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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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Rm 1, 29-30. The emphasis is mine.

Verses1631-1634. The emphasis is mine.

The Pauline narrative adds to this dichotomous world, where the forces of God and evil are opposed to one another, a cosmological constant67, since such inherent wickedness is irredeemably lost, given that it already bears the mark of God’s vengeful wrath.

Thy hardness and impenitent heart treasureth up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God68.

Once again, this notion that God’s judgment/punishment awaits the enemies of God is

also present in the “Chanson de Roland”:

–  –  –

Ne s’ poet guarder que mal ne l’i ateignet69.

The framework that is found in Paul’s thinking about sin and the destruction of sin can be said to serve as the skeletal structure of the “Chanson de Roland”.

That such evil beings should die is perhaps justice served, since the Pauline narrative insistently repeats that human beings are no longer the same after they have turned away from God. By turning away from God, human action has allowed death and nothingness to enter the world70. That Paul, and his medieval inheritors, would choose to emphasize the presencing of death occasioned by sin leads us to believe that in their conception of the post-created world, an element, or rather, a void, a gap, a nothing, has been brought to bear there where it had formerly been absent. The DNA of Creation has been changed. For we must remember that the biblical narrative in Genesis does not suggest that death figures into God’s plan for man so long as he A soteriological final solution if you will.

Rm 2, 5. The emphasis is mine.

Verses 7-9. The emphasis is mine.

Rm 5, 12.

dwells in Eden. Death is something new. Death adds a new dimension to human existence.

Things, and beings, more precisely, human beings, are no longer as they once were. Inasmuch as St. Paul is concerned, the work of sin is such that being, both as existence and as a manner of existing, are profoundly vitiated. The philosophical and theological consequences of this view are that, once existence has been “downgraded”, made susceptible to death and decay, it is an easy road for this same existence to move on to other forms of perversion and perdition that mirror, morally, this death and decay. Turning away from God leads to other unrighteous manners of being71. Darkness engenders darkness. Evil begets evil.

Étienne Gilson has offered a useful summary of the conception of sin that was held by the early and medieval Christian thinkers: “Since natures are natures because God made them so, to deviate from their own essence is the same thing as to contravene the rule laid down by God in the creative act. The rectitude of the human will is therefore measured at once by its accord with the divine will”. Étienne Gilson, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy.

Translated by A.H.C. Downes, Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1940, p. 328.

7. FAITH AND ITS ENEMIES I believe that we need to give full weight to the theological point articulated in section 1.5 if we are to understand how and why the “Chanson de Roland” demonizes the Saracens as enemies of the faith. When reading the “Chanson de Roland”, we need to keep in mind that its worldview is essentially inherited from the doxology of the early Church, and more specifically, from Pauline theology. Pauline theology states that by turning away from God, we transform the absence of divinity in our lives (that is to say, the only True divinity) into the presencing of a generalized perversion of human being and behavior. In the “Chanson de Roland” 72 not only is there a sustained representation of this generalized perversion, but also, this perversion takes on

many forms. For instance, it is represented and expressed:

i) by physical monstrosity : E l’altre après de Micens as chefs gros/ Sur les eschines

–  –  –

iii) by verbal/gestural acts of blasphemy : D’altre part est Turgis de Turteluse/ Cil est uns quens, si est la citét süe/ De chrestïens voelt faire male vode/ Devant Marsilie as As we will see in chapters 11-14.

Verses 3221-3223.

Verses 3230-3231.

altres si s’ajustet/ Ço dist al rei : Ne vos esmaiez unches!/ Plus valt Mahum que seint

–  –  –

The dichotomy between adherents and betrayers of God that one can find in the “Chanson de Roland” is mirrored in Christian cosmology, specifically in the Pauline contrast between the first man and the last man78. By way of the first man, human nature has been dramatically altered. Man’s being is no longer “complete” by way of its expulsion from Eden79.

–  –  –

existential shift in focus is also highlighted by the biblical narrative itself. Man will no longer enjoy the fruits of Paradise; he will have to work and suffer in order to obtain the necessities of life.

To the woman he said, “ I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you

–  –  –

and he shall rule over you." And to Adam he said, “ Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, `You shall not

–  –  –

your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants in the Verses 916-921.

Verse 642.

Verse 1353.

See Rm 5, 12-19.

If we apply an Anselm-like reasoning to this situation, we might conclude that, much as a being with existence is greater than a being without existence, a being that does not die (a being without the possibility of its own continued existence) is greater than a being that can die.

field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of

–  –  –

It is interesting to note that the “Chanson de Roland’s” martial ethic, the principle guiding and determining the valiant warrior, also justifies the same type of hardships and

struggles that are to be found in the Book of Genesis:

–  –  –

Although the seignor in this case is Charlemagne, and not God, the fact that the duties of vassalage can also be understood in religious terms (as a spiritual struggle) is evidenced in Roland’s concluding remarks to his speech when he states that Christians are right, and pagans are wrong. I believe that it would be mistaken to interpret these two passages in exclusively material terms. It is not just the case that the descendants of Adam and Eve must struggle with the earth. Nor is it the case that the Christian knights are merely fighting a battle. In both instances, the injunction to toil or suffer can be said to express a need for human beings to strive Gn 3, 16-19. Ambrose has interpreted this injunction to toil as an impetus towards spiritual toiling and struggle, as is evidenced in the following passage: “The law of the flesh wars against the law of the mind. We must labor and sweat so as to chastise the body and bring it into subjection and sow the seeds of spiritual things. If we sow what is carnal, we shall reap fruit that is carnal. If, however, we sow what is spiritual, we shall reap the fruit of the spirit”.

