After Charlemagne, his son Louis the Pious reigned from 814 to 840. In 830 he divided the empire between three sons: Pippin in the west at Aquitaine, Lothar in the center at Aachen, and Ludwig on the German side. But then, proving to be not all that pious, Louis married again, giving birth to Charles the Bald. The emergence of that fourth heir set the four kings warring with each other, doing away with all that Charlemagne (and Alcuin) had achieved.
The death of Louis the Pious in 840 brought on a century of what can properly be called the Dark Ages. The Norsemen controlled the rivers flowing into the Baltic Sea and the Channel, while the Saracens moved up the rivers from the Mediterranean. Inland the positions of the sons and nephews of the four kings degenerated into the roles of barons employed in fighting each other. Where Charlemagne had deeded lands to bishops and pastors, the barons gave those holdings to their younger sons who could mouth enough Latin to get through the Mass. Some sons of barons given the roles and the lands of the bishops chose not to try offering the Mass. They turned the parishes and bishoprics into capitol holdings. Their buying and selling resulted in some individuals holding the title of pastor, abbot or bishop to several scattered benefices.
In these pages we set out to see how faithful our church has been to the ideals Christ and the Apostles set before her. The French bishops at Vatican II had taken up the word ressourcement, by which they prodded their fellow bishops into adopting the changes needed to bring our church back in line with its original ideals. In the Dark Ages we lost sight of the need to be true to the practices of Jesus and the Apostle. Unlearned priests mouthed Latin Mass prayers that they did not understand. Monks in their scriptoriums were the only Christians reading the Bible. Miserable serfs and warring barons had no room for anything like Our Lord’s social Gospel.
Nevertheless, Jesus had promised to be with us all days, even to the end of the world; and he gave evidence of his presence by inspiring two rulers to remember what Christians should be about.
First, unexpectedly, in 909 he moved William the Duke of Aquitaine in south western France to deed a sizable tract of land to Benedictine monks at Cluny. Duke William entrusted the monastery to a worthy man, to Abbot Berno. He stipulated that the monks should remain free from interference from local barons and bishops, and that they should faithfully follow St. Benedict’s rule. Berno, serving as first abbot of Cluny, was a father to his monks for seventeen years. He trained them in an exact following of the liturgy; and he set a fine example in private prayer and hard labor. From Berno’s installation as abbot in 909 through two hundred years, Cluny was to have just five abbots; and each of them had a well earned reputation for saintliness. By the end of those two hundred years two thousand more monasteries had been founded on the model of Cluny, with each of them restoring sanctity and learning to the surrounding countryside. A half million young men and ladies spent their lives praying in chapel, studying the Scriptures, and working in the fields.
The written histories from those centuries are full of wars and scandals, while they give small attention to so many wonderful people.