Declining Carolingian and growing Papal power

We have noted the fashion in which from the time of Gregory the Great the powers of the Popes north of the Alps had markedly increased. This was due to several factors, among them the great ability of Gregory himself, the success of the Roman mission in England culminating in Theodore of Tarsus, the Anglo-Saxon missionaries on the Continent, loyal as they were to Rome, and the support accorded these missionaries by the early Carolingians.

Pepin the Short and Charlemagne had protected the Popes from the Lombards and local disorders in Italy and had thereby enhanced their position. However, they two, and especially Charlemagne, were such powerful figures that they overshadowed the Popes. While paying them deference, they used them for their purposes.

When, after Louis the Pious, the power of the Carolingians declined, for a time that of the Popes increased. This was partly because the Carolingians no longer dominated the Popes. It was also because the bishops in the Carolingian domains looked to Rome for protection against the archbishops. We have seen how the numbers and authority of the archbishops had been augmented as a phase of the Carolingian reforms. So long as the throne was in the hands of Charlemagne it was able to keep these functionaries in check. However, under the weaker rulers who followed, some of the archbishops seemed to the bishops to be overbearing and to be treating them as subordinate officials. Hincmar of Rheims, aggressive and masterful as he was, especially aroused opposition. The bishops called upon the Popes for protection against their metropolitans. Then, too, as the authority of the Carolingian monarchs declined, lay lords infringed upon what many of the clergy held to be the rights of the Church and the tendency was to look to Rome for support. It was at this time and from the domains of Charles the Bald, perhaps from Mainz or possibly from Rheims, that the Isidorian Decretals were assembled. Partly genuine and partly spurious, this collection of documents was designed to curb the power of the metropolitans and the lay nobility by stressing the position of the Papacy.

The Papal chair also had the advantage of being occupied by some very able men. The most eminent of these, Nicholas I, who was Pope from 858 to 867, we have already met in the conflict with the Byzantine wing of the Catholic Church, and have noted how vigorously he acted in that complex situation. In the West he was appealed to by several of the Carolingians in their conflicts with one another. Like Charlemagne, but in a different manner, he sought to realize in history what he conceived to have been set forth in Augustine's De Civitate Dei. He held that the Church was superior to all secular rulers, that the Pope is the ruler of the Church, and that the bishops are his subordinates through whom he carries out his divinely commissioned functions. Nor were these convictions empty theories. Appealed to by a bishop whom Hincmar, as Archbishop of Rheims, had deposed, he compelled the latter to restore him. In a notorious divorce case in which Lo-thair II, son of Lothair I and greatgrandson of Charlemagne, had obtained the consent of a synod in Metz to put away his wife, Thietberga, that he might marry a concubine, Nicholas forced Lothair to take back Thietberga and excommunicated two archbishops for siding with the king. He also made his will felt against an archbishop of Ravenna who claimed independence of the See of Peter.

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