The Heroic Age

A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe

Founded 1998   |   ISSN 1526-1867

Issue 13 (August 2010)  |   Issue Editor: Larry Swain

Knowledge for Its Own Sake? A Practical Humanist in the Carolingian Age

Steven A. Stofferahn

Assistant Professor of History, Indiana State University

© 2010 by Steven A. Stofferahn. All rights reserved. This edition copyright © 2010 by The Heroic Age. All rights reserved.

Abstract:  Abbot Lupus of Ferrières (c.805–c.862) is often hailed as the most accomplished classical scholar of the Carolingian era. While few would doubt his literary aptitude, such praise has come at a cost as generations have championed Lupus as a heroic humanist in an otherwise dark age. The present article seeks to reposition this interesting figure within his more immediate environs, highlighting Lupus's purposeful use of classical wisdom toward intensely practical ends.

§1.  In a letter written to Einhard around 830, abbot Lupus of Ferrières unwittingly articulated what later generations of scholars would come to champion as a heroic humanist's credo on the pursuit of knowledge in a dark age:

Amor litterarum ab ipso fere initio pueritiae mihi est innatus, nec earum, ut nunc a plerisque uocantur, superstitiosa uel [superuacua] otia fastidiui; et nisi intercessisset inopia praeceptorum et longo situ collapsa priorum studia pene interissent, largiente deo meae auiditati satisfacere forsitan potuissem; siquidem uestra memoria per famosissimum imperatorem K[arolum], cui litterae eo usque deferre debent ut aeternam ei parent memoriam, coepta reuocari, aliquantum quidem extulere caput satisque constitit ueritate subnixum praeclarum Cic[eronis] dictum: honos alit artes et accenduntur omnes ad studia gloria. Nunc oneri sunt qui aliquid discere affectant; et uelut in editio sitos loco studiosos quosque imperiti uulgo aspectantes, si quid in eis culpae deprehenderunt, id non humano uitio, sed qualitati disciplinarum assignant. Ita, dum alii dignam sapientiae palmam non capiunt, alii famam uerentur indignam, a tam praeclaro opere destiterunt. Mihi satis apparent propter se ipsam appetenda sapientia (Lupus Servati Lupi epistulae [SLE] 1).

A love of learning arose in me almost from earliest childhood, and I did not despise what many people today speak of as a horrible waste of time. And if there had not been a lack of teachers, and if the study of the ancient writers had not passed almost into oblivion through long neglect, perhaps, with the help of God, I could have satisfied my craving, for within your memory there has been a revival of learning, thanks to the efforts of the illustrious emperor Charles to whom letters owe an everlasting debt of gratitude. Learning has indeed lifted up its head to some extent, and support has been given to the truth of Cicero's well known dictum, "Honor nourishes the arts, and all men are aroused to the pursuits of learning by the hope of glory." In these days those who pursue an education are considered a burden to society, and the uneducated who commonly look up to men of learning as if seated on a high mound impute any fault which they may find in them to the quality of their training, not to human frailty. Men have consequently shrunk from this noble endeavor, some because they do not receive a suitable reward for their knowledge, others because they fear an unworthy reputation. It is quite apparent to me that knowledge should be sought for its own sake (Regenos 1966, 1–2).

This ninth-century author had no way of knowing, of course, what impact this one statement would have on his future image. Gaining stature far exceeding most of his contemporaries (including, in some respects, his predecessor Alcuin), Lupus would come to be hailed as "one of the great humanists" of all time (Regenos 1949, 57). Yet what can such a title mean for students of early medieval literary culture? Though it carries with it a certain luster, the title "humanist" as applied to a scholar like Lupus can lead to confusion and misconception, for to view this important ninth-century man simply as an anachronistic prefiguration of the "real" humanist Renaissance of the late medieval and early modern periods would be to disregard both his own innate, individual talents and the broader intellectual environment in which he himself worked. Although recent studies have shed important light on the broader political and social context in which Lupus worked, this interesting figure's literary activities continue to merit further examination within the cultural milieu of his own day (Noble 1998). Such consideration will help modern students of the early Middle Ages recognize and appreciate Lupus even more as the perceptive, persistent, and ever-practical Carolingian intellectual he was.

