The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Tuesday, December 11, 2007
A Positive View of Work

"Virgil perceived that agriculture is fundamental to civilization, and he affirmed the dignity of manual labour. When the Christian monastic orders came into being, the contemplative life and the life of manual labour were conjoined … . Christianity established the principle that action and contemplation, labour and prayer, are both essential to the life of the complete man."

-- from T.S. Eliot's essay "Virgil and the Christian World" (1951), quoted in this review article of Medievalism, The Middle Ages in Modern England by
Michael Alexander

This is in contrast to the Greek (Homeric) decidedly negative view of work. This is at the heart of Platonic dualism which has often plagued the West.

Many monastic orders managed to set aside much of the dualism and, as Eliot points out, embrace labor for is positive, Creational virtue. This aspect of the creation mandate was still alive for many monastics. Yet they still failed to recognize that marriage and sexuality were an equally good gift from God as is work. Of course for many monastic orders (e.g. the Cistercians) the Benedictines did not go far enough. These orders sought to erase physical pleasure from life as much as possible and leave "worldly" labor to its barest minimum.