The bishop and the law, according to Hincmar’s life of Saint Remigius
in Hincmar of Rheims
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In his Life of Saint Remigius, Hincmar gave to hagiography the broadest definition it has ever had. Firstly, this text shows how Merovingian historiography could define present behaviour, when the rewritten past was given as an unquestionable truth. The vita was also a vivid portrait of a ideal (hence ahistorical) bishop, a man whose speech and life teach good conduct to Christians: so it pleaded for the reinforcement of bishops' authority. Finally, the vita included so many fragments of previous treatises, especially theological and moral ones, that it must be considered as a library itself that Hincmar wanted all his clerics to possess and use on subjects as varied as predestination, simony and penance. The Life of Saint Remigius therefore exceeds the definition of the hagiographical genre as a text that offers models of behaviour: it is far nearer a normative, absolute text, and the figure of saint Remigius it delineates is mainly one of a law-giver. This chapter thus argues that Hincmar did not take a conservative position towards the normative power of bishops; he actually argues in favour of their total liberty in creating the law rather than exhorting them to maintain it.

Hincmar of Rheims

Life and work

Editors: Rachel Stone and Charles West


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