A New Knighthood

The world is full of talented failures — people who either didn’t live up to their abilities, or who did, but in a way that diminished their humanity and their character.

God made us to be better than that. And our nation and our Church need His people to be better than that. Scripture tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10). Wisdom — not merely the knowledge of facts or a mastery of skills, but wisdom about ourselves, other people, and the terrain of human life — this is the mark of a whole person. We already have too many clever leaders. We need wise leaders. And the wisest leaders ground themselves in humility before God and the demands of God’s justice.

People my age would do well to remember that. The reason is pretty simple: The older we get, the more clearly we see — or think we see — what’s wrong with the world. It also gets harder to admit our own role in making it that way.

Over my lifetime, I’ve had the privilege of working with many good religious men and women, and many good lay Christian friends. Many of them have been heroic in their generosity, faith, and service. Many have helped to make our country a better place. And yet I think it’s true — I know it’s true — that my generation has, in some ways, been among the most foolish in American history. We’ve been absorbed in our appetites, naïve about the consequences of our actions, overconfident in our power, and unwilling to submit ourselves to the obligations that come with the greatest ideals of our own heritage.

Most generations of Americans have inherited a nation different in degree from the generations that preceded them. Our young people will inherit an America that is different in kind — a nation different from anything in our past in its attitudes toward sexuality, family, religion, law, and the nature of the human person; in other words, different and more troubling in the basic things that define a society. My generation created this new kind of America. Soon we will leave the consequences to our children. Where the leadership and moral character of my generation failed, the next generation needs to succeed.

The task of Christian moral leadership that will occupy much of their lives in the future will not be easy. Guarantees of religious freedom are only as strong as the social consensus that supports them, but Americans often take their religious freedom for granted. Religious faith has always played a major role in our public life, including debate about public policy and law. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly guarantees this freedom. But that guarantee and its application are subject to lawmakers and the interpretation of courts. And lawmakers and courts increasingly attack religious liberty, undermine rights of conscience, and force references to God out of our public square.

This shift in our culture is made worse by mass media that, in general, have little understanding of religious faith and are often openly hostile. As religious practice softens in the United States over the next few decades, the consensus for religious freedom may easily decline. And that has very big implications for the life of faithful Catholics in this country.



Given all that, how do we live faithfully as Catholics going forward in a culture that’s skeptical, and even hostile, toward what we believe?

Knighthood is an institution with very deep roots in the memory of the Church. Nearly 900 years ago, one of the great monastic reformers of the Church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, described the ideal Christian knights as Godly men who

shun every excess in clothing and food. They live as brothers in joyful and sober company [with] one heart and one soul. . . . There is no distinction of persons among them, and deference is shown to merit rather than to noble blood. They rival one another in mutual consideration, and they carry one another’s burdens, thus fulfilling the law of Christ.

Bernard had few illusions about human nature, and he was anything but naïve. Writing at the dawn of the crusading era, in the early 12th century, he was well aware of the greed, vanity, ambition, and violence that too often motivated Europe’s warrior class, even in the name of religious faith.

Most of the men who took up the cause of aiding eastern Christians and liberating the Holy Land in the early decades of crusading did so out of genuine zeal for the Cross. But Bernard also knew that many others had mixed or even corrupt and evil motives. In his great essay “In Praise of the New Knighthood,” he outlined the virtues that should shape the vocation of every truly “Christian” knight: humility, austerity, justice, obedience, unselfishness, and a single-minded zeal for Jesus Christ in defending the poor, the weak, the Church, and persecuted Christians.

Our life today may seem very different from life in the 12th century. The Church today asks us to seek mutual respect with people of other religious traditions and to build common ground for cooperation wherever possible.

But human nature — our basic hopes, dreams, anxieties, and sufferings — hasn’t really changed. The Christian vocation remains the same: to follow Jesus Christ faithfully and, in following Him, to defend His Church and to serve her people zealously, unselfishly, and with all our skill. As St. Ignatius Loyola wrote in his “Spiritual Exercises” — and remember that Ignatius himself was a former soldier — each of us must choose between two battle standards: the standard of Jesus Christ, humanity’s true King, or the standard of His impostor, the Prince of This World.

There is no neutral ground. C. S. Lewis once said that Christianity is a “fighting religion.” He meant that Christian discipleship has always been — and remains — a struggle against the evil within and outside ourselves. This is why the early Church Fathers described Christian life as “spiritual combat.” It’s why they called faithful Christians the “Church Militant” and “soldiers of Christ” in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The Church needs men and women of courage and Godliness today more than at any time in her history. So does this extraordinary country we call home in this world; a nation that still has an immense reservoir of virtue, decency, and people of good will. This is why the Catholic ideal of knighthood, with its demands of radical discipleship, is still alive and still needed. The essence of Christian knighthood remains the same: sacrificial service rooted in a living Catholic faith.

A new “spirit of knighthood” is what we need now — unselfish, tireless, devoted disciples willing to face derision and persecution for Jesus Christ. We serve our nation best by serving God first, and by proving our faith with the example of our lives.


This article is adapted from remarks delivered at the United States Air Force Academy on October 25, 2010.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.


Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the archbishop of Philadelphia. Before his appointment to Philadelphia by Pope Benedict in 2011, he served as bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota and archbishop of Denver. He is the author of three books: Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics (2001); Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life (2008) and Strangers in a Strange Land (2017)

  • Sarah

    Archbishop Chaput nails it again. Well said, well said.

  • Mother of Two Sons

    I so enjoyed this compilation of Archbishop Chaput’s words; we would never have read them had you not put them here; at least I would not.
    Whereas I still hold a lot of hope out for the future because I firmly believe that the last few decades have explored the greatness in an extreme way of our lovingness and our ingenuity the next decade is for the discovery of the great power of our Spirit…. and the way in which we can clearly discern from which camp it comes!! I long to see the OUR FATHER prayer manifest…Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done on EARTH as it is in Heaven!

    Perhaps if we could call out the musicians, artists, game programmers, movie producers and the critics/reviewers of such to show how the ungodly choices always lead to death, wantoness, destruction and keen hollowness!!
    Don’t know why this song comes to mind but I recall how poignant her message seemed to be to the faithfully married women at that time:


    We have allowed the marketing arms of companies to completely sell sin and drunkenness to the point that our youth believe that it is a right of passage.
    Who in their right mind would want their child to “experiment” with any path of sin? It is always ridden with a residue that detracts from the ability to enjoy this life to the highest capacity won for us by Jesus Himself. I guess we all have to fast and pray to be rid of the “lies” that keep us attached to sin….. especially the one that the devil made me do it!!! Just ask yourself, if the person you hold dear walked in on you doing your sin, how would you feel about the importance, value, greatness of that action(sin). We have yet to derive the GRACE of Holiness/Heaven/Christian Friendship that stands in the center of God’s presence and not with one foot in hell!
    I agree wholeheartely with Archbishop Chaput, that we must all choose KNIGHTHOOD level Christianity if we are to turn this around…. not with sullen grouchiness but with the energy and excitement of LIVE Creative Growingness and Lovingness — Heaven! What is coming down this path, the soul Revolution path, is SWEET JOY; even if won by sweat and sheer brutal force against the Enemy and his enticements for that which equals, “settling!” Another great song, by Sugarland…. I’m not settling, just getting by, with just So So!! for the rest of my Life, I’m not settling! I want His Highest for me in this life and the next ! smilies/smiley.gif for this generation and the next!

  • David Ambuul

    As usual Archbishop, you’re a rock star for Jesus!
    I generally hate the news -it bores me. But sometimes not: one station says “fair, balanced and unafraid.” Pretty cool; that Murdoch must be some sort of guy. But I still read your most recent post.
    When I was a kid we used to break basketball games into shirts and skins and I hated it. I was scrawny and embarassed to go skins -sometimes rock music would play in the background. Today i’m older and we have little guts so we go red shirt / blue shirts without music. Oh the wisdom of older men!
    When I go out to a bar these days, sometimes with my wife, I drink 1/4 the beer I did 20 years ago but it feels better. And when i talk to people in those dens i am very clear, but quiet, about who i am. This can be problematic. Once i argued Nietzsche was a weak, sick man only to be told by a somewhat belligerant and buzzed fellow that i should not talk like that in a place like that. I didn’t listen, but did sip my beer more slowly. My life itself was even threatened, (on the drive home one night, oddly enough) over speaking about the type of person i choose to be. It was a winding road on a mountain pass going into Colorado Springs, but i came out ok. And that’s life in today’s world: christians are the most rebellious, loving people this world has to offer. But we have a cause. A reason for being so. And every homeless man or woman whose name we ask, while we offer some money if we have it, knows so.
    I am not afraid to die; life’s too short and good for that! And I try to look every person i meet in the face, honestly and without pretense. It’s ofetn a pain in the neck like when i catch a stray elbow in a basketball game. But if God ever wants me to trade in my blue shirt for a red one, -i’m game; and you can take that statement to the banks!
    Today a presidential/executive order like 11110 goes unheeded. But presidents the world over can make fiat decisions for a life to end without due process. It’s our world, alas. So we take that world by the reins, with joy. And if some old man in some city doesn’t like me, tell him to meditate on “No Country for Old Men.” For Jewish folk tell our story admirably! And if some old man or potentate ever gets me, don’t come to my funeral with some shiny, blazoning two edged sword. For I’ll already be in a better place than genuflecting before some oldish man!



  • Bill

    As an alumnus of Collegium Sanctae Crucis, hone of the Crusaders, it has long been my opinion that America’s troubles are rooted, to a great degree, in our collective laissez-faire attitude toward abortion, a murderous process that results in the death of millions of the least of the brethren. I am at the age where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, so I hope I live long enough to see the day when, during the intercessory prayers at every Mass, we offer the following petition: O God our Father, we pray that the gift of life will not be denied our unborn children.

  • Frank L. Cocozzelli

    As a Catholic all I can say is that this is very a disturbing statement. Is this some sort of call to a violent crusade? That is surely what it sounds like to me.

    If so, count me out – I’ll follow the word of Jesus: “Love thy neighbor.”

  • Dienekes

    What demon makes Catholics such sheep in the face of evil? It’s not like the world is going to love us if only we prostrate (prostitute?) ourselves to it…