06 December 2007

More on Catholicism and Manliness

There was another article at Catholic Culture titled The Catholic Origins of Manliness.

Christ’s manliness transformed man’s understanding of manhood, and it is this transformation that, through the development and mediation of the Catholic
Church, became a new Western ideal. This is obvious when we consider two areas typically associated with manly life: chivalry and sports.

Chivalry began as an attempt by the Church to curb the anarchy and bloodshed of feudal conflict in the Middle Ages, but it ended as something much more. The so-called Truce of God limited violence by prohibiting, on pain of excommunication, armed engagement every Thursday through Sunday and during the holy seasons of Advent and Lent. This pious restraint was sharpened by the Crusades, which upheld a new code of knighthood aimed not at personal glory (Achilles again) but the protection of the weak and oppressed. When a knight was consecrated or “dubbed,” the bishop prayed that he would become a defender of “churches, widows, orphans, and all those serving God.” This was obviously the instantiation of an important biblical virtue (Judas Maccabeus, the Old Testament prototype of the medieval knight, is described in II Maccabees 2:38 as providing for the widow and orphan), as was the care extended to another group: women.

Though the chivalrous regard for the welfare of women would later become subject to all sorts of romantic distortions (hence the parodies of love-stricken knights in Chaucer and Cervantes), even here there lies the kernel of a uniquely Christian insight. When St. Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Eph. 5:25), he is essentially telling them to put the welfare of their spouses high above their own, even to the point of death. Today the concept of “ladies first” is more often than not condemned as quaint or chauvinist, but when it is properly understood and practiced it reflects this Christ-like conversion of male power and aggression to the selfless service of others. It presupposes that if a Christian man is designed to rule, he is to exercise that rule paradoxically by serving, just as Christ exercised his lordship paradoxically by humbly washing the feet of his apostles (John 13:4–16). This insight is well-reflected in the famous medieval legend of the Holy Grail as told by Chrétien de Troyes. When Perceval the knight is about to part from his mother, her last words to him are: “Should you encounter, near or far, a lady in need of aid, or a maiden in distress, make yourself ready to assist them if they ask for your help, for it is the most honourable thing to do. He who fails to honour ladies finds his own honour dead inside him.” Over time, several customs developed from this transfiguration of male honor. Simple gestures such as opening doors or pulling out a chair for a lady bespeak a gentleman’s humble respect for women and a recognition of his responsibilities. Particularly noteworthy in this regard is the practice of tipping one’s hat to a lady. Given that a man’s hat is a traditional symbol of his rank and authority, the gesture is essentially a ritual acknowledgment of the fact that his position is in some crucial respects ordered to the service and regard of women.

Read the rest of the article here.

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