The Reform of the Frankish Church: Chrodegang of Metz and the Regula canonicorum in the Eighth Century

The Reform of the Frankish Church: Chrodegang of Metz and the Regula canonicorum in the Eighth Century

by M. A. Claussen


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The Reform of the Frankish Church: Chrodegang of Metz and the Regula canonicorum in the Eighth Century by M. A. Claussen

Chrodegang of Metz (c. 712-766) was one of the leading figures of the late Merovingian and early Carolingian Church. As bishop of Metz, Chrodegang became one of the foremost churchmen in Francia and undertook the reform of the lives of canons of the Metz cathedral. This book is an examination of the life and rule of Chrodegang of Metz and explores his attempts to transform his see into a hagiopolis, a holy city that would provide a model for later Carolingian reform.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780521065375
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 06/12/2008
Series: Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series
Pages: 364
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

M. A. Claussen is Associate Professor at the University of San Francisco and the author of articles on Church History.

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The Reform of the Frankish Church
Cambridge University Press
0521839319 - The Reform of the Frankish Church - Chrodegang of Metz and the Regula canonicorum in the Eighth Century - by M. A. Claussen


For most people today, to reform generally means to improve, to make better, or to ameliorate, but in at least some historical periods, reform has literally meant "re-form," an attempt to make over or recapture something which has been lost.1 In the European Middle Ages, reform almost always had the latter meaning. Movements of reform throughout the medieval period generally took as their model an image, a vision, an understanding of the past. These "imagined pasts" may not have been historically accurate, but their purpose was to provide an effective inspiration and a concrete legitimacy for action in the present.2 A flexible attitude toward the past and an understanding of the dynamic relationship between tradition and reform best characterizes Carolingian ideas about and efforts toward reform. Yet for the men and women of the eighth and ninth centuries, the past did not always yield up material that was appropriate for the present, and so history had to be adapted or transformed in various ways. This adaptation was rarely done frivolously, and was always accomplished with a great deal of study, thought, and scholarship. Above all, the Carolingian ideal of utilitas - usefulness, servableness, expediency - governed the use of history as the basis for reform.3

Reform movements needed a past to re-form to, and thus they had almost of necessity an intellectual side. The Carolingian kings patronized scholars whose tasks at least partly involved them in works of recovery: they sought to comprehend some normative period of the past, and to this end they spent much time and energy finding, editing, and commenting on a series of texts, often drawn from late antiquity. It was this period that at least some Carolingian thinkers deemed normative for their society: it was this period that they sought to recapture, to re-emulate, to re-form to.4 Thus, for instance, Charlemagne supported scholars such as Alcuin and Benedict of Aniane, not just because it was something that was expected - royal or imperial patronage being an attribute of a great or legitimate king - but because these and many others were involved in discovering the norms from a past that would help him guarantee a just and righteous society in the present.5

Sometimes, the chosen past turned out to be less than usable. An illustrative example of this is the sacramentary that Charlemagne requested and received from Pope Hadrian at the end of the eighth century. This text, the so-called Gregorian sacramentary, although certainly hailing from Rome, did not fulfill the liturgical needs of the Franks, nor meet their expectations of what a Roman liturgical book should be. Benedict of Aniane, one of Charlemagne's monastic advisors and perhaps the court's liturgical expert, revised the sacramentary, adding, modifying, and deleting material to produce a book that could be promulgated throughout the empire. In other words, Benedict took a preexisting tradition - in this case, a Roman text - and changed it to produce a new text and a new kind of tradition.6 At other times, a usable past simply did not exist. Occasionally, there was insufficient historical information available to reformers, so that they were forced to turn to their own devices, but, more often, men and women in the early Middle Ages could face problems and situations for which the past did not supply appropriate analogues. To deal with this sort of situation, a past had to be created, a history invented, a tradition assembled. This effort could not be undertaken lightly: it demanded all the scholarly resources, intellectual verve, and spiritual discretion that a reformer might possess. The act of creation itself would often involve a sort of cobbling together of bits of the past gathered here and there, a bundling of whatever information and knowledge might be available, and a fitting of this newly made historical bricolage into a framework that the writers of the original sources might not have recognized.

