The Code of a Gentleman

This code of conduct was extant at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), circa 1839–1997:

Without a strict observance of the fundamental Code of Honor [cf., that a gentleman does not lie, cheat, steal, nor tolerate those who do], no man, no matter how ‘polished’, can be considered a gentleman. The honor of a gentleman demands the inviolability of his word, and the incorruptibility of his principles. He is the descendant of the knight, the crusader; he is the defender of the defenseless and the champion of justice… or he is not a Gentleman.

A Gentleman…

…Does not discuss his family affairs in public or with acquaintances.

…Does not speak more than casually about his girlfriend.

…Does not go to a lady’s house if he is affected by alcohol. He is temperate in the use of alcohol.

…Does not lose his temper; nor exhibit anger, fear, hate, embarrassment, ardor, or hilarity in public.

…Does not hail a lady from a club window.

A gentleman never discusses the merits or demerits of a lady.

…Does not mention names exactly as he avoids the mention of what things cost.

…Does not borrow money from a friend, except in dire need. Money borrowed is a debt of honor, and must be repaid as promptly as possible.

Debts incurred by a deceased parent, brother, sister or grown child are assumed by honorable men as a debt of honor.

…Does not display his wealth, money, or possessions.

…Does not put his manners on and off, whether in the club or in a ballroom. He treats people with courtesy, no matter what their social position may be.

…Does not slap strangers on the back nor so much as lay a finger on a lady.

…Does not ‘lick the boots of those above’ nor ‘kick the face of those below’ him on the social ladder.

…Does not take advantage of another’s helplessness or ignorance and assumes that no gentleman will take advantage of him.

A Gentleman respects the reserves of others, but demands that others respect those which are his.

A Gentleman can become what he wills to be…

‘The Accolade’ (1901), by Edmund Blair Leighton



12 thoughts on “The Code of a Gentleman

  1. The foregoing came to me via Facebook, from an officer and a gentleman named Geoffrey Gilbert, a 1992 graduate of VMI. Those who have seen the film, “Gods and Generals” have seen the buildings of VMI, where General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson taught prior to the War Between the States.

    Some months back, Brother Maximilian and I had the wonderful experience of seeing VMI’s campus, and the adjacent Washington and Lee University, where we visited the grave of General Robert E. Lee.

    Mr. Gilbert is self described as:

    “American by birth,
    German by blood,
    Southern by choice,
    Catholic by the grace of God.”

    The fine and chivalrous man also posted these addenda to the piece on Facebook:

    ‘The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.’

    ‘The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly — the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light.’

    ‘The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.’

    —Gen. Robert E. Lee, ‘Definition of a Gentleman’, a memorandum found in his papers after his death, as quoted in ‘Lee the American’ (1912) by Gamaliel Bradford, p. 233

    ‘Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character.’

    —As quoted in ‘General Robert E. Lee after Appomattox’ (1922) by Franklin Lafayette Riley, p. 18

  2. Why can’t these apply equally to non-men (women, trans folks, non-binary folks, etc.)? I don’t understand, speaking as a man, why we feel the need to monopolize certain values or identity them with being a “gentleman”? Why not just the code of a “good person.” Make this gender neutral and they are ideals we can all agree with, for the most part (I don’t think expressing “ardor” or “hilarity” in public are so bad) and the bit about debts gets into thorny questions about economic justice and what should be “debts” to begin with and who should assume them ((e.g. individuals, relatives, the state)).

  3. The notion of Christian Chivalry takes as given certain truths of nature. Among those is the common sense knowledge that there are fundamental and complementary differences between men and women — those latter denominating the two and only two sexes in which humans come.

    There is no such thing “trans folks,” “non-binary folks,” or “etc.” folks. We are each either male or female. If you don’t believe that, any serious discussion of Christian Chivalry is impossible. We may as well discuss the finer points of operatic staging on the ice planet of Hoth.

  4. Fair enough. I appreciate the response! How are you so certain that men and women are the only two sexes? What about those born with both genitalia? Or an extra X or Y chromosome? I think sex is, just like gender, a social construct. One with a biological and anatomical basis to be sure, but ultimately arbitrary. We’d be just as logical in defining sex according to eye color or hair color, at least when it comes to social status (healthcare needs obviously differ between men and women).

