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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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chrestïens unt dreit51, will add a poetic element to this theologico-philosophical teleology. For the poetic narrative is as convinced as any philosophical argument, that what distinguishes Christian existence from its pagan rivals is the fact that its knights (spiritual and martial) are faithful to a Truth (man is created by God to praise and worship God) and to a truth-process (the continuous turning towards God).52 Man, or in the case of the “Chanson de Roland”, the knight’s relationship to God as existence’s continuous turn towards its telos is perhaps best expressed by Turpin, the archbishop, and hence, the incarnation of the text’s theological and

poetic strivings:

Chrestïentét aidez a sustenir!

–  –  –

This emphasis is hardly surprising. Turpin’s speech re-echoes a long tradition with Christianity, one that starts with Paul’s missions in the Greek speaking world. That human beings are driven (or should strive) to unite with God and praise Him was at the cornerstone of Paul’s anthropology. It is, in fact, the way that Paul, channeling Plato’s ascent towards the Pure Forms, attempts to philosophically present his Christian “anthropology” to a Greek audience. In Paul’s way of thinking, human beings are called towards this ultimate Good, God.

La chanson de Roland, édition critique et traduction par Ian Short, 2e édition, collection ‘Lettre gothiques’, Le Livre de poche, Librairie générale française, Paris, 1990.verse 1015. Henceforth, all references to the text are taken from this edition, likewise, all verse references (i.e. verses 56-57) are also taken from this edition.

These themes will be explored in greater detail in chapters 8-10.

Verses 1129-1135. The emphasis is mine.

God that made the world and all the things therein, seeing that he is Lord of Heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, for we are his offspring54.

I would propose that this drive that Paul puts his finger on, this need to resemble God by understanding him and imitating his ways or laws, serves as the groundwork to a philosophy that will argue for God’s necessary existence, and, furthermore, attempt to establish an entire worldview wherein an understanding of God’s necessary existence will impel a need to worship and adore him in a very definite way55. To adore him in a certain way, to remain faithful to one's subjecthood to God, will inevitably entail recognizing that some modes of becoming are antagonistic to this drive, that they are wayward or hostile, and, in consequence, must be resisted against or fought. As a consequence of such reasoning, it will become obvious that the refusal to worship God and acknowledge His preeminence will result in a life of sin and damnation. In other words, that which does not adhere to the strict code of subjectivizing that will be suggested by the Christian narrative, will be worthy of punishment and negation. This is precisely what we find in the Pauline Epistles. The Pauline narrative was itself inherited by Augustine who pursued Acts, 17, 24-28.

This move from necessary existence to orthodox belief is certainly evident in Anselm’s opening chapter of the ‘Proslogion’ : “Look upon us, Lord; hear us, enlighten us, show Yourself to us. Give Yourself to us that it may be well with us, for without You it goes so ill for us. … Teach me to seek You, and reveal Yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek You if You do not teach me how, nor find You unless You reveal Yourself. Let me seek You in desiring You; let me desire You in seeking You; let me find You in loving You; let me love You in finding You. I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that You have created Your image in me, so that I may remember You, think of You, love You’. Anselm, ‘Proslogion’, in The Major Works. 1998, p. 86-87.

its exploration. The drive or telos identified by Paul becomes a source of philosophical questioning in Augustine who sought to philosophically explore the full weight of the consequences of just such a turn away from God and one’s own telos. For Augustine, this sort of endeavor is not only an exercise fraught with existential peril, it is, within the truth-process recognized and adhered to by early/medieval Christianity a gross and base sin. In fact,

Augustine describes it in the most categorical of terms:

So the soul defiles itself with unchaste love when it turns away from you and looks elsewhere for things which it cannot find pure and unsullied except by returning to you.

All who desert you and set themselves up against you merely copy you in a perverse way;

but by this very act of imitation they only show that you are the Creator of all nature and, consequently, that there is no place whatever where man may hide away from you. 56 Augustine’s argument suggest not only that human existence is altered in a dramatic fashion (his language on this point is without equivocation: existence is sullied, defiled, and unchaste) by turning away from God, but also, that any life lived away from this center is “illusory”. Such lives are not centered in the Truth or in God’s being, for they live on the periphery, in the realm of duplicates, copies and facsimiles. In other words, they have exchanged the life lived in the light for the comforts of the cave. To be even more precise, those who live away from God are perverse copies of the real thing (those living in connection with God). Consequently, such an existence is inauthentic, a wicked façade rejoicing in its relationship to a copy or stand-in (and in this respect, the “Chanson de Roland’s” attribution of idolatrous practices to the Saracens is historically untrue, but conforms theologically with a Augustine, Confessions, 1961, p. 50.

conception of that way which, alone, can be considered the good life) rather than striving for the real thing57.

Therefore, adherence or non-adherence to this drive or telos can explain just how it is that the multiplicity of degrees in created beings can come to resemble, or, in moral terms, imitate God. It is adherence, or non-adherence to God’s call for us to find him that explains the reason for such diversity in the world.

How wretched man’s lot is when he has lost that for which he was made! Oh how hard and cruel was that Fall! Alas, what has man lost and what has he found? What did he lose and what remains to him? He lost the blessedness for which he was made, and he found the misery for which he was not made. That without which nothing is happy has gone from him and that which by itself is nothing but misery remains to him. Once “man ate the bread of angels”, for which he now hungers; now he eats the “bread of sorrow”, which then he knew nothing of. Alas the common grief of mankind, alas the universal lamentation of the children of Adam!58 By turning away from God, man makes himself other than what he was intended to be.

