The Lothair Crystal
From Lotharingia (Lorraine), possibly Aachen (in modern Germany), Carolingian, AD 855-869
The British Museum, London
The Lothair crystal is one of the treasures of the British Museum in London
The large rock crystal is engraved with scenes of the story of Susannah as recorded in the Apocrypha: Daniel 13
Susannah, falsely accused by the elders of adultery, is vindicated
The crystal commemorates one of the strangest disputes in the history of the Carolingian Empire which led to one of the greatest clashes between the Church and the Carolingian State
Lothair II of Lotharingia (AD 855-69) tried many times to have his marriage annulled so he could marry his mistress, which resulted in a bitter dispute between Lothair and Pope Nicholas I.
The full story of how Lothair tried to get a divorce is told in the BBC History of the World Series which includes a section on The Lothair Crystal
The transcript of the programme is here
In the programme the former Lord Chief Justice of England and the former senior judge of the House of Lords, Lord Bingham, took part. He said:
"In the centre of the [Lothair] Crystal, one sees the king who commissioned it [Lothair II] to be made in the role of judge, and this is of considerable interest and importance, because historically the crown and monarchy has always been regarded as the fount of justice.
Interestingly, the Queen, when she took her Coronation Oath in 1953, swore - it's a very old oath prescribed by an Act of 1688 - but she swore to do justice and mercy in all her judgements.
And this is exactly the role in which one sees King Lothair, in the role of actually personally administering justice which, of course, the Queen no longer does. But the judges who do it in her name are very proud to be called Her Majesty's judges, recognising that they're exercising their judicial functions on her behalf."
But the British Museum and the BBC miss out a very important person and very important part of the story.
The person is Saint Pope Nicholas I (also known as Pope Nicholas the Great) (c. 820 - died 13 November, 867) (Pope from 858 to 867)
He is only one of three Popes to have the title "the Great" appended after their name. However compared to Pope Leo and Pope Gregory he is nowadays virtually forgotten
The Martyrology says about him: Romæ Nicolai papæ vigore apostolico præstantis.
Lothair II had assembled a tame synod of bishops to declare the marriage void and that Lothair II was free to marry another.
Nicholas I convened another Synod to have the marriage declared valid, the decrees of the Synod declared void and the two Archbishops who colluded with the King excommunicated
Despite the great political turmoil Nicholas adhered to his position to defend the sanctity of Christian marriage and eventually Lothair II capitulated.
Hence Lothair`s commissioning of the rock crystal - after his capitulation
To put the dispute into perspective, in his encyclical Arcanum on the sanctity of marriage, Pope Leo XIII said:
"As often, indeed, as the supreme pontiffs have resisted the most powerful among rulers, in their threatening demands that divorces carried out by them should be confirmed by the Church, so often must we account them to have been contending for the safety, not only of religion, but also of the human race.
For this reason all generations of men will admire the proofs of unbending courage which are to be found in the decrees of Nicholas I against Lothair; of Urban II and Paschal II against Philip I of France; of Celestine III and Innocent III against Alphonsus of Leon and Philip II of France; of Clement VII and Paul III against Henry VIII; and, lastly, of Pius VII, that holy and courageous pontiff, against Napoleon I, when at the height of his prosperity and in the fullness of his power. "
But that is not the only reason why Nicholas received the soubriquet "the Great"
He asserted the independence of the Church against the State at other times and in other situations and of the Papacy
He presided over the Roman synod of November 18, 861, the Roman "Council of the Seven Canons".
Canon 6 "anathematizes anyone who denies that the election of the pope is a matter for the sacerdotes, primates, nobles and all the clergy of the Roman church as laid down in the council of Stephen (IV)".
He asserted successfully the primacy of the See of Peter in many other spheres
By setting out and establishing the nature of papal and episcopal power in the ninth century. he laid the foundations for the growth of the Church in Western Europe and beyond under papal patronage in the eleventh and twelfth centuries
His written works can be read in Latin here
You can read his responses to the Questions of the Bulgarian King A.D. 866 (Letter 99) (in English) here
Here is his answer to the first question, just as clear and as relevant today as it was then:
"Now then, at the very beginning of your questions, you properly and laudably state that your king seeks the Christian law.
If we attempted to explain this law fully, innumerable books would have to be written; but, in order to show briefly in what things it chiefly consists, one should know that the law of the Christians consists in faith and good works.
For faith is the first of all virtues in the lives of believers. Whence, even on the first day there is said to be light, since God is portrayed as having said: Let there be light,[Gen.1:3] that is, "let the illumination of belief appear."
Indeed, it is also because of this illumination that Christ came down to earth.
Good work is no less demanded from a Christian; for just as it is written in our law: Without faith it is impossible to please God,[Heb. 11:6] so it is also written: Just as a body without a spirit is dead, so, too, faith without works is dead.[James 2:20] This is the Christian law, and whoever keeps this law properly, shall be saved."