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«RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES: SUBJECTIVITY AND ALTERITY IN THE CHANSON DE ROLAND by Normand Raymond Bachelor of Arts, Laurentian University, 2001 Master of ...»

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An important consequence of this view, and one that will have an impact on our study of the “Chanson de Roland”, where it will be pushed to its furthest logical consequences to suit the text’s narrative needs, is that it became possible, in a medieval theological and philosophical framework, to view adherence and non-adherence to the eventual truth of God’s existence as differences-in-striving, as manners of being a coherent subject, or an incoherent other. The narrative thrust of the “Chanson de Roland”, its battle cry, is best expressed in Roland’s cri du coeur, his assertion that Christians (and therefore, the Christian way of being a subject) is right, whereas the Saracens (and their concomitant way of being) are wrong. Paien unt tort e chrestïens unt dreit.95 And for Roland, righteousness or unrighteousness, being Christian or being Saracen, are modes and states that are expressed through deliberate acts, practicotheological in nature, which serve to constitute, both for others, and for the character, an idea of subjectivity (as faithful subject hood to God), in opposition to an idea of “otherness”, that helps to distinguish him from others, and most notably, from the “other”. It is because he is a Christian knight that Roland views himself a certain way, and considers certain actions to be necessary and unavoidable. In fact, Roland’s very conception of pride, of that which is due him as a subject bearing certain obligations, responsibilities, and occupying given societal roles, is intimately connected to his recognition of the interplay between his own subjectivity and its striving/working in the greater order of God’s plan. His being Christian, his being a Christian knight, is, for him, a manner of striving and connecting this own immanent thing that he is with the transcendent. This connectivity between a sense of subjectivity, or how one can view oneself, and its relatedness to God is highlighted each time Roland is asked by Olivier to blow his horn and summon reinforcements, since his refusal to do so is couched in terms that clearly evoke the fact that his view of his own subjectivity (and its posterity in future songs of glory or

infamy) is best understood in the light of the Truth, as indicated in the following passages:

–  –  –

These passages indicate that inasmuch as Roland is concerned, honor, pride, martial valor, courage and therefore, a sense of the worth and merit of his own subjectivity are to be weighed against the backdrop of a theological understanding of the Christian knight’s relationship to God. It is in God’s name that such an “ignoble” act is rejected. It is once more in God’s name, and that of his angels, that Roland rejects what he considers dishonorable.

Roland’s assertions, brief though they may be, nonetheless allow us to view these markers (being Christian as opposed to being Saracen, acting “Christianly” as opposed to not acting in such a way) as bearing or manifesting differences that could be expressed in overtly theological and existential terms. The idea that beings strive, correctly or incorrectly, towards their point of origin and destination, lends itself quite easily to discussions of moral ordering.

Given the theological construct in which the soul is both made by God, and made to turn towards God, as its Creator and its final destination, then it follows that one must imagine that it is in the soul’s nature to move naturally towards this very specific fulfillment.

The horrors, the errors, or the misdeeds of men arise from the grievous mistake of living a life that is not turned towards God. The “Chanson de Roland” stresses this point repeatedly.

Beings, or things, that resist this forming purpose inevitably give rise to all sorts of moral and/or existential depravities, heresies, or monstrosities. The interconnectedness of the moral and the existential dimensions stems from the manner in which the moral conception, the idea of God, Verses 1073-1075 Verses 1088-1090 and of one's response to that idea as an act of turning towards or away from God, determine how a life itself is conceived, and thereby practiced. The recognition of a theological truth, the moral response to that truth as a turning towards, leads into the existential dimension, and the moral paradigm that one has adopted, since it leads into and contributes to the formation of the leading of a life, is thereby essential in determining, within the confines of the thinking made manifest by the "Chanson de Roland", a person's worth, the degree to which a specific subjectivity can be said to be in conformity with rational teleology, or in contrast, must be viewed as being both morally and existentially degraded and perverse. It is precisely this kind of moral scheme that is evidenced in the very first laisse, when Marsile is characterized as an “enemy” of the Franks. He is a bad guy, and this characterization is driven home by emphasizing the extent of his theological-moral perversion, that is to say, his religious opposition to the God of the Franks.

Time after time, the Saracens are demeaned, degraded, and demonized in the poem’s narrative, and in the majority of these cases it is the theological dimension of Saracen existence that serves

as the justification for such a pejorative characterization, as is the case in the following passages:





Devant chevalchet un Sarrazin Abisme

–  –  –

De plus feluns n’orrez parler jamais.100 Verses 1631-1634. It is interesting to note how Turpin, the theological head of the Christian host reacts upon

seeing this particular Saracen: he immediately suspects him, and judges him of heresy, and deems him fit for death :

“Cel Sarrazins me semblet mult herite;/ Mielz voeill murir que jo ne l’alge ocire!”. Verses 1645-1646.

I would argue that, at least with respect to the “Chanson de Roland”, adherence to a moral impulse originating from the Creator implies that some beings come closer to God, to imitating Him, whereas some other beings do not, or worse yet, seem to turn away from the Creator. This turning away, this ignorance of God denotes a degree of moral perversity in those who are so inclined, even when, as we shall see later in chapters 11-14, they appear to be upstanding or outstanding individuals.

At this point, it is more important to our purposes to focus on the fact that adherence, or martial militancy, as is the case in the poem’s narrative, to a godly worldview, with the consequent benefits to be reaped from such faithfulness101, posits that there are right and wrong ways of being subject to God, or imitating the Creator. Now one could say that the “Chanson de Roland” certainly presents an extreme view of such a theological argument, however, this view is not without its philosophical grounding. Anselm, for instance, went so far as to posit that imitation as resemblance was, in fact, inasmuch as human beings are concerned, a mode of theological and existential participation in the plan of Creation as willed by God. Human beings must involve the whole of their being in their recognition and worship of the Truth of God’s existence as a foundational event.

