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Caroline Books (Libri Carolini)

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A work in four books (120 or 121 chapters), purporting to be the composition of Charlemagne, and written about 790-92. It is a very severe critique of the Seventh General Council, held at Nicaea in 787, particularly as regards its acts and decrees in the matter of sacred images. In fact, it is a grave theological treatise in which both the Iconoclastic council of 754 and its opponent, the aforesaid Second Nicene of 787, are brought before the bar of Frankish criticism and judged equally erroneous, the former for excluding all images from the churches as sheer idolatry, the latter for advocating an absolute adoration of images. Though launched under the royal name, the theological, philosophical, and philological learning displayed far surpass the known powers of Charlemagne. The author may be Alcuin ; possibly one or more of the Spanish or Irish theologians who were then residing at the Frankish court. The work had its origin in a very faulty (see Anastasius Bibliothecarius in Mansi, Coll. Conc. XII, 981) Latin version of the Greek acts of the Seventh General Council (Second Nicene) which the negligence of the Roman copyists disfigured still more; in one crucial text, e.g., the negative particle was omitted, and in another the council was made to assert that the images were to be adored as the Trinity itself, whereas the genuine Greek text is quite orthodox. This version was severely criticized by an assembly of Frankish theologians at which Charlemagne assisted. Some (85) obnoxious passages were gathered therefrom and brought to Pope Adrian I by Abbot Angilbert for correction. This document is lost, but its content may be gathered from the moderate and prudent reply (794) of Adrian (PL 1247-92; cf. Nam absit a nobis ut ipsas imagines, sicut quidam garriunt, deificemus, etc.). Dissatisfied with this defence of the council (not reputed oecumenical by the king's theologians ) Charlemagne caused the preparation (790-92) of the large work in question, known since then as "Quattuor Libri Carolini".

In further explanation of this remarkable step, it has been noted that Charlemagne was at this time much irritated against the Greek Empress Irene, partly for the failure of the marriage projected between her son and his daughter Rotrudis, partly for the protection and help she was affording to Adelchis, the son of the dethroned King of Lombardy, to which may be added a certain jealousy of any authority over his Frankish subjects by a Greek council in which they had taken no part. Some believe that he was even then contemplating the assumption of the imperial title, and was therefore only too willing to discredit Greek authority wherever possible. The work was first printed at Paris in 1549 by the priest Jean du Tillet (Tilius), later Bishop of Saint Brieuc and then of Meaux, but anonymously and without indication of the place where he found the manuscript (Tilius was suspected of a leaning to Calvinism ). While the Centuriators of Magdeburg at once made use of it as an evidence of Catholic corruption of the true doctrine concerning images, some Catholic apologists asserted that it was only an heretical work sent by Charlemagne to Rome for condemnation, others that it was a forgery of Carlstad (the manuscript of Tilius was, after all, a very recent one; Floss, De suspecta librorum Carolinorum a Joanne Tilio editorum fide, Bonn, 1860). They overlooked the fact that Augustinus Steuchus (1469-1549) librarian of the Vatican, writing in defence of the Donation of Constantine, had already quoted a passage from the "Libri Carolini" (I, 6) which he declared he had found in a Vatican manuscript written in an ancient Lombard hand; it had disappeared, however, by 1759, according to a letter of Cardinal Passionei to the learned Abbot Frobenius Förster, then meditating a new edition of the work (see preface no. 10 to his edition of the Opera Alcuini. Floss (op. cit.) maintained the thesis of a forgery, but the genuinity of the work can no longer be questioned since the discovery (1866) by Reifferscheid of a tenth century (imperfect) manuscript in the Vatican Archives (Narratio de Vaticano Libror. Carol. codice, Breslau, 1873). Moreover, the work is evidenced as extant in the latter half of the ninth century by Hincmar of Reims (Adv. Hincmar. Laud., c. 20). Its genuinity was long since admitted by Catholic scholars like Sirmond and Natalis Alexander VIII, (Saec. VIII, Diss. VI, 6). The work was reprinted by the imperialist editor Michael Goldast (Imperialia decreta de cultu imaginum, Frankfort, 1608, p. 67, sqq., and Collect. Constitut. imper., I. 23) whence it was taken by others, e.g. Migne (P. L., XCVIII, 989-1248), though the latter had at his disposition the better edition of G. A. Heumann, Augusta Concilii Nicaeni II Censura, i.e. Caroli M. de impio imaginum cultu libri IV (Hanover, 1731). Some excerpts from it are reprinted in Jaffé, Bibl. Rer. Germanic. VI, 220-42.

