Thursday, January 22, 2009

St Francis and Chivalry

Here is an offering from Liturgy Training Publications that may interest a good many folk with a hankering for the renewal of Catholic culture: Gospel Chivalry: Franciscan Romanticism, by Mark of Whitstable (pen name of Father Mark Elvins, a Capuchin friar).
[ht: Mary Victrix]

Synopsis: How St. Francis of Assisi transformed the medieval code of chivalry into the religious Rule for his new order.
At the time of St Francis, Europe was riven with almost constant feuding between local war lords, and the knight, with his horse and armour, played an important role in society both on and off the battlefield. In an attempt to control the behaviour of these knights and to limit the scandal of Christian people fighting one another, the Church encouraged and elaborated the code of chivalry. The ceremony of appointing a new knight to armed service was solemnised by a prayer vigil and vows that enjoined the new knight to live by the ideals of honour and defence of the weak. This tied in well with the romantic ideal of the knight as portrayed by the troubadours. Similarly, the temptations to adultery inevitable in a household where the lord was often away on campaigns were at least partially mitigated by the notion of ‘courtly love’, in which the lady was seen as an idealised, but unobtainable object of desire.

Sadly the attempt to Christianise the warrior class was only partly successful. In many cases the vows were ignored, or interpreted in the light of social status at court. Indeed, the emergence of the military Orders can be seen as an acknowledgement that the code of chivalry alone was insufficient.

As the son of a wealthy merchant, the young Francis was rich enough to aspire to join the knightly class. Whilst his family hoped for upward social mobility, Francis was attracted by the romantic ideal of the ballads. However. the stark reality of warfare and its effect on those who took part quickly disillusioned him. Francis set about reinventing the code of chivalry, taking its high ideals of largesse, joyfulness, courtesy and courage, and showing how they could be lived out as a religious way of life.

Each chapter of the fascinating study shows how St. Francis adapted a different element of the knightly life to the life of his Friars. It shows how his teachings and words are infused with the romance of the troubadours, but how in his hands the worldly ambitions of the age are replaced with the eternal values of the Gospels.

This is the perfect book for all devotees of St. Francis of Assisi. And all those who hanker after a lost ‘Arthurian’ age of courtesy and honour will be inspired to bring true romance back into the world by living according to the code of Gospel chivalry.
Here is how LTP summarizes the book:

Born in 1181, into the medieval world where the knightly code of chivalry held sway, St. Francis of Assisi at first harbored ambitions to become a knight. Experience, however, appears to have left him disillusioned with the military aspects of the code, but the ideals of chivalry remained as a formative influence on his life.

The code of chivalry was born out of the Church’s desire to mitigate the growing evil of endless blood-letting between rival feudal lords which had become a scandal to Christendom in the early Middle Ages. From the tenth century various Councils of the Church, and particularly that of Elne in 1027, had developed the elements that were to find formal expression in military custom, while the proclamation of the Crusades by Pope Urban II in 1095 had given the opportunity for a new kind of warfare with an ostensibly holy purpose—the protection of poor pilgrims and the recovery of the Holy Places of Jerusalem. While this noble project was to fail in many instances, one glorious exception is seen in the Order of Knight Hospitallers of St. John, whose care of the sick and the poor was to ensure in some measure the redemption of chivalry.

At its zenith, in the high Middle Ages, chivalry embodied the concept of the ideal life of a knight. However, this was an ideal rarely met, and the chivalric code promoting valor, courtesy, generosity and defense of the weak, was often sadly neglected. St. Francis consciously set out to redeem chivalry, or, at least, to transform its significance, using its language in a new and revolutionary way for the Gospel life he had chosen.

Published by Gracewing, UK. European customers wishing to purchase this title should contact Gracewing directly at


David Nybakke said...

Interesting find dear Ath. I assume you do not have the book. You can find out a bit more on the book at Google Book Search. I am finding that this book is hard to find - out of stock which leaves me to wonder about it.

Athos said...

The same may be said soon of The Dionysus Mandate. I found a used copy at Amazon UK - it sounded like an English publisher to me - but book buying funds are short presently.

Astonishing to me, at least, is the way extremely important books will become nearly impossible to find and purchase, like Claire Asquith's extremely important Shadowplay - The Hidden Beliefs And Coded Politics of William Shakespeare.

It's all about large enough markets to keep a book "out there" for publishers to turn a buck - or pound - I suppose. Alas.