Two Key Men
2 of 2

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.


  1. Dave Miller says

    I call him Grandpa Charlie. I’m a direct descendant. But so, I’m told, are about 1/4 of white Americans.

  2. Christiane says

    Hi ANDY,

    Thank you for your series of posts. I found a prayer from Alcuin of York, who was Charlemagne’s chief court scholar, this:

    “. . . Light eternal, shine in my heart.
    Power eternal, deliver me from evil.
    Wisdom eternal, scatter the darkness of my ignorance.
    Might eternal, pity me.
    Grant that I may ever seek Thy Face with all my heart and soul and strength;
    and in Thine infinite mercy,
    bring me at last to Thy Holy Presence where I shall behold Thy glory . . . ”

    I’d like to suggest Alcuin of York as a subject for inclusion into your study, as his voice reflects the light of Christ that was not quenched during the time people call ‘the Dark Ages’.

  3. Andy says

    I bet that type of comment has never been on a voices post before!! I have started a new trend!!!

  4. William Thornton says

    Charles Martel, one of my favorites…1100 or so years later battle of Vienna and Europe is Christian, not Muslim.

    I always appreciated Charles Le Magne being crowned in AD 800…one of the easier dates to remember for history tests.

    • says

      Vienna? I think you may mean Tours (or Poitiers). I have actually studied that battle and the events before/after it. I don’t think most people in the world today really realized how big of a deal that was. The Muslim propaganda that it was a “minor” battle has seemingly dominated the historical narrative. The cities of Tours and Poitiers are in what is today, north central France (the battle is closer to Paris than it is to the modern day border between France and Spain).

      As for Charlemagne’s crowning, I always loved that story of the Pope “sneaking” up behind him to place the crown on his head. Sure it is likely a fictional account, but is so fun to picture in your head. Yep, easy date to remember too. Christmas Day 800 AD. But I am a history major so historical dates come easy to me.

        • cb scott says

          I think ARMOUR has won the Battle of Vienna.

          KROGER had 10 cans of ARMOUR Vienna Sausage for $5.00 on sale today. LIBBY’S was .79 cents a can.

          AUMOUR wins the Battle of Vienna hands down.

          • Volfan007 says

            Also, the battle for Bologna(baloney) was won by Gen. Oscar Meyer….of course, the Duke of Mayonnaise
            contributed much to this great victory. Thy whipped Hellman’s crew good. Some say that it was a miracle….but Corp. Sandwich says that Duke’s troops were just superior.

          • dr. james willingham says

            You fellows ever hear of Krey Packing Co. in St. Louis? Worked there back in the 50s for 2 weeks and three days just so I could answer my Dad’s comment, circa 2000-2003, “You never did any hard work in your life.” My response was that I carried forequarters and hindquarters at Krey. He dropped his head and didn’t say another word, because he knew what they weighed. My cousin’s grandson works there today, been there about 20 yrs.

  5. cb scott says

    “I have actually studied that battle and the events before/after it.”

    Huh, that ain’t nothin’, SVMuschany

    Dr. James Willingham had two brothers and six cousins who fought in that battle. One of his brothers was captured and was being held for ransom until the Saracens asked him his name.

    When he told them his name was Gunnery Sergeant George Washington Willingham, it scared them because they thought they had captured a big boar hog dressed up like a man. (Gunny Willingham was a big, big man.)

    It actually scared the the Saracens so bad that they released Willing “ham” and ran away. That ended the Battle of Tours.

    The moral of the story is: If you go off to fight the Saracens, make sure you have enough “Willing-hams.”

    • dr. james willingham says

      Well, C.B.: I did come from a long list of fighters on all sides of the family, but then I married into relatives of the Hatfields and the McCoys, the really tough ones with another name, Caudill. The marines used them in WWII to take Saigan, Tinian, etc. Spanish name, Scotch clan (seems that two Caudill brothers got ashore on the coast of Scotland from a sinking Spanish ship during the Spanish Armada. They liked it so well, they never went back. Then they came to America and immediately occupied the whole Appalachian Mountain chain. Only reason Washington was able to crush the Whiskey rebellion was that the Caudills were agin’ whiskey.

      • cb scott says


        No joke. I served as pastor to a bunch of the McCoy clan of Hatfield-McCoy fame.

        Karen and I also had a boy with the last name of Hatfield live with us for a while.

        He had eagle wings tattooed on his head. We called him the Winged Avenger.

        • volfan007 says


          The part of W. VA that my local Association used to go to, every year, had Hatfield’s and McCoy’s all over the place. In fact, one of the Hatfield’s is a Baptist Pastor in W. VA at one of the Churches that we helped to start.

          Were you in W. VA? Or what?


  6. Andy says

    I love these types of discussions. They are not ugly, encouraging, and beneficial. Thanks to all!

    • dr. james willingham says

      Andy, you must be as blind as a bat. Can’t you hear the sword’s rattling. C.B. and Me, being Southerners, er a gettin’ ready to invade Yankee land and deal with that Bronx Bomber fan (I think my son has given up on that nonsense and shifted over to the Braves. He still holds with the Vikings, but then he is a descendant of Northmen as in Normans who came to England with William the Conqueror. Yeah, there was really a Willingham with William, and the term means “home of Willing” according to records I saw at NOBTS many years ago). Dave, you had better get ready. Southerners had rather fight than do almost anything else, except eat and politeness as to company keeps me from naming anything else (ouch I had better watch, Dave might kick me off. He bee a looking for a cuse after us putting down the bronx bombers.) C.B., Do you think he will understand that we are a pullin’ his leg in fun?

  7. cb scott says

    “C.B., Do you think he will understand that we are a pullin’ his leg in fun?”

    Uh, well, I hope not. Yankee Fans have only one right in Southern Culture among Braves Fans. That is to be disrespected and abused.

    • dr. james willingham says

      Dear CB: No joke I found some of my wife’s folks on both sides, but she would shoot me, if she knew I was telling you so. A member of the church where we had our memberships before coming here last year, had a buddy in ‘Nam from Eastern Kentucky whose last name was Caudill. They still get together. He really liked that Caudill, and they are a likeable bunch (numbering in the multi-thousands up and down the Applachian Mountains). One had better like them with those kinds of numbers. And they are so quiet, you would think they wouldn’t hurt a flea on grandma’s knees, but the Royal Marines of Japan, all of whom were six foot or better, had a different perspective on that.

  8. dr. james willingham says

    CB: In answer to number 19, I was only trying to be nice and allay his suspicion before we lowered the boom. I am surprised David left this blog open, considering how it is degenerating to Civil War status and subject. I don’t think he realizes that folks with a number of scotch clans in their family trees would rather scrap than play. After all, scrapping is fun as the Scots see it, I suppose especially with one even bearing the name.

  9. says


    my post should have read I like the fact we can have these conversations. They are not ugly, but they are beneficial and encouraging. That is what I should have wrote.