And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh see it together.Isaiah 40:5
When Henry v leaps to the wagon bed and addresses his cousin Westmoreland with words that make his happy few eager to fight and die at Agincourt on Saint Crispin’s Day, even the modern hearer kindles with courage.
When Churchill, perhaps the same text ringing in his imagination, recited the debt of Britain to those few who had driven the Luftwaffe from the skies and roared out his defiance to Hitler, the world’s backbone stiffened and the West began to hope.
When the Sacred Host is elevated in the context established by Palestrina or Mozart and defined by the orotund and fathomless Latin of Gregory the Great, earth and heaven are joined and the divine charity seems palpable.
When the last lines of a Rachmaninov concerto die away, the shape of glory hangs in the air. Matter, in the words of Gilson, “enters by anticipation into something like the state of glory promised to it by theologians at the end of time.”
Glory is the effulgence, finally, of beauty, but first of virtue, of goodness, and hence of the One who is perfectly good. In Henry v, glory is the radiance that belongs to courage. Glory is inextricably related to hope in such a way that a world without glory, a world without those images of virtue and beauty which are the splendor of truth, is always a hopeless world. The human heart, made to know God, longs to see His glory, so that a world in which glory does not somehow shine is unnaturally alienated from its source.
Yet modernity, our time and place, often seems especially inglorious. One need only compare children’s books of the 1930s with those of the ’90s. The child who then might have imagined becoming a princess may now become a case worker, not by desire but because vision fails. The epic has made its way from the tales of Trollope to the cowboys epic to John Updike’s Rabbit novels. Events cannot justify righteousness if there exists no righteousness to justify. Man who is made for a moral adventure, and hence for glory, unless he become servile and prescind from the very form of man, will not be content with a pension. He is, in Russia, often drunk, or, in the West, high on one of the narcotics supplied so copiously by the free market. Unchallenged by the achievement of the good for himself, he finds it easy to hate the good which others possess. Thus Germain Greer will describe Mother Theresa as a religious imperialist and Edward Kennedy will describe St. Thomas More as narrow.
Denied the human good and denying it, we moderns tend to be dæmonic, becoming the superman foretold by Nietzsche: Charles Manson, James Jones, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, those great examples of self-actualization set loose by a world in which anything is possible because the good cannot be uttered, much less engaged. In such circumstances, we sometimes turn upon the good, sometimes to the counterfeit glory which the pleasure of power gives, or else sometimes die of broken hearts. If modern life seems small, this is perhaps because we have denied ourselves the realities that blossom in glory.
Why must this be? Why must glory be driven from our particular time and place? It is not surely because ordinary people of typical sensibilities and unremarkable education are less able, at least occasionally, to love the truly noble or cherish large hopes now than in the ninth or nineteenth centuries. The natural law cannot be erased from the human heart. But that goodness which belongs to the very nature of man is likely to be obscured when the new class of professional keepers of popular culture sets out in print and law to defend their personal interest in a theory which denies all those things that lead toward truth. In a traditional society, it is the function of those responsible to represent the great goods in and to the population. Kings, priests, and prophets exist in order to awaken conscience and clarify intellect, to make subjects and pupils less like cattle and more like men. But those who rule by violence have other interests, and their first interest is in keeping questions of truth from arising to infect and complicate the free exercise of power and the reign of unreason. For this, such doctrines as the wall of separation and the ultimate unknowability of reality are infinitely useful. If truth does not exist, politicians may purchase their power through a half-deliberate program of directing the governed toward secondary ends and especially to pleasure and away from the order of reality.
Second, glory presupposes an order, because there is neither goodness nor beauty without order or form, and wherever there is form, the egalitarian philosophy which now lies at the core of life is challenged. Egalitarianism insists that the only order among men is equality. Equality is a concept relevant principally to a world of quantity, to mathematics and, perhaps, geometry. But men are beings of quality, degree, and form, and since education is a human thing, its purpose is not to create equality, even equality of opportunity, but aristocracy, the possibility and love of the best.
There are, of course, many, many kinds of aristocracy. Napoleon’s famous aristocracy of talent, used by the triumphant Bonaparte to wreck the partly empty and stultifying, partly admirable, old order of France, has it’s place. Intellectual virtue itself constitutes an aristocracy among whom Plato and Aristotle are paragons. The aristocracy that belongs to responsibility accepted is a real aristocracy, indispensable in any society. But the greatest and defining is the aristocracy of virtue. This is an aristocracy from which no man may be kept by circumstance, open equally to the children of the poor and rich, though harder, perhaps, for the latter to achieve. This is an aristocracy, always partly, perhaps even substantially, hidden, which bears as its highest standard the mark of the cross, which is always imperfectly known because its story is not of itself. This aristocracy in its highest human term is called the saints, men and women who undertook the challenge of the human vocation in the light of love for God, and who prevailed on some field, whether of small responsibilities patiently borne or some great political goal and good.
