Petr Bahník

Pax Christiana of St. Slavník

In political science reflections intended for lay readers, various models of state and international legal systems are often simplified and put in stark contrast - such as democracy versus totalitarianism, absolutism versus constitutionalism,
or centralisation versus decentralisation. Although such simplifications may serve as witty bon mots, they do not contribute to understanding the real processes and ideas;
on the contrary, they obscure them. The same approach
may be also encountered in contemporary interpretations
of the idea of cooperation among European nations
and the history of that idea. Such interpretations usually merely reflect the attitude of a particular author towards today's European Union. They either overlook the enormous ideological 
and fundamental differences
and evaluate every historical attempt at European integration positively - from Charlemagne's coronation to Naumann's Mitteleuropa - or, conversely, they vigorously reject any closer European cooperation
as a "tainted source" and a parallel with Hitler's Third Reich. Both are based on the same simplification:
the supposed irreconcilability of the idea of nation-states with the idea of cooperating Europe.
As if it was only the dichotomy of either-or. However, that does not correspond with historical experience.

European states and peoples do not live and have never lived in isolation from one another; over
the centuries, they have been connected by countless links and often had to face common external threats. Total independence is an unrealistic illusion in Europe, in Central Europe in particular, and mutual cooperation is an easily verifiable necessity. On the other hand, the natural competitiveness of European nations is an age-long source of Europe's dynamism and vitality, and any pressure towards ethnic, political and economic unification or suppression of national specificities is suicidal for Europe. It undermines
its essence and its most vital strength. In words of the New Testament: If the salt loses its saltiness, what
is it good for?

After all, neither the necessary defense of common security nor the sharing of common cultural values
has ever been perceived as a reason for limiting the sovereignty of individual states throughout history. The principles of nation states and European cooperation are not necessarily contradictory. Transnational needn't mean non-national. The universalism of the Middle Ages was not an early prototype of the future unified superstate, the EU, but in many ways its antithesis. As an old proverb says: One man's meat
is another man's poison. It is all about the degree of cooperation and the nature of shared values. Despite the divide of ages, the powerful, though never fully implemented idea of Christian universalism presenting Europe as a community of sovereign nations remains a permanent source of inspiration. This idea
was conceived by an extraordinary figure of Central European history, Adalbert of Slavník (956-997).


In the spring of 997, Adalbert was ritually murdered by the pagan Prussians, ancient relatives of today's Lithuanians, to whom he went as an itinerant missionary to preach Christianity. The fact that he died
a martyr's death sparked reverence for him that has remained vivid among the peoples of Central Europe for centuries. The spread and nature of this reverence illustrate the significance and picturesque fortunes of this ancient saint.

When elected the second bishop of Prague in February 982, a young cleric with only a subdeacon's ordination at the time, few people realised that the Czech Church was now headed by a personality who was ahead of his time and of the conditions prevailing at his place of office. His noble parentage - he was born to the mighty family of Prince Slavník, who was considered the first in the country after the ruling family of the Přemyslids - and his excellent education qualified him for the election. Adalbert's first teacher and tutor was the priest Radla (?) to whom Adalbert felt lifelong gratitude and with whom he developed lifelong friendship. He then completed his higher studies in Magdeburg, Saxony, under the patronage
of the local archbishop Adalbert (910-981), who was on friendly terms with Slavník's family. As early as in 962, during his visit to the Slavník's castle in Libice nad Cidlinou, Adalbert of Magdeburg conferred
on still a young boy the sacrament of confirmation thanks to which he received his confirmation name Adalbert under which he is known in Latin and German sources.

During his studies in Magdeburg, Adalbert was of course influenced in particular by his main instructor, Master Odericus (?), who introduced him to the foundations of Christian doctrine. It was probably
at that time that he was impressed by the speech of the erudite priest and mathematician Gerbert
of Aurillac (950-1003) who held a learned debate with Odericus in which he aptly defended the validity
of rational knowledge. Meeting Gerbert was one of the forming milestones in Adalbert's life. Later, in the 990s, they became personal friends and co-authors of the spiritual-political project of Christian universalism, known in the history as the Renovatio Imperii Romanorum programme. In 999, two years after Adalbert's martyrdom, Gerbert was elected Pope as Sylvester II and virtually immediately upon
his accession to the Holy See, he canonised Adalbert.