Chrodegang of Metz was an expert in all these various strategies of reform. When it was available, Chrodegang drew on material from the past as the direct model for his actions. But in many of the areas in which he worked, Chrodegang found no usable history, no workable past, and so he was forced to become more inventive. This book will examine how Chrodegang sought to originate traditions throughout his life. The traditions he created all revolve around his main concern, the one that runs like a red thread throughout his whole ecclesiastical career. This was christianization: that is, how to implement the ideas and the norms associated with Christian teachings and spirituality in the areas under his care. Chrodegang, it seems clear when looking at the totality of his actions, took very seriously his duties as bishop, and brought to them the sort of attention that Gregory the Great outlined in The Pastoral Care. He also brought to them the concern that we find characterizes the spiritual responsibilities of the abbot, at least as outlined in the second chapter of the Rule of Benedict.7 Unfortunately we cannot examine all of his actions. Chrodegang has left us few written texts and therefore this study must concentrate on the longest monument he bequeathed the future: his Regula canonicorum, the Rule for canons. Along the way, we will examine what we can of his other works: his concern for the greater church in Francia, of which he was primate after 754, and his attempts to create a holy city in his see, which began, perhaps, with the Regula canonicorum, but extended far beyond that particular piece of legislation.

Chrodegang based his reforms on a vision and understanding of the Christian past of Metz, and more broadly, of that of Francia and of the whole of the Latin church. But as we shall see, Metz is not rich in its ancient Christian history. It had martyrs neither from the Roman period nor from the Frankish. Its own saints, such as its seventh-century bishop Arnulf - perhaps one of the Carolingian progenitors - seem not to have inspired a great deal of devotion. The town itself did not have much of a usable past, and so holes had to be filled in, gaps spanned, with new history, which in turn spawned new kinds of traditions. So too when it came to implementing his rule, in order that he might reform the canons of his cathedral: there was only limited precedent for such legislation, and so Chrodegang drew on pre-existing monastic rules as the basis for his own work. And the same is true for his liturgical innovations: where Metz was poor, where Francia as a whole might have been lacking, Jerusalem or Rome or Constantinople were rich, good measure and flowing over. Importing the traditions of other churches, appropriating their history, and thus making it part of his own, Chrodegang's work lay at the foundation of the Carolingian spiritual revival of the later eighth and ninth centuries.

One can argue that Chrodegang was the first to incorporate into his own work all the major aspects that characterized later Frankish reform. But unlike some other Merovingian and Carolingian reformers - Willibrord and Boniface before him, Alcuin, Benedict of Aniane, Theodulf of Orléans in the generations after him, and most of those who worked during the reigns of Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald, for instance - we can only know little about the man, for the main document we have regarding his reforms is his rule. Ostensibly it seeks only modest goals: to enable a cleric to "prune from himself the illicit, cast out the wicked, and abandon the unlawful long-held . . . [so that] things good and better might be grafted on."8 However, the rule essays to do much more than simply keep the canons from grievous sin. It seeks to create in the Metz cathedral close a new community, one based on ideas of hierarchy and equality, love and unanimity, where before there had only been a group of men beset with "strife, scandals, and hate." This process of community creation was very similar to what he was doing at the same time within the larger Frankish church. In the regular meetings of bishops that convened during his primacy, Chrodegang sought to unite men, drawn from the various parts of the kingdom and belonging to various factions and parties, by giving them common spiritual tasks and common spiritual goals. Since these meetings were, while regular, nonetheless infrequent, we can better understand Chrodegang's ideas when we look to Metz. Here, in both the cathedral community and the town as a whole, Chrodegang deployed various strategies to break down structural divisions and to create something new, a town united under its bishop, where all the inhabitants shared the same goal of praising God. This work was the first comprehensive expression of a new "Carolingian" vision of reform. Chrodegang was, in the end, concerned not only with one or two groups in the church, but with the whole complex of society. He sought to separate and redefine the various orders in his town, giving each one its own unique task, but ordering them to a new and transcendent goal.

Chrodegang accomplished this not by breaking with the past, but by harnessing it, using the images and works of earlier periods in Christian and Frankish history to help him achieve his goals. The past, as he understood it, provided him with models, but they were not the sort of models that could be transplanted unchanged into his own environment. Instead, these were exemplars and norms, requiring adaptation and realignment if they were to fit into the world of mid-eighth-century Metz. Chrodegang, like a historian, understood the past through a series of texts; but unlike his modern counterparts, he felt free, and perhaps even compelled, not to stop with presenting the past as it was, but to determine its essential characteristics, the one or two things that made those earlier periods qualitatively different from his own. Once this quintessence had been discovered, Chrodegang systematically set about trying to re-create it in his contemporary context. This effort involved a manipulation of texts - most notably the Rule of Benedict, but also works by "Julianus" Pomerius, Caesarius of Arles, Gregory the Great, Isidore of Seville, various Roman and other conciliar decrees, and even Scripture itself. By mimetic and intertextual strategies, Chrodegang sought to bring to birth in Metz a new creation, a hagiopolis, a holy city.

