« Carnesecchi, Pietro Caroline Books Carpenter, J(oseph) Estlin »

Caroline Books


Origin of the Caroline Books (§ 1).

Manuscripts and Editions (§ 2).

Problem of Authorship (§ 3).

The Work Sent to Pope Adrian (§ 4).

Relation of Original Work to Larger Recension (§ 5).

Book I. (§ 6).

Book II. (§ 7).

Book III. (§ 8).

Book IV. (§ 9).

Characterization of the Caroline Books (§ 10).

Importance of the Work (§ 11).

Theological Standpoint (§ 12).

Later Influence of the Caroline Books (§ 13).

1. Origin of the Caroline Books.

"Caroline Books" is the name given to a criticism of the proceedings of the Second Council of Nicæa (787), which appeared under the name of Charlemagne toward the end of the eighth century. The acts of the council had been sent to Charlemagne in a very imperfect Latin version. Already displeased with the attitude of the Byzantine court and the equivocal policy of Pope Adrian I., he took occasion to have the whole question of the iconoclastic controversy and of the validity of the council's action discussed by his theologians, and sent on the report of its proceedings to King Offa in England, with a request for the opinion of his bishops. Alcuin, then in England, drew up their reply, and brought it to Charlemagne. It has been lost, and thus it is not now known in what relation it stands to the work which the emperor caused to be written about the same time (790 or soon after), and promulgated as having the assent of the bishops of his realm, under the title Opus inlustrissimi et excellentissimi seu spectabilis viri Caroli, nutu Dei regis Francorum . . . contra Synodum, quæ in partibus Græciæ pro adorandis imaginibus stolide et arroganter gesta est.

2. Manuscripts and Editions

The work, whose contents and spirit are sufficiently indicated by this title, consists of four books containing 120 chapters. It is preserved in two manuscripts, the Codex Parisinus and the Codex Vaticanus, the latter somewhat defective and apparently dating from the beginning of the tenth century. Two more were known in the sixteenth century, but have since been lost. One was said then to be extant in Rome, and a chapter from it was quoted by Steuchi, the papal librarian, in a polemical work against Laurentius Valla. The other, then extant in France, was the basis of the editio princeps of 1549, printed probably in Paris and edited by Jean du Tillet, later bishop of St. Brieux and of Meaux. This edition, which the subsequent ones followed, was used by the Protestants (Flacius, Calvin, Chemnitz, and others) in their attacks on the Roman Catholic Church, and, therefore, put on the Index by the popes from 1564, which accounts for its rarity. Of the subsequent editions the best is that published by Heumann in 1731, which makes use of all the materials at his command and gives the introductions and notes of previous editors. The less perfect edition of Goldast (1608) is followed in MPL, xcviii.

3. Problem of Authorship.

The authenticity of the work was denied by many of the older Roman Catholic theologians, such as Surius (who thought it a sixteenth-century forgery), Bellarmine, Suarez, Baronius, and as 420recently as 1860 by Floss of Bonn, who succeeded in convincing Baur that it was at least doubtful. But these doubts have long since been abandoned by Catholic theologians (the Jesuit Sirmond, Natalis Alexander, Du Pin, Hefele). The oldest external evidence in its favor is the letter of Adrian himself (printed by Mansi, Migne, and Jaffé); the next is that of Hincmar of Reims, who says he has seen the book in the imperial palace, and quotes a chapter (iv. 26) from it. If, however, the origin of the work from Charlemagne's immediate entourage and by his authority is indubitable, the question as to the actual author is still unsolved. This can not, of course, have been Charlemagne himself, though his name is used, but must have been one (if not more than one) of the most prominent theologians of his court. The majority of scholars are inclined to favor Alcuin; but there is some reason to think that it may have been Abbot Angilbert of St. Riquier, who stood in close relations to Charlemagne and was entrusted by him with negotiations at Rome regarding this controversy.

4. The Work Sent to Pope Adrian.

The composition of the work was begun, as appears from the preface to the first book, not earlier than the winter of 789–790 and not later than the summer of 791. When it was completed is not now known, but Charlemagne was not likely to have granted his theologians more time than was necessary, so that it may have been finished in 790 or 791. It was intended to affect public opinion in favor of Charlemagne's rejection of the Nicene decrees. He endeavored to obtain like action from Pope Adrian, and sent Angilbert to Rome for this purpose. Adrian's answer referred to above discusses and controverts eighty-five chapters somewhat fully. The question arises whether Angilbert laid before him the whole work or only these chapters, and whether these eighty-five were the basis for a revised and enlarged edition, or a condensation of the larger work. A supplementary question also arises as to the date of Angilbert's mission, whether it was before or after the Synod of Frankfort in 794. The answer to the first question is determined by Adrian's assertion that he has answered each chapter seriatim, and by a similar assertion of the Council of Paris (825). Hincmar was probably in error when he said that the "not small volume" which he saw had been sent to Rome.

