Saturday, January 28, 2012
The Feast of Charlemagne
Right from the start he marched his knights into the eastern lands of Germany, where no Roman legions had ever tread, to take on the pagan Saxons who were still occasionally carrying out human sacrifices and eating each other -not exactly civilized behavior by any definition. Charlemagne and his mostly Frankish army gave the Saxons a sound thrashing, made them promise to be good little boys and girls and then marched off to their next adventure. That came when the Pope in Rome started having trouble with the Lombard kingdom in northern Italy. So, it was Charlemagne to the rescue, wiping out Lombardy and possibly having the Iron Crown placed on his head -that’s not definite but in any event he made himself King of the Lombards by conquest before going on to Rome to accept the thanks of a grateful Pope, see the sights and buy a few postcards for the wives. But, just as he was picking up coliseum t-shirt word came that the Saxons were running wild again and he had to round up his knights and march back to Germany. Once again, he gave them a good drubbing but this time decided that there would be no peace until the Saxons found Jesus. Being a man of action rather than words, Charlemagne had all the Saxons rounded up, pointed a few swords and lances at them and “encouraged” them to become good Catholics.
It seems when everyone was swearing to be good Catholics some of the Saxon big-shots had their fingers crossed and it took a long, grueling war for Charlemagne to subdue them again. There were still armies in the field when Charlemagne and the Saxon king agreed to peace with Charlemagne leaving Saxony to the Saxons so long as the King was baptized. He did, Charlemagne loaded him down with gifts, the Pope sent him a pat on the back and there was much rejoicing. Charles then settled down in the town of Aachen, taking time out occasionally to thrash the Avars and punish heretics and corrupt clergymen. Although he did not take ‘sins of the flesh’ very seriously, at least concerning himself and his own family, Charlemagne was very conscious of being a Christian monarch and was determined to keep Church affairs orderly. He was, in this regard, not unlike the first Christian Emperor Constantine who was not without his personal flaws but who wanted a clearly understood and defined religion everyone could unite behind and he was willing to use his position to ensure that the Church was protected, its message was clear and its clergy upright.
Charlemagne died not too many years after in 814. His empire was divided up among his sons, none of whom could quite match his achievements and the Holy Roman Empire would have to wait until the reign of Otto the Great to see itself reformed and solidified into a major power again. Nonetheless, European history would certainly not have developed as it did without Charlemagne, King of Franks and Lombards and Emperor of the Romans. He had rescued Europe from the worst period of the Dark Ages and set the stage for the rebuilding of Christian civilization in the west. Much was left to be done but none of it would have happened without the giant historical figure of Charlemagne. In recognition of his great achievements he was locally beatified soon after his death as Blessed Charles the Great, his feast day being January 28 where it is celebrated. Pope Benedict XIV much later confirmed this beatification and though he was formally canonized by the anti-Pope Paschal III in 1166 this step was never taken by the official Church hierarchy. However, his great contributions cannot be denied, his influence is still felt and the Latin West lost its first Holy Roman Emperor 1,198 years ago today.