Dorothy Sayers on Work

Around 15 years ago, I heard Eric Treuil quote Dorothy Sayers to the effect that the carpenter from Nazareth never built any shoddy tables. It was fabulous. I’ve been thinking about that observation off and on ever since.

I recently stumbled upon it again, this time in its original form. It’s found in the essay “Why Work?” by Dorothy Sayers which appeared in her book Creed or Chaos

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Here’s one of my favorite passages:

over her dead body divx The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.

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Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly – but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill‐fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.

[The Church] has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work. purse brite

The whole essay is well worth reading and I commend it to you.

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