom: a triennial general chapter, frequent visitations and, by papal favour, complete freedom from local authority, lay or ecclesiastical. They ran their own affairs completely, and could if they chose operate as a national, even international, economic units. A monastery which got into economic difficulties could be rapidly re-financed by a sister-house; or it could be wound up quickly, the losses cut, and the force of monks moved to an area where returns were greater. An abbey could also tap liquid capital from central funds when a bargain offered. At Fountains, for instance, we find a steady process of consolidating the estates by buying up intervening plots of land the moment neighbouring landowners got into difficulties.
Cistercian regulations were plainly designed for farming purposes laying down procedure in considerable detail: 'Pigstyes may be two or even three leagues from a grange; but pigs, though allowed to wander by day, must be kept in styes at night.' Above all, regulations dealt with, and for over a century completely solved, the labour problem. We have seen how the early Benedictines prospered by replacing slave labour by a peasant tenantry. By the twelfth century, even by the eleventh, the use of labour services, which the peasant supplied, was becoming an increasingly inefficient method of working big domains. The Cistercians cut them out altogether. Instead, they took advantage of the population increase, and the huge numbers of landless and workless young men from twelve upwards, to create a secondary order of lay brothers. These youths and men were illiterate and if they remained so could not aspire to full monastic status. But in other respects they were monks, and had the same food and clothing as the 'real' monks; they were also, if they behaved themselves, given a full assurance of salvation - something which all monasteries offered but extended as a rule only to comparatively wellborn literates. These conversi, as they were called, were recruited in great numbers, sometimes outnumbering the full Cistercians by three or four to one. They provided the abbey estates with a large, highly disciplined labour force, which had no wives and families to keep, and which need be paid no wages. They were, in effect, willing and highly motivated slaves, the perfect labour formula for the cultivation of large, well denned units of undeveloped land. Hence the enormous success of the order as frontier colonists.
Western monasticism, unlike its counterpart in the East, was an upper-class movement. Or rather, it tended to reflect the natural hierarchy in society. Abbots and priors were drawn from the families of tribal chieftains or, later, large landowners; the monks, who had to be literate, came essentially from the landowning class. The sons of illiterate peasants, in minor orders or no orders at all, performed the menial tasks. Apart from its spiritual preoccupations, an abbey tended to operate like a large seigneurial household, only in a rather more orderly and efficient fashion, the object of which was to extract the maximum economic benefit from the land. But the abbey, being a literate institution, unlike the seigneurial household, soon acquired and developed an additional social function, as a carrier of culture. It had no such role in the Byzantine empire, with its secular schools and universities; or only to a very limited degree. Nor, certainly, did St Benedict or even Gregory I see monks as cultural conservators or harbingers. Yet this is what they became, providing the main channel through which the learning and arts of the ancient world reached Dark Age Europe, and mingled with its own native cultures.
The Christian Church of the Roman empire, it should be stressed, was not a cultural institution. On the contrary, it was still trying hard to demonstrate its cultural respectability a century after Constantine's conversion. Whole branches of arts and letters remained exclusively in pagan hands until the break-up of the western empire. The Church had no schools or centres of learning of its own. The universities and public academies were run by the State and were usually in pagan hands. Even in the East, where paganism was eliminated much more speedily, education remained the concern of the State. When new universities replaced the pagan academies, their essential purpose was to train the civil service. They did not teach theology at all. In the East the Orthodox Church was never able to establish a monopoly of education.
It was a different matter in the West. During the course of the fifth and sixth centuries, the public system of education disappeared. This presented the Church with a unique opportunity to capture society by its roots. It had the chance not merely to establish a stranglehold on education, but to recreate the whole process and content and purpose of education in a Christian setting. In a way, Augustine had foreseen and prepared for this. Lacking Greek, he had sketched the outline of a Latin-Christian system of knowledge in which every aspect of human creativity and intellectual endeavour was related to Christian belief. He produced the matrix which continued to be elaborated throughout the Middle Ages. But how was this knowledge to be transmitted? It is curious that during the fifth century, when Roman institutions were crumbling, no attempt appears to have been made to create Christian schools. The first such suggestion was made in 536, when Cassiodorus, a prominent Catholic layman who was secretary to the Ostrogothic king, Theodoric, asked Pope Agapetus to found a Christian university in Rome: 'Seeing that the schools were swarming with students with a great longing for secular letters', he urged the pope 'to collect subscriptions and to have Christian rather than secular schools in the city of Rome, with professors, just as there had been for so long in Alexandria'. The project was started but collapsed in the Gothic-Byzantine wars, which finally put paid to the state system of education, and indeed to what remained of Roman civilization in Italy. By the time Gregory the Great came to the papal throne, the West had descended to an altogether lower level of culture.
Yet something had been saved. Boethius, another sixth-century Catholic layman and minister at the Gothic court, had contrived - before he was executed in a Gothic-Arian persecution - to translate into Latin the complete works of Plato and Aristotle. His manuscripts were copied, and re-copied, and slowly proliferated. Cassiodorus himself, during the darkest days, created a Christian institution at Squillace in Calabria, at which learned laymen or monks copied manuscripts of standard texts. Developing the ideas of Augustine, he prepared an encyclopaedic course of study, both secular and divine, for Christian ascetics. Thus, for the first time, a great portion of available knowledge was assembled for a Christian purpose and in a monastic context. In the next two generations, the Cassiodoran system was taken up in Seville, under Bishop Leander, a friend of Gregory the Great, and his successor, Bishop Isidore. Seville had already become a gathering place for scholarly Christian refugees, and with the conversion of the Arian court it became possible to build up a centre of Christian culture. Over a period of twenty years Isidore and his helpers compiled a vast survey of human knowledge, arranged etymologically and incorporating the works and transmissions of Boethius and Cassiodorus, and much else. His object was partly to assist the Visigothic kings, partly to instruct his own priests and monks. Almost by accident he founded a civilization, or at any rate an educational system. His work, made public in 636, first describes the seven liberal arts, grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy; then their dependent arts, medicine, law and chronology; then it moves on to the Bible and its interpretation, and the Church's canons and offices. The central part deals with God, the bonds that hold God to man, the relations of man with the State, and man's anatomy. Finally he moves on to animals and inanimate nature. We have here a summa of human knowledge in which Christian doctrine and teaching, and the role of the Church, is placed right at the centre of the intellectual universe, and radiates to its most remote corners. Isidore completes the Augustinian revolution: the Church now embraces every aspect of society and contains the answers to all questions.
Isidore's Etymologies, edited in twenty books by Braulio, Bishop of Saragossa, became the basis for all teaching in the West for about 800 years. They determined educational method, as well as content, from the primary to the university level. Everything taught thereafter was no more than an elaboration of what he wrote: it was impossible for the medieval mind to break out of his system. This, of course, lay in the nature of his work, which was essentially a salvaging operation: his team of research assistants ransacked literature then available which has long since totally disappeared. Isidore was a huge conduit to the ancient world - the only link, really, until independent access to ancient texts was established, first through Arab transmitters in the twelfth century, then direct to the East in the fifteenth.
In the seventh and eighth centuries, the monks were the only agents through which the Isidorian corpus could be dispersed throughout barbarian Europe. They were the only bodies of literate men who had the time and resources to act as professional transcribers. Transcription of manuscripts was first practised by monks at Tours, under Martin, in the late fourth century. But most monastic scriptoria were based on the model set up by Cassiodorus at Squillace in the mid sixth century. The dominant material in the West was parchment - the most durable, but also the most expensive and difficult to work. Moreover, its raw materials could be obtained anywhere - from sheepskin, calf or goat - unlike papyrus, which came from Egypt, or paper, shipped from the East but not generally available before the twelfth century. And it could be washed, scraped and used again. The method used was to take four sheets folded together, that is eight leaves of sixteen pages, recto-verso, which formed a quaternio or copy-book. One of these was then distributed to each of a number of scribes, who had to transcribe the copy-book on the same number of pages. There might be as many as twenty in a scriptorium. Each sat on a bench or stool, with his feet on a footstool, and wrote on his knees; a desk in front held the book he was copying, and a side-table his quills, ink, knife, eraser, compasses and ruler. Scribes worked in absolute silence (dictating of original work and letters was done in another room), but they communicated with posterity by marginal graffiti: 'Christ, favour my work'; 'Only three fingers are writing: the whole body is in agony'; 'This work is slow and difficult'; 'Now it is night and dinner-time'; 'The scribe has the right to the best wine.' The Irish were great margin-writers. Thus, in a ninth-century Irish manuscript of Cassiodorus on the psalms, we find: 'Pleasant is the glint of the sun today on these margins. It flickers so.'
During the seventh and throughout the eighth centuries, the scriptoria reached a high stage of activity, especially at Canterbury, Ripon, Wear-mouth, Jarrow, York and Lindisfarne in England; at Bangor, Burrow and Kells in Ireland; at Autun, Luxeuil, Corbie, St Medard-de-Soissons in Gaul, and, further east and south, at Echtenach, St Gall, Bobbio and Noantola. The work was very slow. It was said that Columba of Iona was such a fast copyist that he completed the Book of Durrow in twelve days, at the rate of twenty to thirty pages a day. In fact he cannot have been responsible for this manuscript, which dates from a century after his time. A first-class bible would take a monastic scriptorium a whole year to produce. When the copying was done, the head copyist assembled all the copy-books, put them in order, reread and collated them, and then handed over the assembled codex to be bound in skin. Thus several shorter works were often bound together in one volume. Production was small, in our terms. Corbie produced well over fifty codices, but this was exceptional. We hear of libraries which contained thirty- three, eighteen, fifty volumes, and so on. In the eighth century a library with a hundred books was outstanding. But they grew steadily: by the ninth century the library of St Remy at Reims, enjoying royal patronage, had six hundred volumes. And many of these books were made to last. A small seventh- century St John's Gospel, from Wearmouth or Jarrow, which was once probably Bede's own copy and is now at Stonyhurst, survives in superb condition in its original binding of red African goatskin.
The monks were cultural carriers, not creators. The most learned and enterprising of them - Bede of Jarrow is a good example - interested themselves in biblical translations and commentaries, in chronology, and in the writing of history. Other monastic centres of historiography arose in the ninth century. Thus the abbey of St Denis, near Paris, became closely associated with the French crown and the history of the men that had worn it. One of its monks, Hincmar, author of a partly fictitious account of the abbey's relationship to the crown, was promoted Archbishop of Reims, where he made the Abbey of St Berlin the leading centre for the writing of French, especially royal, history and records. Such work might stretch the capacities of a fine mind. Hincmar, from 861-82, turned the terse and bare Annals of St Berlin into a full and colourful account; and, like Bede before him, used all the resources of the Church to get information which was scattered over the realm of Francis. But there was no real attempt to turn even history into a speculative, creative, or interpretive art; its writing was firmly limited by biblical and classical conventions, and by certain outstanding Latin models. The leading abbeys were the universities of the Dark Ages. But the curriculum was limited and the intellectual purpose humble. John Cassian, who did so much to determine the cultural perspectives of western monasticism, had argued that the era of creative exploration of Christian doctrine was over; all that remained to be done was a tidying-up process. There could be no question of another Jerome or Augustine. This conviction arose partly from the feeling that the work had already been done; partly, also, from an immense sense of inferiority towards the classical world which had now vanished. Eighth- and ninth-century monks believed that under the Romans mankind had possessed virtually the sum of ascertainable human knowledge, nearly all of which had since been lost; the most that they could do was to transmit faithfully what had been preserved. Augustine, writing on the brink of catastrophe, had allotted an essentially humble and unenquiring role for the human mind in the total Christian society. In destroying Pelagianism he had snapped the tradition of speculating on first principles, and banned the practice of critical re-examination of accepted conclusions. 'Rome has spoken; the debate is over' -those were his very words. The impact of his teaching was to apply the phrase in a much wider context than he had, perhaps, intended. His message to the Dark Ages was seen as: 'The ancient world and the Fathers have spoken: the debate is over'; and by debate was understood the whole process of acquiring knowledge by thought and experiment. It was not for monks, however able, to challenge the conclusions of the past: merely to transmit and where necessary translate them.
