25 December 2011

Christmas and the Franks

You may wonder why I've titled this post "Christmas and the Franks."  You may also wonder...who exactly are the Franks?  They have only a slight tie to American church history, but the Franks are important to church history as a whole.  The Franks were a Germanic tribe that in the early Middle Ages controlled much of western and central Europe.

Why is Christmas important to the Franks?  There are a couple of reasons.  First, in 496, the Frankish king Clovis "converted" to Christianity with about 3,000 of his closest friends (i.e. soldiers).  The conversion is quite iffy, but nonetheless a version of Christianity began to spread.

The second reason that Christmas was important to the Franks occurred in 800.  On this date Charles I of France/Charles I of Germany/Charles I of the Holy Roman Empire received the imperial crown from Pope Leo III.  This officially started the Holy Roman Empire, which Voltaire famously quipped was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.  There is historical debate as to whether Charlemagne actually knew that this was going to happen when he went to church that day.  This action was significant in European history, because it established the precedent of the pope offering the imperial crown as if it was the papacy's right to grant it.  This precedent of the pope as over secular rulers lasted for much of the medieval period, and the Roman see continued to assert this prerogative in English affairs up until Henry VIII's break with Rome in the 1530s.

This last point was important in the Protestant Reformation, which was quite important in the quest for America due to the rivalry between Catholic nations and Protestant nations.  England as a Protestant nation gained control of much of North America, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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