Chapter 26

CHAPTER XXVI: CLOVIS (AD 496)

The most famous and the most important of all the conversions which
took place about this time was that of Clovis, king of the Franks.
From being the chief of a small, though brave people, on the borders
of France and Belgium, he grew by degrees to be the founder of the
great French monarchy. His queen, Clotilda, was a Christian, and
long tried in vain to bring him over to her faith. "The gods whom
you worship," she said, "are nothing, and can profit neither
themselves nor others; for they are graven out of stone, or wood, or
metal, and the names which you give them were not the names of gods
but of men. But He ought rather to be worshipped who by His word
made out of nothing the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that
in them is." Clovis does not seem to have cared very much about the
truth, one way or the other, but he had the fancy (which was common
among the heathens, and which is often mentioned in the Old
Testament), that if people did not prosper in this world, the god
whom they served could not have the power to protect them and give
them success. And, as he lived in the time when the Roman empire of
the West came to an end, the fall of the empire, which had now been
Christian for more than a hundred and fifty years, seemed to him to
prove that the Christian religion could not be true.

Clotilda persuaded her husband to let their eldest son be baptized.
But the child died within a few days after, and Clovis said that his
baptism was the cause of his death. When another prince was born,
however, he allowed him too to be baptized. Clotilda continued to
press her husband with all the reasons that she could think of in
order to bring him over to the Gospel. Some of her reasons were
true and good; some of them were drawn from the superstitious
opinions of these times, such as stories about miracles wrought at
the tomb of St. Martin at Tours. Perhaps the bad reasons were more
likely than the good ones to have an effect on a rough barbarian
prince such as Clovis; but Clotilda could make nothing of him in any
way.

At length, in the year 496, he was engaged in battle with a German
tribe, at a place called Tolbiac, near Cologne, and found himself in
great danger of being defeated. He called on his own gods, but
without success, and at last he bethought himself of the God to
whose worship Clotilda had so long been trying to convert him. So,
in his anxiety, he stretched out his arms towards the sky, and
called on the name of Christ, promising that, if the God of Clotilda
would help him in his strait, he would become a Christian. A victory
followed, which Clovis ascribed to the effect of his prayer. He then
put himself under the instruction of St. Remigius, bishop of Rheims,
that he might get a knowledge of Christian doctrine, and at the
following Christmas he was baptized in Rheims cathedral, where the
kings of France were afterwards crowned for centuries, down to the
unfortunate Charles X, in 1824. Remigius caused it to be decked for
the occasion with beautiful carpets and hangings. A vast number of
tapers shed their bright light over the building, while all without
was covered by the darkness of a December evening; and we are told
that the sweet perfume of incense seemed to those who were there
like the air of paradise. As Clovis entered the church, and heard
the solemn chant of psalms, he was overcome with awe. Turning to
Remigius, who led him by the hand, he asked, "Is this the kingdom of
heaven which you have promised me?" "No," answered the bishop; "but
it is the beginning of the way to it." When they had reached the
font, Remigius addressed the king by a name on which the noblest
among the Franks prided themselves,--"Sicambrian, gently bow thy
neck, worship that which thou hast burnt, and burn that which thou
hast worshipped." Three thousand of the Frankish warriors were
forthwith baptized, in imitation of their leader.

Remigius had much influence over Clovis as to religious things, and
instructed him as he found opportunity. One day, as he was reading
to the king the story of our Lord's sufferings, Clovis was so much
moved by it that he started up in anger and cried out--"If I had
been there with my Franks, I would have avenged His wrongs!"

From what has been said, it will be understood that the religion of
Clovis was not of an enlightened kind; and there was much in his
character and actions which did not become his Christian profession.
Yet his conversion, such as it was, appears to have been sincere. As
his conquests spread, he put down Arianism wherever he found it, and
planted the Catholic faith instead of it. And from the circumstance
that Clovis was converted to Catholic Christianity at a time when
all the other princes of the West were Arians, and when the emperor
of the East favoured the heresy of Eutyches (p 129), the kings of
France got the title of "Eldest Son of the Church."