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The first rule of chivalry: Thou shalt protect the Church

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Arthur Herlin - Fr. Stéphane Mayor - published on 10/12/21

Each week Aleteia dusts off a forgotten rule of conduct to revive the chivalrous spirit.

What does a modern-day knight look like? To answer this thorny question, Aleteia has revived an ancient code of chivalry from the 12th century. These rules dictated the conduct of knights who wished to cultivate holy virtues and awaken the noblest feelings in themselves. At first glance, such a code may seem outdated or inappropriate for the modern age. But is it really? Aleteia has asked priests to revisit and update for us the precepts of this code—something from which our modern society could gain great inspiration. Together let’s foster a new spirit of chivalry! 

In this article, Fr. Stéphane Mayor, vicar of the parish of Sainte-Marie des Batignolles in Paris, focused on the first precept of the modern-day knight: Thou shalt protect the Church. Fr. Mayor explains:

Know one thing: the main enemy of the Church is sin, and its main protector is Christ. Every Christian has only one weapon to protect the Church: holiness.

Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:11-17)

A knight will be more capable of defending the church from physical threats if he does so with the holiness of his own life. When St. Joan of Arc liberated France from the English yoke, she did so in an entirely different way than a merely military approach, demanding that the king of France be crowned and receive from God the assistance promised to Christian kingdoms. In the same mysterious way, St. John Paul II resisted the Nazi invasion of Poland by creating a theater group to safeguard Polish culture while awaiting liberation. It was because he lived a holy life that he reacted in this way.

In short, when Christians are in danger, protecting them concretely is a duty, but one that must imperatively be carried out from the perspective of the holiness of the Church.

Protecting the Church also means confronting non-Christian thought, developing rational arguments and being able to express the truth of the faith while taking into account the people to whom we are speaking. When the foundations of our faith are undermined, when the walls of our certainties are shaken, we must remember that Christ warned us ahead of time that we would face difficulty and opposition. He did this not to frighten us, but to awaken us. He spoke to his disciples in these words, so that they and we would be prepared to deal with any opposition without losing our inner peace:

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:16-22)

It’s true that many Catholics are, to a large extent, ignorant in the art of apologetics, the art of dialoguing with the world to highlight the beauty and truth of Christian wisdom. However, plenty of resources are available if we look. 

Apologetics is also there to defend our reasons to believe. Christian thinkers have always been in dialogue with their non-Christian counterparts, never afraid to confront their ideas. A modern-day knight must fearlessly revive this spirit of intellectual jousting, this dialogue in which the Church mystically renews her strength:

When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (Lk 12:11-12)

Christians who want to embrace a chivalric ideal must engage in a debate of ideas and cannot simply affirm the faith while ignoring contrary opinions.

Tags:
Catholic historyMedievalSpiritual Life
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