Claudius of Turin – an Iconoclast Bishop

“Everyone opened his mouth to curse me and, had not God helped me, they might have swallowed me alive.”

 In 817, Louis the Pious appointed Claudius bishop of Turin, Italy. That’s when he came in contact with Italian idolatry, which seemed to know no bounds. There was, during his time, a lot of talk about religious images, especially in the Byzantine church, where some emperors banned them and empresses reinstated them. Claudius didn’t spend much time in talking. He destroyed the images with his own hands.

 

“I found all the churches filled, in defiance of the precept of Truth, with those sluttish abominations – images. Since everyone was worshiping them, I undertook singlehanded to destroy them.” These were not the words of a Protestant Reformer. Their author was a ninth-century bishop, Claudius of Turin.

A native of Spain, Claudius was instructed in Lyon, France. He later became chaplain to Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne and king of Aquitaine. Louis was especially fond of Claudius’s Bible commentaries, based on works of Augustine and other church fathers, and encouraged Claudius to write. When Louis became emperor in 813, Claudius followed him to Aachen, in today’s Germany (bordering Belgium and the Netherlands).

In 817, Louis appointed him bishop of Turin, Italy. That’s when Claudius came in contact with Italian idolatry, which seemed to know no bounds. There was, during his time, a lot of talk about religious images, especially in the Byzantine church, where some emperors banned them and empresses reinstated them. Claudius didn’t spend much time in talking. He destroyed the images with his own hands.

This iconoclastic reaction provoked a chorus of angry complaints. “Everyone opened his mouth to curse me and, had not God helped me, they might have swallowed me alive,”[1] he wrote. He compared himself to the prophet Ezekiel, living “among scorpions.”[2]

But Claudius was used to fighting, and not only with words. As other bishops of his time, he did his part in guarding his region (which extended to the Ligurian coast) against the attacks of Muslim raiders. “Gone are the days of meditation,” he mournfully wrote to his friend, Abbot Theodemir, who was waiting for more of Claudius’s writings. “During the winter, I go back and forth over the imperial highways. In full spring, I march with the army to the seacoast, where I keep watch against Saracens and Moors. To redeem the time, I take my papers with me.”[3]

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