Celia M. Chazelle

title.none: Freeman, ed., MGH: Opus Caroli Regis Contra Synodum (Chazelle)

identifier.other: baj9928.9912.004 99.12.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Celia M. Chazelle, The College of New Jersey, cmc@CS.Princeton.EDU

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Freeman, Ann, ed. Opus Caroli Regis Contra Synodum (Libri Carolini). Concilia, Tomus II, Supplementum I. Munich: Monumenta Germanica Historiae, 1998. Pp. x, 666. DEM 248. ISBN: 3-442-25326-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.12.04

Freeman, Ann, ed. Opus Caroli Regis Contra Synodum (Libri Carolini). Concilia, Tomus II, Supplementum I. Munich: Monumenta Germanica Historiae, 1998. Pp. x, 666. DEM 248. ISBN: 3-442-25326-2.

Reviewed by:

Celia M. Chazelle
The College of New Jersey

In the past several decades medieval historians and art historians have shown an increasing interest in the extant writings from those centuries that comment on the function and nature of Christian artistic images and the appropriateness of their worship. For the early medieval west, the two sets of documents most often the focal point in modern discussions of the historical development of these issues are the letters of Pope Gregory I to the iconoclastic bishop Serenus of Marseilles in 599-600 and the massive treatise from Charlemagne's court usually known by the title Libri Carolini, which presented the Frankish monarch's response to the Second Council of Nicea (787) that had restored iconodulism, the worship of images, in Byzantium. Gregory's brief remarks became the most frequently quoted sources on the theology of images in subsequent medieval Latin literature, whereas the lengthy Opus Caroli regis contra synodum, as Ann Freeman has more aptly named the Libri Carolini, had limited circulation even in the Carolingian era and thereafter sank into obscurity until the Reformation. And yet, as specialists in the history of the Frankish realm and empire have long recognized, the Opus Caroli regis is the single most impressive textual production of the early Carolingian court, a rich witness to the thinking within Charlemagne's scholarly entourage not only on Christian imagery but also on an astounding host of other issues that his advisors believed had to be addressed in order to refute the acts of Nicea II.

The treatise is written in Charlemagne's voice, and the theologian associated with his court who wrote on his behalf does not overtly identify himself. In the first half of the twentieth century, historians were divided in assigning authorship to Alcuin or to Theodulf of Orleans, with preference for the former. In 1957, however, Freeman published an article in the journal Speculum offering new evidence in favor of Theodulf's candidacy. Her findings were challenged by Luitpold Wallach, who maintained that Alcuin had written the initial draft, and over the next two decades the two scholars engaged in a vigorous debate through a series of articles on behalf of their respective candidates. In the course of their dispute it became clear to the larger scholarly community that Freeman's evidence was far stronger than Wallach's; as she demonstrated, orthographical peculiarities and liturgical sources, in particular, indisputably point to the Visigothic origins of the Opus' author, not to northern England where Alcuin was raised. Carolingian historians and art historians owe Freeman enormous gratitude for her tenacious defense of her position. Thanks to her meticulous investigations of this issue, no specialist in the period now seriously doubts that the Visigoth Theodulf wrote the treatise's first draft and that its language and argumentation, even after extensive revisions, largely reflect his thought.

Since the 1970's, the acceptance that Freeman's thesis has generally received and its location of the treatise at the intersection of Hispanic with Carolingian intellectual developments have had a liberating effect on research on its teachings. Freeman and other scholars have made considerable progress in assessing the significance of the Opus Caroli regis for understanding not only the evolution of Carolingian beliefs about artistic imagery and other issues the treatise directly discusses, but also the conditions of scholarly endeavor at Charlemagne's court, the composition of the court library, the circumstances of the council of Frankfurt (794) which officially condemned Nicea II and the "adoration" of images, the Frankish monarchy's relations with Byzantium, and relations among Alcuin, Theodulf, their monarch and their peers. In addition, art historians have advanced divergent theses concerning the Opus' influence on Carolingian art and, more specifically, its connection with Theodulf's own artistic patronage, as attested, for example, by the Ark of the Covenant mosaic he commissioned at St.-Germigny- des-Pres.

