*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 28th of January 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You have heard it said that the Constantinian Revolution blended both the power of the church and the power of the sword to help make the modern world.
You have heard that the Renaissance was the rebirth and flourishing of arts and learning in Europe between 1400 and 1600.
But I say to you… sure… those things are both true. But what if I told you there was a kind of 2nd Constantine and a Pre-Renaissance in the West? Today we remember the death of Charlemagne- the first Holy Roman Emperor who united western Europe in the 8th and 9th centuries. We’ve talked about him before- if you are of western European descent, you are probably related to him. He was the Ghengis Khan of the West. He’s come up multiple times on this show over the past years- let me see if I can summarize what we call the Carolingian Renaissance.
A word about pronunciation….
Let’s break it down in terms of statecraft, education, and faith.
Charlemagne of the Carolingian dynasty unified Western Europe in a way not seen since the fall of Rome and not seen again since its demise (which was… err… post-Napoleon, kind of)
Charlemagne subdued the Saxons. Appeased the Italians. Created a buffer region between the Iberian Peninsula and the Umayyad Caliphate, and the rest of Europe. He did much of this as a warrior king. As did many Christian rulers, he saw himself as a kind of “King David” (which may be the most overused trope for modern rulers, but I digress).
Charlemagne standardized and centralized. He used Abbots, Bishops, and other ecclesiastical positions to serve administrative roles. He had emissaries that would also go out across the region (think almost all of Western Europe) to announce decrees and publicize the work and image of the emperor. Do you folks in this region want a real pious Christian emperor? We’ve got that for you. Do you want a real warlord on the throne? We can spin that story too. Charlemagne has two biographies. Extant that you can read. He was a PR Wiz.
And the fact that we have those biographies is on account of his educational reforms. Charlemagne’s educational initiatives could be summarized as expansion, standardization, and democratization on par with his administrative reforms.
It has been argued that the actual spark to the Carolingian Renaissance was not from western Europe but instead the North of England (this leading to the question of Britain being part of Western Europe and me staying out of it). Charlemagne imported Alcuin- one of the most famous scholars and clerics of his day. The grand tradition of the scriptoria was boosted under Alcuin and Charlemagne- that is, rooms where manuscripts were copied—and copied—and copied. It’s estimated that without these mass production centers, we might have lost up to 90% of the classical texts we have today. The Latin had to be reformed, however. The scribes of this renaissance gave us spaces between words, capital letters, punctuation, etc.…
And just as important was the democratization of education during this renaissance. Not entirely “democratic” in a sense we use today- but you didn’t have to be a noble with a tutor, necessarily. You could go to palace schools or cathedral schools, which would eventually become the universities we know today.
Alcuin introduced a systematic way of learning known as the trivium and quadrivium, and if you know anyone who homeschools, I am willing to bet that they would love to explain this to you.
And in a sense, all of this reform under the Carolingian renaissance was to serve the faith, or what we call “Christendom” in this era.
The schools and the scriptorium would become centers of faith- scholasticism, illuminated manuscripts, and so many things that you probably think of when you think of “medieval.” Unlike in the Eastern Church, there wasn’t much of an iconoclastic controversy. You put images on things to work as symbols for teaching and converting. Could a mosaic do this? Sure. What about a fresco- even better. The arts as educational, devotional, AND decorative started to become a staple of western art only to be picked up again in that second Renaissance a few centuries later.
The scholastic method brought together texts from the Bible, the church fathers, antiquity and laid them next for examination. It was a time of education, standardization, democratization, and territory consolidation.
Charlemagne died on this day in 814- today, we remember the renaissance he watched over, which laid so many of the foundations for our modern west.
The Last Word for today comes from the book of Ephesians.
10 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. 11 Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. 12 We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. 13 Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. 14 So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15 and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. 16 Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of January 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who I am sure did some craft for that verse when he was growing up. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who first read “comic darkness” with that text… I don’t know what that means. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.