Summer 2011

Homo faber and/or Homo adorans : On the Place of Human Making in a Sacramental Cosmos

Michael Hanby

“As the very name suggests, techn-ology, 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.”


Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”                 
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.   
The Lord God took man and put him in the garden of Eden to till and keep it.      

Work, as the opening chapters of Genesis show and as the Church has continually affirmed, “is a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on earth.”1 It is not merely recompense for the Fall, but part of man’s original condition and an integral dimension of the imago Dei.2 Indeed it is this intrinsic relation between human being and doing and making, the fact that making is an integral dimension of human nature, that makes human labor susceptible to such  profound distortion by sin and such a potent vehicle for oppression. It is also why “human work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question.”3 But what does this really mean?

1. Laborem exercens, 4.

2. “Man is the image of God partly through the mandate received from his creator to subdue, to dominate, the earth. In carrying out this mandate, man, every human being, reflects the very action of the creator of the universe” (Laborem exercens, 4). John Paul II defines work as “any activity by man, whether manual or intellectual, whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and must be recognized as work, in the midst of all the many activities of which man is capable and to which he is predisposed by his very nature, by virtue of humanity itself.” Though I will suggest later in the essay that there is an element of “creative making” in all such activity, this definition of work is broader than the classical understanding of téchnê and includes activities that would not, on that understanding, be considered making. Though I acknowledge and would want to retain a distinction between making proper and other kinds of work that are not productive in the traditional sense, I use “making” and “work” more or less interchangeably.

3. Ibid., 3.