Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Hard Day's Knight

It appears that I  haven't posted one of my long winded discussions of some obscure topic in quite some time. I know that some people like my longer posts and today will be one for them. For those who like my short and to the point posts, wait until Thursday, as I'm sure I won't have much to say then as I'll be all typed out from this piece!

As DeMolay International gets ready to debut the Kingdom of DeMolay, we find that the idea of being a knight has come back into vogue in recent times. I myself find great honor in being called a Sir Knight in Commandery and many DeMolays feel as if their organization is sort of a knightly order unto itself. But, there are some strict definitions of what being a knight actually is and when one can truly be called a knight.

Knighthoods started as a way for monarchs to recognize those outstanding warriors that he thought should ride a horse into battle. Horses and armor were expensive commodities, so not every man was able to fight in this manner. As the king was the man with the most money, he would often help finance these early "knights" by giving them the equipment they needed to fight for him. As time went on, men would be forced to purchase these goods on their own, meaning that only wealthy men could be knights. This poses the age old question of "which came noble, the chicken or the knight?"

What do I mean by that? Well, as time went on, the title of Knight became the lowest rank of nobility. To be a noble, one must have money; the same is required to be a knight. So, at some point, the title of "knight" transitioned from one bestowed upon fighters who good soldiers, to that of a title bestowed on nobles who had the money to purchase the required gear (who then became soldiers.) Conversely, the title would be bestowed upon wealthy merchants and civilians, entering them into the realm of nobility by virtue of their money or contributions to the realm. With these changes came the idea of "Chivalry," or the courtly code of honor that a knight must follow. We've discussed chivalry in an earlier post, so I won't go much into that idea here. Go check out that post for more information.

The Queen of England knights Sir
Patrick Stewart for his contributions to art.
So, by definition, a knight has to be created by a king or ruler and placed into his service. This tradition continues today in many countries, especially in England, where the Queen can still honor those who have made important contributions to Great Britain with a knighthood. Similar situations exist in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and other countries. The one unique area of this requirement is religious knightly orders - i.e. the Knights Templar.

The Pope of the Catholic Church is the head of the organization world wide and also the leader of the Vatican - the world's smallest country. As head of this organization / country he also maintains the authority to create and bestow knighthoods. In essence, that is what the pope did when he authorized such groups as the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller. Instead of being created knights by a king, they were created knights by the Pope. This commission from the Pope elevated them to the equivalent level of knighthood offered by a ruler of a country, but it came with some special restrictions - such as not being able to own land and not being able to marry. For those desperate to become knights - such as the third or fourth sons of lower nobility, this would prove to be a way to gain honor, glory, and the title of knight, making it an attractive prospect.

As time went on, becoming a knight was more about having a strong ethical code and upstanding character than one's ability to ride a horse and fight with a lance. In modern times the title of knight is granted by monarchs to recognize public service or outstanding careers instead of military prowess. People like Elton John, Alec Guinness, and Paul McCartney have been knighted for their contributions to the arts. Others, like Tony Blair, Winston Churchill, and Gordon Brown were granted the honor for their political careers. However, one key problem remains - if one is not a citizen of a country with a system of knighthood in place, one cannot become a knight. This is exactly the case in America.

As America is a democracy and has no monarchical ruler, it cannot and does not bestow knighthoods. While there are plenty of prestigious honors given to our citizens, such as the Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, no one is a knight in the eyes of the United States government. This has created an interesting situation in America, as anyone can claim to be a knight. Because of this, there has been growth in what are called "self-styled orders"; these are orders of knighthood that are not bestowed by a monarch, but rather by an organization or other leader. While they may uphold the same values as knighthoods of old, they are considered illegitimate by countries that grant knighthoods as an honor. However, in many cases, these self styled orders are just as prestigious and exclusive here in America as knighthoods granted by monarchs in other countries.

Sir Knight and "Dad" William Howard Koon, II,
Most Eminent Grand Master
Grand Encampment of Knights Templar
of the World
One example of this are the Knights Templar of the Masonic fraternity. While they call themselves knights, they are not recognized as such by any authority other than themselves. However, with thousands of members around the world, one could hardly dismiss them as an insignificant or false order of knighthood. The members of the Grand Encampement of Knights Templar donate millions of dollars each year to charities and continue to uphold the values of their god and country. While their authority may not be derived from a king, their impact on society certainly makes each member worthy of the title of "Sir Knight."

As usual, we're at that point in the article where you are asking "What does this have to do with DeMolay?" Hopefully it is more apparent than usual, but let's recap to make sure. While members of DeMolay aren't knights in the strictest sense, some could consider us a self styled order of knighthood. We believe in the Seven Cardinal Virtues, defend our faith and our country, and seek to aid the poor and suffering. We may not call ourselves knights, but by any definition, the behavior of our members can be downright chivalrous as times.

Frat! ~ "Dad" Seth Anthony

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