Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Code of Chivalry: To Live by Honour and for Glory

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

And so we come to the final rule of the Code of Chivalry, which I have purposely left out of order. This is rule number six, and it is to live by honour and for glory. Now, I deliberately left this one for last because it is different than the rest in that it is both a summary of the rest, and it gives the reason for the rest.

There are two phrases in this rule: to live by honour, and to live for glory. The first, to live by honour, gives us the central theme to all the rest of the rules: honour. All of these rules are about honour, and how one behaves in an honourable manner. The second, to live for glory, gives us the reason we should live by honour. This is the "why," the reason for the code in the first place. But this reason, glory, may not be what you have in mind. I'll explain, but first let's talk about honour.

To Live By Honour

From the rules of the code, as we have examined them, we should arrive at an understanding of what honour is to the knight. Today, we might think of honour in a variety of ways, including recognition you receive from peers, or perhaps a code of ethics, a certain rule of action one might live by, heck, it's what we call our judges. To the knight, honour was about three things specifically, which govern all these actions, each of which can be reduced to one fundamental reality: relationship.

Honour was all about relationship. Namely, it was about three kinds of relationships: our relationship to God, our relationship to our fellow man, and our relationship to ourselves. It is these three spheres that the Code of Chivalry covers.

To fear God, and maintain His Church, these show us how to behave honourably toward God.

To serve the liege lord in valour and faith, to protect the weak and defenceless, to give succor to widows and orphans, to refrain from the wanton giving of offence, to fight for the welfare of all, to obey those placed in authority, to guard the honour of fellow knights, to respect the honour of women, never to refuse a challenge from an equal, and never to turn the back upon a foe, these show us how to behave honourably toward our fellow man.

To despise pecuniary reward, to eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit, to keep faith, at all times to speak the truth, and to persevere to the end in any enterprise begun, these show us how to maintain an honourable integrity within ourselves.

I say again, honour was all about relationships, and the Chivalric Code was all about helping the knight to behave honourably, to keep good relationships, and maintaining the integrity of the trust that is fundamental to these relationships.

To Live For Glory

So the question then because, why? Why should the knight care about honour? Why should he care about keeping these relationships? Especially for a knight in the midst of war, why should he care about maintaining relationships? Most of the people he's going to war with are going to be dead soon, anyway. He doesn't know the enemy, their women and children, why shouldn't he just take as he pleases?

The reason is glory. What? Yes, glory. The reason we might have a problem with this is that our understanding of glory isn't what it used to be. When we think of glory, we think of acclamation, of public recognition of excellence. We have visions of being remembered with admiration for generations to come. So, to think about living honourably as a way to glory seems backward, especially when we reflect on the fact that several of the rules of this Code require humility. The pursuit of glory seems to be anything but humble.

In fact, the above understanding is actually the definition of something else that we call vainglory. Today, it seems, we have confused true glory with vainglory. Okay, so if the way we think about glory isn't what it used to be, then what did it used to be? Remembering, once again, that we're talking about Christendom here, we should look for a Christo-centric explanation. Hence, I turn in the direction of the Bible.

In Scripture, we find four uses of the word glory, all of which relate to each other. They are:

  1. A visible, physical phenomenon, often called brightness, as in the case of Jesus' Transfiguration, whereat the glory of His divinity shone forth, what the Jews called the Shekhinah.
  2. Praise rendered to God in acknowledgement of his Majesty and perfection, as seen in Apocalypse 4:11, for example.
  3. A judgement of personal worth, as seen in John 5:44.
  4. It is a reference to the soul's eschatological union with God, as in Romans 8:18.
St. Augustine defines glory, as a reality that runs through each of the above, as clara notitia cum laude, or "brilliant celebrity with praise."

The Shekhinah is interpreted as the praise of the Divine manifested through nature itself, whereas glory in the second sense is the praise we offer to each other. Glory in the third sense is praise we offer to each other. But this kind of glory, if it is to be true glory, must be praise we give one another for the majesty of God that we perceive in each other. As to the eschatological union we will have with God, this glory is the eternal praise that arises from within, for the glory of God that dwells within us.

So glory is that effulgent joy that manifests itself as praise for the goodness of God. This is why the knight must live for glory, not for his own glory, but for God's. And even if there was an interest in one's own glory, if it be true glory, it would be for the likeness to God that the knight manifests in his actions.

That is to say, because there is a deep union between sainthood and God's own goodness, personal glory has an identification with the glory of the Divine, insofar as the holiness of God dwells within the person. So for the knight to live by honour, and for glory, it is to act honourably so that at once one might give praise to God through good action, and that the holiness of God might come to dwell within, and finally that the goodness of God might shine forth through the person as a beacon to others.

In other words, this Chivalric Code was a guide for the knight to attain sainthood within his specific vocation in life: knighthood.

(For further reading on the Church's doctrine on glory: Glory.)

Praise God!

Thanks for reading!

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