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The Carolingian Renaissance

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The Carolingian revival was to be first a litterary one allowing then a theological one. It took place, by 800 A.D., in the heartland of the Frankish dominions, between Franconia and the Loire River and Lyons and the North Sea, a are which already had been fertile in councils under the Merovingians. Even St Bonifacius working in Germania was not stranger to that. It was the time when clerics were back to speculations and theological debates as the Germanic elites and their peoples began to live a better life. Two dozen pagan and Church manuscripts in a monastery's library turned a treasure! Such books had mostly been perpetuated in Ireland, explaining why the renaissance was to be both a return of pagan Antiquity, and a renewal of theology. Since long the divine science was the ultimate goal of the training for those who dedicated themselves to God, the antique knowledge however was made honorourable again like the base to any true culture, and the seven liberal arts turned the seven pilars of knowledge. And that is true even if the theologians, for the whole 9th century, were to count by less than a hundred only as the renaissance first was to be fragmentary. Its typical figure was, obviously, Alcuin, a dabbler and a overflowing activity but who had few time for theology only. Was it by chance that such that simple, albeit fundamental Carolingian theology, was to debate about those two immutable, because elevated themes of the Church, the Augustinian predestination, with Godescalc and the reasoned nature of God, with the Scot Erigenius' neoplatonicism at the abbey of St-Denis. The Carolingian renaissance, in its litterary aspect, turned ephemeral, its theological impact was important and the 13th century's scholasticism was to find a lot of things ready. That theological preminence among the Carolingian scholars likely was due to that the ideal of the Carolingian empire was so basically Christian. Theology, which benefited the Empire survived itself but the intellectual renaissance self too, if not through the lasting of schools only. The 9th century renaissance was few endowed with resource from the Antiquity. Virgile, some great writers as Boetius, Cassiodorus and the Venerable Bede were used for training --the latter used like a grammarian, philosopher and theologian. The 'pedagogic novel' by Martianus Capella was the handbook of reference as Martianus was a poet, philosopher, grammarian, moralist and even pedantic. Charles, as he had remained a Barbaric king of sort, kept fascinated by culture, which was Rome and Italy, Byzantium, or scholars. Twenty scholars were constituting the learned entourage of the Palace, with Alcuin the greatest scholar of the time. Theodulf also was a missi dominici. Such a entourage was reminding that of the former Roman emperors. The Carolingian renaissance, because it aimed to obtain God's blessing upon the Franks, endeavoured to have a better knowledge of God -and it unified the way to perform the mass- as it is a ordered move, under direction. Carolingian manuscripts, which needed 400 sheeps each, with their illuminations, were much luxury products and, finally, art collections. From 750 antiques writers, the Carolingian renaissance selected 150, which constitutes still nowadays the contemporary basis to the knowledge of authors of the Antiquity. The Carolingian Renaissance never aimed to restore any antique school of doing or thinking but it was mostly the will of Charles to expand to his dominions the new, western way which had appeared in the monasteries of the West, with schools teaching litterature and the liberal arts aiming to allow a better study of the Sacred texts. Like the emperor of a Christendom, Charlemagne had to worry about a religion dispensed by educated clerics, and heresy-free. Charlemagne however, in harmony with great ideas stirred about the restoration of Empire, did not prevent his scholars at the Court to revel with antique surnames, like Alcuin Flaccus (or Horace), or Theodulf Pindarus. The aims of the cultural renaissance were well enounced in the 'Admonition generalis' in 789 A.D. commanding training and correction of books in the bishoprics and monasteries and the same in the 'Epistola de litteris colendis' by about 797. The wish of Charles was also to extend the benefit of training to laymen so to have more litterated civilian servants and courtiers at use. The renaissance might also have been the dream of having Antiquity to be revived through literature as it was prevented on a political level due to the inability to perform unity with Byzantium, even when the Western empire restored. Europe gained its cultural unity in the move!

