St. Karl the Great, Holy Roman Emperor
|1. Oath of Fidelity||2. The Virtue of St. Karl the Great|
|3. Devotion to Our Lady||4. Restorer of the House of God|
|5. Promoter of Christian Education||6. St. Karl and the Sacred Liturgy|
|7. Soldier for Christ||8. Defender of the Faith|
|9. Defender of the Vicar of Christ||10. Death of St. Karl the Great|
|Daily Novena Prayer to St. Karl the Great|
St. Karl der Grosse, or Saint Charlemagne, was born in 742 near Aachen, Germany. His pious parents gave him as a tutor Saint Ambrose Autperus, who is venerated in fact, though not in title, as one of the Doctors of the Church. When eleven years old Saint Karl the Great was anointed King by Pope Stephen II, and began his illustrious reign in 768 over the area which by 814 was to include Germany, France, Italy, the Low Countries, and part of Spain. Thereafter in 774, Saint Karl the Great went on pilgrimage to Rome, spending seven days in conference with Pope Adrian I. It was undoubtedly at this time that he formed so many of the designs which he later so zealously implemented for the glory of God and the exaltation of Holy Church.
Illustrative of the union of Church and State in the Holy Roman Empire is the oath of loyalty given to Saint Karl the Great by his subjects. Only a paragraph in itself, it was accompanied by forty long chapters on the meaning of the oath. This oath meant not only fidelity and loyalty to the Emperor, but actually involved the whole conduct of man's personal life. The foremost provision was that everyone should voluntarily strive, according to his intelligence and strength, to keep himself entirely in the holy service of God. Following this injunction came a list of orders designed to protect the Emperor's property and rights and also this command: "No one shall dare to plunder or harm the holy churches of God, or widows, orphans or foreigners; for the Emperor himself -- after God and His Saints -- has been appointed their protector and defender." Very much stressed in this oath of allegiance are charity and justice to the poor, widows, and orphans. Church leaders and religious superiors were obliged to adhere to Canon Law and to lead their subjects on the path of true sanctity through the example of their own good works. Abbots must conform in all respects to the Rule and be obedient to their Bishops. Monks were not to go outside the Monastery unless compelled by great necessity, and were to avoid all desire of worldly gain, for avarice and concupiscence are to be avoided by all Christians in the world, but chiefly by those who have renounced the world. The secular clergy were exhorted to be chaste in heart and body, humble, sober, modest, merciful and peaceful. Judges were to judge justly according to the written law and not by their own judgment.
Saint Karl the Great very strongly forbade the revenge of murder. While murderers were to carry out the penances imposed upon them by the Bishops, as well as to make a recompense to the relatives of the victim, the relatives were required to forgive the murderer.
Saint Karl the Great, noble King and glorious Saint, we come to thee humbly begging thy intercession and assistance in these disastrous times when Church and State are at enmity. Beg the mighty Queen and Patroness of our Land, Mary Immaculate, to obtain the triumph and reign of the Church and true Catholic government for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. We pray that one day the State may again exist to aid Holy Mother Church in the salvation and sanctification of its citizens. Amen.
Throughout his reign Saint Karl the Great incessantly exhorted his subjects to virtue. He proclaimed: "The poor, widows, orphans, and pilgrims shall have consolation and protection, so that we, through their good will, may merit the rewards of eternal life rather than punishment. No one shall refuse shelter and fire and water to pilgrims going through the land in God's service, or to anyone traveling for the love of God and the salvation of his soul. If anyone shall wish to do a further kindness to them, he shall know that his best reward will be from God, Who said Himself: 'And whosoever shall receive one such little child in My name, receiveth Me.' And again: 'I was a stranger, and you took Me in'."
But especially in his last years he devoted himself to writing sermons to the people and the clergy: "Be humble and kind to one another... Envy, hatred, and violence keep men from the kingdom of God. Remember that the Apostle says we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ... Life is short and the hour of death is uncertain; it is wise to be prepared. Remember that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God. Confess your sins, show penitence, give alms and the Lord will be merciful."
He was most devout in relieving the poor with alms, for he gave it his attention, not only in his own country and in his own kingdom, but he also used to send money across the sea to Syria, to Egypt, to Africa, to Jerusalem, to Alexandria and Carthage in compassion for the poverty of any Christians whose miserable condition in those countries came to his ears. It was for this reason chiefly that he cultivated the friendship of kings beyond the sea, hoping thereby to win for the Christians living beneath their sway some succor and relief.