Let's return back to the beginnings of Adalbert's life. Legendists mention other breaking points in his life, especially Adalbert's personal presence at the bedside of his dying predecessor, the first bishop of Prague Dětmar († 982), who before his death confessed his profound remorse for having performed his office negligently and for having been indifferent and compromising in his defence of moral values. Adalbert
was really heart-struck by this experience at the bishop's deathbed. Another heart-breaking moment
was his personal experience with the brutality of customary law from pre-Christian times, still exercised
in Bohemia at that time. For he was a helpless witness to the violent death of an adulterous woman
who was murdered in a blood feud by relatives of her deceived husband. Adalbert, who could not help the unfaithful woman, felt a deep resentment towards the customary law from then on. Both experiences resulted in manifest radicalism of Adalbert's later episcopal ministry.

After his election in 982, according to the regulations of the period, he was required to take over
the episcopal insignia from the hands of emperor Otto II (955-983) and be consecrated by the Archbishop of Mainz who was then in charge of the Prague diocese. Both the Emperor and Archbishop Willigis (975-1011) of Mainz were at that time staying in Verona, northern Italy, and Adalbert set off to see them without hesitation. While on his journey, he had another crucial encounter. In Pavia, he met Gerard of Toul (935-994), a bishop of holy fame, and Mayol (906-994), a renowned abbot from the monastery of Cluny
in Burgundy. Both ranked among the authors and promoters of an extensive reform spreading from Cluny to other Benedictine monasteries in Western Europe, which is considered to be a crucial element
in the later stabilisation of the West. The main purpose of the reform can be briefly summarised
as an effort to restore the spiritual mission of monastic life , the independence of ecclesiastical institutions from the power of the nobility , and the elimination of barbaric relics. It is obvious that these features
of the Cluniac Reforms aroused Adalbert's sympathy. He himself joined the Benedictine
order and, influenced by the memory of the death of Bishop Dětmar, who had reproached himself
for being too indifferent, began to promote the reform zealously and follow its principles in his life
and office.

However, he did not realise how difficult, cumbersome and slow it would be for the reformatory ideas
to prevail over traditional stereotypes, even in a fairly sophisticated Western European environment,
let alone in the then still semi-pagan Bohemian environment. What chances of success could he stand,
for example, in his criticism of slavery in a situation where a significant part of the Bohemian prince's income consisted of proceeds originating in the trade in enslaved prisoners of war? When we read the Decrees of Prince Břetislav, which is a Bohemian code dated a hundred years after Adalbert, it already reflects the principles that Adalbert promoted , but during his lifetime and work in Prague, the situation was quite different. His efforts to promote Cluniac ideals infuriated the powerful noblemen jealously clinging to customary law, but also a significant part of his fellow priests, who did not want to accept the tightening of church discipline introduced by Adalbert. The subsequent long-standing conflicts led
to the bishop's repeated attempts to resign from his office (in 988 and again in 994) and personal pleas addressed to the Pope to relieve him of his duties.

This painful reality, however, had positive consequences as well; in particular, it made Adalbert travel all across Europe and develop numerous friendships in the Polish and Hungarian kingdoms, in papal Rome and at the court of young Emperor Otto III. He had friendly ties with Poland dating back to the reign of the first Polish Christian prince Mieszko (935-992) and also became personal friends with the greatest Polish ruler of the early Middle Ages, Bolesław the Brave (967-1025). After Adalbert's violent death, he ransomed his dead body from the hands of the pagan Prussians and had it buried in Gniezno, the then largest Polish city. Adalbert visited Hungary around 994 and visited the court of the Hungarian chieftain Geyza (940-997), where he was staying for some time strengthening in faith the members of the ruling family who
had only shortly before converted to Christianity. He is said to have baptised Geyza's son Vayk, later
the first king of Hungary, Saint Stephen (975-1038). Known as Béla in Hungary, Adalbert was worshipped also there as a saint and "apostle of Hungary" after his death.


Otto III (980-1002) ascended the throne in 994, aged only fourteen, and ruled for mere nine years before he died prematurely of smallpox on 23 January 1002. During his short reign, however, he was able
to gather around him remarkable scholars of the time, such as St. Adalbert, the aforementioned Gerbert
of Aurillac, Abbot Leo (?) of Aventino and others, forming a vision of a universal Christian empire
in debates with them.

