Chivalry originated as the code of conduct for medieval knights. It has evolved over time, but the basic principles of courage, honor, justice, courtesy and helping the weak remain as ideals for young men. A Christian would describe it as a virtuous life, that is, a life in which one lives according to the virtues. The Theological Virtues are Faith, Hope, and Charity. The Cardinal Virtues are Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Courage. These are the fundamentals of Christian living.
Virtuous living is for all of us, of course, but today I would like to look at its appeal to boys and young men. Like the US Army’s ads encouraged men to “be all that you can be,” the virtues form a collective standard that calls young men to become their best selves. Encouraging them to have the mental and moral strength to be truly virtuous is an extension of their typical desire to be physically big and strong. Living virtuously is also compatible with achieving physical goals, especially when seen in the context of training or team play. They are also the qualities of a successful athlete.
The chivalrous knight was protective of women in an age when they needed protection. They acted out of respect for women and honored them through thoughtful gestures. Women today are more independent and less in need of protection in the same way, but they still value respect. Young men can live out their responsibility to protect women by respecting them. They can understand that using someone for one’s own entertainment is selfish and disrespectful of that person. Not only should they always be chaste in their behavior, they should not date or otherwise pair up with anyone who could not someday be a spouse. That may seem a little crazy when talking to young teens, but the point is that we don’t play with other people’s emotions or use them to make us feel better. We may not be actively seeking a spouse, but teenage crushes and flirtations are part of that discernment process and should be treated thoughtfully.
Boys also need to understand that many girls have been disrespected and even abused. They do not always respect themselves. This is when a young man can be truly noble and virtuous. There are many girls who are quite sexually aggressive and should be resisted for their own sake. Unless the young man is able to provide for her, which he can really only do within marriage, he would be exploiting her, even if she were very willing. That would be selfish and weak.
Our society is utilitarian and hedonistic and we are asking our children to be countercultural. As in other aspects of life that we have discussed, we are always looking to stretch ourselves and each other beyond what is easy. Saints become saints in incremental steps (and indeed it holds true for sinners too!) Amy Welborn’s Catholic Book of Saints and Catholic Book of Heroes are both excellent books that illustrate the virtues very well.
Catching our children acting virtuously and helping them to make the connection to the virtues is encouraging and inspirational. (Makes a mom or dad feel pretty good too!) It helps to develop their natural goodness into something intentional.
More on the virtues next week, including a feminine perspective.
Ps. I apologize for the spotty blogging. I am experiencing major computer issues which I hope to have resolved soon. Thanks for your patience.