Carolingian Renaissance

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In the history of ideas the Carolingian Renaissance stands out as a period of intellectual and cultural revival occurring from the late eighth century, in the generation of Alcuin, to the 9th century, and the generation of Heiric of Auxerre, with the peak of the activities coordinated during the reigns of the Carolingian rulers Charlemagne and Louis the Pious.[1] The sense of renewal in a newly stabilized society was galvanized by an elite group of scholars gathered to the court of Charlemagne. With the moral betterment of the Carolingian renaissance reached back for models drawn from the example of the Christian Roman Empire of the 4th century. During this period there was an increase of literature, writing, the arts, architecture, jurisprudence, liturgical reforms and scriptural studies. Charlemagne's Admonitio generalis (789) and his Epistola de litteris colendis served as manifestos. The effects of this cultural revival, however, were largely limited to a small group of court literati: "it had a spectacular effect on education and culture in Francia, a debatable effect on artistic endeavors, and an unmeasurable effect on what mattered most to the Carolingians, the moral regeneration of society," John Contreni observes.[2] Beyond their efforts to write better Latin, to copy and preserve patristic and classical texts and to develop a more legible, classicizing script, the Carolingian minuscule that Renaissance humanists took to be Roman and employed to develop early modern Italic script, the secular and ecclesiastical leaders of the Carolingian Renaissance for the first time in centuries applied rational ideas to social issues, providing a common language and writing style that allowed for communication across most of Europe.

Sir Kenneth Clark was of the view that by means of the Carolingian Renaissance, Western civilization survived by the skin of its teeth.[3] The use of the term renaissance to describe this period is contested[4] due to the majority of changes brought about by this period being confined almost entirely to the clergy, and due to the period lacking the wide-ranging social movements of the later Italian Renaissance.[5] Instead of being a rebirth of new cultural movements, the period was more an attempt to recreate the previous culture of the Roman Empire.[6] The Carolingian Renaissance in retrospect also has some of the character of a false dawn, in that its cultural gains were largely dissipated within a couple of generations, a perception voiced by Walahfrid Strabo (died 849), in his introduction to Einhard's Life of Charlemagne,[7] summing up the generation of renewal:

Charlemagne was able to offer the cultureless and, I might say, almost completely unenlightened territory of the realm which God had entrusted to him, a new enthusiasm for all human knowledge. In its earlier state of barbarousness, his kingdom had been hardly touched at all by any such zeal, but now it opened its eyes to God's illumination. In our own time the thirst for knowledge is disappearing again: the light of wisdom is less and less sought after and is now becoming rare again in most men's minds.[8]

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