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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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For instance, the hierarchical superiority of angels in no way demeans the status of human beings. Rather, these cosmological comparisons, by emphasizing the beauty or the “deformity” of one being in relation to another (i.e. by way of comparing angels to human beings), also serve to emphasize the partiality of this individual beauty or deformity, by bringing this particularity back within the scope of the greater chain of beings. In other words, it is not the case that a created being should be analysed by itself, and thereby judged or valuated as it is in itself, whether beautiful, monstrous, hideous or disproportionate. This individual analysis cannot, and was not thought to be complete, since the true merit, or value/measure of this individual created being, had to be conceived in terms of its relation, or its harmony, to the other elements of creation.

We can say that what may be disproportionate, hideous, or deformed in and of itself, the human being as an earthworm in contrast with the ethereal beings, represents a difference and a deformity that is relativized by its necessary relation to the whole of Creation. Differences of genres (angelic as opposed to human; human as opposed to the bestial etc…) do not seem to be of great importance in terms of any potential valuation. Rather, we must hold to the position that things, elements, and beings, are to be comprehended and evaluated in terms of the celestial harmony, with all things, elements, and beings relating and corresponding with each other throughout the variety of places. Absolute knowledge of this spectrum of beings and relationships would imply that a human being would understand the whole of the celestial harmony, viewing them in much the same manner as God would view them. For God views them in this way, and things, elements, or beings, whatever they are, or whatever they are to be and appear, are signified and valuated within this cosmological harmony. This harmonious vision of the cosmos, for instance, was central to Augustine’s sanctification and justification of

the created world:

And to thee is there nothing at all evil: yea, not only to thee, but also not to thy creatures in general; because there is not anything which is without, which can break in, or discompose that order which thou hast settled. But in some particulars of thy creation, for that some things there be which so well agree not with some other things, they are conceived to be evil: whereas those very things suit well enough with some other things,

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It is clear that for the Augustinian view, the difference between beings was not meant to imply an existential gap, a lack, or a fault among created beings. It does not imply that there are better, or lesser, beings.

Augustine, Confessions Vol. I, translated by W. Watts, The Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1950, p. 377-379.


We have seen that differences, at this stage in our analysis of the consequences of Creation, do not yet suggest the kind of dichotomizing that we will see to be so prevalent in the “Chanson de Roland”. Yet, as we have seen, differences, as characteristics of beings, things, or elements, are not significant in and of themselves. The different elements of Creation do not stand alone.

Rather, it is the case that they stand as created things with respect to their Creator. They stand in relation to the Creator. What the biblical episode of the Fall demonstrates, is that there exists the possibility for some things, or beings, to stand more directly in line with the Creator than do others. It is precisely this fundamental relationship that will allow Christian theology to move away from a cosmological view of Creation, to a more particulate view, one in which individual created things/beings are compared, contrasted, and ultimately evaluated and judged by way of their standing in relation to God. Thereafter, these different individual relationships to God can be contrasted against one another, and a principle of authenticity or moral superiority can be made. In other words, if the “Chanson de Roland” places such an emphasis on the righteousness of Christians, as opposed to the turpitude of pagans, it is because it is because the Christian relationship to God has come to be viewed as foundational, or theologically coherent. The manner in which a thing or being stands towards God becomes the vital and essential relationship that acts as the condition for the possibility of the kind of differences that are so important to the “Chanson de Roland’s” worldview.

In order for one religious view to claim superiority over another, as is evidenced in the “Chanson de Roland”, it must claim not only that there exists something vital in the relationship to God, but also, that its particular form of relationship to God is the best incarnation of this relationship. This relationship to God is deemed important since it is conceived as a necessity.

The possibility for a subject’s becoming, his subjectivizing, the development of culture and mores are all dependent upon the manner in which the subject chooses to stand in relation to God. The relationship to God stands as a moral and existential imperative grounding the subject’s development. The kind of moral rigor Roland evokes when he states that Christians are right, and that Christian knights must fight and die bravely, is in fact embedded within this imperative to stand in relationship to God. It is certainly the case that the “Chanson de Roland” can be interpreted in this manner since there exists a theological framework for such a reading.

What needs to be emphasized is that the biblical, as well as the early Christian philosophical narratives, all insist that human beings must turn towards God. This necessity is not accidental, it is not something that can be put aside or deemed to be secondary. Human beings, as created beings, are driven to turn towards their Creator. Human beings are naturally, essentially subjected to God, in whom their subjectivity finds its full development and perfecting.

Faithfulness to God is an essential element of the human condition without which it can be said that something has gone awry in the subject himself. In being, and in “mind”, all things should be directed towards the Creator. Human createdness as being subject to God is itself an argument for the existence of God. For instance, in the Augustinian account of Creation, with respect to several beings, whenever different beings possess attributes, whether they share these equally or not, this possession of an attribute, a quality, a perfection, or form, is made possible by virtue of something which is inherent to all of them. Furthermore, and equally important philosophically, in order for several different beings to possess a similar attribute, this attribute can only be attributed to a being by way of some other being, which, in itself, possesses this attribute in its highest (or higher) degree. It is this being that gives the inherence to the first being.

