This is the second article on Charlemagne, or Charles the Great. He was the  most significant personage in Roman history from Constantine to Napoleon  and that is the way the Bible sees him. The “beast of the earth” superseded the  “beast of the sea” in Revelation chapter 13, and was answered in a great king  founding a vast empire that virtually included all the countries of western and  northern Europe. He was also very religious and under his rule the Catholic  Church spread far and wide as his domain was given great support. So Pope and Emperor worked  together and this was the constant feature of the next 1000 years of European history. It was called “The  Holy Roman Empire”.
This article moves on from his background to illustrate the man himself and his most significant achievements.

A feature of Germanic law was the equal division  of inheritance among the sons of the deceased.  So when Pepin died in 768 the vast Frankish  dominion was divided between his older son Charles  and his younger son Carloman. Charles received a  northern crescent of lands, facing all the current foes  whilst Carloman had a rounded territory of what  was left above the Alps. So Charles was distanced  from the Pope and it may have been thought that a  union between the Pope and Charles could never  occur. Furthermore Carloman had made distinct and  successful advances towards the Pope and stolen his  favour. It was their mother Bertrada that blocked her  younger son by arranging the marriage of the Lombard  princess (!) to Charles and, remarkably, persuading  Pope Stephen that this would neutralise his Lombard  foe and provide him the support of the elder son! This  scheme worked and Carloman saw himself checkmated  by his beloved mother! However, Carloman  suddenly died at the age of twenty years, so that in  771 Charles became monarch over all the lands of the  Frankish kingdom: the “beast of the earth” now had  an unfettered road to glory!

The Character of Charlemagne

The achievements of Charlemagne are stunning. He  reigned for forty-six years to ad814 and until the last  few years was involved in military campaigns on  every side. The Saxons, Alemanni, Dutch Friesians,  Lombards were some of his more consistent foes  but there were innumerable conflicts from Prussia  to the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic to Bavaria. On  every side he sought to conquer and pacify his  neighbours, to advance his dominion and convert  them into Christian communities, loyal to the Pope  and his Trinitarian doctrine.

Charlemagne’s personal life was marked  by tremendous energy, conviction of purpose  and single-minded determination to achieve it.  Though ruthless to obtain his way, he yet valued  his advisors and experts and frequently sought  their company. He was studious in mind, loved  reading and reasoning and encouraged such in all,  from his family to all parts of his realm. He set  up innumerable monasteries, abbeys, nunneries,  schools and yeshiva (religious universities).  Charlemagne was very religious. The beast of  the earth had two lamb-like horns (Rev 13:11).  Everything he did was driven by his fervour of his  Catholic convictions.

His day began at the crack of dawn with prayers  and hymns. He loved work and kept a large team  of scribes, messengers and advisers busy with  letters, messages, commands and judgements. His  strong appetite was accompanied with a thirst for  knowledge and exhortation, so “improving texts”  were read while he ate!

He had numerous wives and concubines and  many children, official and unofficial! These  children were strictly brought up and tutored by  the best teachers. His daughters he kept single  but that led to court scandals; there were many  grandchildren about the Aachen palace.

The Frankish Church

Before Charlemagne the Frankish Church was avowedly Catholic and Trinitarian, but its structure and uniformity was lacking compared to the  established Church of the Roman world. The  divisions and dioceses of the Frankish church were  randomly organised and many of their customs,  habits and training were amateur compared with  the older, traditional southern churches. Of great  significance was the vigour and zeal of Irish and  English missionaries; these people were more  Catholic than Italy, more scholarly than those in  the Roman regions, and their influence on the new  lands of Pepin and Charlemagne was enormous.  The pre-eminent name was that of the English  monk Boniface, whose contribution was so great  that he became known as “the apostle of Germany”.  When this fresh fundamental Catholic teaching  was combined with the strong and meticulous  organisation of Charlemagne, we have the basis of  that profound Catholic hold that the Roman Church  had over Europe for over a thousand years. In all his  forty-six years as king and emperor Charlemagne  gave priority to the teaching of the Church and  its influence at every level of society. Hence he  was later canonised as a “saint” by the Pope in the  13th century and revered, with Constantine, in the  Roman and Anglican churches.

The Lombards, Again!

Whilst Charlemagne conducted numerous military  campaigns, there were two accomplishments that  stood out in his illustrious record. The Saxons in  the far north proved a resourceful and recurring  foe against whom Charlemagne showed the full  expression of his determination and, finally, his  savage cruelty. He was not content until in 782 he  had totally subjected, converted and integrated these  barbaric peoples.

But in the south the Lombards under Desiderius  again threatened the Papacy, bringing an army into  Italy and stripping a number of cities from the Pope’s  dominion. Charles, like his father Pepin, crossed the  Alps, and thoroughly subjugated the Lombards. In the  spring of 774 at the invitatArticles.4.2ion of the Pope Hadrian,  Charles entered the imperial city of Rome, the first  Frankish king to do so, and was received in pomp  and splendour by the whole city and the papal officers  in particular. He looked the part, dressed in Roman  costume, passing through the streets in triumphal  glory! He ascended the stairs of St Peter’s Cathedral,  kissing each one as he went, to be honourably  welcomed and kissed by Pope Hadrian and his  hierarchy. Here was their new saviour to protect their  city and recover their lands, now “King of the Franks”,  “Lombard King” and “Patrician of the Romans”—yet  still not emperor of the Romans!

