Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lord! Give Us Holy Leisure!

THE FIRST PRINCIPLE OF ACTION, states Aristotle, is leisure. This is because, in Aristotle's view, leisure is the purpose of all lack of leisure, of all activity, of all busy-ness.* For Aristotle, busy-ness is not an end in itself. This is the classic and Christian view of things. As important as it is, activity, busy-ness, leisurelessness does not take precedence in human life; rather, it is leisure that ought to take precedence. Leisure is the keystone of the arch composed of the voussoirs of busy-ness.

This is the approach to work and to leisure (which the Compendium of the Church's Social Doctrine calls by its biblical name, rest). The Compendium teaches that, as the untiring God rested after creating the world, so must men and women who are created in His image (but who tire) rest. For this reason, the Compendium insists that men and women are to structure their lives to assure that they "enjoy sufficient rest and free time that will allow them to tend to their family, cultural, social, and religious life." This obligation is both social and individual.

It is therefore incumbent upon public authority to see that its citizens are not deprived of their proper rest, and that they are not deprived from their time for divine worship "for reasons of economic productivity." (Compendium, No. 286) Employers also are under an obligation to assure that their employees have an opportunity for rest and divine worship. (Compendium, No. 286) Indeed, "Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord's Day." (Compendium, No. 286) (quoting CCC s. 2187)

For us moderns, the authentic notion of rest or leisure that the Compendium insists upon escapes us. We are perplexed at Aristotle's statement which the philosopher Josef Pieper translates as "We are not-at-leisure (ascholoumetha) in order to be-at-leisure (scholazomein)."* Why, we moderns ask ourselves, is the Sabbath day to be kept holy, and why are we to abstain from servile work?

We have lost the ability to understand these matters because we understand leisure or rest as mere lack of work, a "down time" which is used for relaxation, or entertainment. This superficialization of leisure or rest occurred because we have lost the link between leisure and culture, that is the culture of celebration, worship, sacrifice to God (what Pieper calls the divine "cult"). This cult of the divine is intrinsically part of the notion of leisure as Aristotle understands it or rest as the Scriptures understand it.

Pieper attributes the modern inability to understand the concepts of work and leisure and their relationship to the cult of God to an altered conception of the human person and human existence. This changed understanding of who man is and what he is for changed the ethos under which man moves and breathes and has his being. It is this ethos typical of modernity--which Pieper calls the ethos of "total work"--that is responsible for our inability to understand the role of work, its relationship to leisure or rest, and the link leisure and rest have to divine worship.

The modern ethos of "total work" has changed both the meaning of work and the meaning of leisure. And it has completely written God out of the picture in regard to both work and rest. So we cannot follow Aristotle on leisure, nor, more importantly, can we follow the significance of the Biblical concept of rest until we regain something of the pre-modern notion of leisure and rest.

Briefly and simplistically, the way the modern ethos of "total work" came about is this. The Catholic Church, drawing upon the Greek concept of schole, upon such Biblical sources as the story of Martha and Mary in the Gospel of Luke, and the experience of monastic life, divided the Christian life into two: the vita activa, the active life, and the vita contemplativa, the contemplative life. Without deprecating either, the Church gave precedence to the contemplative life over the active life.

Based upon a misapplication of Scripture and the narrow principle of sola Scriptura, however, the Protestant reformers deprecated the contemplative life. From a practical perspective, the Protestants' intense dislike of the vita contemplativa can be seen by their suppression of the monastic orders (and convenient seizing of their properties) wherever they had the the reins of civil power. The Protestants also held a distrust of any holy day and feast day, and so suppressed the whole series of holy days and the celebrations, liturgical and popular, associated with them, freeing these days up for work. The Protestant reformers, then, if they even recognized the vita contemplativa, certainly overemphasized the important of the vita activa. There developed a disdain of leisure and an emphasis on work. The sociologist Max Weber called this ethos the "Protestant work ethic," and the name stuck.

