Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Charlemagne – Who Reminds Us of Moses — Laid the Foundations of Christian Civilization
Saint of the Day, Monday, October 30, 1972
The original audio (in portoghese)
Today we have a text on Charlemagne taken from Weiss’ História Universal.
“In 772, aged 30, Charles took over the government of the kingdom of the Franks. Charles was rightly called the Great. He deserved that name as a general and conqueror, as an orderer and legislator of his immense empire, and as a promoter of the entire spiritual life of the West.
“Under his rule, Christian ideas won victories over the barbarians. His life was a constant struggle against rudeness and barbarism, which threatened the Catholic Religion and the new culture that was being born.
“He undertook no less than 53 military expeditions, namely: eighteen against the Saxons, one against Aquitaine, five against the Lombards, seven against the Arabs of Spain, one against the Thuringians, four against the Avars, two against the Bretons, one against the Bavarians, four against the Slavs, five against the Saracens of Italy, three against the Danes, and two against the Greeks.
“At Christmas in the year 800, Pope Saint Leo III elevated him to the dignity of Emperor, thus founding the noblest secular institution of Christendom, the Holy Roman German Empire. Charles died on February 29, 814, after receiving Holy Communion. According to legend, he was buried in a niche in the Cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle in an erect position, seated on a throne, girded with a sword, with the book of the Gospels in his hands.
“He is the model of Catholic emperors, the prototype of a gentleman, and the central figure of the vast majority of heroic medieval songs.”
I do not know why the extraordinary figure of Moses comes to my mind when talking about Charlemagne and his deeds and greatness. Moses founded the [civil] order in the chosen people, who were the prefigure of Christendom. He received the revelation of the Ten Commandments of the Law, took the Chosen People out of captivity to the gates of the Promised Land, and established the foundations for the Chosen People to settle down and for the Savior to be born from them.
Charlemagne had a task essentially analogous to that of Moses. He took the genuinely chosen people, who were no longer the Jews, but Catholics. The Jews were a foreshadowing of the chosen people. Still, the Catholic people were the true [chosen] people, then being reduced to servitude by the worst adversaries. By waging a tremendous war, he overcame all those adversaries and laid the foundations of Christian Civilization.
To give you a little idea of what Charlemagne’s task was like, we have to consider the situation in his time. As you know, the Western Roman Empire covered all of Western Europe until the 5th century AD. In general terms, it extended its borders from the Rhine and the Danube to Portugal in the West, England in the north, and Italy in the south. Therefore, it was an immense unit, all the more so because communication routes were much slower at that time than today, making it very difficult for an emperor to govern that entire area. So, in proportion to the administrative and political machine that had to keep it together, that empire had truly gigantic proportions.
The avalanche of barbarians overthrew that empire. As you know, the barbarians were either Aryans or heathens. Arianism was a heresy that can be loosely compared to Protestantism. An Arian was as antiCatholic as a Protestant: a heretical enemy excommunicated and cut off from the Church. An Aryan bishop named Ulfilas had perverted heathen barbarians to the Arian Religion. So, most of the barbarians who invaded the Roman Empire, which was Catholic, were Aryans intending to impose the Aryan Religion. Other barbarians were heathens seeking to impose paganism. As barbarians, both were incompatible with civilization by habit, psychology, and by natural tendency. They settled in the Roman Empire of the West and went about, willynilly, thrashing civilization.
For you to have an idea of how these people were barbarians to the letter, suffice it to say that barbarians usually slept in public city squares because they felt short of breath when sleeping inside a house. They did not understand that it was possible to sleep inside a home. There was a barbarian tribe that felt short of breath even when sleeping in a city. When night came, they ordered the city gates to be opened and went to sleep in the bush because they could not breathe in the city’s public square.
A severe problem the barbarians had was whether it was worth it to become literate. They saw the Romans were literate but very decadent, corrupt and poor soldiers, and they thought literacy was the reason for that. So they had utter contempt for any literate man, seen more or less as effeminate, a sissy in English, a maricas in Portuguese, and a maricón in Spanish.
You understand how their ideas were all messed up. When the barbarians began to settle on European soil and to impose their detestable tyranny, it turned out that the Church remained standing in that collapsed empire. The Western Roman Empire disappeared, but the Church, with its dioceses, convents, etc., remained standing.
