Catholic Knighthood and the Second Estate

What happened to the role of the second estate (knights and nobility) in the Church’s social teaching and its’ liturgy? I have seen one event, a Traditional Mass at Brompton Oratory, where the Knights of St John were present in their regalia in the procession, and it was such a beautiful symbol of the various estates in the Church.

By acknowledging the value of Catholic Knighthood (knighthood by appointment or by inheritance of nobility), the Church affirms its ancient teaching on the order of society, and stands as a sign of contradiction to the egalitarian falacies of modernism. Knighthood and nobility give to men and women in the secular state an ideal of value and of virtue to aspire to, a path of betterment which is familial rather than individual, which does not rest solely on financial gain, which both justifies financial and social inequality and lays on the wealthy and successful a duty of almsgiving and care to those under their charge. Is it even possible to aspire to a Papal Knighthood in the modern Church? Shouldn’t this be, after the fulfilment of the duties of one’s station in life, the aspiration of a good Catholic layman?

I would be interested to hear the opinions of posters on this board to the idea of knighthood and if they have ever come into contact with the noble or chivalric orders of the Church. I don’t know if it was ever fully developed in the Americas, but to me (as a class-conscious Brit) it is a great pillar of Catholic social order.

It’s the first I’ve ever heard of this. I don’t know that they have anything like it in the US. There is the Knights of Columbus.

My dear friend, I am very happy you brought this question up. :slight_smile: We all know of the three-tiered ideal of political civil society expounded by the Roman Catholic Church since the “Dark” Ages! The problem is our lack of understanding about the mechanisms which allow monarchies and aristocracies to work. Every one is familiar with Cardinal J.H. Newman, for example, but how many know he was a staunch conservative/Tory? During a visit to the Continent in 1836, he stayed in his hotel in Paris, due to his hatred for its revolutionary currency and the anti-clerical ideals of the liberal July Monarchy. The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes, and Malta remain noble in blood and in purpose. We may call them ‘outdated’, but this attitude is (what C.S. Lewis called) chronological snobbery. Ideas are not better or worse because of the technology of the society in which they existed!

One problem with the modern Catholic teaching on this issue is indeed the Second Vatican Council. Traditionalists whinge about it at every turn, and often the Council does not deserve the criticism it receives; however, in this case it is truly merited. It is an established fact that democratic authority, and the “right” of people to choose their own representatives, were mostly accepted en mass by Vatican II. The documents are explicit in their support for liberal democracy, whilst retaining Leo XIII’s acceptance of free markets and other balancing ideas. It did not outright condemn monarchism, royalism, nobility, and the like, but there is an atmosphere of what one might call “Americanism” in Vatican II’s political philosophies. Cardinal Newman would have been deeply opposed to these political teachings, if his letters and political opinions afford any view.

As for me, I must say that I was honoured to briefly meet the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John when he attended a High Mass here at 5:15 P.M. on June 27. Being busy as he was, he obviously had time for only a few seconds, but I think my native accent might have persuaded him to hear me out (a fellow Englishman always catches an ear in Canada!). :wink: I hope it was not undue pride which led me to proudly address him as “Your Most Eminent Highness”, and by “sir” thereafter! You must know, though, that he was accompanied by several Knights of Grace and Devotion, and the first three rows of pews on the right side of the aisle were filled with his black-clad Hospitallers. Not three days before, he had bowed his knee before the Pope and kissed the Holy Father’s ring; now, he was shaking my very own hand! Of course, my personal prejudices matter little in this, but I still see a great potential for noble rule in the Church’s political opinions.

Vatican II’s ‘spirit’ is often wrongly derided, but here I think there is truly merit in the idea of ulterior motives. The mentality which adopted the closed circle of the Ordinary Form of Mass (i.e. priest faces the people face the priest) is very much in line with democratic politics, after all, for it is oriented toward ‘the people’, according to reformers. Whenever you hear ‘the people’ in the context of liturgical reform, you know it is a reflection of certain liberal ideals in politics, being imprinted on the Mass layout. Thank God we still have Christ’s eternal presence in the Eucharist, so democracy is as inconsequential as any other sin under His watchful agony.

On the Rorate Caeli blog ( ) there was recently some discussion of a prelate’s positive description of Vat2 as the “Magna Carta” of the Church.

When I think of the Magna Carta, I think of rebellious subjects taking power from the King. You can apply that to the Church as you deem appropriate.

At least the good prelate didn’t call it the “Battleship Potempkin” of the Church. :frowning:

In states where it is hopeless to get rid of the culture of death with conventual methods, would it be legitimate to return to methods previously employed by these orders?

Remember also that an undisciplined knighthood easily winds up in late 18th century and 1920s situations.

