Friday, March 14, 2014

Charlemagne's Capitulary of 802 (Theonomy Applied)

Charlemagne (742-814), or "Charles the Great," ruled as King of the Franks from 771-814 and Roman Emperor from 800-814. 

In 802, he issued a capitulary (or ordinances) that 

is in reality the foundation charter of the Holy Roman Empire which began its existence at Rome on Christmas Day, 800. It was a declaration of political ideals never to be realised, just as the ideal of the empire itself was never to be fulfilled, but it contained many points of importance that found a place in subsequent mediaeval legislation ...[1]
Biblically speaking, this capitulary has deficiencies; for example, one section does not impose the death penalty for murder. Some crimes require penance, which may assume a false, works-righteousness view of eternal salvation; it all depends on what was meant by the word during this time period. 

This law code definitely has some positive aspects: it opposes such grievous sins as witchcraft, godlessness, murder, adultery, incest, oppressing the poor, and judicial corruption. 

Moreover, it draws attention to two important things not typically seen in law codes: that criminals cannot flee God even if they escape man, and the importance of removing evil from a society. Criminals must be reminded that even if they escape human rulers, they cannot escape the Supreme Judge, the Great God Almighty. And purging evil from society is important, as evil leavens society and can invite God's wrath on the entire nation. 

Included below are some interesting excerpts from this law code. 

 Charlemagne's Capitulary of 802

25. That counts and centenars shall see to it that justice is done in full; and they shall have younger men in their service in whom they can securely trust, who will faithfully observe law and justice, and by no means oppress the poor; who will not, under any pretext, induced by reward or flattery, dare to conceal thieves, robbers, or murderers, adulterers, magicians and wizards or witches, or any godless men,but will rather give them up that they may be bettered and chastised by the law: so that, God permitting, all these evils may be removed from the Christian people.

26. That judges shall judge justly, according to the written law and not according to their own judgment.

27. We decree that throughout our whole realm no one shall dare to deny hospitality to the rich, or to the poor, or to pilgrims: that is, no one shall refuse shelter and fire and water to pilgrims going through the land in God's service, or to any one travelling for the love of God and the safety of his soul. If any one shall wish to do further kindness to them, he shall know that his best reward will be from God, who said Himself: " And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me." And again: " I was a stranger and ye took me in."

29. That our judges, counts, or envoys shall not have a right to extort payment of the remitted fine, on their own behalf, from those destitute persons to whom the emperor has, in his mercy, forgiven what they ought to pay by reason of his bann.

32. With every kind of protestation we command that men leave off and shun murders, through which many of the Christian people perish. If God forbids hatred and enmity to his followers, much more does he forbid murders. For how can any one hope to be pleasing to God who has slain His son who is nearest to Him? Or how can any one believe that Christ will be gracious to him who has slain his brother. It is a great and inevitable risk to arouse the hatred of men besides incurring that of God the Father and of Christ the ruler of Heaven. By hiding, one can escape them for a time; but, nevertheless, one falls by some chance into the hands of his enemies. And where can one flee God to whom all secrets are manifest? by what rashness can any one hope to evade His wrath? Therefore we have taken care to avoid, by every possible regulation, that the people committed to us to be ruled over perish by this evil. For he who has not feared that God will be angry with him, will by no means find us gentle and gracious; we wish rather to punish with the greatest severity him who dares to commit the crime of murder. 

Lest, then, crime increase, and in order that very great discord may not arise among men,wherever under the devil's suasion, a murder has occurred, the guilty one shall straightway hasten to make his amends, and shall, with all celerity, compound worthily with the relatives of the dead man for the evil done. And this we firmly decree under our bann, that the relatives of the dead man shall by no means dare to carry further their enmity on account of the evil inflicted, or refuse to make peace with him who seeks it; but, pledging their faith, they shall make a lasting peace, and the guilty man shall make no delay in paying the wergeld. When, moreover, through the influence of sin, this shall have happened, that any one shall have slain his brothers or his relative, he shall straightway submit himself to the penance imposed, according as his bishop decides, and without any circumvention. But by the help of God he shall strive to work out his atonement; and he shall pay the fine for the slain man according to the law, and shall fully be reconciled to his relatives. And, having pledged their faith, let no one thenceforth dare to start hostilities. And whoever shall scorn to make proper amends shall be deprived of his inheritance until we shall have rendered our judgment.

