In Praise of Honour Richard Lovelace, 1618–1658
To Lucasta, Going To The Wars
Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breasts, and quiet mind,
To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such,
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more.
Sir Richard Lovelace, the Cavalier Poet and his mistress, understood the place of honour as the guiding principle of their lives. By the time C. S. Lewis writes he observes that honour is not the highest virtue, and indeed it is not; but in our age honour has almost completely disappeared from our contemporary list of values. More’s the pity! Honour in itself still remains a virtue even if it must be a vassal to love and truth.
Today when chivalry is an antique virtue only useful for advertising an expensive brand of Scotch Whiskey, honour and chivalry have vanished from modern consciousness only to emerge in a banal parody in recreated medieval Renaissance games where appallingly costumed youth and would be youth whale away at each other with wooden swords and shields. One good stroke of the sharp steel of an ancient claymore would sweep away such ephemeral wisps of pseudo-honour and cleanse the landscape.
Honour must never pass away. Honour at its heart means doing the right thing, doing it the right way, and doing it for the sake of love and truth. Honour is closely aligned with mishpat, Old Testament justice. C. S. Lewis tells us that “justice . . . is the old name for ‘fairness’; it includes honesty, give and take, truthfulness, keeping promises, and all that side of life” (Mere Christianity, Chapter 12). Honour and integrity go hand in hand. “I will live with integrity” (Psalm 26:11 BCP), and I will live honourably are parallel concepts. And it should be noted that neither honour nor integrity can exist where mutual respect is denied.
When we still valued honour our word was our bond and we sealed a business deal with a hand shake. But the truth is that honour is held dishonourably when it is contaminated with worldly and self-serving pride. The risk of living honourably in a dishonourable world has been faced before. To live honourably in a world where honour is considered negotiable is to lay your hand to the wood as One did so very long ago; yet the Christian is called to recover honour and embrace that high and holy chivalry regardless of the risk.