§2.  Born into an aristocratic family around 805, Lupus was destined to follow in the footsteps of several of his kin, many of whom occupied important ecclesiastical offices in the Carolingian Church (Manitius 1911, 483–484; Sprotte 1880, 11–13; Contreni 1986, 688).1 His Frankish mother, Frotildis, and Bavarian father, Antelm, gave their young son over to be educated at the monastery of Ferrières (between Sens and Orléans), where he would eventually take his vows in the 820s. Having been introduced to the liberal arts by Adalbert, Lupus journeyed, with the consent of his dominus ac nutritor abbot Aldric, to Fulda around 828 or 829 to study under Hrabanus Maurus (Regenos 1949, 55; Duckett 1962, 162–169). It was during his eight-year stay there that Lupus not only formed a lasting friendship with his teacher, but also became acquainted with the Vita Karoli and its distinguished author, even having occasion to visit Einhard and his wife Emma at their home in Seligenstadt shortly before returning to Ferrières in 836. Soon Lupus, now the best-educated monk in his home monastery, took on the responsibility of writing letters on behalf of abbot Odo. In this way he also gained invitation and exposure to Louis the Pious's court, where he earned empress Judith's favor. In the upheavals following Louis's death in 840, Odo temporarily wavered in his support of Charles the Bald—a mistake which, once Charles gained lordship over the area between the Loire and Seine, resulted in Odo's loss of office (Duckett 1962, 173). It then fell to Lupus, appointed abbot of Ferrières on November 22, 840, to evict his former lord and take up the abbatial duties, which he would discharge until his death around 862.

§3.  As abbot of a monastery in the heart of contested terrain, Lupus would come to feel the effects of the "turbulentum reipublicae tempus" plaguing Francia in the mid-ninth century (Lupus SLE 21). Listed among the houses "quae dona et militiam facere debent" in the Constitutio de servitio monachorum of 817, Ferrières was obliged to provide the king with several secular necessities, including military personnel, supplies, and political support (Mullinger 1911, 161). Such demands could involve Lupus in acute personal danger, as when he and his troops were taken captive by Pippin II during the Aquitanian campaign of June 844 (Duckett 1962, 178).2 Much more demanding on Lupus's time, however, were the required diplomatic duties, including a tour as a royal missus through Burgundian monasteries in 844–845; serving as a delegate to the Council of Meersen in 847; traveling to Rome on a mission for the king in 849 (after mercifully being released from military service); and, of course, writing myriad diplomatic communiqués on behalf of the court (Duckett 1962, 181–186). Yet most taxing of all, so to speak, was the constant demand of financial and material support for the wars of king Charles the Bald. This became acutely problematic when, as discussed below, the monarchy and aristocracy resumed the old habit of gnawing away at monastic lands, exposing houses like Ferrières to the risks of destitution.

§4.  Such were some of the circumstances surrounding Lupus's tenure as abbot. Yet surely not all of his time was consumed in the king's service, for a rich collection of correspondence provides clues to his many other activities and concerns. Long noted for their value as a window into the literary culture and daily monastic administration of the late Carolingian period, the abbot's one hundred thirty-three letters have survived by the slimmest of margins. Presumably gathered together in the decade following Lupus's death by his best-known student, Heiric of Auxerre, they have come down to posterity through a single ninth-century manuscript in neat Carolingian minuscule, Paris B.N.F. lat. 2858 (Marshall 1981, 164–166).3 Since its rediscovery by Pierre Daniel in the sixteenth century, the codex's letters have appeared in seven independent editions between 1588 and 1984. Although scholars continue to consult the renditions of Ernst Dümmler and, more prominently, Léon Levillain, the most recent critical work (utilized in this essay) stems from Peter K. Marshall, published in the prestigious Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana series (Lupus SLE; Dümmler 1925; Levillain 1927/1935; Marshall 1979a, 183).4 It should be noted that the letters copied into the manuscript itself do not appear to follow a recognizable thematic pattern (although it is certainly possible that Heiric arranged them with a particular didactic purpose in mind), ranging as they do between renewing old friendships, dispensing advice to the king, and complaining bitterly about outrages perpetrated against the abbey by local aristocrats.

