Medieval Literature as Lifestyle Advice

When we think of a typical Christian life, we might think of someone who has devoted their life to loving Christ through obeying and trusting in Him and serving others. But practically, getting down to the minute level, what’s the Christian decision when faced with chores, or friendships? In these cases, where there is less scriptural perogative, we must rely on Biblical principles to guide us. Everyday life is full of pot-holes to any believer, but we don’t have to be afraid of them.

Two documents of the medieval period, “Song of Roland” and “The Little Flowers of St Francis”, attempted to show moral decisions in the everyday lives of extraordinary people. But what about us ordinary people? What can we learn from these examples? Some of us will never be faced with the problems that the characters were faced with, but we certainly have other problems! What do we do?

Song of Roland

The conflict between Oliver and Roland is one of the crucial points in the narrative. Yet, the way that the characters deal with the conflict is rather unsatisfying at best, and simply stupid at worst. If an idea is wrong, and you tell a friend, and you’re right, they should listen. But if they don’t listen, and it still results in a positive outcome, does that make their decision any less undesirable? Oliver was right and Roland was wrong, yet the latter wouldn’t budge, and did whatever he felt would save their honor, and that of his own family.

As far as ethical decisions go, I’m sure that it is plain to see that Ganelon’s betrayal was wrong. His punishment? Getting pulled apart by horses.

How can we, in this modern world, use this as an example as to how we should deal with betrayal today? The practice of pulling people apart by horses (dismemberment) was NOT biblical at ALL. If one of OUR friends betray us, should we follow Charlemagne’s example by tying their limbs to horses and tearing them apart? (To enlighten you; this is a rhetorical question.) So as you can see, not all principles (and in my opinion, hardly any!) constitute as moral enough to emulate in our everyday lives. However, the principles of love, loyalty, bravery, grief, and righteous judgement are all absolutely biblical gems to take away from this book, if you should read it.

Little Flowers

The earliest chapters of the book details St Francis’ rise (or perhaps I should say descent) to holy poverty. Many men join him and become his followers, his “brethren”. There are additional sections dedicated to the actions of St Francis himself, Brother Bernard, Brother Juniper, Brother Giles, and select other of the brethren. The chapters in the latter part of the book are more focused on ethics and guidance in heavenly matters than on detailed stories of the lives of those belonging to the order.

One trouble with the ethical advice given by Brother Giles in the final chapters of the book is that they seem to contradict at key points. He stresses the major importance of not working for salvation, not even bothering to work at ALL – then says we must be diligent. (Diligent in what? Being lazy?!) He says that chastity is the most important virtue – then redefines chastity as charity! (Which is absolutely incorrect.) The strict principles of the monastic and Fransiscan orders are anything but biblical.

Biblically, a man should be free to “eat and drink, and find satisfaction in his work.” He should be allowed to marry a good wife, “for her measure is far above rubies”. He could have cattle and sheep, and land, and children “as numerous as the stars”. He could be a great leader, and still be “a man after God’s own heart.” Yet, all these principles go against Franciscan tradition. Which begs the question – were the friars substituting God’s system with their own tradition?

These two books don’t satisfy a longing for truth. Neither of these books show us how to live, or even if we will go to heaven if we copy the characters in the stories. Yes, both contain concepts such as the sovereignty of God, tight systems of institutional hierarchy, obedience as crucial to success. Yet, although there were rules galore littering the chapters of these books, neither book dealt with or explained the true Law – the Law of their own God!

Makayla

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s