Such was the state of the Church when Mahometanism came into existence. “There is but one God, and Mahomet is his Prophet.” Such was its battle-cry and its creed, and the moral precepts of the Koran were its gospel. There seems nothing in this to account for the mad enthusiasm and the passion for worship in its followers. But in less than a hundred years this lion out of Arabia had subjugated Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Northern Africa, and the Spanish Peninsula. Now, sword in one hand and the Koran in the other, the Mahometan had crossed the Pyrenees and was in Southern Gaul.
Under the strange magic of this faith the largest religious empire the world had known had sprung into existence, stretching from the Chinese Wall to the Atlantic; from the Caspian to the Indian Ocean; and Jerusalem, the metropolis of Christianity—Jerusalem, the Mecca of the Christian—was lost! The Crescent floated over the birthplace of our Lord, and, notwithstanding the temporary successes of the Crusades, it does to this day.
If the Pyrenees were passed the very existence of Christendom was threatened. Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne, averted this danger when he stayed the infidel flood at the battle of Tours, A.D. 732.
The Merovingian kings, if not devout, were faithful sons of the Church, and when the pope appealed to the last Merovingian king to protect him from the Lombards, near the end of the eighth century, Pepin, then Maire du Palais, but holding supreme power, twice crossed the Alps with an army, wrested five cities and a large extent of territory from the enemies of the pope, which, upon parting, he tossed as a gift into the lap of the Church. And this, known as the Donation of Pepin, was the beginning of the temporal power of the popes in Italy. So when Pepin resolved to assume the crown, Pope Zacharias in gratitude sanctioned the audacious act, by sending his representative to place the symbol of power upon the head of this faithful son and usurper! (A.D. 751.)
But this was only the stepping-stone for a greater elevation. When Pope Adrian I. again needed protection from the Lombard, a greater than Pepin was wearing the crown his father had audaciously snatched.
Against the dark background of European history, and with the broad level of obscurity stretching over the ages at its feet, there rises one shining pinnacle. Considered as man or sovereign, Charlemagne is one of the most impressive figures in history. His seven feet of stature clad in shining steel, his masterful grasp of the forces of his time, his splendid intelligence, instinct even then with the modern spirit, all combine to elevate him in solitary grandeur.
Charlemagne found France in disorder measureless, and apparently insurmountable. Barbarian invasion without, and anarchy within; Saxon paganism pressing in upon the north, and Asiatic Islamism upon the south and west; a host of forces struggling for dominion in a nation brutish, ignorant, and without cohesion.