Easter Monday seems a fitting time to begin a short study of the “Glory Be,” with a meditation on the word “Glory.” This little prayer is worth rediscovering, and praying well. Like honey from the comb, we can suck incredible richness from these traditional prayers.
The Latin gloria refers to renown, as when we say “no guts no glory”; it also has connotations of shining. In the Greek New Testament, doxa is a word that means “seeming,” also related to both reputation and appearance. It is used to translate an important word from the Hebrew Old Testament that means “heaviness,” in relation to dignity.
Weightiness, influence, significance, substance, authority: in the Old Testament, a king was said to be “heavy,” or “glorious.” He is a Big Deal. But then, for example, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19). God too is a king, king of kings, more regal than kings, the most substantial, authoritative, and “glorious” of all. This is what we proclaim when we say, “Glory to God in the highest” or “Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.”
But glory takes on a second meaning, not only of heaviness, but of shining, and beauty. The king wears not just fancy robes, but beautiful ones. He is “fairer than the children of men; grace is poured upon his lips”; he rides “in majesty, prosperously, because of truth and meekness and righteousness” (Ps. 45). God is beautiful.
The central motif for this is the Transfiguration, which is mirrored in the “glory” that shown on Moses’s face when he saw God passing by. “The LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend . . . . Moses said, ‘I beseech thee, show me thy glory.’ . . . When Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in his hand . . . he knew not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him” (Ex. 33:11, 33:18, 34:29).
“And as Jesus prayed, the appearance of his face was altered, and his raiment was white and glistening. And, behold, there talked with with him two men, which were Moses and Elijah: who appeared in glory” (Lk. 19:29-31).
“If the ministration of condemnation,” that is, the Old Testament, “be glory, much more does the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that exceeds it. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious. . . . And not as Moses, who put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished. . . . Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away. . . . But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the LORD” (2 Cor. 3:9-18).
The glory of God, represented by the light that shines on the face of Jesus, is communicated to us, so that we too shine with that glory. We too will share in the dignity, and the beauty of God, “the liberty of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). (This is often translated less literally as “glorious liberty,” but how much more glorious that our liberty comes from that glory. To share in God’s glory is to be truly free.)
When we say “Glory be,” we say that God has the ultimate dignity, and we call to mind the beauty, beyond all imagining, of gazing on his supreme goodness. All in one little word, worth praying well.
But we also make a profession of faith. Historically, the “Glory Be,” and its myriad variations, which conclude all the ancient hymns, is a rejection of anti-Trinitarian heresies. The emphasis, in a sense, is on the word “and.” Not only do we say that the Trinitarian God has glory, but we say that each member of the Trinity shares in that glory.
The Glory Be says, don’t you dare say that the Son has any less glory than the Father. Glory to the Son! The same Glory as the Father! Jesus is God, very God from very God!
And Glory too to the Holy Spirit! the Spirit given to us has no less dignity, no less divinity, no less greatness than the Son; the Son communicates that dignity to us in giving us the Holy Spirit. In the next couple weeks we will see how beautiful this profession of Trinitarian faith is, and how much it means for us.
Do you give yourself sufficient space to consider the beauty and the goodness of God?