I must preface this that this all my personal deductions on both the character archetype and it’s greatest nemesis.
The original paladins, the foremost warriors of the half legendary king Charlemagn, also known as the twelve peers. We only know of them from accounts such as the Song of Roland. We know them more as symbols than as actual people. The root word of Paladin can be traced to palatinus, an official title in the Roman Empire with connections to Palatine hill, where an imperial palace resided.
Over the years, the word has become associated with paragon examples of knights and practitioners of chivalry. In modern times, the word became more familiar with paladins thanks to the work of Gary Gygax and his creation of Dungeons and Dragons. From that came the cultural icon of a holy but uncompromising knight, a servant of order and good. Such a person is meant to challenge evil at its darkest. In a black and white world, their role is simple as it is monumental: to remove evil from the world.
Yet the unfortunate fact is that evil isn’t a solid, tangible force. There is no Dark Lord, or army of shadows ravaging Creation. Evil is a disease, one that infects the eyes of humanity, blinding us to the atrocities we commit upon each other. Prejudice, tyranny, hate, greed, all the myriad darkness that makes mankind capable of committing terrible crimes upon each other. It is so prevalent that while some argue that what is good is a matter of opinion, the reality of evil is far more difficult to deny.
Yet, though the nature of the enemy is more insidious, so to can the means of combating it adapt. And the thousand year old concept of the paladin can evolve to a more mature champion of the light. By promoting compassion, understanding, and an unswerving dedication to those under their protection, the Paladin can undo more evil than a thousand battles. In the only battle that matters, the paladin can’t remain static.
And yet, faith, honor, compassion, mercy, and justice are pivotal to being a Paladin. Those traits, the pillars to a paladin’s role are consistent as ever. A paladin can still be true to the age old codes that first birthed the idea. And in the face of evil, those are the best means of combating it.