I tell ya I’m just plain ignorant. :o

The virtues required of Knights is certainly commendable, but I have a hard time accepting that one person should be more esteemed than another because one is of “noble” blood, and the other is not. I have a hard time believing that one person is fit to govern a group of people and another isn’t because one is of “noble” blood, and the other is not.

I do not need a nobility to give me an “ideal of value and virtue”. I have the saints, holy clergy and religious, and holy lay people to look up to for that. I do not want “a path of betterment which is familial rather than individual”- I want to take responsibility for my own future. I want to earn my success and respect through my own hard work- without being pushed forward or held back by my family’s name.


I saw your question yesterday and then ran across this book at a bookstore:

It was cheaper at the bookstore where I saw it: They don’t seem to list it online, but you could call them and they’ll probably ship it.

The book seems to be very thorough on all the orders of knighthood currently functioning.

There’s a lot of great information online and several other books that look very good on Amazon, as well.

You might also be interested in this group:


In our archdiocese we have the Knights of Columbus and Knights of St. Peter Claver, but also some Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, Knights of St. Gregory the Great, and at least one Knight of Malta (retired admiral and senator). Of the last three, I know very little, except that those who are members are generally well-to-do Catholics who have been generous in their time, talents, and treasure. They are in attendance at special celebrations at our Cathedral, in full regalia, but that’s my only experience with them. None of this has any hereditary component that I know of.

The nobility have, in theory, a much more direct example to be judged by (his virtuous ancestors). If he isn’t virtuous his shame will be greater, and even if he doesn’t care, others get reminded of the virtuous ancestor. A number problems arise though, but I still think it has some value.

Never forget that the model of Christian knighthood consists in men who never called themselves “knights”, but who really did deeds in humility and fortitude. Out of the thousands of idealists known as knights in history, perhaps only a few dozen were truly manly knights in the most noble sense. These were warriors for Christ and Christ alone, acting in self defense when necessary, taking orders in obedience, and giving alms always. A noble bloodline does not make a knight, truly, even though it is a requirement. Some of the greatest cads in history were noble knights, but the greatest ones were too. Always look at the greatest examples of manhood - we look at Bossuet for a model of Jesuit Education, not modern Jesuits! Just so, we look to the original flower of Christian humility for knights, not to modernists.

The best in history is to be extolled, never the worst or most mediocre! :slight_smile:

The Catholic Orders of Knighthood are alive and well in the United States. As a member of the Sovereign Military and Hospitallor order of the Knights (and Dames I might add) of the St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta (commonly referred to to as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), I have attended several events with my co-knights and dames full dress. Also present at those events have been Knights of the Equestriean Order (Holy Sepulchur) and a Knight of St. Gregory. In this country, these Orders are not by noble blood but by appointment.

For more information on the three administrative associations of the Order of Malta in the United States, please see:


These orders are for the more prominent members of society right? Perhaps that’s why I haven’t heard of them. I couldn’t find an order in my state either.

Membership in the Order of Malta is by invitation only and each prospective member must be sponsored by a member. The sponsor, a Knight or Dame, mentors the candidate throughout the year of preparation preceding his or her investiture into the Order. After approval by the Admissions Committee and the American Association Board of Councillors, final approval is given by the Sovereign Council in Rome.

A good candidate is an exemplary Catholic lay person in good standing, residing in the United States, who has achieved or is achieving distinction in his/her field, who faithfully provides outstanding service to church and community and is willing and able to commit to the Order as expressed in the motto:
“Tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum”
Defense of the Faith and assistance to the poor and the suffering

Members also have a stewardship responsibility of time, talent and treasure. These include a pledge to make a pilgirmage to Lourdes and payment of annual dues which are approximately 1000 euros annually.

Presently there are approximately 13,000 Knights and Dames of Malta worldwide in over 100 countries.

I’m shocked to hear that there are catholics who believe that one’s “bloodlines” automatically place them in a place of greater dignity and predisposition towards virture compared to (I must assume) the rabble of commoners! :eek:

I can certainly applaud and support the concept of a society that encourages virtue, achievement and overall excellence, but the moment it crosses the line to presume that such things are passed in the genes, it ceases to be a virtuous idea and becomes corruption.

EVERY human possess an innate dignity born of being created in God’s own image, none more than the other. ALL of us suffer the grave effects of the fall and require Grace to overcome our now inherent weaknesses and faults. Quite simply, nobility is a cultivated set of virtues, NEVER an inheritance.

I think that the attempt to create Meritocracy through heredity is tied to prior social conditions in which the proper education and formation necessary to a ruler or man of influence were largely available only to the privileged class… hence the term “aristocracy”, which means rule by the best. A peasant (for example) just won’t have access to the books, the teachings, the habituation, the skills, etc. that a noble would have.

