George Washington was not Catholic[1], but he was a Christian and a Christian gentleman at that. His father Augustine passed away when Washington was 11 years old. Most of his father’s wealth was given to his two older half-brothers, Lawrence and Augustine.

Due to Augustine Washington’s death, young George Washington was not able to study in Europe as most others of his class did at that time. Therefore, his training and education had more of an American flair than his contemporaries. In his early to mid-teens, he read and studied The Rules of Civility, a sixteenth century work from France which was widely circulated during that time. Lawrence introduced young George Washington to the influential people of Virginia as he matured into a man and eventually gifted Mount Vernon him. Without his father to help him grow into a man and only picking up what he could from his half-brother Lawrence, The Rules of Civility appear to have played a major role in our first President’s development as a true gentleman.

We have a lot to learn from the rules that helped mold one of the most pivotal heroes in American history. It should be noted that sixteenth century France was heavily influenced by centuries of Catholicism, therefore, the rule studied by Washington were the product of the Catholic culture which had long existed in France by that time.

I have selected 25 of the 110 rules which all of us could and should honor today. I have used much of the phrasing and some of the spelling as transcribed by Washington himself, but with an occasional correction of grammar. I’ve summarized the rules using contemporary English in brackets after most of them as well.

  1. (Rule 1) Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are Present.[Respect the dignity of others.]
  2. (Rule 12) Shake not the head, feet, or legs; roll not the eyes; lift not one eyebrow higher than the other; wry not the mouth, and bedew no man’s face with your spittle by approaching too near him when you speak. [Don’t be too dramatic and no close-talking.]
  3. (Rule 16) Do not Puff up the Cheeks, Loll not out the tongue rub the Hands, or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them or keep the Lips too open or too close. [Don’t act like a slob or a fool.]
  4. (Rule 22) Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy. [No gloating.]
  5. (Rule 40) Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty. [Don’t be a know-it-all.]
  6. (Rule 41) Let thy ceremonies in courtesy be proper to the dignity of his place with whom thou conversest for it is absurd to act the same with a Clown and a Prince. [Meet people where they are.]
  7. (Rule 43) When a man does all he can though it succeeds not well, blame not him that did it. [Don’t kick a good man when he’s down.]
  8. (Rule 45) Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or in private; presently, or at some other time in what terms to do it and in reproving shew no sign of color but do it with all sweetness and mildness. [Don’t fly off the handle and embarrass people when they screw up.]
  9. (Rule 46) Take all admonitions thankfully in what time or place so ever given but afterwards not being culpable take a time and place convenient to let him know it that gave them. [When corrected, receive it humbly, but if you are innocent, it is okay to give evidence as to your innocence after things have calmed down.]
  10. (Rule 47) Mock not nor jest at anything of importance; break no jest that are sharp biting and if you deliver anything witty and pleasant abstain from laughing there at yourself. [Take serious things seriously and if you ever say something funny, don’t laugh at your own joke.]
  11. (Rule 48) Wherein you reprove another be unblamable yourself; for example is more prevalent than precepts. [Judge justly i.e. remove the plank from your own eye before pointing out the speck in your brother’s eye. And leading by example is more influential than a lot of big talk.]
  12. (Rule 49) Use no reproachful language against anyone; neither curse nor revile. [Watch your mouth.]
  13. (Rule 50) Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any. [Don’t buy into gossip and calumny.]
  14. (Rule 51) Wear not your clothes, foul, unript or dusty but see they be brushed once every day at least and take heed that you approach not to any uncleaness. [Dress sharp. Don’t be a slob.]
  15. (Rule 52) Play not the peacock, looking everywhere about you, to see if you be well decked; if your shoes fit well; if your stockings sit neatly, and clothes handsomely. [Don’t be a narcissist.]
  16. (Rule 56) Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company. [This one is truly timeless and speaks for itself.]
  17. (Rule 63) A man ought not to value himself of his achievements, or rare qualities of wit; much less of his riches virtue or kindred. [Be humble.]
  18. (Rule 64) Break not a jest; where none take pleasure in mirth laugh not aloud, nor at all without occasion; deride no man’s misfortune, though there seem to be some cause. [Don’t be a joker and don’t rub another guy’s nose in his failures.]
  19. (Rule 71) Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of others and ask not how they came. What you may speak in secret to your friend deliver not before others. [Don’t stare and avoid being a blabbermouth.]
  20. (Rule 73) Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily but orderly and distinctly. [Think before you speak and don’t mumble.]
  21. (Rule 90) Being set at meal, scratch not; neither spit, cough or blow your nose except there’s a necessity for it. [Don’t be repulsive at the dinner table.]
  22. (Rule 91) Make no shew of taking great delight in your victuals; feed not with greediness; cut your bread with a knife, lean not on the table neither find fault with what you Eat. [Don’t be repulsive at the dinner table.]
  23. (Rule 105) Be not angry at table whatever happens and if you have reason to be so, shew it not but on a cheerful countenance especially if there be strangers; for good humour makes one dish of meat a feast. [Don’t blow your top when your nephew knocks his glass of milk over for the 3rd time. And don’t overeat.]
  24. (Rule 109) Let your recreations be manful not sinful. [Don’t idolize your hobby or pastime.]
  25. (Rule 110) Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience. [Strive to maintain a well-formed conscience.]

If we were to observe these rules today, we would be well on our way to behaving more like Christian examples of authentic masculinity and more like Catholic gentlemen.

[1] Though there is the possibility that he converted to Catholicism on his death bed. http://gloriaromanorum.blogspot.com/2017/02/did-george-washington-die-catholic.html