Thursday, April 3, 2014

Josef Pieper

IThe current intellectual virus being passed around my circles is Pieper's Liesure, the Basis of Culture.  It's bundled in a two-essay volume, and I'm pleased to have found a nice older edition with the T.S. Eliot introduction, gently used by the library patrons of some nuns from Minneapolis.

It is an interesting book.  Pieper is a Roman Catholic, and thus we share many presuppositions.  I commend the Romanists for continuing to make strong arguments from the imago Dei, even though I disagree with their ideas on the completeness (totality, if you will use the Calvinist term) of depravity inherent in natural man. However, the imago Dei is no mean thing, even to a staunch Reformed person like myself.  Man is made in the image of God, and as much as man may try to un-make himself, he cannot cut himself off from the damning shreds of glory yet about him.  They do him no credit, now that his nature is fallen, but he is yet endowed with the dominion of earth, a reasonable soul, the godlike faculties of reason, and the lingering haunts of the Holy Spirit in his conscience (though he will fight against Him).

Thus, Pieper argues, the world must be defined in relation to God; its patterns must follow God's patterns, its ideals be God's ideals, if it is to be the world as it ought to be.  He wrote in the context of post-WW2 Germany, amid the pressures of the totalitarian east and the industrialist west.  What would define man's life?  How would he shape his new world?  The rebuilding of Europe would have some intellectual foundation, what would it be?

His answer is beautiful - divine worship is the foundation of culture.  Divine worship is inherently generous, sublime, beyond the work of the six days of the week, and pointing towards the session, the leisure, that awaits in the Sabbath.  The ordinary nature of work is confined to the ordinary, and man must periodically step out under the stars and look up - to leave behind, completely, and yes, only temporarily, the industrialist/communist/socialist/unanimously-man-centered view of the world as consisting in and aimed towards the work of man.

I am a scientist and engineer.  I inhabit the world of work, and am surrounded by people who have swallowed hook-line-and-sinker the idea that work is the chief end of man.  You always act for something.  You have weekends so you're ready for Monday.  You have vacation to avoid burnout.  You have lunch so you can function during the afternoon.  You work so you can play so you can work, and there is no exit from this wheel.  None is conceived, none is desired.  It is man locked in his man-ness, but not even all of his man-ness, because in reality, his man-ness is inseparable from his God-image nature.  It is perhaps better put as man locked in his animality.  Locked out of his soul.  It is a hollow, dangerous thing, because man sundered from God is capable of any and all evil, and how much more to say drudgery.

The man who acts as he ought will step out to meet God in worship.  He will step out to see God's glory in creation.  He will step out to see God's character in his fellow man.  The man acting as he ought will wonder at the universe charged with the grandeur of God.  From this springs art, poetry, music, literature, true sport, and the man who is a man after God can enjoy all these good gifts without making them the ends of struggle and striving.  He can be leisurely in the true sense - not slothful, lazy, insipid, but gracious, thoughtful, loving. 

Now is where I may depart form Pieper's Romanism - I can't expect this from any man not renewed after the image of Christ.  It is true that I may find glimpses of it in fallen man, because God is gracious, but I cannot expect it.  However, here comes the challenging part: I must expect it from the Christian.  If the Christian is to be like Christ, he must think, act, love, like Christ.  Christ worked hard (as His Father was working until now), and thank God for the work He did.  But he also enjoyed fellowship.  He broke bread with his disciples, not to get energized for the next bout of exorcism, but to fellowship with those He loved.  He turned water into (good) wine not because He had, or even ought, to have done so, but that He might bless a wedding feast with joy.  He will at last sit down Himself at His own wedding feast, and I expect the food will be nonpareil - and we will feast for joy, not because resurrected saints have to eat to live!

So the conclusion of the matter: man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Those two verbs describe a single act - the Christian living in union with Christ.  We work, yes; we do the ordinary things of the world; but we must never think that is the end for which we were created.  Work comes before leisure, and the eternal Sabbath rest awaits all who call on the name of the Lord; and we even get foretastes and glimpses here.  Augustine declares: Cantare amantis est - or Pieper puts it: Only the lover sings.

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