It can be argued that, in the long run, civilization has benefited from the intellectual self-abasement of these centuries. Much of the ancient world survived because of the intense reverence of a handful of men for the literary relics of the past. Monks put the preservation of the surviving texts above their own lives, and regarded their reproduction as infinitely more important than their own creative labours. Thus a Mediceus of Virgil, dating from the end of the fifth century, and probably once in the possession of Cassiodorus, was preserved in various monastic houses, found its way to Bobbio, and is now in the Laurentian Library in Florence. The monks argued that the more copies they succeeded in making, the more likely it was that one at least would survive; and they were right. In the eighth century, the scriptorium of St Martin's of Tours transcribed a fifth-century Livy; the copy survived, the original is
lost. Right at the end of his life, Bede was urging his scribe to 'write faster'. There was a sense of gloomy urgency about the task, for men believed that, however horrible the period since Rome's decline had been, things would get worse, not better; and there was much evidence to support their belief. One chief reason why King Alfred, at the end of the ninth century, wanted all the essential Latin texts translated into English was that he believed the coming hard times would wipe out Latin scholarship and that, even if the originals were not destroyed, no one would be able to read them.
Hence, in the eighth and ninth centuries virtually all the ancient texts were re-copied, often many times, and so saved. Much of this work was carried out in the big German monasteries - Lorsch, Cologne, Witzburg, Reichenau, St Gall, and so forth. Outstanding was Fulda, the centre of historiography east of the Rhine, to which we owe, for instance, vital texts of Tacitus, Suetonius, Ammianus, Vetruvius and Servius, through whom medieval men learnt their Virgil. Fulda had huge resources, and recruited a large number of conspicuously able men. One of its ninth-century monks, Hrabanus Maurus, later Archbishop of Mainz, put together an encyclopaedia of received knowledge, modelled on Isidore of Seville; and one of Hrabanus's pupils, Servatus Lupus, later Abbot of Ferrieres, became the nearest approach to the modern idea of a scholar before the twelfth century John of Salisbury. Yet the work of both these Fulda monks is essentially derivative. Hrabanus's encyclopaedia contains no original thinking; Servatus's chief contribution was to compile a corpus of barbarian laws for the Duke of Friuli. These works were useful but uncreative. Moreover, we must not think that the monks were primarily concerned with transmitting the classics. No Greek secular works were preserved in the original. Even the Greek fathers were studied, and copied, in Latin translations. Profane literature in Latin occupied only a fraction of the time available. The work of the scriptoria was overwhelmingly centered on the Fathers, chiefly Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Gregory the Great, and later Bede; on bibles and lives of the saints; and on liturgical works - that is, Sacramentals, lectionaries and gospelaries, missals (sacramentary plus the lectionary), antiphonaries or song-books, and hymnals. There was also a mass output of psalters, ordines, martyrologies, pontifications - that is books dealing with the bishop's functions - and penitentials. Perhaps only one in a hundred manuscripts prepared during these centuries had a function or interest which was not directly Christian.
Moreover, the Christian element impregnated not merely the written word but every other aspect of culture. The idea of secular art virtually disappeared, along with secular education. As with the law, we find a certain blending of pagan-barbarian and pagan-classical elements into new homogenous styles which were Christian in purpose and flavour, the agents of the transformation being in all cases monks. This process can be seen most clearly at work in late seventh-century Northumbria. The merging of Roman and Celtic monastic attitudes we have already noted was paralleled in culture. Benedict Biscop, the key figure, was a Northumbrian nobleman who had travelled to Rome, and quite consciously (with the encouragement of the court) founded his twin-monastery to raise cultural as well as religious standards. At Rome he had seen the products of the Byzantine-imperial ateliers, which produced, for home consumption as well as for export, a wide range of luxury articles: elaborate gospels with gold letters on purple grounds, ivory episcopal chairs, silk vestments and hangings, and precious reliquaries. Benedict brought from Gaul masons who knew how to 'build in the Roman manner', and glaziers who could work with coloured glass; and from Rome he borrowed John, Archcantor of St Peter's, to teaching chanting and reading aloud to his English monks. In addition to books, he imported relics, vestments,
chalices and ikons. Within a generation, Northumbria was producing not only the works of Bede but reproductive craftsmanship of the highest order: one of its manuscripts, the Wearmouth-Jarrow Codex Amiatinus, was inspired by a copy of Cassiodorus's great Bible but rendered in the local vernacular style; it was taken by Abbot Ceolfrid to Rome in 716 and presented to the Pope as a spectacular example of English skill. Now in the Laurentian Library in Florence, it is one of the glories of the Dark Ages. Nearby at Lindisfarne, the craftsmanship was essentially Celtic. There was a first-rate jeweler's shop, producing patterns and employing techniques based on a 600-year-old pagan tradition. These Celtic- pagan forms and colours were translated into manuscript illumination, especially in the great Lindisfarne Gospels, where the magnificent initial letter on folio 149r, surrounded by its 10,600 dots, is a two- dimensional rendering of a piece of jewellery, which might once, as it were, have been fashioned for a pagan Celtic princess. Indeed, two great contemporary Irish artifacts, the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch, both correspond closely with the forms of the Lindisfarne Gospels. The pagan work of abstract imagery again surfaces in a Christian context in the seventh-century Book of Durrow, where the colouring is limited and primitive, and in the ninth-century Book of Kells, where Roman-Byzantine influence has added polychromatic brilliance to the basic Celtic-pagan skeleton. Perhaps most spectacular of all was the development of the entirely new Celtic-Christian idiom of the stone cross. The stone-art of Ireland went right back to the La Tene period of the first century AD. The Christian device of the cross gave pagan technology the opportunity to develop a unique art-world of its own, with a multitude of periods and schools, and an increasing elaboration of the message conveyed. Eventually what we have in these high stone crosses is a theology in stone, imparting a number of elaborate Mediterranean religious concepts in a purely Celtic "artistic vernacular. The crosses stood at the wayside, throughout the western parts of the British Isles, wherever tracks converged and men gathered - lifted fingers both admonitory and benign, mute witnesses to Christianity which spoke powerfully to the eyes.
The stone crosses of the Celtic world symbolize the intense and complete identification between art and Christianity which was so striking and powerful a feature of these centuries. Christianity was not just a carrier of culture, through the agency of the monks it in effect became culture. At the height of the Wearmouth-Jarrow epoch, there were over 700 monks in the two houses, all literate, each with a disciplined skill: this must have represented an enormously high proportion of the total literacy and talent of a small semi-barbarian kingdom. Again, a very large percentage of the available economic resources of Northumbria must have been invested in this enterprise. Monasticism, in fact, proved highly effective in persuading these emergent western societies to devote a dramatic part of their wealth and skills to cultural purposes. If the monks performed prodigies in raising the total amount of land used for crops and pasture, as we have seen, they also ensured that agricultural surpluses, or at any rate a large part of them, were diverted to art and literacy, and not squandered in consumption. They thus raised Europe from the trough of the post-Roman world in two distinct but complementary ways. Moreover, because of the international character of their organization, they ensured that the transmission and diffusion of this culture was accomplished as rapidly as possible. Here again, Christianity impinged directly. Monastic houses were essentially the product of intense local religious enthusiasm. Where this was greatest, the adoption of a high level of cultural activity came most quickly. And it was from these culturally dynamic centres that the monks fanned out, driven by their urge to proselytize.
Thus the British Isles were able to play a part out of all proportion to their economic or population resources. Ireland began 'exporting' scholars to the Continent (as well as to Britain) at a very early stage. It was an Irishman, Dicuil, perhaps an Iona monk, who produced the earliest geographical survey written on Frankish territory, the Liber de Mensura Orbis Terrae, which included a description of the elephant sent to Charlemagne in 804 by Harun-al-Rashid, and notes on Iceland and the Faroes, which Dicuil seems to have visited. There was an Irish circle at Liege in the mid ninth century, led by Sedulius Scottus, or Scottigena, who even knew some Greek - a monopoly of the Irish in western Europe at this time - and whose writings range from political theory to a large group of Latin poems, some delightfully humorous. There was a similar circle at Laon and Reims in the ninth century, under 'John the Irishman' or Johannes Scotus Erigena, whose knowledge of Latin and Greek was outstanding for the period, and whose On the Division of the Universe is an ambitious attempt to construct a philosophical and theological theory of the creation and the origins of the universe. And along with the Irish, the English monks were the great cultural transmitters of the eighth and ninth centuries. We get an early example in Wilfrid, a bishop who wholly identified his office and his religion with cultural grandeur, and who was active as a missionary on the Frisian Coast; and, still more so, with Boniface, whose English mission to Germany carried Christianity into northern and central Europe and founded such cultural centres as Fulda, Boniface's favourite monastery. Perhaps the most important of the cultural lines in transition was the chain which stretched from Wearmouth-Jarrow (itself, as we have seen, linked to Rome, and through Rome to Byzantium) to the archiepiscopal school of York in the eighth century, and from York to the Frankish territories. Here the agent, in this last stage, was the greatest cultural transmitter of all, Alcuin, described by Charlemagne's biographer, Einhard, as 'the king's master, nicknamed Albino, a deacon, but a Saxon of Britain by birth, and the most learned man of his day'. We have already seen him at work at Charlemagne's coronation; we shall meet him again. Alcuin, first as head of the palace school, later as the Abbot of St Martin's, Tours, France's most revered monastery, became Charlemagne's chief cultural and religious adviser - the two roles were inseparable.
Indeed in the mind of a man like Alcuin the desire to spread the faith, to understand it fully through literacy and knowledge of the scriptures and the ancillary disciplines, and to adorn and celebrate it through art, was all part of the same Christian vision, whose intensity and brightness were the products of personal conviction. The level of culture was directly related to the degree of faith. It was Alcuin who filled Charlemagne's mind with the missionary fervour of Augustine's De Civitate Dei, and it was Alcuin who showed him a copy of Gregory the Great's letter to King AEthelbert of Kent on the subject of conversion by race. In 789 Alcuin caused the king to issue the Admonitio Generalis, a magisterial statement of Church policy, based on earlier Frankish capitularies and Roman canonical collections, and dealing with almost everything. It has, as it were, a Roman imperial vision of a Christian society living at peace within itself, united under its king and fearing nothing but injustice - an Augustinian vision, we could say. Article 62 reads: 'Let peace, concord and unanimity reign among all Christian people, and the bishops, abbots, counts and our other servants, great and small; for without peace we cannot please God.' What is perhaps even more remarkable, however, is the central role which culture played in this vision. Article 72 dealt with the establishment and maintenance of monastic and cathedral schools, and the transcription and correction of biblical and liturgical texts. It is clear from this and other documents that Charlemagne, inspired by Alcuin, saw a cultural renaissance, directed by the Church, as the chief means by which the perfect Christian society would be brought into existence. The Church had given the rulers of the western barbarians an awareness of their classical heritage, and an anxiety to preserve and transmit it almost as strong as among the men of the late empire and after, like Cassiodorus and Boethius. But of course the inheritance was now seen entirely in a Christian context. And because the cultural urge was Christianized, it was linked to Christian policy and objectives. Charlemagne built and endowed schools because he needed a trained clergy to convert the Frisians, Saxons, Slavs and Avars, and live among them; and because he needed more priests for the Frankish world which was already nominally Christian. And, in teaching the faith, accurate and standardized texts were needed in huge quantities. There was thus a call for trained manpower to overhaul the texts and copy them exactly and economically. Material was brought from Lombardy, but more from England. Alcuin used the resources of the English monasteries and cathedral schools which, with their direct links with Rome, had become clearing-houses for manuscripts. 'Reliable' versions from Rome reached Canterbury, Jarrow, York and Malmesbury, and were there copied for the use of English missionaries abroad, and for export to Frankish centres. The point about the Codex Amiatinus which Ceolfrid took to Rome was not only its beauty but its accuracy. Other important English manuscripts were sent to monastic libraries in Corbie, Tours, St Denis, Utrecht, Echternach, Mainz, Lorsch, Amorbach, Wirzburg, Salzburg, Reichenau and of course Fulda. There they were recopied. Along with biblical and devotional texts went a small number of manuscripts of secular books, which had been recommended by Cassiodorus as useful to spiritual purposes, and also his advice on the careful copying of manuscripts, the technique for spotting possible emendations, and rules for spelling, binding and keeping of books. This last work was embodied in a circular to all religious houses, written presumably by Alcuin and despatched by Charlemagne's chancery, urging on them the need to cultivate letters as the proper introduction to the scriptures. Another general letter sent out by Alcuin and Charlemagne noted that the king had set up a task-force to 'correct with all possible care' the entire Bible 'degraded through the ignorance of copyists'. Alcuin was in charge of this effort: and it was the great codex embodying the results which, as we have seen, was handed to his master in Rome on Christmas Day 800. In a way, the revised and amended Bible of Alcuin sums up, not unfairly, the limitations of Dark Age Christian culture - a conscientious, and in the circumstances heroic, effort to recover as much as possible, and as accurately as possible, the understanding of the past; but an almost total absence of the desire to reach out for new frontiers.
