Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Code of Chivalry: Protect the Weak and Defenseless, Guard Others' Honour, Fight for the Good of All

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and Forever. Amen.

To protect the weak and defenceless, To guard the honour of fellow knights, and To fight for the welfare of all, these are rule numbers 3, 10 and 8, respectively, from the Song of Roland, and they are what I'm going to talk about today.

These are the defensive rules, and first among them is the protection of the weak and defenceless. Who would have been classified as "weak and defenceless" in the medieval context? Mostly, the same people we would think about today: infants, children, the elderly, the sick, the handicapped. Women would have also been understood as being part of this rule, though today that wouldn't necessarily be the case. Catholics today would certainly put the unborn in this category.

But they also included people we might not think about today: monks, members of the clergy, merchants, artisans, artists (including musicians, poets, painters, sculptors, etc.), and others. These people might have been healthy and fit, but they usually lacked combat training, which made them "defenceless" if they were faced with a trained enemy.

Knights were able-bodied, trained fighters, and because they had both the physical strength and the training, whereas other parts of the population did not, they had an obligation to put that training to use in the defence of those who could not properly defend themselves. Note, that in this frame of reference, being "weak and defenceless" wasn't derogatory. It was a simple matter of recognizing the capabilities of others who had different gifts in life.

For example, I, being an accountant, would be considered one who needed such protection. I have no combat training, and my arms are, quite frankly, not very big. If I was put in a fight with a skilled opponent, with a sword in hand, I would be laughably outmatched. Now, this might be a blow to my ego, to think about myself this way, but that part of me that wants to shout in opposition to this is really just bravado, not reality. That doesn't mean I couldn't go get training, and bulk up a bit, of course. And people did to do that out of necessity, but in times of peace you'd have simply gone into whatever vocation you felt God was calling you toward.

So, they had this obligation to protect those who, for whatever the reason, were unable to protect themselves, and this extended beyond the battle-field of course. In every-day living, if you witnessed people being assaulted, or being taken advantage of, you stepped in for their protection. Everyone, no matter their state in life, had dignity and value as people, and so were treated as such, and protected from being used or abused in any way.

This included guarding peoples' good reputations. This is where the next rule comes in, the guarding of the honour of fellow knights. Of course, protecting peoples' honour is a virtuous thing to do in any circumstance, but for the knight, accusations of impropriety could mean being stripped of his title, and therefore his nobility, which meant he could no longer be a vassal to a liege-lord, and he would then lose his land and all the other benefits that came with vassalage and nobility. So, a pretty serious matter.

This was especially problematic during times of war, during which all manner of vicious behaviour could occur, and so rumor of dishonourable conduct could carry real weight. Everyone knows that there are really dark temptations in the heat of battle, especially if that battle was the sacking of a city. And this is where another meaning of protection a fellow knight's honour can be uncovered: to stop a fellow knight from actually committing heinous acts, which would be dishonourable in themselves.

To guard a fellow knight's honour didn't simply mean to protect his reputation from slander or calumny, but it also meant to help each other to keep their honour, to confront a fellow knight who is about to violate the Code, to counsel each other on how to live virtuously, even in times of war, to be true brothers in arms, not just in physical warfare, but also in spiritual warfare.

Part of this meant keeping in mind, at all times, the reason that they are fighting: for the welfare of all. I would like to say that this was a rule that was widely upheld, but I don't think I can. This is, perhaps, a significant area where there was discord within the chivalric code. If one is to fight for the welfare of all, but one's liege lord is attacking a neighboring city-state to gain land, then is that really fighting for the welfare of "all", or is the "all" here simply being interpreted to mean "all who live under our monarch." Obviously, since there was much infighting among the city-states, this tenet was being interpreted maybe a little differently than we might today.

From a Catholic perspective, and in the context of spiritual warfare, this means fighting against heresy, paganism, and sin. This is because the superabundant welfare that we are all destined for is heaven, and eternal communion with God. Heresy, paganism and sin threaten that eternal beatitude. So, this means spiritual combat. Fight heresy with the truth, fight paganism by showing the beauty of the Church, and fight sin by upholding virtue.

