Saturday 1 February 2014

28 January - the Feast of Emperor St Charlemagne, the founder of the Holy Roman Empire

The Feast of Emperor St Charlemagne
28 January
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Portrait of Charlemagne in imperial regalia with the arms of the Holy Empire and of France above
by Albert Durer

The Emperor Charles the Great, Carolus Magnus, or Charlemagne, as he is usually known, was born on 2 April 742 or 747 and was the King of the Franks from 768, the King of Italy from 774, and from 800 the first Roman Emperor in western Europe since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier.

The expanded Frankish state he founded, the Carolingian Empire, became the basis of the Holy Roman Empire ever after.

He was the eldest son of King Pepin the Short, first Carolingian King of the Franks and the donor to the Papacy of the lands that became the Papal States, and Queen Bertrada of Laon, and the grandson of Charles Martel, the saviour of Europe from the invading army of the Muslim Arab Umayyad Caliphate under General Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, Governor of Al Andalus (Andalusia), at the Battle of Tours in 732.

Charlemagne became king in 768 following the death of his father. He was initially co-ruler with his brother Carloman I who died in 771 leaving Charlemagne as the undisputed ruler of the Frankish Kingdom.

Charlemagne continued his father's policy towards the papacy and became its protector, removing the Lombards from power in northern Italy, and leading an incursion into Muslim Spain.

He also campaigned against the peoples to his east, leading many to baptism.

Charlemagne reached the height of his power in 800 when he was crowned Roman Emperor by Pope St Leo III on Christmas Day at old St. Peter's Basilica. According to Einhard, this was against his will, but the Pope, the nobility, clergy and people of Rome desiring it, and the Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium being under the rule of the murderess and filicide, Empress Irene, who was defiant of the Papacy and the Church, he relented and accepted his coronation as the new and true Caesar Augustus, the ancient tile of the Roman emperors.

It is important to note that Charles was not elected, appointed and ordained Roman Emperor by the Pope alone but that, as of old, he was chosen by the nobility, clergy and people of the City of Rome, as well as by the Bishop of Rome, just as the ancient emperors had been, as popes themselves were for many centuries.

The Italian scholar and poet, Dante, emphasizes this in his work on the monarchy, De Monarchia.

It was only later that representatives were taken to represent the nobility, clergy and people of Rome - cardinal-electors in the case of the Pope and prince-electors in the case of the Emperor and both cardinal-elector and prince-elector were among the highest titles in Christendom.

The extreme papalist party often claimed that the imperial power derived from the papal power by the coronation at the hands of Pope St Leo but St Leo certainly did not think so and, as Dante reminds us, the imperial power pre-dated the papal and was thus prior to it and did not derive from it.

Having said that, all agreed that the Pope had the right, spiritually, to depose an anti-emperor and to veto the election of any emperor, just as the Emperor had the right, physically, to depose an anti-pope and to veto the election of any pope.

Note the physical/spiritual distinction. The Pope could declare an anti-emperor to be such and so deposed but was not empowered to send an army against him (that was the duty of the true emperor). Similarly, the Emperor did not have the spiritual power to declare an anti-pope to be such (that was the duty of the true pope), but the Emperor could lead an army to depose him.

Moreover, the Pope could not depose the true Emperor, nor the Emperor the true Pope.

Both Pope and Emperor ceased to be true upon becoming public, pertinacious heretics and thus self-excommunicating.

This is in keeping with the Two Swords doctrine (Luke 22:38). The Pope is the spiritual leader of Christendom and the spiritual Vicar of Christ and the Emperor is the temporal leader of Christendom and the temporal Vicar of Christ.

Now Pope St Leo III had needed help from the temporal Vicar of Christ, the Roman Emperor, against barbarian invaders but Empress Irene, despite being spiritually obliged to do so, would give him none.

Further, St Leo considered the throne of the Byzantine Emperor vacant, not because it lacked a male occupant, as some hostile historians have suggested, but because Irene had ordered her own son, Emperor Constantine VI, murdered in order to establish herself as Empress (βασιλεύς or βασίλισσα - the Greek title for the Roman Emperor or Empress).

She was thus an usurpress and an anti-emperor and the throne was accordingly vacant and the Pope was empowered to declare it so.

However, no Christian monarch was willing to take on the challenge of deposing her and so Irene reigned for five years, from 797 to 802 and, although incensed at the crowing of Charlemagne as Caesar Augustus, even conspired to negotiate a marriage with him.

Nevertheless, since infamy breeds infamy, soon enough, in 802, the patricians conspired against her and placed on the throne Nicephoros, the minister of finance, and forced Irene into exile to Lesbos where she was even forced to support herself by spinning. She died the following year. 

