What does it mean to be truly great? There have been many in history who have claimed to be great, even the greatest. People like Mohammed Ali come to mind. If they were the greatest, it seems that their brand of greatest is fleeting since so few have been able to hang on to it throughout life. Today Ali, hobbled by Parkinson’s disease, is barely able to talk let alone boast about his greatest. So it is with so many who have ascended the throne of greatest only to find that the chair was far too big for them to sit in. In history there have been only a few examples of individuals that found greatest and made it theirs throughout life. One of these was Louis the Great of France.
Without a doubt, Louis XIV of France, Louis the Great, is one of the most renown kings to have ever lived. Although, there was nothing particularly splendid about his appearance, being he was relatively short and plain looking, and he possessed only a modest education and lacked somewhat in imagination, Louis was able to overcome these shortcomings. He did possess one thing in abundance; he believed totally and thoroughly in himself. Coupled with his innate ability to exercise great detail in his approach to government, Louis, by most standards, was a pretty competent ruler. But, from the start, Louis was not content to be just a good ruler. Louis wanted to hailed as a great ruler, even unexcelled among kings.
He became a patron of the arts and assembled vast collections of artwork and books into great libraries. He built the elegant palace of Versailles that took 35,000 artisans and laborers over thirty years to complete. He immersed and surrounded himself in opulence. Greatness was good enough for some kings but not for Louis. Louis XIV wanted to be glorious not just great. Louis knew that that only way to achieve such glory was to take all the power for himself. He confessed the belief “that the king alone is sovereign in his kingdom and that sovereignty is no more divisible than the point in geometry.” He quickly took away the power of all the great nobles in France. He boldly proclaimed that “I am the state!” He brought them to court simply for his entertainment but thought little of their ability to help him govern or lead the people. He enticed them with great riches and favors, bribing them to break their ties to the lesser nobles and, therefore, the people of France. Louis wanted all the power and he got it. He ruled France with an iron hand and influenced the culture and political structure of Europe throughout his reign. To most in Europe he was known as the Grand Monarch, one to be emulated and whose lifestyle all royalty should aspire to.
Prior to his death in 1715 at the age of 72, he left instructions with the Bishop of the Catholic Church in France, Bishop Massilou, that he be buried in a golden coffin and that at his funeral service the entire cathedral should be dark, lit dimly by only one candle positioned above his coffin so that all would be awed in his presence, even in death. At the memorial, thousands waited in hushed silence. Then Bishop Massilon began to speak; slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle and said, “Only God is great.”
“Only God is great!” No matter how we strive to ascend, our descent is quick and inglorious when faced with the prospect of standing in the presence of the only “great” sovereign, the Lord God Almighty. As hard as Louis tried to corner the market on greatness, he simply couldn’t top God. God’s greatness goes beyond glass palaces and royal courts. God’s ...
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