Biblical Creation and the Papal Encyclical "On Human Work"
Pope John Paul It's encyclical On Human Work (Laborem Exercens),1 issued on September14, 1981, is explicitly based upon the record of man's creation in God's own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-28), and hence of great interest to modern biblical creationist Christians of all branches of Christendom. The contents of this encyclical are closely connected with and intended to elaborate upon traditional Roman Catholic teaching in the area of human labor and social relations, This teaching is contained in Pope Leo XIII's encyclical "Serum Novarum" (May 15,18941, Pope Pius Xl's "Quadragesimo Anno" (1931), Pope John XXIII's "Mater et Magistra" (1961), the Second Vatican Council's "Gaudium et Spes" (1966), and pertinent statements by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologia However, the present paper will deal only with On Human Work. We shall give a summary of its contents, followed by a discussion and conclusion.
I Summary of Contents
On Human Work sees man's work as an essential ingredient of man's likeness to God in that it differentiates man from the rest of creation: "Work is one of the characteristics that distinguish man from the rest of creatures, whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work" (p.1). Man's creation mandate to subdue the earth is itself part and parcel of man's created likeness to God: "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" (pp. 9-10).
Man was not compelled to work as punishment for his sin in Eden; rather, '(f)rom the beginning. . . he is called to work" (p.1, emphasis added). In order to distinguish between the nature of man's work as instituted by God at man's creation, and as altered after the fall, Pope John Paul II writes that
God's fundamental and original intention with regard to man, whom he created in his image and after his likeness, was not withdrawn or canceled out even when man, having broken the original covenant with God, heard the words: "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread." These words refer to the sometimes heavy toil that from then onward has accompanied human work; but they do not alter the fact that work is the means whereby man achieves that "dominion" which is proper to him over the visible world (p. 20)
The role of "toil" as part of "the curse that sin brought with it" is more fully outlined in the last section of the encyclical. Reference is again made to Genesis (3:17, 19). Furthermore, an "arduous good" (arduom bonum. St. Thomas Aquinas) is inherent in the "sweat and toil" imposed upon man because of his sin. This good is described as "the possibility of sharing lovingly in the work that Christ came to do. . . By enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man . . shows himself a true disciple of Christ by carrying the cross in his turn every day in the activity that he is called upon to perform" (pp. 58, 59).
In the creation mandate to man to "subdue the earth," On Human Work understands by "earth" not only the planet Earth but also "by extension... the whole of the visible world insofar as it comes with the range of man's influence and of his striving to satisfy his needs" (p.10). Included are "all the resources * which through the conscious activity of man, can be discovered and used for his ends" p 10). Yet man "remains ,.. within the creator's original ordering (due to) the fact that man was created . . . 'in the image of God' "(p. 10). Technology is understood as the set of instruments used by man in his work and thus an extension of man's fulfillment of the creation mandate, However, it may become almost an enemy to man, especially "when, through exalting the machine, it reduces man to the status of its slave" (p.12).
Because man is made in the image and likeness of God, man, like God Himself, is a person, "that is to say, a subjective being capable of acting in a planned and rational way, capable of deciding about himself and with a tendency to self-realization" (p. 13). Precisely what is meant here by "self-realization" is not spelled out. As a person man is and must be the subject (not the object) of work (p.14).
In the ancient world physical work was deemed unworthy of free men. Christianity, taking its cue from the manual labor done by Christ as a carpenter, bestowed dignity upon all work, manual or intellectual, done by every man as a person. Class differentiations are thereby eliminated. In addition, work is for man, and not man for work (p.14).
Materialistic and economistic ideologies arose with the beginning of the industrial age. Work came to be understood as a "merchandise" sold by the worker to the employer, or as an impersonal "force" needed for production. This was a reversal of Christian values anchored in biblical creation (p. 16). Worker solidarity, exercised through labor unions, was a "reaction against the degradation of man" and "justified from the point of view of social morality" (pp.17, 181. However, solidarity "must never mean being closed to dialogue and collaboration with others" (p.18). The rights of the "poor," who may be workers harmed "as a result of the violation of the dignity of human work," include "especially the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family" (p. 19).
