I’m sure if any of you have attended any of the talks given by Father Angelo at the Encampments or at the Friary concerning the Knights of Lepanto, you’ll have received a decent history of the meaning of Chivalry and it’s practices. Modern history likes to associate Chivalry with the conduct of Knights, Ladies, and all of the Higher Class of Europe, which is true to a degree, but they fail to realize the broader aspect of the entire chivalrous picture.
What is Chivalry? A Wiktionary search gives us this: An ethical code that was prevalent in Medieval Europe. It was the honor code of the knight. The primary virtues of chivalry were: Mercy, Humility, Honor, Sacrifice, Fear of God, Faithfulness, Courage, and Courtesy. Once again it looks as though we’re getting the basic definition. Let us redefine certain aspects of Chivalry. Let’s say, Christian and Pagan. As History has showed us that even the Japanese Samurais, and Muslims of the East had a form of chivalry, or code of conduct. But still, this doesn’t compare with what Christendom had. Christendom had the light of Christ, the Guiding Authority of Holy Mother Church. What was it that shaped Knights into the ideals of chivalry? Knights definitely didn’t form it themselves, and it wasn’t something that had been around for thousands of years. Where did such a idea, contrary to the attitudes and people of the times originate? (In reference to the ‘attitude of the times,’ I’m referring to the brutality of The Dark Ages into Early Medieval Europe, in regards to the Vikings, Barbarians, and other peoples who lacked an organized code of ethics.)
The Roman Empire consisted of an order based in and upon itself. You lived for Rome. You fought for Rome. You died for Rome. It wasn’t until Christianity had begun to flourish that society began to grow ‘tamer.’ Life in Europe was difficult, as the entire Feudal system was based upon service to one for a return of service in another manner. Wars amongst nobles and men were common, and the Church had to eventually put a stop to the bloodshed; so She introduced the Peace and Truce of God, which forbade fighting on certain days of the year.
This being said, we see how the Church has visibly worked to ‘tame’ Europe. Let us now focus on Chivalry itself. We attribute Chivalry to the conduct of a Knight. But European chivalry was different from all the rest, since it was Catholic Chivalry. Indeed, man in himself may strive to become ‘chivalrous,’ but it is the virtue of the Catholic Faith, along with the Grace from God, which enables Chivalry to become something even greater! There is always more to add to the picture. Belief in one God is good, but unless that God is Christ Himself, that belief will never reach perfection!
Overviewing Chivalrous actions lead us to one conclusion. Virtue. As the definition above gave us some virtues, let us go over them from a Catholic Perspective: Mercy, Humility, Honor, Sacrifice, Fear of God, Faithfulness, Courage, and Courtesy…don’t all these sound like Catholic Virtues? In all actuality, TRUE Catholics will contain all these virtues, whether or not they are chivalrous. Why? To understand this better, look at Christendom once more. These knights weren’t simply living according to ‘The Code’ (In reference to that annoying Pirates Trilogy), they were living the Christian/Catholic ideal! They were true Catholic men, who loved God, practiced and exercised virtue, and brought about an age that the world had never seen before, and will most likely never see again! We can attribute Chivalry’s Birth to Christ, the true man who had all these virtues.
Mercy: It was His merciful heart which forgave the sinner and gave us all a second chance.
Humility: He was God, but He lowered Himself to the level of a man, in order that man may be raised to a higher dignity.
Honor: As God and Man, He had the greatest honor. He was God, yet became man. And was man, yet still was God! How much honor and devotion we can render Our Holy Savior who humbled himself to become a man, and in the process gain the greatest honor ever?
Sacrifice: This speaks for itself, as Christ performed the greatest sacrifice of laying down His life for all of us.
Fear of God: How can God fear Himself? Do not forget, He was of Divine and Natural Nature. God and Man. Though he was God, His human nature showed forth true Fear of God.
Faithfulness: As God and man, He entrusted Himself into His Father’s hands. “Father, let this chalice pass from me. But not my will, but your Will be done.”
Courage: Christ had the ultimate chance to turn back and undo everything that was being done to Him. He was God. He was Omnipotent. Yet no matter how much He shed sweat like drops of blood, He kept along the path of His heavenly Father’s will.
and finally, Courtesy: Now this cannot be defined as the classical idea of Chivalry suggests, in regards to Fair Ladies, Courtship, and the Like. Rather, let us focus on the aspect of it in regards to purity and chastity, as true knights are truly so. Christ was the purest of men (referring to Him as such, though He IS God and Man,) the perfect knight, who came to rescue and protect us, the sinners. He married His Bride the Church, and shall forever guide and keep Her as His own. A true Knight protecting and defending His Lady.
Taking this into thought, we realize that Chivalry isn’t simply a way of life which the Knights followed, it is a reflection of the true image of Christ Our King, the Perfect Knight. And anyone who exceeds properly in these fields of ‘chivalry’ can be said to have taken up the arms as a knight under the banner of the Eternal King.