Law in ‘The Little Flowers of St. Francis’ and ‘The Song of Roland’

In two classic works of medieval literature, The Song of Roland and The Little Flowers of St. Francis, the law of God was central. It was necessary to follow the correct law in order to have victory in The Song of Roland, and it was necessary for salvation in The Little Flowers of St. Francis. Even though it was so important, the contents of the law of God were never really defined by either work of literature.

The Song of Roland was a work of literature that dramatized an actual event. This historical event was the military campaign of Charlemagne against a group of Muslims in the Iberian peninsula, and specifically the battle of Ronceveux pass. Through treachery, the Muslim king attempted to defeat Charlemagne by feigning a conversion to Christianity and switching his allegiance to him. This took place early on in the poem in stanza 6. In order to change his allegiance, it was necessary for the Muslim king to abandon the law of Islam, and to accept the law of Christianity. Right at the beginning religious law was presented as central to the hierarchical system. Later on, in stanza 260, the importance of law in hierarchy was again affirmed. At this point (in stanza 260), Charlemagne and the emir, the two leaders of the opposing sides, were in heated combat. Charlemagne said of law: “Accept the law which is given us, the Christian law, and I will love thee straightaway; then serve and adore the King omnipotent.” Allegiance to Charlemagne meant allegiance to the law of Christianity. The opposing laws were the reason thet the different sides opposed one another.

The victory of Charlemagne was influenced by the direct intervention of God. In stanza 79, it is stated that Christianity is in the right, and Islam is in the wrong. In stanza 263, it is said: “The heathen flee, for God has willed it.” The victory of Charlemagne over the Muslims was the victory of Christianity over Islam, the victory of the Christian law over the Islamic law. Victory was a sanction of God, administered to those who observed His law.

Law was a very central part of several aspects of The Song Roland, but it was never truly spelled out. It is obvious that the Christian law was what had to be followed, and was necessary to victory. Although its importance was stressed throughout the poem, the contents of this law were never laid out.

This treatment of law is similar in The Little Flowers of St. Francis. Throughout this work of literature, the importance of following the law of God is exhorted. In The Song of Roland, law was necessary for victory, but in The Little Flowers of St. Francis, law was necessary for salvation. Even though it had great importance, the law of God was not clearly defined in The Little Flowers. The purpose of The Little Flowers was not to lay out this law, however. Its purpose was to tell simple stories about St. Francis. The Little Flowers was not the Bible, it was series of short anecdotes about a very holy man.

Both of these pieces of literature, The Little Flowers of St. Francis and The Song of Roland, considered the law of God very important. In The Song of Roland, the Christian law was the basis of the hierarchical system within Charlemagne’s army, and the Islamic law was the basis of the hierarchy of the Muslim army. Law was also central to the victory of Charlemagne. In The Little Flowers, law was central to salvation. It was also complemented by several virtues that were necessary for attaining eternal life. Even though law was of importance, it was not shown exactly what the law was in either work. This was because The Song of Roland and The Little Flowers were not meant to be handbooks that laid out the law of God. They were simply stories, purely entertaining in the case of The Song of Roland, and of somewhat deeper religious meaning, as in The Little Flowers of St. Francis.


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