In doing so, they drew on traditions dating far back to European Antiquity. Early thoughts pointing towards the universalist idea can already be found in Graeco-Roman Antiquity. What distinguished the deeds
of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) or Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) from other Egyptian, Assyrian or Persian conquerors of comparable significance was their attempt to pursue the noble ideas of Plato (427-347 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC) through their imperial activities. Virgil's famous sentence "You, Roman, be sure to rule the world (be these your arts), to crown peace with justice" is not just a hypocritical excuse
for Roman expansion but a moral imperative . After religious tolerance for Christianity had been established by Constantine the Great (272-337) within the Roman Empire, this mission did not lose
its relevance and was interpreted as a sacred task to defend and spread the ancient Christian heritage
in late Rome. The old Pax Romana (Roman peace), as the empire used to be titled, was transformed into Pax Christiana, the Christian peace. Despite all his monastic opposition to earthly forms of government, Aurelius Augustinus (354-430) offered Christian rulers an outline of a political order combining the moral imperatives of the Gospel with the inspiration by Plato in his De civitate Dei (On the State of God).

Despite what we are used to hearing in schools, it is now clear that the ancient Rome has never really ceased to exist. In the east of Europe, the history has of course seen the continued existence
of the Eastern Roman Empire, nowadays abbreviated as Byzantium, whose emperor Justinian (482-565) preserved the legacy of Roman law for the mankind in his collection of laws. But even in the West,
the barbarian invasion did not mean the complete end to the Empire. Although the Germans overthrew Emperor Romulus Augustulus (460-?) and declared the Western Roman Empire overthrown,
they themselves tacitly adopted the most important elements of the Roman legacy. The Catholic baptism and coronation of the Frankish chieftain Clovis (465-511) in Reims in 496 only confirmed that. After the first of the Islamic attacks on Europe was halted in the 8th century, the Roman idea was formally restored, when at Christmas of 800, Pope Leo III (750-816) appointed the surprised Charlemagne (747-814) emperor of the re-established Roman Empire in the West. Even though Charlemagne's empire was torn apart among his heirs after his death, the idea of the Restoration of the Empire had already been formed.

It was embraced especially in the eastern, German-speaking territories, which were politically fragmented among countless rulers and sought a unifying idea. In the first half of the tenth century, the rulers
of Saxony and Bavaria were competing for who would re-establish the idea of the Empire and unite
the German regions, or, following the Carolingian model, the whole of Western Europe and win
the imperial crown from the Pope. The Saxons emerged victorious from this struggle and in 962,
Otto I (912-973) was crowned emperor. His power was considerable, but effectively limited to Germany and northern Italy, while the French-speaking lands were beyond his reach.

His grandson, Otto III, continued in his effort, but deliberately wanted to give it a new quality - he intended to move directly to Rome and make the restored Empire not a German but a truly universal project engaging all the peoples of the Latin West. It was as if the young Otto III had been predestined for this role. His father was the Emperor Otto II, but his mother was the Byzantine princess Theophano (960-991), a woman of brilliant intellect and supremacy, who even ruled the empire for some time when her husband died unexpectedly in 983, leaving behind Otto III as a child of only three years. Incidentally, her sister Anna was the wife of Prince Vladimir of Kievan Rus (960-1015), who initiated the Christianisation of Eastern Slavs, representing another, as later history shows, significant element in the European game.

In 989, Bishop Adalbert of Prague met with Empress Theophano in Rome and received a generous financial gift from her, which, according to his biographers, he immediately distributed to the poor.
It is not known what exactly Adalbert discussed with the Empress at that time, but the debate might include some ideas and suggestions that were later taken up by her son. The affinity with the Byzantine East, which boasted the continuity of the imperial tradition since ancient times, made the Ottonian Empire more legitimate and gave it a new lustre. Otto III and his advisers gave this aspect much thought:
for example, a pompous court ceremony inspired by the ceremonial of the emperors of Constantinople was devised, and Otto dressed himself in newly made silk robes with embroidered imperial eagles,
and put on shoes with images of lions and dragons. In short, the West was now also supposed to uphold the Byzantine political concept, in which the emperor has an irreplaceable place in God's plan of salvation and is thus a kind of "secular bishop" in whom appropriate authority in the Church is vested.