The authors of the "Libri Carolini" admit that images may be used as ecclesiastical ornaments, for purposes of instruction, and in memory of past events; it is foolish, however, to burn incense before them and to use lights, though it is quite wrong to cast them out of the churches and destroy them. The writers are scandalized chiefly by the Latin term adoratio , taking it wrongly to mean absolute adoration, whereas the original Greek word, Proskynesis, means no more than reverence in a prostrate attitude. So they insist that God alone is to be adored ( adorandus et colendus ). The saints are to be venerated, only in a suitable manner ( opportuna veneratio ). Ecclesiastical tradition, they insist, holds of reverential honour, to the Cross of Christ, the Holy Scripture , the sacred vessels, and the relics of the saints. They blame the excessive reverence shown by the Greeks to their emperors, criticize unfavourably the elevation of Tarasius to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and find fault (not always unreasonably) with the Scriptural and patristic exegesis of the Greeks. On the other hand, they ignorantly confound the sayings and doings of this orthodox council with those of the Iconoclastic conciliabulum of 754, frequently misrepresent the facts, and in general exhibit a strong anti-Greek bias. In explanation of their attitude the following words of Cardinal Hergenröther (Kircheng., ed. Kirsch, 1904, II, 132) seem appropriate:

Apart from the [unrecognized] errors of the translation, the acts and decrees of the Seventh General Council offended in various ways the customs and opinions of the Teutonic world where heathenism, but lately vanquished, was still potent in folklife and manners. The rude semi-heathen Teuton might easily misunderstand in an idolatrous sense the honours awarded to images, as yet few in number owing to the uncultivated taste of the people. While, therefore, images were tolerated, they were not yet encouraged and held but a subordinate place. The Greeks had always reverenced highly, not alone the person of the Emperors, but also their portraits and statues, and in this respect incense and prostrations (Gr. Proskynesis, Lat. adoratio ) were immemorial usages. It seemed to them, therefore, that they could not otherwise pay due reverence to the images of the Saviour and the saints. It was otherwise with the Germans, unaccustomed to prostrate themselves or to bend the knee before their kings. Such acts seemed fitted to express that adoration (latreia) which was due to God alone; when exhibited to others they were frequently a source of scandal. In the Teutonic mind, moreover, the freer ecclesiastical life of the West already shone by contrast with the extravagance of Oriental emperor-worship.

As stated above, Pope Hadrian I, in a letter addressed to Charlemagne, answered lengthily the eighty-five Capitula submitted to him. He reminded the king that twelve of his bishops had taken part in a Roman Synod (previous to the Second Nicene Council) and had approved the "cultus" of images; he refuted a number of the arguments and objections brought forward, and asserted the identity of his teaching with that of the highly-respected Pope Gregory the Great concerning images. He also defended in a dignified way the Second Nicene Synod, not yet finally acknowledged by him, calling attention at the same time to his own just grievances against the Greeks who still retained the churches and estates that the Iconoclast Leo III (717-41) had violently withdrawn from Roman jurisdiction. This letter of Pope Adrian (d. 795) may not have been known to the bishops and abbots of the synod which met at Frankfort in 794 and on the above-described erroneous supposition rejected (can. 2) the Second Nicene Council. Charlemagne sent the acts of this synod to Rome, with a demand for the condemnation of Irene and Constantine VI, but seems gradually to have yielded to the mild and prudent firmness of Adrian for whom he professed at all times the most sincere admiration and friendship. A last echo of the theological conflict crystallized in the "Libri Carolini" is heard at the Paris Synod of 825, which, no wiser than its predecessor as to the erroneous version of the acts in question, sought in vain to obtain from Pope Eugene II an abandonment of the position taken by Adrian I. Despite the increasing favour of the "cultus" of images among their people, the Frankish bishops continued their opposition to the Second Nicene Council; the latter, however, eventually gained recognition especially after a new and somewhat more accurate version of its acts and decrees was made by Anastasius Bibliothecarius under John VIII (872-82). In the meantime the Frankish writer Walafrid Strabo had summarized and popularized the true ecclesiastical doctrine in his excellent "Liber de exordiis et incrementis rerum ecclesiasticarum", written about 840 (ed. Knöpfler, Munich, 1890). See ICONOCLASM ; IMAGES; FRANKFORT, COUNCIL OF; DUNGAL OF ST. DENYS; JONAS OF ORLEANS.

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