The entire post for Blessed Charlemagne from In Lumine Fidei, because I consider him so important! He is an inspiration for a truly Christian Europe.
After having waged war for 33 years with the Saxons, he at length brought them into subjection, imposing no other law upon them, than that they should become Christians. He obliged all land owners to erect a cross of wood in their fields as an open confession of their faith. He rid Gascony, Spain and Gallicia of idolaters and restored the sepulchre of Saint James to what we see it at this day. He upheld the Christian religion in Hungary by an eight years campaign, and in fighting against the Saracens, he always made use of the victorious spear with which with one of the soldiers opened our Saviour’s side. God seemed to favour, by many miracles, all these efforts made for the spreading of the faith. Thus the Saxons who were laying siege to Sigisburgh were struck by God with fear and took to flight. And in the first rebellion of the same people, there sprang up from the earth a plentiful stream with which was refreshed Charles’ whole army, which had been without water for three days. And yet, this great Emperor could scarce be distinguished by his dress from the rest of the people and almost always wore a hair-shirt, never appearing in his gilded robes save on the principal Feasts of our Lord and the Saints.
He gave alms to the poor and to pilgrims, not only at his regal residence, but in every part of the world, by sending them money. He built 24 monasteries, to each of which he sent what is called the Golden Letter, weighing 200 pounds. He founded two Metropolitan and nine Episcopal Sees. He built 27 churches and founded two universities, one in Pavia, the other in Paris. As Charles himself was fond of study, in which he had Alcuin as his master, so, likewise, would he have his sons trained in the liberal sciences before he permitted them to turn either to war or to the chase. In the sixty-eighth year of his age, he had his son Louis crowned king, and devoted himself wholly to prayer and alms-deeds. Each morning and evening he visited the Church, and often he repaired there also in the night, for he was exceedingly fond of the Gregorian Chant and was the first to introduce it into France and Germany. He had obtained cantors from Pope Adrian I and took care to have the hymns of the Church copied in every place. He made copies of the Gospels with his own hand and collated them with the Greek and Syriac versions.
Charlemagne was extremely sparing in what he took to eat and drink. If he fell sick, he sought a remedy in fasting, which he sometimes observed for seven continuous days. At length, after suffering much from malicious men, being then in his seventy-second year, he fell sick. He received the consolation of Holy Communion at the hands of Bishop Hildebald. He signed his whole body with the sign of the Cross, singing the words, “Into your hands,” which done, he rendered to God his soul rich in merit, on the fifth of the Calends of February (January 28th). He was buried in the Basilica of Aix-la-Chapelle which he had built and enriched with relics of the Saints. There he is honoured by the devotion of numerous pilgrims and by the favours granted by God through his intercession. His Feast is kept in most of the dioceses of Germany by the consent of the Church ever since the time of Pope Alexander III. It is kept as the Feast of the principal propagator of the faith in the North.
Dom Prosper Gueranger:
In many Churches, especially in Germany, there is kept, on the second Feast of the Martyr Agnes, the Feast of the pious Emperor Charlemagne. The Emmanuel who is come into this world is to receive the title of King of kings and Lord of lords. He is to gird Himself with the sword and bring all nations into subjection. What could be more fitting than that He should lead to His crib the greatest of Christian princes who ever made it his glory to use his sword in the service of Christ and His Church? Charlemagne was held as a Saint by the people, and the decree of his canonisation was given by the Antipope Paschal III in the year 1165, at the request of Frederic Barbarossa, on which account the Holy See has permitted this public veneration to be continued in all those places where it prevailed, though it has never given its approbation to the informal procedure of Paschal, nor made it valid by its own sentence, which it would, in all probability, have done had the request been made. At the same time, the many Churches which, now for [nine] centuries have honoured the memory of Charlemagne, keep his Feast under the simple title of Blessed out of respect to the Roman Martyrology where his name is not inserted.
