The Ten Commandments of the Code of Chivalry, Pt II
A continuation of Pt I.
IV. Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born.
Love of his home gives the knight strength to fight harder than would a mercenary who doesn’t love what he’s fighting for but only the cash he receives for his services. This love ultimately makes the country greater. “Men did not love Rome because she was great,” Chesterton writes. “She was great because they had loved her.” Count Roland, hero of the chanson de geste (song of great deeds) that bears his name, epitomizes this virtue of patriotism. "God forbid,” Roland proclaims, on the eve of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, “that France should be abased because of me. God, his saints, and angels forbid that fair France should lose her honor on my account.”
What kind of man, in most times, does not love his country? Only an oikophobe—one who despises or fears what is his own, perhaps in favor of some sort of cosmopolitan superiority.
All of this seemed rather self-explanatory a few years back, but we have descended far enough now that the question arises: should a man properly love his country when his country has become wicked?
The chivalric literature features instances of knights serving under regimes gone bad. Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, William Marshal, and Sir Pelleas all face betrayal rulers and elites who have become unworthy of them. In each case, no choice presents itself other than this: be knightly and do your best to help your country find its way. The specific circumstances will require an individualized approach, but ultimately the only real option is to fight for her and make her better.
V. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
“‘Fight, God is with you.’ Such, in a few words, was the whole formula of Christian courage,” Gautier writes. This commandment is especially potent next to an image of St George not recoiling before his great enemy, the dragon of Silene. Determined to either kill or be killed, George made the sign of the cross and then charged. He trusted the outcome to God; the knight’s duty is to summon the courage to charge.
I’m often amused to look back on how little my educators had to say about courage. Their total lack of interest in the topic implied that modern man thinks this virtue outdated. Who needs courage, when courage jeopardizes the ultimate point of your life, which is to consume more product? If anything, courage is a liability to contemporary man.
Josef Pieper writes beautifully about this virtue, arguing that fortitude is nothing if not the willingness to suffer injury on behalf of a worthy cause. Because the ultimate injury is death, it follows that “all fortitude has reference to death. All fortitude stands in the presence of death. Fortitude is basically readiness to die or, more accurately, readiness to fall, to die, in battle.” He continues: “Readiness proves itself in taking a risk, and the culminating point of fortitude is the witness of blood.”
Fortitude is required of the knight because truth and goodness don’t prevail by themselves. They require brave people, with God’s help, to commit to their cause. This is the knight’s purpose.
VI. Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation, and without mercy.
This commandment seems like a specific callback to the Crusades.
Modern man cannot help but grimace at this commandment. He can hardly conceive a crime so backwards as to believe that one’s way of life is worth fighting for. Thus the ultimate war against the infidel—the Crusades—more than any other conflict strike him as uniquely “problematic.”
Once upon a time, however, our civilization had actual confidence in asserting its right to exist. And when an enemy appeared and threatened Christendom’s future, Westerners took action. Islam had spread throughout the formerly Christian Middle East and north Africa with frightening speed—and had already made inroads into Europe. At this point I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend Rodney’s Stark’s God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, a stunningly good book, which refutes every lie we’ve been told about these holy wars. Turns out the Crusaders were the good guys all along.
When the code declares that the knight makes war against the infidel, the point is not to lash out against anyone who thinks differently—but instead muster a spirited defense against those who aren’t so sure that your culture and your people deserve to continue.