St. Louis of France, that most noble king, and flower of chivalry, fought in two crusades and always manifested, not only courage, but also this great generosity and largeness of spirit. During one landing at Damietta, St. Louis, fully armed and with his shield slung around his neck, leapt into the sea with his men rather than wait for a secure beachhead, as his council had advised. On another occasion, while returning to France after his first crusade, his ship ran aground. While many panicked, the king prostrated himself, barefoot and bareheaded, in the form of the cross, before the Eucharist which was reserved on the bridge. Later, when the damaged ship was free, he was advised to board another ship, as the first was not judged to be seaworthy. But because five hundred of his people were on board, he chose to entrust himself to God rather than abandon those under his care. All five hundred men made it safely back to France. Fourteen years later, during his second crusade, as he lay dying from sickness in Tunis, St. Louis called Prince Philip, his son, to his side and gave him his fatherly and chivalrous precepts. He began his bequeath by insisting that God always be placed first, and that sin be shunned above all things. Then he spoke of always maintaining what was good and worthy in the kingdom and stamping out what was evil. He told his son to do right by every man, regardless of his rank, and to preserve peace in his kingdom. St. Louis taught his son, through both word and example, all that was necessary to be a good and worthy knight. His last words to Philip were:
Fair, dear son, I give you all the blessings that a kind father can give his son. And may the Blessed Trinity and all the saints guard you and keep you from every evil, and may God give you the grace always to do His will, that He may be honored by you, and that you and we may, after this mortal life, be together with Him and praise Him forever. Amen.
With an example like this, it should not be difficult to see the connection between Chivalry and fatherhood. Both demand paternal responsibility and courage, along with a standard of excellence expected of a man and his heirs, for the sake of the common good. Of course, this first of all applies to fatherhood in the context of marriage, but it is no less essential to the fatherhood of the priesthood and to masculine identity in general. Men who wring their hands as their vocations are disparaged, or those who “Yes, dear” their wives in order to better hear the TV, need to have the dying embers of masculine and paternal responsibility stoked by the fuel of Chivalry. Priests who have ceased to preach the full Gospel in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2), opting instead to appease the lax consciences of their sheep, and who themselves are lulled by the peaceful melodies of secularism and mediocrity, also need a strong dose of Chivalry in their morning coffee. Someone must take a stand and make the war horn blast once again.
The external customs of courtesy, or “gentlemanly manners” (derived from “gentility” or “nobility”), are secondary-but important-expressions of commitment to the common good. They are an acknowledgment that standards exist to which a generous spirit must conform. The chivalrous heart is not narrow, peevish and self-centered, nor is it preoccupied with its own rights and concerns. Rather, it is directed outward, concerned about the good of others, and willing to sacrifice itself in defense of the rights of its neighbor. Good manners, including thoughtfulness in small things, in a truly chivalrous man are merely the outward sign of an interior disposition that gives no quarter to base selfishness, but is rather eager for that which is honorable, no matter what the cost.