One of my favorite quotes, which I repeat often is the famous line from Saint Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
Saint Irenaeus lived in the second century and this quote is rightly celebrated as one of the most profound incites into theological anthropology – a five dollar term for the theology of human nature. God receives external glory when humans are truly alive, presumably alive in God.
However, I recently read this article by Father Patrick Henry Reardon (an Antiochian Orthodox priest) that attempts to explain how people naively misuse the quote, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
Here’s Father Reardon’s article in three bullets:
- Saint Irenaeus didn’t write “man fully alive” but just “living man.” It’s preserved in Latin as “Gloria Dei est vivens homo.” If you know Latin you can see what he means.
- The cult of “self-fulfillment” has co-opted the quote.
- True fulfillment is only in Christ, not in “self.”
Father Reardon situates the original quote in context. Saint Irenaeus goes on to say, “the life of a man is the vision of God.” So the context reveals that “living man” or “man fully alive” is in actuality rooted in the beatific vision, that is, Heaven.
However, I wonder if Father Reardon is pushing on this a bit too much! From a Thomistic point of view, there is an analogy between the life of glory in Heaven and the life of grace on earth.
For example, I don’t think we want to say that the Blessed Virgin Mary was not “fully alive” while on earth. True, she wasn’t in Heaven. So in that sense, she was not yet fully alive. Nevertheless, there is an obvious analogy to Heaven and living on earth with the Holy Trinity in your soul. Did the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Paul, and the Little Flower demonstrate the “glory of God” while living on earth?
Strictly speaking Father Reardon is right. People do abuse the quote. However, I don’t think that we have restrict the passage to human persons being fully alive in Heaven. God is truly glorified when we live the life of grace here on earth.
Gloria Dei est vivens homo!
Let’s open the comments: Had you heard this quote before? How was it being used? Do you think it can have application in this life?
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