33. We altogether prohibit the crime of incest. If any one be contaminated by sinful adultery, he shall not be released without grave severity, but shall so be punished for this that others may have fear of doing the same: so that uncleanness may be altogether removed from the Christian people, and that the guilty man may fully atone by such penance as shall be imposed on him by his bishop. And that woman shall be placed in the hands of her relatives until we pass sentence. But if the man be unwilling to submit to the sentence of the bishop concerning what amends he shall make, then let him be brought before our presence, mindful of the example which was made in the case of the incest committed by Fricco in the temple.

34. That all shall be fully and well prepared whenever our order or announcement shall come. If any one then say that he be not prepared, and avoid our mandate, let him be brought to the palace; and not only he, but likewise all who presume to transgress our bann or command. 

36. Also that, in carrying out every sentence, all shall be altogether of one mind with our envoys. And they shall not at all permit the practice of perjury, which most evil crime must be removed from Christian people. If any one henceforth shall be proved a perjurer, he shall know that he shall lose his right hand; and he shall, in addition be deprived of his inheritance until we have judged his case.

37. As to patricides or fratricides, or those who have slain their mother's or their father's brother, or any relation,if they have been unwilling to obey and agree to the sentence of the bishops and other priests: for the safety of their souls and that they may pay a just penalty, let our envoys and counts keep them in such custody until they are brought into our presence, that they may be safe and may not infect other people. And they shall, in the meantime, be deprived of their property.

38. And let the like be done to those who have been reprimanded and corrected for unlawful and incestuous unions, and who art not willing to obey their bishops and priests, and who presume to despise our bann.

40. Lastly, then, we wish our decrees to be known, through the envoys whom we now send, by everyone in our whole realmby ecclesiastics, viz.: bishops, abbots, priests, deacons, canons, all monks and nuns;so that they, each one in his office or calling, may keep our bann and decree either in cases where it shall be necessary to thank those subject to them for their good will, or to lend them aid, or in cases where there may be need of applying a remedy. Likewise we wish our decrees to be known by laymen and in all placeswhether they concern the protection of churches or widows, or orphans or the weak; or the plundering of them; or the fixing of the assembling of the army, or any other matters: in order that they may be obedient to our command to our will, and that each one may strive in all things to keep himself in the sacred service of God. And thus may all these things be good and to the praise of omnipotent God, and may we give thanks where they are due; but when we think that any thing needs vengeance, may we strive with all our will and all our zeal to better it,so that, with God's aid, we may succeed in bettering it, to the eternal gain of ourselves and all our followers. Likewise we wish that all the above decrees be made known to our counts and centenars and officials.[2]


[1] Henry Smith Williams, ed., The Historians' History of the World: Volume XV: Germanic Empires (Concluded) (New York: The Outlook Company, 1904), 566. 
[2] Ernest F. Henderson, ed., trans., Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages (London: George Bell and Sons, 1903), 197-201. 

Note about the Theonomy Applied Series: In discussing any particular law, we do not necessarily endorse every aspect of that law as biblical, whether it be the prohibition, sanction, court procedure, etc. Rather, we are merely showing the more or less attempt to apply biblical law in history, whether or not that application was fully biblical. Moreover, in quoting any particular law, we do not necessarily consider those who passed and/or enforced such a law as being fully orthodox in their Christian theology. Professing Christian rulers in history have ranged in their theology from being orthodox (that is, Reformed Protestants) to heretical (for example, Roman Catholics).   

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