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!

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