But in the context of physical, material welfare, this is certainly more ambiguous. Which political system do we use to govern society, which best protects and promotes rights, freedoms, responsibilities and duties? What economic system to we employ in order to manage and distribute wealth for the benefit of all persons? What duty does one owe to people of different nations, if any? What should be our response to tyranny within our own nation, and among other nations? Should I consider the welfare of my own nation above that of neighboring ones? What role does land expansion play in all of this?

Certainly, the Catholic Just War doctrine plays a role here. St. Augustine, in the latter part of the fourth century, taught that legitimate authority, in accordance with the Divine Will, could wage war justly, and indeed had an obligation to it in the face of great evil. It wasn't until St. Thomas Aquinas expanded on this in the thirteenth century that we gained a clearer notion of what a just war looked like. He said:

  • First, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state.
  • Second, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power. 
  • Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.

Now remember, the Code of Chivalry was around long before St. Thomas, and it is likely that St. Thomas specifically sated point #2 due to the common exercise of warfare for self-gain and exercise of power. One could certainly "justify" warfare, if one had to, on the notion that because "my" nation is more prosperous, secure, and stable than a neighboring nation, I have a duty, therefore, to bring those neighboring lands under "my" rule (or my monarch's rule), so that they, too, can benefit from the excellence of our social, political, and economic systems.

Now, let me state, that the above is speculation on my part. But, really, it seems to me be a logical way of upholding this tenet of the Code, to fight for the welfare of all, and at the same time see so much infighting between the European city-states, most of which were Catholic, operated on the feudal system, and had knights of their own. Of course, another reason may simply be that they had long and deep-seated resentments from ages before the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire, and people being weak, it's not difficult to imagine those resentments persistently rising to the surface throughout the centuries.

But, on a more individual basis, if one is to uphold this knightly code, then it seems to me that one has to create a rationale for behaving in a manner that, at least from our perspective, looks like a contradiction.

I think the big virtue here is courage. Stepping in to stop a confrontation or abuse from happening is difficult to do when you're getting involved with strangers. It's even more difficult to do when you're stepping in to stop a friend from doing something you know he'll regret, but maybe he doesn't see it that way right now. Perhaps the most difficult of all is to stand up to your superior, especially someone you've made an oath of loyalty to, and who could take away all that he's given you, when he's acting self-interestedly, and not for the common good (as all people who are in positions of authority must seek).

We're getting a good ways into this now. What do you think? Do you think would have had what it takes to be a righteous knight?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Code of Chivalry: Serve the Liege Lord, Obey Authority

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Today we're going to talk about item numbers 2 and 9 from the Song of Roland: To serve the liege lord in valour and faith, and To obey those placed in authority. This should prove to be an interesting topic, as we will have to delve into the political structure of the time in order to understand it properly.

Coming second to God and His Church, the medieval knight, was bound by obligation to obey and serve of his liege lord.

There are, however, two distinct things going on here, and there's a good reason that obedience to authority is listed separately from service to the liege lord. Fundamentally, the difference is that one is an obligation voluntarily entered into, while the other is an obligation that all are bound by.

In the middle ages, the feudal system was the predominant political-economic structure throughout Europe. Europe was divided into many small city-states, each one governed by a monarch, a king or a duke. These were the highest liege lords of the city-states. From the monarch, authority would descend through to the lower levels of the nobility.

The feudal system was a system of relationships between lords and vassals. This relationship was one of mutual loyalty and respect. The vassal would make an oath of service to the lord, and the lord would make an oath of providence and protection to the vassal. Part of this oath of providence was to provide the vassal with property and food. The property wasn't "on loan" either. It belonged to the vassal, in heredity (meaning it belong to him, his family, and the generations that came after him). There were certain provisions belonging to the oath, which, if violated, would cause the land to revert back to the lord, but otherwise it was true ownership on the part of the vassal.

But as I said, these were oaths of loyalty and respect as well. The vassal was bound by loyalty to the lord, and likewise the lord was bound by loyalty to his vassal. Likewise, the vassal was bound to give honor and respect to the lord, in speech and action, and so was the lord bound to him. In other words, he could not bad-mouth the lord, and the lord could not treat the him poorly (over-charge him on goods, beat him, humiliate him, lay hands on his wife or daughters, etc).

