The Dialectic of Mutual Glorification


In the past century or so, dialectic has become a tool for analyzing many areas of life and thought: we might consider the dialectic between “being-for-itself” (l’être-pour-soi), and “being-for-others” (l’être-pour-autrui) in the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre, or that between Petrine Christianity and Pauline Christianity in the theology of Friedrich Christian Baur. The word “dialectic” is derived from Greek, and in classical Greek philosophy, such as in the works of Aristotle, it referred to a specific style of philosophic debate in which two disputants use a question-and-answer format to attempt to lead the opponent into a logical contradiction or indefensible position—this style is a hallmark of the Platonic Dialogues.1 In the modern usage, “dialectic” is usually seen through the lens of G.W.F. Hegel, with his trifecta of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Per Hegel’s view, and modern usage, dialectic involves a conflict between two opposing concepts (the thesis and antithesis), in which the conflict is resolved by transcending both concepts through a synthesis comprising both. In a simplified view, we might say it is another version of the saying, “The sum is greater than the whole of the parts.” Although here, the parts are contradictory.

This modern definition and usage of dialectic can be used in attempting to understand the liturgy as well, although the concepts will usually not be wholly contradictory, but merely in-conflict. Perhaps, one might see the liturgy as including a conflict between the role of the clergy, and the role of the congregation; certainly, some commentators on the liturgy would see a conflict here. In particular, critics of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass often view it as a means for the clergy to dominate the congregation, and subdue them into silence. For those with this view, the call for “active participation” in Sacrosanctum Concilium would be a revolutionary one, a call for the oppressed congregation to rise up against its clerical overlords, and claim the liturgy as its own. The metaphor of warfare between the clergy and the congregation is not the view of the Church. Instead, the Church resolves this conflict with a synthesis of the two sides: “Liturgical services are not private functions, but are celebrations of the Church which is ‘the sacrament of unity,’ namely, ‘the holy people united and arranged under their bishops.’”2 In other words, the liturgy is not a work of merely the clergy, or merely the congregation. Instead, it is the work of the whole Church, which encompasses both.

The issue I want to investigate here is not the relation between the work of the clergy, and the congregation, but a relation that already incorporates the synthesis of the two: the relation between the work of the Church, and the work of the Lord in the liturgy.3 Earlier in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the council declared that “[f]rom the liturgy … grace is poured fourth upon us as from a fountain, and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God … are achieved with maximum effectiveness.”4 I want to focus on the two effects listed here: “the sanctification of men” and “the glorification of God.” The Council’s words connect both of these effects to the grace poured out in the liturgy, and it is true that grace operates in both. (This is the insight won by St. Augustine in his battle with the Pelagians, namely that grace is necessary, even primary, and man’s effort alone is insufficient.) Without negating the role of grace in man’s actions, when discussing the glorification of God in the liturgy, I will primarily discuss man’s effort in this effect, even though it is really the result of a synergy of man’s effort and God’s grace.

We thus have two main effects of the liturgy that we will focus on: the sanctification of men, and the glorification of God. These two effects occupy principal roles in Cyprian Vagaggini’s analysis of the liturgy. For instance, his basic definition of the liturgy states, “The liturgy is: the complexus of the sensible, efficacious signs of the Church’s sanctification and of her worship.5 In addition to including these two effects, Vagaggini’s definition also emphasizes the key ecclesial dimension of the liturgy: it is the Church’s sanctification, and the Church’s worship of God, not merely that of any one Christian in particular. Though these pairs of terms—sanctification and glorification or sanctification and worship—are fitting, I prefer to think of both effects in terms of glorification: the Church’s glorification of God and God’s glorification of the Church. I once read this described as “mutual doxology” or “mutual glorification”: unfortunately, I do not know the source of this phrase, but I find it fitting.

These two effects could be viewed as the contrasting theses of a dialectic. An image to illustrate this might be two jets of water firing at each other: on one hand, the glorification from the Church towards God is pouring forth, and, on the other hand, the glorification from God pours out, or fires, towards the Church. Some might view this conflict as irreconcilable without conquest: either the Church must triumph, or God must triumph; that is, either the liturgy is solely a service of praise to God, or it is solely a means by which God bestows grace upon man. The latter seems less likely to be promoted. The closest analogy of this that I could think of would be of a Quaker service in which the congregation sits in silence, waiting for God to speak within them. The former seems to be a more attractive reduction. It is a peculiar form of reducing liturgy to the merely human. Of course, such a liturgy is directed towards God. It is not as if it were merely celebrating man’s abilities and dignity (though some might try to reduce the liturgy to that). But this form of liturgy, in which all that remains is man’s praise of God, removes God’s action in the liturgy, except insofar as he would, through grace, be inspiring the praise. In such a reduction, the liturgy would be merely a praise and worship service. Such a service is not wrong, and they can be a wonderful means for us to lift up our hearts to God, and to glorify him, but they are not liturgy. Liturgy must be a mutual glorification. True liturgy is thus a form of synthesis between these two possibilities of reductionism. It is both sanctification of man and glorification of God, not either sanctification or glorification.

However, I have called this not merely “sanctification and glorification,” but “mutual glorification.” This means that not only does man glorify God, but also God glorifies man. Yet, what does it mean for God to glorify man? “Glory” can be a multivalent term, whereby God’s glorification of man is not the same as man’s glorification of God. Someone can be glorious, that is, he or she can have glory residing in him or her, or as we say in the Gloria, “We give you thanks for your great glory.” In this case, we acknowledge the glory residing in God. God has this glory according to his nature, but it can also be bestowed on others through his gift. Yet, there is another way for glory to be given. It can be a type of praise or honor for the glory residing in someone. A good example of both of these may be seen in the example of the saints: God bestows glory (in the sense of a resident value) upon them; and the Church, recognizing that glory, gives glory (in the sense of praise or honor) to them.6 In the liturgy, the Church, recognizing God’s intrinsic glory, gives Him the praise of glory, while God bestows the value of glory upon the Church. It is key to recognize that God is not merely praising or honoring the Church. God is imbuing the Church with glory by actively sanctifying the Church.

The glory given by the Church to God is similar to what could be found in any praise and worship service, although the liturgy’s glory is particularly ecclesial in nature. The glory given by God to the Church is the key distinguishing factor. Of course, God can work in a myriad of ways, and he can bestow grace, glory, and sanctification however He wills. As is often said, God is not bound by the Sacraments. (In one sense, He does bind Himself to the Sacraments, in that He binds Himself to give grace from the Sacraments ex opere operato; however, He is not bound to only work through the Sacraments.) The Sacraments are a privileged means by which God gives grace and glory, but this concept of “glorification of man” extends beyond merely the Sacraments. It encompasses all of liturgy.

But why is the rest of the liturgy, not strictly Sacramental, also a privileged area for God’s bestowal of glory? It is because of the Church. To return to Vagaggini, he explains that liturgy is efficacious ex opere operantis of the Church.7 The Mystical Body of Christ on earth has the authority to institute liturgical services, and in addition to giving this authority to the Church, God also binds himself to work in this liturgy, because of the Church’s role. In one view, this might be described in a legal way: God has delegated the power of dispensing His grace, at least to some extent, to the Church as a sort of plenipotentiary delegate. We might view this as an expansion of the idea that “[w]hatever you will loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18). In another view, this might be understood under the schema of the Mystical Body: it is because the Church is a body animated by the Holy Spirit (God himself) as its soul that all of its actions will bear the imprint and the energy of the Soul. The actions of the body most in tune with nature are also actions of the soul, though the body can also become disordered, and attempt to function independently. Likewise, the members of the Church’s body can also act independently of the soul. However, despite the possibility of rebellion, the actions of the Church’s body, particularly when they are done in union with the Body, and not separately, are also the actions of the soul, and so the energy of the soul, that is, the grace of the Holy Spirit, is imprinted in those actions.

Let us draw these strands together, and weave the final product of our reflections. We see two seemingly opposing streams in the liturgy. Either it is entirely the work of the Church toward God, or it is entirely the work of God towards the Church. Using terms from the Second Vatican Council, we could call these streams “the glorification of God” and “the sanctification of man.” Yet, both can be viewed as “glorification,” though in different forms. The two streams may seem so opposed that one must conquer the other. However, true liturgy is neither simply man’s glorification, or simply God’s glorification. Instead, true liturgy is the synthesis of both. In terms of dialectic, then, the two glorifications are the two theses, and the liturgy is the true synthesis.

The liturgy is a synergy of mutual glorification, a combination or interchange of the Church’s energy (particularly the energy of the Church’s members, her human aspect) and God’s energy. By this synthesis and synergy, the liturgy overcomes the two possible reductions, incorporating both of them into a combined work of mutual glorification. Such an idea can be fruitful for reflections on the liturgy, and for teaching the liturgy, as it includes both the work of man, and the work of God, thus assisting an understanding of the liturgy in its fullness. In addition, knowing the various notions of “glory” can assist our understanding of the function of liturgy, as well, particularly that not only does man glorify God, but God also glorifies man. Finally, with the help of the concept of mutual glorification, we can better prepare ourselves to receive the graces and glory of the liturgy, while being able give glory ever better to “Christ, the Savior of all, the One forever glorifying those glorifying him.”8

  1. See the description by George A. Kennedy in Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse, trans. George A. Kennedy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 26-27.
  2. Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium §26, in Austin Flannery, ed., Vatican Council II, new rev. ed., vol. 1, The Conciliar and Postconciliar Documents (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, Inc., 1998), 10. The council quotes here from St. Cyprian of Carthage’s On the Unity of the Catholic Church, §7.
  3. Throughout this article, I will somewhat interchangeably use “man” and “the Church” in describing the work of the liturgy. The liturgy is always an ecclesial act, so “the Church” would be the proper agent; however, in the distinctions prevalent in this article, what is emphasized is the human aspect of the Church rather than the divine aspect, and the term “man” highlights this.
  4. Sacrosanctum Concililum §10, in Flannery, 6.
  5. Cyprian Vagaggini, Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy: A General Treatise on the Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Leonard J. Doyle and W.A. Jurgens (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1976), 27.
  6. For a further discussion of the multivalence of the term “glory,” see Brandon P. Otto’s work “The Debt of Glory and the Liturgy as Fitting Payment,” a paper presented at the Society for Catholic Liturgy’s conference “The Liturgy: It is Right and Just,” October 3, 2015. The honor bestowed in giving glory might also be viewed as a certain type of “value,” distinct from the value of glory that God can bestow, but such an investigation is beyond the scope of this paper.
  7. See diagram (Vagaggini, 118).
  8. St. Symeon Metaphrastes, Life of Eugenios and Maria His Daughter, in J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologia Graeca, Volume 115 (Paris: Garnier Fratres and J.-P. Migne, 1900), 353C.
Brandon P. Otto About Brandon P. Otto

Brandon P. Otto is a member of the St. Louis Byzantine Catholic Mission in St. Louis, MO. He obtained a Master's Degree in Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is currently an independent scholar, with particular interest in the Fathers and liturgies of the Eastern Churches, as well as Christian poetry.