These Dark Age scholars believed that God had imposed definite limits on what knowledge man might acquire in this world without sin. In accepting these limits they were motivated by fear, as well as by respect for the past. They were, indeed, fearful and superstitious men. The Christian Church of Alcuin in the late eighth century was still, in certain basic essentials, recognisably the same as the Church of Paul's letters to the Corinthians, around AD 50-60. But in certain other respects it was very different. If Christianity had been 'imperialized' in the fourth century, it was to some extent 'barbarianized' in the West, during the three centuries beginning about 500. Nothing exactly new was created; but certain elements already present in 'imperial Christianity' were enormously inflated and so transformed. Of these by far the most important was the cult of relics. The popularization of this cult by Ambrose in fourth century Milan was a decisive event in Christian history. Relics rapidly became, and for some 800 years remained, the most important single element in Christian devotion. They were the Christian's only practical defence against inexplicable suffering, and the constant and malignant activities of devils. Saints were believed to communicate with the world through contact with their earthly remains. Thus relics radiated a kind of energy, rather like a nuclear pile, and were correspondingly dangerous as well as
useful. Important relics were approached with terror, and frequently revenged themselves on the profane and the sceptical. They conveyed a sense of supernatural power constantly humming through the world, which could be switched on through access to the right liturgical and sacramental channels.
It had been acknowledged at least since imperial times that 'the age of miracles' was over, in the sense that Christian leaders could no longer spread the gospel, like the apostles, with the aid of supernatural power - at any rate as a rule. From the time of the Montanists onwards, the Church had eliminated those who claimed to be able to work miracles and speak with tongues. An alternative theory had been evolved. As Gregory I put it: 'Now, my brethren, seeing that ye work no such signs, is it that ye believe not?' and answered: 'Not so. For holy church worketh daily now in the spirit, whatsoever the Apostles then wrought in the body ... And indeed these miracles are the greater for being spiritual: all the greater, as uplifting not the bodies but the souls of men.' Nevertheless, it was allowed that, in certain exceptional cases, miracles did occur, always associated with saints, when alive, or with their relics after death. Everyone accepted this, in theory and in practice. Bede, for instance, was an educated man who knew how to use evidence and who did not rule out natural explanations - the sudden rise and fall of storms at sea, and so on. For him miracles occurred for a moral and didactic purpose. In his life of St Cuthbert, one of the most influential biographies of the Dark and Middle Ages, he described how the creatures of the air and sea - indeed, the air and sea themselves - obeyed the saint. Man, says Bede, had originally exercised such dominion over his environment, but had lost it through the first sin; but it was possible for individuals to recover it by showing exceptional virtue. Bede demonstrated that groups of miracles performed by holy men highlighted and furthered the conversion of England. He never describes a miracle just to astonish: it must further God's work. And he always 'checked' his sources, insisting that anecdotes must come from dependable persons. Describing the visions of Hell of Fursey, an Irish saint who lived among the East Angles in the 630s, Bede writes:
'An aged brother is still living in our monastery who relates that a most truthful and pious man told him he had seen Fursey himself in the kingdom of the East Angles, and had heard these visions from his own mouth. He added that, though it was during a time of severe winter weather, and a hard frost, and though Fursey sat wearing only a thin garment when he told his story, yet he sweated as though it were the middle of summer, because of the great terror and joy his memories aroused.'
With an absolute belief in miracles worked by saints, the possession of relics became for ordinary people the most important aspect of religion. It was the one level of religious activity in which the laity and the clergy were on an equal footing. Relics served a variety of practical purposes. They were virtually indispensable for the saying of mass, being attached to the altar. They played a vital part in the judicial system, for swearings and judicial combats. Kings carried them into battle: the power and excitement of the relic cult, and its direct influence on military success, was one reason why the barbarian leaders were prepared to embrace Christianity. William I went into action at Hastings wearing round his neck a string of relics given to him by the Pope, as the champion of orthodoxy and reform; a generation later, the discovery of the Holy Lance gave a powerful impetus to the First Crusade. Pilgrimages to the sites of important relics, common since the fourth century, became the chief motive for travel for over a thousand years, and determined the communications-structure and often the shape of the international economy. It was not just that towns expanded around relics: so did regional, national and even
international fairs, which were timed to coincide with the annual parade of key relics. A major factor in the prosperity of northern France, for instance, was the great fair which originated as a joint procession of the relics of St Denis and Notre Dame.
Relics were much more valuable than any precious metal. They were in fact the most important focus for the highest metallic art of the Dark Ages. A good example is the Holy Image of St Foy at Conques. Foy was supposedly a young girl of twelve, martyred during the last persecution by Rome of 303. Some of her remains were brought to the abbey in 866, and rapidly produced miracles, pilgrims and precious donations. In c. 985 the relics were encased in a gold statue, to which were later attached donations in the form of emeralds, agates, pearls, onyx, sapphires, amethysts, crystals and old Roman cameos; her skull, wrapped in silver, was hidden in a cavity in the statue's back. The tenth century produced a large number of these luxurious reliquaries, such as the golden foot-shaped box, made in the jewel-workshop at Trier, which housed St Andrew's sandal; or a two-foot high reliquary of the Blessed Virgin, of wood covered in gold leaf, made in Essen for the abbess-granddaughter of the Emperor Otto I, and probably the oldest free-standing figure of the Virgin in existence. Most of these wonderful artifacts have disappeared, looted and melted down in the sixteenth century. Thus at Rochester there was once a set of folding chairs, made in silver, and presented by the mother of King Harold; and an ivory horn presented by William the Conqueror. Reading Abbey had a beautiful statue of Our Lady, of which a Bohemian visitor wrote in the fifteenth century: 'I have never seen its equal, nor shall I ever see one to compare with it if I go to the ends of the earth.'
A huge proportion of society's liquid assets were tied up in relics and their precious settings. It was one way of keeping money safely. For an abbey or episcopal church, a good relic collection - or even one outstanding item -attracted pilgrims and thus wealth. Kings amassed collections as big as those of major churches, to enhance their prestige and authority. They took their best relics with them wherever they went, thus ensuring they were always within the ambit of spiritual power. The primitive candle-clock which Bishop Asser says King Alfred invented was used to provide a perpetual light before his travelling relic-collection. These collections had to be comprehensive to impress the public. Like modern national art collections, there were certain 'musts' - and there had to be a cross-section of local saints. It is a pity we do not know more about the big Dark Age collections. From later centuries, however, detailed inventories survive. We have a full catalogue of the collection formed by the newly founded Reading Abbey, between the 1120s and the 1190s. It was composed of 242 items, and included Our Lord's shoe, his swaddling clothes, blood and water from his side, bread from the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Last Supper, Veronica's veil and shroud, Our Lady's hair, bed and belt, the rods of Moses and Aaron, and various relics of St John the Baptist. This group was not as impressive as it might seem: the relics, of course, were only tiny fragments; all of those listed could easily be bought in Constantinople in the twelfth century, and most were almost certainly fakes. Hairs of Our Lady were particularly common. Reading's English relics were presumably genuine. It kept up to date - another important point - and had a splendid list of bits of St Thomas a Becket, and relics of Bernard of Clairvaux, St Malachy of Armagh, the popular boy-saints William of Norwich and Robert of Bury, both supposedly murdered by Jews in 'anti-Christian' rituals, and - this was a rarity - the head, jawbone, vestments, rib and hair of St Brigid, recently 'discovered' at Downpatrick in 1185. Reading's prize possession, however, was the hand of St James, which its benefactress, the Empress Matilda, had stolen
from the German imperial chapel, and which had once been an imperial possession in Constantinople. Almost as good was the 'head' of St Philip (that is, a bone encased in a gold head), which was later added by King John. This was part of the loot of the Fourth Crusade, which sacked Constantinople and was a potent source of primary relics.
The trouble with relics was that, being valuable, they could not be separated from crime. There were various acute phases of relic-forgery: in Syria and Egypt during the post-Constantine age; in eighth- century Germany during the Carolingian relic-inflation, when Italian travelling salesmen peddled vast quantities to the Franks; and in the early thirteenth century, when the looting of Byzantium brought quantities of 'genuine' relics, plus even larger numbers of recently forged ones, to western Europe. But there were frauds on a huge scale and at all periods. In 761 Pope Paul I protested in a decree that 'many of the cemeteries of Christ's holy martyrs and confessors, of great antiquity, sited outside the walls of Rome have fallen into a state of neglect and now through the devastations of the impious Lombards are in ruins; for these men most sacrilegiously desecrated them, digging up the graves of the martyrs and removing the bodies of the saints as plunder.' This was an old tale: Gregory I found some Greek monks had been digging up ordinary bodies at Rome by night, and when arrested and questioned they said they were taking the bones back to Constantinople to pass them off as relics of saints. At least the monks were honest enough to insist on Roman bones.
Successive popes made efforts to check the worst abuses: on important relics it was necessary for the Pope's personal signet to be stamped, as a guarantee of authenticity. But the popes had a huge vested interest in the trade. Rome was constantly 'finding' bodies, rather like St Ambrose. Thus in the ninth century it discovered the corpse of St Cecilia, following a miraculous vision of Pope Paschal. In many cases, the flesh of these discoveries was found intact, or almost so. This, in Rome's view, was a sign of sanctity. But Constantinople believed the opposite: the refusal of the flesh to rot was a certain sign of heresy; it might remain thus for 1,000 years, or until the person was properly absolved. But of course this violent disagreement on a central aspect of the cult did not, in practice, make any difference, since all that Constantinople shipped westwards were bones and scraps of clothing. As for Rome's own 'discoveries', these went north and west to powerful sovereigns, in exchange for diplomatic or military support. In 826, the Emperor Louis the Pious exerted tremendous pressure on the Pope to hand over the body of St Sebastian, which was taken in triumph to Soissons; there were popular riots in Rome when the Pope gave in. Again, in 834, the Roman mob howled when the Pope sold the relics of St Alexander and St Justin to a delegation from Freising, who handed over to him, in return, 'a noble and weighty pile of precious things'. Ten years after this, Sergius II sold to Abbot Varcuard of Prum the relics of St Chrysantius and St Darius. There were plenty more where they came from.
