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The chivalric rules of love.

January 25, 2019

French poets, in the eleventh century, discovered or invented, or were the first to express, that romantic species of passion which English poets were still writing about in the nineteenth. They effected a change which has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched, and they erected impassable barriers between us and the classical past or the Oriental present. Compared with this revolution the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature.

— C.S. Lewis,  The Allegory of Love

Harvard University has a page with excerpts from De Amore (1184-86), a poem with a list of rules for what we commonly know as chivalry and what literary scholars call courtly love.  The English translation of the title is A Treatise on Courtly Love.

What is the Effect of Love

This is the effect of love: that the true lover can not be corrupted by avarice; love makes an ugly and rude person shine with all beauty, knows how to endow with nobility even one of humble birth, can even lend humility to the proud; he who loves is accustomed humbly to serve others. Oh, what a marvelous thing is love, which makes a man shine with so many virtues and which teaches everyone to abound in good customs. . . .

As C.S. Lewis notes in the opening quote, we can’t imagine a period when romantic love wasn’t thought of as ennobling and sanctifying.  As a result, we assume this is a Christian perspective even though it comes from a parody of Christianity invented over a thousand years after Christ.  While the concepts have been expanded and tuned over the centuries, much of De Amore is strangely familiar:

The Rules of Love

1. Marriage is no excuse for not loving.
2. He who is not jealous can not love.
. No one can be bound by two loves.
4. Love is always growing or diminishing.
5. It is not good for one lover to take anything against the will of the other.
6. A male cannot love until he has fully reached puberty.
7. Two years of mourning for a dead lover are prescribed for surviving lovers.
8. No one should be deprived of love without a valid reason.
9. No one can love who is not driven to do so by the power of love.
10. Love always departs from the dwelling place of avarice.
11. It is not proper to love one whom one would be ashamed to marry.
12. The true lover never desires the embraces of any save his lover.
13. Love rarely lasts when it is revealed.
14. An easy attainment makes love contemptible; a difficult one
makes it more dear.
15. Every lover turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
16. When a lover suddenly has sight of his beloved, his heart beats wildly.
17. A new love expells an old one.
18. Moral integrity alone makes one worthy of love.
19. If love diminishes, it quickly leaves and rarely revives.
20. A lover is always fearful.
21. True jealousy always increases the effects of love.
22. If a lover suspects another, jealousy and the efects of love increase.
23. He who is vexed by the thoughts of love eats little and seldom sleeps.
24. Every action of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved.
25. The true lover believes only that which he thinks will please his beloved.
26. Love can deny nothing to love.
27. A lover can never have enough of the embraces of his beloved.
28. The slightest suspicion incites the lover to suspect the worse of his beloved.
29. He who suffers from an excess of passion is not suited to love.
30. The true lover is continuously obsessed with the image of his beloved.
31. Nothing prevents a woman from being loved by two men, or a man
from being loved by two women.

However, in some cases we still hold the rule but with a different meaning.  For example:

1. Marriage is no excuse for not loving.

We believe that romantic love is the only moral context for marriage and marital sex.  This is sacred to us as a society, and as a result we have made it the foundation of our laws on marriage.  But the original meaning was a glorification of adultery, as this “ruling” from De Amore illuminates:

XVII. A Knight was in love with a lady who was already in love with another; he received some hope to be loved in the following manner — that if she was ever deprived of the love of her present lover, then certainly this knight would have her love. After a brief time the lady married her lover. The aforesaid knight then demanded that she grant him the fruit of the hope granted to him, but she refused, saying that she had not lost the love of her lover. In this case the queen answered thus: “We do not dare oppose the decision of the Countess of Champagne, who in her decision decreed that love can exercise no power over husband and wife. Therefore we recommend that the aforesaid women grant the love that she has promised.”

Once we moved our worship of romantic love from adultery into marriage in a misguided effort to tame courtly love, removing the permanence of marriage was a foregone (if unforeseen) conclusion.  As C.S. Lewis explains:

…where marriage does not depend upon the free will of the married, any theory which takes love for a noble form of experience must be a theory of adultery.

I must add the caveat that rejecting the idea that romantic love has moral force, that it is sanctifying, doesn’t imply having an aversion to romantic love.  To not revere romantic love is not to hate it.  We don’t need to eschew romantic love, we just need to stop worshiping it.

Several other rules of love are now articles of faith for modern Christians:

18. Moral integrity alone makes one worthy of love.

20. A lover is always fearful.

As Roger Boase clarifies* the fear in rule 20 only goes in one direction:

…the lover continually fears lest he should, by some misfortune, displease his mistress or cease to be worthy of her; the lover’s position is one of inferiority; even the hardened warrior trembles in his lady’s presence; she, on her part, makes her suitor acutely aware of his insecurity by deliberately acting in a capricious and haughty manner; love is a source of courage and refinement; the lady’s apparent cruelty serves to test her lover’s valour

We’ve rolled rules 18 & 20 together to create a sacred obligation for husbands (servant leaders) to always make their wives happy.  This is the foundation of Pastor Doug Wilson’s theology of the aroma of love, and Fred Stoeker & Stephen Arterburn’s theology of the wife’s “soul essence” as her husband’s “master” in Every Man’s Marriage:

What I’m trying to say is that the “master” defines your rights (and remember again that though we refer to your wife as your “master,” it’s our shorthand for the fact that becoming one with her essence is actually your God-given master). Why? Because you’re called to oneness and her essence sets the terms.

Oneness has terms.  Comply with the terms and emotional closeness follows.  If you don’t comply, the emotions will die.  We need to act right, or more precisely, act righteously.  If we do, the feelings will follow.

Who sets the terms [for our relationship with God]?  Christ.  More accurately, Christ’s essence.  What is Christ’s essence?  Holiness.

Who sets the terms for oneness in marriage?  Your wife.  More accurately, your wife’s essence.


*Summarizing Gaston Paris, the man who coined the term courtly love.

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Post Information
Title The chivalric rules of love.
Author Dalrock
Date January 25, 2019 4:52 PM UTC (3 years ago)
Blog Dalrock
Archive Link https://theredarchive.com/blog/Dalrock/the-chivalric-rules-oflove.6873
Original Link https://dalrock.wordpress.com/2019/01/25/the-chivalric-rules-of-love/
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