When Charlemagne began reigning, was the time which marked a end to the cultural decline which had reached its deepest during the 70 first years of the 8th century. Charles is termed a "father and restorator of Literature,' a king who was both able to arms and culture! Order in Church and the Frankish dominions was re-established through the mean of often renewed capitularies and the West featured then the best governed and most flourishing state since centuries. As he did not find among the Franks the scholars needed by his endeavour, Charles had them to come from abroad, like Peter of Pisa from Pavia, Italy, Warnefride from Aquilea and the Monte Cassino, Clement from Ireland or Theodulf, a Wisigot. By 787 Charlemagne ordered to his court chant masters and grammar or arithmetics teachers. By 780 he invited Alcuin, Theodulf and Leitrade as the Palatine School began its fame. The Carolingian scripts were reformed about 784 as schools established by 787. Paulinus of Aquileia was also one of those scholars. Alcuin methodically renovated the cultural practices through his demands in terms of orthographs and grammar or his treaties about the liberal arts. Charlemagne himself, on a other hand, did not deem out of his rank that himself and his family -women included- become the pupils of such masters. The Palatine School of the time of the Merovingians was developed as its featured a seemingly important library for the time. The School settled in Aachen. As it had also like a purpose to train the members of the Carolingian government, the Palatine School was also nomadic and following the varied locations where the king was residing. At last schools which were to be created in the cathedrals and monasteries also brought a cultural emulation among clerics. 'Lesser' schools were teaching Psalms, chant, arithmetics and grammar as 'larger' ones were the seven liberal arts and Scriptures. The Carolingian renaissance was also brought upon the territories and countries which have been conquered by Charles. A technique, generally, used by Charlemagne was to induce clerics and scholars into studies through written questions he sent to them about history or Church questions. The effort brought by Charles eventually bore fruits as scholars really had literature and science to revive and pushed them at the most that that epoch allowed. Lyons, Orléans, Corbie, St-Martin-de-Tours were remarkable centers of learning and schools as Fulda, in Germany, began a career like the center for the spread of literature in Germany. Numerous other famed schools appeared and everywhere the most talended pupils were teaching to others as secular clerics came to train too, along with monks of the monastery or abbey. It is those schools of the time of Charles which trained the 9th century generation of scholars who was to be extant under the reign of Louis the Pious and until the one of Charles the Bald. Each bishop now, each abott and each count had a notary or secretary at disposal who translated what needed into a correct written form. Even the Bible was corrected. Reading was encouraged as the caroline scripture had been born and Barbarian forms and terms amended. Albeit some works of the time remained heavy and ladden with unuseful and few critical ornaments, most of the liberal arts benefited from the renaissance which Charles instituted. Poetry became fashionable mostly, as it was not supported by a renewal of theoretical studies of poetics. Church works too, of course, and theology especially, had been born again in terms of such works like in controversies, the patristics and morals. Clerics of course constituted the main group of scholars even if laymen -women included- did participate! One has to check that, however and contrarily to some dithyrambical opinions that the cultural renaissance under Charlemagne is to be compared to some new Rome or Athens, the apogee of such times never was reached. Despite of that, a real renaissance of culture occurred. First lineaments of a passage to Roman languages was already noted on a other hand. It looks like, thus, that if the Carolingian renaissance is not a return to Antiquity, it might better to be considered a step of the European synthesis, in terms, that time, of culture. By the 9th century A.D., works by Carolingians scholars -the ones of the second generation- were remaining, like by the reign of Charlemagne, full of a rude and ill-assimilated erudition. They were using Ancient authors but they did not copy them as the style remained gross. Some authors however, both with clercical or lay works, reached higher, which is also true for some poems. Other considerations also took in as far as the cultural renaissance under Charlemagne is concerned, like, for example, that Charles had been considered until in 751 A.D. a illegitimate son of a concubine and given no training. Or, that Charles, like the ruler of the Western terrestrial City, was well seeing that culture was a key to a good government as, further, culture would allow to support that new