As an example of the Protestant work ethic, Josef Pieper points to a statement by the Lutheran hymn writer Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf quoted by the sociologist Max Weber in his book The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: "One does not only work in order to live, but one lives for the sake of one's work." Indeed, in Count Zinzendorf's view not to be working would mean--not leisure or rest, but suffering and death.** This notion--where work is life and life is work--is the notion of "total work," "total work" under God, but still "total work."It would not have been uttered by one schooled in the Catholic spirit. This concept was imported to the Americas in the form of the black-dressed and dour Puritan, and so it is also called the Puritan work ethic.

Once this Protestant ethos became secularized in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and the evolutionary and materialistic theory of Darwin in the 1800s, the already weakened tie to God of work and rest was completely rent. When this happened, we entered into the world of what Pieper calls "total work" without any reference to God. In a world of "total work," work becomes more the preeminent. It becomes absolute.

With the Puritan ethic becoming secularized, it has become even more vicious. Pieper calls this attitude, found in Socialism and Capitalism alike, the attitude of proletarianization. This attitude of work without God and work without bounds speaks of the "inner impoverishment of the individual" who, wed to the notion that--as stated with horrible irony in the gate into Auschwitz--Arbeit macht Frei, work makes one free, he literally works himself into a form of slavery, sort of like someone slowly lapses into alcoholism. In fact, we even call someone who displays this attitude of total work in its extreme a workaholic, suggesting a sort of moral disease.

Insidiously, this notion of "total work" even infiltrated the intellectual life. Traditionally, human knowledge was seen as composed of two distinct ways of thinking, one active and discursive (called ratio), the other receptive and intuitive (called intellectus). This latter form of knowledge was viewed as a sort of intellectual vision, a knowledge gained by "merely looking" as Pieper calls it.*** The notion of intellectus is perhaps most beautifully captured in a fragment of Heraclitus which Pieper translates as the "listening-in to the being of things."† This form of knowledge was viewed as approaching angelic and divine thought. Prior to the Reformation and Enlightenment, it was highly prized by philosophers and theologians both.

As part of his great great Copernican revolution of philosophy, Immanuel Kant rejected any sort of intellectual vision, any "listening-in to the being of things." "The understanding cannot look upon anything," scoffed Kant.†† Kant was not one to exercise the Heraclitean "listening-in to the being of things." All thinking for Kant was labor, and all thought was acquired or produced as if it were a commodity, by raw intellectual effort applied to concepts. In Kant, the notion of "total work" had crept into his head as it were a cancer. And where the notion of "total work" crept in, there was only room for activity, and no room for receptivity. Grace was no longer admitted into thought's realm.

Kant might be called the Pelagius of the intellect. His concept of the intellect was one where there is no need for grace, just self-effort. When everything is built upon self-effort, we become hardened, and develop what Pieper calls a "stoniness of heart," an intellectual quality of "not-being-able-to-receive," and indeed not being able to play.††† One not able to receive and not able to play will find it impossible to celebrate, and celebration is at the heart of the divine service.

The ability to contemplate which is at the heart of the intellectus is not discursively achieved, but is achieved passively by the "leisure of contemplation," the otium contemplationis. This sort of thought is more like play. It is a participation in the Divine Wisdom which "plays all the time, plays throughout the world."‡

The emphasis of the via activa over the via contemplativa, the emphasis on ratio and not intellectus even changes the concept of time. The Greeks distinguished between two kinds of time: chronos and kairos. Kairos was a sense of time which had a sense of opportuneness. It was a qualitative notion, and had an air of indeterminacy, measured by events: the time for harvest (cf. Matt. 21:34), the time for figs (cf. Mark 11:13) Chronos, on the other hand, was quantitative, determinate, discrete. It is the concept we are most familiar with: the sequential, the tick-tock of the clock. The term kairos was used in the New Testament to refer to that opportune time, the fullness of time, when God acts. Kairos is the concept of time invoked by Jesus when he first announces the Gospel. For example, in Mark 1:15, Jesus proclaims, "The time [ho kairos] is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel." This notion of time is imported into the Eastern liturgy when the deacon proclaims to the priest invoking the words of Psalm 118 (119): 126: Kairos tou poiesai to Kyrio, "It is time for the Lord to act." The notion of kairos is entirely gone from modern life. Chronos reigns supreme.

