Tag Archives: Johann Sebastian Bach

“Vanity, all is vanity” – the vice of vainglory, part II


English: Triumph of Vainglory (Gloria Mundi); ...

English: Triumph of Vainglory (Gloria Mundi); frontispiece to Petrarch’s De Viris Illustribus. The image is thought to be based on a fresco by Giotto in the palace of Azzone Visconti, in Milan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is post 2 of 2 on the vice of “vainglory,” which I am using in the “morality chapter” of my forthcoming book Getting Medieval with C S Lewis to illustrate the great precision and practicality of the medieval tradition of moral teaching. Part 1 is here.

Lewis recognized this temptation in its peculiarly potent academic form in a 1930 letter (a mere year pre-conversion, and we can hear his conviction of his own sin here) to his boyhood friend Arthur Greeves:

“The old doctrine is quite true you know – that one must attribute everything to the grace of God, and nothing to oneself. Yet as long as one is a conceited ass, there is no good pretending not to be. . . . I catch myself posturing before the mirror, so to speak, all day long. I pretend I am carefully thinking out what to say to the next pupil (for his good, of course) and then suddenly realize I am really thinking how frightfully clever I’m going to be and how he will admire me. I pretend I am remembering an evening of good fellowship in a really friendly and charitable spirit – and all the time I’m really remembering how good a fellow I am and how well I talked.”

And all the academics said, “Ouch!”

But we may object (especially the academics – we never stop objecting to all sorts of things): “What’s wrong with a little vainglory here and there?” This objection contains a truth, which De Young, following Aquinas, admits: Humans have a natural desire to be known—and especially for their goodness to be known. And Aquinas believed goodness by its nature tends to communicate itself to others. We can see this in God too. It is a natural effect of goodness to be known. So glory can be a good—can even, perhaps, be pursued in licit ways—of course recognizing, as Johann Sebastian Bach famously did, that even as we enjoy with a justifiable pride the fruit of our gifts and disciplines, the ultimate source of all good – and this the ultimate and most appropriate recipient of all glory – is God. Soli Deo Gloria!

But the problem lies in that “vain” dimension of vainglory—the falseness, the unworthiness of what is receiving glory. Continue reading

“Christian History Minutes”: Bach asks Jesus’ help and gives God glory


Back at Christian History, we were working for a while on getting a series of “Christian History Minutes” together for airing on a certain network of Christian radio stations. The deal never went down, but today I stumbled across the small series of “minutes” that I wrote at that point to demonstrate what we might do. Here’s one of those, on one of the greatest composers who ever lived:

God gives musical talent, not to bring fame to the musician, but to reflect glory on the Creator. Nobody knew that better than Johann Sebastian Bach.

I’m Chris Armstrong, editor of Christian History magazine.

We know Bach as one of the most productive geniuses in the history of Western music. He was also a deeply spiritual Christian. Nearly three-fourths of his 1,000 compositions were written for use in worship.

When he started a new piece, he always wrote at the top of the blank page, Jesu Juva. “Jesus, help me.”  And when he finished, he wrote Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone be the glory.”

2 Chronicles 5:13 speaks of temple musicians praising God. In his Bible, next to that verse, Bach wrote these words: “At a reverent performance of music, God is always at hand with his gracious presence.”

These are words worth remembering, as we enjoy the music God gives through his talented people.

For more stories from our spiritual heritage, visit www.christianhistory.net or read Christian History magazine.