Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Leisure: The Basis of Culture, chapter 2, part 1

[I love this chapter, but it's so full that I'm going to have to go over it a little at a time. This is a summary of the first half of the chapter. Be sure to read all the other posts on the book.]

Near the end of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Captain Wentworth realizes how foolish he has been and how little deserving he is of Anne Elliot’s love. It is a painful realization:
“I have been used to the gratification of believing myself to earn every blessing that I enjoyed. I have valued myself on honourable toils and just rewards. Like other great men under reverses,” he added with a smile, “I must endeavour to subdue my mind to my fortune. I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve.”

This is the heart of Pieper’s second chapter. “Man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble; he refuses to have anything as a gift.”

According to Pieper, the philosophers of Greece and the Middle Ages saw knowledge as two elements that work together: ratio, and intellectus. Ratio, the Reason, is active. It searches and examines, defines and draws conclusions. Reason is hard work. But intellectus is passive. It is contemplative and meditative. “Intuition” seems to be the English word that is closest to its meaning. There is a strong element of grace in human knowledge, since the intellectus is, according Aquinas, “not really human but superhuman.”

But modern philosophy has come down to us through Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who held that “knowing and philosophizing… must be regarded and understood as work,” since for Kant, knowledge “is realized in the act of comparing, examining, relating, distinguishing, abstracting, deducing, demonstrating – all of which are forms of active intellectual effort.” In this view, knowledge is Herculean labor, therefore:

[I]f to know is to work, then knowledge is the fruit of our own unaided effort and activity; then knowledge includes nothing which is not due to the effort of man, and there is nothing gratuitous about it, nothing ‘in-spired’, nothing ‘given’ about it.

Kant’s idea is that the effort involved in philosophizing was its justification, and intellectual contemplation, intellectus, is worthless because it is effortless. Pieper says this leads to the idea that the effort of acquiring knowledge is a reasonable assurance of the truth of that knowledge.

And here, in turn, we are not so very far from the ethical notion that everything man does naturally and without effort is a falsification of true morality – for what we do by nature is done without effort.

Even moral good is judged by the standard of effort: “the more difficult a thing, the higher it is in the order of goodness.” But, to quote Aquinas, “The essence of virtue consists in the good rather than in the difficult,” or, as Pieper says, “The highest moral good is characterized by effortlessness – because it springs from love.”

This is not to deny the importance of hard work in acquiring knowledge or in pursuing virtue.

The highest forms of knowledge… may well be preceded by a great effort of thought…; but in any case, the effort is the cause; it is not the condition. It is equally true that the effects so effortlessly produced by love presuppose no doubt an heroic moral struggle of the will. But the decisive thing is that virtue means the realization of the good; it may imply a previous moral effort, but it cannot be equated with moral effort.

Think of our faith, how rooted it is in Grace. “In the beginning,” says Pieper, “there is always a gift.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Work and Sabbath rest

A rabbit trail off of the Leisure discussion.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
Genesis 2:1-3

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Exodus 20:8-11

I've spent so much time thinking about issues raised the first chapter that I've only read the first page or so of the second chapter. I need to plow ahead, but in order to do that I've got to get this settled first. I'm sure Pieper is going to define what he means by "servile work" in his book, so I want to clarify where I am right now before proceeding.

Mike and I didn't grow up in a Sabbath-keeping tradition so when we decided we needed to do something to make Sunday a more special day -- to remember it and keep it holy -- one of the things we did was excuse the family from certain chores on Sunday: making beds and doing laundry, for instance. (There were "positive" things too, but in this post I'm only focussing on "negative" things we did since I'm trying to get at the nature of work.)

Then, three and a half years ago we got dairy goats. Dairy animals have to be milked, fed, and watered twice a day every day, and the barn has to be cleaned every day in cold weather, which is the only time we keep them indoors.