political entity of the time towards other regions of the world, like Spain, Byzantium or Baghdad which all possessed a strong tradition of scholarship as far as they are concerned. The Carolingian renaissance really featured a lay, and political part as Charles did not want anymore that his counts have their instructions read by clerics. The first generation of scholars Charles had to come among the Franks came from abroad as the second generation of them was composed of Franks, the one of a elite of warriors who accustomed themselves to culture too at the effect of becoming efficient civils servants to a modern monarchy. Culture of Greats remained epic and 'volkish,' whence Charlemagne had made written down the 'antique Barbaric poems' which related the wars and lifes of ancient kings. The Carolingian renaissance however was not a restoration of the Antiquity nor literature of Rome but it was a restoration of the spirit of patristics, of the new nature of the Carolingian power, the one of the Western, Christian empire. Under Charles, numerous scriptoria, particularly in the eastern provinces of Frankish dominions, remained under the influence of the insular art and culture which maybe was a mix of Anglo-saxon and Irish, a taste for abstraction opposing to a 'humanist' renaissance. Such a influence lasted longer still North of current France and gave birth to a 'franco-insular' art. Two cultures existed in Europe by the time of the Carolingian Renaissance, the one of the monasteries, which is a one of the book and the one of lawyers. The first one was giving priority to grammar and dialectics as the second to a simplified rhetorics which might be adapted to the needs of the times. The Carolingian times also endured a form a separation between the clerics, and laymen's fields of activity respectively because each had a specific task in the world. Clerics and laymen however were united into a common Latinity. Then, during the following four centuries, interests and spheres of influence of both the clercics and laymen melted together as a cross-pollination occurred in Italy between grammar and the legal culture, which eventually brought to the conditions of the Renaissance's humanism. As in France and Germany the move have been the reverse with the perpetuation of litterary culture among the clerics that allowed a reception of Italian legal novelties. Such that pre-humanism then exported back into Italy by 1250 A.D. bringing the litterary moderation against internecine fights which had developed, and into politics

Charlemagne and the instigators of the renaissance view that the renaissance in art, like in painting or architecture, was part of it and based upon a improvement of techniques, the developpement of iconographic programs or a enrichment of shapes. That necessarily passed through a call to the Roman past. Thus the time inspired itself from the models found with the classical or paleochristian Antiquity. In the domain, the Carolingian renaissance was a "series of rediscoveries which always yielded a renewed fervor.' The diversity of the models to which artists of the time turned to explains a extreme diversity of styles! With time passed, illuminators, for example, had access to older models, closer to Antiquity. In terms of literature, the Carolingian renaissance maybe did not have enough time, by its beginnings, as it had to copy and perpetuate texts of Antiquity. Generally, it was poetry, saints's lifes and history which were favored by writers of the time. In terms of arts, more generally, Carolingiens took place by the end of a uncertain period, between the end of the Roman empire, and the Romanesque art, which was the 'first great unifying style' in the West. Once they had settled, Germanic peoples were to invigorate a new blood, to create and renew shapes. Carolingians more pecularily, were to renew architecture, frescoes, goldsmith's art as they were to to found a superb school of manuscripts. Art of the Barbaric times and the pre-Romanesque art were a synthesis between Antiquity and new techniques and visions. A restored unity, and once papacy's support ascertained made the Carolingian times a period of builders as hundreds of churches, abbeys and palaces were to be built like the frames of a more enforced presence of authority, of the adoption of Roman liturgy, and the development of the worship of relics. It was goldsmith's art which had attained to a high quality before the Carolingian times as it too remained under the influence of the Barbaric art. Under the Carolingians, it was ivory's work that they really attained to a other sense of identity, or which was the really mastered expression of it. Illumination, exceptions excepted, remained too imprinted with Latin models which had been not enough assimilated, or too numerous as goldsmith's art took time to be mastered. The general motto of the Carolingian renaissance however is easy to spot. It is 'humanism,' or the return to a figuration of man, compared to abstraction

