Voice and Voicelessness
“Finding the Professional Voice in Crusade Lyric: A Resistance to Confession?”
This paper reads trouvère crusade love songs against the context of spiritual reform during the thirteenth century, particularly Lateran IV’s reaffirmation of penance as a prerequisite for salvation, and the establishment of sincere confession for the faithful at least once a year to their own priests. Reading these lyrics in a professional mode reveals a resistance to the dominant crusade ideology of the time, an ideology linked to the increased emphasis on penance and confession. Professing crusade rather than confessing repentance proper for a crusader, poets refuse the confessional discourse of the period bound up with crusade ideology. They seek to express their intentions about crusade by professing their love for the lady—this forming an aristocratic intentionality that claims autonomy from competing institutional and lay discourses concerning conscience and selfhood.
Clerical apologists of the crusade stressed the need for crusaders to demonstrate the “right intention” (intentio recta) of true repentance—renunciation of the world, family, and possessions before they embarked for the Holy Land. Trouvère lyrics of departure for crusades in the first half of the thirteenth century, such as those by Thibaut de Champagne IV and Châtelain d’Arras, belong to the various expressions of sincere or authentic penance during this period seen in pastoral literature such as the Vie des Pères, penitential manuals for laity such as the Dîme de Pénitence (1288), sermons with exempla by popular preachers like Jacques de Vitry, and pious tales and romance works such as Le Chevalier au Barisel and the Lancelot-Grail cycle. This paper will argue that within this contemporary discourse of sincere penance the trouvères construct their own right intention by self-authorizing a professional voice. Through a reading of Châtelain d’Arras’ “Aler m’estuet” I will show how this trouvère strives to maintain earthly love and eternal riches, a paradox that opposes the proper contemptus mundi of a crusader. By comparing himself to Lancelot, remembering the words of the lady, and exchanging his heart with hers, these lyrics reveal a resistance to the institutional confessional voice formalized in the sacrament of penance as three moments: contrition, confession and satisfaction. Unlike previous interpretations, this resistance does not invoke earthly love only to sacrifice it, proof of conversion under constraint, but rather constitutes an effort to self-authorize a professional crusade avowal.
Why would a trouvère-crusader want to create an autonomous idiom of intention? Part of the answer might reside in a comparison of the lyrics to contemporary pastoralia. For example in his sermon on penance, the bishop of Paris Maurice of Sully (d. 1196) emphasizes inward reflection and remembering sins as part of the now established structure of the sacrament, and warns against the sinner’s embellishment of his confession (“dauber,” “dorer.”) This emergence of a normative confessional text authorized and shaped by the confessor is apparent in a different way in confessional manuals that describe how external expressions of repentance must be sincere: “larmes” that are sincere and have true love for God have a “voix.” After one is truly contrite within, new tongues of true believers in Christ (“noveles langues cil qui croient en Crist”) possess the penitent in oral confession. I will show how trouvères respond to this emphasis upon authorized external signs of interiority, especially in the intelligible voice and tears of the sinner. Resisting the implied mediation of the confessional text by the authoritative priest as interpreter and judge of sin, the Châtelain d’Arras produes a courtly “chans” that is “liés et dolans:” the courtly aesthetic refuses interiority and celebrates an aristocratic exteriority that extols status and mutual service rather than the conversion of a repentant inner self in confession. Thus through the courtly avowal of crusades, trouvères self-authorize and notate their own professional voice apart from the normative confessional discourse.