Called the "Father of Europe" (pater Europae) Charlemagne's empire united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire. His rule spurred the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of cultural and intellectual activity within the Catholic Church. Both the French and German monarchies considered their kingdoms to be descendants of Charlemagne's empire.

In 772, the 30-year-old Charles had taken over the government of the whole Frankish Kingdom.

With reason he is called Magnus: he earned the title as general and conqueror, as the man who put order into his immense Empire and as a legislator, and also as one who reformed and stimulated the spiritual life of the West.

By means of his government, Christian ideas were victorious over the barbarian peoples. His life was a constant struggle against the rudeness and barbarism that threatened the Catholic Religion and the burgeoning new culture.

He led no less than 53 wars: 18 against the Saxons, one against Aquitaine, five against the Lombards, seven against the Arabs in Spain, one against the Turungians, four against the Avars, two against the Bretons, one against the Bavarians, four against the Slavs, five against the Saracens in Italy, three against the Danish, and two against the Greeks.

On Christmas Day, as we have seen, in the year 800, Pope St. Leo III raised him to the dignity of Emperor, restoring to the West the ancient Christian Roman Empire of Constantine, founding by such act the noblest temporal institution of Christendom, which was later called the Holy Roman Empire.

On 28 February 814, Emperor St Charlemagne died in 814, having received Viaticum and the last rites, after having ruled as Emperor for just over thirteen years. He was laid to rest in his imperial capital of Aachen in today's Germany. His son Louis the Pious succeeded him as Emperor.

He was buried in a niche of the Basilica of Aachen (in Latin, Aquisgranen; in French, Aix-la-Chapelle.) According to the legend, he was buried seated on his throne in upright position, wearing his sword and with the book of Gospels in his hands.

He became the model of Catholic Emperors, the prototype of the noble Catholic cavalier, and the central figure of most of the medieval Chansons de Geste, the songs of the heroic deeds of old, the grandsire of many of the great royal and noble families of Europe.

Einhard, the contemporary historian, provides us with a close-up of Charlemagne:

“He was large and strong, and of lofty stature, though not disproportionately tall (seven-feet tall). His head was round and well-formed, his eyes very large and vivacious, his nose a little long, his hair white, and his face jovial. His appearance was always stately and very dignified, whether he was standing or sitting. …. His gait was firm, his whole carriage manly, and his voice clear.”
[Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1880, pp. 56-7]

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The magnificent statue of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, and his Counts-Palatine, Roland and Olivier, is placed in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris near the Seine River
This heroic figure was possessed of a joyful spirit. The Monk of St. Gall recounts that whoever came before Charlemagne sad and disturbed would leave him serene, just by the effect of his presence and some few words. The freshness and honesty of his nature strengthened all those who were associated with him. His majesty did not have a rigid arrogance, nor a suspicious reserve; rather the tranquil grandeur of his personality dominated everything around him, and, notwithstanding, was unpretentious and self-contained.
The terrifying impression he caused in the hearts of his enemies as a warrior leading his army is described by the Monk of St Gall:
“Then, one could see the Charlemagne of iron, with his head covered by a iron helmet, his arms bearing iron protectors; in his left hand he carried an iron lance, and in the right his always victorious steel sword. His muscles were covered with iron plates, and his shield made of pure iron. When he appeared, the inhabitants of Pavia cried out with fear: O, the Iron Man! O, the Iron Man!”
This Iron Man had a profoundly sensitive heart. Charlemagne wept like a boy at the death of a friend. The victor of 100 battles showed a paternal care for the poor. The man whose steps caused all of Europe to tremble and by whose grand campaigns a million men were conquered was the most tender of fathers, who never could dine without the presence of one of his children.
It was his religion, the Roman Catholic religion, that gave the noblest impulse to his strong and fecund spirit and that conferred glory to his power. And under its protection he placed the peoples that his sword had conquered.
[Historia Universal, Spanish Edition, vol. IV, p. 790]
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Charlemagne Bust
The following speech of Charlemagne to his subjects is as solemn testament to all Christendom, even though it was delivered in March 802 and the Emperor did not die until 814.
The speech, sometimes referred to as a sermon, was delivered to the assembly of nobles gathered in Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen).

