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Knighthood and the ‘New Man’


by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Catholic men are called to be faithful servants, protecting their families and building up the Church

The Dedication by Edmund Blair Leighton

The Dedication by Edmund Blair Leighton (oil on canvas, 1908) / Wikimedia Commons

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following text was abridged from an address delivered Feb. 3 at the “Into the Breach” men’s conference, sponsored by the Diocese of Phoenix, and is reprinted with permission. The Arizona Knights of Columbus provided significant volunteer and financial support for the event.

Let’s be clear about our purpose today. “Into the Breach” is a men’s conference in the most thoroughly binary sense. We’re here to recover what it means to be men, and especially how to live as Christian men of substance and virtue. The theme for my remarks is “memory, sex, and the making of ‘the new man.’” I’ll deal with each of those topics in turn because they connect to each other in some important ways. …


Memory is a cornerstone of our identity. It’s the storehouse of everything we’ve learned, all of our love, all of our experiences, and all of their meaning. Memory gives the storyline to our lives. It shapes how we understand the world and approach the future. …

Just as memory anchors each person’s individual story, history plays the same role for cultures, nations and communities of faith. History is our shared memory. When we Christians lose a strong grasp of our own history — our own unique story and identity — others will gladly offer us a revised version of all three: a version that suits their own goals and bigotries, and not necessarily the truth. And then some very ugly things can happen. A community dies when its memory fails. So our memory as a Christian people matters. And I want to recall one particular piece of our history as Christian men, because it speaks to us right here, today.

Exactly 900 years ago, in A.D. 1118-19, a small group of men came together in Jerusalem to form a religious community. They were pilgrims. The First Crusade had retaken the city from Muslim rule in 1099. The men, who were all from Europe’s knightly order, had come looking for a life of common prayer and service. They got both, but not in the way they intended.

As warriors, the men had skills. As knights, they came from respected families with important connections. The roads leading to Jerusalem and other holy sites were infested with brigands and Muslim raiders that would rob, rape, murder or abduct many of those making the journey. The Christian rulers of the city needed help in protecting the travelers. The men had taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Patriarch of Jerusalem. And their first task, under obedience, was to patrol the roads. …

The Holy See approved the rule of their religious community, the Poor Brothers of the Order of the Temple of Solomon — the Knights Templar. The Templars went on to become the most effective Christian fighting force in the Holy Land for nearly 200 years. They had dozens of recruiting and support communities throughout Europe. And they were so successful that they were finally persecuted and suppressed through the jealousy of the French king.

A lot of nonsense — some of it vindictive, some of it ridiculous, much of it just false — has been written about the Templars. If you want facts, read Malcolm Barber’s The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple, or the work of Jonathan Riley-Smith or Thomas Madden. Or read St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s great reflection on the Templars, “In Praise of the New Knighthood.” But pay special attention to that expression: “the new knighthood.”

Knighthood in medieval Europe began as a profession of heavily armed male thugs — men obsessed with vanity, violence and rape. It took the Church and royalty centuries to tame and channel it. The animating ideal at the core of the Templars was to build a new order of new Christian men, skilled at arms, living as brothers, committed to prayer, austerity and chastity, and devoting themselves radically to serving the Church and her people, especially the weak.

The ideal of this “new knighthood” was often ignored or betrayed. Then and now, humans are sinners — all of us. But the astounding thing is how much more often and how much more fruitfully the ideal was embraced, pursued and actually lived by the brothers, rather than abused.

My point is this. C.S. Lewis described Christianity as a “fighting religion.” He meant that living the Gospel involves a very real kind of spiritual warfare; a struggle against the evil in ourselves and in the world around us. Our first weapons should always be generosity, patience, mercy, forgiveness, an eagerness to listen to and understand others, a strong personal witness of faith, and speaking the truth unambiguously with love. …

This is why the ideal of knighthood still has such a strong hold on the hearts and imaginations of men. As men, we’re hardwired by nature and confirmed by the Word of God to do three main things: to provide, to protect and to lead — not for our own sake, not for our own empty vanities and appetites, but in service to others. …

John Chrysostom, the great saint of the early Eastern Church, described every human father as the bishop of his family. All of you fathers are bishops. And every father shapes the soul of the next generation with his love, his self-mastery and his courage — or the lack of them.

So what does that mean? It means the world needs faithful Catholic men, men with a hunger to be saints. The role of a Catholic husband and father — a man who sacrifices his own desires, out of love, to serve the needs of his wife and children — is the living cornerstone of a Christian home. The Church in this country may face a very hard road in the next 20 years, and her sons need to step up and lead by the witness of their daily lives.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia speaks at the Catholic men’s conference hosted at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix Feb. 3.Photo by John Bering/Catholic Sun, courtesy of the Diocese of Phoenix


Since most of you are familiar with those two little details called the Sixth and Ninth Commandments, I’ll mention the obvious things just briefly.

