There were many kings, but there was only one emperor in the West. The old Roman tradition of imperial control over the Church had not been forgotten, and Charlemagne could claim to be heir to this authority. Convinced as he was that he could rule his empire only through an appeal to Christian ideals, his new title gave him an additional right to make such an appeal. It was an official confirmation of his position as defender of the faith, protector of the papacy, and vice-gerent of God on earth.
From another point of view, the imperial coronation was a declaration of independence by the West. The shadowy suzerainty of the Byzantine Empire, recognized in papal documents as late as 772, was ended. Western Europe was no longer a spiritual and intellectual dependency of Constantinople; it was now self-sufficient in all things. The Byzantine court understood this clearly; it protested vigorously at the time, and was never quite reconciled to the existence of a line of Western emperors. Neither protests nor temporary compromises made any difference in the essential fact — Byzantium was now almost as foreign to Western Europe as Bagdad.
The Carolingian age saw the establishment of a Western European culture, strong enough to endure terrific strains, independent enough to keep its identity when brought into contact with other traditions, broad enough to include all the peoples of Western Europe, rich enough to develop new forms and ideas from its own resources. By reforming and strengthening the Church, the Carolingians made a nominally Christian Europe really Christian. The great mass of the population was in constant contact with Christian doctrine through the services held in the parish churches, confessions to the parish priest, and visits of bishops and other supervisory authorities. Some clergymen were still immoral, illiterate, and incompetent, but the Carolingian reforms had reduced the number of unworthy priests and prelates. Everywhere in Europe there were churchmen who were well-educated, intelligent, and pious; everywhere in Europe there were laymen who