The king granted fiefs (land) to his princes, and the princes in turn provided fiefs to the other levels of the nobility. Knights were considered part of the lower nobility, and were therefore eligible to receive a fief from a lord, and become his vassal, and knighthood could be granted to anyone for performing honorary service to the monarch or country, normally militarily. Once made a knight, and therefore a member of the nobility, one could then become a vassal to a lord, which gave one the ability to own land.

However, because it's a voluntary oath, a knight didn't necessarily have to become a vassal, but doing so had its obvious benefits. So, even though not all knights necessarily had a liege lord, service to the liege lord was still mentioned in the Chivalric Code because it was rare not to have one.

So, what did service to the liege lord entail. Mainly, it meant going to war for the liege lord, if the lord was going to war, which was common, and not just because of the Crusades. There were only two ways a lord could expand his holdings: 1) to become a vassal to more than one liege lord, and 2) to conquer land from enemies. This meant that warfare was common, and it also meant fighting between the European city-states was also common. It also helps to explain how Islam expanded so rapidly (each city-state, both within Europe and outside of Europe, really only cared about what happened within its own borders, so if a neighboring city-state was being attacked by Islamic forces, well that was their problem), and also why the Pope calling the Crusades helped stem the tide of Islamic expansion (because it unified the Christian city-states in a way that had never been done before, so that the city-states became supportive of each other, seeing a new common enemy in Islam).

However, for the Knight, because a major part of their service to the liege lord was military service, it didn't make sense to have more than one liege lord. So, the knight's service to his liege lord was nearly absolute.

Beyond military service, a vassal served his liege lord in other, more ceremonial ways. He would serve as cup-bearer at banquets, would accompany the lord to festivals and celebrations, and helped his lord prepare before riding out to the battle-field.

So, service to the liege lord was a very important part of the chivalric code. It meant being honorable to your word. It meant respecting what was given to the knight by the lord. And this required faithfulnes to one's oaths, as well as valour. Valour, not just on the battlefield, either. The more ceremonial aspects of the knight's service were very visible publicly, and this could certainly have required bravery if the knight thought looking like a servant was humiliating. However, for most knights, this was an honor, because it meant they had made their way into the nobility. They might be low nobles, but they were still nobles. I'd say service to one's liege lord required more humility the higher up one was in the ranks of the nobility.

For the knight, however, the liege lord was not the only source of authority to which he owed obedience. Though a knight would only have one liege lord, there were still other authorities he owed obedience to. However, while a knight chose to enter into a relationship with a liege lord, the other authorities above him were there by virtue of whatever society he happened to be a part of.

For example, while a knight was probably not a vassal to the king, the knight obviously still had to be obedient to the laws of the kingdom. And remember, within the aristocracy, each liege lord was also a vassal to a higher liege lord, until you got to the king. So, while a knight wouldn't have taken an oath of service to more than one liege lord, by association, there could be many levels of liege lords above him in the hierarchy.

But that was fine, because, since each liege lord-vassal relationship was predicated upon the same rules of loyalty, service and respect, this meant that there was a unity of culture down through the ranks of the hierarchy, keeping in mind also that one could choose to whom one wished to be a vassal, so you could select a lord that you already respected and agreed with.

But beyond matters of obedience to state and local laws, the knight was also obedient to Church laws. As noted in my previous blog entry, God and His Church are first and foremost in the mind and life of the knight. So, I really said that backwards. Beyond Church laws, the knight was also obedient to state and local laws. That is, the knight is first and foremostly obedient to the Church, and wherever state and local laws contradicted Church laws, the knight was disobedient to the state and local laws.

But, this was true for all levels of the aristocracy, at least prior to the renaissance and the latter days of the Holy Roman Empire. And wherever a monarch disagreed with the Church, it was kind of a big deal (consider the origin of the Anglican Church). So, because of the deep religious roots in Catholicism that the people of the middle ages had, being part of the Holy Roman Empire, state laws usually didn't contradict Church laws anyway.

The central point, though, is that the knight took obedience to proper and legitimate authority very seriously. If a knight lived today, and lived by the code of chivalry, he wouldn't so much as jaywalk, or speed, or smoke weed, much less commit greater crimes against the state. It was a strict discipline, and a high virtue, obedience.

