The Franks and the Church

Perhaps the most or one of the most important Barbarian groups known for the development of Western Civilization is that one of the Franks. This barbarian group was localized within the area of Gaul. With its tremendous power at battle and capable leaders it was able to conquer and spread its kingdom to become the mightiest of the barbarians. When they began to convert to christianity following their Merovingian king’s conversion (Clovis), they enabled the expansion of Christendom.

Their conversion was easy, but slow and this took the Church to train and teach the Franks with great dedication. For this reason, France is known as the “eldest daughter of the Church”. The Franks gave Christianity an advantage with respect to conversion, as they were not Arians, religion which basically taught that Christ was not God. That is to say that they were not structured with preconceived ideas about Jesus Christ, so it was easier to teach them and convert them to Christianity than it was with other barbarian groups who believed in the heresy of Arianism.

However, their conversions normally were in the masses following their leaders’ choices, which would put to doubt the sincerity of some of those who converted instantly, simply pursuing the leader. This led some Franks to worship both their gods and Jesus, even within the clergymen. During the mid-seventh century, the Frankish army would sacrifice women and children to satisfy the battle spirits. Then, St. Boniface would be the one to officially report to the Church the conditions in Merovingian Gaul, which were poor indeed. People were buying church offices to gain influence, using church property to enrich their families, clerics would engage in marriage, and others would carry weapons and shed blood. The church of the Franks needed reformation.

In order to carry out the reform, St. Boniface obtained the assistance from the Mayors of the Palace which were the Carolingians, mainly Pepin the short and Carloman. This reformation created a bond of friendship between the Franks and the papacy as they were now in continuous contact.  Meanwhile, the Carolingian family grew in fame and power. They took full control of the office of Mayor of the Palace and made it a hereditary office, they began to exercise the authority de facto (unofficial but legal) of the king, and held outstanding military power famously proven by Charles Martel who defeated the Muslims at the Battle of Tours (732).

The Merovingians were fierce warriors, but incompetent rulers in every single area of the administration. They also had problems between themselves and slaughtered each other’s families and people. The Frankish kingdom needed order and it was being established mainly by the Catholic Church alongside the Mayors of the Palace or Carolingians. Therefore, in realizing this, Pepin the Short became interested in legitimately acquiring the title of the king and this meant that he would not take it by force but ask for it.

Pepin went to the current pope, Pope Zachary I, and asked him if it was a good situation for the king to have no power and for those who had it to not hold the title of the king. Zachary answered saying that it was not good, that it was disorder and unnatural, so he blessed the change of dynasty from the Merovingian family to the Carolingian family in 751. To me this all seems very political (not genuine), as the Church would want something in return to the favor it gave to the Carolingians and Franks, in general, of establishing order. The Church would seek allegiance, protection, and military power with the mighty Franks as it had to cope with Roman aristocrats, the Byzantine Empire, and the Lombards who wanted to take Rome by force and not respect the Pope’s authority.

All those factors gave rise to the Papal-Frankish alliance. The popes were beginning to grow more and more doubtful of the reliability of the Byzantine emperors in being their allies and protectors. First of all the Byzantines were involved in heresies like monothelism and iconoclasm, they harassed some popes, sometimes sought to control the decisions of the church, and were not very worried about the grow in power of the threatening Lombards. Hence, when the Anglo-Saxons (Boniface and Clement) came as missionaries to convert the German peoples and reform the Frankish church, they became the key link of uniting the Papacy with the Frankish leaders.

When the conflict of the Popes between the Byzantine empire and the Lombards began, the Popes could not simply break away from the alliance with Byzantium as that would have made them vulnerable to any attack by the Lombards that surrounded Rome. For some time in the 7th century, the Lombards reduced their pressure on the conquest of rome, until their leader, Aistulf, acquired the power and renewed their ambition. The moment Aistulf took the city of Ravenna, the Byzantines simply responded with a diplomatic note of protest. This worried the Papacy evermore and in the fall of 753, Pope Stephen II became the first pope to cross the Alps and negotiate with Aistulf to forswear the siege of Rome and return conquered territory. When that failed, the pope went to the Franks, specifically Pepin the Short who defeated the Lombards and returned the stolen land to the Popes.


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