The son of Pepin the Short rose to power in the eighth century, and there was nothing short about him. Standing seven feet tall, Charlemagne was active, dignified, strong, and intelligent. His continual warfare enlarged his kingdom till it covered most of central Europe, and on Christmas Day, 800, he was crowned king of the Franks by Pope Leo III.
Charlemagne craved education, not only for himself but for his people. He believed that religion and education were the only sure foundations for a healthy state. But he needed a teacher.
Alcuin, having evidently lost his parents in childhood, had been raised by schoolmasters in York, England. In the vast library of York’s Cathedral School the boy fell in love with Ambrose, Augustine, Bede, Pliny, and the writers of antiquity. He rose from student to teacher, and on February 2, 767, Alcuin was made a deacon and the school’s headmaster.
Years passed, and the now-famous schoolman, traveling in Italy, met Charlemagne. The two hit it off, one a physical giant, the other an intellectual one. Charlemagne asked Alcuin to educate his court, train his clergy, and establish parish schools. So Alcuin resigned at York and began teaching the royal family, the imperial advisors, and the clergy of the palace chapel. He based his curriculum on the seven liberal arts, saying the house of knowledge can only be perfectly built on these seven columns. He collected manuscripts for a royal library. And he began efforts to educate clergy everywhere, then the people. The first thing to learn, Alcuin said, was the Lord’s Prayer. Then, the Ten Commandments. He was ever zealous for studying the Scriptures and preaching the gospel. People cannot be “christianized” by force, he warned Charlemagne, but brought to Christ by the Word of God.
Ten years later an exhausted Alcuin returned to England where he spent the rest of his life defending orthodoxy, reorganizing schools, developing curriculum, copying manuscripts, and teaching Scripture. He died unexpectedly on Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 804, but his efforts brought light into the darkness and paved the way for the universities that were soon to rise
Wisdom has built her house with its seven columns. She has prepared the meat and set out the wine. Her feast is ready.
“Everyone who is ignorant or foolish is invited! If you want to live, give up your foolishness And let understanding guide your steps.” (Proverbs 9:1,2,4,6)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Feb. 2.