Volume 2 Number 3
Charlemagne, on his Hatred for Pope Leo the Third, to the Monk Smaragdus:
Thou dost not understand? Nay, deny it not, monk. I see it written on thy face.
Listen, Smaragdus, and I will tell thee secrets. Thou thinkest I know not what they say? What is whispered and rumoured on the streets or what you monks debate in your monasteries? Leo was elected Pope, and his predecessor Hadrian's family tried to have him murdered, or blinded, so that he could be removed from office. Why? That's not important, except I suspect that they simply could not stomach the idea of a commoner as Pope. Their motivations are of no concern to me. It was their actions that drove him from Rome and into my tender embraces. Ha Proud Roman! Coming to me for help! And what providence! The woman Irene ruled in Constantinople. What better way to expand my realm? So, I planned. Thou knowest well with what subtle chains I wrought a dialectical trap for the Greeks. I would have Empire, Smaragdus, Empire! One! From here to Asia and Palestine! So, Leo and I conferred, secretly --- remember? -- in my tent. He needed Empire to reclaim what was rightfully his, his church. I needed his church to make my empire truly Roman. He needed me, he said, but to pronounce a few words, that was all. "Ahh, Holiness," I replied, "I need from thee but a single word. We have a marvelous conjunction, Holiness. The woman Irene sitteth unlawfully on the throne of Constantinople where should sit a man. And a sole king of Christian countenance now rules the West where before there were many. I shall exonerate thee, Holiness, if thou but crown me Emperor."
The exquisite and just balancing, monk was this: by making me Emperor, I offered no challenge to Constantinople. Nay, but the opposite: for the title needed to be made full by the reality of marriage to the woman Irene. So did she and I negotiate. And if she refused, then yet another dialectical opposite presented itself: I, as constitutionally anointed Emperor, could ally myself with her enemies in Constantinople, make war and not love with her, and depose her. It was, of course, to that end, Smaragdus, that I called the council of Frankfurt long before, in the year of Our Lord seven hundred and ninety-four, before Leo showed up in Paderborn. Thou knowest what tribulations afflicted the Greeks at that time, the iconoclasts denying that any images of Lord -- save the most holy Cross and the bread and wine of the Mass -- were permissible, but not their veneration. And the iconodules -- mostly monks, I recall, like thyself -- said that all images were not only permissible, but to be venerated. Thou dost wish to know the explanation for my acts? Theology and truth have nothing to do with it, monk.....but be not scandalized. Dialectic, Smaragdus, the middle course, the synthesis, the via media necessary to statecraft. I called the council, and ordered my bishops to declare that all images were permissible -- a blow against the iconoclasts -- but were not to be venerated -- a blow against the iconodules. Regardless of who won, therefore, I still had an ecclesiastical sanction in addition to imperial claim.
Damnable Leo! Damnable Leo! Damn him for the ruse! Damn him!
Nay, monk, stay that! I will not say why I was surprised at the deed -- that is a matter betwixt him and me -- but I have said enough already to fill volumes, it was a simple thing he did, simple!...and treacherously subtle!. Why didn't I see it? Why? Why? Why?
After that accursed Christmass, that accursed day, it all depended upon Irene agreeing to marry me. Then that too came undone. She was near to agreement, and Nikephoros staged his coup and deposed the harlot. And I learned that there was Another, nameless and faceless, and deadly, who conspired with him in the matter to place him on the throne. It was then, Smaragdus, that I formulated my plan. I had first to find a man in Constantinople's court who could be bought, who would betray the innermost secrets of the Emperor's court, and the name of the hidden hand directing his spies and undoing my dreams. It was then, you'll recall, that I learned of a doctrine of the Holy Spirit that the Greeks omitted from the creed, and then I knew I had them! If their faith be false, then their emperor and his laws as well, and I, Charlemagne, had just authority to claim my throne, provided I could get Rome to accede to it. But I could not look active in the part, and the crisis would have to be brought to Rome from elsewhere. And how better to humiliate Leo? Would he dare stay Roman and therefore loyal to Constantinople to deny a doctrine used throughout his own Patriarchate?
