The Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, made the decision to not use a sword while bestowing knighthood this year. For 922 years, since the Order’s foundation, a sword has always been used during the official ceremony.
Now, change is coming.
The main reason given for abandoning one of the most recognizable symbols of knighthood is the desire to adapt to modern standards and trends, and the Church does not want to be left out. The most telling argument that was used was the one claiming that the ritualistic usage of a sword was an act of discrimination against women.
Such an explanation would most likely surprise Joan of Arc, who is a saint of the Catholic Church and often depicted with a sword. It is important to remember that every symbol has a meaning which refers us to the world of immaterial concepts. The symbol of the sword means chivalry, nobility and courage.
In the sacred tongue, the sword is not a mere prop but a manifestation of the essence of chivalry. Although it is not needed in combat anymore, it still has deep symbolic potential. In the Bible, it spears as a symbol of power and protection against sin, a symbol of redemptive victory, punishment for sins, Christ’s Truth, the apostolates, and of God’s Word itself. It is not a coincidence that relics were often hidden in the sword’s hilt, which is shaped like a cross.
Cardinal Filoni’s symbolic decision is the result of a broader mental and spiritual process which has been severely affecting the Catholic Church. It concerns the Church giving up its military dimension (Ecclesia militans). These days, one can often hear priests and even bishops claim that Christians should avoid using military rhetoric and not participate in any wars, especially cultural ones.
The battleground on which modern-day knights are fighting is culture.
Yet, what about Saint Paul’s texts, in which he often used military references? He wrote about the endless war which we are all a part of, about spiritual armor which we should wear, about the weapons we should use, and he compared Christians to warriors.
This military rhetoric, present since the foundation of Christianity, was also developed in later centuries by numerous saints. Reference to such terms stemmed from the awareness that a battle between good and evil is taking place in every soul. This battle can have many levels, because religion is not the only expression of spiritual life: culture is as well, and this battle is taking place in the sphere of culture.
To declare that Christians should avoid participation in a cultural war is to turn a blind eye towards reality. This war has been ongoing for years and was declared against the Church whether Christians desired it or not.
The main frontline of this war runs through universities, movie studios, television stations, radio stations, editorial boards, and other opinion-making nerve centers which have the largest influence over shaping people’s views, opinions, emotions, trends, and customs. This is a war over hearts, minds and souls.
The battleground on which modern-day knights are fighting is culture. If they want to protect their children from depravation, they must fight against pornography, aggressive sexualization and aggressive ideologies which are being introduced to schools and preschools.
If they want to protect freedom of speech, conscience and belief in public space, then they must be ready to bear attacks, insults and humiliation from every side. Sometimes, they may even lose their jobs or contracts or be publicly boycotted for their fight.
If these knights want to fight for the life of unborn children, they must be ready for physical assaults, lawsuits and rulings made in the light of the law.
If they want to give testimony to their faith, they must be aware that they are closing several doors ahead of them when it comes to future careers. All of this requires true courage and valor.
The abandoning of military terminology and chivalrous attributed will lead to the further effeminizing of the Church, especially since increasingly fewer men are attending Mass.
As the old Christian proverb says: Grace builds on nature. And this includes the nature of warriors.