The Rise of the Carolingian Empire

Topics: Pope, Franks, Roman Empire Pages: 6 (2075 words) Published: May 25, 2010
The Rise of the Carolingian Empire & the Roman Catholic Church [pic]

The rise of the Carolingian Empire and their relationship with the Roman Catholic Church cemented the Roman Catholic domination over Christian clergy in Western Europe. Both church and state would utilise each other for the advancement of their own cause.

The establishment of the Carolingian Dynasty over the Frankish Kingdom heralded a fundamental moment in European history. The Carolingians first came to prominence in the eighth century with Charles Martel becoming Mayor of the Palace (Maior Domo) under the Merovingian Kings. This dynasty would eventually create the Holy Roman Empire under Charles Martel’s grandson, Charlemagne. This title symbolises collaboration between the church and the state which ensured the Roman popes’ authority over the Western Church, and legitimised the Carolingians assumption of power over the Frankish Kingdom. The interdependency between church and state (monarch) will be a consistent theme throughout this paper. The concept of a Christian theocratic state which developed in this period had lasting ramifications on Western Europe and essentially marks the beginnings of the modern western world.

At the beginning of the eighth century the Merovingian rule over the Frankish Kingdom was essentially ceremonial, the real authority lay in the role of Mayor of the Palace. Charles Martel was an effective ruler and military genius; his greatest success being the defeat of the Spanish Muslims at the Battle of Poitiers in 732.[1] Following the victory over the Spanish Muslims, Pope Gregory III implored Martel to protect Rome from the Franks one time ally, the Lombards.[2] However, Martel refused the papal request. Despite this rebuke Pope Gregory’s desire for Frankish protection did not diminish.

Following Emperor Constantine’s conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church was under the protection of the Roman Emperors. Following the relocation of the Roman Imperial capital to Constantinople and the collapse of the Western sphere of the empire, the Eastern Roman Empire was unable to ensure the security of the Catholic Church. Despite remaining the Emperors’ subjects, the popes did not receive the assistance of their protection. In order that the church survive and authority be maintained, it had to align itself with a western power which could re-establish these.[3]

The relationship between the Frankish Kings and the Roman Popes was first initiated by Carloman, Charles Martel’s son. Following the death of Charles Martel, control of the Kingdom was succeeded by his sons, Carloman and Pepin.[4] During Carloman’s tenure as Mayor of the Palace in Austrasia, he and Papal Legate Boniface began a program to convert Eastern Germans to Christianity via missionary work in which Boniface commented:

Without the patronage of the Frankish Prince I can neither govern the faithful of the church nor protect the priests, clerics, monks and nuns of God, nor can I forbid the practice of heathen rites and the worship of idols in Germany.[5] They also embarked on reforming the Frankish Clergy and enforcing the rule of St. Benedict.[6] However in 747 Carloman relinquished control of his territory to his brother Pepin in order to devote his life to the church and become a monk[7] Einhard was of the opinion that Carloman was driven by a desire to live a contemplative life and therefore had to abandon the heavy burden of ruling an earthly kingdom.[8] Pepin was thus faced with the problem of consolidating and legitimizing his authority over the Frankish Kingdom. Pepin achieved this aim in 751 via negotiations with Pope Zacharias who deposed the Merovingian dynasty and sanctioned Boniface to anoint Pepin king in the name of the church.[9] The religious legitimization of Pepin required an equal legitimization of the Franks, a theme Pepin and his predecessors sought to cultivate post 750.[10]

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