Monk’s lives, in words and a picture

There are two outstanding documents that define the life of a Benedictine monk in the abstract. Both are purely theoretical, in that they do not deal with any particular instance or event, but rather prescribe what should be. One of these documents consists of words, while the other is a drawing.

The first is the Rule of Benedict, the collection of rules written down by St. Benedict himself in the 6th century. The Rule comprises 73 different chapters (or rules, I suppose) that cover a wide range of topics. Benedict describes the proper amount of food and drink for monks, how to welcome guests, correction of the young,1.Boys who don’t understand how severe a punishment excommunication is “should either be punished by means of severe fasting or chastised with harsh beatings to cure them.” In case you were wondering. Rule 30. “The times for singing Alleluia,” and many other matters.

The Rule, as you may have gathered, is a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts that regulate monastic living. Part of detailing life in the monastery inevitably requires some description of different roles that need to be fulfilled, as well as the inevitably hierarchy that evolves whenever groups of people come together and organize themselves.

Read more

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Boys who don’t understand how severe a punishment excommunication is “should either be punished by means of severe fasting or chastised with harsh beatings to cure them.” In case you were wondering. Rule 30.

Battles of a troubled soul, part 3

When Carloman decided to lay down his worldly cares and take up the contemplative life, he wasn’t able to simply pick up and walk to Rome. He was a duke of the Franks, one of the two Mayors of the Palace that ruled the realm, as well as a father. He, even more than most of us today, had many affairs to put in order first. We should remember that he probably felt that he was leaving in a pretty strong position.

There is a brief, shadowy indication that Carloman, as the older of the two brothers, wielded more power than Pepin. Paul Fouracre quotes a charter from 744 (the year after Childeric III was raised to the throne), in which “Childeric addressed Carloman as the one ‘who placed us upon the throne of the kingdom.’ “1.Fouracre, The Long Shadow of the Merovingians, p.14, in Charlemagne: Empire and Society, ed. Joanna Story. In addition he had demography on his side. Carloman had a son, Drogo, who was probably of age in 747. Pepin was married, but had no children. Their half-brother Grifo was still alive, and we can say, based on later events, that he commanded some significant amount of political support in the kingdom, despite being under a virtual house arrest in Austrasia.

Read more

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fouracre, The Long Shadow of the Merovingians, p.14, in Charlemagne: Empire and Society, ed. Joanna Story.

Battles of a troubled soul, part 2

To the picture I drew last week of Carloman the pious purifier of the eastern Frankish church, we must add Carloman the triumphant, at times bloodthirsty, conqueror. After deposing and disposing of his half-brother Grifo in 741 (while Pepin dealt with their step-mother Swanahild), and supervising the first of the eastern church synods, Carloman must have had his horse waiting for him. In the spring of 742 he and Pepin undertook the first of several joint military operations to crush regional insurrections. “Aquitanians, Bretons, Frisians, Saxons, Alemannians, and Bavarians were a constant source of trouble for Pepin and Carlomann…. The survival of the Frankish kingdom itself was very much an open issue throughout the 740s.”1.Noble, Republic of St. Peter, pp.65-66. But the first to rise was the first to be crushed.

Meanwhile the Gascons of Aquitaine rose in rebellion under Duke Chunoald, son of the late Eudo. Thereupon the princely brothers Carloman and Pippin united their forces and crossed the Loire at the city of Orleans. Overwhelming the Romans they made for Bourges, the outskirts of which they set on fire; and as they pursued the fleeing Duke Chunoald they laid waste as they went. Their next objective, the stronghold of Loches, fell and was razed to the ground, the garrison being taken prisoner. Their victory was complete. Then they divied out the booty among themselves and took off the local inhabitants to captivity.2.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.25, p.98.

Not only did the brothers swiftly crush the rebellious Aquitanians, but “On this campaign they divided the kingdom of the Franks among themselves at Vieux Poitiers.”3.Royal Annals, year 742, p.37. This probably formalized whatever agreement their father had arranged with them, prior to Swanahild’s insertion of Grifo into the inheritance. To recap, over the past twelve months their father had died, they had neutralized their half-brother, called a church synod, suppressed an incipient revolt, and agreed to a division of the kingdom more to their liking. Time to head home? Not even close.

Read more

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Noble, Republic of St. Peter, pp.65-66.
2. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.25, p.98.
3. Royal Annals, year 742, p.37.

Battles of a troubled soul, part 1

Pepin le Bref was a man with a conflicted soul. He yearned for God, but was forced to do terrible things in the name of order. When he did retire from worldly concerns he thought he would be done with politics and combat, but before the end he was dragged back into the fray, betrayed by family, and died far from his spiritual home. His story is one of the great epics of the 8th century.

On the death of his father Pepin was one of three sons to inherit the Frankish kingdom. He was immediately faced with two things he had to get done, and one thing he really wanted to get done. He performed all three duties very well, and then, at the peak of power, he put his affairs in order, rejected the secular, and became a monk. How he went about achieving what he did illustrates the man, and opens a window on why he made that last decision.

Read more