Saturday, July 23, 2011

Modern Knighthood and the New Chivalry

Modern times sees the knighthood as one of two things: a trivialized "title-for-hire" granted to music stars and b-list personalities, or as a fanciful but defunct element of fairy tales and dark age lore. Similarly, chivalry is seen in only one aspect: courtesy to women, a virtue that is often seen as being "dead".

In medieval times, a knight was a brutal thing. They were the warrior elite, trained in fighting in heavy armour, with multiple classes of weapon, from horseback, and from foot. They swore chivalry, and at that time, chivalry meant three things: Warrior Chivalry, or a knight's fealty to his lord, Religious Chivalry, or a knight's fealty to God and the innocent, and Courtly Love, with his love for his lady and after her, all ladies. To the modern age, we remember the honours of the knights and their heroics. We remember the first order of chivalry in the context of fantasy or abstract reasoning. We remember the third order, it being what we usually mean when we say "Chivalry", as a series of antiquated and generally unnecessary precepts for the treatment of women. In some cases, it is seen even as offensive to women (and, very likely, in its original form was). We do not remember the second form directly. Fantasy has taken the second form of chivalry and applied it to an entirely different class of Knight, the Paladin. We have forgotten that the Paladins were actually Charles Magnus' elite knights. They typify knighthood, more than knighthood typifies the modern depiction of paladins.

I propose a revival of a sort. Obviously the world needs no new military orders. It needs less and less. Neither does it need more re-creationists (though a little bit of historical LARP is probably as valuable as an abstract education). I propose an entirely new knighthood, not with the trappings of lordship but the humbleness of friars. Such a knighthood would have such qualities:

  • Transparency and Openness - Modern orders function almost as private clubs. By many, the Knights of Columbus, with its hinted at but privately-defined degrees, seems similar to the systems of Freemasonry. An ideal knighthood would share its message in full because it has nothing to hide.
  • Equality of the Sexes - The Knights of Pythas and the Knights of Columbus, the two modern "elective" orders of Knighthood, are both manly institutions. Women are allowed to join suborders but not be full Knights. While historically the knighthood was open only to men, this newer Knighthood would not have a military lean. Just as a child yearns for mother and father, so must a modern order have male and female members, not for the purposes of arranging marriages or producing offspring, but for reflection of both sides of human nature.
  • Fidelity to the Young - Children are our future, moreover, they are the beloved of Christ. Innocent, as is often the term. In many cases today, the children are not catechised. They knew God as an abstract concept, something their parents believed in or their friends worshipped. While many have little problem in school, many others are failing classes, not from a lack of ability, but a lack of interest. Those who struggle often cannot afford or be afforded the extra help they need. Knights must therefore be stewards and educators. Knights would occupy roles of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual support in the community.
  • Fidelity to the Old - Ageing is a part of life, and it is neither fun nor graceful. Many of us will grow old enough that we require long-term care in a nursing home, hospital, or other such arrangement. Alzheimers is no longer an abstract concept, but a genuine disease that settles in, often, but not always, with age. There comes a point in everyone's life when they must admit to needing help. Many do not always get the help they need. Knights should busy themselves with care and aid.
  • Fidelity to Women - Male knights especially owe this, but it is true of other women as well. The sexual revolution did not end, as many believe, in the 70s or 80s. Chastity is one virtue we have all forgotten. The word itself conjures up, in many cases, the idea of a virginal and somewhat ditzy young woman. Why should that be the case? Why is the accepted truth that a man looks at a woman only in terms of sexual appeal? We owe politeness and courtesy not just to each other and to the young and old, but also to women, their causes, and their own inherent dignity and femininity.
  • Fidelity to Men - Just as we must embrace the dignity and femininity of men, so must we embrace the dignity and masculinity of men. Male and Female are two sides of the human coin, one failing to exist without the other. Our society has formed such a preoccupation with women and women's dignity and rights that "men's rights" is said often jokingly. While men are far from oppressed, we deserve to be described as pigs roughly as much as women deserve to be called sluts or other, similar names. Male and Female knights both owe each other to see the sexes as equal, not in terms of sameness, but in terms of compatible difference. Equality of Importance, rather than Equality of Features.
  • Fidelity to God - For many, this will be the hardest precept, but we must accept it as part of the theme of Justice. This means more than lipservice to God, or regular attendance of mass. It means following the word of God. Being in unity with him. We are called by God to many things, more than the Ten Commandments, but also to love one another, to charity. We are warned against judgement and told to avoid avarice. A knight then must be the humble servant of God, inauspicious in worship and working to bring about his kingdom on earth. That is the meaning of the phrase "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
  • Fidelity to the Community - This is a strange precept, and complex. Knights should be an integral part of the community, as recognizable as firefighters, teachers, or policemen, without shouting from the street corners. Knights would be, for the most part, laypersons. It is not ours to preach. It is ours to further our local communities, not just in the context of an entire city, but our neighbourhoods as well. We often think of one part of town as being better or worse than another, but give little thought to the injustice of that distinction. Too, while a patriotic sense is important, it cannot be a substitute for esprit d'corps and a community spirit. These qualities should not manifest themselves as favouritism for a particular parish, borough, city, province, or nation, but as a desire to improve the same.
  • Fidelity to Discourse - For the knighthood to survive, its members must be able to discuss business amongst each other without a spirit of divisiveness. This is equally true of politics. No matter how heated our local, provincial, or national discourse may become, a Knight should not allow themselves to become a partisan, but take all things into equal consideration, and find time for compromise.
Who is a Knight?
  • The college student who volunteers his time tutoring his classmates or high-school students.
  • The single man in his later years who volunteers as a shoulder to cry on or as a hospital visitor.
  • The young elementary school teacher who volunteers for catechises at her parish on Sundays.
  • The nurse or doctor who spends their waking hours in service of the sick.
  • The carpenter who volunteers on the weekend in a Houses for the Homeless program.
  • The Chef or Cook who volunteers their downtime at a local soup kitchen.
  • The retired academic who spends his waning years teaching inner city children how to read.
  • The taxi driver who volunteers with meals on wheels.
  • The rehabilitated criminal who spends his time volunteering in drug rehab programs or at a half-way house.
  • The young man who never made it into the NHL or the MLB, who went back to school to become a gym teacher, or volunteered at the YMCA.
  • The stay-at-home mother who takes her free time and makes crafts to sell for charity, or even to help pay for her own children's education.
  • The single parent who spends what time they can spare visiting at the local hospital.
  • The unassuming young man in third year economics class who is an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion for the shut-in.
  • The deacon who teaches his children and their friends how to make a knotted rosary, or how to cann their own peaches.
So, consider that a calling. Whoever feels the need, I suppose. Maybe one day, I'll be able to complete this thought, and think of a suitable patron for the knighthood.

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