Introduction: Work

The Summer, 2011 issue of Communio is devoted to the theme of “work.” The Book of Genesis presents God instituting man as priest and king of the material universe. Priestly and royal dominion are consequences of man’s unique dignity among created beings as the image of God, an image constituted by an altogether special relationship with the Creator (cf. Gn 1:26–30) and, as Cardinal Ratzinger has argued, revealed in light of the Sonship of Jesus Christ to be filial in nature. Perhaps we could see the serpent’s suggestion that Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge as a temptation to turn priestly and royal dominion measured by the living God into the non-filial domination that is forgetful of God. When man yields to this temptation, his punishment is not simply “work” (after all, Genesis says that man was needed to tend the garden of Paradise even before the Fall). Rather, the punishment is the sweat that reminds postlapsarian man that he is drawn from the dust of the earth. These biblical elements require us to ponder the question of work jointly in light of the task of dominion that is not revoked on account of sin, on the one hand, and the perennial temptation to “Adamic” domination, on the other. It is particularly urgent to discern the difference between these in an age such as ours in which the technological transformation of nature has become the chief occupation of the entire world. It would be simplistic to critique technological culture for its soulless materialism. At the same time, thoughtful Christian critics like Canadian philosopher George Grant have argued that technology is the ontology of modern liberal societies.

The present number of Communio reflects on these issues, placing its discussion within the framework of creation in Jesus Christ. Christ, as Son of God and “the first-born of all creation” (Col 1:15), is both the model and the fulfillment of the pedagogy of providence that leads us back to rightful—priestly and royal— dominion by assuming human nature and offering himself together with the whole of creation back to the Father.

Michael Hanby in “Homo Faber and/or Homo Adorans: On the Place of Human Making in a Sacramental Cosmos,” traces the inversion of art and nature that characterizes modern technology. Hanby suggests that the deepest response to the question of technology is a new integration of work and worship that situates human making within the sacramental order of creation. “Techno-logy,” he argues, “as a certain kind of fusion of knowing and making, is not just a way of manipulating the world to our benefit. It is a way of understanding the world.” Since we “participate in creation in the ontological mode of the child,” and thus receive “our being as a gift, the inner form of making . . . is characterized by wonder and thanksgiving.”

David L. Schindler, in “America’s Technological Ontology and the Gift of the Given: Benedict XVI on the Cultural Significance of the Quaerere Deum,” argues that America’s liberal tradition lacks the capacity to let be what is first given, and thus the ability to recognize the given as gift. Proposing a reading of the founding assumptions that drive America’s characteristic way of being and acting, Schindler develops his argument in light of Pope Benedict XVI’s emphasis on the importance for human culture of the monastic “search for God and the readiness to listen to him.”

J. Budziszewski, in “The Lower Is Not the More Solid,” poses the question, pertinent to our common life in the work of the economy, “What might it take for an adult population, and their rulers, to become virtuous—or at least to become more nearly virtuous than they are?” Drawing on the thought of Aristotle, Aquinas, and Augustine, Budziszewski corrects several typical mistakes concerning virtue before showing how virtue is the only adequate foundation for our common life.

The discussion on work closes with Benedict XVI’s 2008 address to representatives of culture in Paris, on “The Origins of Western Theology and the Roots of European Culture.” In this address, the pope argues that the monastic quaerere Deum “remains the basis of any genuine human culture.” Directly relevant to our theme, the pope discusses how the Benedictine ora requires completion in a distinctive sense of labora.

In recent years the question of whether the cessation of brain activity is sufficient to determine the death of the human person has provoked sharp debate among Catholic moral philosophers and scientists. The editors of Communio hope to advance the discussion with two essays that present opposing views on this question of “brain death.” Both authors have been invited to reply in a future issue. Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, in “You Only Die Twice: Augustine, Aquinas, the Council of Vienne, and Death by the Brain Criterion,” argues in support of brain death as the criterion of death on the grounds that “the brain is essential for integration of the body and without it the parts of the body cease to be an integrated whole.” “Without the brain,” he continues, “the body loses its form, so to speak, as the parts cease to be an integrated dynamic unity.” Robert Spaemann, in “Is Brain Death the Death of a Human Person?” presents an extended argument against the new definition of death in terms of total loss of brain function. He challenges the hypothesis that the brain is the organ responsible for somatic integration. And, applying the principle in dubio pro vita, Spaemann proposes that “brain dead patients have to be correctly regarded as dying, hence living people in the state of irreversible brain failure.”

Finally, Retrieving the Tradition returns to the question of work with an essay by the Canadian philosopher George Grant (1918–1988) titled “In Defense of North America.” In this seminal chapter drawn from his well-known Technology and Empire, Grant reflects on the historical roots and meaning of America’s peculiar drive to technological mastery of human and non-human nature. Grant shows how the American experience was shaped by the encounter between the alien and yet conquerable land with Calvinist Protestantism availing itself of the new physical sciences. In the eyes of Grant, contemplation—Greek philosophical contemplation as well as the higher contemplation of God’s revelation in Christ— offers the best hope for thinking about the question of technology from outside technology’s own restless dynamism.                      □