High dignitaries of Church and State not only bought and sold relics but countenanced open theft and piracy. There were professional relic-thiefs, such as Alfred, Canon of Durham, who piously visited Jarrow every year until he succeeded in pinching the body of Bede, which he placed alongside St Cuthbert's at Durham. Durham, in turn, was robbed of relics by its own bishops - Ethelric and Ethelwine, bishops in turn, transferred some of the cathedral treasures to their native abbey of Peterborough. Kings, bishops and abbots might employ professional criminals, or they might venture into crime themselves, using whatever power was available or necessary. Men did not make a distinction between political and military force, and the spiritual force generated by holy bones. An ambitious man like King Cnut, for instance, took risks in this field, just as he staked his kingdoms and his life in battle: the potential rewards were worth it. In 1020, Abbot Ethelstan of Romsey, instigated by the Bishop of Dorchester and with the consent of Cnut, sent a naval expedition to Sohan to steal the body of St Felix: there was nearly a naval battle with the monks of Ely. Three years later, Archbishop Ethelnoth, with Cnut's help, opened the sarcophagus of St Elfeah in St Paul's, using crowbars, while the king's housecarles stood guard against the angry citizens. Cnut hurried half-clad from his bath to take part in the raid, and himself took the tiller of the boat which carried the corpse, on a plank, across the Thames, to travel under armed escort to reinterment in Canterbury. Cnut also abetted the theft of St Mildred, pinched from Thanet and taken, again, to Canterbury. These incidents were not pranks or escapades, but high acts of State, concerned with power, privilege, authority, jurisdiction and the hopes and fears of primitive rulers.
During the twelfth century we get the first doubts cast on certain aspects of the system. About 1120, Guibert, Abbot of Nogent, wrote his Relics of the Saints, which argued that many of the saint-cults were spurious - he instanced a young squire who became the object of a cult solely because he happened to die on Good Friday. A generation later, Pope Alexander in made the whole business of canonization a papal monopoly. Guibert also pointed to elements in the system which were clearly fraudulent. Churches in both Constantinople and Angeli claimed to have the head of St John the Baptist. Was he two-headed then? Ely and St Albans each claimed all the bones of St Dunstan; and so did Odense in Denmark. A rich bishop or abbot might easily be duped. Bishop Odo of Bayeux was swindled by the monks of Corbeil who pretended to sell him the body of St Exupery but in fact handed over the corpse of a peasant. How could it be explained that duplicate relics, or wholly fraudulent ones, seemed able to exert spiritual power? By this time, of course, the system was in decline. In the thirteenth century the eucharist became the centre of popular devotion, and saints had to be new and spectacular - like St Thomasto inspire important cults.
In the meantime, however, the relic cult had changed the face of Europe. The most important relic of all was the body of St Peter, which Christian opinion had believed, at least since the mid second century, was buried on the site of the Vatican church called after him. Possession of the body was regarded as final 'proof that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome. The following chronology was constructed: in AD 34 Peter became Bishop of Antioch; in 40 moved his see to Rome; in 59 consecrated Linus and Cletus his successors. No one challenged these assertions. Peter was supposed to have founded an episcopal line which had never been broken since. Moreover, Paul's body was also in Rome. These relics made Rome a doubly apostolic foundation, the only one apart from Jerusalem, which was not a force in Church politics. Leo the Great, Pope from 440 to 461, made the point that Peter and Paul, the most potent of the apostles, had replaced Romulus and Remus as the city's protectors. Rome thus inherited, in Christianized form, something of the invincibility of the imperial city. But clearly Christ had intended Rome to play a special international role too, in his Church. Hence the famous text of Matthew 16:18. Rome was exerting its authority over other churches as early as the second century, as we have seen.
The Petrine text did not, however, play any part before c. 250; it was first invoked in the controversy over baptism with Carthage. But from the time of Pope Gelasius, Ambrose's contemporary, and the
dawn of the age of the relic-cult in the late fourth century, it became a key text, frequently invoked in conjunction with Peter's 'presence' in the city. It was from this time that collections of canons, and synodal and conciliar decisions, began to appear. Where there was any doubt, it was natural that the Petrine city should be appealed to, and should give a ruling which everyone should regard as authoritative. For centuries this development of unity centered on Rome was a spontaneous devotion to St Peter, rather than the result of papal activity, which was minimal. Monasteries and bishoprics were founded, saints canonized, regulations laid down, and local councils met under the chairmanship of kings, all without reference to Rome. Appointments of bishops and abbots were decided on the spot. Rome, when informed, simply confirmed what had been done. Yet there was a residual element of authoritarianism, always present in theory and sometimes in practice. This was a combination of the special role of St Peter and Rome's original legacy as the founding-capital of the empire. All the Popes who found it desirable, or possible, to exert their authority did so on a Petrine basis. Gelasius II, Pope from 492 to 496, claimed that the 'see of blessed Peter has the right to loose what has been bound by the decisions of any bishops whatsoever'.
Petrine collections of canons and conciliar decrees were thus more authoritative than any other. Then, too, the metropolitan system, early established in the East, was slow to take hold in the West. Individual bishops in Gaul or Spain would write to the Bishop of Rome, rather than their metropolitan, for a verdict or advice. From the time of Damasus on, popes treated such requests on the lines of the old imperial 'rescripts', modelling their technique and style on the imperial chancery. Papal letters began to take the form of decretals, the Popes assuming they had a juridical power based on their historical foundation. Moreover, Rome transformed the metropolitan system into a part of her imperial legacy. The English metropolitan church of Canterbury had been founded directly from Rome, as a result of Gregory I's efforts, and had always had a special relationship with the papacy. The Pope invested the Archbishop of Canterbury with a pallium, or fur tippet, which emperors had originally placed round the shoulders of legates on their appointment. From the seventh century the practice began to spread to other metropolitans, and to be accompanied by a confession of faith, which an archbishop had to make to the Pope as a testimony of his orthodoxy, Rome being the custodian of creedal perfection.
From the last decades of the fourth century, Rome had become a centre of pilgrimage, gradually ousting Jerusalem from this role. As a result, Roman liturgical practices, rather than the very different ones of Jerusalem, tended increasingly to become standard, at any rate in the West. In 416, indeed, Innocent I argued that, as Rome had brought the gospel to all the Latin provinces - an assertion which was not quite true - they should automatically adopt the Roman liturgy. This did not happen, at any rate until the time of Charlemagne, who adopted Roman practice throughout his dominions as a matter of state policy. Many powerful figures in the early Church had, in fact, argued against liturgical uniformity. There was, for instance, the Ambrosian rite in Milan; and even Augustine, who believed strongly in unity, centrality and authoritarianism in Church matters, put the case for regional rites. But the popes set high standards in music and spectacle, and it was natural for those who came to Rome to wish to imitate its usages in their home churches.
Moreover, had not anything Roman the sanction of St Peter? It would be hard to exaggerate the manner in which, to the minds of the Dark Ages, his continuing presence and power dominated the city. From the time of Damasus it became the object of every Christian, if possible, to make the journey to Rome. The popes encouraged these pilgrimages. Damasus first began the official cataloguing of the martyrs in the catacombs, and this and other efforts to systematize the pilgrimage were continued under his successors. Oil from lamps in the catacombs was collected in small ampullae', these shrines were visited in order, either clockwise or anti-clockwise, and the bottles labelled accordingly - some sixth-century labels survive. From the seventh century we have guide books, two of which survive; they are surprisingly detailed and accurate. The papacy set up hostels for pilgrims, but various 'nations' provided their own as well; thus the English had a series called, in their own language, the borough - later the borgo.
Gregory the Great's writings, amongst the most widely read throughout this period, popularized the superstitious element of the Petrine presence and miracles. He wrote to the empress: 'The bodies of the apostles Peter and Paul glitter with such great miracles and awe that no one can go to pray there without considerable fear.' He related two anecdotes of workmen dying after being too near the bodies. As with the tomb of Tutankhamen, proximity might prove fatal. The place was dark, mysterious, with queer noises and exhalations; pilgrims could not actually get at the underground sepulchre, but lowered handkerchiefs or gold keys from above, and then pulled them up transformed into holy and potent relics. Everyone believed that St Peter was there, in a physical sense. He dominated all the activities of his see. His remains guarded his rights, and struck down those who tried to usurp them. In a way he was more real than the Pope, who was merely his vicar. A pilgrimage was not a symbolical business: it was an actual visit to St Peter. When Abbot Ceolfrid of Jarrow took the splendid bible the monks had illuminated to Rome, it was dedicated, said Bede, not to the Pope, but to St Peter's body. Peter not only radiated power from his tomb, he took an active part in Church affairs if necessary. Thus when Pope Leo the Great presented his 'Tome' to the Council of Chalcedon as an authoritative statement of Christological and Trinitarian doctrine, he declared it to be directly inspired by Peter; indeed, one seventh-century theologian, John Moschius, believed that the tome had received its final corrections in Peter's own miraculous hand. In Bede's graphic description of the Synod of Whitby in 664, which met to settle the date of Easter, he shows that the King of Northumbria opted for Rome, as opposed to Iona, because he believed that St Peter literally held the keys of entrance to Heaven, arid so was much more powerful than St Columba. Peter was not a stationary relic but an active, executive presence, who took decisions. St Boniface, setting out on his German mission, swore an oath 'to you, St Peter, and to your vicar'. And Peter might show displeasure, and punish. In 710, the Pope, as the imperial official in Rome, accused the Archbishop of Ravenna of rebellion and ordered his eyes to be put out. The sentence was presented as coming direct from St Peter, who imposed it because the archbishop had disobeyed his vicar. The belief was, in fact, that while Peter's relics did their work from his tomb, his earthly persona was entrusted to the current Pope, who acted vicariously.
The above evidence suggests that it was only in the eighth century that the full importance of St Peter's connection with Rome began to be fully understood and proclaimed. As Peter's reputation and continuing power swelled, what more natural than that men should believe that previous ages had acknowledged it, not merely in theory but in a highly practical manner? The issue gradually came to the fore in the course of the eighth century as a result of a number of factors which were changing the relationship of Rome to the political world outside. The first was a fiscal breach with the Byzantine empire which occurred in the years after 726. The Bishop of Rome, as a Byzantine duke and the ruler of part of the imperial territories in Italy, had owed taxes to Constantinople since at least the second half of the fifth century. Their collection had been resented, especially since the fearful ravaging of Italy by Justinian's forces in their long and ultimately futile effort to reestablish imperial power. When Byzantine tax assessments were raised in 726, the Pope simply refused to pay, and never thereafter did so. This left the papacy without a formal political and defensive relationship with any major power. Having renounced Byzantium, and unwilling to trust the Lombards, the Popes looked increasingly to the rising power of the Franks beyond the Alps. The Franks had been converted directly to Catholic Christianity, like the English. As a result of English missionary efforts culminating in the great drives of St Boniface, Christianity was spreading rapidly across the Rhine and Frankish power was expanding accordingly. Why should not this great emergent Catholic power supply the protection which Byzantium was no longer capable of providing? The transfer of alliance from Byzantium to the Franks implied, however, that the papacy was an independent power, free to move from one jurisdiction to another. Hence the theory developed that the central Italian lands controlled by Rome were of special significance, being the core of a renewed Roman empire, over which the Pope exercised control. This appeared to solve a historical problem which had long proved puzzling. Why had Constantine transferred his capital to New Rome so soon after his conversion? The answer could only be that he wished, as a testimony to his new faith, to transfer Old Rome and its dependencies to St Peter, as an outright gift. Some time in the eighth century this explanation found written expression in the shape of a 'letter' from Constantine to Pope Sylvester I, dated 30 March 315. Like many other Christian forgeries, this was very likely a sincere attempt by clerks in the papal chancery to document a transaction which they had convinced themselves had actually taken place. The letter listed the emperor's gifts to the Bishop of Rome as vicar of St Peter: preeminence over all the patriarchal sees, including Constantinople (this was a mistake, as Constantinople did not exist in 315) and all other churches; the imperial palace of the Lateran and the imperial insignia of Rome; and all imperial powers in Rome, Italy and the western provinces. Constantine was described as depositing the document on the body of St Peter, as his personal gift to him.