While in the East, the emperor had long been seen as the head of state and, in effect, of the Church,
and papal primacy was increasingly seen as merely honorary, in the West, Otto III had to reckon with real papal power as it had developed over the centuries. After all, he could not even use the title of emperor without the papal coronation as it was the coronation by the Pope that gave him that extraordinary position among Western European rulers. The authority of the See of St. Peter was also the source
of authority of the Western Empire and it was practically impossible to cut the figurative umbilical cord connecting both of them. The young emperor and his advisers were aware of this, and their project, Renovatio Imperii, strived for a balanced and harmonious cooperation between the two powers, secular and spiritual, for the good of Christendom.

Saint Adalbert, who had always boldly promoted his Slavic roots, was more than anyone else aware
of the need to find balance between imperial and papal authorities, because it was the papacy that became the main source of support for the then young Transalpine nations, Slavs and Hungarians,
in the state-building process. These nations embraced Christianity and the related heritage of Antiquity relatively late in time, during the 9th century and the first half of the 10th century. They were the immediate neighbours of German territories in the Frankish Empire and it seemed that the only way to relate
to the above-described civilisation tradition was through voluntary submission to that empire along
with everything that it entailed. This was of course unacceptable from both political and human perspectives. However, a continued existence in "barbarism" was also undesirable; it caused trade isolation and remained to be a permanent pretext for "preventive" military aggression by the Western neighbour, because "barbarians" were of cause unreliable and did not abide by treaties.

The rulers of the Slavic Great Moravian Empire found an ingenious way out of that situation already
in the middle of the 9th century. In 863, they invited to the country the Christian missionaries Cyril († 969) and Methodius († 885) from far-away Constantinople (not the Frankish Empire) and subsequently "dedicated" their country to Saint Peter, i.e. entrusted it under the protection of the Pope. Pope John VIII (820-882) by his famous Bulla Industrie Tuae of 880 accepted Great Moravia under his patronage
and confirmed the archbishopric there. He and his successor Stephen V († 891) then granted the royal title to the Great Moravian prince Svatopluk († 894). Despite the fact that around 907 Great Moravia succumbed to invasions of pagan Magyar nomads, the model was successfully applied by Poles
as well as Hungarians eighty years later, probably on the advice of Saint Adalbert.

There are well-known paintings of Emperor Otto III, depicting the ruler on his throne surrounded by four bowing allegorical female figures. It is a type of iconography known from the era of his father Otto II, when the figures represented the historical imperial provinces (Italy, Gaul, Germania and Illyria) during the reign of Otto III. It was undoubtedly under Adalbert's influence that certain changes in the concept
of the depiction took place: The figure of Italy, now marked with the inscription "Roma", no longer represented only the northern Italian imperial possessions, but the very heart of the envisaged empire, Rome, where Otto III wanted to settle permanently, and it replaced Germania in this role. The figure of Gaul no longer symbolised only empire-claimed Burgundy as during the reign of Otto II, but rather a vast and wealthy Francophone region from which Count Hugh Capet of Paris (939-941) created the sovereign kingdom of France. By the way, one of the last journeys of Bishop Adalbert of Prague before his departure on his mission amidst pagans was to France, where he visited the most significant spiritual centres in 996 - the memorable abbey of Saint-Denis, Tours with the tomb of Saint Martin, Fleury, where the founder of the "Adalbert's" order, Benedict of Nursia (470-543), was buried, and the monastery of Saint Maur
with the tomb of Benedict's successor Saint Maur (500-584).

But let us return to the symbolism of the aforementioned depiction. The main change was that the first three allegorical figures were now joined by a figure of Slavonia, representing part of an empire yet
to be created, but expected to absorb the former Illyria and take its place. The depiction thus does
not capture reality, but an ideal. The proposed Greater Slavonia was to be based on a union of Bohemia and Poland, in which the Slavník's family could play the role of a mediator, because their estates were located on the Czech-Polish border and they had ties to both Slavic countries.

It was the inclusion of these Central European nations, who had not yet been counted on, in the process of developing the Empire as its fully-fledged members, that was actually Adalbert's most original contribution to Otto's vision, a contribution that eventually made it truly universal.

Otto III accepted and endorsed Adalbert's vision when in the year 1000 he visited Adalbert's grave
in Gniezno, Poland, and founded a Slavic archbishopric there. At that time, he did not have the slightest idea that he would outlive the Bohemian saint by mere five years and that their shared vision of a universal empire would be postponed indefinitely by the political pragmatism of his successors. Nevertheless,
it remains to be an ideal that inherently belongs to the cultural heritage of European nations.