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Affluent Christian Investor | December 2, 2023

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Paganism vs. Labor

The School of Athens by Raphael.

The ‘greatest’ of the ancient pagan thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle and Cicero had contempt for manual labor. They thought it distorted the body and the mind. Aristotle said that there were three kinds of knowledge: Theory, Action (by which he meant leadership and persuasion) and technical knowledge. And that was the order in which he ranked them: Theory was the highest and philosophers and mathematicians were the ones in this group. Second was the politicians, lawyers, rhetoricians who led by being models for those beneath them. Last were the those who studied ‘techne’, or the mechanical arts. Engineers, artisans, etc.
But when the Lord of Hosts became a man, He decided to come not as a philosopher nor as a politician, but as a ‘techton,’ a practitioner of ‘techne’, which is allegedly the lowest subject of knowledge.
Why? I think He did it to reverse the order of the hierarchy. God Himself was a builder. He built the universe. He is a builder and He built builders. That’s how the Jews saw it, which is why many of the greatest Jewish sages were, in addition to being rabbis, also craftsmen. They did not share in the Greek and Roman contempt for physical and technical labor. But for Plato, God did not create the world. His creation story, The Timeaus, has some inferior very junior quasi-divine figure, the Demiurge, as the maker of the material world. The highest god, the Absolute, would not deign to touch this world. (Ironically, later Jesus meets a ‘son of’ (bar) Timeaus, a Bar-Timeaus. He doesn’t philosophize to him, nor ‘lead’ him, but instead reaches out and touches his diseased eyes, restoring the matter to its original use.)

But the God of Genesis separates the waters, grows the green things, fills the fisheries, leads the cattle up out of the very diret, shapes man as a potter shapes clay, plants a garden, digs rivers, writes His commands on stone with His fingers.

The God of the Gospels comes as a tekton, builds houses and yokes with which to dig those little rivers by which farmer water their crops, tables on which feasts are laid, becomes a plank Himself and is nailed to the wood on which He earlier had worked. Even at that moment, the world is saved by the work of the hand, the swing of the hammer, the penetration of the nails.

Labor Day, also, is one of His days and stands beside Christmas and Easter as sacred.


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