By turning away from God, man alters, deforms, and perverts his given nature. Given that the drive towards God is the mechanism by which the subject becomes and conforms to that which he is supposed to be as subject to God, any decisive turn away from this drive, naturally engenders a process of de-subjectivizing or dehumanization.

Echoing the teachings of Paul, the medieval philosophers that inherited his worldview contended that by ignoring such a drive, men were rejecting, altering something essential in the “And when I asked myself what wickedness was, I saw that it was not a substance but perversion of the will when it turns aside from you, O God, who are the supreme substance, and veers towards things of the lowest order, being bowelled alive and becoming inflated with desire for things outside itself”. Augustine, Confessions, 1961, p. 150.

Anselm, ‘Proslogion’, The Major Works., 1998, p. 85.

make-up of their being. Men were no longer subjects faithful to a given Truth59. In their turning away from the Truth, in their betrayal towards God, they ceased to be the subjects of a becoming and a perfecting, and became “other”, objects, decomposed things, mortal animals, whose very being, given over to death in a way that was hitherto unknown, initiating the complete transformation of the created being. This new “man”, alienated from his origin and his end, consequently transformed, is perverse inasmuch as he is the origin of his own decomposition 60.

This idea was further strengthened by biblical “fact” as presented in the Genesis account of the Fall. It was obvious, in the medieval mode of thinking, that human beings no longer were what they had once been. The important idea retained by most medieval Christian scholars was that the Fall represented a schism in the history of the world, a break in Creation. Because of the Fall, this first turning away from God, this primordial rejection of the principle of adherence, things have been dramatically altered. Rejection of God, as a goal or a telos is an act of defiance.

Defiance of God is a sin. It is important to remember the degree to which the medieval mind was saturated by the conscience of sin. Consequently, the idea that moving away from God (by disobeying his Laws for instance) could alter the fabric of existence and sow discord into the world was fundamental to the early/medieval Christian account of Creation and salvation.

Because of this, it is very much the case that salvation (that is to say, recognizing as a fundamental Truth that redemption through the death and resurrection of Christ) is seen as a means of fixing human beings and their manner of existing, since both have been perverted by sin and the turning away from God. What the early Church and the medieval philosophers believed was that theological choices (like that of turning away from God) had deep existential consequences. In fact, one could argue that this line of reasoning formed the basis for the The Truth, in this case being the necessary existence of God as our Creator.

“Since disobedience was the cause of death, for that very reason, not God, but man himself, was the agent of his own death”. Ambrose, Hexameron, Paradise and Cain and Abel, p. 313.

Christian interpretation of the post-created world61. This view is clearly present in the doxology of St. Paul who was the early Church’s most important and influential theologian. The persistence of this view is to be found in Anselm’s lamentations on the present state of man’s wretchedness. Echoing St. Paul, the medieval lament of man’s wretchedness argues that sin, as

a mode of participation in God’s Creation, has fundamentally altered two aspects of this creation:

i) It has facilitated, eased, and led those who are already astray, into further acts of depravity. Someone who refuses to recognize the existence of the particular Christian

–  –  –

consequent to that Truth. They will, by not recognizing the Truth, stray further and further away from It. Sin begets sin, and decadence begets decadence. The Book of Genesis is replete with examples of successive generations besting one another in perversity and decadence. Likewise, Paul’s analysis of the life of the flesh, a life one leads away from God, is irremediably a life of death62. One crime, one monstrous act makes another one easier. And such foul acts are willingly committed in full defiance

–  –  –

One could also argue that this argument is still prevalent today, as its influence is still present in the writings of someone like Pascal whose entire “anthropology” (in the first section of the ‘Pensées’) is influenced by the notion that sin and ignorance of God have altered the very core of man’s nature.

The persistence of this Pauline narrative can also be found in Ambrose’s description of how pleasure, as sin, although appearing beautiful, actually leads not to Paradise, but to a palace of confusions : “Pleasure scatters its fragrance because it has not the fragrance of Christ. Pleasure looks for treasures, it promises kingdoms, it assures lasting loves, it pledges undreamed of intimacies, instruction without a guardian and conversation without hindrance. Pleasure promises a life bereft of anxiety, a sleep devoid of disturbance and wants that cannot be satiated. We read: Entangling him with many words and alluring him with the snares of her lips, she led him even to her home. He was beguiled and followed her. The hall had all the splendor of a royal palace with walls in relief work. The floor reeked of spilled wine and emitted the odor of unguents. It was covered with the remains of fish.

The flowers, now faded, made walking hazardous. Everything there was confused and contrary to nature”. The general idea expressed in this passage is that pleasure, as sin, not only leads us away from God (a first mistake), but eventually leads us to a place of greater and greater iniquity. Ambrose, Hexameron, Paradise and Cain and Abel, p.


See Rm 1, 20-32.

ii) Sin has changed the dynamics of human existence. No longer is it the case that man

–  –  –

What is interesting in the Pauline narrative (Rm 1, 20-32) of the depravities of certain Roman citizens is that it already hints at the kind of dichotomizing which the “Chanson de Roland” will employ. It presents the reader with a world where evil increases steadily, where there are hateful people, guilty of monstrous acts, who take pleasure in committing evil deeds, and who define themselves by openly opposing God.

–  –  –

Rm 5, 12-21; Ambrose explains the anthropological/existential change in man in the following way: “The “image” of God is virtue, not infirmity. The “image” of God is wisdom. … Adam before he sinned conformed to this image. But after his fall he lost that celestial image and took on one that is terrestrial. Let us flee from this image which cannot enter the city of God”. Ambrose, Hexameron, Paradise and Cain and Abel, p. 254-255.

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