“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” --Charlemagne
“By me (wisdom) kings reign, and rulers decree justice.” Proverbs 8:15
|Papal Coronation of Charlemagne in 800 AD|
Charlemagne (Charles the Great) was not a clergyman and in one sense was more the shaped rather than a shaper of the Christian faith. Nevertheless, his enlightened rule was to have a tremendous impact in solidifying the idea of Christendom in the Medieval world. Charlemagne was the grandson of Charles Martel who was famous for fighting and turning back the Muslim invasion of Europe at the Battle of Tours in 732. Had that not been successful, those of us with ancestral roots in Europe would likely be speaking Arabic today.
Aside from having come from good stock, Charlemagne was successful in consolidating the people of what we know today as Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland into a single empire. Though they were a patchwork of peoples and languages, through masterful organization, written laws, and respect for local custom, Charles was able rule them well.
One of the key things Charlemagne did was elevate learning in his empire. In his court were many of the most brilliant minds of the day to educate he and his family, but also he sponsored monastic schools all over. Their job in addition to serving the church and community, was to also preserve and copy all the books they could find from ancient times. Had this not been done, most of what we know from the ancient Greeks and Romans about history, law, medicine, and philosophy would be gone forever.
In December of 800 the Pope of Rome had been attacked militarily and Charles and his army came to the rescue. Bad weather had prevented him from returning home and so he decided to stay and celebrate Christmas in Rome. When he came for Christmas mass the pope (supposedly without warning) came from behind and crowned him as the new Roman emperor. Of course by this time the old Roman empire had long died out in western Europe and so this was the expression of a desire than a reality in the moment. But the idea gathered some strength in Charlemagne’s mind and soon the people of his empire identified themselves as members of the Holy Roman Empire, a concept that remained until the 1800’s.
This empire was under the leadership of a king, but the kings were under the leadership of the Church. In time, all the kings of Europe looked to the church as an institution to confirm their legitimacy as rulers. From this time forward, though Church and State were separate, they both ruled Western Europe with the idea that it was the Kingdom of Christ or Christendom. As the first official ruler of Christendom, Charlemagne was in many ways a shaper of the Christian faith.