§5.  Lupus was undoubtedly a prolific writer, yet very little of his work outside his correspondence survives. Indeed, only two saints' lives, a commentary on the fifth book of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, and a short treatise discussing Gottschalk's controversial theories on predestination remain for modern consideration (Lupus De tribus quaestionibus; Lupus Vita Wigberti abbatis Friteslariensis; Lupus Vita Maximini episcopi Trevirensis; Romano 1995; Deug-Su 1989). But Lupus was also a conscientious scribe and textual critic—a trait heralded by many a later scholar as a tell-tale sign of a true humanist. Paleographers, including Ludwig Traube, Charles Henry Beeson, E. A. Lowe, Bernhard Bischoff, E. K. Rand, and Élisabeth Pellegrin have expended a great deal of effort in reconstructing Lupus's codicological activity, attempting to determine which manuscripts he himself may have corrected (Beeson 1930; Pellegrin 1957; Marshall 1979b, 514–515).5 The chief benefits of such study, if connected with a close textual analysis of the author's own original works, are the partial reconstruction of the transmission of classics to wider medieval audiences and, more specifically, the plausible determination of which classical works Lupus himself was familiar with and able to use—an endeavor completely fitting with the conception of Lupus-as-humanist. Building on the earlier work of Emmanuel von Severus, for instance, both Graydon Regenos and Peter Marshall argued that such an analysis revealed Lupus's use of Cicero, Sallust, Virgil, Horace, Seneca, Martial, Valerius, Maximus, Servius, Donatus, Caper, Priscian, Boethius, Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose, Cyprian, Gregory the Great, Isidore, Caesar, Livy, Quintilian, Suetonius, Gellius, Macrobius, Josephus, Cassiodorus and, of course, the Vulgate (Regenos 1949, 56; von Severus 1940; Marshall 1979a, 183; Marshall 1979b, 514; Contreni 1995, 729; Beeson 1948, 190–191; Gariépy 1976, 152–158).6

§6.  If one pays such attention to text correction and classical citations, is it possible or even fitting, then, to speak of Lupus as "a humanist ahead of his time"? Certainly this characterization has long resonated with both specialists and non-specialists attracted by the notion of finding so early a precursor for the "true" humanist Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. One nineteenth-century dissertation, for example, made a special effort to emphasize this association, complimenting Lupus's work for the fact that "il a quelque chose de l'humaniste passionné des XVe et XVIe siècles" (Marshall 1979b, 511). A century later this sentiment was alive and well, with scholars heralding Lupus as the "first humanist" on account of his clear and correct Latin, his scribal and text-critical skills, and, most of all, his apparent love of knowledge for knowledge's sake (Levison 1927; Gariépy 1968, 90–92; Cabaniss 1953, 317).7 While insisting that he wanted to portray Lupus in the "light of his own age," Regenos nevertheless gave clear voice to the humanist paradigm in this way:

We must not regard Lupus as a profound scholar or an original thinker, nor is it on that score that he claims our attention. He wins our esteem primarily because of his genuine devotion to the study of the classics and his overwhelming desire to pass on that heritage to succeeding generations. We find in him a typical example of the intelligent and painstaking scribe, wholeheartedly devoted to his calling. It is because of this profound appreciation which Lupus had for the classical tradition, more than anything else, that we owe him a debt of gratitude and regard him as one of the greatest humanists (Regenos 1949, 57).

Max Manitius likewise deemed it appropriate to evaluate Lupus vis-à-vis fifteenth- and sixteenth-century humanists, even though he acknowledged that Lupus exhibited "purely spiritual interests" as a man of the Church (Manitius 1893, 313). But even Alcuin, he temporized, was primarily motivated by the quest for knowledge, whether divine or not (Manitius 1911, 485).8 How much more, then, did Lupus stand out when one considered his seemingly insatiable desire for new classical texts and his own extensive arsenal of classical allusions.

§7.  How does one deal with the notion of Lupus-as-humanist? On the one hand, it is impossible to deny Lupus's propensity toward his beloved classics, as well as his appreciation for "clean" texts. In Einhard's writing, for example, he found the "grandeur of Cicero" which had otherwise eluded contemporary authors:

Ibi elegentiam sensuum, ibi raritatem coniunctionum, quam in auctoribus notaueram, ibi denique non longissimis perhiodis [sic] impeditas et implicitas at modicis absolutas spatiis sententias inueniens amplexus sum (Lupus SLE 1).

I was pleased to find in this work noble sentiments, a moderate use of conjunctions, which I have observed in the classical writers, and sentences not too long and involved, but of moderate length (Regenos 1966, 2).

One notices, too, his characteristically Carolingian preoccupation with proper Latin grammar, orthography, and pronunciation, even to the point of not wishing to jeopardize his scholarly reputation by incorrectly pronouncing the word mulieris (Lupus SLE 34). Beeson and others have similarly drawn special attention to Lupus's conscientious fondness for correct copies, aptly illustrated in a short letter to Ansbold of Prüm:

Tullianas epistolas, quas misisti, cum nostris conferri faciam, ut ex utrisque, si possit fieri, ueritas exculpatur. Tu autem huic nostro cursori Tull[ium] in Arato trade, ut ex eo, quem me impetraturum credo, quae deesse illi Egil noster aperuit, suppleantur (Lupus SLE 69).