O glorious Saint Karl the Great, chosen vessel of the highest virtues, thou didst show thyself to be a true child of the Gospel, giving refreshment through thy just laws to Jesus Christ in the person of thy subjects. Intercede for us before the throne of the King of kings, that we may ever remember the shortness of time, the length of eternity, and the vanity of seeking human favor. Pray that we may grow in the priceless virtues which will endear us to the heart of God B a humility which will urge us to place ourselves at the service of all, an uncompromising obedience to the voice of Holy Church, and an all-embracing charity for each of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.
As an essential element in sanctity is devotion to the holy Mother of God, we can gather from the numerous shrines and monuments which Blessed Karl the Great left in Her honor, that this great king had placed himself and his dominions under the patronage of this glorious Queen of Heaven.
True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, by Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, mentions a near ancestor of Saint Karl the Great as being one of the earliest slaves of Mary: "This practice which I am teaching is not new... It is certain that for more than 700 years we find traces of it in the Church... [The pious King (Saint) Dagobert II consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin as Her slave in the seventh century]."
Elsewhere in True Devotion, Saint Louis Marie recounts that Louis the Pious, the youngest son of Saint Karl the Great, convoked the Council of Sens, which declared the necessity of renewing the vows of Baptism.
Saint Karl the Great so loved Our Blessed Mother that he consecrated all of the German Kingdoms and the entire Empire to Her as Queen and declared that a Marienplatz -- or square -- should be established in the center of every German city and town, with a statue of Our Lady as Queen atop a pillar in the middle of the square. This foremost devotee of Our Lady decreed that Her statue in the center of each square be sculpted depicting Our Lady crowned as Queen and holding the scepter of Her royalty and sovereignty over all the German peoples. On the left arm Our Lady holds the Christ-Child, King of the Universe, Who Himself holds the orb of the German Empire surmounted by the Cross.
The Chapel Saint Karl the Great built at Aachen was commonly known as the "Lady Chapel" and bears the privileges of possessing, among other relics, the cloak of Our Blessed Lady. When dying, the Holy Emperor expressed the wish that an image of Our Lady as Queen should be placed over his tomb.
Perhaps the relationship of the pious Emperor with the Immaculate Queen of Heaven can best be expressed in the motto of the Holy Roman Empire, engraved in the Cathedral at Aachen: "Whatever good things have been shown forth by the pious King, are more the most holy Virgin's honor and glory, who rewards all things."
Sweet Mother of Jesus and my Mother, how glorious was the Age of Faith! How strong was Holy Church to wean the hearts of her children from earthly glory to a Heavenly Kingdom! Alas B how dark, how desolate and hopeless seem our times! When will return the glorious ages of Faith, dear Mother? When shall the Church once more crown her emperors and kings? When shall Jesus and His Truth reign supreme in the hearts of all mankind? Through the intercession of Thy faithful son, Saint Karl the Great, may all mankind proclaim Thee as Queen. Oh, Jesus! that Thy reign may come, let the Reign of Mary come B at least, dear Lord, in my heart!
Saint Karl the Great built the great and most beautiful chapel in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Aachen, and decorated it with gold and silver and candelabra and with wicket-gates and doors of solid brass. And, since he could not procure marble columns elsewhere for the building of it, he had them brought from Rome and Ravenna.
He also endowed many monasteries and churches. After Saint Karl the Great's decisive victory over the Saracens at the close of the Eighth Century, peace and security returned to Gaul. Then it was that, commanded by the Emperor, the clergy and people began to restore and rebuild the holy places destroyed and desecrated by the invaders.
According to a most ancient and uninterrupted tradition, the body of Saint Anne was carried to Gaul by the same vessel which carried Lazarus and his sisters there. During the first century of the Christian era, these friends of Our Lord were banished from Palestine because of their Faith. From their hands Saint Anne's precious remains were taken for safekeeping to the city of Apta Julia -- the city of Apt, France of our own time. In those stormy days of persecution it was necessary to hide the relics of the martyrs and saints. Consequently, the body of Saint Anne was buried in an underground church or crypt. The martyrology of Apt, one of the most ancient in existence, mentions this fact.