The Gospel sees things differently than Kant who took contemplation out of human thought. It sees things differently than the neurotic and frenetic Puritan who linked material success and work with proof of his predestination into heaven, and so by a doctrinal and practical error, took worship out of leisure and put worship into work. It is, as we have seen, more concerned with kairos than with chronos.

The locus classicus of the relative merits of the vita contemplativa and the vita activa, of intellectus over ratio, of kairos over chronos, is the Gospel story which sets forth the way God looks at the relative importance of activity to leisure is the story of Martha and Mary, the sisters of his friend Lazarus. (Luke 10:38-42) Christ, one might remember, decides to stay at the home of Martha and Mary. How do the two hostesses respond to the divine guest? In their response, they are types for us. One type to avoid. The other type to follow.

Almost heedless to her responsibilities, Mary is preoccupied with just one thing: the Unum Necessarium, the divine guest before whose feet she sat. She is contemplation. She is the vita contemplativa. She is intellectus. She is being schooled by Christ. She is at worship. Time for her is kairos.

On the other hand, Martha, in her effort to make Christ welcome, becomes preoccupied with many things. Martha is activity for activity's sake. Martha is the via activa. She is ratio. She is stuck in chronos. She is "total work." In her busyness, she passes right by Christ. Martha was like the harried young postulant who was stopped by Blessed Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and told she was leaving God behind in her great hurry.‡‡ In her state, she cannot worship.

Martha's preoccupation with her work is complete, consuming. She cannot rest. This preoccupation distracts her attention away from the divine guest in her presence. Pontius Pilate would have Christ in his presence and would ask, "What is Truth?" Martha has Christ as a guest and in her frenetic activity does not even have the time for Truth that is under her roof.

Don't both Pilate's skepticism and Martha's "total work" both effectively prevent a confrontation with Truth?

It is important to see not only that we misunderstand the purpose of work, we also have to see that we misunderstand the notion of leisure or rest. It is a modern folly to look at leisure as mere the "lack of work," something we fill exclusively or even principally with entertainment. The Christian is not give the Sabbath so that he can go to the circus with the Pagan. "Believers," the Compendium tells us, "should distinguish themselves on this day too by their moderation, avoiding the excesses and certainly the violence that mass entertainment sometimes occasions." (Compendium, No. 285)

It is also wrong to look at leisure as equivalent to relaxation, something to re-charge the batteries so we can get back to work refreshed.

Leisure must also distinguished from idleness. The leisure the Church and Pieper have in mind is not the leisure of the "leisure class" excoriated by Thorstein Veblen in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class, or the "idle rich" in Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby.

The leisure or rest the Church has in mind is a holy leisure, what the Cistercians called otium sanctum.

Indeed, this holy leisure is the worlds apart from idleness, mere relaxation, or entertainment. It requires a devotion, discipline, and effort of its own. This more rugged form of holy leisure is what the Cistercian Thomas Merton appears to be grasping for when he wrote: "I, for one, realize that now I need more. Not simply to be quiet, somewhat productive, to pray, to read to cultivate leisure--otium sanctum! There is a need of effort, deepening, change and transformation."‡‡‡ St. Bernard of Clairvaux spoke of a negotissimum otium,§ a very busy leisure, one that in Merton's words required "effort, deepening, change, and transformation."

It is a tremendous task to learn how to be receptive, how to empty oneself. In fact, the original word from which we derive the word vacation is Latin vacatio, which means to empty oneself out. Monastic writers speak of the need to vacare Deo, to vacate oneself for God. Indeed, this notion is scriptural. The Psalms speak of it: Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 45(46):10) The word "be still" is (in the Vulgate) vacate and in the Greek Septuagint scholasate, a form of the very word the philosophers used to describe leisure.§§ This notion is outside the pale of modern life, and this is why T. S. Eliot in his poem "Ash Wednesday" includes the prayer, "Teach us to sit still." It is what moderns need.