The Donation of Constantine appeared to place at the disposal of the Pope, acting as the vicar of St Peter, the whole of the western provinces of the empire. At a stroke it proffered the keystone needed to complete the arch of the total Christian society. In the West the Church had imposed Christian characteristics on the law, it had achieved a dominant role in the agrarian economy, and it had established a monopoly of education and culture. Now it had the chance to integrate the basic system of government with Christian teaching and practice by making the ruler a functionary of Christian theology.
The theory was already there. The idea of Melchisedech, the priest-king, was present in the Old Testament. Paul, in his effort to separate Christianity from Jewish Zealotry, and to show that it was in no sense a threat to the Roman empire, had written passage after passage insisting that established authority had divine sanction: 'There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.' The prince, he insisted, 'is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to exact wrath upon him that doeth evil.' Paul's idea of the ruler as an ecclesiastical figure fitted easily, as perhaps it was meant to do, with the pagan convention of the divine or semi-divine emperor, the supreme pontiff. When the emperor shifted his religious allegiance, Christian ideologues were only too anxious that he should conserve his regal pontificalism, so that he could bring the full weight of the State behind the extirpation of heresy and schism, and the maintenance of Catholic orthodoxy. So Augustine argued that when an emperor ordered what was good, Christ himself gave the order. He said that emperors were invested with this sacred power to perform quasi-episcopal functions. As we have seen, Bishop Eusebius thought Constantine had been right to regard himself as a bishop.
By the beginning of the fifth century, this Christian Caesaro-papalism was the official doctrine of the empire: Honorius and his imperial brother Arcadius issued edicts equating heresy with treason, and vice versa; and in the next century the Justinian code established the emperor as judge of dogma and the worthiness of priests, his authority over the Church stretching to all matters save the actual spiritual content of the priestly functions. At the Council of Constantinople (448), Theodosius was hailed by the bishops as Pontiff-Emperor; at Chalcedon (451), Marcian was called 'Priest and King'. Eastern patriarchs and metropolitans quickly fell into this pattern as subordinates. But Rome, too, accepted the idea of the priest-emperor. Leo I, though a champion of the sacerdotal dignity, told Marcian that he prayed that God 'may confer on you, besides the regal crown, the priestly rod also'. In Rome, as well as in Constantinople, the imperial dignity was treated as of divine origin and institution. Honouring the emperor was a form of religious service. When the Theodosian Code was promulgated at Rome in 438, the senators chanted out Through you we hold our honours, through you our property, through you everything' a total of twenty-eight times; there were fifteen other similar repeated acclamations, making a grand total of 352 rhythmically chanted praises - thus forming a model for later Christian litanies addressed to God. Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The regal pontiff in Constantinople was surrounded by an elaborate apparatus of worship. From a tenth-century description by Liutprand, Bishop of Cremona, we gather that the emperor was levitated up and down on a throne worked by hidden machinery, to increase his impressiveness, and beside the throne were mechanical lions, which roared and thumped their tails when a visitor approached.
Some of the imperial ceremonial was adopted by the papacy. At the Lateran there was a blend of the trappings and symbolism from the eastern court with forms taken over earlier from the Roman senate and magistracy. Music played an important role, and organs - the first in the West - were imported from Constantinople to enhance it. The papal functionaries were strictly graded; an elaborate series of antechambers led to the papal throne room; the Pope himself was greeted with a profound proskvnesis at the foot of his throne; and in the late seventh century we first hear of a tall, white papal headpiece, called the phrygium or camelaucon, which later evolved into the tiara; it was said to have been presented to Sylvester by Constantine in lieu of a temporal crown, which would have obscured his tonsure. Liturgical manuals which have survived, such as the Ordo Romanus, describing the formal stations when the Pope celebrated mass at a particular Roman church on a particular day, present us with a fully articulated ceremonial, carefully executed, centering on the glorification of the papal person, in accordance with Byzantine court practice, rather than on the mass itself. As the split with Byzantium widened, the papacy buttressed its claims to the independent acquisition of power by stressing its divine connections. From 727 Byzantium itself was split by the issue of iconoclasm, which became the official policy of Constantinople. Pope Gregory II condemned iconoclasm, and in 729 the political links between Rome and the empire were effectively severed; under John VII, frescoes appeared in the church of Santa Maria
Antica showing the pope receiving the symbols of the papacy not from the emperor, but from the Blessed Virgin herself, robed and crowned as an empress.
Yet while the papacy might defy Byzantium, which seemed increasingly distant and feeble, and assume the trappings of sovereignty itself, it lacked the physical means to act like a sovereign power. It needed protection, and from the early eighth century it looked increasingly to the emergent power north of the Alps to provide it. The desire of the papacy for close alliance with the chief secular authority in western Europe coincided with a comparable urge, on the part of barbarian kings, to obtain the highest Christian sanction for their authority. Under paganism, these royal lines had claimed descent from mythical gods. Then came Christianization; and when, and if, the line failed, because of a lack of heirs, or defeat in battle, or poverty, the new royal house which succeeded needed the introduction of a religious ceremony as an initiation into the powers of kingship. Sacramental grace was poured into the new king as a substitute for the royal blood he lacked.
Some primitive form of Christian service to mark the accession of kings no doubt developed in the West as early as the sixth century; and it is possible that a king, in Spain, received a Christian coronation anointing as early as 672. But in the eighth century events transformed the situation. By the 740s, the Merovingian kings of the Franks had lost their power in all but name. They had parted with their estates and thus could no longer afford to reward followers with land. Effective power was in the hands of the hereditary Mayors of the Palace. The head of the house, Pepin, asked the Pope's opinion whether a king who could not effectively discharge his duties was in truth a king at all. The Pope replied, with abundant biblical quotations, that a king must rule in order to reign. Immediately this reply was received, Pepin and the court ecclesiastics acted. The last of the Merovingians, and his son, had their long kingly locks cut off, were tonsured, and imprisoned in a monastery. Pepin was anointed as king, in 751, by Archbishop Boniface, as the Pope's special envoy with plenitude potestatis; and three years later the Pope himself travelled north to repeat the ceremony. It is not absolutely clear how those concerned saw the function of the anointing. It may be that it served to absolve Pepin from the vow of fidelity to the fallen monarch. What is certain, however, is that king and Pope both regarded Christian sacramental intervention as in some way ending the magic of the old line and transferring it to the new.
The Pope had now become a king-maker. The rapid expansion of the Frankish dominions in the second half of the eighth century, and the development of papal theory based on the forged Donation of Constantine, suggested that the Pope could now assume the role of emperor-maker. Perhaps 'maker' is too strong a word. The Pope was more a sacramental functionary than a determining agent. With the eclipse of Byzantine power in Italy, the papacy had emerged, under Paul I, as the recognized residual legatee of imperial authority in the centre, a position it was to occupy until 1870. But the papacy itself was a prey to violent local faction. When Paul died in 768, a local duke, Toto of Nepi, seized the Lateran and carried out a coup in conjunction with his three brothers, one of whom, Constantine, was proclaimed Pope. The primicerius, Christopher, who resisted the coup, was blinded and mutilated in the square in front of the Lateran, dying a few days later of his injuries.
Under threats from Duke Toto, Bishop George of Palestrina, the vice-chamberlain, reluctantly invested Christopher, a layman, with clerical orders. But two rival popes were made in quick succession, and the coup collapsed in a welter of blood and barbarity. One of the brothers was blinded, and their chief clerical supporter blinded and his tongue slit in addition; Constantine was dragged from his palace, placed side-saddle on a horse with weights attached to his feet, locked up in a monastery, had his eyes put out, and was flung, prostrated, at the feet of one of his rival popes, Stephen in, who told him that all his ordinations were invalid. As a result, a decree was published declaring that 'under sanction of anathema no layman or person of any other status shall presume to attend a papal election in arms; but the election shall be in the hands of the known priests and leaders of the church and of all the clergy'. The object was to remove the papacy from local politics. In fact the papacy was already drifting, like all else in the West, into the orbit of the Carolingian State.
Charlemagne himself came to Rome, for the first time, in 774. Under his powerful shadow, the Pope, Hadrian I, was able to give the city, for the first time under the papacy, a settled internal government. During his pontificate of twenty-three years, the papal estates were reorganized, and dignity and decorum restored to the office. He became a personal friend not only of Alcuin, Charlemagne's chief adviser, but of the king himself; so that when Hadrian died in 795, Charles 'wept as if he had lost a deeply-loved son or brother'. But Hadrian was never more than a superior bishop, in Charlemagne's eyes, to be treated as a state ecclesiastical functionary. And when the papacy again got into difficulties, in 799, when Leo in was kidnapped, and barely escaped blinding, it was natural for Charlemagne to intervene and sit in judgment. So we come back to the famous and ambiguous coronation of Christmas Day, 800, with which we began this part of the book. It was the logical culmination of a number of tendencies - the growth of Frankish power in the West, the elimination of Byzantium, the ecclesiastical ascendancy of Rome and its claims to be the residual legatee of the empire in the West; and last but not least the development of sacramental kingship.
The ambiguity, however, lay in the Pope's role, as Charlemagne instantly recognized, when the nature of the ceremony caught him by surprise. Was the Pope donating him the empire, or merely acknowledging his de facto possession of it by imposing the sacramental seal and thus making it de jurel Or to put it another way, did Charlemagne by receiving the crown from the Pope's hands in some way acknowledge papal superiority to his own imperial status? Leo in had decorated the Lateran with a huge wall-painting of Christ, flanked on one side by Constantine and Sylvester, and on the other by Charlemagne and Leo. This evaded the issue. In the eighth century, theory tended to reflect the fact that the Pope was in need of Frankish protection, and therefore inferior. Royal ecclesiastics drew a distinction between the eastern emperor, who had always been crowned by the Church since 457, but was not anointed, and the western king, who was. The western Church had taken the anointing straight from the Old Testament; when Samuel performed the anointing, 'the spirit of the Lord came upon David'. Thus the king became Christus domini, the Lord's Anointed. He was supreme on earth. Charlemagne was told in 755, by one of his bishops: 'Always remember, my king, that you are the deputy of God, your king. You are set to guard and rule all his members, and you must render an account on the Day of Judgment. The bishop is in a secondary place, being simply the Vicar of Christ.' Writing to Charlemagne in 799, Alcuin put it another way:
'There have so far been three positions in the world of the highest rank: the Pope, who rules the see of St Peter, the prince of the apostles, as his vicar ... the imperial dignity and secular power of the second
Rome [Byzantium] ... and the royal dignity, in which the dispensation of our Lord Jesus Christ has placed you as the ruler of the Christian people, in power more excellent than the other two, in wisdom more distinguished, in the dignity of your rule more sublime. On you alone depends the whole safety of the churches of Christ.'
Obviously, when the coronation of 800 amalgamated the second and third roles, Charlemagne's authority was confirmed and enhanced: his ruling duties embraced the entire Christian people. Alcuin saw Charlemagne as sacerdos as well as rex - like Melchisadech. He was head of the Church as well as the State. He told him: 'You endeavour to purge and protect the churches of Christ from the doctrines of false brethren within, as much as from destruction by pagans without. The divine power has armed your majesty with these two swords in the right hand and in the left hand.' Again, such a Melchisadech figure naturally appointed bishops and other Church dignitaries - the theory was elaborated to protect the otherwise defenceless Church against the lay nobility. The point was underlined, for instance, by Thietmar, Bishop of Merseburg early in the eleventh century: 'Our kings and emperors, vicars of the supreme ruler in this our pilgrimage, alone arrange the appointment of bishops, and it is right that they should have authority before other men over their pastors; for it would be wrong if those pastors whom Christ made princes after his own likeness should be under the dominion of any except those who are set above other men by the glory of benediction and coronation.' The anointed king-emperor was thus raised above any other type of secular ruler; and the theory was completed by a description of the complementary roles of priest and king. 'Both priest and king in their office,' as a late eleventh-century Anglo-Norman writer put it, 'bear the image of Christ and God; the priest of the inferior office and nature, namely the human; the king of the superior, the divine.'
