Late Medieval literature and Christian guidance for the common man

In the epic poem The Song of Roland and the book The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi, we see very little instruction to the common man. Both of them speak of groups of people who were considered especially holy by many people, and speak of their deeds. These people were put on a pedestal as a group of people to be admired.

The common medieval listener would have wanted to know how he could get to heaven from these Christian works, but he would have received little information. He would have been given accounts of the lives of people who were considered holy and worthy of imitation. He would have seen the success of these important and holy figures in the literature, and how great their success had been in comparison to the common man. He may come to the conclusion that he had to join them (In these two works, either the Franciscan order or the crusaders) to be successful.

The Song of Roland was a recruiting document for the crusades, and portrayed the French knights as special individuals; warriors of the Christian faith. The common man is not addressed in the poem, but is rather given accounts of brave knights portrayed as Christian heroes. The common man is not given guidance on how to live a good life. The common reader may become a good Christian if he becomes a crusader and fights for Christ, but that would mean he would have to become one of the special elite and not a common man.

In The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi, a similar situation is presented. The Franciscan friars are portrayed as holy men who were able to work miracles, see visions, and perform and experience other holy acts. The book is a collection of stories about these friars and what they did. The message was mostly about the friars, with limited content about the common man. The common man would become much holier if he joined the Franciscan order and became a friar, from what the book says, but to do so he also have to become part of an special group of people. Despite the lack of instruction for common people, there are a few passages in which Francis or some of the friars speak to them. These passages instructed them to do penance and pray, for the most part. They were instructed in these passages to perform good works, which might get them into heaven or at least into purgatory.

So, what was the eternal status of these important figures? In The Song of Roland, Roland went to heaven when he died. In contrast, the Muslim king Marsilie and certain other Muslim warriors were said to hell.

In The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi, one of the friars was said to have a vision about the eternal status of the friars in the Franciscan order. In his vision the order was represented by a tree, and the tree was made up of the brothers in the order, with Christ at the top. Christ gave St. Francis a chalice which contained the spirit of life for the friars. Most of them threw away its contents, became dark, and went to hell. Some drank part of its contents, and threw away the rest. These became partly dark and partly light, probably indicating purgatory. A few of them drank all of the contents in the chalice, and became luminous. These friars went to heaven.

If the reader believed the account given in The Little Flowers, he would have come to the conclusion that if most of the friars, who were seen as some of the holiest people around, would not make it to heaven, he as a common person would probably not make it.

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