Do not shrink in such horror, monk. Yes, I arranged to have those monks sent to Palestine, knowing full well what would happen. And then the added benefice of that letter from Constantinople, the report of Greek spies in my court, and of Nikephoros' attempt to annex Bulgaria and thwart my designs upon Leo by threat of war. It was clever, using his son Stauricios like that to cause confusion.... Poor Nikephoros! Victim of his own spy-master's carelessness! O, of course, I would have been remiss in my duty had I executed those three traitors in Our court straight-away. Better to test the news by sharing Nikephoros' ruse with the Bulgarians -- ah, picture it, Smaragdus, poor, poor Nikephoros, a silver-plated goblet for the Bulgarian khan's wine! Carried about, lifted up, and impaled on a stem, his blood poured out like wine, and the wine flowing like his blood! And three traitors to hoist by a rope slowly and watch their eyes pop out and their faces turn purple! A just and godly punishment for unjust and ungodly traitors! But, Bulgaria holds, so We therefore proceed to the next stage of Our sweet revenge upon Leo and Constantinople, thanks to Our spy well-purchased and well-placed!
Leo! Leo! How oft would I have gathered him, monk. No mind could be blacker, no pope hath been nor could be more faithless to friend, Church, or Empire, there is no plumb line long enough to fathom his follies nor number large enough to reckon his deceits! No, monk! No! Silence! We will speak Our heart!
I curse the day ever I offered him shelter!
I curse the day of his vindication, and acquittal! I curse that day in Paderborn of bargains suggested, pondered, accepted. No! Twice hath this bishop with his army of obsequious priests, twice hath he thwarted me, slinking first like the lawyer through all the volumes of canon law to find that One Special Precedent by which to undo all the Empire the toil of Our forefathers built; and secondly, in placing more upon my head than I bade him, and in that easement taking away all that by right and his promise should have been mine long ago!
No...he is no saint, no saint.... Make no mistake about it, he is no saint.... No.... He whispers like Lucifer, this leonine liar!
"Behold, Charles, I can give thee all the kingdoms of the globe if thou allowest me to crown thee Emperor..." And like Lucifer, in giving all, he maketh a pretense, and giveth Nothing! Twice hath he thwarted me, but not Thrice! Do what he may there will be but One Empire from here to Asia, and I Its Sole Emperor! So if, monk, it be as thy proverbs and maxims state the "twisted truth that twists its thane" then let Leo, too, be bent to it! And if he be against it and Us, be it true or We twisted, then let him declare it, and upon his head be the mitred consequences!"
The King drew in a long breath with a sharp hiss, and exhaled slowly, relaxing as he did so. When he resumed, he was calmer, almost introspective:
There are times when I stand remote from my person, in some abstract and placeless place, cold and secluded, looking down upon the inner recesses of my heart, and there I see two great truths, two laws, two principles. One of Church, one of Empire, One of Faith, the Other of Reason, One of Hope, the Other of Doubt, and like divine and malign angels they contend for me. And there am I, caught betwixt them, in two minds, unable to choose, even without the power of decision itself, and there in that middle world between two choices, willing not to will, I remain lost.
And then I think -- God forgive me but sometimes I do think it -- What I would not give to march upon that Tomb, and seal up its emptiness with every sword of every man of every Empire, seal it off, once and for ever eradicate every mention of the place from Our histories and wipe it clean from the mind of man. And then I aspire much higher: I think to disprove Him, you see, disprove God, the Father Himself. So you see? The problem is not that God has left Us alone, to Our own devices, but that He did not: This accursed Incarnation! You see? I want to deny Him utterly.
And then I think: But how? by what means Shall I disprove or deny Him that Reason herself shall not prove faulty? Dare I deny Christ for Reasons ultimately circular themselves and contradictory? Is there not a mixture of Faith and Reason even in Denial and Apostasy? For you see, I bring Europe to the precipice of a dreadful abyss: a potency from which it cannot turn back should I be wrong. For could it not be that Atheism will be the consubstantial love which proceeds from the Father and the Son?
I know it, monk, already. I know the magnitude of what I am about to do. So quit shivering! I will do it now, while I am of a single mind about this double procession. I will call this Council, while I am of a mind to care at all, while I am still a Christian Emperor with a Christian Emperor's temptations.... And by the God of Our Creed, I shall have Leo!
So then, go to monk, and summon thou the bishops. And when the decree of faith is signed, get thee to the bishop Theodulf, whom Leo will remember as Our agent in his trial and exoneration, and repair you both to Rome, with these: For I shall have a letter for you to give him to soften him, a gift of silver to tempt and buy him, and a troop of soldiers, to terrorize him.
The other installments in the Mosaic Soliloquies can be read in our serial archives.