Alcuin



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Rabanus Maurus (left), supported by Alcuin (middle), presents his work to Otgar of Mainz


Flaccus Albinus Alcuinus or Ealhwine (c. 735 – May 19, 804) was a scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher from York, England. He was born around 735 and became the student of Egbert at York. At the invitation of Charlemagne, he became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court, where he remained a figure at court in the 780s and 790s. He wrote many theological and dogmatic treatises, as well as a few grammatical works and a number of poems. He was made abbot of Saint Martin's at Tours in 796, where he remained until his death. He is considered among the most important architects of the Carolingian Renaissance. Among his pupils were many of the dominant intellectuals of the Carolingian era.

Biography

Alcuin of York had a long career as a teacher and scholar, first at the school at York now known as St Peter's School, York (founded AD 627) and later as Charlemagne's leading advisor on ecclesiastical and educational affairs. From 796 until his death he was abbot of the great monastery of St. Martin of Tours.

Alcuin came to the cathedral school of York in the golden age of Egbert and Eadbert. Egbert had been a disciple of the Venerable Bede who urged him to have York raised to an archbishopric. Eadbert was the king and brother to Egbert. These two men oversaw the reenergizing and reorganization of the English church with an emphasis on reforming the clergy and on the tradition of learning begun under Bede. Alcuin thrived under Egbert’s tutelage who loved him especially. It was in York that he formed his love of classical poetry, though he was sometimes troubled by the fact that it was written by non-Christians.

The York school was renowned as a center of learning not only in religious matters but also in the liberal arts, literature and science named the seven liberal arts.[1] It was from here that Alcuin drew inspiration for the school he would lead at the Frankish court. He revived the school with disciplines such as the trivium and the quadrivium. Two codices were written, by himself on the trivium, and by his student Hraban.[1] on the quadrivium.

Alcuin graduated from student to teacher sometime in the 750s. His ascendancy to the headship of the York school began after Aelbert became Archbishop of York in 767. Around the same time Alcuin became a deacon in the church. He was never ordained as a priest and there is no real evidence that he became an actual monk, but he lived his life like one.

In 781, King Elfwald sent Alcuin to Rome to petition the Pope for official confirmation of York’s status as an archbishopric and to confirm the election of a new archbishop, Eanbald I. It was then, on his way home, that Alcuin met Charles, king of the Franks.

Alcuin was reluctantly persuaded to join Charles's court. His love of the church and his intellectual curiosity made the offer one that he could not refuse. He was to join an already illustrious group of scholars that Charles had gathered around him like Peter of Pisa, Paulinus, Rado, and Abbot Fulrad. He would later write that "the Lord was calling me to the service of King Charles."

Alcuin was welcomed at the Palace School of Charlemagne. The school had been founded under the king’s ancestors as a place for educating the royal children, mostly in manners and the ways of the court. However, King Charles wanted more than this – he wanted to include the liberal arts and, most importantly, the study of the religion that he held sacred. From 782 to 790, Alcuin had as pupils Charlemagne himself, his sons Pepin and Louis, the young men sent for their education to the court, and the young clerics attached to the palace chapel. Bringing with him from York his assistants Pyttel, Sigewulf and Joseph, Alcuin revolutionized the educational standards of the Palace School, introducing Charlemagne to the liberal arts and creating a personalized atmosphere of scholarship and learning to the extent that the institution came to be known as the "school of Master Albinus".

Charlemagne was master at gathering the best men of every nation in his court. He himself became far more than just the king at the center. It seems that Charlemagne made many of these men his closest friends and counselors. They referred to him as "David", a reference to the Biblical King David. Alcuin soon found himself on intimate terms with the king and with the other men at court to whom he gave nicknames to be used for work and playcitation needed. Alcuin himself was known as "Albinus" or "Flaccus". Like many of his learned contemporaries, Alcuin was an astrologer. David Berlinski, author of The Secrets of the Vaulted Sky: Astrology and the Art of Prediction (ISBN 0-15-100527-3) writes: "The ninth-century philosopher Alcuin, his voyages to the Middle East now abrogated, was an astrological adept, and it is widely claimed that he taught Charlemagne the principles of classical astrology" (pg. 116, 2003).