I shall collate the letters of Cicero which you sent me with my own copy so that, if it be possible, I may get an accurate copy from the two. Will you in turn send me Cicero's In Arato with this courier of mine so that the portions which are lacking in this copy, as pointed out by our Eigil, may be supplied from the one which I hope to obtain (Regenos 1966, 81; Beeson 1930, 4).9

And there is, finally, the poignant example of his letter to Marcward in which he concludes the account of his near brush with death on a recent campaign through Aquitania with a back-to-business request for a copy of Suetonius's Lives of the Caesars (Lupus SLE 91). Yet all of these humanistic tendencies notwithstanding, is it appropriate to classify this ninth-century abbot, as so many have done, as a "proto-humanist" of sorts? The answer lies not in further evaluation of Lupus's knowledge of the classics, or even of the quality of his handwriting (of which there are several extant examples and analyses), but rather in an attempt to examine the life and work of this scholar on his own terms, without reference to cultural developments centuries or even a millennium after the fact.

§8.  The key distinction to be made grows out of conflicting views of the role of education and the purpose of knowledge—a distinction that has led many to disregard both the Christian-classical fusion that took hold in the Carolingian era, as well as Lupus's own practicality. Some of the confusion afflicting modern views of Lupus can be traced to his own fateful words in the 830 letter to Einhard: "Mihi satis apparet propter se ipsam appetenda sapientia"—highlighting the virtue of "knowledge for knowledge's sake" (Lupus, SLE 1). In their joy at discovering what seemed at first sight to be an early, eloquent exemplar of the lofty ideals of subsequent renaissances, myriad historians, literary analysts, and textual critics have misconstrued the underlying, culturally specific meaning of this passage. Seeing Lupus first and foremost as book collector, textual critic, and attentive scribe led Graydon Regenos, for example, to consider Lupus primarily as a cultural conduit from Antiquity to the Renaissance (Regenos 1949, 55–57). This preconception not only served to rule out serious consideration of Lupus's own intellectual contributions, but also long discouraged a detailed analysis of Lupus's particular motivations as recorded in his letters. This is rather strange when one considers the matter-of-fact tone consistently present in the letter Lupus sent (perhaps around the time of his own appointment as abbot) to his kinsman Ebrard:

Reuiuiscentem in his nostris regionibus sapientiam quosdam studiosissime colere pergratum habeo; sed hinc haudquaquam mediocriter moueor quod quidam nostrum partem illius appetentes insolenter partem repudiant. Omnium autem consensu nihil in ea est quod iure excipi aut possit aut debeat. Quare apparet nos ipsos nobis esse contrarios, dum insipienter sapientiam consequi cogitemus. Etenim plerique ex ea cultum sermonis quaerimus, et paucos admodum reperias qui ex ea morum probitatem, quod longe conducibilius est, proponant addiscere. Sic linguae uitia reformidamus et purgare contendimus, uitae uero delicta parui pendimus et augemus. Sane, dum his studiis occuparis, honestas artes et ingenuo dignas nolim neglegenter praetereas, uerum postules earum scientiam ab eo qui dat omnibus affluenter et non inproperat, et iuxta mensuram fidei tuae tibi haud dubie tribuetur (Lupus SLE 35).

I am highly pleased that certain persons are very eagerly applying themselves to learning, which is having a revival in our part of the country, but I am concerned not a little by the fact that some of our people are interested in only one part of it, and scornfully reject the other part. Yet, as everybody knows, there is nothing in it which can justifiably or deservedly be rejected. It is therefore apparent that we contradict ourselves when we propose to acquire wisdom unwisely. Many of us, it is true, seek from it elegance of speech, and you will find only a few whose purpose it is to learn from it nobility of character, which is far more profitable. We thus try to avoid slips of the tongue and we seek to purify our speech, but we attach little importance to the imperfections of our lives and we increase their number. … Certainly I should not want you to neglect entirely the liberal arts, while you are engaged in these studies, but seek a knowledge of them from Him who gives abundantly to all and does not chide, and it will surely be given to you according to the measure of your faith [James 1:5, Romans 12:3] (Regenos 1966, 149–50).

These would not seem to be the words of a man dedicated body-and-soul to the furtherance of classical literature or to the perfection of its language. Rather, these excerpts provide the other key component to understanding Lupus (and indeed, most other Carolingian intellectuals). A reverence for the classics certainly comprised an important part of their mental composition, but so too, of course, did Christianity. It is on this point—the connection between classical and Christian cultures—that Emmanuel von Severus based his telling comparison and theory of influence between Alcuin and Lupus. Alcuin, he argued, most properly embodied and shaped this Carolingian cultural fusion, a development clearly expressed in his seminal expositions on grammar (von Severus 1940, 117). Classical knowledge and learning were, in Alcuin's view, tools to be used in order to achieve not human, but divine wisdom. Both were gifts of God, and neither could function properly without the other—a secular and religious symbiosis itself framed in Alcuin's famous image of the Temple of Christian Wisdom, complete with its seven pillars of the liberal arts (von Severus 1940, 129; Contreni 1995, 727; Contreni 1980, 85). In like fashion, grammar ("the handmaiden of theology") served as a tool with which the faithful could better approach the divine. In this way classical culture and knowledge could not stand apart from the quest for salvation, but rather, according to von Severus, were to be guideposts on the path to divine wisdom (von Severus 1940, 126). Lupus's "sapientia propter seipsam appetenda" thus needs to be understood not as knowledge for its own sake, but rather as something to be used in service to the Church. Indeed, an intellectual of Lupus's ability, with ready access to so much classical knowledge, was therefore obliged to apply it to the pursuit of divine wisdom and grace.

