Be Generous With What You’ve Been Given

News: Commentary
by Raymond de Souza, KHS, KofC  •  •  October 24, 2022   

Chivalry's ninth commandment

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The ninth commandment of Catholic chivalry is: Thou shalt be generous and practice largesse to everyone.


"Greater love than this no man hath,

that a man lay down his life for his friends"

(John 15:12–3).

Jesus, Son of Mary Most Holy, by giving up His life for His neighbors, performed the highest act of generosity. In so doing, He gave the perfect example of love for one's neighbor. 

Our Lord said, "This is My commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12–13).

The generosity of the Son of God — in giving His very Self to us poor sinners — inspired the medieval knights to be generous themselves.

The knight was thus encouraged to be generous to the poor and the needy. Not by any law of the State but by a duty of charity.

Pope Innocent III

Among most orders of chivalry, especially the Knights of Malta in its old and heroic days, there were knights who freely professed the vow of poverty, so that they might be free of worldly concerns, unencumbered in their defense of the Faith and of Christendom against the Muslim enemy in the Crusades.

Benevolence toward the poor in medieval Europe rested upon religious foundations established by the Catholic Church and was practiced by a diverse body of clerics and laymen. The ideas that underlie knightly and medieval generosity are evidenced by the institutions created to serve the poor. Their roots can be traced to the Patristic era. The ideas of 12th-century reformers, especially Pope Innocent III, broadened and deepened society's commitment to the downtrodden.

Giving to the poor was a practice among monasteries, bishops and their chapters, and individual clerics and laymen. In that context, there emerged the specialized religious knightly orders that sheltered pilgrims, ransomed captives, tended to victims of skin diseases, cared for orphans and the sick, and attempted the reform of prostitutes.

Generosity was so characteristic of chivalry that it was necessary for one to be generous in order to belong to chivalry.

Their charity demonstrates how an ideal of practical sanctity helped to promote acts of generosity within parishes, confraternities and various lay ascetical associations. In hospitals and other institutions of charity, traditional religious practice was modified and adapted to provide a spiritual and corporate framework for the women and men who actually served the poor. Furthermore, within such institutions, the spiritual needs of patients were paramount. Thus, provision of the sacraments and religious burial was as important as ameliorative or palliative care.

The Vortex: The Arrogant Left

Godfrey of Bouillon, who some might call the prototype of all medieval knights, conquered Jerusalem but refused to be crowned king of Jerusalem. Instead, he accepted only the title of "baron protector of the Holy Sepulchre" (the lowest of the noble titles). He would frequently visit the poor in his army. They were fighting under his command, and he felt it was his duty to help them and their families back home.

Those were times of Christian charity and not of false philanthropy.

Another knight, prior to leaving for the First Crusade, gave away everything he had to the poor, to the point of needing to request assistance for his trip from other knights. A paramount preoccupation of the medieval knights was protecting and providing for widows and orphans.

The medieval chivalry challenges conventional, anti-Catholic views of medieval piety by demonstrating how the concept of charity and its vision of the active life provided an important balance to the ascetical, contemplative tradition emphasized by most historians.

Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Malta

Generosity — together with prowess and courage — was so characteristic of chivalry that it was necessary for one to be generous in order to belong to chivalry. So in order to praise a knight, one could say that he was courteous, wise and generous.

Those were times when the orders of chivalry, such as the hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem and of Malta, dedicated themselves to the care of the poor and the needy.

Saint Thomas Becket, the famous chancellor of England, was martyred by the king. Becket presided over the banquets among the upper class (while he ate almost nothing.) When everybody had gone, the tables were set again. The chancellor would invite the poor to come and eat, and he would serve them.

Saint Louis IX, the beloved king of France, did the same. After all nobles left his castle, he would wash the feet of the poor and serve them at the table, on his knees. And he did this in secret, out of love of God, not to acquire prestige in the eyes of the people. No wonder the people of France adored him and his memory for centuries after his death.

Those were times of Christian charity and not of false philanthropy.

How do we fulfill the ninth commandment of chivalry? Be magnanimous and generous with everyone, giving to specific charities, especially those that defend the right to life, as well as giving money and time. Doing so will help defend the Faith against the enemies of Holy Mother Church, internally and externally, as a true knight.



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