Ad Majoram Dei Gloriam: The Glorification of God and Sanctification of People

Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola who, with several first companions, founded the Society of Jesus in 1540. Ignatius also provided the church with his Spiritual Exercises.

Following our founders’ tradition, we Jesuits regularly mark our writings with the phrase Ad Majoram Dei Gloriam, often abbreviated, A.M.D.G. But can we human creatures really add anything to the divine glory?

Such was the quandary my doctoral mentor, a liturgical scholar steeped in Wesleyan and Benedictine spiritualities, generously shared with me more than two dozen years ago. I could readily appreciate his theological concern to guard God’s utter transcendence from human hubris thinking that we can, by words or actions, augment the Eternal Holy One.

Well, we Jesuits have a deserved reputation for demonstrating, for better or worse, an excess of hubris at times — a character trait traceable to the personality of Father Ignatius. I nonetheless found my mentor’s concern genuinely humbling, such that my response was a listening silence.

Much silence and, in the broadest hermeneutical sense, listening has ensued for me over these ensuing decades. On this Saint Ignatius Day, making my morning’s prayerful Examen, I seem finally to have arrived at a response to my mentor’s troubled concern with our Jesuit A.M.D.G. The response arises from decades of reading and writing sacramental-liturgical theology, in conjunction with early church and contemporary fundamental theologies.

Fundamental to understanding the entire Christian life as worship of God and, thus, the function of ritual worship (i.e., liturgy) therein, is the recognition that God’s glory and humanity’s sanctification comprise a single, integral activity. Gloria dei and human salvation are, as I like to say (and write), two sides of one coin.

Not surprisingly, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, drawing on “sound tradition” (no. 4), asserts among the general principles for restoring and promoting the liturgy, “Christ indeed always associates the Church with himself in this great work wherein God is perfectly glorified and [people] are sanctified’ (no. 7).

That principle harkens back to the famous assertion of the second-century Saint Irenaeus of Lyons that the Glory of God resides in the human being fully alive. Edward Schillebeeckx explicitly invoked Irenaeus as he drew to conclusion his voluminous soteriology (human liberation imperfectly anticipating eschatological salvation). French liturgical scholar I. H. Dalmais, in his “Theology of the Liturgical Celebration,” posited the “Double Movement” of the liturgy: “Glorification of God and Sanctification of the Human Race.”

How can we add anything to God’s glory? It’s only possible by the gift of the Holy Spirit, making us participants in the divine work of creation and redemption. The greater measures of sanctifying grace actively shared among us, in liturgy and life, comprise the “greater” glory of God.

7 comments

  1. Hi Bruce,
    Thanks for this post!
    See also the thoughts of Yves Congar on “Christ Alpha” and “Christ Omega” in the essay “The Structure of Christian Priesthood,” in Yves Congar, At the Heart of Christian Worship: Liturgical Essays of Yves Congar, ed. and trans. Paul Philibert (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010).

  2. I learned the phrase “all for the greater honor and glory of God” from Sister Vita, SSND, in second grade. (It was an era very fond of ejaculatory prayer.) The understanding of it that I received from her – in these or similar words – is that we can’t quantitatively increase God’s intrinsic honor or glory, but that we can make the amount of honor and glory that God is given on earth greater than it is at any moment. It’s the amount of honor and glory being offered that is increased; as she taught us in Catechism our work is to love and serve God in this world, and to be with God in the next. Over the years I’ve come to think of her as maybe one of the better theologians who taught me.

  3. This reminds me of the question about which direction the presider should face during the Mass, “versus Deum” or “versus hominem.” The distinction is, of course, unsustainable since Christ’s first real presence is in the assembly. So here again, the worship of God is the sanctification of the people it’s not dichotomous but synchronous.

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