Europe is struggling to live up to the vision of its founders, Pope Francis has said in a powerful speech that asked: “What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?”
I could write yet another post on this current Pope’s destructive attitude toward Europe, individual freedom, cultural destruction, and economic barbarism; yet, this has grown too easy when he continually offers gems such as these:
“Their new and exciting desire to create unity seems to be fading. We, the heirs of their dream, are tempted to yield to our own selfish interests and to consider putting up fences here and there.”
“Time is teaching us that it is not enough simply to settle individuals geographically: the challenge is that of a profound cultural integration.”
This post won’t be a Pope-bashing, at least not for the speech he gave. Instead, it is the occasion of the speech that interests me:
Speaking as he became the first pope to accept the prestigious Charlemagne prize for his work on behalf of European solidarity…
The Charlemagne Prize…is one of the most prestigious European prizes. It has been awarded annually since 1950 by the German city of Aachen to people who contributed to the ideals upon which it has been founded. It commemorates Charlemagne, ruler of the Frankish Empire and founder of what became the Holy Roman Empire, who resided and is buried at Aachen.
The Pope has accepted a prize named after the bloodiest murderer in early Medieval European history.
Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great or Charles I, was King of the Franks. He united most of Western Europe during the early Middle Ages and laid the foundations for modern France and Germany. He took the Frankish throne in 768 and became King of Italy from 774. From 800, he became the first Holy Roman Emperor — the first recognized emperor in Western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier.
Charlemagne became king in 768, initially as co-ruler with his younger brother Carloman I. Carloman died at twenty years-of-age under unclear circumstances in 771, leaving Charlemagne sole ruler.
Charlemagne has been called the "Father of Europe" (Pater Europae), as he united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire.
From RHC Davis, A History of Medieval Europe:
In almost every one of the forty-two years of his reign Charlemagne summoned his “host” to campaigns beyond the borders of Francia. If, by any chance, a year went by without a placitum generale, the chroniclers carefully recorded the fact, for it was a year to remember.
These were campaigns of empire – “beyond the borders of Francia.” Charlemagne fought to unite Europe, or kill anyone who stood in the way of his objective.
[He] fought in turn against the Lombards, the Saxons, the Muslims of Spain, the Serbs, the Avars, the Byzantine provinces of Southern Italy, the Bretons, the Danes, and the Duchy of Benevento. Charlemagne rules, by the end of his reign, over territory which included the whole of modern France, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland, most of western Germany, a great part of Italy, a small part of northern Spain, and Corsica.
In Spain he fought against the Muslims, but it was the Christian Basques that annihilated Charlemagne’s rearguard in 778. The Saxons, described as “heathen” who “still worshipped their primitive Germanic gods” by Davis, were an especially troublesome bunch. Destroying “everything with fire and the sword” was not sufficient:
Henceforward, it was clear that a more radical policy toward the Saxons would be necessary…. What was needed was the conquest of the whole country and the subjugation of its people.
If ever they [the Saxons] were to live in amity with the Franks (‘the Christian people’) it was necessary that they should be converted to Christianity. Accordingly, from 785, the Franks began a ‘thorough’ policy; the Saxons were not only to be conquered but also converted, if necessary by force. In the first Saxon capitulary it was declared a capital offence to resist or evade baptism.
The heathen Saxon was put outside the law.
The Saxons revolted, often. From the previously cited Wikipedia article:
In the Saxon Wars, spanning thirty years and eighteen battles, he conquered Saxonia and proceeded to convert the conquered to Christianity.
The conversion was almost never peaceful. There were forced deportations of the more intransigent. Further:
…at Verden in Lower Saxony, Charlemagne is recorded as having ordered the execution of 4,500 Saxon prisoners, known as the Massacre of Verden ("Verdener Blutgericht").
Meanwhile, the better connected Saxons went along – call them the connected elite. The Church also took its share of the loot – such conversion by sword being the will of God, it was only right.
...no one doubted for a moment that the interests of Christianity and the Franks were identical.
The church played the role of servant to Charlemagne:
The Church, as normally understood, was reduced to a department of state, as a sort of ministry of prayer, and the responsibility for education and the interpretation of the true Catholic faith was assumed by Charlemagne in his role of ‘David’, the Lord’s anointed.
As an aside, the coronation of Charlemagne remains surrounded in controversy – who did what to whom? Interpretations – even at the time – varied widely: was it a coronation of the emperor by the Pope, or was the emperor taking control of the Church?
Then as now, uniting disparate cultures can occur gradually – through normal interactions of the market and other means – or much more quickly, by force and government intervention. Then as now, force was the chosen path. Then as now, the Church gave its blessing to the destruction.
Thus, the Pope receives the Charlemagne prize.