Sometime in the 860s, Archbishop Hincmar of Reims (845-882) and King Charles the Bald (840-877), while meeting at Senlis, engaged in a discussion of charitable works. Apparently their conversation centered on the special duty kings had to perform charitable deeds and suggested a precedent, the letter Pope Gregory I (590-604) wrote to King Reccared (586-601) in which, among other topics, Gregory instructed the king on the vices he should avoid and the virtues he should cultivate. Charles asked Hincmar to send him a copy of Gregory's letter. Never one to miss an opportunity to instruct his monarch, Hincmar sent Charles a copy of Gregory's letter (five pages in Doris Nachtmann's edition) to which he appended his own 162-page treatise on the topic.
Nachtmann's meticulous introduction to (pp. 1-99) and edition of Hincmar's De cavendis vitiis et virtutibus exercendis is a welcome companion to several modern MGH editions of the great Frankish prelate's works (De ordine palatii ; Collectio de ecclesiis et capellis ; De divortio Lotharii regis et Theutbergae reginae ; and Die Streitschriften Hinkmars von Reims und Hinkmar von Laon 869-871 ) for several reasons. As Nachtmann points out, Hincmar's reputation and influence, weighty enough during his life, did not extend much beyond the ninth century. Only two works, Vita Remigii and De cavendis vitiis et virtutibus exercendis, were read throughout the Middle Ages. While much of Hincmar's voluminous output disappeared from view, scribes from the eleventh to the fifteenth century continued to copy De cavendis vitiis et virtutibus exercendis, leaving a total of 32 extant manuscripts and references to seven lost copies Nachtmann was able to discover.
Although Charles's copy has not survived, what is even better, Hincmar's working copy has, in Oxford, Bodleian Library, e. Mus. 157 (olim Mus. 224). The text in this manuscript, which Nachtmann used as the principal witness for her edition and from which all other witnesses descend, was copied on inferior parchment by scribes and correctors who worked on other Hincmarian texts at Reims during Hincmar's lifetime. Its additions especially, some inscribed in margins, others on inserted leaves, others on an entirely reworked quire, suggest that this copy served as the archetype for Charles's presentation copy. The Oxford manuscript, usually dated to the late ninth century, joins other Carolingian manuscripts that record valuable traces of the compositional history of their texts. Nachtmann's attention to paleographical and codicological evidence affords a fascinating peek into Hincmar's atelier. More significantly the Oxford manuscript enabled her to establish a text as close as possible to that intended by the author. For more than 350 years the only text available has been Jacques Sirmond's 1645 edition, based on a single twelfth-century manuscript (reprinted in Migne's Patrologia Latina [vol. 125: 857-930]).
Hincmar's response to Charles's request consists of four parts: Hincmar's dedication letter to the king; Gregory's letter to Reccared; Hincmar's treatise on the vices and virtues; and, a closing exhortation to Charles. The dedication letter immediately establishes the theme for Hincmar's text. In a series of comparisons ("Nam sunt quidam.... Sunt etiam.... Et sunt.... Et sunt...." [101-102]), undoubtedly inspired by a rhetorical strategy of Gregory the Great, Hincmar's principal source, Hincmar pointed to those who read the word of God, but who did not interiorize it, who wanted to avoid vice and sin, but who could not. Thus, he compiled his handbook for Charles, a kind of "medical book" (108) for the soul, as he explained it, that would alert the king to what he ought to shun and to what he ought to do and lead others to do. Charles needed especially to watch out for "fawning flatterers" ("Adolatores enim blandi sunt inimici. . . ." [110.23-24]) and to follow the testimony of his own conscience rather than what others said (112.7-14), except, one presumes, what Hincmar had to say.
Ninety per cent of what Hincmar had to say derived ultimately from Gregory the Great's Moralia in Iob and his homilies on the Gospels. He also drew from the Bible, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Prosper of Aquitaine, Fulgentius of Ruspe, Leo I, Boethius, Bede, Cassiodorus, Theodulf of Orleans, and Florus of Lyon. Hincmar even cited himself, including a "periurium-Dossier" he used in the case of Lothar II's divorce and again at the 871 Council of Douzy. Nachtmann printed Hincmar's borrowings in italics, italics that dominate page after page of the edition and might lead the unsuspecting to conclude that Hincmar was singularly unoriginal. If the words were someone else's, their choice and juxtaposition was Hincmar's. Hincmar, along with many other Carolingian authors, wrote, as Nachtmann put it, mosaikartig (15). The pieces may have been supplied, but the overall composition was the archbishop's. Although he followed closely Gregory's description of the seven principal vices, he departed significantly from his source when it came to accounting for their origin. For Gregory, pride ( superbia) was the root of all evil. For Hincmar, following Paul, greed (avaritia) propelled the vices (132 ff.).
Hincmar had already mentioned the "inmoderati amatores divitiarum" (103.14) in the dedication letter to Charles. Was his emphasis on pernicious greed simply generic moralizing? Hincmar studiously avoided contemporary examples or even allusions, although plenty probably came to mind as he composed his treatise. His long concluding section emphasized the eucharist as a means of reconciliation between sinful humans and God, but gave no hint of ninth-century eucharistic debates. Perhaps he even wished to avoid conjuring memories of the images debate when he changed Paul's description of avaritia (Col. 3: 5) from "simulacrorum servitus" to the more specific "idolorum servitus" (132.6). The level of abstraction Hincmar achieved no doubt helps to account for the six-century long run his work enjoyed. But Hincmar was concerned about the social implications of sin and more than once pointed out to Charles how vice affects not only the individual, but society as a whole. The remedies for sin, repentance, confession, the cultivation of virtue, and the celebration of the eucharist cured the soul and transformed Christian society. In this context, Hincmar's privileging of greed over pride may have been a pointed reflection on his own times. For the major players in Carolingian history, members of the dynasty and the warrior aristocracy, the third quarter of the ninth century was still a boom time and opportunities for enrichment, especially in an age of intense political conflict and rivalry, abounded. Greed may have made pride seem pallid as Hincmar reflected on what he might say to Charles.
And Charles just may have heard Hincmar's message that the authentic Christian life joined works of charity to contemplation. The Annals of St-Bertin report that in August, 869, at Senlis the king and Ermentrude, his queen, distributed alms to holy places from their personal treasure.