§9.  Lupus was also a man with eminently practical day-to-day concerns. With his syncretic attitude toward his own classical learning and Christian faith, he did not see, as later ecclesiastics might, any problem in using secular and sacred texts to further his ultimate goal of protecting the welfare of his abbey, his students, the Church, or the royal government (Olsen 1992).10 In Charles the Bald's western Frankish kingdom, accurately described by Janet L. Nelson as "held together by a thousand special personalized arrangements," one needed to nurture personal contacts with contemporaries to keep from falling into political oblivion (Nelson 1992, 67). This was no less true for abbots than aristocrats, and Lupus deftly used his classical education and literary skill to help maintain personal relationships, consult peers for theological clarification, and request books from fellow teachers and masters throughout the empire. A survey of his letters shows Lupus corresponding with almost all the major intellectual figures of his day, including Hrabanus Maurus, Prudentius of Troyes, and Hincmar of Rheims, often showcasing his literary talents in order to ensure he would be remembered. In a petition to Ebroin (bishop of Poitiers, abbot of St.Germain-des-Pres, and archchaplain to Charles the Bald—a powerful figure, to be sure) for assistance in the matter of regaining some contested property for Ferrières, Lupus included a memento along with a reminder that he was relying on his friend's support:

Misi uobis eburneum pectinem, quem quaeso ut in uestro retineatis usu, quo inter pectendum artior uobis mei memoria imprimatur. Bene uos ualere cupio (Lupus SLE 39)

I am sending you an ivory comb which I ask you to keep and use, so that when you are combing your hair, remembrance of me will be more deeply impressed upon your mind. I hope you are in good health (Regenos 1966, 38).

He similarly drew upon his friendship with abbot Marcward of Prüm in asking for two blue robes in preparation for his trip to Rome, since the pope was known to have taken a fancy to the garments (Lupus SLE 68). As further evidence of his stature among his peers, Lupus was called upon to arbitrate a dispute between Paschasius Radbertus and a fellow cleric (Lupus SLE 57). The contacts made in these ways often proved crucial to one's elevation through the ecclesiastical hierarchy. While this does not seem to have worked terribly well for Lupus, he at least did not follow some of his peers in demotion or deposition (Contreni 1995, 736). It is also important to note that his letters were used as models by subsequent generations of letter-writers—testimony to the authority Lupus's classical learning commanded among his peers and successors.

§10.  Lupus expressed another side of his levelheaded nature through his patronage of students. Having personally benefited from the support of Einhard and Hrabanus, he knew the importance of such friendships. Einhard had, after all, dedicated his On the Adoration of the Cross to this young admirer. Returning the favor to the next generation, Lupus took several students under his extended wing; he defended, for example, Ado of Vienne (a former monk and pupil at Ferrières) from jealous detractors, and provided for two students to travel to Prüm to learn the eastern Frankish dialect under the care of his friend, Marcward (Lupus SLE 91, 122). The theme of affection and friendship which often suffused these relationships was perhaps best expressed in Lupus's somber letter to the brothers of Saint Germain, telling of the recent deaths of several pupils that had already made great progress in their studies (Lupus SLE 115bis; Contreni 1989, 85). Saddened by this loss (and by the loss of such a long-term investment) Lupus welcomed the arrival of a new boy to the monastery. Lupus's closest student-teacher relationship, however, was with his most famous student, Heiric of Auxerre, who not only compiled Paris B.N.F. lat. 2858, but also generally seems to have followed most closely in his master's footsteps throughout his own career (Manitius 1911, 484). Then as now, imitation and emulation was the highest form of praise.

