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Carolingian dynasty Catholic religious orders Christendom Karlheinz Deschner Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums (books)

Christianity’s criminal history, 174

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The emperor, the clergy and the imperial unity

Louis the Pious was even more accommodating to the clergy than his father, and the many historians who call him devout, clerical and prudish are quite right. Already at the beginning of his reign, the young monarch renewed all the ordinances that had been issued in the time of his predecessors in favour of the Church of God. For this, he relied almost exclusively on clerics, mostly ‘Aquitanians’, of whom Bishop Thegan, a personage well acquainted with the emperor, said that ‘he trusted his counsellors more than necessary’.

The one who probably became the emperor’s most important adviser was the Visigoth Witiza, whom he greatly revered, with his programmatic monastic name of Second Benedict, and who was the son of the Count of Maguelonne, one of the dreaded swordsmen. In any case, this Benedict educated in the courts of Pippin III and Charles I (his feast is celebrated on 11 February), took part as a good Christian—a ‘good Christian’ certainly, as well as a ‘great soldier’—in the military campaigns of Pippin and Charles, before the tragic death of his brother pushed him to wear the monastic cowl. But he failed again and again in his ascetic career. He left the monastery of Saint-Seine in Dijon because he found it too lax. Then, at his father’s estate of Aniane in Montpellier, he drove away his first disciples with his rigorism. He then professed the monastic rules of Pachomius and Basil, because he found the Rule of Benedict of Nursia useful only ‘for weaklings and beginners’. But when he again entered into a vocational crisis, he extolled the Rule of Benedict of Nursia, which he reviled as the only valid norm for a monastic existence.

But one can hardly speak of weakness in the Benedictine Rule. When monks were rebuked by a prelate, they had to prostrate themselves at his feet until he permitted them to rise. And if a monk ran away, Benedict ordered him to be dragged back with his legs locked and whipped. The saint also ordered to have a prison in every monastery, and the monastic prisons of the Middle Ages were barbarous, and the conditions of existence in them were extremely harsh, for imprisonment ‘was equivalent in its consequences to corporal punishment’. (Schild). Moreover, this monastic reform ‘always contained a touch of bitterness against human science and culture’ (Fried).

Abbot Benedict of Aniane—to whom Louis first entrusted the Marmoutier Abbey in Alsace and then, very close to Aachen, the monastery of Inden (Kornelimünster), a new foundation generously endowed with crown goods, a kind of model abbey in the whole empire—spent much more time at court than at his monastery. The sovereign went there frequently anyway, and so he was given the name of ‘the Monk’. Benedict, who ruled over all the Frankish abbeys, remained until his death (821) the key man at court, where he dealt with trifles, memorials and complaints as well as important and serious matters, advising the emperor above all on the vast politico-ecclesiastical reform begun in 816.

The reform movement of the abbot, inspired by the Rule of Benedict of Nursia, aimed at the formation of a single Christian people out of the numerous peoples of the empire—which corresponded exactly to state policy. It sought to make Christianity the basis of all public life; moreover, it wanted to establish the Civitas Dei on earth: one God, one Church, one emperor, whose office always counted within the Church more than any ministry conferred by God. The prelates were therefore strongly interested in the unity of the empire, and their leaders passionately defended the idea of such unity. But they were in no way primarily interested in the empire, but in the Church, with the benefit of the Church foremost in their minds.

Benedict’s monastic reform, his ‘principle of one rule,’ affected not only monastic life, the so-called spiritual affairs. At least as important, if not more so, was the ecclesiastical patrimony. The emperor did not want it to be divided or diminished either in his reign or in that of his successors. He also forbade the already long flourishing soul-hunting, the luring of children into the monastery with flattery to gain their fortune, thus prohibiting a practice which had been in vogue since ancient times and which is still practised today, namely the disinheritance of relatives in favour of the churches.