Christianity’s Need for a King

In various periods of time, Christianity has prospered most while being supported by strong a ruler.  Over time, Christian rulers have played important roles in the Church by providing protection, giving gifts, financial support and setting disputes concerning offices.

Examples where the Church has benefit from the support of a strong ruler include the rule of Constantine, Clovis, Henry III and more.  Under the rule of Constantine, the Roman Empire legalized the practice of Christianity as a religion and would lead it to become the official state religion of Rome.  Under the support of King Clovis, the Franks transitioned from various conflicting beliefs including paganism to uniting and adopting Christianity as their main religion.  Without the support of strong rulers, the Christian church would face problems of persecution, decentralization, disputes over offices and more.

Another example of a strong supporting Christian ruler is Charlemagne.  In Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne it is written that “the reason that he [Charlemagne] zealously strove to make friends with the kings beyond the seas was that he might get help and relief to the Christians living under their rule”(Einhard).  This passage reveals that due to Charlemagne’s devotion to Christianity and his strength as the Frankish King, Christians received protection and relief in other lands they would otherwise not receive.  With this support, Christianity was able to expand and existing Christians were allowed to worship freely.  Einhard also writes that

“he sent great and countless gifts to the popes, and throughout his whole reign the wish that he had nearest at heart was to re-establish the ancient authority of the city of Rome under his care and by his influence, and to defend and protect the Church of St. Peter, and to beautify and enrich it out of his own store above all other churches” (Einhard).

Charlemagne’s generosity towards the Christians granted the Church an abundance of wealth and treasure as well as prestige.  In addition being as successful ruler, Charlemagne sets an example for future kings to rule.  Clearly, Charlemagne demonstrates how the Christian Church prospers with the support of a successful ruler.

In the High Middle Ages we see the continuing benefit of active supporting rulers.  Privilege of Philip Augustus in Favor of the Students at Paris states that, “if it shall happen that anyone strikes a student, expect in self-defense, especially if he strikes the student with a club or a stone, all laymen who see [the act] shall in good faith seize the malefactor or malefactors and deliver them to our judge” (Cultural Expansions, 33).  This statement demonstrates how supporting rulers provide protection for Christian institutions even centuries after Charlemagne’s rule.  University Charters write that “both kings and popes granted the universities additional privileges.  Kings supported universities because they increased the prosperity of the cities they were located in, enhanced royal prestige, and improved the supply of clerics with legal and administrative skills need in government”(Cultural Expansions, 33).  While rulers were able to provide protection and financial relief, they also benefit from supporting Christianity.  This mutual prosperity gives evidence to suggest that there is a need for powerful rulers to play active supporting role in Christianity.

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4 Comments

Filed under Early Middle Ages

4 responses to “Christianity’s Need for a King

  1. I agree that Christianity was propelled forward when supported by kings and emperors. King Charlemagne is a great example, especially how he displayed his support to Christianity by donating to the Church and the poor Christians who were living in poverty (Einhard). By doing so, I feel that he also acted as a role model for the Christians residing under his rule at the time. He (as well as the other rulers such as Constantine, Clovis, and Henry III) set an example for how others should act, like being charitable and mild (Einhard).

  2. There are lots of good examples in here about the ways in which rulers have supported the growth of Christianity in the Latin West. At the end, you claim that “there is a need for powerful rulers to play an active supporting role in Christianity.” This is a big claim– do rulers NEED to support Christianity in order for it to “prosper”? Does any religion need political support to succeed? These are large and interesting quetions. What do others think?

  3. henry514

    As the author points out, many rulers supported the church during the High Middle Ages. However, I don’t think that the church needed the support by that time. The churches can already sustain themselves economically; the supports are only icing on a cake. On the other hand, the rulers can’t really “not support” the religion. What would people say if the king doesn’t believe in God? What would they say if the king is a strong believer? The latter would definitely be more positive. Also, kings need to consider precedents set by previous rulers. A king can’t overrule what the previous kings did because they value tradition. Lastly, the rulers must have grown up in a Christian society and undergone Christian education. Unless they grew up in an anti-Christian environment, there is no way for them to become non-supportive.

  4. I agree that Christianity has definitely benefited from Political Christian leaders such as Charlemagne and do see some truth in your closing remark, “there is a need for powerful rulers to play active supporting role in Christianity” (ALCHEN12). However I question whether or not the “powerful ruler” needs to necessarily be a King, or if a strong Pope would work as well. A strong Pope is always going to inherently Catholic and therefore in my opinion would make a more successful ruler over the Christians then would a King. It would seem Kings are Christian out of tradition and to keep the support of their mostly Christian followers. Do you think there would be any power to the King if he were no longer Christian? I do not, and think that this raises some interesting issues.

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