Also, we're trying to grow more of our food, but that's a different story -- the garden doesn't have to be plowed, planted, weeded and watered, nor the crops harvested every day, but only at certain appropriate times. The first thing you come to realize when gardening is that you don't have to set out plants or build new beds on Sunday -- those are things that properly belong to the "six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work" part of the commandment.

So what does it mean to work six days and rest one when there's so much work that has to be done every single day?

The younger children and I have spent the better part of the past year memorizing the creation week from Genesis 1:1 to 2:3, and it's been such a blessing. One thing it did was make very clear the kind of work God was doing on those six days -- the work of creation. He has entered his eternal Sabbath, as Hebrews 4 says, so he is no longer doing the work of creation, but obviously he is working every day to sustain that creation.

That, then, is the model that we use in our family. We've had to redefine work into two categories: work proper, and chores. Chores are the things that have to be done every day in order to sustain life. Work is productive in nature, and is the kind of thing that can be rested from on Sunday in order to enjoy the blessings of that rest.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Work and honor

(Reposted from September 1, 2007)

Good human work honors God’s work. Good work uses no thing without respect, both for what it is in itself and for its origin. It uses neither tool nor material that it does not respect and that it does not love. It honors nature as a great mystery and power, as an indispensable teacher, and as the inescapable judge of all work of human hands. It does not dissociate life and work, or pleasue and work, or love and work, or usefulness and beauty. To work without pleasure or affection, to make a product that is not both useful and beautiful, is to dishonor God, nature, the thing that is made, and whomever it is made for.

(from the essay “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” by Wendell Berry, in The Art of the Commonplace)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Leisure: The Basis of Culture, chapter 1

Randoms thoughts on the first chapter of Josef Pieper's book, which I'm reading along with Cindy's Book Club this fall.

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Pieper says that in our "world of planned diligence and 'total labour'" we have trouble understanding the concept of leisure because we overvalue the sphere of work. Contra the modern idea that one lives to work, Aristotle says that "We work in order to have leisure." Literally it is, "We are unleisurely in order to have leisure," as Pieper points out that "Greek only has the negative, a-scolia."

I realize the New Testament Greek isn't quite the same as the classical, but still I thought it would be instructive to look up the words that get translated as work, toil, and labour in the Bible. Here's what I found from Strong's online concordance:

Strong's G2038 - ergazomai
1) to work, labour, do work
2) to trade, to make gains by trading, "do business"
3) to do, work out
    a) exercise, perform, commit
    b) to cause to exist, produce
4) to work for, earn by working, to acquire

Strong's G2041 - ergon
1) business, employment, that which any one is occupied
    a) that which one undertakes to do, enterprise, undertaking
2) any product whatever, any thing accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind
3) an act, deed, thing done: the idea of working is emphasised in opp. to that which is less than work

Strong's G2872 - kopiaō
1) to grow weary, tired, exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief)
2) to labour with wearisome effort, to toil
    a) of bodily labour

That was a worthwhile study because I'm the kind of person who's inclined to quote from what I've been reading, and it would have been embarrassing to quote this passage to a Bible scholar who is familiar with the three words above. I suppose the disparity is because Koine is different from the classical Greek.

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A passage that gave pleasure to my sorta-Sabbatarian eyes: "We still speak of 'servile work' as unsuitable on Sundays and holidays."

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On the theme of Sabbath-keeping: It is often pointed out to us that before the Resurrection, the sabbath came at the end of the work week, showing that we work in order to rest, but now it's at the beginning, signifying the reverse -- we rest and worship in order to work.

At the end of the chapter, Pieper says that we must "base our conclusions on a philosophical and theological conception of man," so it will be interesting to see where he goes with this.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Ephesians 2:8-10:
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

The word works in "good works" is ergazomai, and I like to remind myself that not only the traditional "good works" of evangelism, charity, et al, but all my labour at home is "good work" for which Christ saved me.

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But here's something beautiful I didn't know before -- the word "workmanship" is the word poiēma. We are his poem. :-)

That word is used only one other time, the phrase "the things that are made" in Romans 1:20, "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse."