Archbishop Turpin: How Not to Model the Christian Faith (A Critical Essay on the Song of Roland)

By Camilla Lemons, Class of 2018

A question was asked on a blog whether churches judge more than they love, and ninety percent of the readers agreed. If Christians feel judged at the one place they should feel most secure, they will not want to come back. The actions of Christians to one another should be kind. If a community cannot treat those in it with kindness, how can they treat those who are not a part of this group in a way that shows their faith well? It is the duty of a Christian to model his faith well and lead others to Christ. However, in The Song of Roland translated by W.S. Merwin, Archbishop Turpin does not portray this attribute. This religious leader fails to act in a way that would point others to Christ and does not model his faith well. To begin, during the battle against the pagans, the motives for his violence were corrupt. Additionally, he did not abide by the Scriptures in the way he lead his country’s religion or treated the pagans. Finally, Turpin put the love of his country France over his love for God. Archbishop Turpin failed to model his faith in a way that was glorifying to God.

Initially, Turpin did not model his faith well because the motives behind his violence were corrupt. After killing a man in the battle at Roncesvalles, this was stated about the Archbishop: “He will not leave him without addressing him, and he says: ‘Pagan wretch, you lied!'” (XCV). Turpin was killing out of wickedness in his heart. He could not refrain from turning back to address the corpse. Matthew 12:37 states, “[F]or by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” By returning to the body to speak malicious words, Turpin was not representing Christ well. Furthermore, after Turpin slaughtered a pagan magician, he declared, “He was marked out to be our victim” (CVIII). Turpin, as the Archbishop, took it on himself to avenge his countrymen. In Hebrews 10:30 this is exclaimed, “For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.'” It is clearly stated in the Scriptures that God is the ultimate judge and vengeance is His. Turpin did not model Christianity well for his men by acting in this way. One might argue that during the battle at Roncesvalles Turpin’s violence was justified. “The Archbishop says: ‘Our men are brave; there are no better under heaven” (CXI). Some may say that Turpin and the other knights were using their God-given gifts of strength and bravery to uphold their faith. Nevertheless, Turpin relied on his own strength and the strength of his fellow knights to win the battle. I Samuel 17:47 states, “[A]nd that all the assembly may know that the Lord saves not with swords and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands.” Turpin failed to rely on God to give the French victory. His words did not reflect the example given to him by Christ. As seen in Turpin’s words, the motives behind his violence are corrupt; thus, he does not represent the Christian faith well.

Additionally, the Archbishop did not manifest Christ well because he did not abide by the Scriptures. During the battle of Roncesvalles, Turpin killed a wicked man; and the French warriors declared, “The cross will not suffer while the Archbishop is there to protect it” (CXIV). In this quote, men who listened to the Archbishop’s teachings admitted that the cross would not suffer. This showed the warped view of the Scriptures administered to them by Turpin. His poor teaching caused his followers to not understand the whole purpose of Jesus’ life on earth. I Peter 3:18 states, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. . .” The purpose of Jesus coming to the earth was to suffer. Since Turpin was a leader in the church, people heeded his advice. When his followers were mistaken about the Scriptures, this showed his poor teaching and leadership. Moreover, before he killed the wicked man, he exclaimed, “That Saracen looks a heretic from head to foot” (CXIII). Turpin judged this man on sight. I Samuel 16:7 states, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Turpin failed to even attempt to follow God’s word. He showed poor leadership through his actions. Being a major leader in the church caused people to look to him to model the faith they followed. By not abiding by the Scriptures, Turpin was not modeling his faith well.

Finally, the actions of Turpin of Reims showed that his love for his country and king was greater than his love for God. After a king named Corsablis insulted the French, Turpin exclaims, “Charles, my lord, is our protector still, and our French have no wish to flee” (XCV). The Archbishop stated that Charles was his true protector. Psalm 46:1 states, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The Scriptures clearly identify God as a refuge, but Turpin’s trust was in his king, who was sure to fail him. Next, Turpin saw Roland fighting in the battle at Roncesvalles. He exclaimed to Roland the characteristics of a noble knight. “He must be strong and overbearing in battle or he is not worth a farthing…” (CXLI). In contrast to this statement, II Samuel 17:45 states, “Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel…'” In order for a warrior to be successful in battle, he does not necessarily have to be strong. A characteristic that he must have is faith. Turpin lacked faith because he was not fighting for his religion, but his king. This proves that the love of Turpin’s country exceeded his love for God. One might argue that during the battle at Roncesvalles, Turpin modeled his faith soundly by exclaiming, “Barons, my lords, Charles has left us here and if need be we must die for our king and uphold Christendom!” (LXXXIX). Some might say that Turpin was fighting to uphold his religion. However, Turpin put the love of his country over his love for God here because he stated that he was willing to die for his king as well as support Christianity. Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” The Archbishop could not fully support two causes, and the one he chose to die for was his country. The Archbishop put the love of his country over his love for God; therefore, he did not model his faith well.

How can a community love people who are not a part of it if they cannot love each other? Many feel judged at church. This pushes too many people away from their faith or causes them never to find it. Likewise, in The Song of Roland, the Archbishop did not model his faith well. Turpin’s words revealed his true motive behind slaying the pagans. He spoke cruel words to them and in that, did not represent Christ well. Because of Turpin’s status of leadership in the church, it was especially essential that he model Christianity well. Turpin failed to act in a way that led others to Christ.

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