Christianity is the religion of humility as it is a sine qua non for eternal life. However, a persisting misunderstanding regarding this virtue tends to make many faithful believe that they should remain in the dark and refrain from asserting their talents.
Such belief, according to Fabrice Hadjadj, runs counter to the very essence of Christian Revelation which promises that through our relationship with Christ during our earthly life, we will be raised again and transfigured into glorified bodies. Moreover, the famous biblical teaching according to which “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14), suggests that it is the very desire for exaltation that should prompt us to humble ourselves.
It is then a real plea for the quest for glory that the Catholic philosopher makes in his latest book À moi la gloire (“Glory is all mine,” Editions Salvator). In this interview with the Register, he explains how a healthy and well-understood thirst for glory is by no means antithetical to humility but that, on the contrary, these two notions are closely interrelated.
Fabrice Hadjadj is currently the director of Philanthropos, an institute in Switzerland dedicated to the study of Christian anthropology. He is the author of a number of books translated in a dozen languages, including The Resurrection: Experience Life in the Risen Christ and The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
There is a persistent misunderstanding surrounding the very concept of glory, especially in societies with Christian traditions. Why is that? And as a Catholic philosopher, how would you define glory to a reader unfamiliar with this notion?
What causes misunderstanding is the preeminence of the virtue of humility. If I say that
I seek glory, especially by wanting to be known to the American public through the National Catholic Register columns, I can immediately be judged as a vain man, very far from Christianity, because the Christian is humble, and avoids being seen or putting himself forward.
But if, on the contrary, I claim that, through this interview, I seek above all obliteration, how could I not be considered a hypocrite? Perhaps then I will affirm that what I am seeking is not my own glory, but the glory of God; however, God is God, it is impossible to add something to his perfection, and it would be immensely arrogant to believe that I, as a minute creature, could bring him some additional glory. Rather, would I say that I am not seeking to be glorified by men, but by the Lord himself, the sovereign Judge?
That would still put me in a delicate situation, since I suggest that being praised by human beings is not enough for me, and that I need at least a divine praise. You see, with the desire for glory, as well as the refusal of such desire, one does not easily get out of trouble.
In my opinion, this embarrassment comes from two mistakes, one of which is the confusion between two things that must be distinguished, while the other comes from the separation of two things that must be linked.
Confusion is made by identifying glory and good itself. Glory is not good, but the radiance of that good, known and praised by other people.
I cannot be glorious by myself, because to be glorious, you have to appear so: it is not just about me being good, but being recognized as such... Therefore, the glorious man is an eminently social being, who knows that his glory depends on the word of others.
Separation is about opposing being and appearance, and imagining that appearances are necessarily misleading. Wanting to seem good without being good is probably a lie, but wanting to be good without seeming to be so is a form of greed. Would the rose be more beautiful if she stayed in the shadows? Should the peacock be ashamed to spread its tail? Christ himself says that the lamp should not be put under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and he asks the disciples to be the light of the world — that is, not just to shine, but even to illuminate.
Appearance is not what deviates from being, but what offers itself to others, to their knowledge and judgment. The fact that good should be recognized as such is also the condition for exemplarity and apostolate.
Social networks, which seem to be the ultimate expression of the desire for glory (a desire that is, as you recall in your book, engraved in the human heart) is, as you mentioned in your book, the worst perversion instrument of authentic glory. Why?
Social networks feed on our appetite for recognition, but they divert it and pervert it by pretending to satisfy it immediately. On the one hand, through selfies and stories, they offer self-glorification, which is pretty much as coherent as a square circle. On the other hand, by allowing everything to be posted very quickly, with impatience, they forbid the obscure work of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground, and without which there is no real fructification. With Instagram or Facebook, one thinks he is coming to light without effort, and he finally ends up drowned in waste.
The logic of glory, you say, always implies humility and generosity. Such an assertion shakes up conventional wisdom. How can this logic be articulated?
From a theological point of view, humility is first of all about accepting one's condition as a creature by submitting to the will of the Creator. But what does the Creator want? He wants his creature to shine forth. Can you imagine a poet who would want his poem to be bad or despicable? The greatest pride would be to refuse the glory that God wants to give us, to lock ourselves in the darkness of a small world of our own, with the intention not to expose itself to any judgment: it looks like humility, but it is actually what the devil does very well...