And why? Because all authority is understood as coming from God, Himself. God endowed His Church with authority, when He was here on earth. The Church confers authority through the hierarchy of the clergy. And the state modeled itself after a similar hierarchical structure, whereby the king is endowed with authority from God, usually through a coronation ceremony involving the Church, who then passed on authority to those below him to the various branches of government and state.

So, properly dispensed authority ultimate comes from God, and so obedience to every level of government is obedience to God indirectly, and disobedience to legitimate authority is ultimately disobedience to God's own authority. This is why the Fourth Commandment sits where it does: it is the bridge between our love for God and our love for neighbor. The first three Commandments pertain strictly to our love for God, while the following seven pertain to our love for neighbor. But, to honor our father and our mother is largely about honoring those who have authority over you, authority which comes from God, through loyalty, service, obedience and respect. And since our parents are the first authority figures over us, this rule to obey those placed in authority over us means obedience to our own parents as well.

There are a number of virtues packed into these two directives of the Code of Chivalry. I'd say obedience is a big one, service also, valour, loyalty, faith, respect and trust are all in there, too.

I have to say, guys, that I'm really enjoying delving into these rules. I hope you are too, and if so, please feel free to leave a comment and share whatever insights or thoughts you might have about what I've talked about here.

Have a great day, thank you for reading, and God bless!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Code of Chivalry: Fear God, Maintain His Church, Keep Faith

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

I apologize for my lengthy hiatus. Life got in the way of blogging. I'm back though, and ready to continue talking about the Code of Chivalry!

In my previous entry on chivalry, I mentioned that I was going to try to expand on each of the items on the list given to us in the Song of Roland. I will probably make brief mention to how these relate to Gautier's Commandments, but I want the focus to be on the Song of Roland because these actually came from the time when chivalry was a widespread practice.

Before I continue, I would like to remind you, my dear reader, about the meaning of the term, chivalry. I wish to once again dispel this notion that we are speaking about "good manners." That is not what chivalry means. Chivalry literally means "of or pertaining to knighthood." To "be chivalrous" is to behave in a knightly manner.

This is important, because I want you to think about what the Code of Chivalry means in that light. This is a code that the warriors of the European middle ages lived by. Think about the codes of honor that a U.S. Marine, or a Navy Seal might live by. This is the same thing. This isn't just a set of rules that Knights had to obey. This was their way of life. To violate these tenets was highly dishonorable and represented a betrayal of not just themselves, but their brothers in arms.

The way these next few entries about chivalry are going to be laid out will be a kind of grouping by similarity. I want to present the different rules within the Code according to similar themes. In this entry, I will be speaking about item numbers 1 and 12 from the Song of Roland. After all, where better to start than at the start (...and three quarters of the way through)?

So, let's begin.

To fear God and maintain His Church.

The Catholic Church teaches in one instrumental enumeration of virtues that are called the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit that fear of God is indeed a gift from God.

From Psalm 110:10: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."

Because this Divine Grace is the very first rule in the chivalrous code, we can be certain that this was essential to the life of the European knight. People in our day have a difficult time understanding this as a good thing. After all, if God is omnibenevolent, then why should we fear Him? Isn't the proper object of fear evil?

Well, medieval man also asked this question. St. Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1225 - 1274) in his Summa Theologica dealt with this question at length. You can find his arguments here. His answer to this question is quite thorough, but I'll try to make plain his essential points.

There are two ways we may fear God in a holy manner. First, because God has the power to punish us for sin, we should be afraid that He will exercise this power if we do sin. Thus, such fear may be had as a corrective agent in keeping us virtuous. However, this is a lesser form of the gift.

A greater fear of God is what St. Thomas called a "filial fear." Filial comes from the Latin for "brother," and this kind of fear is the fear of being separated from Him, from harming our friendship with Him in such a way that we cut ourselves off from His life-giving love. It is the kind of fear that is born out of love, a deep abiding love for the beloved, and a fear of offending Him. It is this fear of God which makes God's Divine Law the central rule for one's moral life.

It is this fear of God that was central to the Code of Chivalry. All other rules that belong to this Code derive from this first point: to fear God -- to love God.

