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The Divine Attributes Retreat
The Attributes of God
The Glory of God
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The capstone of the attributes of God is the glory of God. The first time the divine glory is revealed in the New Testament is on Christmas morning when the angels appeared to the shepherds in Bethlehem and said: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will." The Latin words have been part of the Church's liturgy since the first century: "Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax homnibus bonne voluntatis."
Our purpose in this meditation will be to see four things. First, what do we mean by glory, 'doxa' in the Greek of the revealed text of St. Luke's gospel? Second, how is God glorified? Thirdly, how can we increase the glory of God? And finally, how does our peace on earth depend on our glorifying God?
What is glory? In general glory is the recognition of excellence with praise: it is praising the recognized excellence of someone. There is excellence; I recognize it, and I praise what I recognize. We therefore give glory to someone when we acknowledge a person's intelligence or virtue and then we praise that person first in our own minds by recognizing it then to others including, perhaps, the person himself. Glory, therefore, always implies that someone is great or excellent or important in some way and that someone else who sees that person's good qualities and praises him for his possession or achievement.
With that as the theological foundation, how is God glorified? Immediately the Church distinguishes two very different kinds of glory given to God. There is what we call the eternal internal glory which the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity have been giving to one another by their mutual recognition of their infinite excellence and praising in mind and will what they mutually recognize. This glory has been given to God from all eternity. This glory would have been given to God, necessary, even though God had never created the world or within the world rational creatures who could mentally recognize God's greatness and then willingly have glorified God because he is so wonderful. The internal, eternal glory that God has been receiving, has been received mutually within the Holy Trinity by each of the three Persons seeing, praising and thus glorifying one another. Just as there cannot be - and the existence of the Trinity proves it - there cannot be love unless there is an 'other' who is loved, verified in God himself, so there can also not be glory unless there is an 'other' whose greatness one recognizes and praises to another: the Father glorifying Son and Holy Spirit; the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit, the first and second Persons of the Holy Trinity.
When the angels on Christmas Day declared, "Gloria in excelsis Deo - glory to God in the highest," they first and mainly meant, stating an eternal fact, God is being glorified within the Holy Trinity. However, God is also glorified not only within the bosom of the Trinity, he is glorified by his creatures who recognizing God's greatness, praise him for what they see.
Before we go on, let me state a fact. The fundamental reason why God created the world is that he might be glorified by his rational creatures. That is the profoundest reason that faith can give us of why God created at all and why he had to have created not only the sun, moon and stars, the mountains, rivers and seas, the trees and flowers, why God in the visible world had to - this is the divine logic of creation - God having created, had to create rational beings, who seeing the grandeur of God's creation, might glorify him because of the divine excellence which they recognize. This is what adoring God mainly means.
We adore God when our minds see and recognize who God is, what he has done, and then praising him for what we see. We call this second glory external glory. Why external? Because it is not within the bosom, the internal nature of the Holy Trinity. The external glory that the Holy Trinity has been receiving began when God first created the invisible world of the angels; and then God began to receive glory from the human creatures that he made, both since the creation of the world.
In practice, whether angels or human beings, they give glory to God by doing the will of God. Praising the recognized excellence of God by his rational creatures means practically, concretely, in real life doing the will of God. Because for us human beings all the lip service in the world is cheap rhetoric unless we put our recognized praise into practice, recognizing God for who he is and in the process acknowledging who we are. He is our Lord, we are his creatures. He is our God, we are his servants. He is Master, we are to obey him by doing his will.
Immediately, therefore, we see that the internal eternal glory of the Holy Trinity is infinite: the three Persons of the Trinity cannot either decrease or increase. The recognized praise they give one another, it has been absolutely perfect or infinite and cannot therefore be increased. But the external glory to God that he receives from his rational creatures can first of all even be withheld entirely. In other words, his rational creatures can refuse to give him the recognized praise which he as God deserves. How? By refusing to do his will. That is how hell came into existence.
The angels, we believe, were created and placed on probation. We don't know exactly what their test consisted in; all we know is that some, and faith tells us many, indeed, very many, some Fathers of the Church say as many angels refused to give glory to God by obeying his will and thereby became demons and were sent to hell as there will be human beings created from the dawn of human history until the end of human time. Whatever the number, we know that this glory that God deserves, given the free will that his rational creation has, the praise can be withheld by not doing the will of God. It was withheld by the fallen angels. And it is being withheld by those human beings who refuse to recognize who God is and thereby not giving the glory that he demands.
The glory that God wants from his rational creatures can be given to him. No less then rational creatures can withhold giving glory to God by not doing his will, so even in giving glory to God they have a will that can give God more glory or less glory; they can do God's will either more or less perfectly. In other words we can glorify God either more or less depending on how willing we, now on earth, are to do the divine will.