There is, of course, a time and place for entertainment and for relaxation, perhaps even for idleness, but they are not the heart of leisure. Leisure, as the classic study of that subject by the German Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper put it, feeds culture. "Culture," Pieper tells us, "depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with the cultus, with the divine worship."

The very words used by the Greek and Romans betray the importance of rest, of leisure over the busy-ness of politics, of commerce, of servile labor. Leisure--in Greek schole, in Latin otium--is the root concept. Schole is the word from which our word school is derived, suggesting that leisure is a schooling of sorts. Busy-ness on the other hand--in Greek ascholia, in Latin negotium--is the opposite, the negation of, the absence of leisure. It is something that takes away from, subtracts from, detracts from the root which is one of the introspection of self and the cult of God.

Of course, activity is not to be regarded as evil though it is ordered to leisure. We have a duty to work. And work has a tremendous dignity of its own. Sometimes even activity is the prerequisite to grasping truth. In a letter to William Sessions, Flannery O'Connor seized on a story about Gerard Manley Hopkins who wrote the poet Robert Bridges who asked how he could learn to believe, and was told to quit thinking about it and "give alms."§§§ Here, it was right to recommend action over thinking. If one's work is properly ordered and subordinated to leisure, then one can pray along with the Benedictine (in a spirit entirely different from Count Zinzendorf), laborare est orare, to work is to pray. St. Augustine, in his De civitate Dei seems to grasp the balance: Otium sanctum quaerit caritatis veritatis; negotium iustum suscipit necessitas caritatatis. "The love of truth seeks a holy leisure, but the urgency of love undertakes the work that is due." XIX.19

All this reflection is necessary to understand what the Church means when she says in her Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church "Rest from work is a right." (Compendium, No. 284). Within this short statement is included the entire notion of the primacy of leisure or rest over work, of the via contemplativa over the via activa, of intellectus over ratio, of kairos over chronos, of the intrinsic connection between leisure and rest and the divine worship, and of the "urgency of love that makes us undertake the word that is due."

The Church has institutionalized rest, and seeks to have its value recognized in our social life. The "Lord's Day," the Christian Sabbath, is a time specifically set apart for rest. Holidays--as the original word "Holy Day" attests--were the additional days set apart for rest, for the divine cultus. For this reason, the Christian faithful are urged to "refrain from 'engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.'" (Compendium, No. 284) (quoting CCC s. 2185) "The Lord's Day should always be lived as a day of liberation that allows us to take part in the 'festal gathering and the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven' (cf. Heb. 12:22-23), anticipating thus the celebration of the definitive Passover in the glory of heaven." (Compendium, No. 285) "Sunday is an appropriate time for the reflection, silence, study, and meditation that foster the growth of the interior Christian life." (Compendium, No. 285)

Finally, the Church recognizes that it is proper sometimes to act--to give alms and quit thinking, even in those days especially set apart for leisure or rest. The Church has learned the lesson of her Lord that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, "[f]amily needs and service of great importance to society constitute legitimate excuses from the obligation of Sunday rest." But even then, the exception must not swallow up the rule, but most prove the rule, as the exception "must not create habits that are prejudicial to religion, family life, or health." (Compendium, No. 284) And yet, Sunday in particular, "should be made holy by charitable activity." The end of the worship God--ite missa est--should lead to the service of our brother. Therefore, time should be devoted to "family and relatives, as well as the sick, the infirm, and the elderly."

It is in the hopes of recapturing this entire lost world that the Church urges that "Christians, in respect of religious freedom and of the common good of all, should seek to have Sundays and the Church's Holy Days recognized as legal holidays." But legality alone will not transform our culture of "total work." For that we must pray: Dona nobis Domine otium sanctum! Lord give us holy leisure!

