Theodulf of Orléans

Theodulf of Orléans

Theodulf of Orléans (ca. 750-60 to 821), was the Bishop of Orléans (ca. 798 to 818) during the reign of Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. He was a key member of the Carolingian Renaissance and an important figure during the many reforms of the church under Charlemagne.


Theodulf was born in Spain between 750 and 760, and was of Visigothic descent. He fled Spain because of the Moorish occupation of the region and traveled to the South-Western province of Gaul called Aquitaine where he got an education. [Freeman & Meyvaert 2001, p.125.] He went on to join the monastery near Maguelonne in Southern Gaul led by the abbot Benoit d’Aniane. During his trip to Rome in 786, Theodulf was inspired by all the centres of learning and sent letters to a large number of abbots and bishops of the Frankish empire, encouraging them to establish public schools. [Baunard 1860, p.54.] Charlemagne recognized Theodulf’s importance within his court and simultaneously named him Bishop of Orléans (ca. 798) and abbot of many monasteries, most notably the Benedictine abbey of Fleury-sur-Loire. [Freeman & Meyvaert 2001, p.126.] He then went on to establish public schools outside the monastic areas which he oversaw, following through on this idea that had impressed him so much during his trip to Rome. Theodulf quickly became one of Charlemagne’s favoured theologians alongside Alcuin of Northumbria and was deeply involved in many facets of Charlemagne’s desire to reform the church. He was involved in editing numerous translated texts that Charlemagne believed to be inaccurate and translating sacred texts directly from the Greek and Hebrew language. [Baunard 1860, p.77.] Charlemagne died in 814 and was succeeded by his son Louis the Pious. [Baunard 1860, p.296.] Louis’ nephew, King Bernard of Italy sought independence from the Frankish empire and raised his army against the latter. Bernard was talked into surrendering, but was punished by Louis severely, sentencing him to have his sight removed. The procedure of blinding Bernard went wrong and he died as a result of the operation. [Baunard 1860, p.300.] Louis believed that numerous people in his court were conspiring against him with Bernard, and Theodulf was one of many who were accused of treason. He was forced to abandon his position of Bishop of Orléans in 817 and was exiled to a monastery in Angers in 818 where he spent the next two years of his life. [Baunard 1860, p.301.] After he was released in 820, he tried to reclaim his bishopric in Orléans but was never able to reach the city because it is believed that he was poisoned during the trip. Theodulf of Orléans died on January 18, 821 and his body was brought back to Angers where it was buried. [Baunard 1860, p.322.]



As Bishop of Orléans, Theodulf wrote two important capitularies.

The first capitulary was a reminder to the priests of his diocese of the importance of manual labour, studying, prayer and chastity.

The second capitulary focused on his code of penance where he lists the consequences of murder, adultery, fornication, incest, thievery, usury and other infractions. [de Clercy 1930, p.8.]

It is divided in ten main parts:

"Capitula altera Theodulpho episcopo Aurelianensi adscripta"
* De ammonitione sacerdotum
* De adulteriis et incestis et fornicationibus
* De confessionibus laicorum
* De homicido
* De mulierum delictis
* De furto et falso testimonio
* De inrationabili fornicatione
* De adultero presbytero publice et occulte
* De usurariis
* De inquisition octo vitiorium ad confessionem

Libri Carolini

Theodulf was also responsible for composing the "Libri Carolini" (ca. 793) which served as a rebuttal to a faulty translation of the Second Nicene Council of 787 which was mistakenly interpreted as saying that the worship of images was now acceptable in the church. [Freeman 1957, pp.663-664.] It therefore suggested that an end was to be put to the iconoclastic period which had led to the destruction of many sacred images in the church, especially in Constantinople. This translation made its way from Rome to the court of Charlemagne where it infuriated the Frankish emperor and his loyal theologians, including Theodulf. Theodulf was ordered to write the "Libri Carolini" under Charlemagne's name in a way that portrayed him as the sole representative of the Western world and defender of the church against idolatry. [Freeman 1957, p.665.]

Key Values


Theodulf brought fresh ideas and an open mind to the period known as the Carolingian Renaissance. He believed in always keeping the door open and never refusing pilgrims, travelers or the poor if they needed a meal or a place to stay for the night. He believed that you had to offer the less fortunate a seat at your dinner table if you one day wished to have a seat at the banquet of God. These ideas were highly influenced by his readings of Augustine. [Baunard 1860, p.196.] He often referred to himself as the poor traveler or stranger, being born in Spain and of Visigothic descent, and being accepted with open arms by the royal court of Charlemagne. [Baunard 1860, p.54.]

Literature and the Liberal Arts

Theodulf was an avid reader of Christian literature and some of his favorite writers are listed in one of his letters to the Pope Leo III which include mentions of texts by Gregory the Great, Augustine, Jerome and Isidore. [Baunard 1860, p.237.] He also mentions in his letters that he enjoyed reading pagan literature including poems by Virgil and Ovid which he thought may seem filled with heresy at first, but underneath the surface had useful morals which could be applied to Christian morality. [Baunard 1860, p.241.] He was also very fond of the Seven Liberal Arts and these art forms were represented in his dining room so that his spirit and body could be fed simultaneously. [Baunard 1860, p.196.]


Theodulf was a pioneer in the realm of public education during the Carolingian Renaissance in the Frankish empire under the reign of Charlemagne. He believed that everybody had the right to an education, and that money should not be a factor which restricts people from learning. He was in part responsible for the boom in public schools which were built beside monastic lands or adjacent to the local churches.



* M. BAUNARD, Théodulfe, évêque d'Orléans et Abbé de Fleury-sur-Loire. Orléans, 1860.
* C. de CLERCY, Quelques Status Diocésains de L'époque de Charlemagne. Anvers, 1930.
* A. FREEMAN, "Theodulf of Orleans and the Libri Carolini," "Speculum" Vol. 32, No. 4 (Oct., 1957), pp. 663-705.
* A. FREEMAN and PAUL MEYVAERT, "The Meaning of Theodulf's Apse Mosaic at Germigny-des-Prés," "Gesta" Vol. 40, No. 2 (2001), pp. 125-139.

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