5. Relation of Original Work to Larger Recension.

The second question involves more difficulty. The theory, recently supported by Hampe, that Adrian's answer led to the expansion of the original document into the present Caroline Books is invalidated by the fact that in their present shape they contain no reference to Adrian's answer, and make no attempt to rebut it. It is more likely that the eighty-five chapters consisted of extracts from the larger work. Adrian was asked to condemn certain propositions, not to confirm Charlemagne's official pronouncement. As to the date of this proceeding, it must have been before the Synod of Frankfort, whose decision was taken in the presence of papal legates and its validity never questioned, while the rejection of the eighty-five chapters would have been tantamount to a condemnation of it. Angilbert was in Rome in 792, and the occurrence probably took place then—possibly not till the next year. In consequence Charlemagne laid the matter before the synod.

6. Book I.

We come now to the contents and character of the Libri Carolini. Each book has its own preface. That of Book I. begins with a rhetorical eulogy of the Church as the ark of safety, Charlemagne's duty to which leads him to take up this question. Pride and ambition have led the Eastern princes and bishops to introduce innovations into the true doctrine "by notorious and senseless synods." The Council of Constantinople (754) erred in one direction, by abolishing the pictures which had from of old served to adorn the churches and commemorate past events, referring what God had spoken of idols to images. The Nicene Council, on the other hand, three years before the date of writing, had erred not less, by exhorting the people to worship such images. Both perverted the teaching of the fathers, who allowed the possession of images, but forbade the worship of them. We, however, resting on the foundation of the Scriptures, the orthodox fathers, and the six ecumenical councils, reject all innovations, especially those of the Nicene Council, whose acts have reached us. We have undertaken to combat these errors with the assistance of the clergy of our kingdom. Neither of these councils deserves the name of ecumenical; and in contrast with both, the via media must be followed, which consists in neither breaking down the images nor worshiping them, but retaining them as ornaments and memorials, adoring God alone and rendering due veneration to the saints. The standpoint being thus set forth in the preface, the polemic of Book I. is directed first against the imperial summons to the Nicene Council, whose phraseology is condemned in four several points. The council itself is accused of erroneous exposition of the Scriptures and erroneous employment of patristic citations. The author thinks it necessary (i. 6) to express his acknowledgment of the authority of the Roman Church, both in faith and in worship, founded not on human ordinances but on divine prescription. The section i. 7–ii. 12 examines the passages of Scripture alleged by the council, and ii. 15–20 the patristic passages, some of which are not authentic and others inconclusive.

7. Book II.

In ii. 26 the conclusion is drawn that, as the whole of Scripture proclaims in thunder-tones, "God alone is to be worshiped and adored," the "cultus of images" is altogether to be reprobated, as contrary to the Christian religion; whether or not pictures are retained in the churches is a matter of indifference, though, indeed, visible memorials of Christ and the saints are unnecessary. The friends of images (obviously including the pope) are warned not to disturb the peace of the Church and the prosperity of Charles's kingdom by their councils. The apostles never 421taught the veneration of images by word or example; it is an error to compare them with the ark of the covenant, and an absurdity to place them in the same category with the eucharistic host; nor must they be likened to the cross of Christ, the sacred vessels, or the Scriptures, all of which are venerated in their own way and measure for different reasons.

8. Book III.

Book III. begins with a confession of faith, for the purpose of evincing the orthodoxy of the Frankish Church. This is supposed to be taken from Jerome, but is really almost verbally the profession of Pelagius (the Libellus fidei ad Innocentium of 417), which throughout the Middle Ages was received as orthodox, under the name of Symbolum Hieronymi or Sermo Augustini. The author then attacks the patriarch Tarasius on the ground of the irregularity of his consecration and the error of his teaching on the procession of the Holy Ghost. The latter reproach and that of further doctrinal aberrations are brought against the other members of the council, and one chapter attacks the impropriety of the empress Irene's assumption of the teaching office. A special onslaught is made on a proposition assumed to have been uttered by one of the bishops which clearly rests upon a gross mistranslation. A distinction is drawn between images and relics; and even if it is true that some of the former have worked miracles, no adoration is therefor due them. Still less can dreams and visions, or absurd apocryphal inventions, be adduced in favor of the "adoration of images." Not this, but the keeping of the divine precepts, is the beginning of the fear of the Lord.

9. Book IV.

Book IV. continues the attack upon expressions of individual members of the council, and upon its authority as a whole. It can in no wise be compared with the First Nicene Council; that asserted the equality of the Son with the Father, while this places pictures on a level with the Trinity. Apart from all the unseemly, obscure, perverted, absurd, illogical, and untheological expressions to be found in the acts of the latter, it does not deserve the name of ecumenical given to it by the Greeks, because it neither utters the pure Catholic faith nor is recognized by all the churches.

