John Stonestreet and Glenn Sunshine

Work is Not a Result of the Fall

In our current cultural moment, many see work as frustrating, unrewarding, and not worth it (that is, as toil). So, in our cultural moment, Christians have an incredible, better vision of work to offer the larger world. We’ve also got a history to tell, of how a vision of human dignity and innovation became a blessing across economic and class lines. Just as in the past, the Christian view can move our imaginations about work beyond drudgery, to a renewed and redeemed way of thinking and living.

As the “Big Quit” happens across America, the Christian vision of work could be more relevant and impactful than ever. Which, as history attests, is saying quite a lot.
Physical labor was devalued in the ancient world. The exception, in classical Greece and the early days of the Roman Republic, was farming, which was considered the proper pursuit of citizens. All other labor was viewed as demeaning. In the later days of the Republic, as plantation agriculture replaced small farms, the work of farming was also seen as demeaning and relegated to slaves.
By the time of the Roman Empire, all physical labor was only thought proper for slaves and lower classes. Though the foundation of the empire’s wealth, the upper classes believed that production was beneath them. Their attention, or so they thought, belonged in the more “refined” areas of life, such as the arts and philosophy.
Of course, the biblical view of work is completely different. Scripture frames work as a good thing, an essential part of what it means to be human. Because God created us to work, at least in part, it’s inherently connected to our worship and dignity.
Put differently, work is not the result of the fall. It was, however, tainted by Adam’s sin. God’s created purposes for humanity, to fill and form His world through work, would now feature pain and frustration. Aspects of human work were twisted from dignity to drudgery. Human efforts to cultivate the earth, designed by God to be part of the joy of imaging Him, became sources of frustration, pain, sweat, and sorrow.
Because of the uniqueness of the Biblical framework, even the early Christians approached work with a very different view than their pagan neighbors did. They thought of work as good but marred by sin. So, for example, in monastic communities, monks were expected to do physical labor, if for no other reason than to grow their food. In his Rule for Monastic Life, St. Benedict of Nursia (480-547) insisted that monks should work both to fulfill the biblical mandate that God gave Adam, and to encourage humility in a world that thought of work as demeaning.
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How the Irish (Christians) Saved Education

The Irish also had a hand in the recovery of education on the European continent in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. Having built an empire, Charlemagne realized that he desperately needed educated officials to govern it. So, he searched for the best scholar in all of Europe to head his educational reform program and found the Irish-trained Alcuin of York. Alcuin reintroduced liberal arts as the foundation for education in Europe. He started schools in monasteries, cathedrals, and even the palace itself. Alcuin also oversaw the systematic copying and preservation of any and all ancient texts that he could find. In fact, many of the oldest copies of classical works still in existence today date from copies produced under his direction.

The Christian commitment to advancing education is part of the historical record. While not wholly consistent in every time and place, the Christian view of life and the world (especially its view of a created, ordered reality and the divine imprint on every human person) has been history’s most fertile ground for advancing learning and knowledge.
In a Christian worldview, the value of education isn’t merely utilitarian. Instead, it grows from the rich soil of Christian beliefs: in a God who wants to be known, Who created an ordered and knowable universe to be stewarded by humans, to whom He gave the ability to learn and the capacity to use knowledge in His service.
That worldview framework has been uniquely fruitful for advancing education, even (and perhaps especially) at times of civilizational crisis. For example, during the decline of the Roman Empire’s authority in Western Europe, education went into sharp decline. Centuries worth of accumulated knowledge and learning were at risk of being lost forever, except In Ireland, where monks preserved learning that they’d later reintroduce to Europe.
Irish monks viewed the preservation of literature and knowledge as part of their task as Christian scholars and clergy. More than merely preserving learning, they innovated in the methodology of education. Up to this point, the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew languages were written in an unbroken stream of letters with no capitalization, punctuation, or word spacing. The Irish changed that and, in doing so, made writing a primary method of learning.
The Irish also had a hand in the recovery of education on the European continent in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. Having built an empire, Charlemagne realized that he desperately needed educated officials to govern it. So, he searched for the best scholar in all of Europe to head his educational reform program and found the Irish-trained Alcuin of York.
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