For the most part modern scholars have based these investigations on the critical edition of the treatise that Hubert Bastgen prepared for the Monumenta Germaniae Historica in 1924. While Bastgen's edition was a major improvement over earlier ones, it is far surpassed by the work Freeman has now offered us, an edition that will surely constitute as significant a catalyst to scholarly interest in the Opus Caroli regis as did her articles proving Theodulf's authorship. The advantages of this magnificent volume over Bastgen's edition are immediately apparent to any specialist who has worked on the Opus. The text Freeman provides is a quasi-facsimile of the surviving folios of Vatican lat. 7207, with its missing portions taken from the only complete, extant, Carolingian copy, Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, 663. The Vatican manuscript, the "working draft" produced under Theodulf's supervision and revised by him with the assistance of colleagues within the court circle, has numerous erasures and additions made during the revisions that are clearly indicated in the new edition; in the few places possible, with the help of U-V analysis, Freeman has recorded the pre-revision text in her apparatus (see p. 68). Direct borrowings from scripture and patristic authorities are noted in the margins, together with corresponding page numbers in Bastgen's edition and folio numbers in the Vatican and Arsenal manuscripts. Further source analysis and a few references to secondary literature appear in footnotes. Appendices discuss characteristics of the prose style, biblical passages borrowed from liturgical sources, with an emphasis on how these features support the treatise's ascription to Theodulf rather than Alcuin, and the relation between the classical pictorial motifs described in Book III Chapter 23 and extant Carolingian works of art.

Freeman's lengthy introduction, based on her earlier articles as well as the results of her more recent research, outlines the immediate historical background to the Opus and the circumstances of its composition (Section 1; more discussion of the eastern image controversy that precipitated its writing and of earlier western responses to Byzantine iconoclasm would have been welcome); the evidence for assigning it to Theodulf (Section 2); its arguments (as Freeman understands them) regarding the function and nature of artistic images (Section 3); the work's sources in patristic and secular classical literature (Section 5); and its transmission (Section 6). Section 4 of the introduction, with photographs of portions of the Vatican codex, is especially worthy of note. It presents the results of Freeman's painstaking examination of that manuscript and the evidence it offers concerning the process of the treatise's writing, revision, and formal reading to Charlemagne, whose comments were recorded in Tironian notes in the codex's margins (the notes are placed alongside corresponding lines in the new edition).

One point in the introduction where Freeman is less convincing than elsewhere is in her contention (pp. 7-10) that news of Pope Hadrian I's support for Nicea II, when it arrived at the Frankish court, caused a dramatic change in plans for the Opus' dissemination. As Freeman notes, the papal position was made clear in a letter from Hadrian responding to a preliminary list of chapter headings for the Opus that had been brought to Rome in 792. The pope's letter probably reached Charlemagne's entourage in the fall of 793, when preparation of the Opus was already well underway. According to Freeman, Hadrian's comments, which must have surprised the Carolingian scholars, led them to abandon earlier intentions to "publish" the treatise; Freeman does not fully clarify what she means by the term, "publication," though she seems to connect it with the subsequent lack of widespread copying and circulation of the Opus in Carolingian territories. (p. 8) Plans were supposedly altered, too, to make its teachings the first order of business at a synod to be held the next year. Hence the first capitulum of the Council of Frankfurt (794) instead attacks the Hispanic "heresy" of Adoptionism, another contemporary source of worry, while condemnation of Nicea II is relegated to the second chapter, which links the Byzantine assembly with the doctrine that images must be rendered the adoration owed the Trinity (p. 9); the same, erroneous interpretation of the Byzantine position is expressed in the Opus Caroli regis.

