« Prev The Caroline Books and the Frankish Church on… Next »

§ 104. The Caroline Books and the Frankish Church on Image-Worship.

I. Libri Carolini, first ed. by Elias Philyra (i.e., Jean du Tillet, or Tilius, who was suspected of Calvinism, but afterwards became bishop of Meaux), from a French (Paris) MS., Paris, 1549; then by Melchior Goldast in his collection of imperial decrees on the image-controversy, Francof., 1608 (67 sqq.), and in the first vol. of his Collection of Constitutiones imperiales, with the addition of the last ch. (lib. IV., c. 29), which was omitted by Tilius; best ed. by Ch. A. Heumann, Hanover, 1731, under the title: Augusta Concilii Nicaeni II. Censura, h. e., Caroli Magni de impio imaginum cultu libri IV., with prolegomena and notes. The ed. of Abbé Migne, in his “Patrol. Lat.,” Tom. 98, f. 990–1248 (in vol. II. of Opera Caroli M.), is a reprint of the ed. of Tilius, and inferior to Heumann’s ed. (“Es ist zu bedauern,” says Hefele, III. 696, “dass Migne, statt Besseres, entschieden Geringeres geboten hat, als man bisher schon besass”.)

II. Walch devotes the greater part of the eleventh vol. to the history of image-worship in the Frankish Church from Pepin to Louis the Pious. Neander, III. 233–243; Gieseler, II. 66–73; Hefele, III 694–716; Hergenröther, I. 553–557. Floss: De suspecta librorum Carolinorum fide. Bonn, 1860. Reifferscheid: Narratio de Vaticano librorum Carolinorum Codice. Breslau, 1873.

The church of Rome, under the lead of the popes, accepted and supported the seventh oecumenical council, and ultimately even went further than the Eastern church in allowing the worship of graven as well as painted images. But the church in the empire of Charlemagne, who was not on good terms with the Empress Irene, took a position between image-worship and iconoclasm.

The question of images was first discussed in France under Pepin in a synod at Gentilly near Paris, 767, but we do not know with what result.554554    See Walch, XI. 7-36; Hefele, III. 461-463. The sources are silent. Walch carefully gives the different conjectures of Baronius, Pagi, Daillé, Natalis, Alexander, Maimburg, Fleury, Sirmond, Spanheim, Basnage, Semler. Nothing new has been added since. But the preceding iconoclastic zeal of Bishop Serenus of Marseilles, and the succeeding position of Charlemagne and the Frankish church, rather favor the inference of Sirmond and Spanheim, that the synod rejected the worship of images. Pope Hadrian sent to Charlemagne a Latin version of the acts of the Nicene Council; but it was so incorrect and unintelligible that a few decades later the Roman librarian Anastasius charged the translator with ignorance of both Greek and Latin, and superseded it by a better one.

Charlemagne, with the aid of his chaplains, especially Alcuin, prepared and published, three years after the Nicene Council, an important work on image-worship under the title Quatuor Libri Carolini (790).555555    Alcuin’s share in the composition appears from the similarity of thoughts in his Commentary on John, and the old English tradition that he wrote a book against the Council of Nicaea. See Walch, XI. 65 sqq.; Hefele, III. 697. He dissents both from the iconoclastic synod of 754 and the anti-iconoclastic synod of 787, but more from the latter, which he treats very disrespectfully.556556    He calls it posterior tempore, non tamen posterior crimine, eloquentia, sensuque carens, synodus ineptissima, etc. He distrusted a Council in which the Church of his dominions was not represented. He also objected to a woman assuming the office of teacher in the church, as being contrary to the lex divina and lex naturae (III. 13, ed. Migne, fol. 1136). He had reason to be angry with Irene for dissolving the betrothal of her son with his daughter. He decidedly rejects image-worship, but allows the use of images for ornament and devotion, and supports his view with Scripture passages and patristic quotations. The spirit and aim of the book is almost Protestant. The chief thoughts are these: God alone is the object of worship and adoration (colondus et adorandus). Saints are only to be revered (venerandi). Images can in no sense be worshipped. To bow or kneel before them, to salute or kiss them, to strew incense and to light candles before them, is idolatrous and superstitious. It is far better to search the Scriptures, which know nothing of such practices. The tales of miracles wrought by images are inventions of the imagination, or deceptions of the evil spirit. On the other hand, the iconoclasts, in their honest zeal against idolatry, went too far in rejecting the images altogether. The legitimate and proper use of images is to adorn the churches and to perpetuate and popularize the memory of the persons and events which they represent. Yet even this is not necessary; for a Christian should be able without sensual means to rise to the contemplation of the virtues of the saints and to ascend to the fountain of eternal light. Man is made in the image of God, and hence capable of receiving Christ into his soul. God should ever be present and adored in our hearts. O unfortunate memory, which can realize the presence of Christ only by means of a picture drawn in sensuous colors. The Council of Nicaea committed a great wrong in condemning those who do not worship images.

The author of the Caroline books, however, falls into the same inconsistency as the Eastern iconoclasts, by making an exception in favor of the sign of the cross and the relics of saints. The cross is called a banner which puts the enemy to flight, and the honoring of the relics is declared to be a great means of promoting piety, since the saints reign with Christ in heaven, and their bones will be raised to glory; while images are made by men’s hands and return to dust.