Before the Reformation the name of Blessed Charlemagne was inscribed in the Calendar of a great many of the Churches in France. The Breviaries of Rheims and Rouen are the only ones that have retained it. The Church of Paris ceased to keep his Feast in order to satisfy the prejudices of several Doctors of the University in the early part of the sixteenth century. Protestantism had, naturally enough, an antipathy for a man who was the noblest type of a Catholic prince, and they who were tainted with the spirit of Protestantism defended their blotting out the name of Charlemagne from the Calendar, not so much by the informality of his canonisation, as by the scandal which they affected to find in his life. Public opinion was formed on this, as on so many other matters, with extreme levity. And among those who will be surprised at finding the name of Charlemagne in this volume, we quite expect that they will be the most astonished who have never taken the trouble to inquire into the holiness of his life.
More than 30 Churches in Germany still keep the Feast of the great Emperor. His dear Church of Aix-la-Chapelle possesses his relics and exposes them to the veneration of the people. The University of Paris, strange to say, chose him for its patron in 1661. But his Feast, which had been given up for more than a century, was only restored as a national holiday without the slightest allusion being made to it in the Liturgy. It does not enter into the plan of this work to discuss the reasons for which public veneration has been paid to the Saints whose feasts we keep during the year. Our readers must not, therefore, expect from us anything in the shape of a formal defence of the saintly life of Charlemagne. Nevertheless, we cannot refrain from making a few remarks which our subject seems to require. And firstly, we affirm, with the great Bossuet, that the morals of Charlemagne were without reproach, and that the contrary opinion, which is based on certain vague and contradictory expressions of a few writers of the Middle Ages, has only gained ground by Protestant influence.
Dom Mabillon, after having given the history of the Emperor’s repudiation of Hermengarde and his return to Himiltrude his first wife, concludes his account of Charlemagne in his Benedictine Annals by acknowledging that this Prince’s plurality of wives has never been proved to have been simultaneous. Natalis Alexander and Le Cointe — authors who cannot be taxed with partiality and who have gone into all the intricacies of the question — prove most clearly that the only reproach to be laid to Charlemagne’s charge on the subject of his wives, is his having repudiated Himiltrude, out of complaisance to the mother of Hermengarde, a fault which he repaired the following year in compliance with the remonstrances of Pope Stephen IV. We grant, that after the death of Luitgarde, the last of his wives who was treated as Queen, Charlemagne married several others whom Eginhard calls concubines, because they did not wear the crown and their children were not considered as princes of the blood. But we say with Mabillon that Charlemagne may have had these wives successively, and that it is difficult to believe the contrary, regarding so religious a Prince, and one who had a singular respect for the laws of the Church.
But independently of the opinion of the grave authors whom we have cited, there is an incontestable proof of Charlemagne’s innocence on the score of the simultaneous plurality of wives, at least from the time of his separation from Hermengarde. The Prince was then in his twenty-eighth year. The severity of the Roman Pontiffs relative to the marriages of sovereigns is too well known to require proof. The history of the Middle Ages abounds with the struggles they had, on this essential point of Christian morals, with the most powerful monarchs, some of whom were most devoted to the Church. How, then, we would ask, would it be possible that Saint Adrian I who governed the Church from 772 to 795, and whom Charlemagne treated as a father, asking his advice in everything he undertook — how, we repeat, would this holy Pontiff allow Charlemagne to indulge in the most scandalous crimes without remonstrating, while Stephen IV who only sat three years and had not the same influence on this Prince, could induce him to dismiss Hermengarde? Or again, would Saint Leo III who reigned as Supreme Pontiff from 795 till after Charlemagne’s death, and who recompensed his virtuous conduct by crowning him Emperor — would he have made no effort to induce him to abandon the concubinage in which some writers would make us believe he lived after the death of his last Queen Luitgarde? Now, we find not the shadow of any such remonstrances made by these two Popes who governed the Church for more than forty years, and have been placed on her altars. The honour of the Church herself is at stake in this question, and it is the duty of every Catholic to suspect the imputations cast on the name of Charlemagne as calumnies.