Yet if a change in agenda for the synod of 794 did take place, as Freeman maintains, other factors may have been involved, among them the new anxiety about Adoptionism. By 794, Charlemagne's court may well have considered this to be the more urgent of the two problems and one that thus had to be given priority, since, unlike Byzantine iconodulism, Adoptionist doctrine appeared to be spreading in Carolingian territory, namely the Spanish March. That responsibility for writing refutations of it fell to two churchmen senior to Theodulf within Charlemagne's scholarly circle, Paulinus of Aquileia and Alcuin, is possibly indicative of the greater concern it aroused. Furthermore, although Freeman argues that the capitulum against Nicea II was deliberately worded differently from the other decrees of the Frankfurt synod in order to lessen its impact and avoid offending the papal delegates at the assembly, the differences, particularly from the first capitulum against Adoptionism, are not as clear-cut as she maintains. The "allata est in medio [i.e. before the assembly] questio de nova Grecorum synodo" of the second decree is similar to the "exortum est de impia ac nefanda erese" introducing the first, a parallelism reinforced by the "his peractis" with which the third decree begins, referring back to both previous capitula. The first two decrees also resemble one another, and consequently differ from those that follow, in presenting decisions clearly attributed solely to the synod's "sanctissimi patres," not the king. This is understandable since in contrast to the problems addressed in subsequent chapters of the capitulary, Adoptionism and Byzantine iconodulism were regarded as heresies, and consequently issues rightly handled by churchmen alone. Finally, it is true, as Freeman stresses, that the Opus Caroli regis seems never to have widely circulated in the Carolingian period, but a similar situation exists for the anti-Adoptionist treatises, even though that doctrinal struggle had Roman approval. As other scholars have remarked, for example, two of Alcuin's anti-Adoptionist treatises are represented by only one extant copy each and a third by only two copies, while only a few additional, lost copies are recorded to have been made in the ninth century (compare this situation with the Opus' two surviving Carolingian manuscripts and fragment of a third). The paucity of copies of all these treatises suggests that Carolingian scholars never sought the wide dissemination of any of them, as in the case of the Opus Caroli regis may have seemed particularly impractical simply because of its length.

Two typographical errors in Freeman's introduction should be mentioned. One, which will cause only minor confusion, occurs on p. 42 line 4, where III 24 should read II 24 (referring to Book II Chapter 24 of the treatise). A more significant mistake is on p. 31, where Freeman quotes from II 30 (see p. 303 lines 26-29) to support her assertion that here the treatise upholds Gregory I's doctrine that images have a didactic value. Her quotation, though, omits the word "memoriam" found in the original text and in her edition: "oculis tantummodo faveant, per quos quasi per quosdam legatos gestarum rerum memoriam cordibus mandent." The statement has a clearly "Gregorian" flavor insofar as it compares the seeing of pictures with the act of reading, yet its point is that images prompt memory, a doctrine affirmed in other sections of the Opus, not that they teach. As Freeman correctly goes on to observe, the Opus Caroli regis (otherwise) avoids claiming any instructional role for images and stresses rather that this function belongs to the written word, especially scripture.

The introduction concludes with a generally excellent bibliography of scholarly literature on the Opus and related subjects, though there are several curious lacunae, some perhaps due to the length of time during which the edition was in preparation. No reference appears to Charles Barber's important essays on Greek theology of images, for instance, or to Lawrence Nees' book, A Tainted Mantle: Hercules and the Classical Tradition at the Carolingian Court, which offers one of the most recent examinations of Theodulf's thought. The two of my articles on western doctrines of images that are listed do not represent my latest publications on the topic, and mention should have been made of the important, recent work of J.-C. Schmitt, J.-M. Sansterre, and David Appleby.

These few criticisms should not be allowed to detract from the exceptional quality of the edition Freeman has provided us. The culmination to a scholarly career devoted to the Opus Caroli regis, it represents an outstanding contribution to the study of Carolingian thought that will hopefully serve as a model for future editions of other literature from the era, as well as an inspiration to further research on Theodulf's treatise and the many, fascinating issues relating to the period it can elucidate.