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date: 07 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter notes the early dominance of kings and emperors within the narrative of ‘the Church’, and argues that rather than thinking of early Christianity as a ‘royal religion’, we can more helpfully analyse ‘Christian political discourses’, to understand better how religion operated within the complex politics of early medieval societies. In areas where the legacy of the Roman Empire was minimal, Christianity gave to early rulers and chieftains an idea of kingship, informed by a Roman language of command but simultaneously infused with Old Testament models suitable to tribal realities (issuing laws, rewarding obedience, punishing rebellion). However, where the Empire remained a living legacy, Christianity was not needed in this role, as imperial models of rule still pertained; in these regions, the Church was more keen to present itself as an institution that stands beside (but independent of) government. Over time this shifted, with greater interpenetration of the two realms; and with this growing closeness, elements of sacrality began to become available to kingship itself, and Carolingian kings in particular began to ‘reform’ the Church. However, this conjunction of empire and Church also meant that discourses of Christian behaviour could be used for political critique, as well as legitimation.

Keywords: Merovingians, Visigoths, Carolingians, Church and empire, political language

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