That is no longer the case. In my personal opinion, the quest for the Meritocracy is far from over. In many ways we have even more candidates to choose from than before. The struggle now is not against the material conditions of education and development but against the corruptive influence of communistic ideologies.

I’m afraid I am with you on this one.

I knew that the Order of St. John was a “Catholic” military order until recently, and open only to high officers, of suitable nobility, in the German military, amongst a few chosen others. I have seen photos of many WW1 and WW2 officers wearing the Star of St. John on their uniforms.I was NOT aware, however; that the Church still sanctioned “orders” based on blood line and money. Seems antithetic to Christianity to me.

I’m afraid none of the “elite” will be inviting this retired street cop to join any time soon. I am guessing my “challenged” pedigree might not meet the “standards” of the organization. No nobility here I’m afraid, just poor German dirt farmers running away from famine ending up in the USA. In fact my name means “worthless land” in old German. Not too noble that.

I am actually disappointed as I had believed these groups to be based on one’s contribution to the faith, not in money, and not because of one’s “superior” standing in the community or ancestors.

Rather shocking actually.

Here is a photo of a German officer wearing the “Johanniter cross” neck order and breast star.

William Unland

Dense… far from it! :slight_smile: Don’t think I’m out particularly to insult anyone. Your question is welcome.

I call Democracy a sin in the same sense that I call Protestantism a sin. Would you say it is altogether right and correct that each man should be left to interpret the Bible at will? That hatch was opened in 1521, and all sorts of problems have flowed forth. Just so, Democracy lends itself to moral anarchy wherein the least qualified human beings make all the most important decisions about matters, and they do so en mass! At least in a system of less-democratic focus, real virtuous men can come to destroy or to supplant an evil order; however, in pure democracies and democratic republics, the stupidity and sin of human beings is given free reign by votes and opinion polls.

This is hard to deny, given late developments (the election of certain totally unqualified blusterers in many countries). C.S. Lewis gave us that charming quote, something to the effect that “Democracy is good because it has enough faith in the average man to give him the power to run his own life; also, because it has enough wariness of the man in power to allow the former to throw him out!” It is an admirable theory, but we see that a modern, secular democracy (which seems to be inevitable in democracy) has neither a reliable voter base nor the will to kick the evil men out. Monarchy suffers from many problems, but at least its sinfulness is not institutionalieed at every turn.

Democracies do tend to fare better in terms of economic and civil freedom, but those are not the purpose of life. We have mixed priorities when it comes to government, I think… :wink:

Friend, you are not correct on this matter. The Johanniterorden was a contrived manifestation of the Hospitaller/St. John spirit created by the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Germany after the original Knights of Malta were split up in 1798. They were always an elitist bunch who refused entry to anyone who was not noble, Lutheran, or German (often Prussian). The Johanniterorden is entirely connected with the St. John Ambulance, by the way, so they’re not all evil. :wink:

You must remember that the original Cross of St. John (“Maltese Cross”) was not adopted by even the official Order of St. John of Jerusalem - the Hospitallers - until 1530, when they were granted Malta. Before that, they had simply used the original crusader cruciforms on their surcoats, but nothing special. Once the cross was adopted in 1530 and the Knights repelled the Turkish siege in 1565, they briefly regained their status as an ancient crusader order of chivalry and skill. :slight_smile: This meant that many presumptuous kings started to take the Maltese Cross as their own, and especially in the late 19th century. They created their own “orders of chivalry”, all managing to steal the poor St. John’s cross. Practically every king, emperor, or duke (Catholic and Protestant alike) can be seen with a Maltese Cross pinned on in photographs between 1850 and 1910. This does not mean they were of the same order which that German gentleman of your photograph was in.

The modern Catholic order is not anywhere near akin to the Protestant offshoots of 1798-1914. Please be clear about that: the Catholic Order, the original Hospitallers of 1113, who started with chain-mail armour and now use the internet, are still around and recently relaxed the standards one must fulfill in order to be a Knight. Either way, their Order always allowed non-nobles to join the Brother-Sergeants; just not Brother-Knights. Now, there’s practically no difference! On the other hand, since all the Protestant monarchies who instituted the elitist Johanniterorden are gone (1918), it doesn’t technically exist anymore, except as St. John Ambulance and its related societies.

I don’t see anything wrong with the elite getting together to do charity such as they do at Lourdes and here there are chapters (or whatever they are called) that have Prison Ministry. I don’t see them doing anything different then us lower class folks do in our charity. Except we don’t belong to a ‘club’.

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