Social commentary in the prose and poetry of Theodulf of Orleans: A study in Carolingian humanism

June-Ann Theresa Greeley, Fordham University


Theodulf of Orleans (d. 821), was the pride of the Carolingian court. Theodulf was among the retinue of international scholars who had gathered about the towering figure of Charlemagne to implement the program of educational reform and spiritual revitalization which the emperor had prescribed for his entire empire. Theodulf was integral to that enterprise, as bishop, judge, teacher, scholar, and diplomat. During his tenure in Charlemagne's service, he served as Bishop of Orleans and abbot of several monasteries, enforced imperial justice as a missus dominici, and was the author of several important works which are yet extant, including the pastoral treatises Capitula ad Presbyteros and Capitulare ad eosdem, the theological tracts De Ordine Baptismi and De Spiritu Sancto, the philosophical tome Libri Carolini, and nearly seventy poems that vary in theme and style. Theodulf was, then, a quite significant figure in the court of Charlemagne, and his works were equally significant for their influence on the religious identity and the artistic culture of the Carolingian renovatio. Nevertheless, except for an occasional commentary on a specific poem, there has been published to date no thorough study of Theodulf's complete oeuvre. There is as well a dearth of critical reflection on the organizing themes and principal sensibilities that inform his writings. This dissertation hopes to reverse so lamentable a situation. It proposes to examine the life and writings of Theodulf of Orleans with particular regard to the profound Christian humanism that characterizes his life, his personality, and many of his compositions. Theodulf's humanism took many forms, but perhaps the most salient was his philosophical conviction, based upon an Augustinian paradigm, in society as a viable construct of human endeavor, as an essential aspect of and vehicle for redemption since the Fall. Not everyone can or should be cloistered, and most of the faithful are perforce engaged in the mundane business of living. Theodulf determined that human society—either writ small, as the village, or writ expansive, as the body politic—must be recognized as an implied instrument of divine grace, with which humanity may mark its progress towards final salvation.

Subject Area

Literature|Middle Ages|Middle Ages|Romance literature

Recommended Citation

Greeley, June-Ann Theresa, "Social commentary in the prose and poetry of Theodulf of Orleans: A study in Carolingian humanism" (2000). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9981403.