The Transformation of the Carolingian World – a comparative workshop

With the support of the Humboldt Foundation and SFB 923, ‘Threatened Orders’, Professor Steffen Patzold and I are organising an international workshop in Tübingen on Friday 2nd – Saturday 3rd September.

The workshop aims to shed fresh light on the ‘transformation of the Carolingian world’ by taking a discrete set of issues and comparing them in the ninth and eleventh centuries. Married priests, the place of the papacy, the role of bishops, and heresy and peace movements: how should we best plot the changes in social order between the Carolingian and the Gregorian ‘reforms’? The workshop will explore this question through a series of short, informal presentations.

Venue: Tübingen, Hegelbau, Room 228

Programme

FRIDAY 2nd September

2pm introduction – Steffen Patzold/Charles West

Session 1. 2.30pm – 3.30pm. The Papacy
Clara Harder (Cologne) and Kriston Rennie (Dresden/Queensland)

3.30pm – 4pm coffee break

Session 2: 4pm–5pm Nicolaitism
Marco Stoffella (Tübingen/Verona) and Steffen Patzold

SATURDAY 3rd September

Session 3. 9.30am – 10.30am Bishops and the World
Charles West and Fraser McNair (Brussels)

1030am – 11am coffee

Session 4: 1100am – 12noon Peace and Heretics
Miriam Czock (Duisburg-Essen) and Warren Pezé (Tübingen)

12 noon: Conclusion.

In defence of Campus Galli

A couple of days ago I visited Campus Galli. Located in south-western Germany, it’s a new, eccentric and almost insanely ambitious project to build an entire Carolingian monastery, from scratch, using early medieval techniques, over the next 20 years or so. You can see smiths, potters and stonemasons at work, and eat a ‘Carolingian sausage’ in a bun. I had great fun. But on my return home I learned that the site has been bitterly criticised by ‘living history’ specialists. Why?

At the root of most of the criticism is the claim that the site isn’t sufficiently ‘authentic’. For example, a well-known blogger who goes by the name of Hiltibold, and who clearly dislikes the project quite intensely, has posted a set of photographs with anachronisms angrily circled in red: volunteers eating chocolate, wearing modern shoes, and so forth. For him, it’s a ‘Disneyland in disguise’.

These criticisms seem to me fundamentally to miss the point. Whatever the marketing rhetoric, sites like this are infotainment. There’s no point striving for perfect accuracy in ‘reconstructing the past’ in this way, it’s just a question of making a reasonable effort. Imagination can fill out the rest. After all, the most dedicated enthusiast might wear the clothes of a 10th-century Scandinavian with every last detail perfected, but he would still be a 21st-century man pretending to be an early medieval one.

And that’s of course OK. There are different ways to engage with the past: empathetically, to imagine what it might have been like, and intellectually, to try to understand it. Both are important in different ways. Sites like Campus Galli can be truly inspiring, encouraging visitors to find out more about a distant past. Many a future historian might have her interest first piqued by such a visit. Some might buy a book from the (very respectable) set on offer in the shop.

What makes the Campus Galli particularly valuable is the fact that it’s an ecclesiastical site. Most living history tends – with some very honourable exceptions  like Bede’s World, though its future is now unclear – to focus on the non-Christian aspects of the European Middle Ages. Even if it gets some of the details wrong, it’s good that Campus Galli is redressing the balance, and getting the wider public interested in the medieval church. Maybe that’s why a few enthusiasts dislike it so.

What makes the nitpicking all the more out of place is the nature of the Campus Galli project. For the workers and volunteers are not rebuilding a monastery, they are building one. The monastery in question never actually existed. The site is based instead on the marvellous Plan of St-Gall, an idealised Carolingian monastery sketched out on parchment c. 830, but never constructed, and maybe never really intended to be. Campus Galli is thus delightfully a modern fantasy overlaid on a medieval one.

As a result, the inevitable intrusion of the modern world isn’t really a problem. In fact, in some ways it’s to be welcomed. Germany has led Europe in offering shelter to refugees fleeing from the wars in the Middle East: and according to our tour guide, there were some Syrian refugees working at the site when we visited. Nothing could be more 21st century than that: but nothing could fit better with the optimistic idealism, and the dream of a better society, that underpinned the original Plan of St Gall, too.

How to become bishop: ecclesiastical liberty in the ninth century

What’s the best way to become a bishop? Writing around 835, a cleric gave an example of how it should be done. Long ago, there was a rich man from a Lyon senatorial family called Eucherius. He gave away all his money to the poor, and went to live in a remote cave. There he hid alone for many years, fasting and praying, until the bishop of Lyon died. Then divine grace revealed Eucherius to the Lyon clergy as the best replacement, so they retrieved him from his cave and ordained him as their new bishop.

