Question 041. Part I
What is praise?
Do not think that he can be praised enough whose greatness is endless. Should not then your praise be endless since he has no end?… Praise of God sets you on your way and should determine what you ought to love and what you should fear; what you should seek, and what you should avoid…The silence of the heart is the cooling of charity, the cry of praise is charity’s fervor…You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised…Man, but a particle of your creation, desires to praise you. You move us to delight in praising you; for you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in you. The sum total of man’s work is this: to praise God.
from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger.
Looking to scripture, praise in the Hebrew, verb יָדָה yâdâh from the root noun הָלַל hâlal, is the action of casting forth, akin to an arrow or a stone, the brightness or clarity of the object being praised. Whereas flattering would be to tell of a positive exaggeration or positive fiction about an object, praise is telling about the truth of the object. Praise, as an action, is not passive for the action of casting forth is both the posture as well the tone. In the telling, it is about the shine, the illustriousness, the perfections, the goodness, of the object as well as burnishing the object in the eyes of those that hear the praise; praise in this sense a revelation of the nature of the object, its excellence, and its goodness. In its false sense, it would be boating, or the exaggerating of a true quality to deceive.
Praise in the Greek, verb aineō αἰνέω, nouns αἶνος ainos ἔπαινος epainos, especially as taken up into the verbs ὑμνέω hymneō (to sing praise) and εὐλογέω eulogeō (properly to bless but can be rendered to praise) the action is that of telling, chiefly in song, the story of the object being praised. The sense of the story is that of lauding of the object, of its greatness, of its excellence to commend the object to the hearers.
When these words are related to God as the object of praise it can be seen that, as God is greater than the sum of all things not just by degrees of magnitude but by His own nature, there can be no end to the amount of praise that a creature could do for God. No created light can shine upon God that could illuminate He who is light more, no story no song could speak of the totality that is God, no reveling of His magistery could plumb the depths of He who is beyond all human wisdom, and no casting forth in posture or tone could reach Him who is higher than the Heavens.
Yet man has been made to praise God, with all his effort, with all his strength, with all his skill. Man has been made to love God. He is the recipient of His charity and the receiving of this charity brings joy to his heart and this joy praise.
Man praises because God reveals Himself to man because God has made man a creature that He chooses to reveal Himself to. It is what man does, it is what the action of his end is – the praise and glory of God, which springs forth from joy and gives rise to ever more joy which gives cause for more praise. It is easy for a man to praise a creature, for the light of the world, or the light of his reason might fall upon it, might show forth the goodness of the creature, a man might love the creature for the joy of its goodness and might praise the creature. For God, the light of the world does not fall up Him, nor can κατάφασις reason shed light upon the Hidden God. God, who is light which blinds all other lights, instead sheds light upon Himself – He is True Light.
By God’s own words and deeds does He bring forth the praises of His creation. Verily by His Word sung forth does the cosmos harken and praise. By the Incarnation does the Word unite Himself with man, who was created to be united with Him. All this so that man might praise his God for all eternity. Praise is the correct response to the grace of charity that brings joy. Praise is to sing charity forth anew, to tell of God, His good things, and His will that men should receive them. Praise returns to God His charity made anew as the life of the individual by His transformation grace. It is praise that causes others to harken, for His light to be introduced into their lives, for faith to be enkindled, for charity to be received, for hearts to be exchanged, for joy to be had, and praise to be sung again.
St Francis of Assissi Adoring the Crucifix, Bernardo Strozzi, c.1615