Ambrose, Hexameron, Paradise and Cain and Abel, p. 356.

Verses 1008-1012.

and struggle in a spiritual sense. The upshot of such struggles and sufferings is that it is not in vain, since it can lead to salvation.

Once again, we are faced with man’s telos. Man must strive in the world, much as he must strive towards God. From a very simple axiom (turning away from one’s telos by turning away from God = bad), the Christian account that one finds in the biblical narratives, as well as the one that we find in the “Chanson de Roland”, puts forth a type of “anthropology” that explains how different kinds of subjects could arise, and how these, in turn, could lead to greater and greater degrees of perversion and moral monstrosities. In Paul’s theology, men become more perverse as they are estranged from God. In the “Chanson de Roland”, there is a correlation between those who Ki Deu nen aimet and the monstrosity of their deeds and character.

Of course, if the Saracens are evil it is because they reject God. Roland's entire moral reasoning rests upon this very assumption. But the specifically Christian element in the "Chanson de Roland" adds another dimension. The God from whom one is not to turn away is not an


principle, but an embodied, Incarnate, being. It is consequently important to remember that if death enters the world by way of the first man, then salvation and redemption enter the world by way of this Incarnate being. I would surmise that this is why, in Roland's mind, Christians are right, whereas Saracens are wrong. Such a straightforward argument compels a straightforward choice: you either choose to go astray, like the first man, or you choose redemption (you choose to become the subject of a Truth) by adhering to the tenets and principles of the last man. Salvation comes by struggling and suffering for these tenets and principles. In the “Chanson de Roland”, Turpin, that strange figure straddling the sacerdotal and

the martial, best exemplifies and gives voice to this belief:

–  –  –

I believe that Turpin is giving voice here to Pauline tenets. Paul's ideas were so prevalent during the early Church that one also finds them in the works of Gregory of Nyssia and John of Damascus. Both of these authors believed that the origin of evil could be explained, by way of an Aristotelian reading of the relation to the Christian God, as the retreat from goodness, much in the manner that darkness could be thought of as the withdrawal of light. You get evil when you move away from the good. In both circumstances, evil was understood to be non-substantive since it was a particular accident, and not some thing. The sin of Adam, that of having disobeyed God and turned away from the proper observance of his law, becomes, in the theology of John of Damascus, the universal condition of a human nature that is under the influence of the forces of evil. Man’s state is one of a generalized degradation, corruption, and death. By turning away from God, man’s transgression transforms the human condition into one that is now subject to death and sin. This does not, however, divest him of his freedom of choice, or of his ability to recognize and adhere to a principle of goodness since this drive is still inherent to him as a being created in the image of the divinity. In other words, human beings can be given over to evil actions, yet, the possibility of salvation and redemption is still afforded to them since they can always turn back towards God. I believe that such a notion of an afforded possibility for salvation (for subjection to God) that remains unfulfilled goes a long way in explaining certain passages in the “Chanson de Roland” where Saracen warriors, apparently noble and valiant, are nonetheless demeaned by the textual description that portrays them.

–  –  –

Such a passage suggests that all worthiness, in this one Saracen character, is not lost, inasmuch as there remains, for him, the possibility of turning himself back around, that is to say, of using his free will in a manner that would fix the situation of his moral decadence: it would no longer be the case that he would only appear noble and valiant, rather, by turning back to God (the Christian God, that Incarnate being indicated by the term chrestïens) this Saracen warrior would actually be noble and valiant. It is not at all exaggerated to interpret such passages as expressing a moral lament: a lament with respect to this particular Saracen’s not being Christian, a lament with respect to his poor use of his free will. Here is someone susceptible of becoming a full blown subject, of having recognized a Truth, of having become faithful to that Truth, and of living towards the perfection of his end, and yet, this possibility is snuffed out. One can still, and one must or should choose to turn towards God, rather than in the other direction. This is exactly what this Saracen has not done, and what he persists in not doing as evidenced by his boastful will to fight the Franks (and therefore, fight the agents of the True God).

–  –  –

Verses 898-899.

Verses, 901-908.

The boast, is of course, part and parcel of the reason why, despite his appearance of nobility, he remains a figure that is negatively characterized. “If only” he used his free will wisely, the way to freedom and salvation, as a consequence, would still be open to him so long as he chose the proper exercise of his intellect and conscience in recognizing and adhering to the knowledge of the one true God. This explains the “Chanson de Roland’s” oft repeated lament with respect to certain Saracen warriors: Fust chrestiens. There is a lamenting judgment in such an expression since it is saying that if they, the Saracen warriors, were but Christians… something more and better might be expected of them.

Now such an idea is not mere poetry. The view expressed in the “Chanson de Roland” is founded upon ideas that were prevalent in medieval philosophy. Notably, it echoes Anselm’s conception of how sin creates effects on existence. Philosophically, Anselm’s view of the consequences brought about by sin was not unique. It was in fact the dominant view of both layman and scholar who, equally, believed that sin had transformed human existence in such a way that it no longer enjoyed the felicitous state of being for which it had been created 85.

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