The cleric who tells us this story, Florus of Lyon, isn’t very well-known today outside the circle of specialists. That’s a pity, because he’s a fascinating figure. Steeped in patristic learning, he cultivated a range of interests, including UFOs (yes, really – see ‘Florus de Lyon et les extra-terrestres’ on Pierre Chambert-Protat’s highly recommended blog). Florus could be acerbic, and he could also be radical: and his account of how Eucherius became bishop of Lyon is a case in point.

That’s because Florus didn’t tell the story to suggest that all prospective future bishops should give away their money and live hidden in remote caves waiting for their moment (a rather risky career strategy). Rather, what he wanted to emphasise was that no king had been involved in Eucherius’s appointment. And that kings had no role to play in episcopal appointments was the point of the short treatise in which Florus included this story, On the appointment of bishops, and which you can read here in a draft English translation  (to my knowledge, the first time it’s been translated).

In this treatise, Florus used the example of Eucherius (who really did become bishop of Lyon, in the fifth century) to suggest that worldly rulers never really had played a role in appointing bishops. Certainly the Christian Roman emperors hadn’t, because they were too busy ruling the entire world to bother with every single appointment. Florus described this situation as one of church freedom, ecclesiastica libertas. Afterwards, princes in ‘some kingdoms’ began to be consulted on appointments, but nothing more. Florus observed that even in his own day, not only was the pope of Rome appointed without royal interference, the pope himself ordained bishops without royal involvement.

Florus suggested that this tradition was only right and proper, because worldly rulers did not have the capacity to appoint new bishops: ordination was a gift of the Holy Spirit, not of humans. In some ways, Florus was stating the obvious here, since medieval kings never claimed that they could themselves ordain bishops. But in other ways, this was a very radical argument, since in practice kings in Florus’s day exercised a lot of influence in the appointment procedure, up to the point of choosing the successful candidate.

Indeed, lots about Florus’s Book on the election of bishops has strong resonances with later currents of what we now call Gregorian church reform. For instance, the concern with drawing a sharper distinction between the church and the world; the focus on ecclesiastical appointments; the emphasis on the church’s freedom; the emphasis on the papacy; a distinctly polemical tone; and the use of Late Antique sources in new ways, for Florus’s short text cites Cyprian at length. In this respect as in other ways (hostility to Jews and heretics), Carolingian Lyons seems to have been something of a laboratory for later ideas.[1]

However, Florus’s argument wasn’t effective in the 830s. He seems to have written the treatise to stop the Frankish emperor Louis the Pious from imposing a new bishop named Amalarius on the church of Lyon. But directly challenging the emperor proved not to be the most tactful approach, so Florus gamely switched tactics, and mounted a no-holds-barred campaign to show instead that Amalarius was a heretic – a campaign which eventually worked much better.

Yet Florus’s text about appointing bishops is preserved in four manuscripts from around 900 (thanks to Gallica you can see one of them here), showing that near-contemporaries could see and appreciate the general significance of this work, even after the immediate controversy it was written for had died down. The so-called Gregorian Reform of the eleventh century, it’s becoming ever clearer, had very deep roots.

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Image: Wikipedia (the Prague Gospels, s. IX: Cim 2, knihovně Pražské metropolitní kapituly)

[1] See the very stimulating article by Warren Pézé, ‘Amalaire et la communauté juive de Lyon. À propos de l’antijudaïsme lyonnais à l’époque carolingienne’, Francia 40 (2013), pp. 1-25, open access here

Religion and Law – historical and contemporary perspectives

A series of lunchtime talks in the autumn, 2016: Wednesdays at 1.15pm (45 mins), Sheffield Cathedral (St George’s Chapel).  

The relationship between religion and law is a topic that seems particularly pressing in 21st-century Britain. It is at the heart of discussions about the disestablishment of the Church of England, about the ‘right to die’, and about the place of sharia law in UK courts, to name just a few current debates.

This series of talks, a collaboration between the Cathedral and the University of Sheffield, explores different aspects of this important question, offering historical as well as contemporary perspectives. How have religion and law co-existed in the past, and what shape will this relationship take in the future?

Open to all, free entry. To reserve your place, please visit the EventBrite page.

Missed one of the talks? Don’t worry! Each one is the subject of a weekly blog, available here

*** PROGRAMME ***

5th October. Dr Mark Finney –  Religion and the Law in early Christian Traditions

12th October. Dr Julia Hillner – Religion and Exile in the Roman Empire

19th October. Dr Charles West – Getting off the hook? Clerical exemption from the law in the Middle Ages

26th October. Prof. Anthony Milton – ‘An unholy mess’: religion and law in early modern England

2nd November. Imam Sheikh Mohammed Ismail –  Sharia councils in contemporary British society: conflict or not?

9th November. Prof. David McClean – Church Establishment in a Global Context