First Advisor

Karen Carr

Term of Graduation

Fall 2000

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Merovingians -- France -- To 987, Church history -- 7th century, France -- History -- To 987



Physical Description

1 online resource (180 pages)


The bishops of the seventh-century Merovingian Church were often drawn from the secular aristocracy after long careers in local or royal government. They remained involved in politics even after becoming . bishops, and these entanglements occasionally dictated their actions. Historians have examined these actions by using the chronicles and hagiography of the seventh century, but not by using the Church councils.

I translated the last five general councils of the Merovingian Church from the Latin into English for the first time, and then examined the councils in their political context. In the seventh century, the bishops were asserting their independence from the monarch with more force than in prior years, and this conflict for power can be seen in the canonical legislation.

The three themes that are examined in this thesis are episcopal election and distribution of Church property; problems with women; and punishment of canonical infractions. The bishops wanted independence from the monarchy and the aristocracy in dealing with these issues, and the canons reflect this desire. From other sources, historians know that compromises often overrode the legislation, but this does not change the fact that the canons can be used to know what the bishops wanted from their flock and the areas in which they felt they should have dominance.

This thesis concludes that the bishops were involved in politics even when they came together to consider the state of their Church. They codified their relationship with the secular world in the canonical legislation, and they also laid out an ideal on which they could fall back when they were in a position of strength. The canons are not meant to be binding law, but they were meant to be a guide by which the bishops could negotiate with their rivals. The secular nature of Merovingian bishops has often been asserted, using other evidence. This thesis reinforces that notion by examining what the bishops decided about their Church when they gathered together, rather than when they dealt with the monarchy on a one-to-one basis.


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