Work is the means by which man exercises dominion over nature, adapts it to his needs, and helps his fulfillment as a human being. Therefore industriousness is a virtue, for "virtue, as a moral habit, is something whereby man becomes good as man" (p. 21). Work helps establish the family, the nation, and "the whole human family ... all the people living in the world" (p.22).
As industry and technology developed, conflict arose between "capital" and "labor." Classical liberal capitalists and socialists/Marxists interpreted this conflict as a socioeconomic class conflict. However, the question of ownership is linked with work as shown in the first chapter of the Bible, for `~he only means that man has for causing the resources hidden in nature to serve himself and others is his work. And to be able through his work to make these resources bear fruit, man takes over ownership of small parts of the various riches of nature" (p.26).
Capital cannot be separated from or opposed to labor as it is itself the result of human labor. Neither can labor be opposed to capital, "and still less can the actual people behind these concepts be opposed to each other . . In working, man also `enters into the labor of others' "(p.28). The error of materialism or economism isto value "human labor solelyaccording to its economic purpose (p.29). This error "places the spiritual and the personal ... in a position of subordination to material reality" (p.29). Materialism, being what it is, cannot do otherwise, and hence cannot provide a sufficient basis for thinking about human work (p.29),
The Catholic Church affirms "the right to private property, even when it is a question of the means of production" (p.31). However, "the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone" (p.31 (.Therefore "one cannot exclude the socialization, in suitable conditions, ofcertain means of production", and "rigid"capitalism is unacceptable as an "untouchable `dogma' of economic life" (p.32). Hence organs of the Church have made proposalsforjoint ownership ofthe means of work, workers' sharing of management, and the like. However, mere conversion of the means of production into state property in the collectivist systems of our day is not the answer (p.33). Finally, the fact that a person works not only for pay but also "for himself," even within an enterprise owned in common with others, is "in the mind of St. Thomas Aquinas . the principal reason in favor of private ownership of the means of production" (pp.34-35). This "personalist argument" must never be lost sight of
Man as a worker has a relationship to a "direct" and an "indirect" employer. The former is `~he person or institution with whom the worker enters directly into a work contract." The concept of "indirect employer" embraces all the "factors . . . that exercise a determining influence on . . . just or unjust relationships in the field of human labor" (p.38). It includes society, the state, or many or all states in a worldwide "system of mutual dependence; (pp.38,39). A gap exists between rich and poor countries today which "is increasing more and more to the detriment . . of the poor countries" (p.39) International organizations, such as the United Nations and its affiliates, "have fresh contributions to offer on this point in particular" (p.40). World-wide planning is needed for "the proper organization of human labor in keeping with individual societies and states," and should address especially the problems of employment and ofthe use of natural resources to help the masses of the unemployed and the hungry (pp. 41, 42).
The principle of the common use of goods should govern the proper remuneration of work through a just wage. Ajust wage means "remuneration which will suffice for establishing and properly maintaining a familyand for providing security for its future." It maybe awarded by a single wage to the head of the family for his work, or by "family allowances or grants to mothers devoting themselves exclusively to their families" (p.44). For women, having to abandon a mother's tasks
in order to take up paid work outside the home is wrong from the point of view of the goocf of society and of the family when it contradicts or hinders these primary goals of the mission of a mother . . . labor should be structured in such a way that women do not have to pay for their advancement by abandoning what is specific to them and at the expense of the family, in which women as mothers have an irreplaceable role. (pp.44-45)
Medical assistance "should be easily available for workers and. . asfar as possible . . cheap or even free of charge." Workers have a right to rest on Sundays and during annual vacations, a right to accident and old age insurance, and a right to a healthful working environment (p.45). Unions are licitand even indispensable but not an aspect or part of the "class struggle," and they must not "play politics" in the modern sense (pp.46,47). Strikes are legitimate "in the proper conditions and with just limits" but must not endanger essential community services, which would be "contrary to the requirements of the common good of society (and) the properly understood nature of work itself" (p.48).
