Thursday, October 1, 2015

Charlemagne - Political Promoter

Charlemagne was a seemingly well-intended  king who tried to promote Christianity politically. He is one of the more prominent among other similar kings, such as England's King Alfred. He worked to put the church organization in order and to see that churches had good leaders. He encouraged scholarship in Christian and secular fields and the translation of scholarly  books into German. He tried to put together an orderly civil order out of the chaos of the early Middle Ages (no doubt motivated to a certain extent by furthering his own  glory as king). He did at one point succeed in uniting a large part of Europe under his rule. It is hard at this distance to know his heart, but he at least appears to be an outwardly conscientious follower of Christ except he did have a problem with multiple dubious sexual relations with women.

But he ended up trying  to extend his rule by imposing Christianity on people by force. He even reached the point of requiring people to choose between being baptized or being executed. Even Alcuin, a chief scholar in Charlemagne's court, rebuked him and said he should instruct, not force them. No doubt Charlemagne's desire to achieve political control over the areas involved helped motivate this action. His control as a civil ruler over the church organization, though he may have been sincere, proved a bad precedent in the long run. Later rulers used this control to put unqualified people (relatives and political supporters) in high ecclesiastical positions, resulting in the corruption of the church. This produced a long vicious struggle between the church leaders and the state as to who controlled the church organization. Charlemagne's empire (called the Holy Roman Empire)  also fell apart after his death, being divided among his descendants. It only later came back together as France and a state that was called the Holy Roman Empire but consisted in what is today Germany and other nearby countries.

I think this is a good example of what happens when the Christian church depends too much on political power for solutions, even with outwardly good intentions. Political power involves coercion, and there is always the temptation to use that force to accomplish the desired ends when force is inappropriate. Also, it is easy to confuse the promotion of Christianity with self-promotion and the promotion of one's own rule. And in the end, political solutions can fall apart or even be used to undermine their original purpose. Ultimately, what is done to persuade people and change their hearts is what makes the difference. 

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