§11.  Lupus likewise enjoyed real familiarity with many of the kingdom's elite, and used this proximity to the realm's power centers both to serve and criticize the king. Having gained acceptance and even prominence at court through empress Judith's patronage, Lupus retained access to her son, even after her death. Again, his skill as a stylist played a major role in ensuring this level of exposure. Called upon periodically to author royal and conciliar documents, Lupus provided, for example, his learned opinion on the predestination controversy whipped up by the dissident monk Gottschalk of Fulda, with whom he seems to have sympathized for a time (Lupus SLE 30, 130, 131; Riché 1993, 334). Further evidence of Lupus's political acumen is preserved in several requests for assistance in influencing the king; the most interesting of these were addressed to Louis, abbot of St. Denis and royal chancellor, who, as luck would have it, had been educated at Ferrières (Lupus SLE 22). Throughout Charles's reign, Lupus also wrote a series of short mirrors for princes (commonly referred to in modern historiography as Fürstenspiegeln) in the form of letters to the king, enumerating therein both the values becoming to a sovereign lord and those factors which could diminish his power (Lupus SLE 38, 64). Not surprisingly, the crux of his advice was to rely only on "those who are completely faithful to God and to yourself"—a description bearing notable similarities to himself. He nevertheless cautioned time and again against becoming too dependent upon advisors, exhorting the king to surround himself only with good men. Telling the truth, keeping secrets, watching one's tongue, practicing humility, giving to the poor, and glorifying God in all actions—all these would, Lupus argued, please God and secure divine aid in defeating enemies (Lupus SLE 64; Anton 1968, 252–254).11 Above all else was the injunction against listening to the advice of "evil men." This recommendation would pass between Lupus and Charles many times, often as an indirect way to bring up the touchy subject of the lost cell of St. Josse.

§12.  No issue better illustrates Lupus's use of his education and proximity to power to protect Ferrières's interests quite as well as the controversy over St. Josse. This small monastic cell, situated near Montreuil in the Pas-de-Calais, lay at the heart of a thorny property dispute that threatened to sour Lupus's relationship with his king for over a decade. The royal practice of installing lay abbots experienced a sharp resurgence in the early ninth century, leading to significant usurpation of Church lands. Although condemned by several councils (especially after 844), the practice—so well fitted to the exigencies of late Carolingian politics—survived, much to the chagrin of an abbot like Lupus, from whom this much-needed cell was taken (de Jong 1995, 634–635; Riché 1993, 190). The property itself must have had its attractions, since it passed through several sets of hands in the first half of the ninth century: from Charlemagne to Alcuin; from Louis the Pious to Ferrières (at Judith's request); from Lothar to Rhuoding; then, through royal confiscation, to Charles the Bald. However, rather than restoring this cell to the monastery to which his father had given it years before, Charles bestowed it upon a vacillating vassal, Odulf, in return for his loyalty in the troubled early 840s (Regenos 1949, 56). Outraged by such unfair treatment by his king, particularly in view of his own spotless record of loyalty, Lupus embarked upon what would turn out to be a twelve-year campaign of letters and petitions to regain the cell for his monastery.

§13.  Using all the faculties at his disposal, Lupus finally achieved the cell's restoration in 852. Just how he managed to do it not only reveals a great deal about his political, literary, and creative abilities, but also serves as a reminder that few Carolingian intellectuals could hope to remain in the proverbial ivory tower for long. As Paul Edward Dutton has observed, "[Lupus] may have been the finest humanist of the ninth century, but he, too, was a pleader for property" (Dutton 1994, 162–166).12 A letter to Charles in 845 contains one of Lupus's recurring motifs on the issue. Complaining of Ferrières's worsening poverty as a result of the loss of St. Josse, Lupus begged the king to stop listening to the malicious advisers who must be behind such a terrible course of action. The missive ends with the plaintive hope that God will not hold Charles responsible for the transgressions of those evil ones under his care (Lupus SLE 71). Ratcheting up the pressure a few months later, Lupus expressed his relief that the king had survived his latest battles, since had he died, he would have gone to his grave without settling the messy affair of Ferrières's stolen property (Lupus SLE 33). Persistent as ever, Lupus tried a new tack in another letter that same year. Describing the squalor to which the monks of the abbey had been reduced, Lupus reminded the king that the community's charges were expected to pray for the eternal salvation of the king's forebears. Grumbling monks, in this veiled threat, were not supplicant monks (Lupus SLE 45). As if this were not direct enough, he took his petition one step further—coming precipitously close to making an outright threat:

Tempus est, ut dei timor atque amor uestram compungat mentem, quia iam peruenit corpus ad uirilem aetatem. Nec differatis, quaeso, ulterius bonum, quod uos uelle dicitis, quoniam, cum nesciatis quid superuentura pariat dies, tamen, quia nobiscum cotidie ad eius iudicium tenditis, cui uerissime dicitur: tu reddes unicuique secundum opera sua, dubitare nequaquam potestis. Horribile est autem incidere in manus dei uiuentis. Nec uero dicere dignemini uos non posse. Siquidem, ut ait apostolus: deus non irridetur (Lupus SLE 45).

