Militia and Malitia: The Bernardine Vision of Chivalry

Militia and Malitia: The Bernardine Vision of Chivalry

By Areyh Grabois

The Second Crusade and the Cistercians, edited by Michael Gervers (New York, 1992)

Introduction: In his treatise, De laude novae militiae, Bernard of Clairvaux distinguished between the Templars and the entire secular knighthood. The first deserved the epithet militia, while the others received the pejorative classification malitia. His praise of the “new knighthood” emphasized that its members were the sole knights to behave according to the principles of Vita perfecta, both of the chivalric ideals and of the monastic orders. Moreover, their dedication to a perpetual war against the Muslims and to the defense of the Holy Land was considered by the abbot of Clairvaux to be both the real expression of chivalric ideals, and an achievement of the Gregorian ideas of milites Christi. Against this sense of the term militia, the lay knights not only did not deserve to be milites, but, because of their behavior, clothes and hairstyles, which expressed the sins of vanity and luxury, represented malitia, or malice.

However, one may legitimately question whether this distinction between “religious” and “secular” chivalry reflected Bernard’s vision of knighthood. Was he condemning the entire system of chivalry as “malicious”? Or, did he develop this dichotomy in order to emphasize the distinction between “good” and “evil” knights on the ground of qualitative criteria, connected with the implementation of moral principles of conduct proper to the ethical ideals of chivalry as they prevailed at the time? By the formulation of such questions, it is possible. to perceive a gap between the practical goals that brought Bernard to the elaboration of this treatise and a broader vision of chivalry.

Click here to read this article from De Re Militari

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