Don’t cheat on your wife. Don’t put yourself in a situation where the idea would even occur to you. Don’t mislead and abuse women, and damage your own dignity as a man, by sleeping around before marriage. And if you’re already doing that, or did that, or you’re toying with the idea of doing it sometime in the future, stop it, now, and get to confession. Finally, don’t demean your wife, your daughters, your mother and your sisters by poisoning your imagination with porn. It steals your time and your heart from the people who need them the most — the wife and family you love. Pornography exploits and humiliates women. And it dehumanizes men at the same time. God made us to be better than that. Our families need us to be better than that.

Those are some of the don’ts. The dos are equally obvious. Do love the women in your life with the encouragement, affection, support and reverence they deserve by right. Do be faithful to your wife in mind and body. Do show courtesy and respect to the women you meet, even when they don’t return it. Chivalry is dead only if we men cooperate in killing it — and given the vulgarity of our current national environment and its leaders, we certainly need some kind of new code of dignity between the sexes.

Finally, those of you who marry, do have more children, and do invest your time and heart in them. America is facing a birth bust, and it’s a sign of our growing national selfishness. Children are the future. They’re the cement of love in the covenant of a husband and wife. They’re the single best antidote to selfishness.

Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and all the other blots on recent male behavior are merely a symptom of an entire culture of unhinged attitudes toward sex. Women are right to be angry when men treat them like objects and act like bullies and pigs. But a real reform of male behavior will never come about through feminist lectures and mass media man-shaming by celebrities and award ceremonies. In a lot of men, that kind of hectoring will merely breed nominal repentance and inner resentment. A man’s actions and words change only when his heart changes for the better. And his heart only changes for the better when he discovers something to believe in that transforms and gives meaning to his life; something that directs all of his reasoning and desires. In other words, when he becomes a new man. …

But we don’t and we can’t create ourselves. And when we try, we destroy the very thing that guarantees our humanity: the reality that none of us is a god, but all of us are sons and daughters of the true and only God.

There’s only one way any of us will ever become a genuinely new man. It’s by giving ourselves totally to God. It’s by putting on the new man in Jesus Christ that Paul describes in Ephesians 4 (22-24) and Colossians 3 (9-17). And the kind of new men we become demands the armor Paul gives us in Ephesians 6 (11-17) — because, like it or not, as Catholic men, we really are engaged in a struggle for the soul of a beautiful but broken world.

To put it another way: The “new knighthood” St. Bernard of Clairvaux once praised never really disappears. It’s new and renewed in every generation of faithful Catholic men. And brothers, that means us. It’s a vocation that belongs to us, and nobody else. …

Maleness, brothers, is a matter of biology. It just happens. Manhood must be learned and earned and taught. That’s our task. So my prayer for all of us today is that God will plant the seed of a new knighthood in our hearts — and make us the kind of “new men” our families, our Church, our nation, and our world need.

MOST REV. CHARLES J. CHAPUT, O.F.M. Cap., is archbishop of Philadelphia.

22 Rules of Knighthood

In his Feb. 3 address in Phoenix, Archbishop Chaput summarized the rules of knighthood written more than 500 years ago by Erasmus of Rotterdam in his book The Manual of a Christian Knight.

1 Deepen and increase your faith.
2 Act on your faith; make it a living witness to others.
3 Analyze and understand your fears; don’t be ruled by them.
4 Make Jesus Christ the only guide and the only goal of your life.
5 Turn away from material things; don’t be owned by them.
6 Train your mind to distinguish the true nature of good and evil.
7 Never let any failure or setback turn you away from God.
8 Face temptation guided by God, not by worry or excuses.
9 Always be ready for attacks from those who fear the Gospel and resent the good.
10 Always be prepared for temptation. And do what you can to avoid it.
11 Be alert to two special dangers: moral cowardice and personal pride.
12 Face your weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
13 Treat each battle as if it were your last.
14 A life of virtue has no room for vice; the little vices we tolerate become the most deadly.
15 Every important decision has alternatives; think them through clearly and honestly in the light of what’s right.
16 Never, ever give up or give in on any matter of moral substance.
17 Always have a plan of action. Battles are often won or lost before they begin.
18 Always think through, in advance, the consequences of your choices and actions.
19 Do nothing — in public or private — that the people you love would not hold in esteem.
20 Virtue is its own reward; it needs no applause.
21 Life is demanding and brief; make it count.
22 Admit and repent your wrongs, never lose hope, encourage your brothers, and then begin again.