The first Bishop of Apta Julia, Saint Auspicius, who died before 118, took further precautions to guard this holy deposit from desecration and had the body buried still deeper in the subterranean chapel. All approach to it was carefully concealed till persecution and invasions should have ceased. For centuries the country was repeatedly overrun by hordes of infidels, and it was only natural that during these agitated years, the precious spot where Saint Auspicius had carefully hidden his treasure became lost in obscurity. When the restoration of the Cathedral of Apt was begun, priests and bishops began to seek for the exact spot where the relics of Saint Anne were hidden. Saint Karl the Great's first care on his arrival at Apt was to have the Cathedral re-consecrated. This took place at the Easter solemnities amid much rejoicing, but there was one sadness -- every effort to find the remains of Saint Anne had proved fruitless. However, a miracle led to the discovery of her resting place. John, a lad of fourteen, son of Baron Casanova, born deaf, dumb, and blind, was present with his parents. He was seemingly carried away with some overpowering emotion during the solemn ceremonies. Presently he moved to the high altar, struck the steps leading up to it with his staff and made the signs that they should dig there. His persistence caused considerable disturbance among the clergy. Saint Karl the Great, however, was deeply impressed and commanded the excavation desired by the boy should be made. A crypt was discovered reminding one of the catacombs. The blind boy rushed forward, leading the way through this underground church. John made signs that they should search further. A lower crypt came in view at the end of a long narrow corridor before which a burning lamp in front of a walled recess flooded the place with unearthly splendor. No sooner had the king and his cortege entered than the lamp went out. At that very moment the boy could see, speak and hear! "The body of Saint Anne, Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, is in yonder recess," were his first words.
The walled recess was thrown open, a sweet fragrance like that of oriental balm filled the air, and a casket of cypress wood was discovered, containing the body of Saint Anne, wrapped round and round with folds of precious cloth. On the casket was the inscription: "Here lies the body of Blessed Anne, Mother of the Virgin Mary."
Saint Karl the Great, with all those present, venerated the sacred deposit thus brought to light. Afterwards he had an exact narrative of the discovery drawn up by one of his notaries, and a copy sent to the Pope with the royal letter. This letter and the Pope's answer are still extant.
Beyond all other sacred and venerable places Saint Karl the Great loved the Church of the holy Apostle Peter at Rome, and he poured into its treasury great wealth in silver and gold and precious stones. He sent innumerable gifts to the Pope; and during the whole course of his reign he strove with all his might to restore to the city of Rome her ancient authority, and not merely to defend the Church of Saint Peter, but to decorate and enrich it out of his resources above all other churches.
O glorious Saint Karl the Great, whose piety didst urge thee to endow with such great generosity so many cathedrals and basilicas, obtain for us, the members of the remnant Catholic Church, a great love for the House of God and an overwhelming realization of the privilege of having Almighty God on our altars in these days of universal apostasy, when the rest of the world has Him not. Inspire in the hearts of the Catholic faithful such great generosity as will make them put the things of God before their own concerns, and count no sacrifice too great in erecting fitting dwellings to the glory of our Eucharistic God. Amen.
In order to understand the magnitude of Saint Karl the Great's achievements in Christian education, it is necessary to know something of the world into which he was born. Though the Benedictine monks had preserved the works of the great Latin and Greek writers, the disorders that had resulted from the invasions of the Moors, the Saracens, and the Slavic tribes, the Arianism of the Visigoths and the settling of the Nordic tribes interfered sadly with the spread of learning. The extreme of the universal decay was such that even the bishops were scarcely literate. The Scriptural and liturgical texts in use, though rare, were replete with scribal errors, a corruption resultant from the fact that all books had to be produced by hand.
In the Admonitio Generalis, the famous decree of Saint Karl the Great on reform of Church policy issued in 789, the needs of the Church are summarized in 82 articles, covering theological, disciplinary, liturgical and educational topics. It was the great ignorance of the clergy which necessitated such reforms, and he set himself to remedy this fundamental evil. In his circular letter of 787, Saint Karl the Great states: "The study of letters is an essential part of the religious life. Good works are better than knowledge, but without knowledge good works are impossible." He further comments that he has noticed with pain in the letters addressed to him by the Religious, that laudable sentiments are too often obscured by uncouth language, and the fear arises in his mind lest if the skill to write correctly were thus lacking, so too, the power of rightly comprehending the Scriptures might be less than it should be.
