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The State Church In The Germanic

So long as the Germanic rulers remained Arian, the Catholic Church in
their kingdoms was left for the most part alone or hindered in its
synodical activity. But as the kingdoms became Catholic on the conversion
of their kings, the rulers were necessarily brought into close official
relations with the Church and its administration; and they exercised a
strict control over the ecclesiastical councils and the episcopal
elections. The Merovingians, on their conversion from paganism, at once
became Catholics, and they consequently assumed this control immediately.
With the extension of the Frankish kingdom, the authority of the king in
ecclesiastical affairs was likewise extended. In Spain the Visigoths were
Arians until 589. On the conversion of the nation at that date, the king
at once assumed an extensive ecclesiastical authority (for Reccared's
confirmation of the Third Synod of Toledo, 589, see Bruns, I, 393), and in
the development of the system the councils of Toledo became at once the
parliaments of the entire nation, now united through its common faith, and
the synods of the Church. This system was cut short by the Moslem invasion
of 711, and the development of the Church and its relation to the State is
to be studied in the Frankish kingdom in which from this time the
ecclesiastical development of Western Europe is to be traced. The best
evidence for the legal state of the Church under the Germanic rulers is
chiefly in the acts of councils.

But there was also in the Catholic Church in the Germanic kingdoms a
strong monastic spirit which was by no means willing to see the Church
become an "establishment." This fitted in poorly with the condition of the
State Church. It is illustrated by the career of St. Columbanus.

(a) Council of Orleans, A. D. 511, Synodical Letter. Bruns, II, 160.

The king summons the council and approves its findings. Extract
from the synodical letter in which the canons are sent to

To their Lord, the Son of the Catholic Church, Chlodowech, the most
glorious king, all the priests(223) whom you have commanded to come to the

Because your great care for the glorious faith so moves you to reverence
for the Catholic religion that from love of the priesthood you have
commanded the bishops to be gathered together into one that they might
treat of necessary things, according to the proposals of your will and the
titles [i.e., topics] which you have given, we reply by determining
those things which seem good to us; so that if those things which we have
decreed prove to be right in your judgment, the approval of so great a
king and lord might by a greater authority cause the determinations of so
many bishops to be observed more strictly.

(b) Council of Orleans, A. D. 549, Canons. Bruns, II, 211.

Canons regarding Episcopal elections. The first instance in
canonical legislation in the West recognizing the necessity of
royal consent to the election of a bishop. For the relation of the
Pope to metropolitans, see in 99 the Epistle of Gregory the
Great to Vigilius of Arles.

Canon 10. That it shall be lawful for no one to obtain the episcopate by
payment or bargaining, but with the permission of the king, according to
the choice of the clergy and the people, as it is written in the ancient
canons, let him be consecrated by the metropolitan or by him whom he sends
in his place, together with the bishops of the province. That if any one
violates by purchase the rule of this holy constitution, we decree that
he, who shall have been ordained for money, shall be deposed.

Canon 11. Likewise as the ancient canons decree, no one shall be made
bishop of those who are unwilling to receive him, and neither by the force
of powerful persons are the citizens and clergy to be induced to give a
testimonial of election.(224) For this is to be regarded as a crime; that
if this should be done, let him, who rather by violence than by legitimate
decree has been ordained bishop, be deposed forever from the honor of the
episcopate which he has obtained.

(c) Council of Paris, A. D. 557, Canon. Bruns, II, 221.

Canon 8. No bishop shall be ordained for people against their will, but
only he whom the people and clergy in full election shall have freely
chosen; neither by the command of the prince nor by any condition whatever
against the will of the metropolitan and the bishops of the province shall
he be forced in. That if any one with so great rashness presumes by royal
appointment(225) to reach the height of this honor, let him not deserve to
be received as a bishop by the bishops of the province in which the place
is located, for they know that he was ordained improperly. If any of the
fellow bishops of the province presume to receive him against this
prohibition, let him be separated from all his brethren and be deprived of
the charity of all.

(d) Gregory of Tours, Hist. Francorum, IV, 15. (MSL, 71:280.)

The difficulty of the Church in living under the Merovingian
monarchs with their despotism and violence is illustrated by the
following passage. The date of the event is 556.