It would seem, from the letter of Pope Stephen IV, that the marriage with Himiltrude was suspected, though falsely, of nullity. And it is not improbable that this suspicion may have satisfied Charlemagne’s conscience when he divorced her. However this may be, we find Charlemagne afterwards legislating against public immorality with all the zeal and energy of a man whose own life was not tainted with anything of the kind. We will cite but one example of this Christian firmness in repressing scandal, and we put it to the conviction of any honest heart, if a Prince whose life had been a series of public scandals, could have dared to express himself with the simplicity and confidence of an innocent conscience in an assembly of the Bishops and Abbots of his Empire and in the presence of the princes and barons whose licentiousness he wished to repress, and who might so justly have excused their own disorders by the lewd example of the very man who exhorted them to virtue and threatened to chastise their vices?
In a Capitulary given during the Pontificate of Saint Leo III, he thus decrees: “We forbid, under pain of sacrilege, the seizure of the goods of the Church, and injustices of whatever sort, adultery, fornication, incest, illicit marriage, unjust homicide, etc, for we know, that by such things kingdoms and kings, yes and private subjects, do perish. And whereas, by God’s help and the merit and the intercession of the Saints and Servants of God whom we have at all times honoured we have gained a goodly number of kingdoms and won manifold victories, it behoves us all to be on our guard lest we deserve the forfeiture of these gains by the aforementioned crimes and shameful lewdnesses. We know, of a truth, that sundry countries in which have been perpetrated these seizures of the goods of the Church, these injustices, these adulteries, and these prostitutions, have lost their courage in battle, and their firmness in the faith. Anyone may learn from history how the Lord has permitted the Saracens and other peoples to conquer the workers of such like iniquities. Nor doubt we that the like will happen likewise to us unless we abstain from such misdeeds, for God is wont to punish them. Be it therefore known to all our subjects that he who will be taken and convicted of any of these crimes will be deposed of all his honours if he has any, that he will be thrown into prison till he repents and make amends by a public penitence, and, moreover, that he will be cut off from all communication with the faithful, for we will grievously fear the pit in which we see others be fallen.” Again, we ask, would Charlemagne have spoken such language as this if, as has been asserted, his old age was being disgraced with debauchery at the very time that he passed this Capitulary, that is, after the death of Luitgarde?
Granting, then, that this great Prince had sinned, we must allow that it was only in the early part of his reign, and we ought to remember that the remainder of his life was so holy as to be more than an ample penance. Is it not a sight worthy of our admiration to see this brave warrior when he had become the mighty Sovereign unceasingly practising not only sobriety, which was a rare virtue among his countrymen, but fastings which would bear comparisons with those of the most fervent anchorets — wearing a hair-shirt even to the day of his death, assisting at the Offices of the Church day and night even during his various campaigns when he had the Divine services performed in his tent — and giving abundant alms (which, as the Scripture tells us, covers a multitude of sins), not only to all the poor of his dominions who besought his charity, but likewise to the Christians of Africa, Egypt, Syria and Palestine, for whose sakes he more than once exhausted his royal treasury? But what is above all this and, in the absence of every other proof, would testify to Charlemagne possessing every virtue that could adorn a Christian Prince, is his making no other use of his sovereign power than that of spreading the Kingdom of Christ on the Earth. It is the one single end he proposed to himself in every battle he fought, and every law he made.