Thus there was a path to salvation to try and get out of the abyss. It was to strengthen the influence of the Church and therefore lift Europe back from the miserable situation into which it had fallen. Then comes another catastrophe. Mohammedans invaded the Iberian Peninsula because of the slackness and fifth-columnism among the Ostrogoths who inhabited Spain. Spain was almost entirely invaded, and, from the Pyrenees, the Arab wave began to invade semi-Roman and semi-barbarian Europe.
Many Mohammedans would not even pass through Spain. They took boats, landed in Italy and southern France, and began their invasions. So the living wound, which was Europe at that time, began to sustain beatings from the Mohammedans as well.
It was at that moment, when all seemed lost, that God raised this extraordinary man who was Charlemagne. A man who, in my opinion, was a true prophet, that is to say, a man who realized the kingdom of God because he had the gift of understanding what it consisted of and the gift of leading others to unite their wills for that realization. Moreover, he had the gift of overcoming obstacles that stood in the way of that achievement and winning.
Charlemagne belongs to a family that had the kingdom of the Franks for two generations. However, while divided by internecine fights, this family had a certain influence among the Franks, one of the barbarian peoples in Europe.
As you have seen, when leading the Franks, Charlemagne waged a series of wars, fifty-odd military expeditions in which he completely crushed the barbarians. Afterward, he also contained the Muslim power, and with that, he pushed back the gates of history. History had seemed to condemn the Latin peoples irrevocably to disappear under Germanic and Mohammedan pressure. Charlemagne saved Latinity. And by saving Latinity, he saved Catholicity.
By all accounts, this man, who performed these extraordinary feats, was a Herculean man. He was tall, with very regular features and very well built, having preserved something of youth up to his old age. At the same time, when young, he had something of the maturity of old age and instilled respect as if he were old. And in his old age, he knew how to infuse enthusiasm as if he were a boy.
He was such a kind and gentle man that popular legend said that flowers blossomed among his white beard when he smiled and that his beard was in full bloom. He was called the king of the flowery beard. From there, you can imagine the richness of this personality. He inflicted terror in combat. When his adversaries knew that Charlemagne was on the front, they had already lost half the battle. Yet, at the same time, so kind, so gentle, that others thought that flowers grew from his beard.
This great warrior was at the same time a leading shaper of men. He formed a group of men that went down in history as the iconic Twelve Peers of Charlemagne. When talking about a Peer of Charlemagne, you deal with an ideal relationship. Never in the temporal order --of course-- was the relationship between a leader and his subjects been so noble, so high and so strong. Never has the condition of subject been so categorical but at the same time communicated such grandeur as being a Peer of Charlemagne. Charlemagne’s Peers were on a different league under his own.
He was so grand that the sum of all his Peers did not equal him. A Charlemagne Peer projected an aspect of his personality so that he was like a son and ambassador of Charlemagne, bringing with him all the Charlomanicity, partaking of Charlemagne’s majesty, strength, and greatness. Although he was unmistakable, they were other Charlemagnes.
This relationship shows the beautiful bond that united him to them. Another very beautiful aspect was the Peers’ union among themselves without megalice or envy aiming only to serve the Emperor, and by serving the Emperor, to serve the Cause of Christian Civilization, the Catholic Church, Our Lady, and therefore Our Lord Jesus Christ in the highest Heaven. Thus, Charlemagne led through a series of mediations, and hence his Peers were closely united. The friendship that brought them together is the ideal model of noble, strong, manly, unpretentious, and loyal friendship.
That is the origin of the Christian tradition whereby the high nobility in all European countries sought the title of Peer: a Peer of the United Kingdom, a Peer of the Kingdom in France. It was a copy of Charlemagne with his Peers. Charlemagne personified the perfect relationship with his subjects. He elevated them to the status of sons and “others myself,” though he kept them clearly in their position as subjects.
At the same time, this man of fiery piety was illiterate. His illiteracy shows how little it is to learn to read and write. A vice of those who know to read and write is believing that thinking begins in a book. When a person wants to start thinking about anything, his first idea is to buy a book to read something and then think about what he read. Charlemagne did not know how to read or write, but he understood reality. He had such intelligence and a notion of things that, although illiterate, with the help of men like Alcuin, he organized the educational system throughout his empire.
