Posts Tagged ‘9th Century’

I admonish you continually to mull over the words of the holy gospels and the writings of the fathers concerning these (things)…. By thinking, speaking and acting rightly, you may believe in the everlasting God, who remains one in trinity and triune in unity. Dhuoda – “Liber Manualis”, 843 AD

This remarkably astute advice was given to a son by a mother who lived in the 9th century. It is so wonderful to be able to connect with someone who lived and wrote nearly 1200 years ago. Dhuoda studied the same Scriptures that we study. She read the church fathers that we have read. She came to the same doctrinal understanding of the faith that we consider “orthodox”. Reading Dhuoda’s story is an encouragement to my faith.

dhuodaWe only know of Dhuoda’s life through her writings. She married Bernard, son of William of Gellone, at Aachen on June 29, 824. William was a cousin to Charlemagne. Bernard and Dhuoda lived in southern France where Bernard was an advisor at the French court. Dhuoda accompanied Bernard on his travels until the birth of their first son, William, in 826. Then she went to live in a castle at Uzes for the rest of her life.

To put Dhuoda’s life into perspective let us review the 8th and 9th centuries in Europe. Charlemagne (c.742-814) ruled much of Western Europe from 768 to 814. In 771, Charlemagne became king of the Franks (a Germanic people group who extended through most of Western Europe). He wanted to unite all Germanic peoples into one kingdom, and convert his subjects to Christianity. He spent most of his reign engaged in warfare in order to bring this about. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Romans. Charlemagne founded the Carolingian Renaissance, a cultural and intellectual revival in Europe.

When Charlemagne died in 814, his empire encompassed much of Western Europe, and he had also ensured the survival of Christianity in the West. It was into this largely Christian society that Dhuoda was born around 803 AD.

After Charlemagne died his son Louis (778-840) reigned in his stead. It was rumored that the self-seeking Bernard had an affair with Louis’s second wife, Judith. In any event, Bernard was an advisor at court when Louis died in 1840. Louis’s three sons then started a bloody civil war for the throne. At first Bernard backed Pepin II but then changed sides and backed Charles the Bold. In order to prove to Charles that he would not change sides again, Bernard presented his first born son, William, to Charles as a hostage.

Bernard was a very selfish, cruel, lecherous man. He tortured and maimed his enemies. He shut Dhuoda up in a castle in Uzes when he took their firstborn son from her. When Dhuoda’s second son was born, Bernard snatched him away even before he was baptized. In her writing, Dhuoda tells us that she never found out what her second son’s name was. (It was usual to name the child at Baptism.) Bernard’s enemies were just as treacherous. They killed everyone else in Bernard’s family. Perhaps it was just as well for Dhuoda that she was shut away in a castle.

In spite of the fact that Bernard had given his son as hostage, Charles lured him to court in 844 and had him beheaded. Apparently Bernard was still engaged in intrigues. He was always only thinking of himself. His son William proved to be too much like his father and unwisely sought to gain back his family’s territories.

Meanwhile at the castle in Uzes, Dhuoda decided to write to her son. She had heard that thingsliber-manualis were dangerous at court. She was perhaps also told that William was not living the Christian life that he should.  She thought that writing to him would help to get her son to live rightly.

The city of Uzes where Dhuoda was living had seen many changes over the centuries. It began as a Christian community very early in the 2nd century. There were monasteries there and a large cathedral. It was a very peaceful city until 843 with the Treaty of Verdun. After that Uzes became a major battlefield in the dynastic wars which Dhuoda’s husband and family were involved in.

This was the year, 843, when Dhuoda’s book, Liber Manualis, was completed. Dhuoda intended this book to be a manual for the personal growth and edification of her son William. The book was written against the backdrop of all of the wars and fighting and intrigues going on around her. Her main purpose was to write words of wisdom for her son. She wanted him to survive, not as a selfish person, but as a man of God.

Dhuoda stressed three allegiances in her book, first to God, then to William’s earthly father, and then to the king, Charles the Bold.

Unfortunately, Dhuoda’s wise counsel was lost on William. As we now know Bernard was put to death for treason in 844 the following year after Dhuoda’s book was written. William forsook his mother’s counsel and supported Pepin II in spite of owing his allegiance to Charles. William tried to regain his territorial rights against Charles. He was beaten in battle and slain in 850. It remains unclear what happened to Dhuoda’s second son, possibly also named Bernard. In any event Bernard’s family fortunes were now lost.

Though Dhuoda’s well written instruction manual went unheeded by her son, it remains for us a beautiful example of Medieval writing by a woman was is considered a lay theologian in her own right.

Dhuoda wrote during a time when few women were writing. Only the wealthy could afford the kind of education that Dhuoda had. Yet, thanks to Charlemagne’s efforts at advancing Christianity and the culture, more people were reading the classics. We can tell from Dhuoda’s writings that she had read the Scriptures many times. She was also familiar with the major works of the Church fathers. She learned Christian principles that she wanted to pass on to her son.

One example comes from her teaching on the Beatitudes. She tells her son that being “poor in spirit” does not mean only being poor financially. “Someone may shine with gold, gems and the royal purple, but will go forth to the shadows naked and poor, carrying nothing unless he has lived well, piously, chastely, and worthily.” She admonished William to be generous to the poor. She reminded William that his position came from God and he needed to be a good steward.

Too bad William didn’t pay more attention.

Dhuoda wrote in Latin. She was a gifted writer who presented her thoughts in unique ways. She used poetry and prose and even played word games, such as an acrostic she made of her own name.

Dhuoda was a lay theologian. She wrote commentaries on many parts of the Bible. Her translations are orthodox. Some of her theology takes a fresh approach to interpreting Scripture. For example, following Augustine, the main commentaries on the beatitudes in her day compared the beatitudes with the gifts of the Spirit. Dhuoda understood that the gifts of the Spirit enable believers to live the holy life expressed in the beatitudes. Dhuoda used these as concrete examples in her writing to her son.

But, while Augustine reduced the number of beatitudes in order to complete the numerical parallel with the gifts, and he reversed the order of the gifts of the Spirit in order to make them fit his pattern, Dhuoda described both the gifts and the beatitudes as sets of military skills needed to live a mature Christian life. This is not surprising given that she is encouraging her son to live rightly in the world of the intrigues of the court and political revolution.

Dhuoda advised William “to ascend the fifteen steps through the seven formative gifts and the eight beatitudes; ascend them in order and thoughtfully, a step at a time, but vigorously, my son.” Historians believe that Dhuoda was uncertain of her son’s Christian commitment. In her writing we see that she assumes he is a Christian, but very immature. Her book was written to help him know how to grow up to a complete man in Christ.

The date of Dhuoda’s death is unknown. Though we do not have more details of her life, we can be thankful that she left us her writings. Her advice to her son on moral behavior is timeless. Dhuoda is a shining example of a woman who loved God above all and spent her time studying about Him to get to know Him better and to pass on that knowledge to others.












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