A Salient Moment – Reflection on Soli Deo Gloria

Mar 18th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Catholicism seemed like the last religion on the earth that I would ever embrace. In embracing the Gospel as understood by most Protestants, I affirmed that the Gospel was all about giving God glory, and to Him alone. If I were to sit down and choose a faith that looked Christian but missed this central point, it would be the biggest travesty that my mind could grasp.

Mary

But I was not only grasping a different view of God, in making these claims. I was viewing myself through a different lens.

As Calvin said in opening his first book of the Institutes of the Christian Religion,

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other…

Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him. On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he have previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.

Leaving evangelicalism for Reformed theology led to a broadening of my horizons, to an embrace of the covenant. No man is an island, and the implications of this basic premise were led out to my acceptance of things such as infant baptism. But there was a line, and I thought that it was clearly delineated. It could be described through these basic words, as I understood them at least:

I am the LORD, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to graven images.

To me, the notion of merits, the intercession of saints with the corollary that I could ask those blessed souls for intercession, to the basic aesthetics which contrast between a typical Reformed chapel and the humblest crucifix, these all spoke of a world where we who called ourselves Reformed would never enter. To take such steps seemed as though we would go to a place where God’s glory was subjugated by glory that is given to mere men who are but dust. And that says nothing of what is said at times about Angels.

Now that I have embraced Catholicism, I know many have said that I have renounced this view of God and the glory which is due to Him. But, like Calvin, I think a key step in understanding Soli Deo Gloria from the Catholic perspective was not so much a quantum leap in my theological understanding. Instead, this came through learning more about myself.

The words which our Blessed Savior spoke about us as His people, the sheep of His pasture—these were actually more powerful than any thought about whether God has qualms with His glory being shared.

For Christ said to His Father:

The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.

Catholics like to make Protestants consider the great unity that is our Lord’s vision for His children, as it is distilled in great clarity in this passage of John’s gospel, and that is all well and good. But something that opened my eyes to His heart and His view of sharing His glory, was the foundation of that prayer for unity. We are not merely called to be one for the sake of enlarging His “team”—we are called to be one because we share in something real, something tangible. That something is the glory which Christ has given to us. Far be it from me to tell Him to not give glory to us. Instead, I will lift my eyes to God when I see Him share His glory with His children.

Make no mistake, God is jealous of those who would as imposters pretend to be worthy of praise. But to those of us who are His children, there is a qualitative distinction. He is not glorifying the Virgin Mary or St. so and so for their merit/goodness/sake, but because these humans have been united to the infinite God, the natural consequence of being glorified is this awe in the creature who is linked to the Creator. The infinite intrinsic value which has been bestowed upon the finite due to God’s great grace is nonetheless infinite. For us to treat it otherwise is not to see God as He is, nor is it to see ourselves as we are.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

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  1. Thanks, good article. I read somewhere that Luther never objected to any aspect of Roman Catholic Mariology nor to the intercessory prayers of the Saints. Is this true?

  2. Jonathan,

    You put it very well. As St. Irenaeus said, the glory of God is man fully alive.

  3. Jeremy,

    Good question, and that is basically my understanding too (though I’m more intrigued by Calvin’s similarities than Luther’s). A quick googling gives the likes of this from Luther:

    “It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin” (Sermon: “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 1527).”

    But more importantly, even if Calvin and Luther were adherents to what is also the Catholic teachings on Mary, what would it tell us? That’s what I’ve been trying to piece through. It seems that either their Scriptural interpretation was clouded by proximity to Catholic thought (cf. the Baptist critique of paedobaptism), or they were comfortable with things about Mary properly derivable from Scripture and we have (for some reason) become uncomfortable with them since. Much to ponder!

    Peace in Christ,
    Tom

  4. Jeremy,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I noticed on another post you were going to RTS in D.C., and found that quite interesting. My last congregation where I held membership as a Reformed believer was actually McLean Pres!
    I shared with two elders there to varying degrees, one of whom is intimately involved with RTS and its ministry.

