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The ethical and religious significance of the word

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Glory. —This word has many shades of meaning which lexicographers are somewhat puzzled to differentiate sharply. As our interest in it here centers around its ethical and religious significance, we shall treat it only with reference to the ideas attached to it in Holy Scripture and theology.

SCRIPTURE.—In the English version of the Bible the word Glory, one of the commonest in the Scripture, is used to translate several Hebrew terms in the Old Testament, and the Greek doksa in the New Testament. Sometimes the Catholic versions employ brightness, where others use glory. When this occurs, the original signifies, as it frequently does elsewhere, a physical, visible phenomenon. This meaning is found for instance in Ex., xxiv, 16: “And the glory of the Lord dwelt upon Sinai“; in Luke, ii, 9, and in the account of the Transfiguration on Mount Thabor. In very many places the term is employed to signify the witness which the created universe bears to the nature of its Creator, as an effect reveals the character of its cause. Frequently in the New Testament it signifies a manifestation of the Divine Majesty, truth, goodness, or some other attribute through His incarnate Son, as, for instance, in John, i, 14: “(and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth”; Luke, ii, 32, “A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel”; and throughout the prayer of Christ for his the glorious mirror where the Almighty’s form disciples, John, xvii. Here too, as elsewhere, we find the idea that the perception of this manifested truth works towards a union of man with God. In other passages glory is equivalent to praise rendered to God in acknowledgement of His majesty and perfections manifested objectively in the world, or through supernatural revelation: “Thou art worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory, and honor, and power: because thou hast created all things”, Apoc., iv, 11: “Give glory to the Lord, and call upon his name”, Ps. Civ, 1 (cf. Ps. Cv, i).

The term is used to also mean judgment on personal worth, in which sense the Greek doksa reflects the signification of the cognate verb dokeo: “how can you believe, who receive glory one from another: and the glory which is from God alone, you do not seek?” John, v, 44; and xii, 43: “For they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God“. Lastly, glory is the name given to the blessedness of the future life in which the soul is united to God: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come”, Rom., viii, 18. “Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God“, ib., 21. The texts cited above are representative of multitudes similar in tenor, scattered throughout the sacred writings.

II. THEOLOGICAL.—The radical concept present under various modifications in all the above expressions is rendered by St. Augustine as clara notitia cum laude, “brilliant celebrity with praise”. The philosopher and theologian have accepted this definition as the center around which they correlate their doctrine regarding glory, divine and human.

1. Divine Glory.—The Eternal God has by an act of His will created, that is, has brought into being from nothingness, all things that are. Infinite Intelligence, He could not act aimlessly; He had an objective for His action; He created with a purpose; He destined His creatures to some end. That end was, could be, no other than Himself; for nothing existed but Himself, nothing but Himself could be an end worthy of His action. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God” (Apoc., i, 8); “The Lord hath made all things for himself” (Prov., xvi, 4). Did He, then, create in order that from His creatures He might derive some benefit? That, for example, as some present-day theories pretend, through the evolution of things towards a higher perfection the sum of His Being might be enlarged or perfected? Or that man by cooperating with Him might aid Him in the elimination of evil which He by Himself is unable to cast out? No; such conceits are incompatible with the true concept of God. Infinite, He possesses the plenitude of Being and Perfection; He needs nothing, and can receive no complementary increment or superfluous accession of excellence from without. Omnipotent, He stands in need of no assistance to carry His will into execution.

But from His infinity He can and does give; and from His fullness have we all received. All things are, only because they have received of Him; and the measure of His giving constitutes the limitations of their being. Contemplating the boundless ocean of His reality, He perceives it as imitable ad extra, as an inexhaustible fund of exemplar ideas which may, if He so wills, be reproduced in an order of finite existence distinct from, yet dependent on His own, deriving their dower of actuality from His infinite fullness which in imparting sustains no diminution. He spoke and they were made. Everything which His fiat has called into existence is a copy—finite indeed and very imperfect, yet true as far as it goes—of some aspect of His infinite perfection. Each reflects in fixed limitation something of His nature and attributes. The heavens show forth His power; earth’s oceans are

…the glorious mirror where the Almightys form Glasses itself in tempests….

The summer flower, though only to itself it live and die, is a silent witness before Him of His power, goodness, truth and unityl and the harmonious order which binds all the innumerable parts of creation into one cosmic whole is another reflection of His oneness and His wisdom. Yet, as each part of creation is finite, so too is the totality; and therefore its capacity to reflect the Divine Prototype must result in an infinitely inadequate representation of the Great Exemplar. Nevertheless, the unimaginable variety of existing things conveys a vague hint of that Infinite which must ever defy any complete expression external to Itself. Now this objective revelation of the Creator in terms of the existences of things is the glory of God. This doctrine is the authoritatively formulated by the Council of the Vatican: “if any one shall say that the world was not created for the glory of God, let him be anathema” (Sess. III, C. I, can. 5).

