HINCMAR (c. 805–882) was an archbishop of Reims. He was born in northern France and sent as a boy to be educated at the Abbey of Saint-Denis near Paris under its famous abbot, Hilduin. Hincmar entered the monastic community at Saint-Denis and together with Hilduin spent some long periods at the court of Louis I (r. 814–840). In 845 he was chosen—no doubt with the approval of Charles II (r. 840–877), the son of Louis I—to fill the archepiscopal see of Reims, which had been vacant since the deposition of Ebbo (835). Claiming to have been unjustly deposed, Ebbo had reoccupied his see for a time and had performed ordinations during this period; he and his supporters introduced struggles and complications into Hincmar's career that persisted even after Ebbo's death (851), particularly with respect to the clerics Ebbo had ordained.
A man with a forceful personality and unbounded energy, Hincmar seemed to thrive on controversy; one finds him enmeshed in all the important struggles of his time. The intemperate nature of his language and actions gained him more enemies than friends. On the political level he sided with Louis I and Charles II against the emperor Lothair I (r. 840–855) and his son Lothair II, king of Lorraine (r. 855–869). The emperor, part of whose territory came under Reims's jurisdiction, supported Ebbo and attempted to depose Hincmar. With regard to Lothair II, Hincmar strongly opposed the king's repudiation of his wife Theutberga in order to marry his concubine, and he wrote the well-known treatise De devortio Lotharii et Teutbergae to clarify all the doctrinal and canonical issues involved.
As archbishop, Hincmar attempted to reorganize his diocese, to recover ecclesiastical possessions that had been alienated, and in particular to bring all his diocesan bishops into obedient submission to his jurisdiction. This last effort led to a bitter and implacable conflict with his own nephew, also named Hincmar, bishop of Laon, against whom he wrote a treatise called the Opusculum LV capitulorum. The archbishop likewise interjected himself into the theological controversies of his day, taking the monk Gottschalk to task on the question of predestination in his treatise Ad reclusos et simplices and challenging the monk Ratramnus on the formula trina deitas in the treatise De una et non trina deitate. On the question of predestination, Hincmar sought an ally in John Scottus Eriugena (fl. 847–877), who also wrote on this matter. But the replies of several other contemporary theologians, Lupus (of Ferriéres), Prudentius (of Troyes), and Florus (of Lyons), show that Hincmar's theological speculations were not viewed as altogether sound.
Hincmar's vast literary output reflects all aspects of his activities. That he was a man of great learning is reflected in the splendid library he accumulated at Reims—many of whose books still survive—and in the scriptural, patristic, and other sources quoted in his treatises. His knowledge of civil and canon law is noteworthy; it is evident especially in his treatises on the divorce question and against his nephew, Hincmar of Laon. Only a fraction (about eighty letters) of his vast correspondence has survived, and several of his treatises are also lost, in particular two treatises on the question of images. Even in his own day he was accused of producing forgeries to support the causes he sponsored. His most recent biographer, Jean Devisse, has not succeeded in eliminating the doubts of scholars on this score. Hincmar is one of the first writers to quote the pseudo-Isidorian decretals, forgeries also dating from his time but almost certainly produced in the camp of his opponents, especially Ebbo and his supporters.
The section of the Annales Bertiniani from 861 to 882, which Hincmar composed, has earned the admiration of modern historians. In these pages, Hincmar demonstrates his penetrating mind and his ability to comment shrewdly on contemporary personages and events.
The works of Hincmar, first published by Jacques Sirmond (Paris, 1645), were reprinted in Patrologia Latina, edited by J.-P. Migne, vols. 125–126 (Paris, 1879). In view of the survival of manuscripts of a quasi-autograph nature, exhibiting changes and erasures, one must regret the lack of modern critical editions. Hincmar's poems were edited by Ludwig Traube in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Poetae, vol. 3 (Berlin, 1896), pp. 409–420; and the Annals by Felix Grat and others in Annales de Saint-Bertin (Paris, 1964); an edition of the letters was begun by Ernst Perels in Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolae, vol. 8 (Berlin, 1939), part 1.
The recent work on Hincmar by Jean Devisse, Hincmar, archevêque de Reims, 845–882, 3 vols. (Geneva, 1975–1976), is likely to daunt many readers. Henri Platelle provides a lucid analysis of Devisse's argument in Mélanges de science religieuse 36 (1979): 113–137. See also Hubert Silvestre's "Jean Devisse," Scriptorium 34 (1980): 112–119; and J. M. Wallace-Hadrill's "History in the Mind of Archbishop Hincmar," in The Writing of History in the Middle Ages, edited by R. H. C. Davis and J. M. Wallace-Hadrill (Oxford, 1981), and chapter 5 of Wallace-Hadrill's The Long-Haired Kings (New York, 1962).
Paul Meyvaert (1987)
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