When the clergy of Tours heard that King Chlothar [511-561; 558-561, as
surviving son of Chlodowech, sole ruler of the Franks] had returned from
the slaughter of the Saxons, they prepared the consensus(226) that they
had chosen the priest Eufronius bishop and went to the king. When they had
presented the matter, the king answered: "I had indeed commanded that the
priest Cato should be ordained there, and why has our command been
disregarded?" They answered him: "We have indeed asked him, but he would
not come." And as they said this suddenly the priest Cato appeared and
besought the king to command that Cautinus be removed and himself be
appointed bishop of Arverne.(227) But when the king laughed at this, he
besought him again, that he might be ordained for Tours, which he had
before rejected. Then the king said to him: "I have already commanded that
you should be consecrated bishop of Tours, but, as I hear, you have
despised that church; therefore you shall be withheld from the government
of it." Thereupon he departed ashamed. But when the king asked concerning
the holy Eufronius, they said that he was a nephew of the holy Gregory,
whom we have mentioned above.(228) The king answered: "That is a
distinguished and very great family. Let the will of God and of the holy
Martin(229) be done; let the election be confirmed." And after he had
given a decree for the ordination, the holy Eufronius was ordained as the
eighth bishop after St. Martin.(230)

(e) Gregory of Tours, Hist. Franc., VIII, 22, (MSL, 71:464.)

Royal interference in episcopal elections was not infrequent under
the Merovingians. Confused as the following account is, it is
clear from it that the kings were accustomed to violate the canons
and to exercise a free hand in episcopal appointments. See also
the preceding selection. The date of the event is 585. For the
Synod of Macon, A. D. 585, see Hefele, 286.

Laban, Bishop of Eauze,(231) died that year. Desiderius, a layman,
succeeded him, although the king had promised with an oath that he would
never again ordain a bishop from the laity. But to what will not the
accursed hunger for gold drive human hearts? Bertchramnus(232) had
returned from the synod,(233) and on the way was seized with a fever. The
deacon Waldo was summoned, who in baptism had also been called
Bertchramnus, and he committed to him the whole of his episcopal office,
as he also committed to him the provisions regarding his testament, as
well as those who merited well by him. As he departed the bishop breathed
out his spirit. The deacon returned and with presents and the
consensus(234) of the people, went to the king(235) but he obtained
nothing. Then the king, having issued a mandate, commanded Gundegisilus,
count of Saintes, surnamed Dodo, to be consecrated bishop; and so it was
done. And because many of the clergy of Saintes before the synod had, in
agreement with Bishop Bertchramnus, written various things against their
Bishop Palladius to humiliate him, after his(236) death they were arrested
by the bishop, severely tortured, and stripped of their property.

(f) Chlotar II, Capitulary, A. D. 614. MGH, Leges, II. Capitularia
Regum Francorum, ed. Boretius, I, 20, MGH, Leges, 1883.

Not only did the councils admit the right of the king to approve
the candidate for consecration as bishop, but the kings laid down
the principle that their approval was necessary. They also
legislated on the affairs of the Church, e.g., on the election
of bishops. The text may also be found in Altmann und Bernheim,
Ausgewaehlte Urkunden. Berlin, 1904, p. 1.

Ch. 1. It is our decree that the statutes of the canons be observed in all
things, and those of them which have been neglected in the past because of
the circumstances of the times shall hereafter be observed perpetually; so
that when a bishop dies one shall be chosen for his place by the clergy
and people, who is to be ordained by the metropolitan and his provincials;
if the person be worthy let him be ordained by the order of the prince;
but if he be chosen from the palace(237) let him be ordained on account of
the merit of his person and his learning.

Ch. 2. That no bishop while living shall choose a successor, but another
shall be substituted for him when he become so indisposed that he cannot
rule his church and clergy. Likewise, that while a bishop is living no one
shall presume to take his place, and if one should seek it, it is on no
account to be given him.

(g) Fredegarius Scholasticus, Chronicon, 75f. (MSL, 71:653.)

The Chronicon of Fredegarius is important, as it continues in its
last book the History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours. The
best edition is in the MGH, Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum II,
ed. Krusch. An account of the work may be found in DCB, art.
"Fredegarius Scholasticus." In the Frankish kingdom the higher
clergy, especially the bishops, assembled with the great men of
the realm in councils under the king to discuss affairs of State.
These councils have been called concilia mixta. They are,
however, to be distinguished from the strictly ecclesiastical
assemblies in which the clergy alone acted. A change was
introduced by Charles the Great. The following passage shows the
king consulting with the bishops, along with the other nobles.

