Home » Christianity » Our vanishing heritage: chivalry

Our vanishing heritage: chivalry

Because it’s St. Valentine’s day, I am re-blogging a piece on that subject from the old blog. I think it’s still relevant today, even though I’m aware that in the years since I wrote this, chivalry has become more denigrated for various reasons. I hope readers will keep that in mind and bear with me in this post, mindful that things have changed even in the short span of time since I wrote it.

“As another Valentine’s Day is here, some news articles on the subject give us pause to consider the gulf between us in the West and those in the non-Western, non-Christian world.

In a society which insistently tells us that we are really all the same, and that our respective cultures can easily be thrown into the blender and retain their flavors, let’s think about the differences in worldview displayed in these stories:

Indian Hindus protest Valentine’s Day

‘In India, hardline Hindu nationalists have been burning Valentine’s Day cards in protest against what they consider a corrupt and commercial Western celebration.

As South Asia Correspondent Peter Lloyd reports from New Delhi, every year in the capital and other northern cities the radical fringe of Hindu politics gather for noisy protests against Valentine’s Day.

This year was no exception.

They denounced it as a corrupting influence on Indian culture.

This article from India, while more pro-Western, shows again the gulf that exists between Western ideals and customs, and those of non-Western cultures.

‘ …, it is evident that such days, and the general ethos of romance and love conveyed through advertisements, serials and books, is raising aspirations in the young. They dream of a chance to “fall in love” and live “happily ever after”. Sadly, that is where the dream ends. For Cupid’s arrow, in this country, must land in a preordained space — it must strike a person of the right caste and creed. Otherwise, the love match is rejected. Increasingly, that is the hard reality that thousands of young people, who delude themselves into believing that things are changing and that they will be able to make a choice on the basis of the dictates of their hearts, are being forced to face. They are firmly brought down to earth by families who refuse to accept their right to make a choice. If a couple refuses to fall in line, they must face rejection, ex-communication, and even violence. The happy endings are few and far in-between.’

It’s a commonplace among those who are wary of Islam to label it misogynistic, oppressive of women. And it is. But to a great extent, most non-Western cultures place a lower value on women than our culture. It’s ironic that Western feminists are the loudest complainers about the supposed oppression of women in our countries, seemingly oblivious to the fact that generally speaking, women have enjoyed the highest status in Western countries, in Christendom. than in any other culture. I invite anyone to show me an example of a culture outside the West in which women had higher status and more respect.

Around the 14th century, the feast day of St. Valentine became associated with romantic love, which in turn, developed as an ideal along with the Code of Chivalry. But that’s not the sum total of chivalry, though many think it is.

I’ve long been fascinated with the Code of Chivalry, which is a legacy of our Norman ancestors. Now these days, for some reason, our Norman ancestors are not well spoken of; it’s more fashionable for those of British ancestry to claim kinship to Anglo-Saxons and Celts, while the poor Normans are disavowed. Why? They were too strong, and too capable. In our modern world, the strong are devalued, and the weak, the underdog, and the victim reign supreme. Ironically, that grotesque exalting of the weak is something of a perversion of the chivalric tradition. Under the chivalric code, men were to treat the weak generously and kindly, but they were not to relinquish their power, and strength was honored, not disparaged as it often is now.

Here is one writer’s modern take on the meaning of chivalry

‘Chivalry spells out certain ethical standards that foster the development of manhood. Men are called to be: truthful, loyal, courteous to others, helpmates to women, supporters of justice, and defenders of the weak. They are also expected to avoid scandal.
     Beautiful ideals! They attract us with a sense of nostalgia that is almost religious. That’s because they are part of us already. Unfortunately, they must contend with powerful, often destructive influences, like commercial television, that bombard us with outrageously bullish images of men that are, at best, inappropriate.
     The virtues of chivalry offer more than pleasantries and politeness. They give purpose and meaning to male strength, and therefore support the overall workings of society. They remind us that Camelot is an ideal worth striving for, the reflection of who we are when we are at our best. Here is a short summary:

         Truth provides the foundation of chivalry. A man who lies cannot be trusted. His strength and ambitions cannot be counted on. Truth should always remain our greatest concern.
         Loyalty denotes a relationship that is based on truth and commitment. If we are fortunate, we have companions who are loyal to us—but we must be loyal to others as well. Remember, loyalty is a virtue to cultivate, even when it is not reciprocated.
         Courtesy provides the means for cordial and meaningful relationships. A society cannot be healthy without courteous interaction. We sometimes admire people who trample on courtesy to get what they want—but keep in mind, the contentious world they create is very disappointing, and we all have to live in it.

  […] Justice involves little more than treating people fairly. It also calls for mercy. We all make mistakes.
         We admire men who are strong, but if their strength is not directed to uphold what is good, what value does it have? We are therefore called to use our strength to defend those who cannot defend themselves, and commit ourselves to just causes. “

And here is an excerpt from a 19th century work on Chivalry.
From G.P.R. James, The History of Chivalry, 1830

‘The first point required of the aspirants to Chivalry in its earliest state, was certainly a solemn vow, “To speak the truth, to succour the helpless and oppressed, and never to turn back from an enemy.”