This objective manifestation of the Divine nature constitutes the Universe—the book, one might say, in which God has recorded His greatness and majesty. As the mirror of the telescope presents an image of the star that shines and wheels in the immeasurably remote depths of space, so does this world reflect in its own fashion the nature of its Cause between Whom and it lies the gulf that separates the finite from the Infinite. The telescope, however, knows not of the image which its surface bears; the eye and mind of the astronomer must intervene in order that the significance of the shadow and its relation to the substance may be grasped. To praise, in the exact sense of the term, demands not alone that worth be manifest, but also that there be a mind to acknowledge. The unconscious testimony of the universe to its Creator is rather potential than actual glory. Hence, this glory which it renders to Him is called in theological phrase gloria materialis, to distinguish it from the formal glory rendered to God by His intelligent creatures. They can read the writing in the book of creation, understand its story, accept its lessons, and reverently praise the Majesty which it reveals. This praise involves not merely intellectual perception, but also the practical acknowledgment by heart and will which issues in obedience and loving service. The endowment of intelligence with all that it implies—spirituality and free-will—renders man a higher and nobler image of the Creator than is any other being of this visible world. The gift of intellect also imposes on man the duty of returning to God that formal glory of which we have just spoken. The more perfectly he discharges this obligation, the more does he develop and perfect that initial resemblance to God which exists in his soul, and by the fulfilment of this duty serves the end for which he, like all else, has been created.

The natural revelation which God has vouchsafed of Himself through the world interpreted by reason has been supplemented by a higher supernatural manifestation which has culminated in the Incarnation of the Godhead in Jesus Christ: “and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the Father, full of grace and truth”. Similarly the natural resemblance to God and the relation of our being to His, as established by creation, are supplemented and carried into a higher order by His communication of sanctifying grace. To know God through the medium of this supernaturally revealed truth, to serve Him in love springing from this grace is to be “Filled with the fruit of justice, through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil., i, 11). In manifesting the glory of God by the development of their proper powers and capacities, inanimate creatures reach that perfection or fulness of existence which God has prescribed for them. Likewise man achieves his perfection or subjective end by giving glory to God in the comprehensive sense above indicated. He attains the consummation of his perfection not in this life, but in the life to come. That perfection shall consist in a direct, immediate, intuitive perception of God; “We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even—as I am known” (I Cor., xiii, 12). In this transcendent knowledge the soul shall become, in a higher measure than that which obtains by virtue of creation alone, a participant and therefore an image of the Divine nature; so “we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is” (I John, iii, 2). So that objectively and actively the life in heaven shall be an unending ineffable manifestation and acknowledgment of the Divine majesty and perfections. Thus we understand the Scriptural language in which the future life of the blessed is described as a state in which “we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Cor., iii, 18).

The Catholic doctrine on this subject is defined by the Council of Florence (see Denzinger, 588). (See Creation; Good.)

2. Human Glory.—To enjoy glory before men is to be known and honored on account of one’s character, qualities, possessions, position, or achievements, real or imaginary. The moral question arises, is the desire and pursuit of this glory lawful? The doctrine on the subject is succinctly stated by St. Thomas (II-II, Q. cxxxii). Posing the question whether the desire of glory is sinful, he proceeds to answer it in the following sense: Glory imports the manifestation of something which is estimated honorable, whether it be a spiritual or a corporal good. Glory does not necessarily require that a large number of persons shall acknowledge the excellence; the esteem of a few, or even of oneself, may suffice, as, for example, when one judges some good of his own to be worthy of praise. That any person esteem his own good or excellence to be worthy of praise is not in itself sinful; nor, in like manner, is it sinful that we should desire to see our good works approved of men. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matt., v, 16). Hence the desire of glory is not essentially vicious. But a vain, or perverse desire for renown, which is called vainglory, is wrong; for it is founded not on truth but falsehood. The desire of glory becomes perverse, (a) when one seeks renown because of something not really worthy; (b) when one seeks the esteem of those whose judgment is undiscriminating; (c) when one desires glory before men without subordinating it to righteousness. Vainglory may become a deadly sin, if one seek the esteem of men for something that is incompatible with the reverence due to God; or when the thing for which one desires to be esteemed is preferred in one’s affections before God; or again, when the judgment of men is sought in preference to the judgment of God, as was the case with the Pharisees, who “loved the glory of men more than the glory of God” (John, xii, 43). The term “vainglory” denotes not alone the sinful act, but also the vicious habit or tendency engendered by a repetition of such acts. This habit is ranked among the capital sins, or, more properly vices, because it is prolific of other sins, viz., disobedience, boastfulness, hypocrisy, contentiousness, discord, and a presumptuous love of pernicious novelties in moral and religious doctrine.


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