In their constant quest for the antecedents of great movements, historians have generally overlooked Chrodegang's influence on later Carolingian reform; or perhaps he has been overshadowed by his more visible and heroic contemporary, the Anglo-Saxon Boniface, and by the great reformers of the succeeding generations, men such as Alcuin, Benedict of Aniane, Hrabanus Maurus, and Hincmar of Rheims. These men strove toward the same basic goals - the erection of a metropolitan church structure, the regularization of religious life, the proclamation of the basic duties of Christian women and men, the christianization of the Frankish aristocracy and especially the royal family, the reform of cult. All of them had their own successes and failures, but in general, judging from what he called for in his synods and in his rule, Chrodegang must be counted among the most successful reformers of the early Middle Ages. He completed and improved upon the work of other late Merovingian churchmen, including that of Boniface, and his success was due at least in part to his ability to compromise on unimportant issues (an ability that some ecclesiastical reformers simply did not have) and his willingness to work within the bounds of a church whose leadership was drawn from the Frankish aristocracy. Chrodegang smoothed over and sought to eliminate factions, while more fervent reformers, with that prophetic zeal which characterized certain men and women in the Hebrew Bible, instead fomented them. Mainly others have monopolized the attention of historians simply because we can see them as individuals. We can know Boniface, for instance, in a way that we can know few others from the first half of the eighth century. He left us, along with conciliar acts and synodal decrees, an extraordinary letter collection, one of the largest from the early Middle Ages. Such a preponderance of evidence has helped to make Boniface a leading man to Chrodegang's bit player.

A second reason why Chrodegang has generally languished in the shadows suggests itself: he appears to have done nothing new or innovative himself. His rule seems to hew so closely to that of Benedict that it has been called a plagiarism; the canons of the councils he directed often simply repeated those of the past; his romanizing attitudes in liturgy and cult in fact first appeared in England, with the peculiar Anglo-Saxon devotion to the papacy.9 In fact, Chrodegang appears as a Boniface-manqué, without the fire, without the passion. And there is reason to this. Boniface does indeed seem to have been the first to undertake reforms that had the same characteristics as later efforts, especially those under Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. In his unswerving devotion to Rome, his obsession with promulgating certain aspects of canon law, and even his pastoral and missionary drive, Boniface appears to have prefigured what would come in later reform movements. This is, at least in part, an illusion. While many of Boniface's ideas appear the same as later Carolingian ones, they are similar exactly in appearance, not in substance. For instance, the Carolingian devotion to Rome was radically different from Boniface's, although they might at surface appear the same.10 The Carolingians looked to Rome for norms and exemplars that would then be subject to modification and adjustment before they could usefully be implemented in Francia. That is, after all, just what the Carolingians did with the Rule of Benedict, and books of canon law, liturgy, and theology which at various times they requested from Rome.11 Rome sometimes did not even supply the correct answers to difficult theological questions, and thus the true defense of the faith required the active intervention of the Franks themselves. We can see this attitude both in the preface to the Salic laws, which describes the Romans as slayers of saints and the Carolingians as preservers of relics, as well as in the controversies surrounding the Opus Caroli regis.12 Chrodegang points to a more critical attitude toward Rome: things coming from Rome, whether they be liturgical habits, manuscripts, theological pronouncements, or political arrangements, needed, like the past itself, to be adapted to fit into Frankish ways of doing things, and to meet particularities of Frankish traditions.

The text with which we will be most concerned in this book is the Regula canonicorum, the Rule for canons.13 Like many late antique and early medieval works, its textual history is at times a little confusing.14 We do not have Chrodegang's autograph of the rule, and so we are at some loss. Fortunately, we do have a slightly later copy of the text, which, since its discovery, has been given the siglum B.15 This manuscript, written at Metz at the end of the eighth century, contains, along with most of the Rule (the preface and first eight chapters, and part of the final chapter, are missing), Isidore of Seville's De viris inlustribus, a Metz martyrology, one of the Roman ordines, and other material. It seems at least in part to be a theological and liturgical, or perhaps better an ascetic, compendium.16 In the absence of a critical edition of the rule, it is the best witness we have to Chrodegang's original work. A slightly later manuscript, known as L1, also written at Metz but in Tironian notes, is the basis for Wilhelm Schmitz's edition of the rule, currently the best published one.17 These manuscripts belong to the Metz version of the Regula canonicorum, but there are two other classes of texts: the generalized version and the Aachen version. The former has had specific references to the ecclesiastical geography of Metz removed, and also contains some additions written by Angilramn. The latter was the text that was promulgated throughout the empire as normative by the 816 synod of Aachen, and served as the main rule for the canonical life until the eleventh century and beyond.18 Finally, there is one last text that we can associate with Chrodegang's activities in Metz. It is a precious document that, since its discovery in the 1930s, has been much commented upon: a stational list of churches that were to be the site of episcopal services during the weekdays and Sundays of Lent and Easter Week.19

