Continued from part III, and repeating the last couple of sections of that article:
Clearly, Augustine is not dismissing the active life (though he has also not yet fully defined it). He is pointing, in fact, to a sanctifying function in that life.
In a similar text, with a less absolute division between the two lives, Augustine says the following (I give it in two translations – the first from the Cuthbert Butler book cited above, and the second, again, from an online NPNF version):
“Two virtues are set before the soul of man, the one active, the other contemplative; the one whereby we journey, the other whereby we reach our journey’s end; the one whereby we toil that our heart may be cleansed for the vision of God, the other whereby we repose and see God; the one lies in the precepts for carrying on this temporal life, the other in the doctrine of that life which is eternal. Hence it is that the one toils, and the other reposes; for the former is in the purgation of sins, the latter in the light [or illumination] of the purgation effected. Hence it is that, in this mortal life, the former consists in the work of leading a good life, the latter more in faith, and with some few, through a mirror in enigma and in part, in some vision of unchangeable Truth. These two virtues are seen figured in the two wives of Jacob. . . . the three first evangelists, who principally record the words and deeds of our Lord for the right conduct of the present life, are chiefly concerned  with active virtue; but John is chiefly concerned in commending contemplative virtue.”[i]
Then we find in Augustine a view we might almost describe as “pragmatic” – that the active life is simply necessary to us, as beings of the sort we are, and though we might desire to fly directly to the contemplative life, we cannot do so – and that’s not entirely a bad thing. We’ll take it piece by piece, reflecting on each as we go:
This group of folks working together reminds me of the many working people surrounding Jesus–and he didn’t ask all of them to leave their work . . .
Since over a year ago, when a group of us began dreaming and scheming for what has now become the fully-funded “Work with Purpose initiative” at Bethel Seminary, I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of work. Or, I should say, meanings. Work often creates economic value. It usually serves other people. It can be an arena of fullest self-expression and self-realization as we exercise our particular gifts and personalities. It can be a place of sanctification, of discipleship, as we struggle through the mundane challenges and difficult relationships that mark most workplaces.
But does it have divine meaning, our work? Is such ultimate meaning of our work reserved for pastors, priests, or monastics? Does God ordain and care for our particular work, even if we don’t wear a collar, alb, or habit?
Related to this question, I’m busy right now writing an article on Christians’ understandings of the concept of vocation or calling through the ages. Here’s some reflection that may or may not make it into the final draft:
These days I’m asking pastors this question: “Do you see it as part of your calling to affirm the divine significance your people’s work in their jobs,in all economic spheres—business, non-profit, home?” Few answer affirmatively, and that’s worrisome. Especially in these recessionary times, much tempts American workers to discouragement: we work more hours, for less pay, with less security, less loyalty to our employers, less sense of our work truly mattering. Most of us want to find meaning in our work. But the church has at times behaved as if full-time ordained ministry is the only arena in which people are really working for God.
Many sincere Christians conclude that the only legitimate arena of vocational meaning is the church. In their first history class of each new year at Bethel Seminary, when I have my students share about their sense of calling, many tell the same story. It boils down to: “I quit my job to go into the ministry.” Continue reading →
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