He participated in bishops’ councils and let them decide because they dealt with Church matters. But he did speak at the meetings, delved into the theological issues the bishops were addressing, and was usually successful. He was the one who came up with the proper theological formulas—without ever having gone through a seminary.
As you can see, this monumental man was both a son of the Church and her rampart, support and glory. He did not encroach upon Church rights but respected her sovereignty and recognized all her power. It was one of the reasons why the Church crowned him.
Everyone knows the beautiful episode in the year 800 when Charlemagne was at the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The pope entered bearing a golden crown and declared he was reestablishing the crumbling Roman Empire in the person of Charlemagne, whom he immediately proclaimed Emperor of the Roman Empire. Charlemagne did not want that out of modesty, but the pope insisted and took him to a balcony where the whole people cheered him: “Long live Charlemagne, our Emperor.” The Roman Empire was thus restored, which would last a thousand years precisely.
That is a most beautiful gesture: the Church recognizing and crowning on earth the one that God will indeed have crowned in Heaven. A lovely side is the idea of a pope’s power. The Roman Empire is an institution that was not born of the popes but was established by the Roman Senate. The Roman Senate created Roman greatness, and the Roman emperors arose from the decay of the Roman Republic. It was thus a pagan institution Christianized with Constantine. The pope thought he had the power to rebuild the Roman Empire, and he reestablished and founded the Holy Roman Empire for the defense of the Faith.
There and then was realized that mysterious dialogue of Our Lord with Saint Peter at the moment Our Lord was arrested. Theologians have always interpreted it that way. Our Lord asked Saint Peter if he had swords with him upon being arrested. St. Peter replied, “I have two.” Our Lord replied, “That is enough.” The theologians say Saint Peter said he had two swords in hand: the Church’s sword, which is excommunication, and the State’s sword, which is military power, to destroy heresies and liquidate evil. These two swords suffice for Saint Peter to fulfill his mission.
On that Christmas night, Peter forged for himself a golden sword, the Holy Roman German Empire, with the mission of defending the Faith throughout Christendom.
How wonderful! They remind us of very different days from those in which we live, in which everything runs in the exact opposite direction. In which the Washington-Moscow axis is ready to dominate the world, on the one hand, the Beijing-Tokyo axis, on the other hand, seems to complete the domination of this axis over the other face of the earth. And we have paganism on all sides, and on one side, only the filth of Protestantism.
However, some ideals never die because they are directly derived from Faith and are as immortal as the Faith! And when we hear about these episodes, we understand that the history of the world cannot end like this; it cannot simply end in defeat. There has to be a monumental rematch. For the Reign of Mary to be established—for which the world was created--the Revolution must be trampled underfoot. God created the world so that, at a given moment, His kingdom over it would be complete. That needs to take place.
Remembering these things, we have hope for the future. It is creative anachronism, to employ an American expression I thought is so good that I commented on it here at the last Saturday meeting. Nothing is more anachronistic than Charlemagne’s Empire, but it is a creative anachronism. The memory of that brings hope for the future and a certainty that it will come. We are moving toward restoring that order of which Charlemagne was a symbol.
We can ask Charlemagne to pray for us. Not all episodes in his life are entirely clear, and the Church has not definitively clarified whether he is a saint. But in some regions of Europe, it is customary to celebrate the feast of blessed Charlemagne. At the time of Pius IX, ancestors of today’s progressives, struck with zeal (that is the only time they show any), tried to abolish the feast of Charlemagne. But Pius IX issued a Brief declaring that veneration of Charlemagne could continue in the places where he is considered blessed.
Therefore, tonight, at least within our souls if not in public, we can ask Charlemagne to give us that invincible strength to found the Reign of Mary as he established the Middle Ages and was its cornerstone. That is the intention of this Saint of the Day.
(It is well to recall that Saint Joan of Arc said that she owed her mission to the prayers of Saint Louis the king and Saint Charlemagne).
Nothing could be more beautiful, all the more so since Saint Joan of Arc received revelations from Heaven and would have known precisely where Saint Louis IX and Saint Charlemagne were. So, let us say with Saint Joan of Arc: Your royal and imperial majesties, St. Louis and St. Charlemagne, pray that the Revolution ends and the Reign of Mary come soon.