Where Would Christian Europe be without the Emperor?

That’s what Peter Heather makes readers ask in The Restoration of Rome:

Thanks to Charlemagne’s attentions, the papacy was enriched, visited, courted and paid enormous respect, but all these gains came with a price tag. The emperor’s respect for the papacy was genuine, but he was equally convinced. . . that he had his own hotline to the Almighty. No mere vassal of St. Peter, he had no hesitation in making use of the papacy for his own purposes . . . for this too was God’s will. Nor was Charlemagne afraid actually to disagree with the Pope — even on matters of doctrine. The example par excellence is the Council of Frankfurt. There and to the Pope’s face (at least, to those of his legates) Charlemagne had his churchmen declare that Pope Hadrian’s acceptance of Constantinople’s new teaching on icons was in fact mistaken. A second, less charged example is provided by the famous filioque clause. . . .

As such, we can place [Charlemagne] firmly in a tradition which stretched back for the best part of half a millennium. From the time of Constantine onwards, overarching responsibility even for the identification of correct doctrine had been part of the Christian ruler’s job description, and Charlemagne’s attitude to Rome was nothing more than its direct continuation. Indeed, it would be extremely easy at this point to go through the same checklist we have used before, and come to the inescapable conclusion that Charlemagne was undoubtedly the head of the Church within his domains. He appointed all the leading churchmen, he called all the major councils and authorized most of the rest, and great tranches of legal directions on the practicalities of both clerical and lay piety were drawn up in his name. (332-33)

So much for that audacious papacy. Turns out the Pope would not have been the official he turned out to be without the audacity of the emperor. In fact, transformers of culture, Roman Catholic or Protestant, will never see their hopes for a Christian society realized until the ruler embraces the faith and enforces it. Not even Boniface VIII in all his pomp and show could make Europe Christian. It took emperors, kings, princes, and magistrates.

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8 thoughts on “Where Would Christian Europe be without the Emperor?

  1. Darryl,

    “In fact, transformers of culture, Roman Catholic or Protestant, will never see their hopes for a Christian society realized until the ruler embraces the faith and enforces it. ”

    What about the schtick some regulars here offer that countries prosper due to Protestantism? Is that not a transformation of culture even when those countries’ rulers were not embracing and enforcing it?

    “It took emperors, kings, princes, and magistrates.”

    Is that also what it took for Protestantism to kick off and sustain itself and spread?

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  2. Is that also what it took for Protestantism to kick off and sustain itself and spread?

    Survive / takeoff, absolutely. The Albigensian crusade crushed the early manifestation of Protestantism. Sustain itself and spread: I’d say capitalism and democracy more than governmental power. Catholicism doesn’t fit the atomization of consumerism of modern societies as well, for better or worse (I think to Catholicism’s credit).

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  3. @ CD: I would say that capitalism in American history has been very effective at undermining orthodoxy of any sort.

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  4. Is that also what it took for Protestantism to kick off and sustain itself and spread?

    Of course. The difference between Hus and Luther was largely state protection. Louis the XIV (I think it was) had a pretty big role in keeping the Huguenots from thriving and why reformed Christians in that country are so rare (compared to say Germany, UK, or Netherlands).

    It isn’t theological principles like Sola Scriptura or rejection of papal primacy that has led to the proliferation of denominations – it is the confluence of political freedom, capitalism (entrepreneurialism really), and wealth that has driven it. But to be sure, protestantism got its footholds for the most part in nations where the state provided it protection (or at least toleration). It is instructive to compare the state of Islam and Judaism to Christianity. There are a few schools of each in the mideast (similar to Christianity), but in the US there is the proliferation of “denominations” as it were. It is curious how Islam is able to maintain relative unity without a pope or infallible magisterium.

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  5. foxy van dame, who here says that Protestantism prospers nations? You’re not reading carefully. But David Brat is now worshiping in a Roman Catholic parish where belief in you can’t have culture without cult runs deep.

    The point of 2k is that you don’t equate prosperity (personal or national) with salvation. Duh!

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  6. Clete – What about the schtick some regulars here offer that countries prosper due to Protestantism?

    South America, meet North America.

    Southern Europe, meet Northern Europe.

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  7. Darryl,

    Take it up with Erik.

    And when did non-2k positions start all getting lumped into health and wealth prosperity gospel? Keller and Furtick are bros?

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  8. foxy james, maybe the same time that Rome lumped all Protestants as infidels and heretics. Where’s the precision? Where’s the love? We confess Nicea. That’s a lot more than many Roman Catholics.

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