In heaven all the rational creation is glorifying God: angels and saints. How do we know? Because they all recognize and praise the divine will and are happy to do the will of God; indeed that is the only source of happiness in heaven or on earth. The only source of happiness in heaven or on earth is doing the will of God. To do God's will to the limit of one's powers is to be perfectly happy.
Now we know that although all the angels and saints are doing God's will perfectly and therefore each according to their measure is perfectly happy; but comparatively speaking, not all are equally glorifying God. You see, some angels and saints have a greater capacity for glorifying God. And for us on earth - remember this - for us on earth the degree of glory that we shall be giving God in heaven and consequently the measure of happiness we shall enjoy depends on how generously we have done the divine will on earth and glorified him by praising his name in doing his will.
We can give God here on earth either more or less glory. What do we mean? The great founders over the centuries have their distinctive motto: St. Benedict - ora et labora - pray and work; for St. Dominic: contemplator alius tradere - to pass on to others the fruits of my own contemplation; and for St. Ignatius the motto is ad majoram Dei gloriam - for the greater glory of God. From the novitiate on we were taught and we had better know what it means to glorify God and to give God more glory and still more and still more. This is one reason why I am so happy to record this conference: that at least one more besides the present audience will hear what I am saying.
How do we give God greater glory? Notice, we are going a step beyond what we have been saying so far. We give glory to God by recognizing who he is and acting accordingly. He is God, we recognize that; we are creatures, we recognize that, and we act accordingly by doing God's will, which we know is the heavy task of surrendering, submitting our will to his. But how can we give God greater glory? There are two parts. We give God the greater glory, the better, more deeply, more clearly we know who God is. We with our finite minds can never exhaust the infinity of God. But just because we cannot exhaust our grasp and understanding of the majesty of the Most High does not means that we are not to grow in our understanding of who God is. We better! That is our first responsibility as creatures to come to better appreciate his knowledge and wisdom, his infinite goodness, his power and mercy, his patience and kindness, his majesty and holiness and his unchangeable love. The first fundamental condition for glorifying God is knowing God.
But then, we also give God greater glory as we praise his divinity, as we acknowledge this God whom we've come to know more and more generously, more willingly by acknowledging who God is in submitting our will to his. In other words, the more generously we respond to the inspiration of his grace, the more we are glorifying God; because the highest praise that God wants of his creatures is the submission of their will to his. That's the principal, fundamental, main, primary reason we have a will: to surrender this will of a creature, which unless God brought us into existence we would not even exist. We do have a free will and with that free will we can glorify God either more or less.
Of course he must give us his grace even for us to want to do his will. But we must want to do it. The more generous we are in giving glory to God by doing his will, the more glory we are giving to his divine majesty, the more we are pleasing him.
How does our peace on earth depend on our glorifying God? On Christmas morning the angels declared, (I am sure they sang) "Glory to God in the highest." That is, God is glorified in the high heavens. However, the angels uttered, "and on earth peace to men of good will." The angels on Christmas morning declared that those who give glory to God by doing his will are the men of good will."
We are told on Christmas morning the angels made two profound statements. One, that God is glorified on high: from all eternity within the Holy Trinity and since the dawn of creation of the angelic hosts and of the saints now in heaven, God is indeed praised by his greatness being recognized in heaven. But on earth the angels declared, "Peace to men of good will." Why? Because the human will is good if and insofar as it is doing the will of God. That is the revealed angelic definition of a good will. A good will is one where the created will surrenders to and does the will of God.
Is that all? Not quite. The reward for doing God's will in heaven is beatitude but on earth is peace, peace within the person who is doing God's will, peace between people who are doing the will of God. The only peace within the family is among those members of the family who are each individually doing the will of God. Peace in a parish, peace in a diocese, peace in a community, peace in a whole nation, peace in the world, in the last analysis, there is only as much peace in the world as there are people doing the will of God. How we need to be reminded that already on earth there is an infallible guarantee of experiencing that peace for which the human heart was made, that the human beings in this world most crave, by faithfully, humbly, obediently doing the will of God.
"Lord Jesus Christ, on Christmas morning the angels told the shepherds: Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to men of good will. Dear Lord, help us to understand what it means to glorify you to the best of our ability. Open our hearts, dear Savior, to do your will no matter how difficult or demanding it may be. Because, dear Savior, we believe as long as we are doing your will to the best of our ability here on earth, we shall be at peace. And if we are at peace here in this valley of tears, it is a guarantee we shall enjoy your happiness for all eternity in heaven. Amen."
Transcription of the retreat given in December, 1988
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