In respect to all the ideas of Chivalry in the modern world, the one which namely gets the most attention is the classical romanticized idea. The essential idea of a Knight serving his Lady. Seems like every girl’s dream, though a bit on the unrealistic side. I’d like to take a somewhat different approach towards Chivalry, one more Christ centered, rather than making Chivalry a way of life, let us examine it as a spirituality.
The Age of Chivalry was brought about by the Catholic Church, as a means to control and guide the people to a more virtuous lifestyle. Or, if you would like it put simply, it was initiated as a means to civilize the barbaric manner of the new converts. (The Barbarian Hordes which conquered Europe, the Normans, Vikings, and like.)
Fighting was the main profession of men in the Middle Ages, any glimpse at the work of the Norman’s shows their influence of exploration and military expansion, from the Western Coasts of England, through the dry barren lands of the Middle East. With this being the main occupation of men, it left room for certain acts of dishonesty, war upon the innocent, and disrespect for women. The Church, in Her infinite wisdom and nature as the Mother of the Faithful, took it upon Herself to put help Her children along the path of sanctification.
Chivalry was introduced as a lifestyle. All levels of society were affected by it. The Noble Class Practiced it, in what may be noticed as the form of the Knight, the lower class practiced it, in regards to duties to State and God, and the Church practiced/preached it, echoing the worth of the human individual in the eyes of God, and the need for love and respect. War was changed to a tool for good, as we know that there cannot be a world without war, so the Church helped set up rules and guidelines in particular about who to fight, and when. Namely, in defense of the innocent and weak.
I will not go into much detail here, as I have touched up on the definition of chivalry, and the historical aspect of Chivalry in Medieval Europe on many an occasion. So skipping ahead on the history, I would like to focus on what chivalry does; not on behalf on society, love, and honor, but on a more personal and inward side of things. Chivalry as a form of Spirituality.
In reflecting throughout history, I find one notable character, namely a Saint, who has attained one of the highest places in the Church Triumphant. His origins were that of a son of a wealthy Italian Merchant, the vision of future he had for himself, knighthood. His idea of knighthood, at the time, was one corrupted by the world’s callings, being that of fame, glory, the the prize to be won. This envisioning of Chivalry was off from it’s true course, as men eventually fell from the true ideal of knighthood, and began to abuse Chivalry for their own social benefits.
So here we see how one of the greatest Saints of the Church had his origins and ideas, influenced by the world. Though this was not to be his end. St. Francis held the key to true chivalry, though not that of the physical sense. The key, practiced so faithfully by this man, was that of dying to self, in imitation of Our most Holy Savior. Those who wish to follow after Christ must leave the world, all its attachments, sins, and hindrances, in pursuit of the supernatural. In pursuit of virtue. What is chivalry? The practice of virtue on a natural level, though a practice which can be elevated to the supernatural.
Chivalry, on a supernatural level, allows one to practice virtue as an interior benefit, as well as a benefit towards the rest of society. Since society is based on the human individual, a chivalrous person will begin to effect the whole as well. Hence, the reason for a chivalrous system during the Middle Ages. Society’s structure was based off of it, allowing for all of society to benefit by it. Taking this to the level of a spirituality, chivalry enables us to take on the Crusading Spirit, and seek after Christ in the manner of a soldier. Fighting this world, and making a conscious choice to serve God, the Church, and our neighbor. St. Francis did these by his spirituality, total abandonment of the world. It allowed for him to leave behind the attachments to cling closer to the Cross. It allowed him to serve the Universal Church in his prayers and sacrifices. And it allowed him to help his neighbor by the strong examples of piety and virtue, which caused many to take up the garb of the Franciscan Order after him.
Seeing this, we can find the similarities between the Franciscan Spirituality and that of Chivalry itself. Both work for the ‘elevation’ of the human person, whether it be in the spiritual or the worldly sense.
I will write more soon, as this is getting a bit long winded. I’ve been working on this when I can, and doing a bit of thinking alongside, so I’ll be sure to post more going deeper into the spirituality.