Despite these anomalies and others, the empire, at least in the Middle Ages, was by common assent, along with the papacy, the most important institution of western Europe.
Theologians, lawyers, popes, ecclesiastics, rulers, rebels like Arnold of Brescia and Cola di Rienzo, literary figures like Dante and Petrarch, and the practical men, members of the high nobility, on whom the emperors relied for support, all saw the empire in a different light and had their own ideas of its origin, function, and justification.
These questions about terms reveal some of the problems involved in the nature and early history of the empire.
It can be regarded as a political institution, or approached from the point of view of political theory, or treated in the context of the history of Italy, though clearly they are interrelated.
"Let there, therefore, be chosen [for the work of teaching] men who are both willing and able to learn and let them apply themselves to this work with a zeal equal to the earnestness with which we recommend it to them".
Copies of this letter are to be sent to all suffragan bishops and to all (dependent) monasteries.
This is made evident by an enactment of Theodulf, Bishop of Orléans, who, when Alcuin retired to the monastery of Tours in 796, succeeded him at the Court as adviser of the emperor in educational matters. and let them exact no price from the children for their teaching nor receive anything from them save what parents may offer voluntarily and from affection" (P. The "new learning" inaugurated at the palace school, which seems to have had no fixed location, but to have followed the court from place to place, was not slow in spreading throughout the empire.
The document dates from 797, ten years after Charlemagne's first capitulary was issued, and enacts explicitly "that the priests establish schools in every town and village, and if any of the faithful wish to entrust their children to them to learn letters, that they refuse not to accept them but with all charity teach them . Its first noticeable success was at Fulda, which since the days of its first abbot, Sturm, had maintained a tradition of fidelity to the ideals of St. The man to whose enlightened zeal the success of the schools of Fulda was largely due was Rhabanus Maurus.
According to the former, the empire was a universal monarchy, a “commonwealth of the whole world, whose sublime unity transcended every minor distinction”; and the emperor “was entitled to the obedience of Christendom.” According to the latter, the emperor had no ambition for universal dominion; his policy was limited in the same way as that of every other ruler, and when he made more far-reaching claims his object was normally to ward off the attacks either of the pope or of the Byzantine emperor.Among these heterogeneous and often incompatible views, three may be said to predominate: (1) the papal theory, according to which the empire was the secular arm of the church, set up by the papacy for its own purposes and therefore answerable to the pope and, in the last resort, to be disposed of by him; (2) the imperial, or Frankish, theory, which placed greater emphasis on conquest and hegemony as the source of the emperor’s power and authority and according to which he was responsible directly to God; and (3) the popular, or Roman, theory (the “people” at this stage being synonymous with the nobility and in this instance with the Roman nobility), according to which the empire, following the tradition of Roman law, was a delegation of powers by the Roman people.Of the three theories the last was the least important; it was evidently directed against the pope, whose constitutive role it implicitly denied, but it was also a specifically Italian reaction against the predominance in practice of Frankish and German elements.Alcuin was not only placed at the head of the emperor's school in the palace, but was admitted to the council of the emperor in all educational matters and became Charlemagne's "prime minister of education".He represented the learning of the school of York, which united in its traditions the current of educational reform inaugurated in the South of England by Theodore of Tarsus and that other current which, starting from the schools of Ireland, spread over the entire northern part of England. Nevertheless, he exerted a profound cultural influence on the whole Frankish Kingdom by reason of the high esteem in which Charlemagne and his courtiers held him.