Here are Charlemagne’s counsels to his nobles and subjects:

“Hear me, my beloved brothers! We were sent here for your salvation, to exhort you to faithfully follow the Law of God and to convert you, in justice and mercy, to obey the laws of this world. 
First, I exhort you to believe in the One Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: the only true God, perfect Trinity, true Unity, Creator of all things visible and invisible, Who is our salvation and the Author of all good things. Believe in the Son of God made man for the salvation of the world, born of the Virgin Mary by the work of the Holy Ghost. Believe that for our salvation He suffered death; and that on the third day He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven where He is seated at the right hand of God. Believe that He will return to judge the living and dead, and that He will give to each one according to his works. 
 Believe in one single Church, the society of the blessed through the entire universe, and know that only they can be saved, and that the Reign of God belongs only to those who persevere to the end in this [Catholic] Faith. Those who are excluded from the Church because of their sins and do not return to her through penance, can never make any action accepted by God. Be convinced that with Baptism you received absolution of your sins. Trust in the mercy of God, Who daily forgives our sins through confession and penance. Believe in the resurrection of the dead, in eternal life and in the never-ending torment of the impious. 
This is the Faith that will save you if you keep it faithfully, and add to it the practice of good works, because Faith without works is a dead faith; and works without Faith, even when they are good, cannot please God. Therefore, love Almighty God above all things with all your heart and strength. With the help with His grace, do everything, always and as much as possible, that you believe will please Him. But avoid everything that displeases Him, for the man who pretends to love God and does not observe His Commandments lies. 
Love your neighbour as yourself, and give as many alms to the poor as you can, according to your means. Receive travellers in your houses, visit the poor, and show charity to the prisoners as much as you can. Do evil to no one, and make no compromise with those who do bad things, because it is bad not only to harm your neighbour, but also to be familiar with those who harm him. 
Mutually forgive offenses if you want God to forgive your sins. Rescue captives, help those who are unjustly oppressed, defend widows and orphans. Make judgments fairly; never favour any injustice, do not harbour long hatreds; avoid drunkenness and taking part in frivolous feasts. 
Be humble and good to one another; be faithful to your lords. Commit no robberies or perjuries, and avoid any acquaintance with those who commit them. Hatred, jealousy and violence separate us from the Kingdom of God. Reconcile with one another as soon as possible, for while it is human for men to sin, it is angelic to repent and diabolic to persevere in sin. 
Defend the Church of God and help her so that the priests of God can pray for us. Remember your promise in Baptism to renounce the Devil and his works. Do not return to him in anything; nor should you return to the works you have renounced, but rather follow the will of God as you have promised, and love the One who created you and gave you all the gifts and goods you possess. 
Each one should serve God faithfully in the place he finds himself. Wives should submit to their husbands in all goodness and modesty. They should avoid any dishonest action, and not poison others or be jealous, because those who do such actions are in revolt against God. They should raise their children in the fear of God, and give alms with a glad and joyous heart according to their means. 
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The Emperor Charlemagne chants the Office of the Church solemnly in his tent before a battle

“Husbands should love their wives and speak no rude word to them; they should direct their homes with goodness and frequently gather in church. They should return to others what they owe them without murmuring, and with good will return to God what belongs to Him. 
“Children should love and honour their parents; obey them in everything, and remain far from stealing, murdering and debaucheries. 
“Clerics and canons should diligently obey the commands of their Bishops; they should live in their residences and not wander here and there among the people. Nor should they enter into secular questions. They should preserve their chastity: the reading of Holy Scriptures should remind them of their service to God and the Church. 
“Monks should be faithful to the promises they made to God. They should not do anything against the will of their Abbots or seek any shameful personal benefit. They should know their rule by heart and follow it regularly, reminding themselves that it would be better not to have made any vow than to have made them and not be faithful to them.
“Dukes, counts and judges should be just with the people and merciful to the poor. They should never sell justice for money, and never allow a personal hatred to lead them to condemn an innocent man. They should always have these words of the Apostle in their hearts: ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that which he has done, whether it be good or bad.’ (2 Cor. 5:10). The Lord expressed this by the following words: ‘For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged’ (Matt 7:2); For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hidden, that shall not be known. (Luke 12:2); That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment’ (Matt 12:36).'
 "We must make an effort, therefore, with the help of God, to please Him in all our actions so that after this present life, we will merit eternal happiness in the company of the Saints of the Lord.This life is short, and the hour of death is uncertain. What matters except to be ready? Let us not forget how terrible it is to fall into the hands of the Lord. By means of confession, penance and alms, we make the Lord become merciful and clement. If He sees us turn to Him with a sincere heart, He will show us pity and will have mercy on us. 
“May God grant us prosperity in this life and an eternity with His Saints in the future life. 
“God keep you, my beloved brothers!”

[Translated by Hugh O’Reilly from Charles d’Hericault, Histoire Anecdotique de la France,  Paris: Bloud & Barral, vol. 1, pp 301-304]

The propers for the Feast of Emperor St Charlemagne can be found here:
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The Imperial Crown of Charlemagne worn ever after by the Holy Roman Emperors
Emperor St Charles the Great, pray for us and for the return of Roman Christendom!