Agobard of Lyons, St.

Agobard of Lyons, St.
   Carolingian bishop and religious leader. Agobard's life and career reflects the importance of ecclesiastics in the Frankish kingdom, as well as the tumult that occurred there in the ninth century. As bishop he struggled against clerical abuse and ignorance as well as against the ignorance of the laity. He also strove to enforce clerical discipline and criticized royal abuse of power over the church. Agobard further rejected a number of pious practices approved by the Carolingian church and was a vocal critic of Louis the Pious's policy toward the Jews. He played an important role in the civil wars that shook the reign of Louis, supporting Louis's sons against the emperor, whom he denounced for opposing God's will by violating the Ordinatio Imperii (Disposition of the Empire) of 817. His support for the rebels led to his removal from involvement in the daily affairs of his bishopric, although he was eventually restored to his full authority as bishop and resumed his duties for the emperor.
   Agobard was probably born in Spain and moved into the Frankish kingdom in 782 at the age of thirteen. Upon his arrival in Lyons, if not before, Agobard began his ecclesiastical career by joining a monastery near Narbonne. He later moved to Lyons, where he received holy orders and, in 804, was consecrated as a suffragan bishop. In 816 he was elevated to the position of archbishop of Lyons, where he remained, with the exception of a period of exile in the 830s, until his death. As archbishop, he played an important role in the religious and political life of the empire and challenged the emperor, Louis the Pious, on several occasions. He also supported the general reform initiatives of Louis, and he transformed Lyons into one of the centers of learning in the Carolingian world.
   In the realm of politics, Agobard remained a staunch supporter of the unity of the empire and believed in its sacrosanct nature. He was an ardent proponent of the Ordinatio Imperii of 817, which was Louis's plan of succession. The Ordinatio was seen by some, especially in the church, as establishing the essential unity of the empire under God and his divinely appointed ruler. The plan also enhanced the power and status of the church, which could be seen as a guarantor of God's blessings on the realm. Agobard was one of the most adamant supporters of this plan and challenged the emperor for his efforts to undermine the Ordinatio, especially when Louis restructured the plan to include Charles the Bald, his youngest son, who was born in 823. Gradually, a group of churchman came to form a sort of "imperialist" party, which advocated the preservation of the original settlement and came to oppose the emperor to the point of rebellion. Indeed, in 830 many churchmen joined the rebellion against the emperor led by his sons. Agobard, however, did not participate in the revolt but remained neutral, even though he had written a letter to Louis the previous year in support of the Ordinatio and against Louis's violation of it.
   In the mid-830s, however, Agobard underwent a change of heart in regard to Louis. In 833, when Lothar again revolted against his father, Agobard joined with the rebellion. He was among the bishops who called for Louis's abdication, and he wrote in defense of the rebellion. He criticized Judith, the emperor's second wife and the mother of Charles the Bald, and denounced Louis for abandoning his obligations as a Christian emperor and for allowing war and injustice to occur in the empire. Unlike Lothar, Agobard did not flee the empire when Louis was restored to power. He was subsequently stripped of his responsibilities as bishop by a church council in 835. He regained the emperor's favor and was restored to his position in Lyons in 838. He was able to return, in part, because of the unorthodox reforms implemented by his successor. Agobard remained loyal to the empire in his remaining years and died while performing a diplomatic mission for the emperor.
   Agobard was also an influential critic of contemporary religious policy and practice. In the Carolingian Empire religion and politics were often mixed, as Louis's succession plan demonstrates, and Agobard frequently called for the proper administration of justice. He criticized secular and religious judges for taking bribes and bending justice to favor the rich over the poor. He was also a harsh critic of the practice of trial by ordeal and the judicial duel. As archbishop, Agobard ruled on more traditional religious issues and participated in debate over religious policy in the empire. He was an active crusader against corruptions of the faith, including ignorance and impiety among the clergy and superstition and pagan practices among the laity. He supported the iconoclastic thinker, Claudius of Turin (d. 827), who rejected the veneration of images in the church. Agobard, Claudius's bishop, wrote a rebuttal to Carolingian thinkers who had attacked Claudius. Agobard also wrote a series of treatises criticizing Louis's Jewish policy. The emperor had favored and protected the Jews, which Agobard thought undermined the unity and integrity of the Christian empire of the Carolingians. Indeed, as with so many other things, Agobard's hostility to the Jews was part of a broader agenda that sought the proper ordering of Christian society.
   See also
 ♦ Cabaniss, Allen. Agobard of Lyons: Churchman and Critic. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1953.
 ♦ Cohen, Jeremy. Living Letters of the Law: Ideas of the Jew in Medieval Christianity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.
 ♦ Halphen, Louis. Charlemagne and the Carolingian Empire. Trans. Giselle de Nie. Amsterdam and New York: North-Holland, 1977.
 ♦ Laistner, Max Ludwig Wolfram. 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, 951-987. London: Longman, 1983.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. Trans. Michael Idomir Allen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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