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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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unbounded, infinite in power, simple, uncompounded, incorporeal, unchanging, unaffected, unchangeable, inalterable invisible, source of goodness and justice, light intellectual and inaccessible; power which no measure can give any idea of but which is measured only by His own will, for He can do all things whatsoever He pleases; maker of all things both visible and invisible, holding together all things and conserving them, provider for all, governing and dominating and ruling over all in unending and immortal reign; without contradiction, filling all things, contained by nothing, but Himself containing all things, being their conserver and first possessor; pervading all substances without being defiled, removed far beyond all things and every substance as being supersubstantial and surpassing all, supereminently divine and good and replete;

appointing all the principalities and orders, set above every principality and order, above essence and life and speech and concept; light itself and goodness and being in so far as having neither being nor anything else that is from any other; the very source of being for all things that are, of life to the living, of speech to the articulate, and the cause of all good things for all; knowing all things before they begin to be; one substance, one godhead, one virtue, one will, one operation, one principality, one power, one

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John of Damascus, Writings, translated by Frederic H. Chase Jr., Fathers of the Church Inc., New York, 1958, p.


Because no created being, of course, could possess such an absolute degree of perfection, or goodness, or beauty, there is a theological imperative to posit the existence of a deity. Only God could be in possession of such an attribute. This being, God in the Christian cosmological account of the universe, is the end point of all Creation. All of Creation is subject to Him, and realizes its subjectivity in a dual process of Truth-recognition and faithful-subjectivizing of that Truth. God's will drives creation, and all created beings seek Him as their purpose. He serves as the principle of any being’s life, and He is the inherent goal of their existence. His goodness compels a being’s goodness (an inherent attribute made possible by God) to strive towards Him.

–  –  –

We have now arrived at a crucial point in our study. The existence of created differences, and the way in which such differences were explained by early Christian thinkers such as Augustine, did not reflect the radical dichotomizing that is typical of the “Chanson de Roland”. Yet, it is at this precise point that a theological paradigm shift will be put into place, such that the differences to be found within Creation will be reinterpreted teleologically. Things and beings will be reinterpreted in terms of their faithfulness to God, their being subject to God, and it is this guiding principle that will allow for the establishment of moral/religious righteousness or turpitude, Christian superiority, and pagan inferiority. This principle will ground and explain Roland’s battle cry “Paien unt tort e chrestïens unt dreit”. Henceforth, the cosmological differences inherent to Creation itself, that is to say, the existence of differences as they pertain to the existence of different things and/or beings, will be subsumed by spiritual considerations inasmuch as the manner in which individual existents stand and subject themselves to God will now become the predominant principle wherein things and beings will be evaluated and judged.

Since all of the created world emerges from God, and all things should return to God, ultimately, the relativity of comparisons among the elements of creation are meant to signify their own instability, and the relativity of any comparisons drawn from immanence with respect to the ultimate arbiter that is Transcendence. As we have seen in the previous sections, these comparisons were not meant to be pejorative in and of themselves. The cosmological hierarchy does not imply any kind of denigration. As such, we do not yet have a firm determination of the type of difference that would justify the violent dichotomizing that is to be found in the “Chanson de Roland”. The world is not yet divided so neatly between “good” beings and “bad” beings. It is not yet the case that a philosophical, or a theological, argument can be made that some human beings are righteous (or possess just such an attribute), whereas other beings are wrong, or unrighteous. At this stage in our understanding of Creation, we must only recognize that the world was created as a whole by God, and would perish without God's ever watchful and preserving presence30. Likewise, since all beings are created by God, these created things share differing degrees of similarity to God their Creator.

This similarity to God, when it is acknowledged and properly understood in all its theological and philosophical dimensions, opens a vista of new philosophical considerations.

Firstly, since all of the beings in the world share a degree of likeness to God, and since man is to recognize himself as having a greater degree of likeness to God than that of other creatures, given his having been created in the image of God, it can therefore can be said that man is more nearly like God than the other beings in Creation. From this position, it follows that a certain theological possibility is afforded man by way of his having been created in the image of God, since man can come to a better understanding of God and of His divine nature/essence, precisely by coming to a better understanding of himself. This “shared image” between God and man reveals that a religious awareness of one’s being subject to God is inextricably bound to an As is suggested by Anselm in the following passage: “But you are life, and light, and wisdom, and blessedness, and many goods of this nature. And yet you are only one supreme good; you are all-sufficient to yourself, and need none; and you are he whom all things need for their existence and well-being”. Anselm, ‘Proslogion’ in The Major Works. p. 100. See also Cor. 3, 6-8.

image of subjectivity that is projected and perceived by God. Man is therefore a subject, aware of himself as a living thing, and, if he is theologically aware, cognizant of the fact that this subject which he is, is dependent, if it is to achieve its full potential for development, upon being determined in the direction of, and being perceived to be oriented in the direction of God. It is therefore very much the case that the religious understanding of subjectivity, as it is related to its Creator, puts forth an understanding of consciousness of subjectivity as something that is essentially dialogic, for it is a type of imaging, going from the greatest point of being 31 (and of consciousness one might suppose) to a lesser point in such a way that the lesser point, man, needs to have this image of the other in order to become truly conscious of his own subjectivity, of his nature, and of the right path for his existence. By recognizing himself as a being made in the image of God, man sees himself both as a created object, and a thinking subject cognizant of itself as a caused being. Because of the image of our createdness, medieval thinkers were elaborating on a form of consciousness wherein they could picture themselves as active bodily agents (whose activities could be interpreted in moral terms as either turning away or towards God) ever mindful of the fact that they were under the watchful eye of God’s perception. This perception, by God, distributes moral responsibility upon the activities of the subject, such that God recognizes man’s subjecthood to God as a proper mode of subjectivizing. Because we are made in the image of God, this image serves as a mirror, however deformed 32, in which man becomes aware of himself, becomes conscious of being an autonomous subject, bearing the full weight of his moral choices and responsibilities, because an other, God, serves as his image or “Also I considered all the other things that are of a lower order than yourself, and I saw that they have not absolute being in themselves, nor are they entirely without being. They are real in so far as they have their being from you, but unreal in the sense that they are not what you are. For it is only that which remains in being without change that truly is”. Augustine, Confessions, translated with an introduction by R.S. Pine-Coffin, Penguin Books, 1961, p.147.