With the coronation of Charlemagne, therefore, the Christian take-over of human society in the West became, in theory at least, complete. Both the papacy and the strong-minded ecclesiastical element at the Carolingian court saw the new power-structure they had brought into existence not only as a restoration of the Roman empire in all its glory, but as a reconstruction from within of society in all its aspects, to produce a model of the Christian kingdom on earth. Charlemagne was to realize the Augustinian vision. He supplied much of the drive himself. He was a very intelligent, and in many ways clear-minded man. He grasped the intimate connection between effective government, culture and Christianity. But of the three, the last undoubtedly had priority in his mind. Charlemagne was, above all, a religious man.
He fully accepted the Augustinian mission the Church placed on his shoulders. Einhard shows his efforts to educate himself, to improve his knowledge and practice of the Christian life: ' ... he tried to write, and usually placed tablets and sheets of parchment under his pillows so that at odd moments when he was resting he could practise tracing letters. But he took up writing too late, and the results were not very good ... He gave much attention to correct reading and psalmody; for he was an expert, although he never read in public, and sang only in unison or to himself.' His aim, especially in the last decades of his life, was enormously to expand the literate manpower of his empire, to create a clergy capable not only of evangelizing the new Christians he had brought under his rule, but of deepening the knowledge of Christianity everywhere. He accepted Alcuin's definition of the king as a kind of lightning-conductor between heaven and earth: 'The goodness of the king is the prosperity of his nation, the victory of his army, the calmness of the atmosphere, the fertility of the earth, the blessing of sons, the health of the people.'
Bishops, abbots, priests and monks were the king's chief agents. Royal officials were selected from among the higher clergy, and Charlemagne and his successors expanded and developed the use of Church councils as legislative and executive organs. Almost everything came under their purview. Thus a council at Frankfurt in 794, and another at Aries in 813, dealt with weights and measures, and other commercial matters. The council of Paris, in 829, attacked the practice of lords forcing their dependents to sell corn and wine at fixed prices, and enacted a good deal of similar legislation to protect the weak against the strong. Aachen, in 816; decreed the erection of houses for destitute travellers, widows and poor girls, and made provision for isolation hospitals and leper-colonies. Successive councils decreed and enforced the compulsory payment of tithes, so that a financially viable parish system came into being.
Through the Church, the Carolingian age legislated in enormous detail on every aspect of conduct, especially on economic, family and sexual relationships. A huge, determined and continuous effort was made to bring the actual behaviour of individuals into line with Christian teaching. Bishops set up courts, which increasingly covered the whole field of marriage and inheritance. They went on visitations to ensure that the law was obeyed. A great deal of legislation covered the discipline and conduct of clergy, in an attempt to ensure that, at the parish level where it really mattered, the right teaching was given and enforced. For the first time we hear of the sermon as a regulatory instrument. It was, of course, a form of theocracy. Clerical supervision of morals, which was to remain legally binding in some countries until well into the nineteenth century, was first firmly established at this time.
The system was grossly unsatisfactory in many ways. From this period we must date the extraordinary muddle of Christian marriage laws, which in some ways still plague us to this day. The Carolingian State was also timid over slavery. None of its legislation impugned or attacked the status of slavery or even questioned whether this condition was compatible with Christian principles. It merely dealt with the treatment of slaves, their manumission and their marriage - and on the last point it backed the owner, since the Council of Chalons, 813, decreed that marriages of slaves owned by different masters were invalid, unless the owners agreed. There were, too, hideous blemishes on this Christian society. Legislation codified a good many earlier Spanish and Roman anti-Jewish decrees, which, among other things, prohibited Jews from holding public offices or owning Christian slaves, obliged them to keep to their homes on Christian feasts, and punished with excommunication any Christian who ate a meal with a Jewish family; marriage between Christians and Jews was dismissed as fornication. The Christian society which the Carolingians and other contemporary Christian rulers tried to shape was in many ways incorrigibly crude; its racial, if not its pagan, origins could not be erased. Despite the charisma of things Roman, in northern Christendom at least, the Church was Germanized, rather than society Romanized. The law was Germanic rather than Roman; Church organization, in the dioceses, tended to correspond to the German folk-system; where kingdoms were feudalized, the Church was feudalized too. In England, the king addressed his archbishops, bishops and abbots as he did his earls and thegns; the prelates were his servants, in effect, and their benefices and estates in his gift and control, as well as under his protection - it was significant, for instance, that he could grant the rank of bishop without the office or benefice. If society was a theocracy in one sense, it was also a royal tyranny in another.
It was a very harsh age, and in some ways society had to set its sights low. We have an insight into the Church's view of secular sanctity in a little life by Odo, second Abbot of Cluny, of St Gerald of Aurillac, who died at the end of the first decade of the tenth century. Gerald was a count, a major landowner and a soldier; he was prevented from renouncing secular life by public opinion, backed by the Church itself. It is not exactly clear why he was generally regarded as a saint. Odo himself felt this difficulty. He was critical of those who 'extol him indiscreetly, saying that Gerald was powerful and rich, yet lived well, and is certainly a saint'. Yet he admits he cannot find much evidence of miracles or successful prophecies. He goes on, rather lamely the modern reader may think: 'There is much evidence for the wonderful things which Gerald did. For it is well known that he preserved those things which were given him by his parents and by kings ... that he increased his property without injuring anyone ... that he was exalted in power but nevertheless remained poor in spirit.' Gerald, at least as Odo presents him, was a conservative figure, somewhat harsh and severe in his views. He was furious when he discovered that people were using the water in which he washed to effect cures: 'he said that if a serf did it he should be maimed, and if a free man, he should be reduced to servitude ... people took his threats of mutilation seriously, knowing that he would not yield in the matter of punishment.' So far as one can gather, Gerald did nothing more than treat his dependents justly, by the very imperfect standards of the times; that, in the tenth century, was sufficiently rare to promote a reputation for sanctity. It is a chilling little tale.
Of course, the expectations of Dark Age man were not high. The Carolingian age itself was a comparatively brief episode of order between repeated breakdowns in society. The profound pessimism which Christians drew from Augustine's writings itself seemed to mirror the uncertainties of life as they knew it. There grew up at this time a strong sense of the pointlessness of earthly life, which persisted long after horizons had widened - indeed, until the Renaissance. We find it particularly in endowment charters and documents justifying gifts of property to the church. In 1126, for instance, Stephen, Count of Boulogne, made over lands to Furness Abbey, 'seeing that the bonds of this our age are breaking and falling daily into decay, seeing, again, how all the transitory pomp of this world, with the flowers and rosy chaplets and palms of flourishing kings, emperors, dukes and all rich men do wither from day to day; how, again, death casts them all into one mingled mass and hurries them swiftly to the grave ...' And so forth. Otto, Bishop of Bamberg, asked why he founded monasteries when there were already so many, replied: 'This whole world is a place of exile; and so long as we live in this life we are pilgrims of the Lord. Therefore we need spiritual stables and inns, and such resting-places as monasteries afford to pilgrims. Moreover, the end of all things is at hand, and the whole world is seated in wickedness; wherefore it is good to multiply monasteries for the sake of those who would flee from the world and save their souls.'
Despite these limitations, however, the attempt to create a totally Christian society was neither ignoble nor wholly unsuccessful. There is something enormously impressive, almost heroic, about the work of such men as Charlemagne and Alfred. The Christian theory of kingship had allotted them a giant's role: they did their best to rise to it. Augustinian theory saw Christian mankind and its institutions as a whole, fully integrated, almost organic. During this period a conscious effort was made to realize the conception, and genuine progress was made. Never before or since has any human society come closer to operating as a unity, wholly committed to a perfectionist programme of conduct. Never again was
Christianity to attempt so comprehensively to realize itself as a human institution, as well as a divine one. And of course the experiment had profound and lasting consequences. It laid the foundations for the complementary concepts of Christendom and Europe. It projected, in broad outline, the directions which European institutions and culture would take. And it determined in embryo many of the aspects of the world we live in now. We are right to regard the total Christianity of the Carolingian age as one of the great formative phases of human history.
Yet as an ideal it contained the elements of its own destruction. It led, irresistibly, to the dissolution of the ancient Christian inheritance of the fourth century. For the vertical unity of the Carolingian society, however desirable, was incompatible with the geographical unity of the Christian Church. Both the Carolingian empire, and the Ottonian Germanic empire which succeeded it in the tenth century, were totally at enmity with the theory of the Byzantine State and its Church. Byzantine rulers might be brought, in extremis, to recognize western emperors as a matter of practical politics; but full-hearted recognition in the deepest sense was impossible, for to do so would have wrecked the Byzantine theory of government, indeed its basic cosmology. Byzantium saw itself as coterminous not only with Christianity but with civilization - with moral and cultural legitimacy in effect. The Book of Ceremonies used at the imperial court, which was a manual of political theory built on etiquette, presupposed the existence of a hierarchy of subordinate states revolving in obedient concord round the throne of the supreme autocrat in Constantinople; his authority, in its rhythm and order, reproduced the harmonious movement of the universe laid down by the Creator. The Byzantines termed this the oikoumene.
The emperor was God's vice-regent on earth, and the empire the prefiguration of the heavenly kingdom. The imperial, supra-national community was the God-appointed custodian of the one Orthodox faith, until the last days and the coming of anti-Christ, which would precede the parousia. Byzantine State philosophy was a neat compound of Rome, Hellenism and Christianity. It preempted the empire of Christmas Day 800 because it specifically assumed that the Byzantines had inherited everything that mattered in Rome even if, for the moment, they did not possess the city: they called themselves Rhomaioi, and claimed exclusively the inheritance of the Roman imperial tradition. Thus a reconciliatory theory based on the idea of two empires would not wash with them. It might make logical or geographical sense for the Popes to speak of 'Romans' and 'Greeks', but to the Byzantines this was to deny both faith and history. Liutprand of Cremona says that that in 968 when papal legates came to Constantinople with a letter addressed to 'the Emperor of the Greeks', in which the Pope referred to Otto I as 'the august emperor of the Romans', the Byzantines were outraged: 'The audacity of it, to call the universal emperor of the Romans, the one and only Nicephorus, the great, the august, "Emperor of the Greeks", and to style a poor, barbaric creature "Emperor of the Romans"! O sky! O earth! O sea! What shall we do with these scoundrels and criminals?'
The rise of the Franks had, moreover, been accompanied by a steady erosion of Byzantine military power, and therefore political and ecclesiastical influence, in the whole Mediterranean era. In the seventh century, the doctrinal errors which had led to the Monophysite schism finally came home to roost: the whole enormous area where Monophysite belief was dominant succumbed with great speed to the new Islamic version, which not only engulfed these territories but swept along the coast of North Africa and into Spain. By 700, Christianity had lost more than half its territory, including the oldest patriarchal churches, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. There was virtually no contact or intercommunion across the new Islamic line: when the first crusaders made contact with Antioch Christians at the end of the eleventh century, they did not even know the succession of the Popes after 681.
