Libri Carolini - Contents


The Catholic position on sacred images remains effectively identical to that set out in the Libri Carolini, prepared after a bad translation had led Charlemagne's court to believe that the Byzantine Council had approved the worship of images, which in fact was not the case. The Catholic counterblast set out a middle course between the extreme positions of Byzantine iconoclasm and the iconodules, approving the veneration of images for what they represented, but not accepting what became the Orthodox position, that images partook in some degree of the nature of the thing they represented (a belief later to resurface in the West in Renaissance Neo-Platonism). To the Western church, images were just objects made by craftsmen, to be utilized for stimulating the senses of the faithful, especially the illiterate, and to be respected for the sake of the subject represented, not in themselves. The books are the clearest and fullest exposition of Catholic teaching on the matter to survive from the Middle Ages. Their condemnation of image worship is so severe that they were drawn upon by Calvin and other iconoclast writers during the Protestant Reformation, and as a consequence, placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum by the Vatican until 1900.

Various iconodule arguments for the use of images are dismissed. The reverence shown to the Ark of the Covenant in the Hebrew Bible is not accepted as an analogy for the attitude due to art, as the Ark was made on the direct instructions and to the designs of God himself. That Theodulf's oratory has a mosaic on this very subject, otherwise unknown at this scale, is itself taken as an argument for his authorship of the work. Even the lighting of candles before images is disapproved of, although in this the books go beyond the usual Catholic position.

The work shows a considerable anti-Greek prejudice, partly reflecting Charlemagne's political disputes with the Empress Irene, and the determination of the new Western Empire to assert its political authority in Western Christendom.

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