The Regula canonicorum is the most significant work we have by Chrodegang. It was written for the canons of his cathedral in Metz, and it was around the canons of the cathedral of St Stephen that most of his reform efforts revolved. But who were they, and where did they come from?20 Canonicus is based on the Latin word canon, which in turn is simply the transliterated Greek ĸɑνών, a word that has a maddeningly wide range of meanings, from "rod" or "straight-edge," to "model," "standard," or "prototype," to "rule," "table," "paradigm," and finally, "tax assessment."21 For our purposes in this study, ĸɑνών; means either list or rule. For instance, a ĸɑνών could be a list of the approved books of the Bible. It was this sense of ĸɑνών as list that allowed its meaning to be transferred from a list or table, to a tax assessment: the tax ĸɑνών listed the names and the amount owed from various individuals and groups. In Latin, this word could be rendered as both canon and matricula. ĸɑνών could also mean rule or standard. Hence the decisions of church councils were known as canons, because they presented the precepts and the dicta of the faith. In the west, ĸɑνών in this sense could be translated both as canon and as regula. This brief etymological journey brings us to the two possible meanings for the word canonicus: either a canonicus is one whose name is inscribed on a ĸɑνών/canon/list, or a canonicus is one who lives according to the ĸɑνóνεϚ/canones/rules of the church.22

While religious reformers, beginning with Cassian and including Chrodegang, would try to link the basic organization of the canonical life to the early Christian community described in Acts of the Apostles, there are few actual historical ties between the religious life of the primitive church and the religious organizations that developed around the time of Constantine.23 Whether his communities of friends could be better described as monastic or canonical, Augustine found nothing in recent history to justify his creation of a community of men living the common life.24 The constitutions he wrote for these communities would in the eleventh and twelfth centuries become the most popular rule for canons in western Europe, and would eventually supplant the rule of Chrodegang, but there were certainly hiatuses in the use of Augustine's rules between the fifth century and the eleventh. However, we know that some clerical communities existed in late antiquity. Perhaps the most famous of these was the one Eusebius founded in the Italian town of Vercelli. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, describes this community in his Letter 63:

Eusebius of holy memory was the first in western lands to bring together these differing manners [that is, uniting episcopal and ascetic/monastic ways of life], both . . . living in the city observing the rules of monks, and ruling the church with fasting and temperance.25

Ambrose added that "the grace of the priesthood is much increased if the bishop constrains young men to the practice of abstinence and to the rule of purity; and forbids them . . . the manners and mode of life of the city." Ambrose is praising Eusebius not so much for instituting the common life, as for having the wisdom to see that the practice of communal living was one way to ensure the purity - that is, the sexual continence - of the clergy. In a sermon for Eusebius' feast day, Maximus of Turin was a little clearer about the reforms that bishop brought to the clergy in Vercelli:

in this holy church, he [Eusebius] established those who were clerics as monks, and had the priestly offices confined by the same interior disciplines by which matchless chastity is also preserved, so that there would be in these men both the contempt of material things and the exactitude of Levites. Thus, if you saw the monastery's little beds you would think them the equal of oriental ones.26

It seems from both of these descriptions, but especially that of Maximus, that Eusebius was, as Peter Brown suggests, mainly monasticizing his clergy, and imposing on them the asceticism that was typical of the cenobitic life.27 Again, as in Ambrose's approbation, the point is not that Eusebius developed a novel form of life that led to a new kind of holiness, but rather that he imposed a traditional sort of control over the priests and clergy of his cathedral. This strikes me as something different from imposing on them the common life of canons. We can see the same thing in another source, describing an earlier period, on the other side of the empire. Sozomen, the church historian, mentions a semi-monasticized clerical community at Rhinocoruna, in Egypt. After describing the life of the bishop, a certain Melas, and his habits of holiness, he writes that "the clergy of this church dwell in one house, sit at the same table, and have everything in common."28 A little closer to home, Caesarius of Arles also instituted a common life among his clergy, though it too seems to have had as its guiding principle monastic ideals of asceticism.29

© Cambridge University Press

Table of Contents

List of illustrations; Acknowledgements; Abbreviations; Introduction; 1. Chrodegang in the Frankish church; 2. The Regula canonicorum; 3. Chrodegang and the Rule of St. Benedict; 4. Roman and Gallic sources for the Regula canonicorum; 5. Individual, community and ritual in the Regula canonicorum; 6. Hagiopolis; Bibliography; Index; Index of manuscripts; Index locorum.

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