The loss of the old patriarchates in some ways brought Constantinople and Rome closer together. Byzantium still controlled part of Italy, from Ravenna, and the emperor's writ ran as far as Marseilles. Rome was to a considerable extent under eastern influence: between 654 and 752 only five out of seventeen popes were of Roman origin - three were Greek, five Syrian, three from Greek-speaking Sicily, and one from somewhere in Italy. The Greek emperor visited Rome as its lawful ruler in 663; in 680, papal legates at a council in Constantinople agreed in condemning the teachings of four patriarchs and one pope; in 710 the Pope himself paid an amicable visit to Constantinople. But this was the limit of the ecumenical mood. Outside Rome, very few western Christians spoke Greek; there was deep-rooted prejudice against Greek liturgical customs. Thus when, in 668, the Pope made the Greek Theodore of Tarsus Archbishop of Canterbury, he sent an African, Hadrian, with him, to ensure that Theodore 'introduced no Greek customs contrary to the true faith into England'. The big changes came in the first half of the eighth century. Byzantine power was in rapid retreat from Italy and all the western Mediterranean theatre - the Moslems pressing north, the Lombards south. The Popes stopped paying imperial taxes, flatly declined to follow Constantinople on the iconoclasm issue, and, from the 750s, turned north to the Frankish house of Pepin for protection. Pope Zacharias, who died in 752, was the last of the Greek Popes.
Moreover, the creation of the Frankish connection, while ensuring the Pope's security against the Lombards, local despots, and indeed Byzantium, robbed Rome of much of its freedom of action. The determined and clear-minded ecclesiastics who advised Charlemagne were bent on imposing unity on the West; it was part of their dream of a total Christian society. The king, for his part, saw the Church, and the Roman connection, as an instrument of State power and a cohesive force in an empire which was expanding rapidly. Universal agreement on ritual and doctrine was therefore essential. Right at the beginning of Charlemagne's reign, in 769, Roman-style baptism, prayers and mass received the force of law; Roman practice was insisted on in regard to the manner of chanting, the administration of sacraments, and dress down to the wearing of sandals. And, once Roman forms were adopted in Carolingian territories, the Popes lost the right to change them.
A council was held at Nicea in 787 to heal the iconclastic split; the Pope sent legates, who agreed to the compromise. But there were no representatives from the western Church. Charlemagne denounced the outcome of the council, which he saw as an affront to his dignity, and the status of the western Church. He and his court priests produced the Libri Carolini, a violently anti-Greek diatribe, which presented the council findings as 'stupid, arrogant, erroneous, criminal, schismatic and lacking in sense or eloquence ... one filthy pond of Hell'. Charlemagne's own copy survives: it includes exclamations of his approval ('mire!') which he ordered to be noted in the margins. The Franks not only denounced the council - which proved, not surprisingly, the last universal gathering of the Church - but drew attention to an emergent doctrinal difference between Latins and Greeks. This was the insertion, in the creed, of the Augustinian formulation filioque, emphasizing the full godhead of Christ by insisting that the Holy
Spirit proceeded from the Son as well as the Father They brought this into the creed, which they now made standard and compulsory at all masses in Frankish territories.
The papacy advised strongly against inserting filioque, since it knew the formulation could not be accepted in Constantinople. But it was overruled, and in the ninth century began to insist that it was essential to a true and complete statement of doctrine. When, in 1014, Rome finally inserted the creed in its own mass, at the insistence of the German emperor Henry II, filioque was included. By this time Rome was convinced that it had introduced the phrase itself and that it was of immemorial antiquity. In 1054, when the final breach with the East came, the papal legates were so ignorant of the true story that they accused the Greeks of having deliberately omitted the filioque from their creed centuries before.
In the meantime, however, further conflicts had developed in Europe. The seventh-century Islamic conquests had closed the world south and east of the Mediterranean to both Rome and Constantinople. But both retained the Universalist urge; indeed both had begun to look north for converts long before Moslem troops reached the Straits of Gibraltar. The creation of the Frankish empire in the eighth century, penetrating into central Europe for political and military reasons, with a strong proselytizing urge and its own distinctive and hotly defended ecclesiology, brought western missionaries up against Greek ones, who had been pushing north into the Balkans. Thus the ninth century became an age of intense missionary rivalry.
The presence of two Christian Churches in the area of central Europe, each seeking to convert kings and nations and so enlarge its sphere of influence, helps to illuminate the obscure subject of why pagan societies chose to become Christian. In general, we possess remarkably little information on this subject. The first Frankish converts seem to have been guided by military considerations, rather like Constantine himself: a Christian army was more likely to win a battle. Another factor was the failure of Germanic pagan societies to produce a satisfying explanation of what happened after death, in contrast to the certitude of salvation which Christianity provided. A famous passage in Bede's History of the English Church and Nation suggests how powerfully the Christian missionaries could rely on this point. But rulers who were contemplating leading their tribe or nation into Christianity had to consult not only their own feelings but take into consideration the likely impact of the new religion on their society in all its aspects.
The Christianity brought to the Franks in the early decades of the sixth century, and to the English at the end of it, was a comparatively simple affair; moreover, Gregory the Great, in his instructions to Augustine of Canterbury, had stressed that his teaching should remain flexible and should be married, where possible, to existing customs. By the ninth century, however, the idea of a total Christian society had taken shape: the faith not only had answers, but definitive and compulsory answers, to questions on almost every aspect of human behaviour and arrangements. A pagan society embracing Christianity was accepting a completely new way of life. Moreover, in large parts of central Europe and the Balkans, such societies were offered the choice between two increasingly different brands of Christian practice, each attended by different cultural and geopolitical consequences.
Fortunately, we have a unique glimpse of the dilemma, as it appeared to a barbarian monarch, thanks to the survival of two documents. In the 850s, the emergent state of Bulgaria, which feared both Carolingian and Byzantine imperialism, had seemed set on a pro-Frankish course, and in the early 860s it looked as though its king, Boris I, would accept Christianity from Frankish hands. In 864 a powerful military and naval demonstration by the Byzantines led him to change his mind; and he became an Orthodox Christian in 865. Orthodox clergy moved into his territories in huge numbers, and this rapid introduction of new customs provoked a revolt of the Old Bulgar aristocracy, which Boris put down with some savagery. In consequence, Boris wrote to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Photus, asking for an autonomous Church -that is, a patriarchate equivalent to the five which already existed. Photus's reply, which survives, was long but unsatisfactory; and in 866, Boris made a move to Rome, sending the Pope a letter asking for replies to a hundred and six questions. The Pope, Nicholas I, was delighted, despatched two bishops, and answered all the queries. His reply, which we possess, is one of the most fascinating documents of the entire Dark Ages.
Boris did not raise any theological issues. He was concerned with behaviour, not belief. His questions reflect the tensions created in Bulgarian society by the reception of Christianity, and in particular by the rigorous ritualism of the Orthodox Greeks. Were the Byzantines right to forbid the Bulgars to take baths on Wednesdays and Fridays? To take communion without wearing their belts? To eat the meat of animals killed by eunuchs? Was it true that no layman could conduct public prayers for rain, or make a sign of the cross over a table before a meal? And that lay-folk must stand in church with arms folded over their breast? ('No, no, no,' said the Pope.) Were the Greek clergy right to refuse to accept the repentance of some of the pagan rebels? ('Of course not,' said the Pope.) On the question of Byzantine ecclesiastical claims, the Pope denied that Constantinople was the second in rank of the patriarchates; it was not, he said, an apostolic foundation at all, its importance being purely political. Their claim that only their empire could produce holy chrism was dismissed with contempt. On the other hand, the Pope declined Boris's request to make Bulgaria a patriarchate; he must be content with an archbishop for the time being.
Boris's queries bring us closer to the realities of the Christian impact on Dark Age pagan society, especially on daily life, than any other document that has survived. How many times in the year should one fast? When should one breakfast on non-fasting days? Is sex permissible on Sundays? Should one take communion every day in Lent? What animals and birds might a Christian eat? Should women cover their heads in church? Can you work on Sundays and feast days? What should one do when a military campaign coincides with Lent? Or when news of an enemy attack interrupts prayers? How can soldiers on campaign perform their religious duties? Was Christian charity compatible with punishing murderers, thieves and adulterers? Could torture be used? Might criminals claim asylum in church? How should one treat disobedience or cowardice in the army? What about frontier guards who let fugitives escape - was there an alternative to the death sentence? What should an officer do about a soldier whose weapons and horse did not pass muster before battle? Did criminal law contradict Christian ethics? (The Pope took the general line of tempering justice with mercy.) How should one treat inveterate worshippers of idols? Should they be forced to accept Christianity? (The Pope advised gentle persuasion.) How should one conclude an alliance with a friendly nation? What happens if a Christian State breaks a solemn treaty? Could a Christian country make a treaty with a pagan one? (The Pope was a little hesitant: international treaties depended on the customs of the country concerned; in case of difficulty, ask the Church's advice; alliance with a pagan country was permissible, provided attempts were made to convert it.)
Boris also wanted to know what Nicholas thought of Bulgarian customs the Greeks had banned. Was it all right to use a horse's tail as a banner; to seek auguries, cast spells, have ceremonial songs and dances before battle, and take oaths upon a sword? ('Alas, no,' said the Pope.) Could miraculous stones cure, or neck-amulets protect against sickness? (Certainly not.) Was the cult of ancestors permissible? (No: Bulgars must not pray for dead parents if they had died as pagans.) Among customs approved by Nicholas were the eating of birds and animals slain without shedding blood; the practice of the ruler eating alone, at a raised table (the Pope thought this bad manners rather than sinful), and various dress- customs: Nicholas saw no objection to wearing trousers.
The struggle for the soul of Bulgaria envenomed relations between Rome and Constantinople. First the Greek, then, in turn, Latin clergy were expelled. Patriarch Photius called the Latin missionaries 'impious and execrable men from the darkness of the West'; they were like thunderbolts, violent hailstones, or wild boars trampling up the Lord's vineyard. Among other false practices they were trying to impose on the hapless Bulgarians were fasting on Sundays, a shorter Lent, a celibate clergy, and the weird theory that only bishops could confirm! This was unacceptable: 'Even the smallest neglect of tradition causes complete contempt for dogma.' And, of course, teaching of filoque was downright heresy. The two sides met in council, to no avail. The dispute became jurisdictional, based on provincial frontiers which had once been part of the Roman system of government, and now had no meaning. The papacy accused the Greeks of resorting to large-scale bribery among the Bulgarians. This may well have been true. To the Bulgars, Byzantium seemed much richer and more powerful than Rome; it was also nearer. These factors in combination determined the Bulgarian allegiance, and with it went, in time, virtually the whole of the Slav world.
Nevertheless, the Orthodox penetration of south-east and eastern Europe was not merely a matter of proximity. On one issue, the use of the vernacular for Christian services and sacred writings, the Greeks were far more flexible than the Latins. In central Europe and the northern Balkans, Latin missionaries were in the field before the Greeks, and had early recognized the importance of being able to operate in the vulgar Slav tongue. During the first half of the ninth century, Frankish priests translated a few Christian texts from Latin into Slavonic, and transcribed them into Latin characters (the Slavs had no alphabet). These included formularies for baptism and confession, the creed and the Lord's prayer. Missionaries, in fact, were keen on using the vernacular - as they were to be in a wider world in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The papacy was, at first, ambivalent. Hadrian II issued a bull in 867-8 authorizing the use of the Slavonic liturgy. John V111 imposed a temporary ban on Slavonic in 880, but agreed, in a letter to the Moravians: 'It is certainly not against faith and doctrine to sing the mass in the Slavonic language, or to read the Holy Gospel or the Divine Lessons in the New and Old Testaments well translated and interpreted, or to chant the other offices of the hours, for he who made the three principal languages, Hebrew, Greek and Latin, also created all the others for his own praise and glory.' Nevertheless, this was in fact the last papal pronouncement in favour of the vernacular. The Frankish governments, in their
almost ideological quest for unity and standardization, were strong Latinists; they argued passionately that, while Hebrew and Greek might be permissible for divine service in the East, Latin alone was the liturgical and scriptural language of the West. This argument, urged by Rome's political masters, also appealed strongly to the authoritarian element which was always present in papal thinking, and after John VIII all the Popes banned the use of local tongues. Thus the western Church locked itself into the world of Latin, from which it was only to emerge in the twentieth century. Once again, as with filioque, it was the Frankish ideologues, rather than the papacy itself, who made compromise impossible.
