My only hope for this post of mine is to contribute to a deepening of understanding of Chivalry as I understand it. Hopefully it may be of some help to the younger folks whose only conception of Chivalry might be that as presented by Hollywood directors and purveyors of romance novels. I hope my comments below will convey a Catholic understanding of this glorious spirit in the history of our church.
Historically, Chivalry was the result of a union between the religious and warrior spirits, it was the triumph of Charity and Justice over pagan principles and habits. The spirit of Chivalry consisted in the fear and love of God, its soul was a love of the Catholic faith, courtesy was its flower and martyrdom its glory.
The motto of Chivalry was “Godly, Chastely, Justly” and the virtues peculiar to Chivalry were seven: the first three being Faith, Hope and Charity. Can you name the remaining four? There were twelve rules on the chivalrous life, and rule #1 was daily attendance at mass. Chivalry is more than just being polite to ladies. Chivalry is a call to holiness in terms a man can understand and as befits his masculine nature. The “womanizer, romantic” chivalry of Hollywood is its death.
To live “Godly” requires Our Lord and daily recourse to the sacraments. To live “Chastely” requires Our Lady and a True Devotion to her. To live “Justly” requires St Joseph and the emulation of the virtues of the “Just One”.
If we men want to be chivalrous today we must do more than open doors for women and pay for lunch. Though good in themselves, courtesy and good manners are simply not enough. Something much deeper is called for. Indeed, it will require us to pursue a new course of life, a life that is watchful in prayer, avoids sin, pride and idleness. We must be high-minded in adversity, superior in courtesy, firm in manly honesty and fearless in self-sacrifice.
This is a high ideal to which few attain and I for one, most certainly have not. In fact I can think of only one man who actually reached it, Our Lord Jesus Christ. For who was more high-minded in adversity, more superior in courtesy, more firm in manly honesty and fearless in self-sacrifice than he as he hung upon the cross? Ladies: Do you see how only one in twelve men had the courage to witness it, let alone practice it? Guys: Do you see how holy women are drawn to it?
It may surprise you to learn that among the twelve rules of Chivalry there was no mention at all of women and the courtesy and honour due to them. At best, the only reference to women at all was rule #4 which stated “Search out widows and orphans in their necessity”. Courtesy is but the bloom of Chivalry, not its substance. Nevertheless, courtesy and honour of women was inculcated in the chivalrous man and as a result he was imbued with sentiments such as these:
“All one’s life one is bound to honour and serve them [women], and never speak to them but with the utmost courtesy. Who acts otherwise is a low fellow.”
“There is a kind of superiority which women should preserve over us, arising even from their weakness and the respect which it inspires. There is another kind which belongs to the dignity of man, which not only do women recognize, but for the abandonment of which they never pardon him.”
“Lost is all honour to him who does not render honour to women.”
But to answer the question posed by Jerry, although I have paid for many a lunches and opened plenty of doors, I cannot recall ever having performed even one single act of Chivalry. This is just one man’s opinion, but it’s mine.