Saint Karl the Great's own court school was resplendent with learned and saintly men, from all over Europe, and these he sent to establish monastic schools throughout the land to train the clergy. It was Saint Karl the Great's desire that even the poorest of his subjects should have the opportunity to receive a Christian education, and this desire was realized within fifteen years when priests headed free schools in every village. As a result of the zeal of the Emperor in training missionaries to convert the still pagan tribes, by the time of his death, almost all of Europe was Catholic. The educational influence of the Carolingian revival continued, down to the thirteenth century, laying a solid foundation of the Holy Roman Empire, which was to culminate therefore in that most glorious age of the Church's history.
As far as the practical duties of administrating his kingdom would permit, Saint Karl the Great attended classes in the Palace Academy, as did many members of the Court. He gave so much attention to the study of foreign languages that he never needed an interpreter when receiving ambassadors of any nation. He knew Latin so perfectly that he was accustomed to pray spontaneously in that language or his own. Saint Karl the Great set an outstanding example to men of greater leisure than himself. A day or two before his death he was engaged in correcting the text of the Vulgate, with the help of Greek and Syrian scholars. Theology was the chief study of the advanced students of the academy.
O holy Karl the Great, eminent promoter of Christian learning, thou didst show thyself a true father to thy people by thy ceaseless efforts to awaken in their hearts a knowledge of Catholic doctrine, despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles which impede the progress of this great spiritual work of mercy. Intercede for us before the Throne of Him, Who is the Source of all true knowledge, that we may be inflamed with such intense love for our holy Catholic Faith as to be willing to shed every drop of our blood rather than to allow even one of her holy teachings to ever be compromised. Beg the Spirit of Under-standing to inflame the hearts of the faithful with a great love and zeal for Christian education, to enlighten the hearts of our clergy, that they may ever be worthy ministers of the Word of God, and of our teachers, that they might be docile instruments in imparting to the souls entrusted to them the true knowledge which is the science of the saints. Amen.
In Saint Karl the Great's official decrees, he constantly enjoins prayers and invites his people to join with contemplation in the Church's worship. When the Emperor's court was at Aachen it was always his custom to attend the Church services both in the morning and evening, and even during the night to chant the Divine Office, besides daily attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Saint Karl the Great had a special love for Church music and appreciated the reasons why Holy Mother Church attaches so much importance to music in her worship. The beautiful hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus, is attributed to Saint Karl the Great. He took a great and particular care to constantly warn the porters not to allow anything improper to be brought into, or to remain in the Church. He provided the Church with a great number of sacred vessels of gold and silver and with such a quantity of priestly vestments that not even those who were of the lowest ecclesiastical order had ever to officiate in ordinary vesture. He carefully reformed the manner of reading and chanting, for he was thoroughly instructed in both.
Saint Karl the Great worked to unify the Catholic liturgy throughout his vast empire. The keynote of his legislation was conformity with Rome. The most serious obstacle was the Gallican Rite, so lacking in unity and diverse in custom.
The Emperor therefore secured from Rome a Gregorian Sacramentary and, as it was very incomplete, engaged Blessed Alcuin to greatly supplement it from the Gallican and Gelasian Liturgies. This missal was the greatest and most lasting of Saint Karl the Great's liturgical reforms. It brought unity in the liturgy of the whole Latin Church as Rome adopted it, to the exclusion of other missals, and it is parent of the Missale Romanum of our own day.
Saint Karl the Great sent Canons from Aachen to study chant in Rome, and obtained from the Pope cantors from the Papal Schola, who thereafter set up schools to teach liturgical rubrics and plain-chant, and to reproduce correct liturgical books. It is to the efforts of these monks that we owe the precious manuscripts without which a return to the original chant would be impossible.
Saint Karl the Great's love for the Divine Office was such that he desired to pray it even when duties of state called him to far corners of the Empire. This made the transportation of the huge books then used to chant the Office in common practically impossible. So he directed Blessed Alcuin to make a complete but portable Office book -- the first Breviary.
O most Blessed Saint Karl the Great, fired with a heavenly zeal to maintain the purity of the rubrics and the liturgy of Holy Church, and ever sensitive to the decorum befitting the courtiers in the divine Palace of the King of kings, intercede with the Divine Sovereign in Whose Heavenly Court thou art now numbered, in order that with each passing year we may grow in our love for the liturgy, the living prayer of our Holy Mother Church.
