Nov 19, 2020 in History

Christian Religion

Source Analysis

The Conversion of Clovis is a second part of the book History of the Franks, written by Gregory of Tours. He was a prelate of Gaul and one of the most important historians of the Gallo-Roman period. The second part described the conversion of Clovis from the pagan religion to Christianity, his doubts about the need of the monotheistic religion, the miracle, and further baptism of the Frankish tribes. It is possible to assume that Gregory of Tours wrote this chapter for the future generations of monarchs and he was sure that the moral lesson of the importance of Christianity would be useful for them.


The main character in the narration is Clovis. He was the chief of a pagan tribe and managed to unite under his rule all other tribes of Franks with the time. He founded the Merovingian dynasty that dominated all of the Franks tribes for the following two centuries after the events described in the chapter. Clovis is also called the first French king, because the territory he has ruled and passed to his heirs can be called the united country.

Another important character in the chapter is Clotilde the wife of Clovis. She was a princess from Burgundy, and in addition, she was a Catholic. It was Clotilde, who was the most active promoter of Christianity in the court, the members of which were all pagans. She had a child from Clovis, who died soon after his baptism, and this tragedy made Clovis think that the Christian religion is not the one he wants to believe in.

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The geographical context is important for the understanding of the text. In a broad sense, the events take place in the Roman Empire. It is necessary to imagine the attitude of the Empire towards the Christians. Despite the fact that there was no real menace from the Christian religion to the government of the Roman Empire, the country leaders did not welcome the new faith. It did not correspond to the current state of things in the Roman society. People were used to praise the old pagan gods, and the attempts of the Christians to promote their faith were considered the attempts to threaten the country's security.

The Romans were living in a comparative comfort in those days and they thought that it was because they were treating their traditional gods with respect and commitment. The appearance of another religion scared them and made them experience sacred fear in the face of the old pagan gods. Despite the fact that Christians did not promote violence, aggression and destruction, the Roman government still considered them to be criminals and there was no need in proofs. The excerpt from the book Passion of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity written by St. Perpetua shows the inadequate reaction of the Roman court towards the Christian family:

We went up to the tribunal. And my father appeared there also, with my son, and would draw me from the step, saying: Perform the Sacrifice; have mercy on the child. And Hilarian the procurator - he that after the death of Minucius Timinian the proconsul had received in his room the right and power of the sword - said: Spare your father's grey hairs; spare the infancy of the boy. Make sacrifice for the Emperors' prosperity. And I answered: I am a Christian. And when my father stood by me yet to cast down my faith, he was bidden by Hilarian to be cast down and was smitten with a rod (St. Perpetua).

Another geographical context of the narration is the pagan tribe of Franks. There were many superstitions concerning this religion among the members of the tribe and even their ruler, Clovis, supported those ideas. One God did not fit into their way of living. There were many tribes, many gods, and many rulers, while the monotheistic religion supposed that only one God is true and only one ruler is legitimate. In the beginning of the narration, the Gauls were not ready for such changes in their beliefs. In addition, the peaceful Christian religion could not approve the current way of life of the Gauls. First of all, they were warriors and the testament not to kill other human beings meant death to themselves and to their families. That is why Clovis did not thought much about turning all his people into Christianity.

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The chapter starts with the marriage of Clovis and Clotilde. Soon after the marriage, the woman begins trying to make her husband refuse from the old pagan gods and to praise the new, Christian one. Clotilde is very harsh concerning the pagan religion. She addresses her husband in the following words:

The gods you worship are nothing, and they will be unable to help themselves or anyone else. For they are graven out of stone or wood or some metal. And the names you have given them are names of men and not of gods, as Saturn, who is declared to have fled in fear of being banished from his kingdom by his son; as Jove himself, the foul perpetrator of all shameful crimes, committing incest with men, mocking at his kinswomen, not able to refrain from intercourse with his own sister (Gregory of Tours).

All her attempts are worthless and Clovis continues to despise the religion of the cowards. When their first son, Ingomer, is borne, Clovis does not allow his wife to baptize him, but she still does it. Soon after it, the child falls ill and dies. The loss of the first son makes Clovis think that the Christian religion is worthless. Their second son also fell ill after baptism, but he managed to survive.

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After marriage with Clotilde, Clovis starts the war with the Alemanni tribe. It was a Germanic tribe, which tried to conquer the eastern parts of the future Gaule. The key battle took place near the city that is now called Cologne and had the name of Tolbiac in the times of the Roman Empire. The Germans were good warriors and brave men, and the Gauls lost many people in that fight. When the situation became hopeless, Clovis raised his hands to the sky and started asking the Christian God to help him. In case of his victory, the pagan leader promised to convert into the Christian religion himself and to baptize all of his people. In the end, the God heard him and the Alemanni tribe ran away. After this miracle, Clovis believed into the power of the Christian God, converted to this religion and many of his people followed his example.

As it was mentioned earlier, Clovis became the first monarch in the future France. He united the tribes under his rule and the state of peace led to active development of the country. The conversion of Clovis into Christianity was the event of great importance for his contemporaries, because it guaranteed that people would live according to peaceful rules of the new religion, and there would be no more wars. This source gives a detailed description of the historical events of the early history of France that is important for the science nowadays. The book serves as a proof of the power of Christian God and asserts monotheism as the religious basis for the monarchic state.


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