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September 19, 2015

The Grace of God is in Courtesy

Hilaire Belloc

Henry Sire, in his  book Phoenix from the Ashes (see our post for September 10) points out that the achievements of the great religious foundresses  of the Middle Ages such as St Clare or St Bridget of Sweden are not to the liking of feminists, whose ambitions for their sex stop at the gates of heaven. Yet the fact remains that from the time when the literature of romance arose, the ethos of medieval Europe surrounded women with an idealism that no previous culture had known…

But the fuller signs of that idealism were to be seen as the spirit of chivalry and romance made its mark on Europe. It created relations of courtesy between the sexes that reversed everything that had been accepted in human history . The conventions emerged of behaving to a woman as to a person  of higher rank, of rising at her approach, of treating her in conversation as one deserving higher respect than a man, as one whose delicacy it was indecent to offend and whose virtue it was shameful to slight. By such manners Christianity taught brute strength  to defer to the more delicate human qualities and affirmed their value. These marks of homage , undreamt of by pagan societies and now disappearing as paganism returns, are the fruits of the Christian ideal of hierarchy, an ideal that depends not on material power but on moral respect, that asserts not equality but value. A culture that speaks of value engenders respect, courtesy and chivalrous devotion. One that speaks of equality has only the jostling of sow and boar for the trough.

For some reason that custom of standing up if a lady comes into the room reminds me of an incident when I worked in the RTE Newsroom. It was Christmas Day and the Head of News invited us all into his office for a drink. While we were there the (male) Director-General suddenly arrived. Immediately everyone obsequiously rose to their feet, except myself and one other man. He went by the unusual name of Rivers Carew, the deputy chief sub-editor of television  news. Rivers was a Protestant, a poet, and a gentleman in every sense of that word. If the DG had been a woman, Rivers would certainly have stood up, and I hope I would have, too.




One comment

  1. We had the same custom in my unremarkable Christian Brothers school on the southside of Dublin. We stood up for any lady including the school secretary and two pupils from a local convent school who were conducting some survey or other. Proper order!

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