Today, let us look at the second admonition in the Code of Chivalry.
2) Thou shalt defend the Church.
This can only be done once the first admonition is well and truly underway. One cannot defend what one does not truly and completely believe- heart, mind and soul. That said, against whom is a knight supposed to defend the Church?
It’s not “the Infidel”, as they are specifically called out later. Pagans? Maybe, but at this time, they are so little in number in the Western world that a knight would have to travel far, or seek deeply, to encounter them at all. Likewise, Jews were of small enough population (and, depending on the time and place, not seen as any sort of threat at all). Atheists? Atheism as a “thing” didn’t really exists in any measurable amount pre-“Enlightenment”.
It seems to me that the knight is being admonished to defend the church. . . against the state. Such separation between temporal and spiritual power is not new to America, though we have encoded it more specifically than any nation before us. Rather, it goes back to ancient Judaism as an idea, is re-stated by Jesus, and then re-realised when Pope Gregory (the Great) crowns Charlemagne, deliberately making him the temporal ruler of Europe, while he himself maintains leadership of spiritual matters. This is later again re-stated in the Magna Carta, when the very first paragraph declares the independence of the Church in England from the authority of the King of England. While from our current perspective, it may seem almost incestuous how close the Church and various state functions were through the centuries, the fact remains that the Church hierarchy represented a competitor to the state structures.
The Knight was, in a sense, the basic unit of the State authority. When the leaders of the State wanted to enforce their decisions, the knights were the strength of their armies. By admonishing knights to defend the Church, the Church is thus giving a counter-order to every member of the cavalry, giving them an “out” when the orders of their local (or higher) Lord go against what the knight perceives to be right under the first admonishment. (This idea will come back again in other admonishments)
It is these two (potentially conflicting) institutions that allow for freedom of any sort. Each, ideally, offered shelter from and counterbalance to the other. This tension is right and proper for the human condition, preventing the individual from becoming slave to either State or Church. When one institution gains too much power over the other, horrors abound. Each must constrain and counter the excesses of the other, thus ensuring that each remains healthy and balanced in their respective proper sphere of influence.
In more modern terms, this admonition is akin to the leaders of Christendom saying, all at once, to every warfighter — and gov’t bureaucrat: “Your oaths before God trump any order or direction that comes down the chain of command. You will defend the Church, and all Her members, even at the cost of your career, or even at the cost of your life.”
Would that our Churches would get together to make such a proclamation– the results would be interesting, I suspect.