This rejection of the world of total work, the recapture of leisure over work and its relationship to divine worship, of intellectus over ratio, of the vita contemplativa over the vita activa, of kairos over chronos is essential. For only then shall we leave the false gods we worship and be able to receive the God who is Love.

Must bus'ness thee from hence remove?
Oh! that's the worst disease of love;
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath bus'ness, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong as when a married man doth woo.

(John Donne, "Break of Day")

*Aristotle, Politics 8.1337b (αὕτη γὰρ ἀρχὴ πάντων μία: καὶ πάλιν εἴπωμεν περὶ αὐτῆς. εἰ δ᾽ ἄμφω μὲν δεῖ, μᾶλλον δὲ αἱρετὸν τὸ σχολάζειν τῆς ἀσχολίας καὶ τέλος, ζητητέον ὅ τι δεῖ ποιοῦντας σχολάζειν.) See also Nicomachean Ethics, 1177b4-6 (ἀσχολούμεθα γὰρ ἵνα σχολάζωμεν, καὶ πολεμοῦμεν ἵν᾽ εἰρήνην ἄγωμεν.) "We do business (ἀσχολούμεθα) in order that we may have leisure (σχολάζωμεν), and carry on war in order that we may have peace." Pieper translates it thus: "We are not-at-leisure in order to be-at-leisure." Pieper, 4, 6. (Of course, Pieper wrote his great work on leisure, Muße und Kult, in German. The version I use is the translation by Gerald Malsbary published by St. Augustine's Press as Leisure, the Basis of Culture.
**"Man arbeitet nicht allein, daß man lebt, sondern man lebt um der Arbeit willen, und wenn man nichts mehr zu arbeiten hat, so leidet man oder entschläft."
***Pieper, 10-11.
†Pieper, 11 (fragment 112, Diels-Kranz)
††Pieper, 10 (quoting Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft) "In Kant's view, then, human knowing consists essentially in the act of investigating, articulating, joining, comparing, abstracting, deducing, proving--all of which are so many types and methods of active mental effort. According to Kant, knowing . . . is activity, and nothing but activity."
†††Pieper, 14.
‡Pieper, 18 (citing St. Thomas, Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 2 q. 1 a. 5 expositio textus) (Ludens, propter otium contemplationis sapientiae.) "Play, according to the leisure of contemplation of Wisdom." and citing to Wisdom 8:30 [sic]. The cite is actually to Proverbs 8:30 (cum eo eram cuncta conponens et delectabar per singulos dies ludens coram eo omni tempore) "I [Wisdom] was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times."
‡‡See The Canonization of Jeanne Dugan, Testimonials,
‡‡‡Thomas Merton, The Other Side of the Mountain: the End of the Journey (New York: Harper Collins, 1998), 113.
§Kenneth Leech, True Prayer: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality (Harrisburg: Morehouse, 1995), 60.
§§The Vulgate iuxta Hebraeos reads: "Cessate et cognoscite quoniam ego sum Deus exaltabor in gentibus exaltabor in terra." The Vulgate iuxta Graecos reads: "Vacate et videte quoniam ego sum Deus exaltabor in gentibus exaltabor in terra." Understanding leisure in the manner that Pieper does, we can translate this verse as "Be at leisure, and know that I am God."
§§§Letter to William Sessions (July 8, 1956) in Letters of Flannery O'Connor: The Habit of Being (Sally Fitzgerald, ed.) (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux 1979) , 164. The advice was even more severe. It was to give alms "to the point of sensible inconvenience" under the theory that there is a "difference between paying heavily for a virtue and not paying at all." Bridges misunderstood the advice, responded testily to it, and it was the subject of additional correspondence between the two. See Paul L. Mariani, Hopkins: A Life (New York: Viking, 2008), 211.

1 comment:

  1. I've been combing the web looking for a good article on Holy Leisure. Nothing compares to this article by Andrew Greenwell . I've read it and reread it and am still struck by the insight and wisdom contained in it. I am also struck by the fact that there were no comments. A piece like this needs to be read and I hope commented on. - Thanks Andrew!