Charlemagne and Alcuin set up a different Catholic Church.


Saturday, 4/2/11
Twenty-first Saturday
Charlemagne and Alcuin

After forcibly converting Italy’s Lombards, Charlemagne paid a visit to Rome at Christmas of 800. Pope Leo III surprised him by placing the emperor’s crown on his head. At first Charlemagne resented the pope’s move, seeing it as a power play by which the one doing the crowning, established himself as superior to the one he crowned. However, after rejecting the title for two years, Charlemagne grew into the role of Holy Roman Emperor.

He made his imperial capitol at Aachen (on the boarder of Belgium and Germany,)  establishing a first rate palace school there, and bringing in top scholars from all over. The prize of them was a Northumbrian deacon named Alcuin. He became Charlemagne’s deputy for both religious and educational matters.

Alcuin was born in 735, and it was noted by many that the scholarly Venerable Bede had died that same year. That had people saying Bede had passed his brilliance on to Alcuin. At an early age, Alcuin had entered the cathedral school at York where Archbishop Ecbert had been a pupil of Bede’s. Ecbert taught boys the four practical subjects of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy, as well he had them proficient in grammar, logic and rhetoric.

When, with Charlemagne’s blessing, Alcuin in every bishopric had set up schools featuring those studies, he went on to recruit top notch teachers from all over Europe for those schools. As well, Alcuin turned an ample farm over to each of the bishoprics. He wanted to free them from the whims of local barons, giving them the independence they needed for making decisions in religious matters.

Charlemagne also gave to Alcuin the task of bringing order to the Church’s liturgy. At that task, he set himself to reviewing the Roman Canon that Gregory the Great had devised two centuries earlier.  In doing so, he made one alteration that has changed our understanding of the Mass down to the present.

Gregory had set the celebrants to asking God to “Accept this offering which we your people make to you.”  Well, with the clergy being Europe’s only people capable of reading, writing, or of exercising initiatives, Alcuin saw ordinary people as an inert mass. That view of his had him changing the wording of the Canon.

He had the celebrant asking God to “Accept this offering which we make to you for your people.”  From the time of the Last Supper the priest, as the meal’s host, had been seen as the spokesman for all the people offering the Mass. By that change he made the clergy the ones offering the Mass, with the people being only spectators.

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