The Virtues of St George
And the Difference His Faith Made
For the knights of the Middle Ages, George of Cappadocia was the model of the chivalric virtues—prowess, courtesy, honor, generosity, loyalty, and faith. Faith comes last on this list not because it is the least important, but because it is the most important—faith baptizes, finishes, and harmonizes the others. Chivalry is not just a code of manly excellence, but a particularly Christian code of manly excellence, an ambitious vision of what a man might become. And George, the patron saint of chivalry, demonstrated why. George embodied these virtues flawlessly in service of the Lord and of his most vulnerable children, and his most famous adventure showed the centrality of faith in the knight’s life.
Many centuries ago, a dragon was terrorizing the city of Silene in Libya. People sought to appease it by offering sheep, but the sheep were not enough. The dragon demanded more substantial food. Soon enough the Sileneans were drawing lots to determine who among them would be sacrificed to the monster.
We ought to be skeptical when animated movies and modern day dragon-rights activists tell us that dragons are nice. This dragon certainly didn’t just wish to cuddle and be friends. “Envenomed” is the word used in The Golden Legend to describe the dragon’s effect, which suggests a deeply spiritual crisis in addition to the obvious physical one. Just as God breathed life, so this dragon was breathing chaos and fear. Something had to be done.
When the king’s daughter drew the next lot, they made no exceptions. So the princess, dressed up as a bride, was sent to the dragon.
She was on her way to meet her fate when the great knight rode upon the scene and asked her what was happening. She responded nobly by telling him to flee:
“Go your way, fair young man, lest you perish as well.”
“Tell me why you are weeping.”
When she saw that he insisted on knowing, she told him she was going to meet her fate and again begged him to save himself.
"Fair daughter, doubt not, for I shall help you in the name of Jesus Christ.”
That’s when the dragon appeared and ran towards them. Making the sign of the cross, George charged and drove his lance into the dragon’s chest. He told the princess to tie her belt around the dragon’s neck. “Be not afraid,” he said. They led it back to the city, where people were struck with terror and amazement.
This was no small beast, by the way, as you see in certain depictions which make it appear as though George dueled a glorified iguana. Four ox carts would be required to cart away his body after George was done with him.
Upon returning, George asked that the crowd be baptized and then as all were watching cut off the dragon’s head with a swing of his sword. The king offered George half the kingdom as a reward (and presumably his daughter’s hand in marriage) but George declined. He had other adventures to ride off to and instead counter-proposed that the king use the money to tend to the poor and build a church.
The greatness of arms required to slay a dragon is obvious enough. Hopefully the reader also notices the more subtle indications of greatness—and the mark of faith on these. Not only did George’s generosity shine through when he redirected the reward to the poor, but also his superiority to transactional motives. Some will only hazard themselves for material incentives—whether it be the king’s treasures or his daughter or something else. But “What’s in it for me?” was not the kind of question you’d hear issue from George’s mouth—because he was not the kind of man whose motives could be explained by the crude models of economists. His motives were higher.
George’s conduct toward the princess also serves as an instant rebuttal to the accusations of the redpill bros that chivalry is a code for simps. George understood the difference between honoring a woman and taking his marching orders from her in the hopes of winning her favor. The princess’ favor was never the point, as George showed when he rode off after at the end. The point instead was that George saw a human being, a child of God, in great pain and distress and he stopped to help her.
How many of us, finding ourselves faced with a vicious monster, would want nothing more than permission or pretext to flee? In her nobility the princess told George to save himself, not once but twice. But George was going to kill the dragon or die trying, as God willed. Chivalry demands that the knight fight for the vulnerable, those unable to defend themselves—that is what his prowess is for, and not for his own personal advantage over those weaker than himself. George’s strength and courage were gifts from God, to be used in service of others, and they multiplied in effect when put toward that purpose.
George’s faith is the ultimate difference; it is why he became an absolute legend. Just before the moment of truth—just before he charged—George made the sign of the cross. In other words: in the darkest and most dangerous moments, George was close to the Lord. And in his most exalted moments George was also close to the Lord. He refrained from basking in his own accomplishments but instead directed it all to God’s glory. In his faith, George was humble, true, generous, brave, and ferocious—and extraordinarily useful to those who needed him. He was everything a knight could wish to be.
This is why George is the patron saint of chivalry.