>O thou, who didst always place the Divine Worship above all other concerns, and didst never allow the manifold duties of thy exalted office to interfere with the affairs of the spirit, inspire in the hearts of all the remnant Catholic faithful such a reverential awe for the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar that they would never, without grave necessity, absent themselves from daily assistance at Mass, and at all liturgical functions. Amen.
In the space of forty-six years, Saint Karl the Great undertook fifty-three military expeditions. He vanquished the pagan rebellious tribes that they might be chained with the sweet yoke of Christ. He knew well that the blessing of Christ came with peace, not strife. And so he led his armed host not to war, but to avoid battle if possible. He did have to fight against the Lombards to aid the Pope. Two of the Knights who died fighting against the Lombards in 773, the Church honors as martyrs: Saint Amicus and Saint Amelius. Even in Spain and Avarland, he contrived to avoid ordinary warfare. Pope Callistus II, in his Life of Saint Karl the Great, Emperor, relates that Saint James appeared to Saint Karl the Great during this campaign against the Saracens. His contemporary biographer, Einhard, mentions that his remarkable marches toward subjection were virtually "bloodless."
Of all the tribes with which he had to contend, the Saxons were the most formidable. Saint Karl the Great waged eighteen expeditions against them; each time first securing that public processions, fasts and special Masses be offered for the success of the campaign. He developed a regular policy of deporting rebellious Saxons from the forests to such places as the Rhine Valley, having them take up agriculture and providing these settlements with missionaries, churches, and schools. After one rebellion, Saint Karl the Great in one day ordered the deportation of 4,500 Saxon rebellion ring-leaders to the marshes on the frontiers. The text of this account was later miscopied and the word "delocare" -- to deport, in later texts read "decollare" -- to execute, and thus we have the origin of some of the myths put forth by secular, Protestant, and Freemasonic "historians" to slander the name of this great Saint, and accuse him of injustice and cruelty.
Saint Karl the Great faced the monumental task of subduing the Saxons with a great faith in God; and Divine Providence accomplished what human endeavor could not. Wittekind, the Duke of Saxons, had spearheaded the revolts and yet ever eluded capture. As an ancient chronicle relates: "Whilst Wittekind was still a pagan, and waging an obstinate war against Saint Karl the Great, Emperor of the Franks, he was curious to know what was passing in the camp of the Christian soldiers. For that purpose he disguised himself as a pilgrim. It was just at the time of the festival of Easter, when the whole Frankish army was engaged in receiving the Paschal Communion. He entered the camp without being recognized, and admired the ceremonies of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and assisted thereat with an attention and pious curiosity not to be expected from a pagan. What surprised him most was to see in the Host at the Consecration, and also in each Host distributed to the soldiers at the time of Communion, a Child of wondrous beauty, all radiant with light. This Child seemed to enter with extreme joy the mouths of some, while He struggled not to enter that of others. At the same time Wittekind experienced a great interior joy which he never felt before. He knew not what all this meant. After the Divine Service he placed himself among the beggars and asked an alms of the Emperor as he passed. At the same moment an officer, recognizing the Duke, whispered to the Emperor, "Your Majesty, this pilgrim is the Duke of the Saxons."
Whereupon the Emperor, ordering the Duke to go with him, asked, "Why is it that you come among us in the disguise of a pilgrim?" Wittekind humbly asked pardon and excused himself, saying that he did not come as a spy, but from a desire to know something of the Divine Service of the Christians. "What, then, did you see?" asked the Emperor. Saint Karl the Great was perfectly amazed at the goodness of Our Lord who appeared to this pagan in the Host under the guise of the Divine Infant, and said to Him, "You have received from God a favor which He never granted to many of the saints." He then instructed Wittekind in our holy Catholic religion and induced him to embrace it, as also did all his subjects, all of which happened in the year 804.
For the conversion of Wittekind, so formidable an enemy, Pope Hadrian ordered a special Triduum of Thanksgiving B three days of prayer B the first in history. Wittekind became a great champion of the Christian religion and the Church commemorates his feast on January 7. His tomb at Paderborn speaks of the miracles wrought by his intercession.
