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The Catholic Historical Review VOL. LXXXIIOCTOBER, 1996No. 4 SPIRITUAL PROGRESS IN CAROLINGIAN SAXONY: A CASE FROM NINTH-CENTURY CORVEY BY David F. Appleby* In view of the centrality of the evangelical impulse in the New Testament , it is not surprising that the mission of the Church, and even the "Church as mission" should arise as a topic of discussion among Christians .1 But during the twentieth century and especially since 1945, the history of the expansion of the Church has attracted the interest of academic historians both inside and outside the Church, and a substantial literature on the history of Christian missions has emerged. Whether the story is presented in optimistic tones as the growth of the Church from Antiquity to the present, or as a more complex process of expansion and resistance at various times in the past, mission history has become an exceptionaUy productive field of inquiry.2 While much attention has been focused on Christianity in Africa, Asia, and the New World in the modern age, the period before 1500 has not been ignored. The early medieval West presents exceptional oppor- "Mr. Appleby is an assistant professor of history in the United States Naval Academy. This article is the revised version of a chapter from his doctoral dissertation (University ofVirginia, 1989) and was presented as a paper at the Twenty-Second Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, 1987). He wishes to express his gratitude to his dissertation director, Dr. Thomas E X. Noble, for his advice and encouragement. 1 See the conference papers published under the title "The Church as Mission: The New Evangelization and Western Culture," Communio, 21 (Winter, 1994). 2John Kent, "The Study of Modern Ecclesiastical History Since 1930," in J. Daniélou, A. H. Couratin, andJohn Kent,Historical Theology (Baltimore, 1969), pp. 24l-369,at pp. 255-270; for more recent literature, see the bibliography of Stephen Neill,^4 History of Christian Missions, 2nd ed. (New York, 1990), and Bibliographia Missionaria, 55 vols. (Vatican City, 1935- ), where titles are listed under the heading "History of Mission." 599 600SPIRITUAL PROGRESS IN CAROLINGIAN SAXONY tunities to examine some of the diverse forms that Christianization can take.3 Between the fall of the western provinces of the Roman Empire in the fifth century and the emergence of Frankish hegemony under the Carolingians in the eighth, evangelical monks and priests could count on very little in the way of logistic or political support from a central authority . Missionaries were faced with the task of translating the concerns ofa universal faith into the language and thought world ofgentile cultures with no written tradition of their own, and in the midst of social conditions quite different from those of the late antique Mediterranean . The circumstances of each mission varied according to the historical and cultural background of the people being evangelized. As a result early medieval Christianization in western and northern Europe had an episodic character, and recent studies have highlighted the differences between St. Augustine's rudes and the rustid of Gregory of Tours, and between Martin of Bragas simple people and the Germanic pagans whom Boniface encountered.4 Among these early medieval episodes, the subjugation and forced conversion of Saxony in the later eighth and early ninth century has been a subject of enduring interest, in part because the affair seems to epitomize the chief strengths and the weaknesses of the order forged by the Carolingians. Contemporaries were aware of the remarkable character of recent events in Saxony. Writing sometime between 817 and 825/826, Einhard described Charlemagne's wars as thirty-three years of sporadic fighting, broken agreements, and sharp reprisals.5 His depiction ofthe Saxons is not flattering: naturally ferocious and given to demon worship, they violated divine and human law at will. Their treacherous testability contrasts with Charlemagne's magnanimity and 5Important recent works are listed in the bibliographical note which accompanies the collected articles of Richard E. Sullivan, Christian MissionaryActivity in the Early MiddleAges (Variorum Collected Studies Series, CS 431 (Brookfield,Vermont, 1994]),p. 1. 4For example, RaymondVan Dam, Leadership and Community in LateAntique Gaul (Berkeley, California, 1985); Peter Brown,"Relics and Social Status in the Age of Gregory of Tours," in the author's...


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