As Charles had laid down the ideological and practical basis of the cultural renaissance he wished, like schools or the the copies of books, that renaissance came to a complete fruition only under his successors Louis the Pious, Lothar and Charles the Bald, because, under his reign, schools and masters lacked. The literary court, under Charles the Bald (840-877), was extremely brilliant as it even eclipsed the one under Charlemagne, his grandfather, with the number of writers, poets, philosophers, theologians and historians. That period tended to carry out all what had been done since the beginning of the Renaissance and whence to innovate. Plagues of the time, however and the gradual dislocation of the Carolingian empire made that, beginning under Charles the Bald, that dynamics of the cultural renaissance began to get lost. Scholars now came to be clerics only again as Greats, as far as they were concerned, were back to might only in terms of relations between them. The motion thus came swiftly between the restoration of order and efficiency which had occurred by the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 9th centuries A.D., and the return of disorders during the 10th century. As that 10th century was, again, a century of lost and darkness, it however knew some heights. Laymen at the time ceased to train as Church was again taken too into the storm of the feudal and moral decline. Culture goy lost as, further, Roman French took upon Latin. Such scholars by the end of the 10th century, like Gerbert or Abbo of Fleury were qualified wizards because of the knowledge they had nothertheless acquired. New invaders, like Northmen, Magyars or even Sarrasines destroyed books and libraries. Books became a rarity and such plunders rendered about all disappeared the books of the previous era. Divination, sorts or marvelous explanations of Nature now won as there were even no heresies anymore because there were no scholars anymore but mere deviations among the people instead. Millenarists were then heralding that the End of Times was closing. A other mark of disorder was the emergence, by the end of that century, of 'novels,' or medieval epics, a move which may be due to the influence of Arabic Spain. Troubadours South and trouvères North were the vectors of such a culture of fables and legends (and eventually of easiness) as that fashion also contributed to move people away from useful readings. Facing such a decline, some prelates however endeavoured to act as did also, among others, the Clunisian, Benedictine reform which managed to restore order -and schools- among the main abbeys in the West, which allowed to brake the decadence. As pupils were trained again and that they later were named bishops they brought those efforts into their cathedrals. Some of the Greats and rulers, like William V of Aquitaine or Hugues Capet also kept attached to be trained. Famed scholars at last, like Rémi of Auxerre, Gerbert or Abbo, managed to perform the transmission of all what had been done previously about 800 A.D. By the end of the 10th century A.D., by some places, not only did a cultural tradition survived but one even saw a real new renaissance which took back the terms and means which had been the ones of the Carolingian renaissance! Gorze, Liège, Paris, St-Gall, Auxerre, Fleury and other abbeys served like its locations. That cultural renewal however remained localized in its contents and efforts as a general frame like the one the Carolingian empire provided lacked. The move may be was influenced, or had links, to the so-called Ottonian Renaissance which was at the time initiated by the German emperors and centered upon the abbey of Reichenau as some are clearly leaning, like we just stated, that that renaissance really was the 'third Carolingian renaissance.' The Carolingian renaissance thus is a fundamental element of the chain which formed the European synthesis and, despite disorders which had been brought by divisions and threats, what had been established by the renaissance definitively settled into the European cultural landscape. As, by 800 A.D. texts of the Antiquity were still foundable, they would have had to be more intensively searched by the 13th century. Charlemagne also allowed to logics, and even sciences, to be back and to the reapparition of writing in the administration and justice. And the same as far Church is concerned. The Carolingian renaissance allowed to save texts of Fathers and to prepare the coming synthesis of them. The Carolingian cultural renaissance, at last, generally speaking, began in a Roman spirit and a one of orthodoxy in terms of dogma as Greek-minded Irishmen mostly were used about science. It was now to be the time of the Romanesque art, a art no more related to court or patrons but a Church art only, which was to have been born in northern Italy, Burgundy or Catalonia

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, http://schoolsempire.6te.net. Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 10/28/2016. contact us at geguicha@outlook.com