The third admonition in the Code of Chivalry is:
Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
It’s interesting, I think, how this is phrased. We see it and we think “Ah, yes . . . women, children, widows, orphans, the elderly and infirm. . . the poor and the sick . . .” These thoughts are not wrong, so much as they are incomplete.
First of all, while such admonitions of protecting and caring for widows and orphans, etc, go back to the Bible, it is interesting to note that a deliberately generic word is chosen, and even that is preceded by the word “all.” All weaknesses.
The original writer of this code is therefore not referencing simply physical weakness, but also weakness of mind, heart, spirit, soul . . . all of it. Everyone has such weaknesses, recurring shortcomings and sins that we try and try to get past, to fix, only to fall down again. We all do this because we are all human.
These weaknesses, of whatever nature, we are first admonished to respect. This is so counter-intuitive that it brings thought to a full stop. Respect Weakness? Why? Weakness is an obstacle, a thing to be overcome and left behind– how does respect enter into the picture?
There’s two separate, but closely related reasons. First– it is the wrestling with weakness that creates strength. Ignore a weakness and, like a cavity, it grows. Struggle with it, fight it, and it won’t disappear, but the countering strength will gradually build. A person with no weakness is a person who cannot become strong. Thus, weakness can be the catalyst for strength. This moves into the second reason: The knight who followed the first two admonitions knew the Letters of Paul, and would have been familiar with 2 Corinthians 12:9-1o, wherein the Apostle writes the following:
9 But He [The Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Because it’s not just that weakness is our catalyst for strength but, it is also that weakness, that vulnerability, that the humility that comes with these, is the opening that allows Grace in to do its work. Conversely, Pride (which is ever more a danger the stronger one becomes) is what shuts Grace out. The key isn’t so much strength or weakness, but the all-to-often associated Pride or Humility. The less prideful,the more humble, the more room there is for God to come in and sort out out mess.
This is why weakness is to be respected by the knight– because weakness is God’s workspace.
The second half of the admonition–to be the defender of weakness– is a little easier. This is basic group tactics on a human level. What worked for the Spartans certainly works for the rest of us:
Each individual warrior was most vulnerable to attack on his right side, where he held his spear. So that warrior would be protected by the warrior to his right, that second warrior’s shield covering the both of them, in an overlapping scale pattern all the way around. Each warrior used his strength to defend the weakness of his fellows, and so created a living wall that was built by their mutual trust and humility– because even those Spartans knew where they were weak. And in so knowing, in the humility of acknowledging their weakness, they found unimaginable strength and resilience.
This same idea holds true for all civilized people– all our varied strengths work to cover and counter each others weaknesses. This is one of the basics to not only any healthy relationship, but is especially true in families. Each member of the family having different natural strengths and weaknesses, which they use to defend the weakness of their spouse/ child/ sibling, etc. . . And even if, inside the house, the siblings fuss at each other over their respective weaknesses, on the playground the family is a solid unit. These bonds of weakness and trust are, in fact, the basic sinews of civilization, the bonds that hold order together, that differentiate between a civilized people and the barbarism of the world. This is the trust given to the strong warrior, to the ruler, to the ruled– that each will use their strength to assist the weakness of their neighbor. The man will use his strength to defend those precious to him, and the woman will use her strength to bolster her family. The knight will defend the weak and the weak (in their assumed humility) will be a sign of Grace to the knight.
Incidentally, this is why the current “Cult of the Victim” is such an abomination– because it combines weakness and Pride, which is the worst of both worlds. A person chooses to be weak, and then in their Pride, shuts out the redemptive Grace that can sanctify such weakness. In so doing, they are negating the basic agreement of civilization, for they are demanding the use of everyone else’s strength, but refuse to put for their own. They deliberately become a gaping hole in the Civil Phalanx, all at one time betraying themselves, their fellows, and their God. Not only does each “victim” cause great harm to their community, but they also pervert the charitable instincts of others, for what virtue is there in aiding someone in so heinous a sin? This shatters the trust between all people, and thus is the phalanx completely sundered, allowing the enemy in to trample everything with abandon.
This admonition, then, is about impressing this basic civil trust upon the knight. It is a reminder that all are weak, and that the knight uses his strength to respect and the defend the weakness of others, and in turn accepts the strength of others to assist with his own weaknesses.