Warning: the following blog post has been rated BW (Big Words), for its unusual number of large words and philosophic content. Reader discretion is advised, while reader persistence is encouraged.
Did you realize that there’s a commonality among stories that move us as human beings, which is universal and pre-programmed into our humanity? That’s a topic Pastor Doug Coyle taught masterfully a few Sundays ago. It opened my eyes to a critical aspect of the chivalric code I’d not realized before.
Metanarrative of the Gospel
There is a philosophical concept of stories called “metanarrative.” The metanarrative is an overarching story that is at the heart of all other stories (or “narratives”).
A more exact definition from the Oxford Dictionary is: “An overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or structure for people’s beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences.”[i]
Metanarrative is a story that explains and gives meaning to all other stories. It is a story that explains what universal truth is. This may be a strange concept. Logical arguments or organized thoughts to explain what truth is are familiar to us.
Using a story to explain the truth seems a bit more foreign. But this is exactly what the Apostle John does. “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:2-3a).
John answers the question “what is truth” with a story: the gospel story, that Christ came in the flesh to earth. This is not the definition of truth I would have expected. But John is following Jesus. When confronted with the question “what is truth?” on that historic judgment of Pilate, Jesus essentially answered that He Himself (and by implication, His story) is truth itself (John 18:37-38).
If the truth is the story of Christ coming in the flesh, we should want more details about that story. More specifically, we should want to know why Christ came in the flesh to earth. Fortunately, we’re not left to our own surmises. Jesus plainly gave the reason for his coming to earth in Mathew 20:28: “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Christ came to serve sacrificially, to give his life as a ransom for sinners. The gospel – the message that Christ came to earth to sacrificially save sinners – is the Christian metanarrative. It is the great Story that tells us the meaning of life. It is the great story behind all stories.
It is a story that we all know intrinsically as human beings. That’s why certain literary themes consistently move us. Moving story themes are almost always the themes of self-sacrifice in one way or another because they resonate in our hearts on a deep, mystical level we can barely understand. They echo the story of the gospel in our hearts, even when they do so subconsciously. [ii]
Chivalry and Metanarrative
A sudden revelation for me was the idea that chivalry is, in its basic essence, a practical means of expressing the Christian metanarrative. It is a simplified means of building a story to match the Christian metanarrative in the lives of real people. A much simpler way to say this is that the thrust of the chivalric code is to produce pictures of the gospel in the lives of Christians.
That’s because chivalry is a codified rule for sacrificial Christ-like service, both to God (in commandments 1, 2, 6, 10) and to other human beings (in commandments 3, 4, 5, 8, 9). The whole point is to create a practical code for Christian servanthood. Chivalry is, then, where orthopraxy intersects with the Christian metanarrative.
I think this is largely why many people throughout history have found chivalry to be so beautiful. When it’s lived out properly, it is a heart-wrenching picture of love in action, of selfless sacrifice for someone else’s good. Chivalry has, of course, been lived out improperly by many over the centuries. For some, it became a fad. For some, it became nothing but a list of manners, or a source of pride.
But when a person connects with the heart of chivalry, when they really try to understand what the commandments mean and consciously go out and live them, they invariably do things that picture Christ. Their lives become pictures of Jesus’ sacrificial love in hundreds of little ways. Persisting in a dead-end job just to feed the family… Waking up with the baby dozens of times a night with some measure of patience intact… Walking away from a hobby to spend time with someone else… The list goes on as long as your imagination.
Chivalric men (and women) become pictures of Christ’s gospel metanarrative in big ways too. Turning down a good job to be missionaries in dangerous places… Running into a burning building to save a child… Putting the women and children on the lifeboats when the ship goes down… Again, the list goes on as long as your imagination.
What does all this mean to us? It should be motivating!
Knowing that the chivalric code will make my life a little narrative that parallels the great metanarrative of Jesus is the very best reason I can think of to spend my energy and time learning it and putting it into action.
Knowing how the chivalric code fits into the Christian metanarrative also makes me want to teach it more zealously to others. Every single person who takes up the mantle of chivalry, who really embraces it as a code of living, will become a picture of Christ. That’s exciting to me, especially as a writer of stories! It’s fun to write out stories on paper. But promoting the Code of Chivalry is writing the story of Christ out in living flesh!
Chivalry makes narrative images of Jesus all over the world.
[i] Oxford Learners Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2021. https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/metanarrative
[ii] I should make it clear that these are not my own ideas. What I’ve written here on this point is essentially a quick overview of Pastor Coyle’s sermon. It can be viewed here: https://fb.watch/5fZyu9p16Q/