Alcuin’s friendships also extended to the ladies of the court, especially the queen mother and the daughters of the king. His relationships with these women, however, never reached the intense level of those with the men around himcitation needed.

In 790 Alcuin went back to England, to which he had always been greatly attached. He dwelt there for some time, but Charlemagne then invited him back to help in the fight against the Adoptionist heresy which was at that time making great progress in Toledo, Spain, the old capital town of the Visigoths and still a major city for the Christians under Islamic rule in Spain. He is believed to have had contacts with Beatus of Liébana, from the Kingdom of Asturias, who fought against Adoptionism. At the Council of Frankfurt in 794, Alcuin upheld the orthodox doctrine, and obtained the condemnation of the heresiarch Felix of Urgel. Having failed during his stay in England to influence King Aethelraed of Northumbria in the conduct of his reign, Alcuin never returned to live in England. Alcuin was back at Charlemagne's court by at least mid 792, writing a series of letters to Aethelraed of Northumbria, to Hygbald, Bishop of Lindisfarne, and Aethelheard, Archbishop of Canterbury in the succeeding months, which deal with the attack on Lindisfarne by Viking raiders in July 792. These letters, and Alcuin's poem on the subject De clade Lindisfarnensis monasterii provide the only significant contemporary account of these events.

In 796 Alcuin was in his sixties. He hoped to be free from court duties and was given the chance when Abbot Itherius of Saint Martin at Tours died. King Charles gave the abbey into Alcuin's care with the understanding that he should be available if the king ever needed his counsel.

As a Carolingian Renaissance figure

He made the abbey school into a model of excellence, and many students flocked to it; he had many manuscripts copied, the calligraphy of which is of outstanding beauty. He wrote many letters to his friends in England, to Arno, bishop of Salzburg, and above all to Charlemagne. These letters, of which 311 are extant, are filled mainly with pious meditations, but they further form a mine of information as to the literary and social conditions of the time, and are the most reliable authority for the history of humanism in the Carolingian age. He also trained the numerous monks of the abbey in piety, and it was in the midst of these pursuits that he died.

Alcuin is the most prominent figure of the Carolingian Renaissance, in which three main periods have been distinguished: in the first of these, up to the arrival of Alcuin at the court, the Italians occupy the central place; in the second, Alcuin and the Anglo-Saxons are dominant; in the third, which begins in 804, the influence of Theodulf the Visigoth is preponderant.

We owe to him, too, some manuals used in his educational work; a grammar and works on rhetoric and dialectics. They are written in the form of dialogues, and in the two last the interlocutors are Charlemagne and Alcuin. He also wrote several theological treatises: a De fide Trinitatis, commentaries on the Bible, etc.

Alcuin transmitted to the Franks the knowledge of Latin culture which had existed in England. We still have a number of his works. His letters have already been mentioned; his poetry is equally interesting. Besides some graceful epistles in the style of Venantius Fortunatus, he wrote some long poems, and notably a whole history in verse of the church at York: Versus de patribus, regibus et sanctis Eboracensis ecclesiae.

Alcuin died on May 19, 804, some ten years before the emperor. He was buried at St. Martin’s Church under an epitaph that partly read:
Dust, worms, and ashes now...
Alcuin my name, wisdom I always loved,
Pray, reader, for my soul.


Alcuin College, part of the University of York, is named after him. The Alcuin Society brings together lovers of books and awards an annual prize for excellence in book design.

On freedom of conscience

As chief adviser to Charles the Great, he bravely tackled the emperor over his policy of forcing pagans to be baptised on pain of death. He argued, “Faith is a free act of the will, not a forced act. We must appeal to the conscience, not compel it by violence. You can force people to be baptised, but you cannot force them to believe.” His arguments prevailed; Charlemagne abolished the death penalty for paganism in 797. (Needham, Dr. N.R., Two Thousand Years of Christ’s Power, Part Two: The Middle Ages, Grace Publications, 2000, page 52.)

