Early Christian Attitudes toward Work

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The importance of Genesis in the development of Christian attitudes toward work is hard to overestimate. It is in the Genesis creation narratives that the chief principles of the theology of work are rooted. First, in the P narrative work is identified as an activity proper to God. Second, work is an activity that God alternated with rest: “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made: and he rested on the seventh day from all the work which he had done” (Gn 2 :2).1 Rest is such an important part of work that this aspect is commemorated in a mandatory day of rest: “And he blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Gn 2 :2–3). Such an emphasis on rest indicates that a sense of justice must accompany work for it to be divine in origin. A sabbath year is even proposed as a means of establishing justice among the Israelites: “Six years thou shalt sow thy ground, and shalt gather the corn thereof But the seventh year thou shalt let it alone, and suffer it to rest, that the poor of the people may eat” (Ex 23:10–11). In Deuteronomy the sabbath is seen as a means of establishing social and economic justice: “In the seventh year thou shalt make a remission.” (Dt 15:1). The justice that emanates from rest, therefore, can only come about in the first place by the presence of work, for rest is but a cessation of work.


Manual Labor Manual Work Eleventh Century Wool Yarn Secular World 
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    Scripture citations are from the Douay-Rheims translation of Jerome’s Vulgate: The Holy Bible according to the Douay and Rhemish Versions with Complete Notes of the Rev. Geo. Leo Haydock (photo reproduction: Monrovia, CA: Catholic Treasures, 1992).Google Scholar
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© Patricia Ranft 2006

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