Charlemagne

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Charlemagne's Counsels to His Nobles

Hugh O’Reilly

The following speech of Charlemagne to his subjects has the strong tones of a solemn testament to all Christendom, even though it was delivered in March 802 and the Emperor did not die until 814. The speech, sometimes referred to as a sermon, was delivered to the assembly of nobles gathered in Aix-la-Chapelle or Aachen. I share with the readers of the TIA website this magnificent testimony of Catholicism made by the man who was one of the most expressive symbols of medieval Europe.

Here are Charlemagne’s counsels to his subjects, which, in varying proportions, can apply to each one of us:

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Charlemagne speaking to his Barons

“Hear me, my beloved brothers! We were sent here for your salvation, to exhort you to faithfully follow the Law of God and to convert you, in justice and mercy, to obey the laws of this world.

“First, I exhort you to believe in the One Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: the only true God, perfect Trinity, true Unity, Creator of all things visible and invisible, Who is our salvation and the Author of all good things. Believe in the Son of God made man for the salvation of the world, born of the Virgin Mary by the work of the Holy Ghost. Believe that for our salvation He suffered death; and that on the third day He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven where He is seated at the right hand of God. Believe that He will return to judge the living and dead, and that He will give to each one according to his works.

"Believe in one single Church, the society of the blessed through the entire universe, and know that only they can be saved, and that the Reign of God belongs only to those who persevere to the end in this [Catholic] Faith. Those who are excluded from the Church because of their sins and do not return to her through penance, can never make any action accepted by God. Be convinced that with Baptism you received absolution of your sins. Trust in the mercy of God, Who daily forgives our sins through confession and penance. Believe in the resurrection of the dead, in eternal life and in the never-ending torment of the impious.

“This is the Faith that will save you if you keep it faithfully, and add to it the practice of good works, because Faith without works is a dead faith; and works without Faith, even when they are good, cannot please God. Therefore, love Almighty God above all things with all your heart and strength. With the help with His grace, do everything, always and as much as possible, that you believe will please Him. But avoid everything that displeases Him, for the man who pretends to love God and does not observe His Commandments lies.

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Triumph of the Good over Evil - Charlemagne's Palace

“Love your neighbor as yourself, and give as many alms to the poor as you can, according to your means. Receive travelers in your houses, visit the poor, and show charity to the prisoners as much as you can. Do evil to no one, and make no compromise with those who do bad things, because it is bad to not only harm your neighbor, but also to be familiar with those who harm him.

“Mutually forgive offenses if you want God to forgive your sins. Rescue captives, help those who are unjustly oppressed, defend widows and orphans. Make judgments fairly; never favor any injustice, do not harbor long hatreds; avoid drunkenness and taking part in frivolous feasts.

“Be humble and good to one another; be faithful to your lords. Commit no robberies or perjuries, and avoid any acquaintance with those who commit them. Hatred, jealousie and violence separate us from the Kingdom of God. Reconcile with one another as soon as possible, for while it is human for men to sin, it is angelic to repent and diabolic to persevere in sin.

“Defend the Church of God and help her so that the priests of God can pray for us. Remember your promise in Baptism to renounce the Devil and his works. Do not return to him in anything; nor should you return to the works you have renounced, but rather follow the will of God as you have promised, and love the One who created you and gave you all the gifts and goods you possess.

“Each one should serve God faithfully in the place he finds himself. Wives should submit to their husbands in all goodness and modesty. They should avoid any dishonest action, and not poison others or be jealous, because those who do such actions are in revolt against God. They should raise their children in the fear of God, and give alms with a glad and joyous heart according to their means.

“Husbands should love their wives and speak no rude word to them; they should direct their homes with goodness and frequently gather in church. They should return to others what they owe them without murmuring, and with good will return to God what belongs to Him.

“Children should love and honor their parents; obey them in everything, and remain far from stealing, murdering and debaucheries.

“Clerics and canons should diligently obey the commands of their Bishops; they should live in their residences and not wander here and there among the people. Nor should they enter into secular questions. They should preserve their chastity: the reading of Holy Scriptures should remind them of their service to God and the Church.

“Monks should be faithful to the promises they made to God. They should not do anything against the will of their Abbots or seek any shameful personal benefit. They should know their rule by heart and follow it regularly, reminding themselves that it would be better not to have made any vow than to have made them and not be faithful to them.

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Visit of Charlemagne to Pope Adrian
“Dukes, counts and judges should be just with the people and merciful to the poor. They should never sell justice for money, and never allow a personal hatred to lead them to condemn an innocent man. They should always have these words of the Apostle in their hearts: ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that which he has done, whether it be good or bad.’ (2 Cor. 5:10) The Lord expressed this by the following words: ‘For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged’ (Matt 7:2); “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hidden, that shall not be known. (Luke 12:2) ‘That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment’ (Matt 12:36).

"We must make an effort, therefore, with the help of God, to please Him in all our actions so that after this present life, we will merit eternal happiness in the company of the Saints of the Lord. This life is short, and the hour of death is uncertain. What matters except to be ready? Let us not forget how terrible it is to fall into the hands of the Lord. By means of confession, penance and alms, we make the Lord become merciful and clement. If He sees us turn to Him with a sincere heart, He will show us pity and will have mercy on us.

“May God grant us prosperity in this life and an eternity with His Saints in the future life.

“God keep you, my beloved brothers!”
Posted June 21, 2008

Translated from Charles d’Hericault, Histoire Anecdotique de la France,
Paris: Bloud & Barral, vol. 1, pp 301-304



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