It is as patently obvious, therefore, as can be, that rational creature is made for this purpose: to love the supreme essence above all other goods (insofar as the supreme essence is, after all, the good above all other goods). Indeed its purpose is, in fact, to love the supreme essence and only to love other things for the sake of the supreme essence. This is because the supreme essence is good through itself, while everything Verses 3246-3248.

« Pur Deu vos pri que ne seiez fuiant,/ Que nuls prozdom malvaisement n’en chant/ Asez est mielz que moerjum cumbatant/ Pramis nus est : fin prendrum aitant/ Ultre cest jurn ne serum plus vivant;/ Mais d’une chose vos soi jo ben guarant:/ Seint pareis vos est abandunt;/ As Innocenz vos en serez seant ». Verses 1473-1480.

else is only good through it. But it cannot love the supreme essence unless it strives to become conscious of and to understand it. So it is quite clear, as a result, that what rational creation ought to do, is to put all its power and all its will into becoming conscious of, understanding and loving the supreme good. This is what rational creation recognizes that its existence is for102.

Anselm is clearly identifying a number of features which he believes are characteristic of correct religious belief in this passage. On the one hand there is the recognition of the ontological argument of God’s existence103. This recognition is doubled by a concentration of will. I take this to mean that man must come to understand that his life is best lived when lived in conformity with the supreme essence. Such conformity is both mental and existential in character104. It involves the mind as well as the body. This “holistic” approach is precisely what one finds in the “Chanson de Roland”. Not only are the Christian knights (Roland and Turpin at the forefront) conscious of their allegiance to God and the veracity of His existence, they are, of course, absolutely willing to lay down their lives in order to defend this position, in order to live and die in conformity with God’s plan.

To understand its created nature, and to seize that the purpose of its soul is to strive towards God, is also to recognize that the creature which most resembles God, by striving to love Him or approach Him in His eternity, will also exist eternally, although, given the moral positioning of the individual human being and his understanding of his soul, given also its positioning towards God as a participative striving (or the absence thereof), not all souls, despite Anselm of Canterbury, ‘Monologion’ in The Major Works. Edited with an introduction by Brian Davies and G.R.

Evans, Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998, p. 74.

Kant was the first to name Anselm’s reasoning as an “ontological argument”, however, we shall keep the term for the purposes of this thesis.

This existential dimension is undoubtedly what Anselm has in mind when he criticizes “dead faith” in chapter 78 of the ‘Monologion’.

their same eternal nature, will enjoy the everlasting joy of union with and in God. Theological participation as subjection to God and His plan therefore does lead to existential differences, in at least two varied ways: firstly, it implies that there are different modes of existence or different ways of leading one’s life, and secondly, it puts forth the idea that these differences will be ultimately grounded in a transcendent reality with regards to the ultimate destiny of the soul.

In the "Chanson de Roland" of course, this becomes a very crucial point. The poem’s repeated emphasis that Christians are right, and that Saracens are wrong is a theological insistence, and not merely a cultural one. It suggests that one way of thinking (and acting upon that thought) about the deity, as opposed to another way of idolizing deities, is correct. Insofar as the text is concerned, ultimate proof is given by the fact that Christians are saved. Saracens are not saved. The souls of Christian warriors are beatified, visited by angels and divine messengers, brought up to Paradise, whereas Saracens, by contrast, are damned, and their souls are sent to the underworld and the abode of devils.

This is why such participation, conceived of in military terms within the poem’s narrative, inevitably leads to some form of continued existence in the afterlife. Having been subject to God, death is erased and the subject continues to be subject to God in the hereafter.

Whether such expression is affirmative in nature (as is the case with the sermons of Turpin) or cosmological (as is the case with the otherworldly events surrounding Roland’s death), it demonstrates the continuity of an immanent participation in an event of Truth that transcends the purely contingent plane. The cosmological incidents that give importance to Roland’s death, for instance, overwhelm the immanent domain, they shake it and rip it up, and they go beyond themselves as mere material incidents and echo some Transcendent Truth or event.

En France en ad mult merveillus torment:

–  –  –

The cosmological sequences in the “Chanson de Roland” are obvious references to the death of Christ106, and the world’s lament at his Crucifixion. In this respect, they are not only intertextual references employed to buttress the auctoritas of the poem, they also demonstrate the continuity of a mode of existence and participation in Creation. Regardless of how one views the poem’s martial theology, the passage quoted above clearly seeks to establish a correspondence between Christ and Roland. This latter character resembles, and imitates, the former character. Roland’s death is signified in a manner that corresponds to the manner of Christ’s death. Roland’s chauvinistic theology, his physical bravado are embedded in a Verses 1423-1437. Emphasis is mine.

See Mt 27, 45-54.

participatory framework. Roland’s understanding of his religion, his understanding of just how his life is to be lived and fashioned by this religious belief are celebrated by Creation itself when it echoes the Creator’s very signification at the moment of His death. Roland’s recognition of the truth of God’s existence, to be more precise, his recognition of the Christian truth (chrestïens unt dreit), which cannot be thought of other than as an evental truth, allows for his immanent subjectivity to be transcended, “cosmologized”. The fact that Roland, as well as other Christian knights, is lifted up into the heavens can be seen as the poem’s crowning theological argument.



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