And since God came to earth and instituted a Church as a gift to us and all mankind, and moreover He identified Himself personally with His Church ("upon this rock I will build my Church." -- Matthew 16:[18], "Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me." -- Matthew 25:[40]). Therefore, if we are motivated by love of God, our first motivation should be to this Church.

Note, this tenet does not call the knight to love the Church, or to believe the Church, or obey the Church, or even to serve the Church. Rather, it says to maintain His Church. And what does that mean? It means to help the Church to continue to exist, to continue in its mission to evangelize the world. The implication of this this word, maintain, is far reaching.

First, we might think that this means to provide money to the Church. It does, certainly, since those in Holy Orders do not earn income, they must rely solely on the charity of the laity. So, this means to provide for the financial maintenance of the Church, to allow the Sacraments to be administered without interruption.

It should also be understood to mean to defend the Church from blasphemy and heresy, as well as to promote the authentic goodness, truth and beauty of the Church. For, if we do not defend the Church from defamation and falsehoods, and if we do not promote the Church for the goods it offers, then the Church may come to the ruin of irrelevance. This cannot happen, firstly because God promised to defend His Church, but also because we must not let it happen. That is our duty.

Most relevant to a knight, however, as opposed to a merchant or artisan, this tenet of the Code should be understood to mean to defend the Church from violent warfare. Note, the Church does not mean strictly the hierarchy of the Holy Orders. Rather, the Church means all members of this Body, both the clergy and the lay.

At the time of the Song of Roland, Christendom had already been under assault by Islamic forces for approximately 450 years. You read that right. If you live anywhere in the Americas, that's longer than your country has been a country. All the lands from the Middle East, across North Africa, Turkey, and all of Europe and beyond had been Christian for about 300 years before Islam arrived into history. Over the course of 450 years, Islamic forces conquered all of North Africa, Spain, all of the Middle East, and were incurring into Europe from both the East and also in the West from Spain into France. And it was at this time, in answer to the cry of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, and as a measure of defending Europe from this implacable invasion, the first Crusades were called.

It is in this context, that of defending the Church in a military manner, that we can understand very well what is meant by "maintain His Church" to the medieval knight. After the historic rise of the Church throughout the Roman Empire, the expanse of the Church had been cut in half by a single, unrelenting enemy, and the medieval knight took up arms to defend the Church. Not merely his homeland. Remember that Europe was divided up into hundreds of small city-states. No, this was a call to defend the Church, both in Europe and around the known world.

Fear God and maintain His Church. His Church. Because God identifies closely with His Church, defending His Church is understood to be a defense of God, Himself.

To Keep Faith

This is a little further down on the list, but it has a close association with the above. This will be the religious side of things. You might notice that many of the early tenets of the Code pertain to a certain external ethic, how to treat those around you, while the later tenets pertain more to an inner ethic, governing an internal consistency of virtue. That's what we have here.

While fear of God motivates all other parts of the Code, and maintaining the Church is really an external activity, something done on behalf of others, keeping the Faith is an internal activity, and is done for oneself, and for the sake of maintaining one's relationship with God.

The knight wasn't expected to simply be a warrior for the Church, but to also be a member and participant in the life of the Church itself, to partake of Her goods. This meant observing the Sacraments regularly (Confession and Eucharist), as well as being faithful to those initiative Sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage... not Holy Orders. Knights were beholden to a liege lord. It would have been a conflict of interest for a member of the clergy, who is beholden to the bishop, to also be a knight and beholden to a liege lord).

It also meant maintaining the disciplines of the Faith, prayer and penance, being obedient to Church law, accepting all Church Doctrine, and observing Church feast days and celebrations. To hold to the Code of Chivalry meant being Catholic through and through. These were truly Catholic warriors.


Lastly, I'm just going to quickly list the virtues I think are associated with these tenets of the Code.

Faith is the big one here, I think, for obvious reasons. But, along with Faith, I would say that to hold to these tenets requires Wisdom, Valour and Diligence. I won't say more, because I think I've said enough. I'll let you meditate on why these are appropriate virtues, and if you disagree with me, or think there are more relevant virtues to consider here, please drop a line down below!

Thanks for reading, and God bless!