Agricultural workers are exploited by big landowners in certain developing countries where the dignity especially of agricultural work needs to be restored (p.49). Disabled persons everywhere must be seen and treated as "fully human subjects with corresponding innate, sacred and inviolable rights." Hence both direct and indirect employers should provide adequately for their training, productive activity, just remuneration and proper working conditions (pp.49-50). Emigrant workers must not be exploited, and with regard to them especially "capital should be at the service of labor and not labor at the service of capital." (pp.51-52).
A special section deals with the Church's tasks in proclaiming and promoting the spirituality of work in the Christian sense. If man properly fulfills his creation mandate, then
by the subjection of all things to man, the name of God would be wonderful in all the earth. . . Man, created in the image of God, shares by his work in the activity of the creator . . in the Book of Genesis the creation activity itself is present in the form of "work" done by God during "six days," "resting" on the seventh day ... This description of creation is thus also in a sense the first "gospel of work",.. Man ought to imitate God both in working and also in resting, since God himself wished to present his own creative activity under the form of work and rest. (p.54)
God's activity in the world is still going on, for Christ says, "My father is working still." God "works with creative power by sustaining in existence the world that he called into being from nothing, and he works with salvific power in the hearts of those whom from the beginning he has destined for `rest' in union with himself in his `father's house.' "(p.54) Hence man's work not only requires physical rest every seventh day, but must also "leave room for man to prepare himself, by becoming more and more what in the will of God he ought to be, for the `rest' that the Lord reserves for his servants and friends" (p.55). Christian spirituality of work should be shared with all men, and should point to God's power, greatness, creative purpose and praise (p.55). Christ Himself did so as a "man of work" (pp.56-57).
Finally, the fruit of human work may already be a small part of that "new earth" where justice dwells (2 Peter 3:13). Work must help to promote human dignity, brotherhood and freedom on this present earth (p.60). The encyclical's statements are accompanied by ninety-one notes. Of these 20 refer to earlier Catholic Church documents, 18 to the Book of Genesis, and the remainder to other Bible passages.
The reliance of Pope John Paul II upon the Genesis record of man's creation in God's own image and likeness is remarkable and praiseworthy, Acknowledging and building upon the foundation of biblical creation, he confidently offers advice on labor and social relations not only to Christians but also to contemporary government and social leaders at large. Whatever reservations we might have about this or that specific inference derived by him in On Human Labor from the biblical creation record, we must unconditionally applaud his explicit faith in that record as the infallible, true, incontrovertible, forever valid, absolute revelation by God of His creation of and purpose for man.
The great difficulty of witnessing powerfully to the Christian faith in today's humanist, relativist neo-pagan society is caused by nothing as fundamentally as by the lack of faith in the biblical creation record among professing Christians. In her outstanding article "Evangelism to the 'Greeks' " Nancy Pearcey quotes the evangelical writer Os Guinness as saying that
wherever there was true faith however few the believers it had a "characteristic social and cultural influence." Why? Because those few "mulishly insisted on applying the (Lord's) rule to all of life.2
This "total view" means beginning with creation ... Redemption is meant to encompass not only the private institutions of family, friendship, and church, but also the public institutions of culture, law, scholarship, business, and economics.. . If we do not preach Jesus as Creator and thus Lord over all of life, we will produce only a private, anemic Christianity with no power, no cutting edge, in its confrontation with secular culture. Evangelism is not just a "spiritual" activity, concerned with "saving souls;" it is the call to reclaim all of life and culture to its Creator and rightful Lord.3
To the extent that doubt in the literal, inerrant truth of the biblical creation record has infiltrated Christendom (and when the creation record, the very beginning and foundation of God's self-revelation through the written word, authenticated by Christ Himself, is doubted, what part of the Bible is exempt from doubt?), to that extent we have denied our Lord Himself and must reap the just punishment of our betrayal-the loss of His anointing with power and authority. To the extent Roman CathoIicism - or Eastern Orthodoxy, or, yes, "Bible-believing evangelical Protestants" -do not believe and preach the full counsel of God, all Christendom's message of salvation and redemption in Jesus Christ, by Whom the world was created out of nothing (John 1:1-3) and by Whom it holds together until the Last Day of His judgment of the quick and the dead (Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2-3; 2 Timothy 4:1-2), will fail to convince and convert unbelievers. Make no mistake: all of us are affected by what any member of us does (1 Corinthians 12:26). Awful indeed is the responsibility of fearful, worldly-wise, doubting compromisers among professing Christians for the powerlessness of the church today.
