Proverbial, Episode 45: On Human Glory

Dec 15, 2020

The latest episode of Proverbial is devoted to a saying from The Divine Comedy that the modern Christian finds particularly knotty (and naughty, perhaps):

“Fame, without which man’s life wastes out of mind,

Leaving on earth no more memorial than foam in water,

Or smoke upon the wind.”

These lines occur on the beaches outside Mount Purgatory. Dante and several others have stopped to rest, but Virgil castigates the slothful crowd and rouses them to action.

The modern Christian has been taught to speak often of “God’s glory,” but has not been taught very thoroughly what God’s glory is. We should do all things to the glory of God, but how? What is the difference between a man who eats a chicken leg to the glory of God and a man who doesn’t? Can we tell them apart in a restaurant? And if there is little outward difference between the two men, are we kidding ourselves when we claim to have done “all things” to the glory of God?

While we often talk of God’s glory, we also carelessly condemn the pursuit of human glory by pretending all human glory is stolen and self-derived. A hasty and broad-brushed condemnation of all human glory has to led to an endless extension of childhood, the condemnation of discipline as works-righteousness, and the idolization of the self. In fact, God’s glory is most clearly revealed in the man who struggles toward virtue and toward excellence, both of which lead to fame. And this is only right. The common man is obligated to make the good man famous.

When we encounter men who have achieved glory, we may only respond in two ways: we can cry, “No fair,” and attempt to liquidate their glory and redistribute it, or we can imitate their glory and tread the path back to God which glorious men have blazed before us.

In Episode 45: Bully For You, I argue for the latter.  

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches online classes at GibbsClassical.com. He is the author of How To Be UnluckySomething They Will Not Forget, and Blasphemers. His wife is generous and his children are funny.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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