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On Chivalry

On Chivalry

February 1, 2020 · C.E. Carter

Chivalry is colloquially understood by modern people as a set of actions which constitute “good manners” especially with respect to interactions between men and women. A chivalrous man, in the modern conception of the term, holds the door for a woman, minds his language around her, and might offer her his jacket if she gets cold. It’s a bit beyond “good manners”: instead of a set of behaviors based upon giving honor and respect to everyone around you, no matter the circumstance, chivalry is a consequence of the natural differences between men and women. The chivalrous man honors a woman for who she is, and as such, he takes into account her strengths, weaknesses, and desires to be treated differently than he would treat his male counterparts when he interacts with her.

The more antiquated definition of “chivalry” goes deeper still. The root of the word comes from the Old French chevalerie, a term which was used in the Holy Roman Empire to describe what the ideal cavalryman would be like, as the term literally means “horse soldiery”. The meaning of the word graduated from a vague ideal to a robust, yet unwritten, code of conduct which was adhered to by Knights and Noblewomen during the Late Middle Ages. Why the cavalrymen were chosen to be associated with this kind of behavior is beyond my knowledge. I would estimate that it was expensive to own a horse during the Middle Ages, like it is to own a horse now, and that the nobility of being able to ride into battle on one was an honor granted only to those who were affluent in society. Thus, the code of chivalry was birthed by the wealthy warriors, who sought, perhaps, to pass this code of behavior on to lower class people by means of osmosis. I digress, and it does not matter much to what I’m saying here. The pertinent information is the fact that those who were committed to exemplifying chivalrous behavior were conferred the status of Knighthood, which, by the Late Middle Ages, entailed diligent commitment to virtues that would be considered ideal in any man: courage, skill, intellect, piety, and etiquette. A Knight was a warrior-gentleman, equally seasoned to both crush skulls on the field of battle and to conduct himself with dignity and grace during the King’s banquet; he would be, as C.S. Lewis puts it, “a work of art”, a harmonious combination of the diametrically opposed characters of the warrior and the gentleman.

The unity of the two characters of men is a common trope among those who choose to meditate about manhood and manliness, since most men fall on one side of the spectrum or the other. Some are natural heroes with strong instincts for danger and battle who by nature lack the requisite interest to pursue intellect, or music, or theology, or charisma, perhaps perceiving themselves as “too pragmatic” or “too stupid” to devote time to such things. Others find it easy to devote themselves to the liberal arts and to gentlemanly conduct, but can’t bear to grow a little callous on their hands.

Consequentially, the art of chivalry is not something that simply occurs without the exertion of the will, and the application of the grace of God, as every son of Adam is born with a total deficiency of virtue, his will inclined towards all evil, an unruly thing which must be violently wrangled within him by the common grace of God through education, conscience, and socialization, so that he is restrained as an angry dog would be, and can only give himself over to some of the evil his heart desires. Only God can change the wretched heart of man, and only changed men have a heart for God. Most men do not care to live for their Maker, but when an enlightened man is commanded by God to improve himself, he must strengthen the weaker of the two characters within. If he stumbles in the higher virtues, the application of philosophy, theology, music, and etiquette is in order. If he lacks the strenuous virtues, a regimen of training with the goal of bodily capability, adeptness of skill, and healthy competition is the natural course of action. Such is the way of becoming a whole man, at least, the way I see it right now.