Don’t Recoil in Fear

News: Commentary
by Raymond de Souza, KHS, KofC  •  •  September 15, 2022   

Chivalry's fifth commandment

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Chivalry's fifth commandment is thou shalt not recoil in the face of the enemy.

Put simply, this commandment forbids cowardice.


"The Apocalypse of St. John the Evangelist" by Jan Massijs

The command to be courageous, and not cowardly, is in harmony with Scripture. In the book of the Apocalypse (also called the book of Revelation), St. John states, "The fearful (or the cowards) and unbelieving and the abominable and murderers and whoremongers and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, they shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Revelation 21:8)

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) wrote poems in honor of Our Lady. He also played a pivotal role in the planning, formation and promotion of the Knights Templar in the order's early years.

Knights Templar were prohibited from hunting. Hunting, it seems, would have been a distraction from the Templars' life of self-sacrifice. 

The command to be courageous, and not cowardly, is in harmony with Scripture.

There was one exception, though: They were allowed to hunt lions.

The Primitive Rule of the Knights Templar, written by St. Bernard, notes the hunting of lions is about protecting people from harm — not for sport or for obtaining meat, like other forms of hunting. The document states, "This above-mentioned prohibition of hunting is by no means intended to include the lion, for he comes encircling and searching for what he can devour, his hands against every man and every man's hand against him."

The Vortex: Weak Sauce

This plays off of a passage in Sacred Scripture, which may be familiar to those who pray Compline, also called Night Prayer: "Be sober and watch, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith." (1 Peter 5:8–9)

Saint Bernard persuaded Pope Innocent II to formally accept as an official order The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon — the Knights Templar for short.

Thou shalt not recoil in the face of the enemy.

Of course, martial courage was not exclusive to the Knights Templar. Medieval knights in general were expected to fight with courage and never flee in cowardice, exceptions perhaps being made for tactical withdrawals when outnumbered.

Joscelin I of Edessa

An old story goes that Joscelin I, count of Edessa, was about to die and sent his son to go fight the Mohammedans. The son refused to fight, alleging that the infidels were much superior in number. Joscelin asked some knights to carry him on a stretcher to the place of the combat. And the Muslim foes, when they heard that the old count was coming with an army, fled the scene without putting up a fight. This allowed the old count to have one last battlefield glory before he died.

Joscelin often said, "You do not count your enemies; you fight them!"

When the Spaniards came to Mexico, led by the Spanish knight Hernán Cortéz, they had only four hundred men. Cortéz demanded that the Aztecs deliver to him the great pyramid of Mexico, the temple of the Aztec god of war. The Aztecs were obliged to give in. And from the height of the great pyramid, the image of the Virgin Mary triumphed for the first time in America. It took a lot of courage to demand the pyramid from the Aztecs.

The Spanish conquest of the Americas was highly praised by several popes.

More recently, Pope Benedict XVI, during a 2007 visit to Brazil, defended the church's campaign to Christianize indigenous peoples. He said the Indians of Latin America were "silently longing" to become Christians when Spanish and Portuguese conquerors spread their colonizing efforts.

The medieval knight derived his masculine courage from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians (6:10–17):

Finally, brethren, be strengthened in the Lord and in the might of his power. Put on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the Devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in high places. Therefore, take unto you the armor of God, that you may be able to resist the evil day and to stand in all things perfect. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth and having on the breastplate of justice and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

Catholic masculinity demands the full armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of justice, the feet shod with readiness for the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. That is how we Catholic men must be armored to fight and never to recoil before an enemy of Holy Mother Church.

How can we fulfill the fifth commandment of chivalry? By never running away from the defense of the Faith. Learn these spiritual weapons and use them well.

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