Glory and the Historian: Some Propositions

By Radzilowski, Paul J. | Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Glory and the Historian: Some Propositions


Radzilowski, Paul J., Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture


IN THIS ARTICLE, I would like to explore concisely various aspects of the historian's calling as concerns glory. A few general remarks to begin: glory is an aesthetic category above all. This article therefore is not primarily about historical method, epistemology, or the literary criticism of histories. Although it is meant to contribute to the philosophy of history after a fashion, it will not do so in the usual sense, that is, through the study of fundamental principles that underlie the events of history. Yet since history (and histories) are so obviously a blend of diverse things, my inquiry will occasionally cross the path of each of these areas of study, and each, after all, has an aesthetic dimension. One of the many ways in which objects and events of history are blended deserves special comment: descriptions of them usually refer--if implicitly--both to interior, subjective realities, such as decisions, intentions, concepts, and so forth, and to the external effects of inward determinations. Therefore, this article will draw on different branches of philosophy as suitable to elucidating each aspect of human realities. My intent is not to be a reckless eclectic but rather to use whatever is useful in illuminating a particular topic. I am concerned about the glory of transient, temporal things above all, not the glory of God or angels, so my statements about glory are to be taken as so qualified, unless I indicate otherwise. I have thought it expedient for the sake of concision and clarity to present my points as a number of definite propositions. I do not mean these to be taken as beyond debate but merely as presenting some tentative reflections and as a means for promoting further reflection and discussion.

Proposition 1: Glory is a form of intellectual beauty. It is the primary form of beauty with which historians are concerned.

For the purposes of this article glory may be defined as the beauty of what is, taken in its completed and actual particularity, in relation to its full context; in the case of a person this means in the full context of his or her personal relations. (1) To put it more dynamically: it is the actuality of that which makes something worthy of admiration, as instantiated in what happens or comes to be, above all, in the actions of persons. (2) Glory in this primary sense may be immediate, that is, concerned with the attributes of the things themselves, or extended, as in the weight of the effects it brings about or the consequences to which it was an important or necessary condition. Glory is intellectual beauty because, properly speaking, to appreciate it requires a judgment of the intellect as to the achievement, importance, or greatness of something; it cannot be directly apprehended by the senses. Anyway, histories are rarely very pictorial in their mode of representation--they tend to refer and assess more, and describe scenes less than, say, novels.

Secondarily, glory can mean the fame of something admirable, of something that deserves to be remembered. And it is in such acts of remembrance

that historians deal above all. As a corollary of this definition, only that can be truly glorious, which actually is, or, at any rate, which actually was. Glory therefore is a character of that which actually happens, comes to be, or is done. As such, when historians deal with the contingent things of the past in respect to glory, they tend to consider them as relative necessities. To put it another way, they view them as actually caused in some particular time and place, and so, in that context as having become necessary with regard to their own present and to the future relative to that present. Of course, this does not mean that they literally had to happen, but only that once they do happen, their existence is in that sense irrevocable. They have become part of the structure of historical reality, and its profoundly complex web of mutually dependent actions. …

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