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The Code of Chivalry

by Denny Hartford

Reprinted in its entirety with the kind permission of Denny Hartford from Vital Signs Ministries

"Chivalry is only a name for that general spirit which disposes men to heroic actions, and keeps them conversant with all that is beautiful and sublime in the intellectual and moral world." That's how Anglo-Irish writer Kenelm Henry Digby described chivalry in The Broad-Stone of Honour published in 1822.

That's a nice description. But I like even more the way Sir Walter Scott put it when he had the charming and brave knight, Ivanhoe, answer a young woman’s question in this way: "Chivalry? Why maiden, she is the nurse of pure and high affection, the stay of the oppressed, the redresser of grievances, the curb of the power of the tyrant. Nobility were but an empty name without her. And liberty finds the best protection in her lance and sword."

Chivalry. The word itself stirs the imagination and moves the soul to embrace manly virtues: strength, courage, a willingness to fight in a noble cause. But also kindness, innocence, courtesy and grace. And we must not forget honor, self-discipline, loyalty, and a burning love for God.

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Chivalry Defined and Refined

Excerpted with permission from: Kasparek, Rick (2014) Knight of the Grail Code: The Call to Christian Chivalry in a World of Growing Darkness, Bloomington: WestBow Press

Knightly character is art, not nature—something that needs
to be achieved, not something that can be relied upon to happen.
—C. S. Lewis

Chivalry's most profound influence lay in just this, in setting
the seal of approbation on norms of conduct, recognized as noble when
reproduced in individual act and style.
—Maurice Keen, Chivalry

Medieval Knight

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines chivalry as the system of values (such as loyalty and honor) that knights in the Middle Ages were expected to follow or as an honorable and polite way of behaving especially toward women, but that definition is far from complete. When Maurice Keene wrote about the term chivalry, he aptly stated that it remains a word elusive of definition, tonal rather than precise in its implications1. Chivalry is defined differently depending on whether we are considering the historical aspects or the ideal. Our attempt to understand chivalry is clouded by the haze of history, the fog of war, the confusing tumult of the Crusades, and the mist of the romance literature. As Constance Brittain Bouchard states, it is easier to use the term chivalry to represent all ideals for knightly behavior, even while noting the multiple origins of what we now imagine [emphasis added] to be a single concept2.

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The Necessity of Chivalry

C.S. Lewis believed that without chivalry, we have two types of people: those who are fierce in battle but cannot be gentle elsewhere, and those who are gentle, but completely useless in battle. Chivalry is the domain of the knight who can be both fierce and gentle.

The Necessity of Chivalry
C.S.Lewis

C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis

The word Chivalry has meant at different times a good many different things—from heavy cavalry to giving a woman a seat in a train. But if we want to understand chivalry as an ideal distinct from other ideals—if we want to isolate that particular conception of the man comme il faut which was the special contribution of the Middle Ages to our culture—we cannot do better than turn to the words addressed to the greatest of all imaginary knights in Malory's Morte D'Arthur. Thou wert the meekest man, says Sir Ector to the dead Launcelot. Thou wert the meekest man that ever ate in hall among ladies; and thou wert the sternest knight to thy mortal foe that ever put spear at rest 1.

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