Glory, Passions, & Courage

There’s a legend told by the Roman historian Livy in his history of Rome called Ex Urbe Condita. In the 6th century BC, Rome was invaded by an Etruscan king, Lars Porsena. Porsena laid siege to the city of Rome. Seeing the city hard pressed and starving, a number of youth were outraged and determined to deliver Rome from the catastrophe and restore the honor and glory of their city. They swore themselves to assassinate Porsena. They drew lots and each would attempt in the order of their lot to kill the enemy king.

The first lot fell to a boy named Gaius Mucius. The boy hid a dagger in his cloak and swam over the river Tiber and crept behind the lines of the enemy. He came into the heart of the enemy camp and saw a man in fine array and of some authority. This man was not in fact the Etruscan king, but only his secretary. Not knowing the face of the king and seeing this man’s fine robes, Mucius took him to be the king. He approached him, withdrew his dagger and plunged it deeply into his enemy.

Having completed his task he made to escape, but in the commotion he was captured by the Etruscan soldiers and brought before their true king. The king learns of the oath that the Roman youths have sworn and orders Mucius to be burned if he will not betray his comrades. In defiance Mucius stretches out his right hand and places it in the fire without betraying the least sign of pain. As his hand is burned Mucius tells the king that each of the youth sworn to kill him will take just as little account of their bodies as Mucius has shown, and each will come in succession to make an attempt on the life of the Etruscan king.

In honor of the boy’s bravery the king sets him free without any penalty. In fear of his accomplices, the king sends an Envoy across the Tiber to sue for peace. Porsena made concessions to Rome and peace was sworn. The courage of Gaius Mucius saved Rome and preserved the fledgling city that would one day become the greatest empire the world had yet known.

Augustine, in his City of God, notes that if this boy was moved to so great a deed, and such unquenchable courage by a passion for the glory of Rome, how much more ought we who are seeking a city not made with hands, a city eternal in the heavens, to be motivated to great deeds and unquenchable courage by a passion for its righteousness, which is the glory of its founder, Christ. And His glory is not the passing glory of an earthly city, but the eternal glory of the one true God who put on flesh and became obedient Himself unto death and was therefore exalted to the right hand of the throne of God.

What boldness, what courage should we have who have become heirs of so great a glory? Livy recounts Mucius’ words as he plunged his hand into the flame. “Look and learn how lightly those regard their bodies who have some great glory in view.” In an improbable turn of events, a rare virus attacked my retina a couple years ago and I was blind for a time. Living all that time in uninterruptible darkness it was this thought that was an anchor to me. It was having the glory of Christ in view when I could see little else that enabled me to regard my body and its affliction lightly. That glory is incomparably more delightful, more desirable than any other thing a man might find, or any other thing a man might lose, even his life.

If you want the sort of hope, the sort of courage, the sort of happiness that will endure disaster and loss, you must have a great glory in view. There is no greater glory than the glory of the God who rules and ordains all that comes to pass in His world. I long for people to take in view the glory of God. I especially long for young men to take it in view. We are so easily captivated by lesser glories, the glory of a cause or a career, an ideology or even just the glory of a levelled up character in a video game. All lesser glories will betray us. We can give them our lives but they are a mist and just when they reach their peak we will say, “Look what I have done.” but it will already be gone.

The glory of our great God and savior is the only glory that will endure, and in the end it is the only glory that will satisfy us. It is this glory for which God’s people were made, “…bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory…” Isaiah 43:6-7. All other glories are like junk food in the end. It’s tempting and we live off it but then we wonder why it is not well with us.