Ultimately, if one were to avoid the problem of an infinite regress in the chain of beings, a philosophical possibility that was contrary to the very idea of a universe created in time by God (as is suggested in the book of Genesis), medieval philosophers and theologians needed to suggest that there was ultimately a being that was the cause for the existence of all the other beings. A being that exists necessarily through itself and not by mediation through some other being. Medieval Christian philosophers were therefore under the impression that there must be something which is supremely good, perfect, or beautiful in and of itself. The necessity of such a self-existent being, possessing the highest maximum degree of perfection, goodness, or beauty, serving as the origin or cause of all Creation, was of course at the core of one the most celebrated pieces of medieval philosophical thinking: Anselm’s ontological argument.

God is whatever it is better to be than not to be; and he, as the only self-existent being, creates all things from nothing. What are you, then, Lord God, than whom nothing greater can be conceived? But what are you, except that which, as the highest of all beings, alone exists through itself, and creates all other things from nothing? For, whatever is not this is less than a thing which can be conceived of. But this cannot be conceived of you. What good, therefore, does the supreme Good lack, through which every good is? Therefore, you are just, truthful, blessed, and whatever it is better to be than not to be. For it is better to be just than not just; better to be blessed than not

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Since the early Church Fathers and medieval philosophers could infer that there are degrees of greatness, they could likewise, echoing the Ancients, similarly infer that there is an ultimate, or maximum degree, of beauty, perfection, or goodness, and that the being who is the final cause of all created things, possessing such a degree of perfection, would exist and be good, perfect or beautiful in and of itself. Given the causal nature of much medieval philosophy (the emphasis in such thinking being placed on the role of generation in being, with one being serving as the cause or point of origin for another's attributes or existence), the next logical step in their thinking about Creation involved the acknowledgment that whatever exists does so by virtue of some other thing/being. Since it was believed that nothing could exist by virtue of nothing, it was consequently necessary to posit that whatever did exist existed by means of some definite thing. Since it follows that all immanent things can exist, through the ages, through many other things or beings, which, in their turn, exist by way of others still, the need for an end point (more precisely, a point that is both end and beginning, as in the theological notion of Alpha and Omega) as a counter to an infinite, and non-created universe, emerges as a theological necessity.

Thereby, someone like Anselm, for instance, recognized that there had to be one thing, one primordial being existing through, and by, himself, and by means of which all other immanent beings would exist and enter Creation.

He exists before all things and transcends all things, even the eternal things. –The eternity of God is present as a whole to him; while other things have not yet that part of Anselm, ‘Proslogion’, in The Major Works. Edited with an introduction by Brian Davies and G.R. Evans, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998, p. 89.

their eternity which is still to be, and have no longer that part which is past. Hence, you do permeate and embrace all things. You are before all, and do transcend all. And, of a surety, you are before all; for before they were made, you are 27.

Thus God must possess the attribute, unique to itself, of existing through, and by, itself.

And this self-existing being, as the origin of all other immanent beings which exist only through him, is consequently the maximum point in the hierarchy of beings. All created things, elements, and beings, all point inexorably to their ultimate origin and cause: God. The entire chain of beings points in His direction. The entire chain of being is subject to Him, and finds its meaning, its fulfillment and perfecting in its faithfulness to His continuity, whereby these diverse things, continue to be as well. The entire chain of being is created, maintained and succored by his Being. This is the God whom, faithful to his faithful, allows those subject to Him to possibilize their essence, to become true and manifest subjects, as well as granting them the possibility of subjective salvation28.

This God is the God that is to be implicitly found in the “Chanson de Roland”. This is the God for whom knights (both real and fictional) are willing to kill and be killed. This is the

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worldview, philosophical, theological, and poetic (at least in its epic dimensions), the Christian Anselm, ‘Proslogion’, The Major Works. p. 99.

The association between salvation and martial sacrifice was one of the dominant themes of Bernard de Clairvaux’s theological justification of the Crusades as Jürgen Miethke states: “Le circulaire de Bernard se saisit de la mission qui lui a été donnée avec une vue méthodique du but et beaucoup de force. Bernard sait attendre directement son lecteur. Il ne relate qu’en passant les événements de Terre Sainte; bien davantage, il met au premier plan l’attente individuelle du salut. Il en va –son exorde le déclare sans ambages –d’un « negotium Christi », d’une affaire du Christ, c’est clair, mais en même temps d’un échange offert par le Christ. Maintenant est arrivé le temps favorable de la pénitence (II Cor, 6, 2); parce que les péchés des chrétiens ont entraîné ce mal (« peccatis nostris exigentibus »), les ennemis du Christ ont élevé la tête et ils profanent les Lieux saints de la chrétienté. Cependant, Dieu ne veut pas dépêcher ses anges, mais il donne aux pécheurs l’occasion d’une pénitence efficace. Les guerres chrétiennes peuvent désormais ne pas subir les désavantages de la guerre ordinaire, car, à la croisade, la victoire donne la gloire, et la mort est, selon le mot de l’Apôtre, un gain (Phil, 1, 21)”. Jürgen Miethke, Bernard de Clairvaux. Histoire, mentalités, spiritualité. Collection “Sources chrétiennes”, no. 380, les Éditions du Cerf, Paris, 1992, p. 486-487.

conception of the subject and of God can best be summarized by John of Damascus when he


Therefore, we believe in one God: one principle, without beginning, uncreated,

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