Respecting and Defending the Weak

News: Commentary
by Raymond de Souza, KHS, KofC  •  •  August 30, 2022   

The third commandment of Catholic chivalry

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After having considered the first and the second commandments of chivalry, we now proceed to the third: Thou shalt respect the weak and shalt make thyself their defender.

St. Louis, king of France

What was meant historically by "the weak"? The weak were considered to be all those who were unable to bear weapons or not allowed to do so. Naturally, that category of people included all members of the fairer sex, as well as elderly men, children, the sick, the physically handicapped, and members of the clergy. Even St. Joan of Arc did not herself fight, despite being tasked with a related mission by Almighty God.

In many cultures throughout history, it was considered perfectly legitimate for strong, warrior-aged men to lord it over vulnerable classes of people. But Holy Mother Church taught respect for the weak, insisting that the strong and powerful take care of others. Over the centuries, it was the Church that created hospitals, schools and other charitable organizations to help those in need.

A famous example was given by St. Louis the King of France, who would wash the feet of the poor and the lepers, and serve them at the table. Hence, he earned such great admiration from the people that after the news broke of his death by illness in the Crusade, many in France stopped using the coins that bore his image for trade and instead started using them as religious medals.

Thou shalt respect the weak and shalt make thyself their defender.

But it was not only individuals that gave such examples of charity towards the poor and the weak. Whole orders of chivalry emerged to look after the sick, such as the Knights of St. Lazarus.

During times of peace, the Knights of St. John of the Hospital treated the poor and the sick as their lords and masters and dedicated themselves to looking after them.

Among the present-day orders that trace a lineage to the Knights Hospitaler is the Knights of Malta.

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In recent years, unfortunately, the Order of Malta has strayed from its original ideal. Having become a high-class club in which many wealthy Catholics are members, the order pays lip service to its original goals: tuitio Fidei, the defense of the Faith and obsequium pauperum, the care of the poor.

Instead, the grand chancellor promoted condoms in mission countries in Asia, and the Order, in general, does little to defend the Faith. It is a pity to see the great ideal of Catholic masculinity undergoing decadent decay.

Probably the best explanation of chivalry was written by French historian Leon Gautier. His masterpiece, La Chevalerie, was originally published in France in 1884, at a time when Europe was experiencing a rebirth of interest and enthusiasm for the Middle Ages. His book is both a history of chivalry and a defense of it.

Based on copious research with primary sources, Gautier charmingly tells the story of chivalry while refuting many accusations and myths. Take, for instance, the following passage:

Chivalry is not one of those official institutions which make their appearance suddenly in history, promulgated by a pope and decreed by a sovereign. Religious as it might have been, it had nothing in its origin that reminded one of the foundation of a religious order. One may in fact declare that every single monastic order has been conceived in the mind of an individual. The grand Benedictine order arose out of the intelligence of St. Benedict, and the Franciscan order from the heart of St. Francis. There is no parallel to this in the case of chivalry, and it would be useless to search for the place of its birth or for the name of its founder. ... [Chivalry] was born everywhere at once, and has been everywhere at the same time the natural effect of the same aspirations and the same needs.

Gautier makes it clear that the institution of knighthood was an ideal. Naturally, not every knight lived up to this ideal, and there were abuses — sometimes very bad ones. In such cases, his fellow knights were supposed to apprehend the one violating chivalry and put him through a ceremony of degradation. In that ceremony, the guilty party was stripped of his spurs and his sword was broken as he was publicly humiliated and punished for his crimes.

How can an authentic Catholic man today respect and protect the weak and thus fulfill the third commandment of chivalry?

Here are four ways he can do so:

  • Defend the weakest and most vulnerable people in our society: the preborn children
  • Defend the dignity of women; true Catholic masculine men are called to oppose anything that will degrade authentic womanhood, especially pornography
  • Vociferously promote the teaching of the Church and the culture of life (a task which includes instilling virtue in one's children)
  • Defend the faithful members of the clergy; but publicly expose homosexualists, dissenters and socialists
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