The time has come for you to have your conscience quickened with fear and love for God, for you are now reaching the age of manhood. Do not further delay, I beseech you, the act of kindness which you propose to do, for, since you do not know what a day may bring forth, you certainly cannot doubt that you, and we too, are proceeding each day to the judgment of him to whom the following truth is addressed: "You shall reward every man according to his works [Matthew 16:27]." "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God [Hebrews 10:31]," but do not deign to say that you can escape, for indeed, as the Apostle says: "God is not mocked" [Galatians 6:7] (Regenos 1966, 68).

After many other similar appeals (and even a little more spiritual coercion), the abbot's persistence finally paid off, as St. Josse was at last restored to the community in 852 (Levillain 1935, 75). What is especially striking is that although at least fourteen heated petitions on this one issue had passed from Ferrières to the court, Lupus had never in all those years truly fallen from royal grace—a testament to his political acuity.

§14.  Yet what one may regard as politically shrewd can just as easily be viewed as stemming from necessity. Lupus obviously realized that simply sitting in his monastery, passively and altruistically transmitting "the classics" to posterity, would never put bread on the table. In a pleading letter to Hincmar around 845, a frustrated and regretful Lupus admitted as much:

Imitatus ueteres eruditionis artificio etiam nunc nostra recuperare molitus essem, nisi hoc frustra temptans experimento proprio comperissem, etiamsi Virgilius reuiuisceret et totas tripertiti operis uires mouendis quorundam cordibus expenderet, nec lectionem quidem praesentium adepturum (Lupus SLE 44).

In imitation of the ancient writers I would even now have tried to recover our property with a brilliant display of rhetoric, if I had not discovered through personal experience the futility of such an attempt, for even if Virgil were to come back to life and employ the full eloquence of his three works to stir the hearts of certain people, he would not find any readers today (Regenos 1966, 66–67).

In such an imperfect world, even a man as awestruck by Virgil, Cicero, and Isidore as Lupus was grasped the need to acknowledge the interrelatedness of ancient secular learning, divine wisdom, and present practical possibilities. While "the arts became sacralized, no longer mere secular learning, but paths to a higher wisdom," so, too, did the sacred arts become secularized after a fashion (Contreni 1995, 757). Von Severus emphasized this state of affairs in his own characterization of Lupus as the epitome of the fusion of the component aspects of Carolingian culture:

However ardently Lupus himself may have wished to be known for his erudition, he has nonetheless come down to us as a remarkable representative of an era in which classical tradition, Christian spirituality, and Germanic action truly encountered one another and, for the first time outside the auspices of the old empire, combined to create a high culture deserving the epithet "Renaissance," a moment of sublime human endeavor realized (von Severus 1940, 130–131).13

Lupus, well aware of the difficulties of keeping himself and his abbey afloat in the troubled waters of late Carolingian society, marshaled all available strengths and skills in his endeavor to bolster his standing among fellow ecclesiastics and intellectuals, to maintain strong ties of friendship with and service to his lord and king, and to use both sets of relationships to further his community's vital interests. More than simply a proto-humanist obsessed with presenting to succeeding generations the fruits of his editing efforts, this remarkable figure strove to apply his classical training and aptitude to the goals that defined the Carolingian renovatio, particularly as illustrated by Alcuin, to whom he undoubtedly looked for inspiration and guidance. Indeed, as Thomas F. X. Noble has noted, "the Carolingian Renaissance did not set out to produce geniuses. Its aim was to provide competent teachers. Lupus's writings show that he was that, and perhaps a little more besides" (Noble 1998, 246). Thus, while more measured retrospection may not allow posterity to herald this bookish abbot as a paragon of creativity, neither, it is more than fair to say, was he a repetitious automaton. Lupus of Ferrières was, above all, a practical Carolingian.


