Theodulf of Orléans

Theodulf of Orléans
(c. 760-820/821)
   Court scholar, abbot, and bishop, Theodulf of Orléans was a leading figure in the Carolingian Renaissance during the reign of Charlemagne. Theodulf was perhaps the finest poet and most gifted theologian among Charlemagne's court scholars. He was also the primary author of the Libri Carolini (Caroline Books), a missus dominicus (emissary) for the king, and a dedicated preacher. During his term in office as bishop of Orléans, he sought to implement the reforms spelled out in Charlemagne's Admonitio Generalis.
   Theodulf was born in Spain to Visigothic parents in circa 760 and entered Charlemagne's service after the great ruler's extension of his territory into Spain. He became a devoted supporter of the king and his religious and educational reforms. He benefited from his service, being made abbot of two important monasteries and, some time before 798, bishop of Orléans by Charlemagne. Theodulf partook fully in the reform program of Charlemagne, both as bishop and royal agent.
   As missus dominicus to southern France in 798, Theodulf performed in exemplary fashion, judging cases of law and executing the royal will. He also learned firsthand of the corruption that such officials perpetrated when he was offered gifts by the litigants whose cases he was to arbitrate. Although he did not accept these gifts, Theodulf recognized that others did and worked to eliminate such abuses of power. In similar fashion, as bishop of Orléans he sought to reform ecclesiastical life and discipline, issuing a number of edicts designed to improve religious life in his diocese. He also established schools to educate young boys in his diocese. In the 790s he was called on to write the Carolingian response to the Second Council of Nicaea (787), at which the veneration of icons forbidden under the iconoclastic emperors was restored, and he accordingly prepared the Libri Carolini, which contained the Carolingian denunciation of the veneration of icons and a sophisticated philosophy of art. Although authorship was traditionally given to Alcuin, it is now recognized that Theodulf was the author, but with some role held by Alcuin in the production. Theodulf was also probably present at Charlemagne's coronation as emperor on Christmas Day, 800. His service to the Carolingian dynasty continued during the reign of Charlemagne's successor, Louis the Pious. But in 817 Theodulf was implicated in a rebellion against the emperor, although there is little evidence to confirm or deny any role. Louis deposed Theodulf from his office of bishop and exiled him to Angers, where he died in 820 or 821.
   Theodulf was, above all, a theologian and poet of great skill. Along with the Libri Carolini Theodulf produced treatises, at Charlemagne's invitation, on baptism and the Holy Spirit. He also produced a new edition of the Bible. Even more celebrated than his theological works is his poetry. Theodulf was the finest and most original poet of all the court scholars of Charlemagne's age. His poetry was characterized by elegant Latin and abundant references to classical literature, especially Ovid (43 b.c.-a.d. 17), and his poem Ad Carolum regem (To Charles the King) is a charming and often satirical portrait of Charlemagne and his scholars. His religious poetry was often pessimistic, however, reflecting on the poor mores of those around him. He revealed his deep appreciation of art in his poetry, an appreciation that is also reflected in the manuscripts illuminated at his scriptorium and in the beautiful mosaics decorating the church he had built at St. Germigny-des-Prés.
   See also
 ♦ Dutton, Paul Edward, ed. Carolingian Civilization: A Reader. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 1993.
 ♦ Freeman, Ann. "Theodulf of Orléans and the Libri Carolini." Speculum 32 (1957): 664-705.
 ♦ Laistner, Max L. W. Thought and Letters in Western Europe, a.d. 500 to 900. 2d ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976.
 ♦ McKitterick, Rosamond. The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987. London: Longman, 1983.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. Trans. Michael Idomir Allen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
 ♦ Theodulf of Orleans. The Poetry of Theodulf of Orleans: A Translation and Critical Study. Ed. and trans. Nikolai A. Alexandro. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1970.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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