  5. I am so certain for two reasons: (1) It is the universal experience of the human race, and (2) it is what is revealed in Genesis as how God created our species.

    I am no physician or scientist, but from what I understand, nobody is born with fully functioning sets of both male and female genital organs. People are born as male or female, but with certain “defects,” just as some are born with heart defects, brain defects, etc. The 1960’s era tendency to “turn” all such people into “girls,” by surgical mutilation seems to fall in line with the AMA’s practice of fixing things until they break. It’s right up there with the male genital mutilation that is called “circumcision” (cf. ).

    There is no third (or forth, fifth, etc.) sex. We are either male or female. The fact that those very rare instances of what is now called “intersex,” was always regarded as anomalous throughout history is an indication that it is, indeed, anomalous, and so it remains today.

    It would not surprise me in the least to learn that the pharmaceutical products doctors seem so eager to give people — including hormonal birth control pills — cause this still rare phenomenon to be less rare today than it was historically.

    Here is something to read on the subject:

  6. Interesting! I see where you are coming but I don’t see the need to set up rigid categories of male and female. The NCBC article you linked to stated this:

    “We must carefully acknowledge, nurture and accept our given embodied sexual nature as male or female. Willfully denying or acting against that given nature will constitute little more than a prescription for disillusionment and dishonesty.”

    My question is why? Why must we acknowledge a specific sexual identity or nature? My feeling is the socialization of humans as male or female only leads to repression. It makes it very hard and in some communities, impossible, for people to express non-normative behaviors. For example, if a man wants to wear a dress, why should he feel like he’d be stared or laughed at? Or paint his fingernails? Or if a woman wants to work in a male-dominated job, why should she get weird looks or harassed? When you say “It is the universal experience of the human race,” I would respond a) many cultures directly contradict that statement such as “two spirit” individuals in many Native American cultures ( and b) Even if it is the universal experience, why is it the right one to perpetuate? I support an open society that permits people to express their gender/sex however they want. There should be no norm policing, no social pressure to conform to this or that code of conduct or standard of gender/sex. Male and female can be the poles, but ultimately people should feel free to express themselves and live their own truths.

  7. Why? Because it’s true.

    Homosexuals and “transgender” people suffer from a mental illness. Homosexuals have considerably shorter lifespans than non-homosexuals, and both of those categories of people have much higher suicide rates. All this simply corroborates common sense. You mess with nature and it hurts you.

    You say,

    I support an open society that permits people to express their gender/sex however they want.

    Well, various STD’s, including AIDS, high suicide rates among sexual degenerates, the totalitarian tendencies of the homosexualists, who want to force their way into bathrooms, bakeries, classrooms, etc., show that the “open society” you seek is both ill and despotic. Just as the “worker’s paradise” of communist Russia was more of a hell on earth, so, too, your sexually fluid “open society” will in reality be a diseased nanny state that wants to crush sexual normalcy and Catholic orthodoxy.

    I’ll pray that you see the light. The issue is hardly debatable.

  8. Ahh I’m glad we’re getting to the heart of the matter. You say LGBT individuals have shorter lifespans and higher suicide rates. Why? Could it be perhaps because our heteronormative society is so repressive and bullying so rampant that vulnerable kids see suicide as the only way out? I’d be interested to know where you are sourcing your statistics and what explanations for these rates the authors provide?

    In terms of STDs and HIV/AIDS, how much of that is ascribable to their status as LGBT versus a lack of comprehensive sexual education in school and illogical limitations on contraceptive access. If we’re talking about nature being “messed” with is it not the Church, and its prohibitions on contraception and advocacy against sex ed that causes these problems? People want to have sex and kids especially will experiment it with. They’ll do it whether or not its repressed or taught to them. The chief difference being, when they’re kept in the dark, they’ll have unwanted pregnancies and transmit STDs. If you want to argue against a sex positive society, that’s fine, but you’re assuming a lot about what ought be normal.

    I view LGBT intolerance like racial bias or anti-Semitism. Those who would not bake cakes for gay couples and those who want to keep transgender people out of the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity and in many cases, anatomy, but not their assigned sex at birth, are making the same sort of baseless distinction those who implemented racial apartheid via Jim Crow. Your religious and moral views may form the basis of that prejudice, but segregationists made the same arguments.

