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Glory

A word study on "glory" and its divergent connotations in worship and modern culture.

In church, "glory" is a good word for worship. Outside church, it's a good word for war movies.

Before World War II had even ended, there was "Days of Glory" (1944), starring Gregory Peck. Whether it was an allusion to the Peck film or not, the English title of the recent French film "Indigènes" ("natives"), also set in World War II, was "Days of Glory." Stanley Kubrick made the World War I film "Paths of Glory" in 1957; the 1980s brought us both the World War II movie "Hope and Glory" and, of course, the Civil War epic "Glory." The timeless "Patton" was released in Britain with the title "Patton: Lust for Glory."

"Glory" was a good word for war movies even before there were war movies. In classical Latin, "gloria" could mean "fame, renown, praise, honor" or "ambition, pride, boasting" (the verb "glorior" meant "to boast")-and it often meant these things in relation to military or political achievement.

"Procas stands, our Trojan people's boast ... like thee renowned for faithful honor and for deeds of war," Virgil wrote in the Aeneid. The phrase "Trojan people's boast" is, in Latin, "Troianae gloria gentis." Later, Virgil writes, "With Trojan arms allied, how far may not our Punic fame extend in deeds of power?" "Punic fame" is "Punica gloria."

Cicero liked to use the "honorable reputation" sense of "gloria," as when he wrote in a letter, "It was the Republic of which I was thinking, of which I have always thought, and of your position and glory" ("dignitati ac gloriae"). In Orations, he wrote of a man who had "the highest possible reputation ["gloria"] for genius."

Latin later introduced "gloria" into worship, where the word hung on to its fame-and-reputation meaning but added another: transcendent splendor; beauty or light with a seemingly supernatural quality.

How this happened isn't completely clear.

Jerome, translating the Bible into his Latin Vulgate version, used "gloria" for the Hebrew word "kabod" and the Greek "doxa" (as in "doxology"), both of which could mean both "fame-and-reputation" or "transcendent splendor." But he didn't always use "gloria": in Luke 2, when the angel appears to the shepherds, and "the glory of the Lord" (Greek "doxa kyrion") shines around them, Jerome says "claritas Dei," meaning "the brightness of God." At the transfiguration in Luke 9, Elijah and Moses appear "in glory"; Jerome says they appear "in majestate"-in majesty.

It's possible that Jerome hesitated to use the word "gloria"-which the classical poets used chiefly for fame and boasting-for supernatural happenings, since the Latin "gloria" historically lacked the extra layer of meaning-"transcendent splendor"-that the Hebrew "kabod" and the Greek "doxa" had.

It's possible, too, that "gloria" only developed those layers in liturgy. It may have adopted its "transcendent" meaning from its use in the transcendent experience of the Mass, or simply by analogy to the Hebrew and Greek words that "gloria" was used to translate.

By now, "gloria" has made its way into French ("gloire") and from there into English, where it lives the same dual life that "kabod" and "doxa" did: "glory" meaning "fame" ("Days of Glory") and "glory" meaning transcendent splendor ("the glory of the sunrise").

When we worship, we use it both ways: "glory to God" in the first sense and "the glory of God" in the second. The intersection of the two-the act of lifting up God's name, joined with the transcendent experience of God's presence-makes "glory" a word that is liturgically versatile, and continually mysterious.

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