Friday, April 16, 2010

Geoffri de Charny: A knight's own book of Chivalry

This is an excellent book. Indeed the most definitive work on Chivalry and Catholic Knighthood. Charny is renowned amongst his peers, and was known as the original owner of the Shroud of Turin. This book was designed as a guide for the Company of the Star, an order created by Jean II of France in 1352 to rival the English Order of the Garter. Although he gives more detailed opinions on a wide variety of topics concerning Chivalry I will focus here on just a select few.

First he describes a knight as the most worthy and the most adept warrior, a knight noble in intentions and deed, unwavering, virtuous, loyal and chivalrous. One who fears and loves God. Ceaselessly wages a two fold war both against the flesh and blood and against a spiritual army of evil in the Heavens. What a glory to return in victory from such a battle! How blessed to die there as a martyr!

He says Chivalry becomes an allegory for the quest of spiritual life (hence quest for the Holy Grail), a high goal that can be achieved by the best of knights. Chivalry has been the grand force for good, the strong arm of true faith, favored by God, the agency of defense, the guarantor of good and peaceful governance and the procurer of glorious victories.

He affirms that all will be well if the men who bear arms understand two principle themes he advances. 1st: prowess is the essential chivalric trait that leads to honor, the highest human good. 2nd: This prowess is the gift of God, requiring ceaseless thankfulness. "Qui plus fait, mieux vault" or he who does more is worth more. As well as "he who does best is most worthy".

The Heavy Responsibility of men of rank and prowess
A body used well gains honor which like the soul is immortal. It is hard being a knight. To give up the ease that others take for granted, to always be alert ready to work and risk in battle. So that he can carry the load that is heavier than beast of burden; the heavy responsibility of men of rank and prowess. What an honorable and weighty burden to bear! And he who bears such a burden should fear lest he let it fall; if God doesn't grant him the wisdom and good judgment to know how to keep it safe.

So it must seem to everyone that such people should strive with the utmost diligence to ensure that they suffer no reproach against themselves nor against the bounties God has bestowed on them. It is not, therefore, the only virtue of those who bear arms that they carry weapons and perform feats of arms; but in addition to this, it is necessary that in all respects mentioned above, in no way can anything dishonorable be perceived nor said concerning them. Indeed, it is a fine thing to perform great deeds, for those who rise to great achievement cannot rightly grow tired or sated with it; so the more they achieve, the less they feel they have achieved; this stems from the delight they take in striving constantly to reach greater heights. And great good comes from performing these deeds, for the more one does, the less is one proud of oneself, and it always seems that there is so much left to do. You should not care about amassing great wealth, for the more worldly foods a man acquires, the more reluctant he is to die and the greater he fears to die, for his worth and honor will always remain.

Advice on Conduct Towards Friends and Enemies

Be humble among friends, proud and bold against their foes, tender and merciful toward those who need assistance, cruel avengers against their enemies, pleasant and amiable with all others. No one should gall into despair from cowardice nor be too confident from great daring, for falling into too great despair can make a man lose his position and his honor, and trusting too much in his daring can make a man lose his life foolishly.

Speak of achievements of others but not of your own, and do not be envious of others. Make sure that you do not praise your own conduct nor criticize too much that of others.

When moving against your enemies to meet them in battle, never admit the idea that you might be defeated nor think how you might be captured or how you might flee, but be strong in heart, firm and confident, always expecting victory, not defeat, you will always do well because of the good hopes that you have.

You should, therefore, always and in all circumstances be determined to do your best and above all have the true and certain hope that comes from God that He will help you, not relying just on your strength nor your intelligence nor your power but on God alone. You can see clearly and understand that you on your own can achieve nothing except what God grants you. And does not God confer great honor when He allows you of his mercy to defeat your enemies without harm to yourself? And if you are in a state of grace and you die honorably, does not God show you great mercy when He grants you such a glorious end to your life in this world and bears your soul away with Him in to eternal bliss?

If you want to be strong and of good courage, be sure that you care less about death that about shame. And those who put their lives in the face of dangers with the deliberate intention of avoiding shame are strong in all things. You should first thank and praise Him who gives you those things and preserve them without arrogance, for you must understand that where there is arrogance, there reigns anger and all kinds of folly; and where humility is to be found, there reigns good sense and happiness.

The Men-at- Arms of Supreme Worth

You should know that in no way can anyone in the world, now or in the past or the future, ever have such a complete set of good qualification as have been described above as possessed by men of high merit, except purely by the grace of God and of His gentle Mother and of His heavenly court. And thus it is that these people whom Our Lord has of His grace endowed with so many gifts should not maintain nor think nor believe that in any way do any of these virtues listed above, for which they are so much loved, praised and honored, come from themselves.

Were these men to claim the credit for all these qualities, believing that they all stem from themselves, and were they not to give thanks as they should and it is their duty to do this mighty even, to their Almighty Lord from whom they have received them and do not acknowledge this, then this Almighty Lord would cause all these benefits, so ill merited and unacknowledged, to crumble and collapse in various ways, as, for example by chronic illness through which they would lose the glory they had won. Those who put great effort into acquiring these honorable skills and achievements of prowess and those to whom God has by his grace granted that they should acquire them should indeed spend all their time giving thanks, praising and honoring Our Lord, praying and entreating humbly that as He has given and granted to them, so He will not take away and withdraw according to what they deserve.

The Rigors of the Order of Knighthood

No one can and should excuse himself from bearing arms in a just cause, whether for Holy Church or to defend and uphold the faith or out of piety for men or women who cannot defend their own rights. And for these who perform deeds of arms more to gain. God's grace and for the salvation of the soul than for glory in this world, their noble souls will be set in paradise to all eternity and their persons will be for ever honored and remembered.

On Knighthood and Catholicism

Of most importance he states it is a necessity to be a good Christian and imperative for the knight because he lives in constant peril and must be ready to die at any moment. He further explains that knights felt a need to fit their violent vocation into the framework of a Christian teaching; many if not all of them wanted to understand as well as buttress their place of dominance with the increasingly ordered Christian society.

He also states that it will be wise always for the knight, he insists to think less about the pleasure of his body and more about his soul and honor. Charny also insists that a good knight can wear his armor as purely and devoutly as any priest wears his vestments for Mass. Moreover, a knight must keep his conduct as thoroughly honest as any priest.He is certain that there can be no contradiction between a worthy knightly vocation and true religion. Piety and Chivalry do not occupy separate spaces in his consciousness, they are inseparable almost interchangeable qualities in men of war. Not to mention that knights must remain in a state of grace, for as long as they maintain this state they have no need to be afraid; especially of the devils, who are the most powerful enemies they will have to deal with. And it behooves them to seek in humble devotion for the help of Our Lord in such a perilous service as is required of them in the vocation of arms. Hence the position and way of life of these men-at-arms should above all be devoted to serving with all their hearts Our Lord and the glourious Virgin Mary in return for the good comfort and honorable escape from death which Our Lord has granted them from day to day.

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