The sta­tues issued under king Pépin had given the Church rather the expec­ta­tion of relief than effec­tive relief ; and as Charles Martel found the entire public patri­mony in the hands of the eccle­sias­tics, Charlemagne found the pro­per­ties of the eccle­sias­tics in the hands of men of war. These lat­ter could not be made to res­tore what they had been given ; and the cir­cum­stan­ces they were in at the time made that even more imprac­ti­ca­ble than it was by its nature. On the other hand, Christianity must not perish for want of minis­ters, tem­ples, and ins­truc­tion.1

Because of this, Charlemagne esta­bli­shed tithes,2 a new kind of asset, which had the advan­tage for the clergy that, being spe­ci­fi­cally given to the Church, it was sub­se­quently easier to reco­gnize usur­pa­tions.

Some have attemp­ted to assign much ear­lier dates to this esta­blish­ment, but the autho­ri­ties they cite seem to me wit­nes­ses against those who attest them. The cons­ti­tu­tion of Clotaire3 says only that cer­tain tithes would not be levied on Church pro­per­ties4 : far, then, from the Church levying tithes in those times, what it most wan­ted was to be exemp­ted from them. The second coun­cil of Mâcon,5 held in the year 585, which orders that tithes be paid, says in truth that they had been paid in ancient times, but it also says that in its time they were no lon­ger being paid.

Who doubts that before Charlemagne they would have ope­ned the Bible and prea­ched the gifts and offe­rings of Leviticus ? But I am saying that before him tithes could be prea­ched, but were not esta­bli­shed.

I have said that the sta­tu­tes issued under king Pépin had sub­jec­ted those who pos­ses­sed Church pro­per­ties as fief to the pay­ment of the tithes and repa­ra­tions of the chur­ches. It was signi­fi­cant to oblige the prin­ci­pals of the nation to set an exam­ple, by a law of which the jus­tice was beyond dis­pute.

Charlemagne did more, and we see from the capi­tu­lary of Willis that he obli­ged his own lands to pay tithes : this again was a great exam­ple.6

But the popu­lace is hardly able to aban­don its inte­rests through exam­ples. The synod of Frankfort pre­sen­ted them with a more pres­sing rea­son for paying the tithes.7 They made a capi­tu­lary there in which it is said that in the most recent famine the ears of grain had been found empty : they had been devou­red by demons, whose voi­ces had been heard reproa­ching them for fai­lure to pay the tithe8 ; and in conse­quence all those who held Church pro­per­ties were orde­red to pay the tithe ; and in fur­ther conse­quence, the same order was given to eve­ryone.

Charlemagne’s pro­ject did not a first suc­ceed : this bur­den appea­red cru­shing.9 The pay­ment of tithes by the Jews had ente­red into the plan of the foun­da­tion of their repu­blic ; but here the pay­ment of tithes was a charge inde­pen­dent of those of the monar­chy’s esta­blish­ment. We can see in the pro­vi­sions appen­ded to the law of the Lombards how dif­fi­cult it was to get the tithes accep­ted by the civil laws10 ; one can judge from the dif­fe­rent canons of the coun­cils the dif­fi­culty of get­ting them accep­ted by the eccle­sias­ti­cal laws.

The peo­ple finally consen­ted to pay the tithes, on condi­tion they might redeem them. The cons­ti­tu­tion of Louis the Debonair11 and that of the empe­ror Lothaire,12 his son, did not per­mit it.

The laws of Charlemagne on the esta­blish­ment of tithes were the pro­duct of neces­sity ; reli­gion alone had a role in it, and super­sti­tion had none.

The famous divi­sion he made of the tithes into four parts : for the cons­truc­tion of chur­ches, for the poor, for the bishop, and for the priests, indeed pro­ves that he wan­ted to give the Church that fixed and per­ma­nent sta­tus it had lost.13

His tes­ta­ment14 shows that he wan­ted to repair com­ple­tely the damage that Charles Martel his grand­fa­ther had done. He made three equal parts of his mova­ble assets : he wan­ted two of these parts to be divi­ded into twenty-one, for the twenty-one metro­po­li­tan sees of his empire ; each part was to be sub­di­vi­ded bet­ween the arch­dio­cese and the depen­dent bisho­prics. He divi­ded the remai­ning third into four parts : he gave one to his chil­dren and grand­chil­dren ; ano­ther was added to the two-thirds already given ; the two remai­ning were used in cha­ri­ta­ble works. He see­med to regard the immense pre­sent he had just made to the chur­ches less as a reli­gious act than as a poli­ti­cal dis­tri­bu­tion.

In the civil wars that arose in the time of Charles Martel, the properties of the church of Reims were given to laymen ; the clergy was left to subsist as it may, it is said in the Life of St. Rémy, Surius, vol. I, p. 279.

Leges Langobardoroum, book III, tit. 3, §1–2.

It is the one of which I have spoken so long in chapter iv above, which is found in the Baluze edition of the capitularies, vol. I, art. 11, p. 9.

Agraria et pascuaria, vel decimas porcorum, Ecclesiæ concedimus ; ita ut actor aut decimator in rebus Ecclesiæ nullus accedat. The capitulary of Charlemagne in the year 800, Baluze ed., p. 336, explains very well the sort of tithe it was from which Clotaire exempts the Church : it was one-tenth of the hogs that were put into the king’s forests to fatten ; and Charlemagne wants his judges to pay like the others, to set a good example. We see that it was a seigniorial or economic right.

Canone 5. ex tomo I. Conciliorum antiquorum Galliæ, opera Jacobi Sirmundi.

Art. 6, Baluze ed., p. 332. It was issued in the year 800.

Held under Charlemagne in the year 794.

Experimento enim didicimus in anno quo illa valida fames irrepsit, ebullire vacuas annonas a dæmonibus devoratas, et voces exprobrationis auditas, etc. (Baluze ed., p. 267, art. 23).

See among others the capitulary of Louis the Debonaire for the year 829, Baluze ed., p. 663, against those who with a view to not paying the tithe no longer tilled their lands ; and art. 5. Nonis quidem et decimis, unde et genitor noster et nos frequenter in diversis placitis admonitionem fecimus.

Among others, that of Lothaire, book III, tit. 3, ch. vi.

In the year 829, art. 7, in Baluze ed., vol. I, p. 663.

Leges Langobardoroum, book III, tit. 3, §8.

Leges Langobardoroum, §4.

It is a sort of codicile recorded by Eginhard, and which is different from the testament itself which can be found in Goldaste and Baluze.