When Charles left Rome he gave assurance  that he would fulfil the terms of Pepin’s Donation;  yet in fact he delayed despite repeated letters  from successive popes—and from the apostle  Peter himself! The Pope even had the deeds of the  promised land, given, would you believe, 450 years  before by none less than Constantine! The keys to  the lands were said to be placed on the tomb of St  Peter! There seemed to be no ploy too ridiculous  for the Papacy—his correspondence was obsessed  with the land of Pepin’s promise, with almost no  comment of spiritual things or pastoral concerns.

In tArticles.4.3he year 799 Pope  Leo was ill and caught  up in a spate of charges  against his behaviour.  He crossed the Alps  to meet Charles and  travelled as far north  as Saxony where the  King was engaged in  gruelling rebellion.

Charlemagne  dispatched officers  to escort the Pope  back to Rome where  the trouble-makers  were condemned and  banished.

25th December 800

A year later Charles was in Rome again, but this  was the time of greatest significance in his reign.  Gathered in St Peter’s Cathedral were all the Papal  dignitaries and all those that accompanied the  king. Upon the Pope’s confession of innocence the  whole congregation burst out in praise to God, to  the Virgin Mary, to “St Peter” and to all the saints!  The next day was the 25th December and all were  again assembled in the great cathedral when Pope  Leo took the great golden crown and placed it upon  the head of Charles, at which the whole Roman  congregation exclaimed, “To Charles the most  pious Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific  Emperor, life and victory”. This was repeated  three times and thus Charles was anointed “Roman  emperor”, received mass from the Roman Pontiff  and swapped precious gifts. Here is the very essence  of Revelation 13:12 and 14: “And he exerciseth all  the power of the first beast before him, and causeth  the earth and them which dwell therein to worship  the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.  And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the  means of those miracles which he had power to do  in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell  on the earth, that they should make an image to  the beast which had the wound by a sword, and  did live.”

Two Emperors!

Though declared by an earlier Pope to  be “Patrician of the Romans”, Charles  had carefully avoided any reference to  “emperor” and, in fact, had kept a proper  relationship with the Roman emperor who  resided in Constantinople. The grandness  and glory of such an event as his coronation  required the knowledge and acquiescence  of Charlemagne. In another day it may have  been called “treason”, for who was he to  accept such an illustrious title when there  was an existing Emperor on the throne.  This action was deliberate, decisive and  remarkable. The Roman world was split  into East and West! An event of immense  significance had occurred. For the next one  thousand years the organization of Europe  would fall on these lines. Whilst the actual  term came later, this 800th year was the  beginning of the Holy Roman Empire. No  longer would the Papal See be looking east to  Constantinople for support but rather north to the  great Charlemagne and to the Carolingian dynasty  of kings that would follow. This phase of Roman  history is signified scripturally by “the beast of the  earth”, where support was received by the Pope  to allow him to magnify himself above all that is  worshipped. Charlemagne was the key player in  this great event in history and his zeal, his strength,  his competency and his longevity all combined to  make this possible. Well had God raised up the right  man just as His Word had spoken. At a time of great  change a leader requires a wide range of qualities.  Charles the Great had them all: intelligence,  scholarship, courage, leadership, martial skills,  eloquence, and power of organisation. When the  Pope wrote to him on one occasion, he called him  “the modern Constantine”. When the Papacy was  desperate they looked for a strong and worldly  suitor and when they found him they likened him  to their original provider of temporal power. How  marvellously interesting.

The Holy Roman Empire in its various stages lasted  for 1000 years (800 to 1789–92) so the historical  significance of Charlemagne is very great. The  French Revolution in 1789–94 and the wars of  Napoleon (1795–1815) blew it apart, but whenever the concept of European unity again emerged then  the name of Charlemagne inevitably came to the  fore. In the days of the powerful German Chancellor  Bismarck the attainments of Charlemagne were oft  recalled. So, too, in the days of Kaiser Wilhelm  which led to WWI, and Adolf Hitler in WWII with  his Third Reich. The echo to Charlemagne kept on  returning.

More poignantly the last 40 years of European  integration have been coloured with the notions  of the Charlemagne era. His name is heard in  their councils, found on their coins and notes and  taught in their schools. It is the present German  Chancellor, Mrs Merkel, that is pressing so  fervently for a role for the Pope and the church in  the growing phenomenon of the EU and Europe is  increasingly hearing her voice. The Papacy needs  a champion and Europe is stArticles.4.5riving to find the roots  of its existence.

They rest in the soil of  the Germano–Papal league of  AD800.

Charlemagne was the  dominant influence at that time.  Today the winner of the  annual award for European Unity  is awarded “the Charlemagne  Prize”!

What a testimony this is to the  Word of God. Revelation chapter  13 is a wonderful summary of the  principal features of the Middle  Ages of the Roman world and  their legacy throughout the  whole 1000 years of the Holy  Roman Empire.

Even today the nostalgia remains!