This monarch, to whom were subject France, Catalonia, Navarre, and Aragon; Flanders, Holland, and Friesland; the provinces of Westphalia, Saxony, as far as the Elbe; Franconia, Suabia, Thuringia, and Switzerland; the two Pannonias (that is, Austria and Hungary) Dacia, Bohemia, Istria, Libumia, Dalmatia, and even Sclavonia; and finally, the whole of Italy, as far as southern Calabria — this Monarch signs himself, in his glorious Capitularia: “I, Charles, by the grace of God and the giving of His mercy, King and governor of the Kingdom of the French, devoted defender of God’s Holy Church, and her humble Champion.” So many other Kings and Emperors — who are not to be compared with him in power, and yet are objects of men’s admiration in spite of all their crimes which are artfully palliated by every possible excuse — have made it their one grand aim to enslave the Church. History tells us of even some otherwise pious kings who were jealous of her Liberty and sought to curtail it: Charlemagne ever respected that Liberty as though it were his own mother’s honour. It was he, that, following the example of Pepin, his father, so nobly secured the independence of the Apostolic See. Never had the Roman Pontiffs a more devoted or a more obedient son. Scorning petty political jealousies, he restored to the clergy and people the episcopal elections which were in the hands of the sovereign when he began his reign. He waged war mainly with a design to favour the propagation of the faith among infidel nations. He marched into Spain that he might free the Christians from the yoke of the Moors. He brought the Churches of his kingdom into closer union with the Apostolic See by establishing the Roman Liturgy in all the States that were under his sceptre. In the whole of his legislation, which he framed in assemblies where Bishops and Abbots had the preponderance, there is not a single trace of what have been called Galilean Liberties, which consist in the interference of the Sovereign or civil Magistrate in matters purely ecclesiastical. “So great was Charlemagne’s love for the Roman Church,” says Bossuet, “that the main point of his Last Will was the recommending to his successors the defence of the Church of Saint Peter, a defence which was the precious heirloom of his house, handed down to him by his father and his father’s father, and which he was resolved to leave also to his children. It was this love of the Church which prompted him to say, and the saying was afterwards repeated in a full Council held during the reign of one of his descendants, that “if the Church of Rome were, by an impossibility, to put on us a burden which was well near insupportable, we ought to bear it.”
What could prompt this spirit of Christian moderation which made Charlemagne so respectful to the moral power of the Church — what could temper down the risings of pride which, as a general rule, increases with the increase of power — what save a most saintly tenor of life? Man, unless he be endowed with the help of a powerful grace, cannot attain, much less can he maintain himself his whole life long in such perfect dispositions as these. Charlemagne, then, has been selected by our Emmanuel Himself to be the perfect type of a Christian Prince, and we Catholics should love to celebrate his glory during this Christmas season during which is born among us the Divine Child who is come to reign over all nations and guide them in the path of holiness and justice. Jesus has come from Heaven to be the model of kings, as of the rest of men. And so far no man has so closely imitated this divine model as “Charles the Victorious, the ever-August, the Monarch crowned by God.”
All hail faithful and beloved servant of God, Apostle of Christ, Defender of His Church, Lover of justice, Guardian of the laws of morality, and Terror of them that hate the Christian name! The hand of the Vicar of Christ purified the diadem of the Caesars and put it on your venerable head. The imperial sceptre and globe are in your hands. The sword of the victories won for God is girt on your side. The Supreme Pontiff has anointed you King and Emperor. Bearing thus in yourself the figure of Christ in His temporal Kingship, you so used your power as that He reigned in and by you. And now He recompenses you for the love you had for Him, for the zeal you had for His glory, and for the respect you ever evinced to the Church, His Spouse. He has changed your earthly and perishable royalty into that which is eternal, and in this heavenly kingdom you are surrounded by those countless souls whom you converted from idolatry to the service of the one true God.
We are celebrating the birth of the Son of that Virgin-Mother in whose honour you built the glorious Church which still excites the admiration of all nations. It was in that sacred edifice that you placed the swathing-clothes with which she clad her Divine Babe. And it is here, too, that our Emmanuel would have your own relics enshrined, so to receive the honour they deserve. admirable imitator of the faith of the three Eastern Kings, present us to Him who deigned to be clothed in these humble garments. Ask Him to give us a share of your humility which made you love to kneel near His crib — of your devotion for the Feasts of the Church — of your zeal for the glory of His divine Majesty — and of the courage and earnestness with which you laboured to spread His Kingdom on Earth.
Pray for our Europe which was once so happy under your paternal rule and is now divided against itself. The Empire which the Church confided to your care, has now fallen in just punishment for its treachery to the Church that gave it existence. The nations of that fallen Empire are now restless and unhappy. The Church alone can satisfy their wants, for she alone can give them Faith. She alone has not changed the principles of justice. She alone can control power and teach subjects obedience. Oh pray that nations, both people and their governments, may return to what can alone give them liberty and security, and cease to seek these blessings by revolution and discord. Protect France, that fairest gem of your crown, protect her with a special love, and show her that you are ever her King and her Father.