1 Cor. 13, 12. The Pauline view is also echoed by Augustine: “Of your eternal life I was certain, although I had only seen it like a confused reflection in a mirror, and I had now been rid of all my doubts about an incorruptible substance from which all other substances take its being”. Augustine, Confessions, 1961, p. 157.

mirror. This flowering of man (conscious of himself, and conscious of his relation to God) serves as the great dialogical impetus for Creation33.

An important theological figure such as Ambrose went so far as to argue that God finds a

kind of satisfaction, a restfulness in His having created man in His own image:

Moreover, He did not find rest when He had created such irrational creatures as fish and the various species of wild beasts. He found rest, however, after He had made man to

–  –  –

I believe that this type of theology insists that there exists between man and God a degree of complicity that is to be found nowhere else in Creation35. Hence the grievous offense that is committed when man turns away from God by sinning. This mode of theologico-philosophical reasoning also implies that a proper understanding of subjectivity is closely connected to an understanding of the subject's relationship with God. This type of understanding allows human beings to approach the divine. Since the soul exists for the purpose of worshipping God and reuniting with Him, a proper understanding of one's subjecthood and of God intertwines these two aspects inextricably together.

Secondly, man’s similarity to God posits the need to recognize a dual necessity: the necessary existence of God, and the “necessary” existence of the subject which resembles Him.

Now, this necessity is not like that of God’s. Man’s existence is, of course, immanent and Jack Miles explains the Creation passage in Genesis in the following terms: “The effective meaning of image is given in the immediately following instruction to master the earth. Why give mankind this version of the divine dominion? Because mankind makes, thereby, a better image of “us”. And why fertility and increase? Because when human beings reproduce, they are the image of their creator in his creative act. Reproduction produces reproductions, images. … the motive for all that precedes the creation of mankind is, ultimately, provision for that culminating act by which God creates another kind of creator”. God. A Biography, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1995, p. 28.

Saint Ambrose, Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel, p. 261.

Augustine explicitly expresses the hierarchical superiority of man and his relation to the Creator and His Creation in his Confessions when he states: “The animals, both great and small, are aware of it, but they cannot inquire into its meaning because they are not guided by reason, which can sift the evidence relayed to them by their senses.

Man, on the other hand, can question nature. He is able to catch sight of God’s invisible nature through his creatures”. Augustine, Confessions, 1961, p. 213.

contingent. But, as it is contingent, it nonetheless brings forth a type of “necessity”: the necessity of being certain of one’s existence 36.

In Augustine’s philosophical worldview, the argument proceeds along the following lines. Much like Plato, Augustine37 is of the opinion that immanence is not the site of the Truth.

To whatever degree it may be inspired by Truth, or hint at the Truth, the material realm is nonetheless a site of shadows. One of Augustine’s critiques against his former beliefs, and the life he led with others who were of the same mind, is that they tried to find answers, and pleasures, to their existence by immersing themselves exclusively in the realm of the material.

Now the emphasis on the shadowy nature of the material is important for it suggests that what is truly vital is of course Transcendent in nature. It is also important in that, in the "Chanson de Roland", as we will see in chapters 11-14, Saracens are persistently depicted as creatures of darkness and shadows, that is to say, as creatures having turned away from the light in order to better embrace the shadows. In other words, the Saracens, in the poem, have abandoned Truth for falsity and darkness. The fact that the poem will present Saracen characters as moving in the shadows, dwelling in the shadows, or worshipping idols in darkened spaces all serve to juxtapose Saracen evilness with Christian faithfulness to the Truth. Truth, in Augustinian terms, emerges when one has left the material world, as a world of shadows, in order to elevate oneself into the higher realm of the light. The move from the world of the shadows to that of the world of the Descartes is often held to be the originator of modern subjectivism, since he puts so much stress on the irreducible nature of the self, but the cogito argument that is supposed to herald this new philosophical arrival is actually Augustinian in origin.

It would be necessary at this point to indicate that the extent of Plato’s influence during the middle ages is a hotly contested issue. It is not the purpose of this thesis to suggest that medieval thinker shad any direct familiarity with Plato’s texts themselves inasmuch as they would have been able to consult and read them. Rather, this thesis would propose that thinkers such as Anselm and Augustine used much of the Platonic language, the distinction between the realms of reality and illusion, in their own mode of thinking, and that one can fairly assume that this dichotomizing view of nature and reality, filtered down through the ages and did in fact color medieval philosophizing, quite regardless of any direct relationship to extant Platonic texts.

light is of course reminiscent of the Platonic move escape from the cave of fictions. This move

is evidenced in the following passage:

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