O most valiant Saint Karl the Great, whose great desire for the salvation of souls led thee to victoriously attempt the conquest and conversion of the pagan nations, pray for us members of the Church Militant! With what perseverance didst thou sustain the battle to win over the Saxons. May we, whose goal, as apostles of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, is to save poor sinners from Hell by our prayers and sacrifices, be animated by a spark of the zeal for souls that burned in thy magnanimous heart, and learn from thy example to persevere in the face of all contradictions, temptations and trials. Amen.
Saint Karl the Great was always ready to defend the Church with his pen when his sword was not employed. In the confrontation of the Adoptionist heresy, he took the keenest interest. This heresy originated with Elipand and Felix and the Spanish Monarch, who dialogued and contested with the cool rationality and enlightened skepticism of the Moslems. Theirs was an attempt paralleled by Modernists of our own day to rationalize the supernatural. The logic of their position had them reject one of the fundamental mysteries of Christianity: "The Virgin Birth." They objected that this mystery was unreasonable, holding that Christ possessed a human form that was the Son of God in name only, or only "adopted."
Saint Karl the Great summoned the Council of Frankfurt in 794, and addressed the opening session with fluency and eloquence, defending the dogma of Our Lady's perpetual virginity and the true doctrine of the Incarnation. Pope Adrian confirmed the Council's decrees infallibly. Saint Karl the Great then wrote with his own hand for the benefit of the Spanish Bishops a statement of the true doctrine touching the Incarnation: "This is the Catholic Faith, since Catholic, therefore ours; we hope that it is yours also: That there is one Faith and one Baptism and one Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, two natures in one Person, the Mediator between God and man... Correct yourselves and hasten with a pure faith to join the unity of the Church. Whence do you imagine -- you who are so few -- that you have discovered something more true than that which is held by the Universal Church in all the world?"
Saint Karl the Great enlisted the services of missionaries like Saint Sturmius of Fulda and Saint Benedict of Aniane, who reported as early as 800, the conversion of 20,000 clerics and laymen.
As the result of the vigilant action of Saint Karl the Great, Adoptionism was quickly and completely suppressed.
The word "Filioque" which denotes the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son was added to the Nicene Creed at the suggestion of Saint Karl the Great.
Most devoted son of the Church of Christ, Saint Karl the Great, thy great love for the purity of Catholic doctrine was the motivating force in thy ceaseless struggle for the eradication of all heresy within the realm entrusted to thee by God.
In this age of universal darkness, when error parades as truth and millions are the victims of apostasy, intercede for all true remnant Catholics that they may never compromise in the least with error, and that they may be willing to defend the precious doctrines and traditions of Holy Church, if need be, with their very lives. Amen.
Saint Karl the Great had inherited from his father the title of Patricius Romanus, which carried with it a special obligation to protect the temporal rights of the Holy See. Immediately after his election, Pope Saint Leo III sent Saint Karl the Great the flag of Rome and the keys to the tomb of Saint Peter in recognition of the rights of the German King.
By the fourth year of his reign, the Pope, who had curtailed certain privileges of the corrupt Roman clergy, had bitter enemies. Their leaders were nephews of the former Pope. The Curia included others of the same family and were moved by a like spirit of disappointed ambition. It was but one of the first instances of a "papal family" playing a decisive role in the politics of Rome. The one hope of the party lay in the election of a pope attached to them by the same interests. With this in view they were determined to remove the saintly Pontiff at all costs. First, they circulated charges of gross immorality, and tried to pressure the Pope to abdicate, but he remained firm.
On the feast of Saint Mark, the Pope was chanting the Greater Litanies in the solemn procession. As he neared the Church of Saint Lawrence, the conspiring nephews as well as other members of their party ambushed the Holy Father. The unarmed people in the procession scattered and the Pope was stripped of his robes and beaten so badly as to be more dead than alive. The conspirators stabbed at his eyes and cut his tongue so as to permanently disable him for public office. He was taken as an unconscious prisoner to a monastery, where he miraculously regained his sight and speech. The Pope escaped in the night by means of having a rope lowered out of a window, and fled to Saint Peter's for sanctuary. A Duke, who was a faithful vassal of Saint Karl the Great, rushed to Rome with troops and carried Pope Leo to safety at Paderborn, where Saint Karl was encamped.
Saint Karl the Great received the Pope with all possible honor, and, after two months, provided him with a royal bodyguard to insure his safe return to Rome from Germany. At the news of Saint Karl the Great's intervention, the conspirators surrendered with the leaders of the conspiracy. The Pope's enemies thereupon charged him with great crimes. Saint Karl the Great then came in person to Rome with troops to restore the Pope to his rights and dignity.