75. In the eleventh year of his reign Dagobert came to the city of Metz,
because the Wends at the command of Samo still manifested their savage
fury and often made inroads from their territory to lay waste the Frankish
kingdom, Thuringia, and other provinces. Dagobert, coming to Metz, with
the counsel of the bishops and nobles, and the consent of all the great
men of his kingdom, made his son, Sigibert, king of Austrasia, and
assigned him Metz as his seat. To Chunibert, bishop of Cologne, and the
Duke Adalgisel, he committed the conduct of his palace and kingdom.(238)
Also he gave to his son sufficient treasure and fitted him out with all
that was appropriate to his high dignity; and whatsoever he had given him
he confirmed by charters specially made out. Since then the Frankish land
was sufficiently defended by the zeal of the Austrasians against the

76. When in the twelfth year of his reign a son named Chlodoveus was
born by Queen Nantechilde to Dagobert, he made, with the counsel and
advice of the Neustrians, an agreement with his Sigibert. All the great
men and the bishops of Austrasia and the other people of Sigibert, holding
up their hands, confirmed it with an oath, that after the death of
Dagobert, Neustria and Burgundy, by an established ordinance, should fall
to Chlodoveus; but Austrasia, because in population and extent it was
equal to those lands, should belong in its entire extent to Sigibert.

(h) Jonas, Vita Columbani, chs. 9, 12, 17, 32, 33, 59, 60. (MSL,

Columbanus (543-615) was the most active and successful of the
Irish missionary monks laboring on the continent of Europe. In 585
Columbanus left Ireland to preach in the wilder parts of Gaul, and
in 590 or 591 founded Luxeuil, which became the parent monastery
of a considerable group of monastic houses. He came into conflict
with the Frankish clergy on account of the Celtic mode of fixing
the date of Easter [see Epistle of Columbanus among the Epistles
of Gregory the Great, to whom it is addressed, Bk. IX, Ep. 127,
PNF, ser. II, vol. XIII, p. 38; two other epistles on the subject
in MSL, vol. 80], his monastic rule [MSL, 80:209], and his
condemnatory attitude toward the dissoluteness of life prevalent
in Gaul among the clergy, as well as in the court. Banished from
Burgundy in 610 partly for political reasons, he worked for a time
in the vicinity of Lake Constance. In 612, leaving his disciple
Gallus [see Vita S. Galli, by Walafrid Strabo, MSL, 114; English
translation by C. W. Bispham, Philadelphia, 1908], he went to
Italy and, having founded Bobbio, died in 615. Gallus (ob. circa
640) subsequently founded the great monastery of St. Gall in
Switzerland, near Lake Constance. The Celtic monks on the
continent abandoned their Celtic peculiarities in the ninth
century and adopted the Benedictine rule.

Jonas, the author of the life of Columbanus, was a monk at Bobbio.
His life of Columbanus was written about 640; see DCB, "Jonas
(6)." In the following, the divisions and numbering of paragraphs
follow Migne's edition. There is an excellent new edition in the
MGH, Script. rerum Merovin., ed. Krusch, 8vo, 1905.

Columbanus sets forth.

Ch. 9. Columbanus gathered such treasures of divine knowledge that even in
his youth he could expound the Psalter in polished discourse and could
make many other discourses, worthy of being sung and useful to teach.
Thereupon he took pains to be received into the company of monks, and
sought the monastery of Benechor [in Ulster] the head of which, the
blessed Commogellus, was famous for his many virtues. He was an excellent
father of his monks and highly regarded because of his zeal in religion
and the maintenance of discipline according to the rule. And here he began
to give himself entirely to prayer and fasting and to bear the yoke of
Christ, easy to those who bear it, by denying himself and taking up his
cross and following Christ, that he, who was to be the teacher of others,
might himself learn by teaching, and by mortification to endure in his own
body what he should abundantly show forth; and he who should teach what by
others ought to be fulfilled, himself first fulfilled. When many years had
passed for him in the cloister, he began to desire to wander forth,
mindful of the command which the Lord gave Abraham: "Get thee out of thy
country and from thy kindred and from thy father's house unto a land that
I will show thee" [Gen. 12:1]. He confessed to Commogellus, the venerable
Father, the warm desire of his heart, the desire enkindled by the fire of
the Lord [Luke 12:49]; but he received no such answer as he wished. For it
was a grief to Commogellus to bear the loss of a man so full of comfort.
Finally Commogellus began to take courage and place it before his heart
that he ought to seek more to advance the benefit of others than to pursue
his own needs. It happened not without the will of the Almighty, who had
trained His pupil for future wars, that from his victories he might obtain
glorious triumphs and gain joyful victories over the phalanxes of slain
enemies. The abbot called Columbanus unto him and said that though it was
a grief to him yet he had come to a decision useful to others, that he
would remain in peace with him, would strengthen him with consolation, and
give him companions for his journey men who were known for their

So Columbanus in the twentieth(239) year of his life set forth, and with
twelve companions under the leadership of Christ went down to the shore of
the sea. Here they waited the grace of Almighty God that he would prosper
their undertaking, if it took place with His consent; and they perceived
that the will of the merciful Judge was with them. They embarked and began
the dangerous journey through the straits, and crossed a smooth sea with a
favorable wind, and after a quick passage reached the coasts of Brittany.