    Finally, a point on Catholic orthodoxy. I understand the claim the Bible condemns homosexuality. But what about all the other things it condemns but virtually none of the anti-LGBT people out there obey. For example:

    Exodus 35:2: “On six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be sacred to you as the sabbath of complete rest to the LORD. Anyone who does work on that day shall be put to death.”

    Leviticus 11:7: “and the pig, which does indeed have hoofs and is cloven-footed, but does not chew the cud and is therefore unclean for you.”

    Leviticus 11:8: “Their flesh you shall not eat, and their dead bodies you shall not touch; they are unclean for you.”

  9. The idea that suicide rates among sexual deviants is higher because they get bullied by those against sexual deviancy has been debunked:

    Lest you buy the left wing talking point that so-called “homophobia” leads to high rates of suicide and other devastating consequences of the “LGBT” lifestyle, a recent study from “gay”-affirming Sweden dispels this myth. The research, published in the May issue of the European Journal of Epidemiology, found that people entering into a “gay marriage” were, as mirrored above, nearly three times as likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

    “Even in a country with a comparatively tolerant climate regarding homosexuality such as Sweden,” observed the researchers, “same-sex married individuals evidence a higher risk for suicide than other married individuals.”


    The Old Law (of Moses, i.e., the Old Testament) was comprised of three different aspects: the moral law, the juridical law, and the ceremonial law. Those last two are now — since the coming of Christ — both dead and deadly. Only the moral law remains. The prohibition against eating certain meats belonged to the OT juridical law, and the various sacrifices called for belonged to the ceremonial law. Neither are obligatory for Christians. However, the prohibition against sodomy and other unnatural acts of sexual deviancy are part of the moral law.

    I didn’t just make this up as a convenience because of this argument. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church. See this posting — — and scroll down to the bolded text, “The Council of Florence: …”

  10. Did the study attribute a causal link between homosexuality and suicide? A statistical association can signify a lot. Any confounding variables?

    More to the point, do you know any gay people? What their life stories are? Why, if they are more likely to have tried drugs or being abused, why there were drugs available or abusive adults around? Do you know their stories, or just have decontextualized statistics from a single article review.

    As for the three “different aspects,” was that in the text? How were the categories worked out and laws assigned to them? What gave the Council of Florence the authority to make such pronouncements?

  11. The statistics speak for themselves… Higher instances of certain conditions among a certain segment of the populace, when the statistics are taken scientifically across representative segments of the population, would indicate a causal relationship.

    The homosexuals I have known have been very troubled people.

    The Council of Florence is an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, and it was teaching infallibly. That is binding on Catholics. If you are a Catholic, you have to accept this teaching.

    Defending homosexuality is defending the indefensible. Here are a few adjectives I think must be applied to the acts you are defending, with supporting evidence:

    Unhealthy: According to one study, male homosexuals and bisexuals lose up to 20 years of their life expectancy, compared to 13.5 years for cigarette smokers:

    “An epidemiological study from Vancouver, Canada of data tabulated between 1987 and 1992 for AIDS-related deaths reveals that male homosexual or bisexual practitioners lost up to 20 years of life expectancy. The study concluded that if 3 percent of the population studied were gay or bisexual, the probability of a 20-year-old gay or bisexual man living to 65 years was only 32 percent, compared to 78 percent for men in general. The damaging effects of cigarette smoking pale in comparison -cigarette smokers lose on average about 13.5 years of life expectancy.” Source:

    Unnatural: The human reproductive systems of the male and female have evident purposes oriented toward the procreation and rearing of children. The use that homosexuals put these systems to violate that finality, which observation becomes more evident in light of the health risks, physical and mental, associated with the abuse of these organs.

    Psychologically damaging: “Rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobia, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and alcohol and drug dependence were significantly higher in homosexual respondents.” Source:

    Disgusting: Alright, this is subjective, I admit, but if you read what they do to each other, you can understand what I mean. They use body parts wrong. Call me old fashioned, but I consider that disgusting. Don’t ask for details, please; I’ll not give them. Also, the very high instance of domestic violence among homosexuals is indicative of a serious disorder in these relationships: “According the American College of Pediatricians who cite several studies violence among homosexual couples is two to three times more common than among married heterosexual couples.” Source:

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