And if hierarchies depending upon the good constitute reality, it follows that humility, not self-actualization or the pursuit of rights, is the great personal characteristic among those communities in which the best becomes incarnate. The saints have always felt surrounded by their betters, while the low in soul have feared that their great capacities and talents would go unappreciated. The hope that belongs to glory is often obscured for us because the existence of any objective order presupposes a humility that is not only hard to attain in ordinary circumstances but unintelligible to most moderns. Educated as we are to accept the Hobbesian warfare of equals, of each against all as a way of life, existence becomes a war pursued on the grounds that one man is as good as another. Yet in the objective world, rich in a variety of beings, there is a cause for wonder and for the deep realization of the good intrinsic to other beings to whom I am unequal, to whom I am related by means of a multiplicity of hierarchies, whose glory I share by the recognition of my own just place and my own littleness.
Finally, glory has fled from the modern world because it has been counterfeited by tyrants to give a spurious note of hope to regimes by nature hopeless. The dictators of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, all men who rode to power through superior insight regarding the weaknesses of human nature, who understood that the human soul craves those images of glory that are rooted ultimately in the image of God, provided compelling, secondary, social images which diverted attention from reality while seeming to represent it. The uniforms of the Fascists and the march-pasts of the Soviets are celebrations of a spurious order based not on justice but on mere power. They overawe but do not elevate. The rallies sponsored endlessly by National Socialism, in which order evoked a glory-like banality, were perhaps the antecedents of the rock concerts in which the elevation of sensibilities has given way to degradation. The uniforms of Nixon’s White House staff, like the Victor Emanuel monument, fail because these are over-strained and superficial references to an order that on the level of the good and true did not exist. Glory is the splendor that belongs to truth. Things human can have no glory that is not derived from Him to Whom all glory must be given.
In the twentieth century hope and glory will exist in pockets, in persons, and in memory, and as a kind of implication that peeps around corners and haunts recollection. Glory can exist at all only where and when it is given to God, that is, only when the glory that breaks into this world is seen not as a possession of this world but as a gift. The defense of the possibility of glory and hence of hope is among the first of human duties. That defense is among the first of human duties. That defense must be conducted chiefly on two battlefields.
The first is obviously the academy. Education, as Bacon and a hundred others noted, is the business of teaching the young whom to obey and what to admire. It is at its heart not the mathematical exercise of inculcating equality but the human enterprise of forming judgment toward the good and the honorable, the beautiful and the true. Schools are schools of reality. If God is the ultimate reality, no school that claims to know nothing of Him or pleads unwillingness to say what it knows is likely to be useful. This means that in order to keep alive the human hope, believers will be engaged in the creation of schools in which it is possible to name, love, and serve the best, ultimately to serve God.
The second battlefield is the sacred liturgy, which now exists and will exist into the foreseeable future as an arena of contest. Those responsible for, or at least most influential upon, the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church are sometimes themselves imperfectly educated bureaucrats whose highest categories are affect, communication, and participation. Their confusion of banality with significance is often relentless and their message is clear. There is no order to space, no order of time, no moral order, no beauty, and no glory. The post-modern worship space with its asymmetrical arrangement, with the Eucharistic presence of Christ removed, with prominence given to the presbyterial or presidential chair, is the spatial icon of a theology of hopeless ignobility. The degraded music, the ecclesiastical off-scourings of pop culture, reinforces this image. Inversions abound. The laity act as clerics and clerics as laity. Art is challenging, not beautiful. Historicisms are introduced selectively and tradition ignored wile we gather in a circle holding hands. The elegant Latin of the Novus Ordo is avoided in favor of a freely interpreted English. And the congregation, of course, responds by coming into the presence of the King of Kings dressed as they would not dare to be dressed when they approach the local Lord of their computer section on Monday morning and by behaving with a patronizing familiarity they would not easily employ with their banker.
The picture is perhaps overdrawn. All of these aspects of liturgical decay seldom occur together. But the picture is not fanciful. A faithful laity confronts this inglorious disorder as it would any other barbarian invasions: with suffering accepted and assent withheld, willing always to give an account of their own faith and unflinching in their hope and prayer for relief. The only victory available at present is the realization of the truth and the giving of the right names to things. The frequent failure of the Catholic Church to realize the noble simplicity for which the Second Vatican Council called and the triumph instead, not always, but all too often, of ignoble banality is a very great evil, but it is an evil that must be borne with grace. Luther believed at first that, if the Holy Father knew, he would stop the abuses; but Luther gave up too soon and overestimated the power of the Holy See to effect its will. The temporary obscuring of the glory of the liturgy, a glory which is nevertheless always and truly present, may be God’s plan for purifying the Church, for directing us to a pure love for Christ beyond the surface of the celebration. It may be punishment permitted to the Church instead of wars and plagues, but it is, nonetheless, a very great evil which, while it must be borne, must never be accepted.
And it must never be accepted precisely because the vision of glory is the key to hope and because the acceptance of anything less than the most glorious order attainable is a betrayal of the good. Men long for form even when the acceptance of form will be painful, and we rejoice in the glory of Rachmaninov even when we do not know its origin. The Church of Jesus Christ is the ultimate repository of the images of every good, every beauty, and every truth. Courage shouted from a wagon bed touches us because in it we see a glory that is more than human. To forgo that glory, or to forget that it is more than human, is to conspire in the destruction of souls.