Further reading

  • Alcuin of York, his life and letters, Stephen Allot ISBN 0-900657-21-9
  • Alcuin: achievement and reputation, Donald Bullough, 2004
  • Alcuin and the Rise of the Christian Schools by Andrew Fleming West ISBN 0-8371-1635-X
  • Alcuin, Friend of Charlemagne, Eleanor Shipley Duckett, 1951
  • Carolingian Portraits, Eleanor Shipley Duckett, 1962
  • The Carolingians and the Frankish Monarchy, F. L. Ganshof, ISBN 0-582-48227-5
  • Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, John Boswell, ISBN 0-226-06710-6
  • Friendship, and Community: The Monastic Experience, Brian P. McGuire, ISBN 0-87907-895-2
  • Medieval Latin Love Poems of Male Love and Friendship, Thomas Stehling
  • Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance, Peter Godman, ISBN 0-7156-1768-0

Notes

References

External links

Alcuin College is a college of the University of York. Sitting upon Siward's Howe, it has throughout the life of the University been the home of the self-styled Alcuin Separatist Movement, a running gag at York, involving the secession of the college from the remainder of
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Charlemagne (En: [ˈʃa(ɹ).lə.meɪn]; Fr: [ʃaʀ.lə.
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Carolingian Renaissance was a period of intellectual and cultural revival occurring in the late eighth and ninth centuries, with the peak of the activities occurring during the reigns of the Carolingian rulers Charlemagne and Louis the Pious.
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The word abbot, meaning father, is a title given to the head of a monastery in various traditions, including Christianity and Buddhism.
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Monastery (plural: Monasteries), a term derived from the Greek word μοναστήριον (monastērion), denotes the building, or complex of buildings, that houses a room reserved for prayer (e.g.
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Martin of Tours (Latin: Martinus), (316/317 – November 11, 397 in Candes) was a bishop of Tours whose shrine became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela.
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Ecgbert or Ecgberht or Ecgbeorht (died 766) was an eighth century Archbishop of York and correspondent of Bede and Saint Boniface.

Life

Ecgbert was made bishop of York in 734[1]
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Eadberht
King of Northumbria
Reign 737x738–758
Died 20 August 768
York Minster
Predecessor Ceolwulf
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Issue Oswulf, Oswine, Osgifu
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Ecgbert or Ecgberht or Ecgbeorht (died 766) was an eighth century Archbishop of York and correspondent of Bede and Saint Boniface.

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Ecgbert was made bishop of York in 734[1]
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Bede (IPA: /ˈbiːd/) (also Saint Bede, the Venerable Bede, or (from Latin) Beda (IPA: [/beda/])), (c.
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Ecgbert or Ecgberht or Ecgbeorht (died 766) was an eighth century Archbishop of York and correspondent of Bede and Saint Boniface.

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Ecgbert was made bishop of York in 734[1]
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The Church of England is the officially established Christian church[1] in England, and is the "mother" of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the oldest among its nearly 40 independent national churches.
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Bede (IPA: /ˈbiːd/) (also Saint Bede, the Venerable Bede, or (from Latin) Beda (IPA: [/beda/])), (c.
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Ecgbert or Ecgberht or Ecgbeorht (died 766) was an eighth century Archbishop of York and correspondent of Bede and Saint Boniface.

Life

Ecgbert was made bishop of York in 734[1]
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Franks or Frankish people (Latin: Franci or gens Francorum) were West Germanic tribes first identified in the 3rd century as an ethnic group living north and east of the Lower Rhine.
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trivium comprised the three subjects taught first: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The word is a Latin term meaning “the three ways” or “the three roads” forming the foundation of a medieval liberal arts education.
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The quadrivium comprised the four subjects, or arts, taught in medieval universities after the trivium. The word is Latin, meaning "the four ways" or "the four roads": the completion of the liberal arts.
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Rabanus Maurus Magnentius (c. 780 – 4 February 856), also known as Hrabanus or Rhabanus, was a Frankish Benedictine monk, the archbishop of Mainz in Germany and a theologian. He was the author of the encyclopaedia On the Nature of Things.
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Ethelbert (or Æthelbeorht, Adalberht, Aelberht, Aldbert or Æthelbert) (died November 8, 780) was an eighth century scholar, teacher, priest and Archbishop of York.
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Ælfwald (died 23 September 788) was king of Northumbria from 778 to 788. He is thought to have been a son of Oswulf, and thus a grandson of Eadberht Eating.

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