From a philosophical point of view, not only must it be considered that I can only receive my glory from someone else, but also that only someone equal or superior to me can grant me a true recognition. A master can only be recognized as a master if he is exceeded by his disciple. A father finds his glory as a father only in his son’s fruitfulness. From here come humility and generosity. To be glorious, I must rely on others and work to make sure that they are at least as good as I am.
Magnanimity, the virtue that orders the desire for glory, is very unknown today. Don’t you have the impression that, somehow, this virtue is no longer sufficiently valued within the Church?
Indeed, it is rare nowadays to preach about magnanimity – which comes from magna anima, the great soul, the one who aspires to great things. There is a reason for this: magnanimity is a virtue shared by pagans as well, while humility is a specifically Christian virtue. We therefore turn to the specific, forgetting the similarities, but in doing so, we risk turning to the supernatural forgetting about nature, and nothing is more dangerous than this supernaturalism in weightlessness, where a so-called spirituality ends up destroying our carnal reality.
It must also be noted that the figures of the athlete, the soldier, so recurrent in Saint Paul (“I fought the good fight, I have finished the race” — 2 Timothy 4) have tended to disappear from the faithful’s vision. These figures probably have to be balanced by others, such as those of the winegrower or the shepherd, or even the hen which gathers her cubs under her wings. But rejecting them makes us lose the sense of Christian heroism, and degrades mercy to a formless sentimentalism.
Like humility, vulnerability appears to be consubstantial to glory, which makes it an eminently Christian quest. Why should the superhuman be immediately disqualified in the race for glory?
A famous verse by tragedian Pierre Corneille reminds us of this: “To win without risk is to triumph without glory.” You can't glorify a drone or a bulldozer. Superman is of interest to us only when he becomes vulnerable, when there is kryptonite or because he is in love with Lois Lane. Only the man who has risked his life for the good can have a life that radiates beyond his superpowers and petty interests. Eternal life, that which envelops and exceeds temporal life, can only manifest itself on the Cross. Glory does not want us to be superhumans, but human — infinitely and lovingly human, so to speak. The superhuman who, thanks to his exoskeleton, can lift a ton is less glorious than the child who picks a flower to offer it to a little girl.
Singing is central to your demonstration. What is specifically glorious about singing in your view, or rather to your musician’s ears?
Glory implies that there are heroes and poets. The hero can be glorious only if his exploits are sung by a poet. We say that a good deed is worthy of praise. It is therefore always in this horizon of singing that the good deed lies. What do the Psalms encourage us to do, if not to have a life worthy of being sung by the blessed? Tolkien had seen it well. There is this wonderful episode in The Lord of the Rings, when Sam and Frodo go through the night of Mordor and lose hope. Sam asks if what they are going through is an adventure, something that can be told to the children one day, by the fireside, to give them courage and joy; Frodo answers yes, that one day, one will probably sing the story of the two hobbits in the land of darkness. And that is what raises them — that is what leads them to carry out their mission to the end.
You are said to be quite close to some of the so-called Christian “Degrowth” movements in France. How do you combine this personal sensitivity with the creative impetus that the quest for glory implies?
I don’t see myself as an advocate of Degrowth or Growth, strictly speaking. Rather, I refer to “integral ecology” and to criticism toward the “technocratic paradigm,” as we can read in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si. The one who believes that glory is on the side of innovation and transhumanism has failed to recognize the glory that fills the earth, as the Sanctus says. He is stupid enough to claim to be a creator while despising creation. He enjoys his gadgets in the middle of devastation. For my part, I think that any fly is more wonderful than an iPhone. Steve Jobs would never have had the idea to invent the fly. You have to be God to have such a fantasy.
“The good fight is not meant to escape the peace of the house, but to defend it,” you write, warning against the diversion of a quest for glory that would be used as a pretext to escape the marital home. How can marital life and a home constitute the glory of a man?
On the most divine level, glory is still that of the Father and the Bridegroom. Why do we fight, if not for a home, if not to defend a woman and children, a heritage and a future? And then, receiving public acclaim is easy: one makes oneself up for the audience, shows one’s best side. Who knows if by answering your questions, I’m not neglecting my son who needs my attention? To receive praise from his wife and children — that is, from those who really see us, off stage, behind the scenes, without artifice, without lies — is much more difficult, and therefore much more glorious.