Lent: Day 29 of 40 - Clovis and Clothilde

What if the king listened to the queen?

Clovis king of Franks, and Clothilde queen of Burgundy, made a marriage and an alliance against neighbouring tribes such as the Allemani. Her terms included his acceptance of a Trinitarian catholic faith rather than holding firm to his Arian origins. This is a crucial turn in making what we call France as a regional nation and people rooted in ‘Frankish’ tribes – and shaping other roots echoed in the French name for Germany, ‘Allemagne’. Clovis was baptized 1500 years ago. How has ‘Christianization’ gone so far?

Don’t impose modern frames on this – like the woman being in charge of religious matters, and the man leading warfare, or the individual conscience and conversion of individuals. This is a century when tribes convert, when chiefs and priests sprinkle baptism waters on crowds from wet evergreen boughs: thus, ‘casting aspersions’ on them. Is your religious identity traceable in part to Clovis? Probably.

Medieval construing of these stories tends toward the ‘God is on our side, and rewards those who obey the ‘true faith’. God is in charge of history as the elites are in charge of the world.’ Watch for the complexity of the relationship of church and state, though, with a post-modern eye. The church legitimates civil power, and a ‘Holy Roman Empire’ emerges only after the real imperial power is broken.

In our postmodern age of fragmentation, we have empathy with the post-imperial age of barbarians. They would appeal to their own gods, or to an Arian Jesus as advocate or champion super-hero for one tribe or another. We have similar temptations to place Jesus in our back pocket, or on our dashboards, to answer ‘gimme’ prayers, and take our side against other heathen. Our grandkids know the Marvel universe, or at best, Spiderman. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis yielded to J.K. Rowling – what’s next?

What if a ‘trinitarian’ worldview matters? The appeal of Clothilde to Clovis is not based in degenerate versions of the faith in Rome or Constantinople, as antiquarian museology. Clovis and Clothilde and their court worked out a version of the faith that worked for Burgundians and Franks, modeling a greater unity that preserved particularity, in an economy of relationships within God. This apparently abstract theology helped the tribes imagine human identities finding unity from a range of intersectional identities. This is not speculation, but a working faith and vision. It’s overdue for us too.

Eurocentric civilization that follows, and in turn follows cycles of degeneration and regeneration, imperial excess and crisis, may fail to inspire our confidence in the promise of this original epiphany. Wars of religion returned through the reformation, and were exported globally, to return home with a vengeance in the 20th century world wars, as ‘earths proud empires pass away’. But I think we might glimpse, in a vignette of Clovis and Clothilde some more inspiring clues to ‘unity in diversity’.

What if the king listened to the queen?

What if particular subjective pride paused?

What if subtler relationships were revealed?