The Knightly Virtues of Sincerity, Chastity, and Charity

October 24, 2019

Arming a knight

The Code of Chivalry cannot be assimilated to the Decalogue in the Old Testament consecrated by the New Law, popularized by the Church, a truly divine and universal covenant for all centuries, and adapted to all nations. The rules for the use of knights are necessarily of a more restricted and of a more special character than the sacred Commandments. We will give a striking example. “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” says the sacred text. “Thou shalt keep thy word,” adds the commentator of the Middle Ages. The difference is easily perceived.

It is just the same as regards the precepts and evangelical counsel, and it is not worthwhile to pause and find them word for word in the decalogue of chivalry. It is certain (and here again we wish to take a decisive illustration) that chastity is more than once advised in our old poems to Christian soldiers. Elias of Saint-Gilles expressly enjoined this virtue on his son, and the author of the Ordene de Chevalerie, of that almost mystic work, is as stern and rigorous on the subject as a preacher, and advises the knights to keep themselves pure. This is as it should be, and we have nothing but admiration for those who repulsed energetically any temptations, whether from Saracens or Christians.

So with charity, which is the essence of Christianity, and which must not be confounded with liberality, which is the essence of chivalry. This liberality emboides the Ninth Commandment of the legislation which we are attempting to set forth; and, to tell the truth, charity holds but a small position in it.

Sometimes, nevertheless, these heavy mail-clad warriors, living amid the license of camps, had really fine accesses of charity. The admirable Godfrey, the prototype of all knights, who exercised a notable influence upon the historical development of the chivalrous ideal, this leader of the first crusade was a true “brother of charity,” and occupied himself continually in visiting the poor in his army.

León Gautier, Chivalry, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1891), 68–9.

 

 

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