The encyclical's teaching about work as man's way of carrying out his creation mandate to subdue the earth is evidently correct. The very work "subdue" implies sustained effort or work. The notion that man as originally created did no work, or by extension, that redeemed man will do no work in the new heaven and earth of eternity, is unscriptural. God put Adam into the garden of Eden to dress and keep it (Genesis 2:15), that is, to work. In the age to come God's servants will have authority over much more than in this life (Luke 19:17, 19), judge the world and angels (1 Corinthians 6:2), and "serve God and the Lamb" (Revelation 22:3). Therefore On Human Work is also correct in teaching that not work itself but only its present punitive aspect-its "sweat and toil" came into being after the fall (Genesis 3:17-19).
It may be questioned whether "subduing the earth" includes man's dominion over the whole of the visible world accessible to him. Psalm 115:16 teaches that "the heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD's: but the earth hath he given to the children of men." Only earthly creatures are listed in Genesis 1:26 and 1:28 as under man's dominion. Space travel and the exploitation of space resources for man's use also raise problems due to the present sinful nature of man. C.S. Lewis truthfully writes that "(w)e are not fit yet to visit other worlds. We have filled our own with massacre, torture, syphilis, famine, dust bowls and with all that is hideous to ear or eye. Must we go on to infect new realms?"4
The encyclical speaks of man being, like God, a person, and hence "with a tendency to self-realization." Now all over the Western world today the concept of "self-realization" is used by adherents of the burgeoning "New Age Movement" in the sense of 'transpersonal" expansion of one's self within a cosmic-evolutionist, monist-pantheist universe, itself the "self-realization" of universal "spirit(s)" or "force(s)." Thus conceptualized, "self-realization" is a crucial ingredient, indeed the foundation and essence, of "New Age" process theology represented, for example, by the late Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Although Teilhard's writings were opposed by the Vatican as unorthodox from the traditional Catholic perspective, they continue to exert great influence upon many professing Catholics, including religious and clergy, and also upon many who are not Catholics or even professing Christians. In view of this background the use of the term "self-realization" in On Human Work is not innocuous.
Transpersonal self-realization in the "New Age" sense can certainly not be predicated of the Person of the omnipotent, omniscient, and ontologically transcendent God of the Bible. The Godhead is always, absolutely, fully and exhaustively "realized" in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:1 5a; 2:9 Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1 4:9b, etc). Nothing and no one within His creation and handiwork is in any way needed by God to "realize Himself." Nor may transpersonal self-realization be predicated of man's created self, known and fully "realized" in God's sight before the foundation of the world (Acts 15:18; Ephesians 1:4-5, etc).
The encyclical's references to capital, labor, private property, unions, and class warfare reiterate traditional Catholic views. Parts of these views have been questioned. Especially the "just wage" concept raises a number of problems, such as (1) Whose financial duty and burden would it be to pay the "just wage" to which all workers are said to have a "right?" (2) If the "just wage 'is to provide for family sustenance only, then what financial rewards if any can be offered for higher talents, industriousness and productivity, and variances in required expertise and training of individual workers? (3) How and by whom would the prices of goods (which depend on many factors besides wages) be determined, and how would prices then affect the 'just wage?" Defenders of a free market economy, whose number includes Bible-believing and honoring Christians,5 have sought to eliminate such problems by reliance upon the free market itself (private initiative under God). Simply to declare the free market position at large as unacceptable, or to equate it with secular humanist libertarianism, is untenable and in practice supports paternalism/ socialism.
