The Formation of Christian Europe: The Carolingians, Baptism, and the Imperium Christianum.
In this volume Phelan has sought to make a much-needed contribution to the study of conversion to Christianity in Carolingian Europe. He does so by examining two episodes in what is a most complicated scenario: writings from the time of Charlemagne during the late eighth and early ninth century as well as contributions under Charlemagne's successors, until the end of the ninth century and the time of Charles III "the Fat."
As representative of the first period, he has examined Carolingian capitularies (Capitulatio departibus saxoniae, ca. 782/785; Admonitio Generalis, 789; Capitulare missorum generale, 802; Charlemagne's letter to Chaerbald of Liege, 806; and the imperial encyclical on baptismal practice of 811/812--with its various surviving responses; Charlemagne's epitome, 813) and the acts of church councils (Capitulare Francofurtense, 794; Conventus episcoporum ad ripas Danubi, mid-796; Council of Friuli, 797; five reforming councils held at Arles, Mainz, Rheims, Tours, and Chalon, 813). To this have been added analyses of the contributions of various significant individuals; for example Alcuin of York (ca. 735-804), Paschasius Radbertus (785-865), Amalarius of Metz (780-850), Paulinus II of Aquileia (ca. 726-802/4), Odilbert of Milan (florlegium ca. 800), Jesse of Orleans (letter to his clergy, 802), Amalarius of Trier (archbishop, 811-post-814), Leidrad of Lyon (fl. 791-818), Magnus of Sens (d. 818), Am of Salzburg (ca. 750-821), Walahfrid Strabo (fl. 808-849), and Maxentius of Aquileia (Patriarch 811-837).
A second group of writings have been chosen, most of them dating throughout the course of the ninth century. These have been selected to demonstrate that internalization of the Carolingian approach to sacramentum "had been absorbed by ecclesiastical and political leaders and by elite laity across the Frankish world" (207). These included: De institutione laicali, written by Bishop Jonas of Orleans (ca. 780-843/4) before 828, for Matfred of Orleans; and the Liber manualis (841/843), written by Dhuoda of Septimania as a moral instruction for her son. To this he adds an analysis of the rivalries that existed between Louis the Pious (778-840), Lothar I (795-855), and Charles "the Bald" (823-877), as in De institutione laicali found in Nithard's History. He illustrates how the civil wars, according to Nithard, were the result of deceitful sacramenta on the part of the various royal princes (219). Pacts were crucial to maintaining peace in the Carolingian world. "Violating pacts created unrest and stoked conflict" (221).
Gaze now shifts to the subject of the content of Carolingian sermons. Phelan perceptively notes the past neglect of this corpus of Carolingian material. A preliminary notice is given that such material was probably delivered, during the ninth century, to an audience that was already Christian, as distinct from an advance towards a public that was encountering Christianity for the first time (240-^11). Sadly, space does not allow a detailed analysis to be made, and one has to be content with a single sample: a group of 15 sermons, originally attributed to Boniface, but more likely the product of the ninth century.
It is a similar case with vernacular literature that has survived from the ninth century. While mention is made of the Heliand (255), no references are made of other material of a similar nature: Tatian's Diatesseron (first half ninth century), the Bible of Ebo of Rheims (written sometime between 816 and 835), the Evangelienbuch of Otfrid of Weissenburg (ca. 868), or the Utrecht Psalter (ninth century).
The book concludes with comments about the Gesta Karoli Magni Imperatoris by Notker the Stammerer (ca. 840-912). While ostensibly being about Charlemagne, Notker's work functions "both as a testament to the failure of Carolingian reform ... and as a sarcastic indictment of the late Carolingian world, even as they underscore the continuing attraction of earlier ideals" (264). In describing the annual baptisms of Northmen at the courts of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, Notker points out that the real dissonance was not one that existed between Franks and Northmen, but rather that all the characters had failed to understand the correct sacramental underpinnings of an imperium christianum.
When considering the book as a whole I should mention that the author has been selective in his choice of material for examination, and this detracts from the work's final appearance. The foundational roles of figures such as Augustine, Gregory the Great and even Caesarius of Arles, are given cursory consideration at best. The effect of papal policies of evangelization in "the formation of Christian Europe" is totally ignored, though considerable documentary evidence exists. It is a similar case with both evangelizing activity in the East Frankish Kingdom, and the missionary activity of Saints Cyril and Methodius. In formulating the legacy of Carolingian activity (271-77), some reference to Ottonian missions and the renovatio imperii romanorum might have been expected.
It is also disappointing that the effect of this work has been lessened by the minutiae of poor proofreading, both of the text itself and in the footnote references. For example, a misplaced "and" in the text (207) has meant that the meaning of a significant summarizing sentence has been eclipsed. In the footnotes, by way of example, two ways of referencing the Patrologia Latina exist side by side (see 246-47 as an instance of this).
In conclusion, while this book provides further enlightening material on the content of missionary activity in the West Frankish Kingdom of the eighth and ninth centuries, it is not a comprehensive study of the subject. That must await future scholarship.
Australian Catholic University, Brisbane
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2016|
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