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Episcopal Liberty and the Council of Paris (556/73)

Episcopal Liberty and the Council of Paris (556/73)

Paper by Gregory I. Halfond, Framingham State University

Given at the 2011 Haskins Conference at Boston College

Halfond takes a look at the reign of Charibert I, the Merovigian ruler of the Kingdom of Paris from 561-567. Gregory of Tours’ account of Charibert was based on second-hand sources, but was very negative of his rule, complaining he was causing problems for church officials. Other sources are more positive towards his reign.

Therefore Halfond examines the Council of Paris, which have been traditionally dated between 556 and 573, and finds that they do not suggest an adversarial situation between the ecclesiastical officials and the royal government.

Halfond argues that the Council of Paris took place sometime between 561 and 564, soon after the division of the Merovingian kingdom into four kingdoms after death of Chlothar I in 561. The episcopal attendees had to deal with contentious affairs, such as the usurpation of church lands by secular lords. The first section threatens secular elites with excommunication, but not Frankish kings. The canons do not forbid kings to reassign church property, but wants to make sure that these lands are transferred legally. The canons are not critiquing Charibert’s own actions, but those who were taking advantage of the unstable situation in Gaul in previous years to illegally seize church lands. The bishops of Paris may have even been targeting other ecclesiastical officials who were getting lands from various Merovingian royals.

Merovingian kings were even taking a hand in appointing ecclesiastical officials – the council does not forbid this, but makes it known that local church community had to be at least consulted and acceptive of the new appointments.

The acts of the Council of Paris suggest that the church was being cooperative with Charibert. It would not be until the later years of his reign that relations broke down, partially because Charibert married a former nun. He was excommunicated shortly before his death in 567, the first Merovingian ruler to be punished by the church in this way.

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