The production side of economics is neglected due to the encyclical's preoccupation with the equitable distribution of goods and services, and with workers' "rights." This is related to the encyclical's recommendation of cheap or tree medical services. Such services would presumably be paid by tax monies, This in turn could easily lead to certain restrictions upon the practitioners of health care, such as their discharge from work or other penalties if they oppose policies of the state. This danger is all too apparent already with regard to doctors and nurses today who refuse to do abortions, where tax support for hospitals or medical schools is involved. Thus tax-supported and hence state-controlled medical care might well curtail workers' "rights" (or exercise of accountability to God). Finally, the encyclical's references to workers' "rights" need balance by references to workers' duties under God, such as an honest day's work for an honest day's wage (cf. Ephesians 6:6-7).
On Human Work seeks to take a middle road, condemning both the abolition of private property practiced by Marxism, and also "rigid capitalism." This position is questionable as its underlying principle that "the right to private property is subordinated to. the fact that goods are meant for everyone" is itself open to challenge on the grounds of Scripture. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat of one tree in Eden, and punished by exclusion from all the goods of Eden upon their disobedience. The Apostle Paul similarly writes (and is quoted in the encyclical) that "if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10b). Goods, then, ultimately the property of God Himself, are not meant for deliberate idlers and thus are in fact not meant for everyone in this present fallen, sinful world.
The solution to this unhappy strife between the supposed "rights" of various men, or over the priority of different "rights" such as "property rights" versus "human rights" is given in the biblical creation record. It is that there are no natural "rights" of man at all. The noun "right" does not occur in the creation record of Genesis 1 and 2. Man's implied "rights," such as eating from every tree in the garden of Eden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17) are wholly due to God's gift and bestowed together with a mandate for obedient exercise of responsible dominion, that is, not ownership but stewardship, under God. The fact that "we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out" (1 Timothy 6:7) confirms this true condition of man. We have no "rights" but rather duties. This is why the best codes of law, such as the Ten Commandments, do not delineate human rights but obligations, as pointed out by Dr. Richard Lamerton, M D., a devout Catholic layman and co-founder of the hospice movement in England.6
The encyclical's concept of an "indirect employer" points to a world government, United Nations style. It is based in part on the faulty "gap theory" long vociferously dinned into our ears by population control adherents. They claim that the economic gap between developed and underdeveloped countries is widening, and that this shows the poor countries' increasing misery. They further propose to alleviate this misery by planned (forced?) redistribution of wealth on an international scale. However, the facts are that this gap is a very misleading measure of the real economic improvement taking place in Third World countries today. Malnutrition has diminished everywhere except in drought-plagued Africa. Per capita food production world-wide has gone up, and life expectancy, the best indicator of physical well-being, has significantly increased. Further, increased wealth in already wealthy countries does not necessarily mean exploitation of less wealthy countries but may even be helpful to the latter Well-documented studies, for instance by julian Simon in The Ultimate Resource7, have disseminated all this information. The 1972 Club of Rome report Limits to Growth, a fountainhead of so much population and resource alarmism, was unreliable from the first and is now outdated and essentially invalid.
