Thomistic Chivalry

thomas-aquinas.jpgGreat post from Alive and Young on the burning question as to whether chivalry is really dead or not. The format of the treatment is styled after that of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, which is arranged according to a number of questions and subquestions (articles), which he answers by first setting forth the common objections, then the answer to the question, then the replies to the objections.

Paul Cat has done a great job mimicking St. Thomas. More importantly he should be commended for his defense of chivalry:

Is Chivalry Dead?

Objection 1: It would seem that chivalry is dead today. For there is no need for chivalry in an age with no knights and ladies.

Objection 2: Further, in our current culture, men and women are considered equals. Because men and women are equals it would seem that a code such as chivalry is no longer needed.

Objection 3: Further, the object of chivalry seems to be the oppression of women. Christ came to liberate all from all kind of oppression and therefore chivalry is not in actuality a good, but a tool for the enslavement of women.

On the Contrary, it is written “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).

I answer that, chivalry is not dead as it is right with the order of justice. As justice is the virtue of establishing right relationships so chivalry is the code of action taken to establish justice between persons. We know from nature that all living things need to be fed in order to remain living. The food for chivalry is virtue, and since we know that there are people that live virtuous lives we know that chivalry is not dead.

Reply to Objection 1: Though there are not knights in our current time, chivalry has little to do with military rank. The end of chivalry is right relationships between people.

Reply to Objection 2: There are many things that women can do and do equally as well as a man. Yet, according to the philosopher we know that each sex has different predications to its form. Because of these different predications to the form of the person it is known that man and woman are not the same. They may be equal in quality or quantity or in their end, but that does not mean they are the same. Since man and woman are equal and not the same, it is right to say that they will interact differently with each other and to act wrongly outside of charity is to operate outside of justice. Further, because each person is different, each relationship will be different and will require varying degrees of chivalry in order for justice to be had.

Reply to Objection 3: The object of chivalry as well as its subject is another person. Chivalry is reciprocal and requires participation from two parties in order for it to reach its end. Though Christ came to liberate us all from oppression, he did not come to liberate us from virtue, for chivalry requires virtue, specifically humility from both parties, in order to be made actual. Chivalry’s end, as stated, is right relationship. The oppression and enslavement of women is not in line with the order of justice and these actions cannot be considered chivalry.

One thing interesting to note is that most considerations of chivalry nowadays reduce its understanding to the right relationship of the sexes. In fact, many times chivalry is discussed in the context of romance and dating. Some treatments go so far as to misinterpret chivalry as a kind of suave womanizing. God knows I have written many posts on chivalry that discuss the relationship of the sexes; however, I think we should resist the shift toward mere manners. Chivalry is almost dead partly because it subsists mostly in books of etiquette.

The virtue of courtesy epitomizes this aspect of chivalry and is of fundamental importance. But there are also the virtues of fidelity, honesty, prowess and generosity. Certainly, much can be garnered to improve the relations between the sexes by appreciating these virtues as well; however, what is noticeably absent in the reduction of chivalry to sex relations is the military orientation of chivalry.

The knight was bound to protect and defend–not just women, but also the Church, the family, society, etc. I will admit that even when considering the militant aspect of chivalry, we must begin with the protection of women. Nothing epitomizes chivalry more than the image of the knight rescuing the damsel from the dragon, as St. George did. But that is precisely what does not go over well today. (I have an old draft of a post called “Damsels in Distress.” Now I will have to finish it.)

In fact, the tradition of chivalry presumes the paternal responsibility of the husband, father and prince to defend the rights of the weak and the poor. The special regard for women, like it or not, arose from that context, and more importantly, from the context of both Our Lady’s vulnerability and dignity as the Mother of God and Mother of Sorrows. Medieval treatises on Chivalry, such as that of Geoffrey de Charny, indicate that the chivalrous role of women is to expect the highest standard from men and encourage them to perform deeds of honor. This is exactly what Our Lady did at the foot of the cross.

Let us not forget that chivalry will only survive where a militant spirit is nurtured, and where men consider it their duty to live the sacrificial, militant and courageous love of Ephesians 5.

This is not a criticism of Paul Cat’s great post. Just adding my two cents.

2 thoughts on “Thomistic Chivalry

  1. dear Father Angelo,

    I have a little objection to the above post. The part were the author says that there are no longer any Knights today. I have a little bit of news for him – there have always been “Knights.” The Knights Templar, The Knights of the Hospital of St. John, The Teutonic Knights, The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the Knights of Columbus, the Knights of Lepanto……and I could go on and on.
    I am a 20 year plus member of the Order of The Knights of Columbus. Our Order has been around for more than 125 years. We have been referred to by Popes as “The Strong right arm of the Church.” Maybe we Knights no longer walk around in 80 or 90 pounds of armor, with banner unfurled – but we are still there fighting “The Good Fight.” Also, many of us Knights of Columbus live by a code we refer to as “The Grail Code.” Simply put, it means that we strive to serve God and our Neighbor.
    So, for all those who feel that there are no longer any “Knights in Shining Armor,” I say just look around you. If you look close enough you will more than likely see many True Knights clad in the “Full Armor of God.”

  2. I agree with you Sir Knight Stephen.

    I think the context of his argument is the regard for chivalry principally as a code to govern the relationship between the sexes. As he answers objection 1:

    Though there are not knights in our current time, chivalry has little to do with military rank. The end of chivalry is right relationships between people.

    I think he does confuse knighthood with “military rank,” and therefore dismisses knighthood per se as irrelevant to chivalry. Entrance into the state of knighthood was induction into the “Order of Chivalry,” and as he says, had “little to do with military rank,” but everything to do with the rights and obligations incurred due to the vow of military service pronounced by the squire to one’s Lord.

    On the one hand, I think it is a mistake to abstract chivalry from its military origins, and on the other, a mistake to reduce knighthood to military service, as the life of Fra Andrew Bertie, a celibate, and the Knights of Malta illustrate.

    Come to think of it, the members of the great military orders were originally all originally celibate, yet they were all living within the “Order of Chivalry.” Something to reflect upon when considering the various aspects of chivalry.

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