Academic journal article The Hymn

Theodulf: Theologian at Charlemagne's Court, Poet, and Bishop of Orleans

Academic journal article The Hymn

Theodulf: Theologian at Charlemagne's Court, Poet, and Bishop of Orleans

Article excerpt

Theodulf of Orleans was a key figure in Western Christendom in the late eighth and early ninth centuries. His poetry is valuable to historians for the way it illuminates the lives of Charles the Great (Charlemagne, 742-814), his son Louis the Pious (778-840), and otiier key figures of the era. His lasting influence in the church is heard yearly in performances of his Palm Sunday hymn, "Gloria laus et honor." Much has been written in the last fifty years about his tlieological works, and his name is peppered throughout biographies on Charlemagne, yet he was not memorialized by a biography in his time, and modern biographies of Theodulf are few and brief. What follows is an attempt to examine his life and his Palm Sunday hymn in a more complete and thorough form than what is currently available.

Theodulf's Visigoth Origins

Little is known about Theodulf's early life, but various statements in his written works point to an upbringing and theological education in nortiiern Spain. His poem "De libris quos legere solebam" ("About the books that I was accustomed to read")1 offers a list of significant historic authors such as Augustine, Chrysostom, Virgil, and Ovid, and these same authors are quoted in his works in many places, clearly demonstrating access to higher education, especially Christian theological training. This same text singles out the venerable Spaniard Prudentius as a patriarch: "Diversoque potens prudenter promere plura metro, o Prudenti, noster et ipse parens" ("And with distinct meter, wisely able to bring out more things, O Prudentius, one of us and the father himself'). Manuscripts surviving from the period exhibit Latin grammar and spelling consistent with nuances found in nortiiern Spain, plus literary influences from Spanish liturgy.2 One of his earliest poems says, "Nee me praesulibus doctorem praefero Sanctis, . . . cum sim levitide turba pars" ("I do not offer myself as a teacher before the holy bishops, . . . with the multitude of deacons may I be a part"), and it lists duties befitting a deacon.3 Theodulf must have been ordained in that capacity before becoming involved with the Frankish court.

Theodulf's place of origin is sometimes given as Zaragoza, Spain. This theory is supported by a statement of Theodulf's concerning Charlemagne: "Annuit is mihi qui sum inmensis casibus exul" ("He showed favor to me, an exile from immeasurable calamities").4 Most of Spain had been under Muslim rule since 71 1 , yet certain areas of Spain were able to maintain their Visigothic Christian heritage, especially in the north. In 778, Charlemagne had attempted to assist die Muslims of Zaragoza in taking control of the city from their emir, but he failed. The subsequent series of uprisings in die region led to a large exodus of Spanish Christians into Narbonne between 778 and 782. 5 If Theodulf had lived in or near Zaragoza, then he probably fled to Narbonne with his countrymen, thus lending credence to his statement about being an exile. Zaragoza also housed an extensive library and would have been an ideal place for Theodulf to obtain his literary knowledge.6

As compelling as this evidence might be, one historian has insisted the Zaragoza exile scenario "has no foundation" and finds it more likely that Theodulf was indeed Gothic but had lived in Septimania, a portion of the former Visigotliic kingdom that had been conquered by Pepin the Short (Charlemagne's father), which included Narbonne.7 Further support for Theodulf's early presence in Narbonne comes from a poem tliat describes a diplomatic journey he took in 798:

Mox sedes, Narbona, tuas urbemque decoram

Tangimus, occurrit quo mihi laeta cohors,

Reliquiae Getici populi, simul Héspera turba

Me consanguineo fit duce laeta sibi.8

(Soon we reach your residence, Narbonne, and

your beautiful city,

where a joyful crowd ran to meet me,

the remnants of the Gothic people, likewise a

Spanish crowd

happy that a leader to them, myself, is made from

the same blood. …

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