Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sterling versus Joinville III: The Final Bloggle (Blog Battle)

Due to my being ahead of the assignments last week, I have re-posted my previous blog (albeit edited) and made additions based on further readings done this week.

The Life of St. Louis is a religious work as much as anything, but the emphasis of the writing is as much about two separate incarnations of Louis as it is about his sainthood. Joinville writes of Louis as a king, and as a saint, a unity which is at odds.

The underlying facet of the narrative is that Joinville is one of Louis’ intimate friends and advisers. As a result, it would be assumed that Joinville would portray the dichotomy of kingliness and saintliness in the most intimate details of Louis’s life and the men’s life together. Moreover, Joinville wishes to portray King Louis in such a way which might be an example to his readers and to Louis’ heirs (specifically Philip IV). Joinville’s work is ultimately his own reflection both on Louis’ position as king of France and his status as a saint. Joinville provides an interesting account on how saintliness can indeed be secular – how it does not have to play out beyond the living world but rather can exist within. This insistence on reflecting how sainthood ought to be practiced in the world makes Joinville a product of his time. Thus, while many of Joinville’s writing can be seen as a chronicle, it could also be classified as a religious text above all.

Joinville’s two characters are explored with different views of Louis. This first section will look at Louis as a king.

For Joinville, to be kingly is very similar to being knightly – that is, knights do not automatically receive respect due to their position, rather they earn it through moral merit. Honour, justice and chivalry are traits of the knight which also demonstrate the secular role of the good Christian king on Earth. Episodes which Joinville depicts the king putting his life in danger could be seen as sacrificial saintly behaviour were potentially not so – three of the four episodes involve the safety of his people marking the episodes as signifiers of chivalry instead. A closer examination of Louis’s relationship to the people for whom he is risking his life shows that it is not a simple matter of his dying so that they might live. In all of the episodes, the relationship might best be described as one of solidarity: one for all and all for one. A telling example is Louis’ refusal to escape Damietta (against advice) by ship – seeing his fate as bound to that of his people and is therefore, unable to take selfish action. Another example is found in the decision to remain in the Holy Land (again) against the advice of his council. Here, the reason given for the king’s staying is related to his people’s salvation; however, Joinville does not provide much information surrounding the king’s decision. Instead, he insists on the past successes of the French; and furthermore, expresses his growing relationship with the king and his close association with the king’s suffering.

Joinville’s proof of the king’s justice is the way in which he judges. Even though Joinville distinguishes religious and state activity, piety remains the basis for human deeds. Joinville presents the reader with a kind of dialectic: the meaning of Louis’s religious practice is renewed because he adds justice, and true justice is possible when grounded in faith. Through his narrative, Joinville, in a sense, brings his own answers to debates about the relationship between theological and cardinal virtues. For Joinville, the Catholic virtues remain empty if not manifested in the world through the political.

Recalling that part of Joinville’s aim is to distinguish for Louis’ heirs what was properly kingly about the king’s life and behavior, and what happened when saintliness affected his actions as a ruler. An aspect of Louis’s saintliness is that his choices are incomprehensible and often appear misguided to those around him, including Joinville – i.e. when Louis decided to ignore the custom presented to him by Jean de Valery to provide 2/3 of the goods to the Crusader’s. However, while Joinville expresses frustration at this incident, he earlier applauds Louis habit of never demanding monetary aid or gifts from his barons, knights, or men which is also depicted as an odd trait for a ruler. An example I explored a couple of weeks ago was that of Louis’ apparent cold nature towards his family and wife. For Joinville this was distasteful and confusing. But John Mundy argues, borrowing from Joinville’s own account, that it is due to Louis’ mother, Isabella, that this is so: “she so dominated her son that he could scarce call his mind his own and hardly dared lend his body to his wife.” Overall, Joinville’s ultimate faith in Louis leads him to trust in these decisions even if they are irreconcilable to others.

Joinville represents events of Louis’ life which are highly symbolic as prophecy to Louis’ destiny as a saint. The dominant symbol of the cross shows that it is not just the story of a king, but the story of one destined to become a saint. On the one hand, the cross represents the crusade and the life-long importance for the king of the effort to protect and take back the Holy Land from the Muslims. On the other, the cross, and by extension the Crusade, elucidate parallels to Christ’s passion and to Louis’ passion as a crusader and a martyr. For Joinville, Louis is not among the confessors, he dies a crusader for Christ – a martyr.

The symbol of the cross crops up on various occasions in Louis’ life:
1. Joinville begins his section on Louis’s deeds by indicating that he was born on the feast of Saint Mark the evangelist. The prophetic sign of the black crosses attending Louis’s birth points not just to his individual martyrdom and glorification but to that of those suffering alongside him. Individual heroics are not as important to Joinville as the actions which are able to transform a reluctant group of crusaders - to redeem them and open for them the doors of paradise. For Joinville, Louis’s lowering of himself to being one small, suffering part of the group in the end exalts the whole group, just as Christ’s final humiliation on the cross led to the salvation and exaltation of humanity.

2. The account of how Louis took his crusader’s vow: We have all read this story in Matthew Paris and discussed the difference in how Joinville presents it. Several aspects of Joinville’s narrative of this episode distinguish it as being important in his portrait of Louis as a crusader and saint. The first aspect that may be noticed is that Joinville marks the story as a point in time at which Louis breaks both with his past as king and with his past as a son and heir continuing on in the family tradition. Louis’s rulerly destiny is halted, turned around and the meaning of his life on earth radically modified. He could have continued on as a good son and good king; instead, through his symbolic death and resurrection, he experiences a conversion where he is willing to give up his kingdom to take up his cross.

Overall, Joinville is preoccupied with the truth of his story and careful to indicate when he himself was an eye-witness and when he wasn’t. He was not with Louis at the time of his sickness and his decision to take the cross; yet it was essential to his sainthood so he relies on the account of Louis himself. The immediateness of Louis’s healing--he was about to die and then, he was well--is obviously the miracle, but the wealth of biblical or religious symbolism in this passage also emphasizes its importance. The two women taking care of Louis become of importance - the first thinks that Louis is dead and wants to cover his face. The two women argue almost as if it were the argument of a devil and angel over Louis’ soul.

Another of the themes in Joinville is of the saintly virtue of love. In short, the most important trait is love, not just love, but love of God. This signifies that for Joinville, Louis’ love of God is not to be seen so much in his obedience to commandments, but in his imitation of God’s own works, and in particular his work of sacrifice and martyrdom for his people.

In the latter section of the Chronicles, Joinville tells of Louis’s alms giving, his churchgoing, and especially of his acts of humility. Joinville’s representation of the king shows that he was striving to live according to his beliefs, dictating his actions with the ethic of the gospel. Saintliness, which is linked to the future, benefits Christendom after the saint’s death, by providing an example of someone who indeed follows Christ’s command by giving up everything in order to follow him. Even more importantly, the saint is seen as reenacting Christ’s earthly life and suffering, thereby reminding Christians that their life has an eternal significance. Being a king, even a pious king, involves making do with the present, with the means at one’s disposal, and with the temporal demands of one’s subjects. Joinville appears to use himself as the grounded, comparative measure. He (Joinville) is fearful and flawed, in spite of this, God smiles upon his mission; provides for him and his knights and ultimately unites Joinville with his mentor and idol.

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