The same school of thought existed on the Byzantine side. The Greeks were, in a cultural sense, far more arrogant than the Latins. Probably a majority of them strongly opposed the vernacular liturgy and scripture. Writers like Anna Comnena and Archbishop Theophylact of Ochrid felt it necessary to apologize to their readers for mentioning even proper names of 'barbarian' origin. Latin itself was termed (by the liberal Emperor Michael in) 'a barbarian and Scythian tongue'. In the thirteenth century, the Metropolitan of Athens, Michael Choniates, said Latins would take longer to appreciate 'the harmony and grace of the Greek language than asses to enjoy the lyre, or dung-beetles to savour perfume'. The existence of polemical literature indicates that, at this time and long afterwards, the issue was controversial, with conservatives sticking to the 'three languages' theory, and denouncing a Slavonic liturgy as heretical.
The government, however, was much more inclined to be pragmatic. And it could quote St Paul: 'For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle? So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken, for ye shall speak into the air? ... For if I pray in an unknown tongue my spirit prayeth but my understanding is unfruitful...' And so on. The problem, indeed, had arisen before, in the case of the Goths; and St John Chrysostom, the most revered of the eastern patriarchs, had given a notably liberal ruling, and rejoiced that the Goths chanted the litanies in their own language: 'The teaching of fishermen and tentmakers shines in the language of barbarians more brightly than the sun.'
Moreover, the Byzantine government had a tradition of multilingual diplomacy, and employed a large number of high-born linguists in its civil service. In the 860s, Michael in selected for its Slav mission two brothers, Methodius, a provincial governor, and Constantine (who called himself Cyril after he became a monk), a state philosophy teacher. They were born in Thessalonica, the sons of a staff-officer, and had previously been on diplomatic assignments. When Michael decided to switch them to missionary work, in 862, he said to them: 'You are both natives of Thessalonica, and all Thessalonicans speak pure Slav.' He admitted that previous attempts to create a viable Slavonic alphabet had failed, for a variety of technical reasons. Constantine-Cyril, who was an accomplished linguist and bibliophile, appears to have invented a form of written Slav in less than a year, so that when the brothers left on mission in 863 they were able to take with them selections from the gospels already translated; and in due course Constantine translated into Slavonic, according to his contemporary biographer, 'the whole ecclesiastical office, matins, the hours, vespers, compline and the mass'. He appears to have adapted the alphabet from his local dialect of southern Macedonia, then intelligible much further north.
The oldest Slavonic manuscripts are in two scripts: what are termed Glagolitic and Cyrillic. Scholars
now agree that it was Glagolitic that Constantine invented; Cyrillic, called after him, was developed later, by Methodius's disciples, probably in Bulgaria, in the attempt to adapt Greek uncial writing of the ninth century to the phonetic peculiarities of Slavonic speech. Glagolitic is more complicated, and may have been developed from Greek minuscule script, plus adaptations from Semitic and perhaps Coptic. It was a highly distinct and original creation, entitling Constantine to rank among the great philologists. Cyrillic, except for half a dozen letters, is little more than an adaptation of the Greek alphabet; it thus had the merit of simplicity, and close connection with the script possessing the most prestige and widest range. Even today, the church-books of the Orthodox Slavs, Bulgarians, Serbs and Russians are printed in a slightly simplified form of Cyrillic, and of course their modern alphabets are based on it. (The Rumanians, too, used it until the late seventeenth century.) At the same time, the translations made by the brothers laid the foundations of a new literary language, known to modern scholars as Old Church Slavonic. After Greek and Latin, it became the third international language of Europe, the common literary idiom of Russians, Bulgarians, Serbs and Rumanians.
Byzantium triumphed over Rome in most of the Slav world because it showed itself willing to compromise over the cultural issue. But the point must be made again: the source of western intolerance was Frankish, rather than papal, at least in origin. In the 860s both Pope Nicholas I and his successor Hadrian II were anxious to give backing to the mission of Constantine and Methodius, to remove it from Byzantine tutelage, and place it under Roman ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The brothers were invited to Rome; there, Constantine-Cyril died (he is buried in San Clemente) but Methodius was issued with a bull (868) authorizing the use of the Slavonic liturgy, and given authority, in the Pope's name, over a huge area of central Europe. Papal policy was to use the mission to establish control of central Europe at the expense both of the Franks and the Greeks. The strategy was deliberately foiled by the Frankish clergy; in 870 they had Methodius arrested, condemned by a synod for Greek-style 'irregularities', and imprisoned. It took the Pope more than three years to secure his release. The mission was finally driven back into the arms of Byzantium by the revival, by Frankish clergy, of the filioque issue. For Methodius as, on the other side, for the Franks, this was the heretical breaking-point, and he had no alternative but to relinquish his Rome connection and identify himself with the Greek Church. The Franks settled the matter by forcing the papacy to renounce the idea of a Slavonic liturgy.
The truth is that there was a price to be paid for the Frankish experiment in creating a Christian social structure and culture. It gave to the western Church a wonderful sense of unity and coherence; it gave to western society great dynamism, which lies at the source of the European impact on the world. But it involved a degree of doctrinal, liturgical and, at bottom, cultural and racial intolerance, which made an ecumenical Church impossible. Unity in depth was bought at the expense of unity in breadth. The Christian penetration of every aspect of life in the West meant a highly organized, disciplined and particularist ecclesiastical structure, which could not afford to compromise with eastern deviations. Moreover, the imperiousness of the Carolingian Church gradually coloured the attitudes of the papacy and governed the Roman posture long after the Carolingian empire itself had disappeared. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Rome used arguments in its confrontations with Constantinople which had been initiated by the Frankish court in the eighth and ninth centuries, and which it had then resisted or sought to tone down.
It is useful, at this stage, to trace the dispute to its bitter end. Perhaps a final breach was inevitable once the Popes had committed themselves to the creation of an empire in the West. Either the western empire had to absorb the eastern, or vice versa; certainly, two Christian empires, essentially rivals to the same legacy, meant, if both survived, two brands of Christianity. Thus the coronation of 800, which made the total Christian society of the West conceivable, was also fatal to the unity of Christendom, a decisive milestone on the road to schism. In 1054, papal legates went to Constantinople for talks, the object being joint action against a common enemy, the Normans of southern Italy. The episode merely served to bring all the various strands of conflict together into one envenomed mass, from the Greek use of leavened bread for communion to their practice of fasting on Saturdays. Paradoxically, the reopening of the Mediterranean to Christian traffic, which was a feature of the mid eleventh century, served to sharpen the antagonism • it brought East and West into closer contact, and so made both aware of the innumerable differences which had grown up in the previous three centuries. One difference became only too apparent in 1054: the papacy, from being conciliatory, was now wholly insistent on discipline, obedience and uniformity.
The 1054 meeting also revealed a shift in papal tactics, which then remained constant for the next 400 years. By the mid eleventh century, the papacy was becoming increasingly aware of the dangers presented by the existence of a western empire. It wished to be on good terms with the Greek empire, as a potential counterpoise. Hence in 1054, the papacy, in effect, put forward a package proposal: papal support for the Greek empire, in return for the submission of the Greek Church to the Pope. The Pope wrote in warm terms to the emperor, calling him serenissimus (whereas the western emperor, Henry in was merely carissimus); the letter he addressed to the patriarch, by contrast, was severe and punitive: Rome was the mother, and her spouse was God; Constantinople was a naughty and corrupt daughter; any Church which dissented from Rome was a 'confabulation of heretics, a conventical of schismatics, and a synagogue of Satan'. This dual approach did no good. Nevertheless, it remained essentially Rome's line until the Turkish conquest of the mid fifteenth century made the dispute obsolete. For Rome it was the only possible tactic. A compromise with the patriarch was ruled out. For one thing, the Greeks did not think the barbarous Latins capable of serious theological discussion. This obstacle could have been overcome: in the fourteenth century, Greek intellectuals translated the classics of medieval Latin theology, and thereafter eastern churchmen were prepared to debate on equal terms.
But this was never conceded by the papacy. The Latins, with their authoritarian tradition, did not want discussion: the Popes had already pronounced. They thought that to admit any issues were still open was to abandon their case. As Pascal II wrote to the Emperor Alexius in 1112: 'The cause of diversity of faith and custom between the Greeks and Latins cannot be removed unless the members are united under one head. How can questions be discussed between antagonistic bodies when one refuses to obey the other?' The other alternative was conquest. In theory, at any rate, Rome might have directed the crusades against Byzantium, and given them the mission of extirpating heresy and schism, rather than liberating Jerusalem. But by the eleventh century, when such a proposal might have been militarily possible, Rome was wary of adding to the power of any of the sources of secular authority in the West. Who would have been the beneficiary of an eastern conquest? The Hohenstaufen, the Angevins or the Capets. Rome feared them all.
Hence the Popes clung to their policy of seeking to split the emperor from the patriarch. It never had any real hope of success. However anxious the eastern emperor might be to get western help and finance in return for ecclesiastical submission, he could not deliver his Church. In his empire there was a large and well-informed segment of lay theological opinion which was stronger than him and the patriarch put together, and totally opposed to yielding to Rome. In 1274, at the Council of Lyons, the Emperor Michael Paleologos, in extremis, submitted to Gregory X and accepted filioque. The Pope's vicar in Sicily, Charles of Anjou, who was hoping to lead an attack on Constantinople, was so furious at the news that he bit the top off his sceptre. But the reaction from the Byzantine clergy and people was far more violent. The emperor savagely tried to enforce compliance with his surrender. The public orator was flogged and exiled. One leading theologian was ordered to be scourged daily by his own brother until he submitted. Four of the emperor's relatives were imprisoned and blinded; another died in prison; monks had their tongues torn out.
Even today the monks of Mount Athos maintain (falsely, as it happens) that Michael visited the place, plundered three recalcitrant monasteries and massacred their monks, burying many of them alive. All was in vain; when Michael died he was buried as a heretic in unconsecrated ground, and orthodoxy was restored in 1283, when filioque was again repudiated. Nevertheless, the papacy still persisted in its policy. The Pope got another submission from the eastern emperor at Florence, in 1439. Once more the Greeks agreed to include the wretched word, and admit that 'Filioque has been lawfully and reasonably added to the Creed.' The submission was finally proclaimed, to an apathetic congregation in St Sophia, in 1452. On this occasion the papal promise of aid against the Turks was as insincere as the Greek acceptance of Rome's doctrinal position. Six months later the city had fallen, and the eastern empire no longer existed.
The great African Church radiating from Carthage was ultimately lost because of fatal divisions over the sacramental powers of bishops. Syria and the East, and much else, were lost because no compromise proved possible, or rather durable, over the definition of the Trinity and the nature of Christ. Byzantium came to grief, and European Christianity remained divided, because East and West could not agree on an institutional means to resolve their comparatively trivial points of difference. Christ had founded a Universalist Church which would be all things to all men. But it was also a Church with an intense vision, which bred adamantine certitudes. The more the vision was realized, the stronger the certitudes became, the less likely it would be that universality would be based on unity. The Augustinian idea of an authoritarian, compulsory and total Church was incompatible with the ecumenical spirit. Hence the attempt to give it substance in Carolingian times led inevitably to the split with the East. We shall now see how the Augustinian drive within the western Church proved too powerful for its unifying bonds, and how it smashed the Christian society into fragments.