Definition of Chivalry
A definition of Chivalry could be as follows: a moral and social law and custom of the noble and gentle class in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. The whole duty of a gentleman was defined by Chivalry, which regulated his life from his early childhood. The three main principles of his life were the service to God, his lord, and his lady, thus the life of a knight was governed by religion, military duty, and love.
This definition is good, is modern, and we used it on our "Medieval Code of Chivalry" page. However, such a subject deserves more attention, and looking at these three principles, we may conclude that the definition of chivalry is more flexible, and can be changed, depending on which of the three factors is regarded as more important.
Let’s consider the religious factor. From the oldest times, the Church tolerated war, but it only authorized righteous war. ''It is righteous war," says Saint Augustine, “ when one proposes to punish a violation of law.”
Vincent de Beauvais, the greatest encyclopedist of the Middle Ages, develops the doctrine during the reign of Saint Louis, at the time when all France was listening to the "chansons de geste." "There are," he says, '' three conditions under which a war may be just and lawful: the authority of the prince who commands the war, a just cause, and a lawful intention."
Thus, because war was unavoidable under certain conditions, the Church has Christianized the soldier. In the same time, the main characteristic of the knightly service, separating it most decidedly from the Roman militia, was its freedom of action. The Roman legionary could not withdraw from the service, while the Middle Ages knight was always free to arm himself or not as he pleased.
As a result, Chivalry may be defined as an eighth sacrament, it is a sacrament, and it is the baptism of the warrior. But we must also regard it as a corporation, every member of it being a responsible individual.
Because war was still a controversial issue, the Church clarified its vision in the “Pontifical”: "Receive this sword in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; use it for your own defence, for that of the holy Church of God, and for the confusion of the enemies of the Cross of Christ. Go: and remember that the Saints did not conquer kingdoms by the sword but by faith." This vision decisively influenced Chivalry.
To conclude, on a more spiritual note we can think of another definition of Chivalry as being the armed force in the service of the unarmed truth.