Paul Catalanotto: An age in need of, well, chivalry

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The handiness of knights in armour may be long gone but the original knightly ethic of chivalry is needed now more than ever. Photo: Wikimedia commons CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s hard to say the word “chivalry” without conjuring up images of knights in shining armour. It’s an idea that many would say seems more anachronistic than contemporary to the modern world.

As if a time traveller stepped out of the 21st century and into the 13th century, chivalry makes us moderns feel uncomfortable because we are out of place. We are out of place because we’ve lost the truth in chivalry.

It’s not surprising that we’ve lost that truth; chivalry emerged and came to be in a Christian world, and our contemporary culture hates Christianity.

That lost truth of chivalry is straightforward: that men (and here chivalry is uniquely related to men and masculinity) are strong and can be dangerous, and they need to learn to place that strength at the service of others.

Today (and aside from purely honorary knighthoods) people are no longer inducted into the knighted Order of Chivalry. There are no knights in shining armour to rescue damsels in distress. However chivalry, that standard code for knights, is still needed in today’s world.
Chivalry gives men something for which to aspire.

Though no longer only a code for knights, today chivalry can be a code of service for all men.

It offers men a channel and meaning for their strength and an opportunity to use that strength for good. Though no longer only a code for knights, today chivalry can be a code of service for all men. It can be a call to live virtuous, holy, and pious lives.

Like the medieval knight, chivalry is first and foremost about service and less about slaying dragons and rescuing captive girls in towers. The form that service takes will vary because there is more than one way to be chivalrous: visiting the homebound and sick, teaching RCIA, feeding the homeless, opposing evil.

But, what happens when a culture bins chivalry? You get men who live lives filled with vice and serve only themselves.

You get absentee fathers whose sons need guidance and discipline. You get a culture that sows confusion and reaps disorder. You get a culture where abuse is seemingly normalised, and virtue is off the table.

THE FORM THAT SERVICE TAKES WILL VARY BECAUSE THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO BE CHIVALROUS: VISITING THE HOMEBOUND AND SICK, TEACHING RCIA, FEEDING THE HOMELESS.

You get a culture where many women are degraded as objects of pleasure and no longer want or accept help from men, either believing they don’t need it or distrusting the motives with which it’s offered.

You get a culture that needs men of virtue, piety, and service – yet, simultaneously tells those same men they are toxic. In short, you get bad men who create a world in which people like Harvey Weinstein, Jeffery Epstein, and Larry Nassar thrive.

Take caution not to take the analogy of knights and chivalry too far and end up fetishising war – yes, we do fight in cultural and spiritual battles, but Christ has already won the war – or attempted the rescue of people who don’t require rescue.

Tolkien himself was critical of chivalry in that the knight could taint it by excessive desires for glory and fame – pride corrupts chivalry. Those fame-seekers are no less selfish than the men who live a life void of chivalry.