[…]the knights for long after the first institution of Chivalry, were “simple in their clothing, austere in their morals, humble after victory, firm under misfortune.”

In France, I believe, the order first took its rise; and, probably, the disgust felt by some pure minds at the gross and barbarous licentiousness of the times, infused that virtuous severity into the institutions of Chivalry which was in itself a glory.
[…] [N]o words will be found sufficient to express our admiration for the men who first undertook to combat, not only the tyranny but the vices of their age; who singly went forth to war against crime, injustice, and cruelty; who defied the whole world in defence of innocence, virtue, and truth; who stemmed the torrent of barbarity and evil, and who, from the wrecks of ages, and the ruins of empires, drew out a thousand 14 jewels to glitter in the star that shone upon the breast of knighthood.”

[…]There cannot be a doubt that Chivalry, more than any other institution (except religion) aided to work out the civilization of Europe. It first taught devotion and reverence to those weak, fair beings, who but in their beauty and their gentleness have no defence. It first railed love above the passions of the brute, and by dignifying woman, made woman worthy of love. It gave purity to enthusiasm, crushed barbarous selfishness, taught the heart to expand like a flower to the sunshine, beautified glory with generosity, and smoothed even the rugged brow of war.

For the mind, as far as knowledge went, Chivalry itself did little; but by its influence it did much. For the heart it did every thing; and there is scarcely a noble feeling or a bright aspiration that we find amongst ourselves, or trace in the history of modern Europe, that is not in some degree referrible to that great and noble principle, which has no name but the Spirit of Chivalry.”

Our age has forgotten the roots of our civilization, going back to European Christendom, but some of the remnants of the Code of Chivalry still survive, and those traditions are what divide us from the Moslems and the Hindus and the rest of the non-Western, non-Christian world. And to those agnostics and atheists who are indignant at any mention of Christianity and Christendom, I can only say that history cannot be denied; even if you dislike Christianity, it is part of our European heritage. All of us of European ancestry had Christian ancestors going back many generations, and Christianity largely shaped European culture.

The high ideals of Chivalry are all but forgotten today, and the word is rather an archaic word . But it encompassed both love and war, and it encompassed faith as well. The knight was strong yet compassionate toward the weaker: children, women, the old. A knight fought fairly, and did not attack the unarmed. Please notice how those basic rules of civilized warfare are not observed by Moslems or most non-Western people. Perhaps the Japanese code of bushido was akin to the Western chivalric tradition, but in general, chivalry, as known in Christendom, was unique in the world.

Our more humane standards in warfare, as compared to the Moslems, make a striking contrast. Unfortunately, they put us at a disadvantage in our war with Moslems. If we are fighting by the old chivalric traditions, as we have been, trying to avoid harming civilians and noncombatants (and how can we tell, when our opponents are not regular, uniformed soldiers) and they are fighting with no holds barred, we are at a disadvantage. Our chivalric traditions leave us vulnerable, when facing an opponent who is not principled. How can we deal with an enemy who is not above using women, children, and the old, as human shields? An enemy who sends children out in harm’s way, purposely? Our chivalric codes took the barbaric edge off warfare, as long as our enemies were others who observed the same rules. Now, this is not the case.

And notice how in every Western country where there are Moslem colonies, there seems to be a pattern of rape against the indigenous Western women, often gang rape.

Our prolonged contact with Moslems can only result in conflict, unless one of us is conquered and dominated culturally, To survive among Moslems would require that we become more like them; we can no longer cling to our age-old traditions of measured, civilized rules of warfare. We would have to match them in ruthlessness if we are to continue to try to coexist in the same space with them. And in fighting to survive, we would lose something of ourselves, of who we are and who we have been for thousands of years. This would be as tragic as the mere physical or political conquest by Moslems: the surrender of our standards, ideals, and civilization.

St. Valentine’s Day may be thought of as just a sentimental, but ultimately silly, holiday by many people, but it is symbolic of what makes us in the West what we are, with our idealism and sentimentality. The celebration is emblematic of the stark contrast between us and the non-Western world. To them, our idealized romantic love is corrupt, decadent, and intolerable. I think they see it as weak and feeble. And, isolated from the rest of the chivalric code, maybe it is. Christendom, the West, must rediscover the strength and justice aspect of chivalry, and not only the softer, tenderer side which, alone, makes us vulnerable to the predators abroad in a dangerous world.

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7 thoughts on “Our vanishing heritage: chivalry

  1. Much of the code of chivalry’s modern descendant is putting women on a pedestal. Two things can happen, when people on a pedestal realize that they can do no wrong, they try to take advantage of the fact. Or they can feel threatened because they feel that their true self is not understood and they fear that as soon as they are seen for being who they are, the one they love will leave them thinking it was all a lie. Not only that, but there’s usually some distance between a person and the one on the pedestal. Do you remember that Tal Bachman hit: “She’s So High”?

    Now think about that – women as a class of people being treated in this way, their real abilities and strengths being down-played, sometimes treated as fragile, emotional beings who are weaker than men, it it any wonder that chivalry has lost it’s glamor?

