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     Christianity and the Frankish Kingdom

Christianity and the Frankish Kingdom

1. The conversion of Clovis the catholic Christianity in 496 was a decisive event for both the political and religious future of continental Europe. Under the leaders of Clovis and his sons, the franks conquered the former Roman territories in Gaul and in Germany and created what came to be known as the Regnum Francorum, the Kingdom of the Franks. By the middle of the sixth century, the Frankish or "Merovingian" dynasty dominated the whole of what had been Roman territory in Gaul and Germany. This realm was frequently divided among several kings, for Frankish custom dictated that a father's property be split up among all surviving sons. Partly in consequence of this fact, regional divisions arose within the empire which had a quasi-political, quasi-ethnic character. The decay of the ancient cities, as well as of commerce and communication gradually increased, while the real centers of life became rural manors, estates which sought to be, and in most cases were self-sufficient as far as the necessities of life are concerned. Ruled directly or indirectly by a lord who might be some magnate of the king himself, such estates afforded economic and personal security both to the owner and to his serfs or tenants. At the same time this manorial system encouraged decentralization of authority and guaranteed that power as well as wealth would accompany land tenure, since it was the manor which produced not only food and clothing, but also the men and equipment needed. Such decentralization was further encouraged by the fact that the Franks, like all Germanic peoples, had no idea of the state as something which, in its laws and structures, endures independently of individual persons. This understanding of the nature of the political bonds had a number of consequences in the Merovingian kingdom. For one thing, it meant that economic resources of the "state" were identical with the personal property or wealth of the king, a situation in which the very notion of "public" property and thus of taxation was all but inconceivable. t also meant that in order to retain loyalty, the kings, once opportunities for fresh conquests had been exhausted, had to "benefice" or give their followers landed estates from their own domain. This practice had the inevitable effect of weakening (financially and resource-wise) the monarch, even though such benefices were technically granted only for the lifetime of the recipient.

2. In such a society, the traditional structure and ways of the church were bound to be affected. The most important development was the much more frequent appearance of "proprietary" churches, church buildings erected on an estate at the private expense of the lord and provided by him with an endowment for the services of a priest. In this development can be seen the beginnings of the later parochial system as well as the many later debates over lay control of clerical appointments. Although the bishops of the new kingdom continued their ancient practice of meeting in council, the Frankish churches seem to have become isolated, even from the leadership of the papacy.

Sources utilized in these pages may include:
  • Everett Ferguson's: Backgrounds of Early Christianity
  • Walker's: History of Christianity (out of print)

    (These links will take you to book detail pages at

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