Two Key Men
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As I mentioned in the previous post, the Middle Ages gave us some key figures in the History of Christianity. We may disagree with them on some levels, but we are indebted to their furtherance of Christianity. While we may not like to think about the direct link we possess to them, they do serve as the ancestors that we look back upon. I mentioned in the last post about Gregory “The Great.” He was elected Bishop of Rome in 590 and had significant contributions. Many of them weren’t ecclesiastical, but political. Under the direction of the ordaining work of God, Gregory helped to sustain Rome and the church during a critical time.
The next influential individual I would like to mention is Charlemagne (768-814). He would once again temporarily restore a unified Empire under the banner of Christianity. You see, by this time in history the independent countries had risen due to a sense of nationalism. A unified Roman Empire did not exist, at least officially. However, the church continued to function as a unifying agent for all the independent nations.
The Lombards captured Northern Italy in 572 and remained in power, and regularly posed a threat to Rome. In 751, Pope Zacharias sanctioned the election of Pepin the Short, the son of Charles Martel, as king of the Franks. Why was this such a big deal? He was not in line to the throne; he was not in the Merovingian line. The Pope stepped into the affairs of France and declared Pepin King. Three years later in 754, Pope Stephen III crowned him King, the first time such an event had taken place. In 756 Pepin “donated” the lands he captured from the Lombards to the Pope.
Charlemagne had a significant heritage. His grandfather was Charles Martel, (690-741), who was the mayor of the palace of the Merovingian kings, and the effective leader of the Frankish people. “Charles Martel’s memorable success as a military and political leader provided the indispensable foundation for what would later take place under Charlemagne. On the geopolitical die, Charles Martel was the commander who successfully led the Franks in 732 against the Islamic Saracens at Poitiers . . . it is also true that Charles Martel, along with his successors, came to be seen as the saviors of Europe” (Noll, Turning Points). Charles Martel was not just a military leader. He always kept a friendly relationship with the Pope. He had directly assisted Boniface, a church sent missionary to the Frankish people.
Charlemagne rose to the King of the Franks in 768. His military campaigns were well known throughout the Empire. While fighting he extended the borders beyond the ancient Roman Empire. As he went throughout his conquests, he placed a great deal of importance on Christian education. He opened schools and ended up helping reform the monastic movement. When he marched into Rome in 800 his reputation preceded him, and it would be Pope Leo III that would crown him Holy Roman Emperor. He was the first one since the Fall of Rome in 476. He was crowned on Christmas day in 800 in St. Peter’s. The Empire was resurrected, and he was the first Roman Emperor to be crowned by the Pope.
Charlemagne was the greatest Medieval King. He doubled the Empire and consolidated its administration. He conquered the pesky Lombards, initiated Christianity in the Saxon regions, and occasionally overruled the church. This represented the strategic alliance between the papacy and the political authorities, and the expanding influence they had. While his lineage did not last long, he is a strategic fixture in the history of Christianity.
As you have opportunities, dive into the records of men like Gregory the Great and Charlemagne. I encourage you to pick a handful of the men throughout the early Middle Ages and discover their impact upon the church and Christianity. You may not agree with them, you may not like anything you read, but at least you can say you have a greater knowledge of who God used to carry out His plans.