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    • jamie, you did not even consider any of the points I made or anything in the excerpts I included from other sources.
      I used to be a leftist and follow the dominant leftist beliefs and I too would not listen to another point of view. I have been where you are. There is no going back to that.
      Actually I am sorry I bothered to post that piece now since I get only unthinking responses for my trouble.
      P.S.: my readers know I am a woman. I don’t know if you are male or female given your name but I guess that there is no longer such a thing as gender to the left, so that’s immaterial.
      I do not advocate placing women on a pedestal. You read something into that piece that was not there.
      Women are more emotional than men. All previous generations have known and acknowledged that. I say it because I am a woman who knows women. Women are weaker in a physical sense, for sure; that’s incontrovertible, deny it all you like.
      End of discussion. I don’t enjoy debating with someone who has rigid views and who is not able to see another side.

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      • You’re lamenting chivalry is missing. You want it back. I’ve just described what that will look like given our modern society – it’s adding a missing element, not debating what’s already there. It should be obvious that we’re not going to obey the knights code of chivalry as it was thousands of years ago as if nothing has changed and we can all run around the countryside as knights and ladies.
        That’s the problem with chivalry, it’s an ideal that never really faced reality. In as much as some guys saw it their duty to protect the honor and virtue of women; they had to protect them from the guys who saw women as their inferiors, fragile creatures who were created “for the men” and as helpers to men, who exploited women because they didn’t believe in chivalry. It was a knightly code, and not-knights were not bound to it. Try reading ‘Don Quijote’ – the story of a guy who lived as a knight in a world where knights were no more – from whence comes the concept of tilting at windmills (among other things.)
        If I’m not mistaken, it’s the Muslims who say that we have no sense of honor or human decency or respect for women. They believe in these concepts as we do, they just have a different way of going about them. Instead of calling each other barbarians we could try establishing a dialogue, building relationships built on respecting one another, and live according to our principles and beliefs with wisdom as our guide – not fear-mongering.

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  2. You ask about cultures outside the west where women have higher respect – the Mosuo, “Kingdom of Women”, is one in which women hold primary power, are the heads of their households, are prominent in roles of leadership, are the moral authorities, and have the highest social privledge and control of property / inheritance. The Minangkabau is the largest matrilineal society in the world, women are usually the land-holders because men often migrate in search of wealth, so the women are responsible for the continuation of the family line, the cultivation of the land, and the distribution of goods. Inheritance falls to daughters and sisters, not to sons and brothers. Likewise, the Akan people are also matrilienial. The Bribri are also matrilineal; only women may make the sacred Caocao (chocolate) drink used in many religious ceremonies. Also, only women may inherit land. The Garo people take their names from their mothers, not their father’s. So in our culture, the mother’s name can sometimes be lost when she changes her name upon marriage – not so in theirs where a mother’s name can never be lost. The Nagovisi is also matriarchal. Some common things I’m seeing about these cultures is: names are connected to the mother’s side of the family / clan / tribe, women own/inherit/work the land, women have unique functions in religious ceremonies, marriage / sexuality is not regulated – a “walking marriage” takes place when a woman walks into a man’s house, yet she keeps the children and he’s little more than a boarder. She can walk out at any time and into another house and there’s no social stigma. In others, if a man and a woman live and work side-by-side, that’s marriage – no ceremony required. Sons are expected to be loyal to their mother’s side of the family and not their father’s, even married women stay at home wit their mothers and their husbands get to come over and visit. Did you ever wonder how the Amazon in South America got it’s name given that the Amazonian myths were set in ancient Greece? When Westerners first arrived on Brazil’s shores, they happened to come across a tribe where women warriors soundly defeated the explorers and sent them packing with tales of the fierce fighters who caught them by surprise which reminded them of the old legends.

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    • Well, you are obviously a dedicated multiculturalist. Good for you. I am an advocate for my own people and my loyalty is to them.
      Generally speaking women in Third World countries have a harder lot; they may have more say-so in these supposed matrilineal, gynocratic societies — which are highly idealized by anthropologists (who are generally leftist, multiculturalists, and thus biased). They do a disproportionate share of hard physical work and often haved shorter life spans. And why do so many from these ‘superior’ cultures migrate en masse to First World societies? Why aren’t feminists flocking to these tribes to join them and enjoy all the benefits of the superior status of women there?
      The question is rhetorical; I don’t need an answer.

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      • So you aren’t in any way, shape, or form, related to any other humans in any other culture than your own? If everyone else isn’t a member of the same human race that we all belong to – then who and what are they? Do you remember the question that was asked before Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan? “Who is my neighbor?” Hint: It’s not always the guy that lives next door – it can sometimes be that guy from the country that’s a sworn enemy of your own. I certainly do enjoy different cultures – I speak Spanish and have picked up a working knowledge of Portuguese in the last few years – ultimately I view all people as distant cousins and long-lost relatives and members of a single shared human culture.

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  3. You are twisting what she said. She didn’t say she had no affinity for other peoples, only a natural affinity for her own–just like a parent loving his child more than others. This is how healthy and normal people think–unlike leftists who deny all natural affections and preferences to worship their goddess Equality. If we love everyone equally, we really love no one.

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