Honor is a word now in temporary decline. The word belongs to the cultural periods of history not to civilization. It suggests the appropriate fusion of body and of soul, thus bravery and courage, proper to the body under stress, and a transcendental stance, proper to the soul, which, in practice, is willing to sacrifice itself for the community. In its highest expression it suggests intelligence; in its low forms in manifests as duels, honor killings, vendettas and other pointless mayhem. Honesty derives from honor; its current form, telling the truth, is actually a later development dating to around 1400 (Online Etymology Dictionary); the older sense, of honorable, is preserved in the phrase of “making an honest woman of her.” Honor and truth-telling are intimately linked in German: Ehre, ehrlich—and in Hungarian, to leave the Latin or Germanic languages: Becsület, becsületes. The same is true in Greek: Timē, timioz.
The decline of a word very much at home in ages of kings, dukes, and nobles—and the bloated and contradictory meanings it developed by abuse—is understandable. But surely the qualities that it once represented, at best, have not disappeared and are still valued. I got to thinking. How would we translate honor into modern. My nominee is “integrity.” Applied to a person, it has precisely the same meaning that honor once had. It is rooted in the Latin for wholeness, completeness—which in a human means the same fusion of powers honor represents. Integrity is a kind of humble form of honor fitting for a democratic time. Which is appropriate. Proverbs (15:33) tells us: “The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honor is humility.”