World-wide planning would entail world control to be effective. Today's influential "globalist" opinion makers in politics, the news media and education welcome and promote such control. Unfortunately On Human Work plays right into their hands in its explicit approval of world-wide planning and redistribution of wealth. If world-wide control is achieved, then private property rights-or rather, biblically speaking, individual stewardship under God as set forth at creation-would be largely abrogated. It would be replaced by the reign of the global planners or controllers responsible, not to God (whom most of them reject, being secular humanists and/or "New Age" adherents), but essentially to no one but themselves,
The "personalist argument" of St. Thomas Aquinas-that man works "for himself" - though not really a basis for asserting private property "rights" is yet biblically true in that it is faithful to man's created identity in God's own image and likeness. For God Himself "created all things for Himself, and for His pleasure" (Revelation 4:11). This Scripture simply reiterates His approval of His work in Creation Week (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12,18, 21, 25, 31), World-wide planning and control (being national control writ large) at least in part subverts this design. If carried to its limit, it would make all men not themselves controllers the controllers' virtual slaves. Thus global planning is the counterfeit of God's creation order of man's individual stewardship under Him, and as such most fully incarnates the materialism and economism rightly rejected in On Human Work It would abolish the human dignity, brotherhood and freedom so eloquently championed by the Pope. This is the lesson taught us by all centrally planned and controlled, socialist-type societies of history, such as ancient China and Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Incas, and others.8 The encyclical's statements about other subjects, and in particular about women and motherhood, disabled persons and emigrant workers, should by all means be "held fast as good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The beautiful final section on Christian spirituality of work is a great blessing and joy to read, especially in its reference to the first chapter of Genesis where God records His own work and rest in Creation Week.
Pope John Paul Il's 1981 encyclical On Human Work is greatly to be praised for its forthright and uncompromising stand on the biblical creation record. It gives Scripturally substantiated guidance on human labor relations in such areas as man's work as the way in which he implements his creation mandate to subdue the earth; sweat and toil as added to work only after the fall; Christianity's bestowal of dignity upon all man's work, and elimination of class differentiations; the error of materialism and economism which subordinates the spiritual and the personal to the material and which makes man the object rather than the subject of work; worker solidarity which should yet be open to all men; the work of women including motherhood; agricultural, disabled, and emigrant workers; and the Christian spirituality of work.
Problems exist with regard to certain statements in the areas of workers' "rights," the ownership of resources, and especially the proposed role of world-wide economic planning based partly upon misinformation about the economic circumstances of underdeveloped countries. Questions also arise about the physical extent of man's creation dominion, the concept of "self-realization," and the encyclical's emphasis upon the distribution of goods and services, omitting the importance of production.
The biblical creation concept of man's creation mandate as stewardship (not ownership) under God should replace "natural rights" concepts. If this were faithfully done, strife over various "rights" or their respective priorities would cease.
In conclusion, whatever its possible shortcomings, On Human Work deserves the prayerful and diligent consideration of all Christians and thoughtful students of social relations. Most importantly, it points to the right way to answers of genuine, lasting authority and benefit by its fundamental and extensive reference to the biblical creation record.
1 On Human Labor is Publication No.825 of the Office of Publishing Services, United States Catholic Conference, 1312 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.
2 Nancy Pearcey, "Evangelism to the 'Greeks'," Bible-Science Newsletter (2911 E. 42nd Street, Minneapolis, MN 55406, September 1984), p 9.
4 C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, edited by Walter Hooper (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Ml 1967), p.173.
5 Cf. Gary North, The Dominion Covenant Genesis (Institute for Christian Economics, P.O. Box 8000, Tyler, TX 75711, 1982). Also cf. R.E. McMaster, Jr., Wealth for All (AN., Inc., P.O. Box 145, Whitefish, MT 59937,1982).
6 Cf. Ellen Myers, "Does Man Have Natural Rights?," Creation SocialScience and Humanities Quarterly, Vol.. VI, No.1 (Fall 1983). pp.10-13.
7 See Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource (Princeton University Press. 1980). This is a large, scholarly and extensively researched study of population and resources, with a wealth of incontrovertible evidence proving the falsity of "doomsday" propaganda. For a shorter but also well substantiated treatment, see Herbert I. London, Why Are They Lying To Our Children? (Stein and Day Publishers, New York 1984), pp.116-117, and passim.
8 For an excellent historical study of socialist-type societies, see Ivan Shafarevich, The Socialist Phenomenon (Harper & Row, New York 1980).