The Doctrinal Divide
Early in his reign, King Clovis learned to use Christianity as a spiritual blessing for conquering competitive rulers, expanding his domain, and building authority. Within Gaul, his reputation grew, and competing kingdom anxiety increased. After conquering Soissons, the Alemanni, and acquiring northern Burgundy through intrigue with King Godegisil, neighboring rulers feared Clovis' abilities. To the south of Soissons and west of Burgundy lay King Alaric II's Visigothic kingdom. Both kings embraced Christianity, but their theological beliefs differed.
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In Clovis' Gaul, two Christian sects existed. The Roman Catholics prescribed to and declared the doctrine of the Trinity as divinely true. It recognized God as the Father, God as Jesus Christ, and God as the Holy Spirit. All were one eternal being with one eternal purpose. The Arian belief differed.
During the 4th century, in Alexandria, Egypt, the priest Arius propagated an alternative doctrine. Instead of one God with one purpose, God was Jesus' creator; Jesus was subordinate to God; and Jesus was instrumental in earth's creation.
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In AD 325, more than 300 Roman Catholic bishops met in Nicaea, Bithynia and signed the Nicene Creed denouncing Arianism.
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Emperor Constantine endorsed the Nicene Creed and established guidelines and penalties for heretics practicing Arianism and harboring Arian literature. All Arian documents were to be burned, and anyone found possessing the literature was put to death.
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These doctrinal differences created enmity between the sects and kingdoms. Clovis' Frankish kingdom embraced the Roman Catholic Trinity doctrine and Alaric's kingdom Arianism. Concerned about his future, an influx of public desire for Frankish rule, and theological differences between the kingdoms, Alaric anxiously summoned Clovis to sign a peace treaty. If Clovis would agree, the Visigothic kingdom would be safe from conquest. When Alaric's envoys arrived at Clovis' court and shared the proposal, Clovis agreed to meet at an island in the middle of the Loire River near Tours. Sitting side-by-side over a meal of charred wild beast and stewed native vegetation, Alaric and Clovis swore eternal friendship and returned peacefully to their kingdoms.
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Not long after the peace treaty was signed, some notable leaders within the Goth kingdom yearned for Clovis' leadership. One notable who favored him was Bishop Quintianus of Rodez. He was a Roman Catholic bishop constrained by the Arian kingdom. When the Rodez nobles and peasants (Ruthenois) discovered Quintianus' Frankish bias, a plot was hatched to assassinate him. Escaping during the darkness of night, Quintianus headed north and found favor with Bishop Eufranius of Clermont-Ferrand.
Unwilling to tolerate Roman Catholic persecution within the Visigothic kingdom, Clovis plotted to invade Alaric's kingdom, break the peace treaty, and add the region to his domain. In 507, Clovis assembled an army and marched south toward Poitiers. Passing through Tours, Clovis ordered his army to respect St Martin's theological domain and church. The army was given permission to requisition fodder and water only. One soldier, however, forcefully took fodder from a poor farmer. Clovis was concerned with the farmer's treatment. If this upset St Martin, it could deprive Clovis of needed blessings. There was only one remedy. Clovis drew his sword and thrust the sharp sword into the soldier's vital organs.
Unsure of his favor with the deceased St Martin, Clovis sent messengers to the church seeking divine guidance. Loaded with gifts, the messengers departed, and Clovis subsequently offered the following prayer, "Lord God, if You are on my side and if You have decreed that this people of unbelievers...are to be delivered into my hands, deign to show me a...sign as these men enter St Martin's Church..."
Upon entering the church, the messengers smelled the musty sweet odor of incense and listened to the melodic cantor (precentor) sing Psalm 18:39-40, In his baritone voice, he sang, "For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me. Thou hast also given me the necks of my enemies: that I may destroy them..." The messengers had received the coveted sign. Hurrying back to Clovis' camp, the sign was reported to the king, and Clovis ordered the army to march to the Vienne River. He had found favor.
Once the army reached the river, crossing was going to be treacherous. It was swollen from spring rainstorms, and Clovis could ill afford to lose any men. Uncertain where to cross, Clovis prayed for another sign. The following morning, a large deer crossed the river at a shallow ford. The sign was received with thanksgiving, the army crossed safely, and continued their march to Poitiers.
Poitiers was the domain of St Hilary. Before entering the town, Clovis, fearing disfavor with St Hilary, forbade plundering. He had prayed for a blessing of victory, and Clovis was determined to retain it. Plundering could deprive the King of a victory.
East of Poitiers, at Vouille, Clovis and Alaric's army confronted one another and engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Clovis' army won convincingly, and Alaric was killed in battle. Alaric's son, Amalaric, escaped to Spain and ruled the country successfully for many years thereafter.
At the close of the battle, in a last surge, two Gothic soldiers rushed Clovis and thrust their spears at him. The lacerations nearly killed Clovis. His leather undergarment and fast horse saved him. He was severely wounded and was close to death. Unable to complete his conquest, Clovis sent his son, Theuderic, to claim Albi, Rodez, and Clermont-Ferrand. Needing time to heal, Clovis wintered in the southern town of Bordeaux. Upon recovery, he confiscated Alaric's Toulouse treasure and finished his conquest by driving the Goths from Angouleme. With his campaign complete, Clovis retired to Tours and offered gifts at St Martin's church.
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