While this conduct of Saint Karl the Great was simply in keeping with his office of Patrician, he was yet to receive a greater office. On Christmas Day, 800 A.D., after Holy Mass, Pope Saint Leo III solemnly crowned Saint Karl the Great Emperor. In a moment the whole Church thundered with the ancient formula of acclamation: "To Karl Augustus, crowned of God, the great and pacific Emperor, long life and victory!" Led by the Pope, the congregation united in the litany called Laudes, in which the saints were invoked on behalf of the new Emperor, his children and his subjects.
Saint Karl the Great found and pondered in Saint Augustine's City of God the description of the perfect Emperor, who holds power as something God has given and will, in His good time take away; who, not elated by flattery or the pride of pre-eminence, remembers that he is mortal and looks forward to that other Empire in which he will find many equals; who uses all his power for the advancement of God's glory and worship; who thinks it is a greater thing to rule his own desires than to be master of many peoples.
This restoration of the Western Empire saw the Pope and the Emperor enter into a still more intimate relationship. In confirmation of the close alliance between Church and State, the Emperor acknowledged that his authority over his subjects came from God through the Church. At the same time the Pope gave the Emperor authority over the City of Rome and the Papal States. The Emperor was also given the right to be present at the Papal elections. In latter years, amid the corruption of Italian politics, the Holy Roman Emperors from Germany continued to fill a providential role in securing the election of good and holy Popes, and protecting the Papacy.
O Saint Karl the Great, invincible defender of the freedom of Holy Church, and devoted son of the Vicar of Christ, look down from the heights of the heavenly Fatherland on the remnant Church in an age which sees no visible Head in the Chair of Peter. Intercede for our Most Reverend Bishop, who, in the design of Providence, has received the awesome responsibility of safeguarding the Divine Truths entrusted to Peter and his successors, and thus helping to carry on the Catholic Faith. As thou didst once fly to the assistance of the Sovereign Pontiff, so now we beseech thee to protect from Heaven our beloved spiritual father and all of our priests from all the attacks of all their enemies, visible and invisible. Beg the hearts of Jesus and Mary to sustain them in their labor for the salvation of souls, that when the night falls when no man can work, they may receive the reward of good and faithful servants in the vineyards of the Master. Amen.
In his seventy-second year, the Emperor came down with a severe fever which developed into pleurisy. After having received the last Sacraments, this noble Saint peacefully departed this life at nine in the morning of the 28th of January, 814. He was buried that same day with great solemnity in a chapel vault in the very Cathedral he had built to honor the Mother of God, amidst the universal sorrow of his subjects.
Saint Karl the Great's tomb was opened in the year 1000 by the Emperor Otto III, accompanied by two bishops and a Count Otto von Lomello, who wrote the following account:
"We entered in unto Karl. He was not lying down, as is the manner with the bodies of other dead men, but sat on a throne chair as if he lived. He was crowned with a gold crown and held a scepter in his hands, which were covered with gloves. Over him was a canopy of marble and gold, exquisitely set together through which we made our opening. And when we entered in we perceived a vehement savor. So we did homage forthwith to him on bended knee and straightaway Otto the Emperor clad him with white raiment. No sign of decay appeared in the body...and walling up the vault, we departed."
Saint Karl the Great was raised to the honors of the Altar in the twelfth century, with a proper Mass and office. His cult was confirmed by Pope Benedict XIV. King Louis XI was instrumental in having the Bishops of France raise his Feast to a holy day of obligation in the fifteenth century.
Perhaps something of the greatness of this dear Saint can be deduced by the extreme hatred of anti-Catholic historians of the last century. Rarely has anyone been so slandered, has history been so distorted.
To appreciate in some way this Saint's power of intercession one should consider that over fifty of his direct descendants have been canonized, including Saint Cunegunda, Saint Henry of Germany, Saint Louis IX, King of France, Saint Edward the Confessor, King of England, Saint Margaret, Queen of Scotland, Saint Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal, Saint Casimir of Poland, and Saint Aloysius Gonzaga.