1.   Sprotte (later echoed in most cases by Léon Levillain) placed Lupus within an extensive kinship network that included brothers Heribold and Abbo, successive abbots of Auxerre; two other brothers, Reginbertus and Adalgus; and an uncle with connections at Charles the Bald's court. Lupus was also supposedly related to Abbot Marcwald of Prüm, Archbishop Wenilo of Sens, Bishop Hilmerad of Amiens, Abbot Odacrus of Cormery, and prominent monks Ebrardus and Remigius of Auxerre.  [Back]

2.   Fortunately, Lupus was released just three weeks later through the intercession of Turpio, Count of Angoulême. Such a quick and convenient release, however, raised suspicion at court of Lupus's possible complicity with Pippin II, apparently leading to the rumor that there might soon be a new abbot of Ferrières.  [Back]

3.   Interestingly, Berne Bibliotheke cod. 141, ff. 1r–41r, also containing several of Lupus' letters, appears to be a transcription of Pierre Daniel's 1588 edition, with editorial corrections entered in it from Paris B.N.F. lat. 2858 itself. While alone this duplicity would not carry much significance, it has become very important for modern editors, because sometime after 1588, fol. 36 of B.N.F. lat 2858 disappeared. As a result, editors can now use the Bern manuscript's editorial comments (perhaps written by Pierre Daniel) to reconstruct an accurate version of the now-missing letters.  [Back]

4.   Peter K. Marshall (the editor of SLE) found at least a part of his inspiration in the desire to clean up Levillain's alleged abuses, reacting in large part against an "imperfect" chronological rearrangement of the letters. He returned the letters to the order in Dümmler's MGH edition, thereby following the arrangement of Paris B.N.F. lat. 2858 itself, and added a Index nominvm et avctorum and Index sacrae scriptvrae for reference. Levillain based his arrangement on a detailed (though at times necessarily theoretical) textual analysis. Marshall reserved especially harsh words for his French predecessor, calling Levillain's edition "full of inaccuracies…some of [which] are due to his careless acceptance of the work of his predecessors, while others are due to his own faulty reading of [Paris B.N.F. lat. 2858]. It is not my purpose here to correct these simple mechanical blunders."  [Back]

5.   While Pellegrin identified eleven possibilities, Bischoff favored an estimate closer to twenty.  [Back]

6.   Marshall's Index nominum et avctorvm allows for some quantification of references to a few of these classical authors: Augustine (17 references), Priscian (13), Virgil (13), and, last but never least in the early Middle Ages, the Psalms (44). Note, too, that such efforts have inspired several studies dedicated to uncovering futher references. Charles Beeson, for instance, even made a kind of competition out of comparing Lupus' and Hadoard's relative familiarity with the classics—which, incidentally, Lupus "won."  [Back]

7.   Cabaniss, for example, readily lauded Lupus as "then the greatest classical scholar of the land."  [Back]

8.   Manitius later argued that Lupus was, after all, much more a lover of books and text critic than a theologian or original author: "More than anything, he was a learned critic whose driving passion for establishing accurate textual traditions truly distinguished him from his contemporaries. His name will thus always be given pride of place in the annals of philology." ("Er war vor allen Dingen Gelehrter, besonders Kritiker, dem die Herstellung der richtigen Überlieferung so am Herzen lag wie keinem seiner Zeitgenossen, und daher wird sein Name in der Geschichte der Philologie stets mit Ehren bestehen.")  [Back]

9.   Beeson emphasized the point, giving Lupus extra credit for his meticulousness: "The urge for a second copy from which to correct the first is almost as strong in Lupus as the desire for a new text. It is this characteristic that distinguishes him from all the other scholars of the Middle Ages. The use he makes of his two texts, and the respect for the tradition which he shows in preserving discrepant readings or old readings when he occasionally does emend, more than atone for the mediocrity of his scholarship."  [Back]

10.   Olsen's study illustrates how Lupus (SLE 29) innovatively drew upon the proceedings of the fourth council of Toledo (633) to defend even the monastic vocation itself by demonstrating the superiority of a monk's life over that of a priest.  [Back]

11.   Anton also saw in these letters the characteristics of a Mahnschreiben ("admonishing text"), often couched in terms of what would be best for utilas publica, particularly in the case of the ongoing St. Josse controversy. Here, too, Lupus drew upon the classics to support his admonitions, citing the ideals of Sallust and Publilius Syrus as useful in shaping an ideal kingdom.  [Back]

12.   Dutton provides a succinct account of Lupus' activities within the broader context of Carolingian struggles over property, the meaning of dreams, and the intentions of saints toward temporal rulers (as interpreted by ecclesiastics like Lupus). He also discusses Lupus's earlier use of classical knowledge on behalf of the Church in the Vita Maximini.  [Back]

13.   "So wenig Lupus selbst es liebte, sich mit seiner Gelehrsamkeit hervorzutun, so ist er doch für alle Zeiten ein bedeutender Vertreter einer Zeit, in der sich antike Formkraft, christlicher Geist und germanischer Tätigkeitsdrang begegneten und erstmals auf einem nicht allein durch das alte Imperium bestimmten Raum eine hohe Kultur schufen, und die darum mit Recht eine Renaissance, das heißt die Zeit der Erschaffung eines idealen Menschentyps, genannt wird."  [Back]

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