    God’s blessings and grace on your pilgrimage,
    Jonathan

  5. Jonathan,

    That was excellent. Well thought out, yet simple and accessible. I have been reading bits of the E.O.C.s “Philokalia” which seems to focus on this issue to a great degree. The Orthodox call this “Deification” or being united to the person of God. The Glory of God shared and infused into the human life. Indeed, I think that when this occurs the human is MORE human than ever… or perhaps better put – becomes a complete human when unified to the God of the universe. As I understand it, this view was maintained by Aquinas… but I could be wrong. I may have gone on a slight bunny trail here, so do forgive me, I just drew a parallel.

    In the Peace and Love of Christ,
    -g-

  6. Thanks for the welcome!

    Yeah, RTS in D.C. is still at the Youth House at McLean Pres. Small world Jonathan. I’m looking forward to a “Church and World” class this June which Michael Horton is teaching. I considered transfering to Christendom for a while, but I have made the decision to finish my degree (now just an M.A.R) at RTS. If and when I convert to the Catholic Church, I want to be as sure as possible about what I’m doing. My Professors all know where I’m at though and I’m reading anything they’re willing to give me in order to convince me to stay away from Rome. Kind of ironic two of my Professors are finishing their PH.D’s at Catholic! Thanks again, Jeremy Tate

  7. Dear Jeremy,

    You may be interested in taking a glance at Max Thurian’s book, Mary, Mother of All Christians (if you can get hold of it). It was written prior to Thurian’s very late-in-life entry into the Catholic Church, and he wrote it as a Reformed Christian. It contains discussions of what the Magisterial Reformers, as well as 2nd and 3rd generation Reformed thinkers, thought about Mary and what we’d cal the Marian dogmas today. They were fairly traditional (especially Luther) and seemingly fairly devoted as well, some of them saying very beautiful things about the Blessed Virgin. This is something we’ve unfortunately got away from, maybe by way of reaction against perceived Mariolatry, but there’s certainly nothing in the Reformed tradition that would require people to just ignore her in the way she’s typically been.

    All best,

    Neal

  8. One thing that struck me very heavily in the course of my conversion to Catholicism was the idea that God was jealous of His glory being stolen.

    That is to say, He is generous to give away His glory and His holiness and all His other gifts. The thing that gets under His skin, so to speak, is when someone tries to usurp His rightful position.

    So the praise accorded to Our Lady and the other saints is glory that God has given them.

    As we say so often in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, “Thee who we glorify in thy saints/ Save us who sing to Thee/ Alleluia”

    This is sung on weekdays after the Troparia, which typically commemorates the saints remembered on that day. The implication being that by glorifying God’s holy ones who have proved themselves in their life on earth, we glorify God.

    Thus, the saints are not stealing glory from God when they are praised, but receiving and redirecting glory to God, who made them saints in the first place.

  9. Well said, Matt. I remember being struck by the same thing, and being especially pleased to see the ‘theory’ work out in practice when I came into the Church, too. On the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul this past year, I heard this hymn for the first time, and I thought it captured God’s glory in His saints perfectly:

    By all Your saints still striving, for all Your saints at rest,
    Your holy Name, O Jesus, forevermore be blessed.
    You rose our King victorious, that they might wear the crown,
    And ever shine in splendor, reflected from Your throne.

    We praise You for Saint Peter; we praise You for Saint Paul.
    They taught both Jew and Gentile, that Christ is all in all.
    To cross and sword they yielded, and saw the Kingdom come:
    O God Your two apostles, won life through martyrdom.

    Then let us praise the Father, and worship God the Son,
    And sing to God the Spirit, Eternal Three in One,
    Till all the ransomed number, who stand before the throne,
    Ascribe all power and glory and praise to God alone!

    Not only did this hymn get the orientation right, but it was even sung to the tune of “All Glory Laud and Honor” — which certainly helped drive home the point!

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