On Glory

On Internet Explorer (October 25), an underlined headline, against a dark cosmic sky, read: “Scientists say: The universe should not actually exist.” I laughed. I did not bother to read the rest of the article. But in a way, they were right. If we deny the existence of a God outside the cosmos who is Logos, who created, but did not need to do so, the universe indeed should not have existed. That is to say, we have no scientific reason why the universe exists. What we do have is a universe that does exist. We can examine it, live in it, cultivate it, die in it, and, yes, glorify it.

The title of this column is not “Old Glory,” that is, the American flag, though it is quite proper to wonder why a flag is called both “old” and “glory.” It is likewise proper to wonder: Why is the universe both old (13.7 billion years, they say) and seems filled with glory?

The old western ballad, “Home on the Range,” I often think, had it about right: “How often at night, when the heavens are bright / with the light from the glittering stars. / How I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed, / Does their glory exceeds that of ours?”

The answer is, I suppose, that, if a rational being, who existed on some planet in a distant galaxy, gazed at his night skies, the glory he would see is about the same as ours, just from a different angle.

The “Gloria” is the doxology that we recite at Sunday Mass. We recall its Gregorian intonation – Gloria in excelsis Deo. The words come from the depths of the Incarnation, from Christmas night, angels singing on high: “Glory to God in the highest.”

The final words of most Christian prayers are: “Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit…”

Then, more soberly, we recall Thomas Gray’s (d. 1771) Elegy: “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

Still, Revelation (19:1), reads “Salvation, glory, and might belong to our God.” Why does glory belong to God?

Aeschylus, the Greek tragedian, wrote: “Man learns by suffering.” Do paths of glory also lead from the grave?

Christ in Glory with Saints by Mattia Preti, 1660 [Museo del Prado, Madrid]

“For it as fitting that he, through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.” This is Hebrews (3:10).

Many parents name their daughters “Gloria.”

The Greek word, doxa, means roughly, opinion. It came to mean in the New Testament good opinion. It then became glory, the highest opinion that we can have of something. At Christmas, again, we hear with the shepherds “Glory to God in the highest.” Just what is this oft-heard word, glory, getting at, we wonder.

It can be a noun (glory), a verb (to glorify), an adverb (gloriously), and an adjective (glorious).

In Samuel Johnson’s 1735 dictionary, ”to glory” is a verb. It meant at that time “to boast,” “to be proud of.” Johnson gave the following example of its usage, from the Anglican divine Richard Hooker’s The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity: “They were wont, in the pride of their own proceedings, to glory, that whereas Luther did but blow away the roof, and Zwinglius but batter the walls of popish superstitions, the last and hardest work remained, which was to raze up the very ground and foundation of popery.” Hooker, at least, had his doubts about the glory of razing the foundation of popery. It is, to be sure, not an overly distant topic in our day.

In the Byzantine Fourth Mass Canon, the word “glory,” in various forms, appears some eight times in the text itself – examples: “to give you glory”; “give joy to many of them by the glory of your light”; “as we await His coming in glory,” and “all glory and honor is yours.”

Psalm 56:5 repeats: “To God, in whose presence I glory.”

Then there is the matter of vainglory. Aristotle says that something is “in vain” when it has no purpose. Vainglory is not the honest acknowledgements of our best qualities but the seeking of praise that is not due to us. We should not glorify what is not to be gloried in.

In John’s Prologue, we read: “We saw His glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”

We do not say of God that He is “glory,” but rather “All glory to Him!” Glory implies reciprocity, an acknowledgment of what is noble. Glory is an ultimate. To give glory is to acknowledge that what is best is indeed the best. “To you alone, O God, be glory given.” All things that are reflect the glory of creation.

In the end, creation itself is the outward manifestation, the glory, of God’s being now seen in the order of things that are not God.

James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019), who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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