Columbanus founds monasteries in Gaul.

Ch. 12. At that time there was a wide desert called Vosagus [the Vosges]
in which there lay a castle long since in ruins. And ancient tradition
called it Anagrates [Anegray]. When the holy man reached this place, in
spite of its wild isolation, its rudeness, and the rocks, he settled there
with his companions, content with meagre support, mindful of the saying
that man lives not by bread alone, but, satisfied with the Word of Life,
he would have abundance and never hunger again unto eternity.

Ch. 17. When the number of the monks had increased rapidly, he began to
think of seeking in the same desert for a better place, where he might
found a monastery. And he found a place, which had formerly been strongly
fortified, at a distance from the first place about eight miles, and which
was called in ancient times Luxovium.(240) Here there were warm baths
erected with special art. A multitude of stone idols stood here in the
near-by forest, which in the old heathen times had been honored with
execrable practices and profane rites. Residing here, therefore, the
excellent man began to found a cloister. On hearing of this the people
came to him from all sides in order to dedicate themselves to the practice
of religion, so that the great crowd of monks gathered together could
hardly be contained in the company of one monastery. Here the children of
nobles pressed to come, that, despising the scorned adornments of the
world and the pomp of present wealth, they might receive eternal rewards.
When Columbanus perceived this and that from all sides the people came
together for the medicines of penance, and that the walls of one monastery
could not without difficulty hold so great a body of converts to the
religious life, and although they were of one mind and one heart, yet it
was ill fitted to the intercourse of so great a multitude, he sought out
another place, which was excellent on account of its abundance of water,
and founded a second monastery, which he named Fontanae,(241) and placed
rulers over it, of whose piety none doubted. As he now settled companies
of monks in this place, he dwelt alternately in each and, filled with the
Holy Ghost, he established a rule which they should observe that the
prudent reader or hearer of it might know by what sort of discipline a man
might become holy.

The quarrel of Columbanus with the Court.

Ch. 32. It happened one day that the holy Columbanus came to Brunichildis,
who was at that time in Brocariaca.(242) When she saw him coming to the
court she led to the man of God the sons of Theuderich, whom he had
begotten in adultery. He asked as he saw them what they wanted of him, and
Brunichildis said: "They are the king's sons; strengthen them with thy
blessing." But he answered: "Know then that these will never hold the
royal sceptre, for they have sprung from unchastity." In furious anger she
commanded the boys to depart. The man of God thereupon left the royal
court, and when he had crossed the threshold there arose a loud roar so
that the whole house shook, and all shuddered for fear; yet the rage of
the miserable woman could not be restrained. Thereupon she began to plot
against the neighboring monasteries, and she caused a decree to be issued
that the monks should not be allowed to move freely outside the land of
the monastery, and that no one should give them any support or otherwise
assist them with offerings.

Ch. 33. Against Columbanus Brunichildis excited the mind of the king and
endeavored to disturb him; and she encouraged the minds of his princes,
his courtiers, and great men to set the mind of the king against the man
of God, and she began to urge the bishops that by vilifying the religion
of Columbanus they might dishonor the rule he had given his monks to

Columbanus founds Bobbio.

59. When the blessed Columbanus learned that Theudebert had been
conquered by Theuderich, he left Gaul and Germany,(243) which were under
Theuderich, and entered Italy where he was honorably received by Agilulf
the Lombard king, who gave him permission to dwell where he wished in
Italy. It happened by the will of God that, while he was in Milan,
Columbanus wishing to attack and root out by the use of the Scripture the
errors of the heretics, that is, the false doctrine of the Arians,
lingered and composed an excellent work against them.(244)

60. While things were thus going on, a man named Jocundus came before
the king and reported to him that he knew of a church of the blessed
Peter, prince of the Apostles, in a desert region of the Apennines, in
which he learned that there were many advantages, being uncommonly
fruitful and supplied with water full of fish. It was called in old time
Bobium(245) on account of the brook which flowed by it; another river in
the neighborhood was called Trebia, on which Hannibal, spending a winter,
suffered great losses of men, horses, and elephants. Thither Columbanus
removed and restored with all possible diligence the already half-ruined
church in all its former beauty. The roof and the top of the temple and
the ruins of the walls he repaired and set to work to construct other
things necessary for a monastery.

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