A Synod in Frankfort, a.d. 794, the most important held during the reign of Charlemagne, and representing the churches of France and Germany, in the presence of two papal legates (Theophylactus and Stephanus), endorsed the doctrine of the Libri Carolini, unanimously condemned the worship of images in any form, and rejected the seventh oecumenical council.557557    The Synod is often called universalis, and condemned Adoptionism (see Hefele, III. 678 sqq. ). The decision against images see in Mansi, xiii. 909. The chief passage is: “Sanctissimi Patres nostri omnimodis et adorationem et servitutem eis [sc. imaginibus Sanctorum] renuentes contemserunt atque, consentientes condemnaverunt.” Einhard made the following entry in his Annals ad a.d.794 (in Pertz, Monum. I. 181, and Gieseler II. 67): ”Synodus etiam, quae ante paucos annos in Constantinopoli [where the Nicene Synod was closed] sub Herena [Irene,]et Constantino filio ejus congregata, et ab ipsis non solum septima, verum etiam universalis est appellata, ut nec septima nec universalis haberetur dicereturve, quasi supervacua in totum ab omnibus [the bishops assembled at Frankfort] abdicata est.” Baronius, Bellarmin, and even Hefele (III. 689), charge this Synod with misrepresenting the Council of Nicaea, which sanctioned the worship (in a wider sense), but not the adoration, of images. But the Latin version, which the pope sent to Charlemagne, rendered προσκύνησιςuniformly by adoratio, and Anastasius, the papal librarian, did the same in his improved translation, thus giving double sanction to the confusion. According to an old tradition, the English church agreed with this decision.558558    This rests partly on the probable share which the Anglo-Saxon Alcuin had in the composition of the Caroline Books, partly on the testimony of Simeon of Durham (about 1100). See Twysden’s Hist. Angl. Scriptores decem I, III; Mon. Hist. Brit., p. 667; Wilkin’s Conc. Magn. Brit., I. 73; Gieseler, II. 67, note 6, and Hardwick’s Church Hist. of the Middle Age, p. 78, note 3.

Charlemagne sent a copy of his book, or more probably an extract from it (85 Capitula or Capitulare de Imaginibus) through Angilbert, his son-in-law, to his friend Pope Hadrian, who in a long answer tried to defend the Eastern orthodoxy of Nicaea with due respect for his Western protector, but failed to satisfy the Frankish church, and died soon afterwards (Dec. 25, 795).559559    There is a difference of opinion whether Charlemagne sent to the pope his whole book, or only an abridgement, and whether he sent Angilbert before or after the Frankfort synod to Rome. Hefele (III. 713) decides that the Capitula (85) were an extract of the Libri Carolini (121 chs.), and that Angilbert was twice in Rome, a.d.792 and 794. Hadrian’s answer must have been written at all events before Dec. 25, 795. It is printed in Mansi, XIII. 759-810, and Migne, Opera Car. M. II. fol. 1247-1292. It is full of glaring blunders. Bishop Hefele (p. 716) divides the responsibility between the (fallible) pope, the emperor, and the copyists.

A Synod of Paris, held under the reign of Charlemagne’s son and successor, Louis the Pious, in the year 825, renewed the protest of the Frankfort Synod against image-worship and the authority of the second council of Nicaea, in reply to an embassy of the Emperor Michael Balbus, and added a slight rebuke to the pope.560560    Mansi, XIV. 415 sqq.; Walch, XI. 95 sqq.; Gieseler, II. 68; Hefele, IV. 41 sqq. (second ed. 1879). Walch says (p. 98) that the Roman church played comedy with the acts of this Synod. Mansi was the first to publish them, but he did it with an excuse, and added as indispensable the refutation of Bellarmin in the appendix to his tract De Cultu Imaginum. Hefele and Hergenröther represent this synod as being guilty of the same injustice to the Nicene Council as the Synod of Frankfort; but this does not alter the fact.


The Caroline Books, if not written by Charlemagne, are at all events issued in his name; for the author repeatedly calls Pepin his father, and speaks of having undertaken the work with the consent of the priests in his dominion (conniventia sacerdotum in regno a Deo nobis concesso). The book is first mentioned by Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims in the ninth century as directed against the pseudo-Synodus Graecorum (the second Nicene Council), and he quotes a passage from a copy which he saw in the royal palace. The second mention and quotation was made by the papal librarian Augustin Steuchus (d. 1550) from a very old copy in the Bibliotheca Palatina. As soon as it appeared in print, Flavius and other Protestant polemics used it against Rome. Baronius, Bellarmin, and other Romanists denied the genuineness, and ascribed the book to certain heretics in the age of Charlemagne, who sent it to Rome to be condemned; some declared it even a fabrication of the radical reformer Carlstadt! But Sirmond and Natalis Alexander convincingly proved the genuineness. More recently Dr. Floss (R.C.) of Bonn, revived the doubts (1860), but they are permanently removed since Professor Reifferscheid (1866) discovered a new MS. from the tenth century in the Vatican library which differs from the one of Steuchus, and was probably made in the Cistercian Convent at Marienfeld in Westphalia. “Therefore,” writes Bishop Hefele in 1877 (III. 698), “the genuineness of the Libri Carolini is hereafter no longer to be questioned (nicht mehr zu beanstanden).”

« Prev The Caroline Books and the Frankish Church on… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection