C.S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory is really a collection of brief theological ruminations which takes its title from the first chapter, or first essay. The essays therein strike the typical Lewisian balance—deep profundity covered over by layman accessibility. It is crypto-scholarly without any direct citations.
“The Weight of Glory” may be translated into the burden of glorification. Lewis seeks to understand wisdom and the traditional Christian notion of divinization—which it is never called and instead broken down into fame and luminosity. He begins by alluding to Sodom and Gomorrah, with the gentle reader as Abraham. “If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened?”
Lewis witty but profound opening remark is hashed out in the coming pages. What Lewis’s main point is to show how self-centeredness and atomization has crept in and is at the core of “unselfishness.” Unselfishness is still centered on the self-detached from others. By dialectical contrast, love is centered on others (and specifically for the Christian, others through God which allows for greater love and relationship between humans). One virtue places relationships with others as the highest virtue. The other virtue, which is no virtue at all, places the self as the highest virtue disguised as concern for others. As Lewis writes, “The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.”
Those with a knowledge of philosophy recognize that the modern wisdom is atomized and Hobbesianized Stoicism. In fact, Lewis does count the stoic philosophy as responsible (along with Kant) for this transformation in modern society and amongst modern Christians who preach “Unselfishness” rather than Love and conflate Unselfishness as the same as Love.
The essay continues by eventually considering the question of glory and the two roads that glory takes: Fame or Luminosity. Lewis, in his studies, and much to his dismay, realizes that the Catholic and old Anglican traditions of glory equaling fame (before the eyes of God rather than men) is, in fact, deeply Christian and scriptural (he cites Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Anglican poet and theologian John Milton along with the writings of the Apostle Paul). “When I began to look into this matter [of fame] I was shocked to find such different Christians as Milton, Johnson, and Thomas Aquinas taking heavenly glory quite frankly in the sense of fame or good report…And then, when I had thought it over, I saw that this view was scriptural.”
There are no ordinary people, Lewis writes. This is because all are called to glory. All are called to win the praise of their Eternal Father who is proud of his children. “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” Lewis reflects upon the New Testament passages which talk about a child entering the Kingdom of God and he has a revelatory moment that these passages are not talking about having an infantile faith, a servile disposition to God, or about abortion (as many contemporary evangelicals try to assert). Instead, Lewis realizes that the talk of a child before the Lord and entering the Lord’s House is “not [as] a conceited child, but [as] a good child—as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised.” There is no greater joy in a creature—a child, a human—than in being praised, “approved,” by his or her Parent.
God does, in fact, take notice of the behavior of his children and approves of those accordingly or disapproves of those accordingly. “I never knew you. Depart from Me,” Lewis writes in referencing the famous passage from St. Matthew’s gospel. Glory is fame before the Lord, or as Lewis calls it, “approval” before the Lord. This is what all fallen children are called to attain. This is the call to glory.
Lewis then turns to consider luminosity and realizes how beautification is tied to this fame before God. For the call to glory is also the call to shine like the sun. This luminosity is the gradual overcoming of sin and taking on true nature—the untainted and uncorrupted, unmarred, nature of unfallen man. Luminous man shines before the Lord and is noticed by the Lord. Darkened man, man marred by sin and sinking further into sin, is unnoticed by God.
In considering glory and luminosity and thinking them opposed, Lewis has now realized that the two go together. In Catholicism and Orthodoxy this glorification and beautification of man before God is called divinization. “God became man so that man might become like god,” said St. Athanasius of Alexandria.
Indeed, this is the weight, or burden, of glory. It is what St. Pope John Paul II reflected upon as “the call to greatness.” This is, indeed, a burden. “Take up your cross and follow Me.” The call to glory is burdensome and heavy. It is not an easy path. But it is the path that reaps the greatest reward—the eternal reward of approval by the Eternal Father.
Some Christians might object that the “loving God” of Christianity would never reprove of his children. Lewis deals with this briefly in his discussion of heaven and hell. Needless to say this idea is not Christian, scriptural, or traditional. Christ himself states that on Judgement Day he will declare to some, “Depart from me ye doers of inequity, for I never knew you.” So much for not accepting everyone. And this is equally affirmed in the Old Testament, especially the Psalms, where God hates the sinner and reproves of sinners. There is no such thing as “love the sinner and hate the sin” from God’s perspective. Humans may be called to love even their enemies and hope for their salvation, but God has strict standards of judgement which are just.
Lewis’s Weight of Glory, though written in accessible terms and an accessible format, contains some deep and profound insights into Christianity. Students of the patristics, especially St. Augustine, will also recognize various Augustinian themes that Lewis deals with—like the difference between signs and things, mediums of signification and the Object signified through mediation (in his discussion on student study and literature), allegory, analogy, etc.
There are, in my mind, three important take-aways from Lewis’s essay (or chapter) here. First is the highest Virtue for the Christian is relationality. That is what is entailed in Love. The highest “Virtue” for the non-Christian is atomized isolation—not helping others disguised as helping others by not getting in their way; Christian virtue is about direct encounters with others and helping them improve their lives. Second is that the call to glory is, in fact, to seek fame and approval. But the fame and approval sought is not from other men (as Jesus says in reproaching the hypocrites who pray in the street for men to see) but the fame and approval sought from God the Father who calls on humans to love their neighbors. For on that day of meeting God face-to-face God will say to his famous child “Welcome home good and faithful servant.” Third is that glorification entails beautification, or luminosity. Through the attainment of glory, one shines ever brighter in this world and stands out as a light in the darkness. It is much easier to go with the flow, to stay hidden in the shadows. No one likes to stand out. It is embarrassing. People would rather “fit in.” But the burden of glory calls men and women out of darkness and into the light.
Hesiod, Paul Krause in real life, is the editor of VoegelinView and a writer on art, culture, literature, politics, and religion for numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the author of The Odyssey of Love and the Politics of Plato, and a contributor to the College Lecture Today and the forthcoming book Diseases, Disasters, and Political Theory. He holds master’s degrees in philosophy and theology (biblical & religious studies) from the University of Buckingham and Yale, and a bachelor’s degree in economics, history, and philosophy from Baldwin Wallace University.
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