The Secret of Knighthood

I am cross-posting the following reflection of Master Paul Xavier from his Catholic Discussion Group blog.

Master Paul has been a Squire for several years now and has been doing battle on his blog with his friends, among whom was the Illustrious Marceg.  Last weekend, Master Paul was inducted into the Knights of Lepanto.  He has graciously consented to allow me to cross-post his extraordinary reflection.  (I have included his formatting and imagery).

chivalry This isn’t going to explore a new branch of Medieval Conspiracy about the Knights Templar, nor is it an exploration of the Code of Courtly Love which predominated European Literature; rather, I am taking this as a step from the obvious and most reconcilable ideas of Knighthood and Chivalry and focusing on something deeper and more profound.  Something which historians and experts have barely scratched the surface of, if indeed even opening up this new idea of what essentially is: The Secret of Knighthood.

The word Chivalry, and the terminology often associated with it derive from the French word Chevalier, which in translated means a mounted knight.  Over time, this word Chevalier became acquainted with the manner and conduct of such mounted knights, who were beckoned by the Church to Defend the Poor, Weak, and Defenseless.

Chivalry was a way of life for the upper class in the Medieval past, guiding men along the lines of propriety and social expectation.  That is, men who were powerful and had the means to defend, were looked at to defend those who were unable to do so themselves.  Hence the entire idea of the Feudal System: A Lord, who through power or ability ruled a certain amount of land, recruited the local populace to work for him and his needs, and in return, would provide military protection of their welfare in time of need.

The idea was quite simple and easy to understand, that those who had the ability to defend the weak and defenseless had the obligation of doing so.

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But alas, human nature is corrupt, and twisted from its true origins by means of original sin.  Thus, all that starts off as something good often extends itself to improper and often selfish means.  Chivalry became a means to abuse the norms of proper virtue for the sake of personal glory and vice.  Generosity was rewarded with the praise and lavish decor of this world; courtesy towards women was often engaged into a means of flattery and deception, its main intention being to entice women to illicit affairs; courage and honor in themselves becoming more and more an arrogant pride, the cause of many wars and suffering for the peoples of Christendom.

This being said, we must bring this into question: Is Chivalry Dead?  Did it ever truly exist?

As an idea, Chivalry seems to have always existed, inspiring the young and spirited to strive for a greater cause above their own self and their standing in life.

Essentially, anyone can practice chivalry, or at least attempt to; but as with all things without a proper motivation (in the case of Chivalry, fame, glory, riches, and love were the motivations to do the right things) and guidance of virtue, Chivalry is a sham.

st-louis What is the necessary remedy to save Chivalry from the corruption of our failing human nature?  Is it the practice of good deeds? Championing the rights of the defenseless? Courtesy? All of these things can be abused.  Turned from their right purpose, and eventually, become outer coverings of proper thing done for the wrong reasons.

For a Knight to attain true perfection, he must work against the concupiscence of human nature which desires the praise of the world.  The pride which slowly infects the human soul when it comes to public acknowledgement of his good deeds.  The jealousy of another’s good name.  The answer to Knighthood’s Perfection is simple: Humility.

Humility is the weapon which ever knight should wield when entering into combat with the world.  For Humility allows the virtues and the good deeds which are often associated with the chivalry of knighthood to flourish into a something supernaturally beneficial, allowing a knight to gain what is most important rather than focusing on the fleeting praise and laud of this world.

The finest art of this virtue, Humility, may be found in the most profound and power of prayers.  It’s one prayer which anyone who sincerely prays it with a heart, may say that it truly works:

The Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

The Litany of Humility is one of the most perfect prayers.  Why?  Essentially, rather than the usual practice of praying for what we want, which is often against what God wants for us, we have a list of human failures due to Original Sin, which we pray to God to help vanquish, and/or overcome.

Read the Litany, and tell me, if a Knight truly is able to conquer such things, would he not be the perfect knight?

From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

cr_grail_burne_jones_cuHave we not often seen the beauty of Knighthood tarnished by the cause  of  a man seeking to be loved, honored, extolled amongst his peers, consulted for his wisdom; who amid the royal court, fears to be humiliated, fears to be rebuked by his lord and his fellow knights, who fears to be forgotten when the lord deals out favors and graces to his servants.  Sin contaminates the true essence of the perfection of knighthood.  Chivalry is doing the right things, for the right reasons, at the right time.  Alas, we often find it that man is compelled into such noble actions, but namely for his own purposes and advancements.

What is the solution? How does Humility tie in with Perfect Knighthood?  The answer is quite simple, yet so overlooked that we never see it happen.  Chivalry is something spiritual as well as secular, and in order to attain the highest rewards and reap the benefits of both natures of Chivalry, the knight must conquer himself.  Conquer his passions.  Conquer his lower nature which seeks to be consoled, gratified, in the most improper and ridiculous ways.  He must learn to silently bow his head, and not take the glory of this world for the sake of the praise and honor he will receive.  A true Knight serves the master, not the servant.  He knows that God is always watching, rewarding his faithful servants who follow the conduct of Chivalry for more noble purposes.

sirgalahad2 Anyone can do something good for illicit purposes.  But if we are able to silence that part of us screaming out for attention from our fellow men.  Recognizing the important of only have God as our witness.  Then we have attained true knighthood.

The selfless charisma of the Knight of Our Lady.  Like St. Maximilian, and St. Francis of Old.  True knights who did the right things, for the right reasons, regardless of what the world thought of them.  Focusing on the importance of conquering self, and realizing the true nature of knighthood as something beautiful, and meritorious of the greatest graces yet to beheld by human hands.  The idea of Sacrificial Love, like unto Christ, the Perfect Knight who gave his life in defense of the weak, in defense of the sinner, bringing joy to the sorrowful, courtesy towards his oppressors, humility when His people wished to crown Him as the Son Of David, yet most importantly, having courage in championed combat against the great dragon, Satan.

Knighthood is about humility.  Any other rendition of what knighthood and chivalry are is simply an illusion and idea the world has painted in order to satisfy our tastes and curiosities.  I would like to end this post with a quote from last July, during the Funeral of Thom and Marc Girard:

“To Arms, Then, In the Service of Our Queen.”

By Master Paul Xavier, cross-posted from Catholic Discussion.