Over twenty-five of the Bishops, Counts, and Religious who were directly associated with Saint Karl the Great in establishing the Holy Roman Empire have also been raised to the honor of the Altar. But so successful have the secular, Freemasonic, and other anti-Catholic historians been in depriving us of our Catholic heritage, that few, if any, of their names are familiar to Americans. Saint William, Count of Toulouse and Saint Gerold, Count of Bavaria, helped lead the war against the Saracens. Saint Adelhard of Corbie helped bring about monastic reform. Saint Ansegisus acted as the Emperor's Chancellor. Saint Chrodegang, Bishop of Metz was instrumental in liturgical reform. Saint Aglibert, a palace scholar, was in charge of public works like the building of the Aachen Cathedral.
Those who by honors, dignities, riches or talents were raised by God in the world above the level of their fellow creatures have a great stewardship, and a most rigorous account to give at the Throne of Divine Justice, their very example having a most powerful influence over others. This Saint Fulgentius observed, writing to Theodorus, a pious Roman Senator. "Though," said he, "Christ died for all men, yet the perfect conversation of the great ones of the world brings acquisitions to the Kingdom of Christ. And they who are placed in high stations must necessarily be to many an occasion of eternal perdition or salvation. And as they cannot go alone, so either a high degree of glory or an extraordinary punishment will be their everlasting portion."
O God, Who in the superabounding plenitude of Thy goodness, hast exalted the Blessed Karl the Great, Emperor and Thy Confessor, after having laid aside the veil of the flesh, to the glory of a blissful immortality, mercifully grant that as Thou didst raise him to the praise and glory of Thy name to imperial honor upon earth, so by Thy grace we may be found worthy ever to enjoy his pious and propitious intercession in Heaven, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
All hail faithful and beloved servant of God, Saint Karl, Apostle of Christ, Defender of His Church, Lover of justice, Guardian of the laws of morality, and Terror of them that hate the Christian name! The hand of the Vicar of Christ purified the diadem of the Caesars, and put it on thy venerable head. The imperial scepter and globe are in thy hands. The sword of the victories won for God is girt on thy side. The Supreme Pontiff has anointed thee King and Emperor. Bearing thus in thyself the figure of Christ in His temporal Kingship, thou didst so use thy power as that He reigned in and by thee. And now He recompenses thee for the love thou hadst for Him, for the zeal thou hadst for His glory, and for the respect thou didst ever evince to the Church, His Spouse. He has changed thy earthly and perishable royalty into that which is eternal, and in this heavenly kingdom thou art surrounded by those countless souls, whom thou didst convert from idolatry to the service of the one true God.
We are celebrating the Birth of the Son of that Virgin-Mother, in whose honor thou didst build the glorious Church, which still excites the admiration of all nations. It was in that sacred edifice that thou didst place the Swathing-clothes wherewith she clad her Divine Babe, and it is here, too, that our Emmanuel would have thine own Relics enshrined, so to receive the honor they deserve. O admirable imitator of the faith of the three Eastern Kings! present us to Him, who deigned to be clothed in these humble garments. Ask Him to give us a share of thy humility, which made thee love to kneel near His Crib -- of thy devotion for the Feasts of the Church -- of thy zeal for the glory of His Divine Majesty -- and of the courage and earnestness wherewith thou didst labor to spread His Kingdom on earth.
Oh! pray for the Catholic Empire, which was once so happy under thy paternal rule, and is now divided against itself. The Empire, which the Church confided to thy care, has now fallen, in just punishment for its treachery to the Church that gave it existence. The nations of that fallen Empire are now restless and unhappy. The Church alone can satisfy their wants, for She alone can give them faith; She alone has not changed the principles of justice; She alone can control power, and teach subjects obedience. Oh! pray that nations, both people and their governments, may return to what can alone give them liberty and security, and cease to seek those blessings by revolution and discord. Protect Germany, that fairest gem of thy crown, protect her with an especial love, and show her that thou art ever her King and her Father. Finally, O Saint Karl the Great! ask our God that He arrest the progress of Russia, the Empire of schism and tyranny, and never permit that we become a prey to its intrigue and ambition. (Published in 1904.)
O God, Who in the superabundant riches of Thy mercy, didst clothe the Blessed Emperor Karl the Great, after he had laid aside the garb of the flesh, with the robe of immortal life; grant, we beseech Thee, that he whom Thou didst raise up on earth to the imperial dignity, that so he might spread the true Faith, may lovingly intercede for us in Heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. (Collect from the Mass of Saint Karl the Great.)
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