10. Characterization of the Caroline Books.

The Caroline Books, then, in their fundamental conceptions, attempt to preserve the golden mean indicated by Gregory the Great in his letter to Serenus of Massilia: "We approve unreservedly because you have forbidden to worship them [images]; but we do not approve of their being broken; if any one wants to make images, at least forbid him; but shun in every way the worshiping of them." But their polemic (apart from its vehement, almost passionate tone) does material injustice to the Nicene Fathers by ignoring their distinction between latreīa [worship] which is due to God alone, and proskunēsis timētikē; [honoring obeisance] which may be given to creatures, and in ascribing to them the blasphemous proposition that the same "servitude of adoration" is due to the images as to the Holy Trinity. This is explained by the imperfection of the version of the acts sent to Charles, which always renders the Greek proskunēsis by adoratio, and by a particular misunderstanding or wrong reading already referred to.

11. Importance of the Work.

The work as a whole, however, may be taken as giving a good general view of Frankish and Anglo-Saxon theology in its day, of considerable importance for the dogmatic, exegetical, dialectic, and critical attainments of the age. Of special interest is the attitude assumed toward the great fundamental questions of medieval theology—the relations of Scripture and tradition, authority and reason, the Roman and the universal Church. In spite of all its recognition of the teaching authority of the Church, and particularly of the Roman Church, the work postulates the right of critical examination in a way seldom found in the Middle Ages—though it will not do to interpret this tendency in terms of modern views.

12. Theological Standpoint.

The theological standpoint of the book as a whole is that of Gregory the Great, a somewhat weakened Augustinianism which allows the author to accept the profession of Pelagiua as "the Confession of the Catholic Faith." He follows Gregory, as in the question of images, so also in the doctrines of original sin, of the replacing of the fallen angels by an equal number of redeemed men, of purgatory and prayers for the dead. Other patristic authorities cited are especially Augustine and Jerome, and sometimes Ambrose and Sedulius. The author attempts to show his universal culture by all sorts of grammatical, rhetorical, philosophical, historical, and literary remarks; by quotations from Plato and Aristotle, Vergil and Cicero, Macrobius and Apuleius, Cato and Josephus; and by the use of scientific terminology and logical formulas. The work, however, has not the character of a theological treatise written by a private person; it is a state document, an official protest on the part of the Frankish Church against Byzantine and Roman superstition and against the unjustified anathemas pronounced by both the Greek and the Roman Church on all who differed from them as well as on their own purer past.

13. Later Influence of the Caroline Books.

The effect of this protest can not here be followed out in detail. Adrian was clearly much disturbed by it, and sent his defense to Charlemagne with many conciliatory expressions, declaring that he had not as yet given an answer to the Byzantine emperor, because the latter still persisted in his usurpation of what belonged to the Roman See, but that he must, following the ancient tradition of his predecessors, condemn those who refused to venerate the sacred images. Charles's answer was the Synod of Frankfort, the presence at which of the papal legates betokened Adrian's submission. The pope died on Christmas day, 795, and the question slumbered until it came up once more, under Louis the Pious and Eugenius II., at the Synod of Paris in 825. This synod adhered to the position of the Libri Carolini and the Synod of Frankfort, 422venturing openly to condemn Adrian for encouraging superstition, though unconsciously, in the cultus of images. It was mainly through the influence of the Caroline Books that the Frankish Church excluded this cultus all through the ninth century. Even in the tenth we find the Nicene Council spoken of as "The pseudo-synod falsely called the Seventh," and the principle adopted that pictures are tolerated in the churches "only for the instruction of the ignorant," without any attempt on the part of Rome to enforce its anathema.

Charles and his theologians must thus have the credit of holding back for a time the influx of superstition into the West, while at the same time they asserted the rights of Christian art and its value for ecclesiastical decoration. When in the sixteenth century Tridentine Catholicism reaffirmed the proposition assailed in the Caroline Books, that veneration was paid not to the pictures but to their subjects ("honos refertur ad prototypa"), and on the other hand Swiss Protestantism, in its abhorrence of idolatry, renewed the tumults of iconoclasm, the Lutheran controversialists, especially Flacius and Chemnitz, with cheerful confidence "went back to the moderation of Charlemagne."

(A. Hauck.)

Bibliography: A luminous discussion is found in Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, iii. 695–717. Consult: H. J. Floss, Commentatio de suspecta librorum Carolinorum fide, Bonn, 1860; R. Baxmann, Die Politik der Päpste, i. 29 sqq., 297–299, Elberfold. 1868; H. Reuter, Geschichte der Aufklärung, i 11 sqq., Berlin, 1877; F. H. Reusch, Index der verbotenen Bücher, i. 255, Bonn, 1883; O. Leist, Die litterarische Bewegung des Bilderstreits, vol. i., Magdeburg, 1871; Neander, Christian Church, iii. 235–243 (still of great value, though supplementary reading is necessary); Schaff, Christian Church, iv. 467 468; Hauck, KD ii. 105, 110, 316 sqq.; DCB, i. 405–406; KL, vii. 190–196; and the literature on Charlemagne.

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