Our first understanding of work comes from Genesis, where the we acquire the basic elements of a theology of work:

"Accursed be the soil because of you!
Painfully you well get your full from it as long as you live.
It will you brambles and thistles, as you eat the produce of the land.
By the sweat of your face will you earn your food, until you return to the ground, as you were taken from it.
For dust you are and to dust you shall return."

Here we learn about work and toil, work and food, work and production, work and the material origin of the human beings, work and death. It is not quite the First Things but it begins to look like the First Things.

Modern times have also left to us an imprint of an understanding of work. "Workers of the world unite!" said Karl Marx, exacerbating the Labor/capital dichotomy.

But several Papal encyclicals have over the years endeavored to correct the warped public understanding of work which is the result of so much ideological warfare, responding to this misunderstanding by developing Catholic doctrine on these matters.

Work as subjective, Personalist, Virtuous

"Man has to subdue the earth and dominate it, because as the 'image of God' he 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" (Laborem Exercens, LE6)

"As a person, man is the subject of work and these actions, independent of their objective content, must serve to realize his humanity, to fulfill his calling to be a person." LE6 (see also GAUDIUM & SPES)

Dominion refers not only to the objective dimensions of work but it introduces the subjective dimension which is understood as the process throughout which man manifests himself and confirms himself as the one who "dominates."

"This dominion refers more to the subjective dimensions even more than to the objective: This dimension conditions the very ethical nature of work, for it is a person, a conscious and free subject, who carries out the work...."

"Thus one rightly concludes that the subjective meaning of work takes pre-eminence over the objective meaning of work." LE6

Work elements: objective, transitive.

"Work is a 'transitive' activity which begins in man, is directed toward an external object and presupposes man's domination over 'the earth'" LE4

Work in the objective sense: Technology.

"Man's dominion over the earth is achieved in and by means of work: and therein emerges the meaning of work in the objective sense."

"Man 'subdues the earth' when he cultivates and transforms its products, adapting them to his own work'" LE5.

Work element: positive.

"Man images God partly through the mandate to subdue and dominate the earth and in carrying this out man reflects the very action of the Creator of the universe." LE4

"Man 'subdues the earth' when he cultivates and transforms its products, adapting them to his own work; thus agriculture constitutes a primary field of economic activity and an indispensable factor of production.

"Industry will always consist in linking the earth's resources with man's work, as it is true of service industries and of research, pure or applied" LE5

Work element: Negative

"The words in the sweat of your face you shall eat bread" refers to the heavy toil that henceforth has accompanied human work, but they do not alter the fact that work is the means whereby man achieves "dominion" over the visible world by "subjecting" the earth"

"Toil is universally known and experienced by workers in all kinds of professions, and especially to women whose contributions in society an in the family often goes unrecognized." LE9

Work elements: Negative, virtuous, personalist.

"In spite of this toil, even though it bears the mark of a bonum arduum, work is a good thing for man: not only it is worthy and useful good, it corresponds to man's dignity, and expresses and increases it (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-II, 1.40 a.1c; I-II q.34.a.2,ad.1)"

"The ethical meaning of work is found in this truth: work is a good thing for man because, through work, man not only transforms nature, and adapts it to his needs, but he achieves human fulfillment and becomes 'more of a human being'"

"This consideration makes possible an understanding of the virtue of industriousness and why it is considered a virtue: for virtue, as a moral habit, is something whereby man becomes good as man." LE9

Work elements: objective, social, productive

"..when man works, he wishes the fruits of his work to be used by himself and others; he wishes to take part in the work process as a sharer in responsibility and creativity at the workbench to which he applies himself"

"From this spring certain specific rights of workers, corresponding to the obligation of work: in general terms works desire not only due remuneration for work, but knowledge that, in his work, even on something owned in common, he is working "for himself".

"This awareness is extinguished within him in a system of excessive bureaucratic centralization which makes him feel a mere productive instrument rather than a true subject of work with his own initiative" LE 15

Work elements: spirituality of work, virtues.

"An inner effort of the human spirit, guided by faith, hope and charity, is needed that, through this points, human work is given the meaning it has in God's eyes by which means it enters into the salvation process"

"The Church considers it her duty and an important task within the service it renders to the evangelical message as a whole to speak out on the value of work for the moral order to which it belongs."

"She sees a particular duty to form a spirituality which helps all people come closer, through work, to God, to participate in His salvific plan for man and the world and to deepen their friendship with Christ by accepting, though faith, a living participation in His threefold mission as priest, prophet and king. LE 24

Work Elements: Spirituality of Work, Positive, Objective, Creation

Work as sharing in the Activity of the Creator

"For man created to God's image received a mandate to subject himself, the earth and all it contains, and to govern the world with justice and holiness; a mandate to relate himself and the totality of things to Him who was to be acknowledged as the Lord and creator of all" (Second Vatican Council, 'Gaudium et Spes'. 34 (1966) LE25

"God's word is marked by the fundamental truth that, by his work, man shares in the activity of the Creator, and continues to develop and perfect that activity as he further discovers the resources and values of creation." LE25.

Work Elements: Subjective, negative, The Cross.

"All human work is inevitably linked with toil, a curse wrought by man's sin: 'Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life' (Gen. 3:17)"

"Toil connected with work marks the way of human life and is an announcement of death: 'In the sweat of your face you shall eat till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken" (Gen. 3:19)"

"Man must seek the final word on this matter in the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ which contains His cross and obedience unto death which the apostle contrasts with the disobedience which has burdened man's history on earth from the beginning (See Rom: 5:19)"...

"By enduring the toil of work and daily carrying the cross in his activities in union with Christ crucified, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity." LE 27.

The Parts of Work.

From the above elements, we define the Parts of Work:

Work is made of four parts A, B, C, D. with A the most central part, D the most peripheral, as follow:

Part A: The human person, in work, summons and uses his skills, talents and virtues that are interior to him and thereby, by each work performed, he increases in these skills, talents and virtues. This part is LABOR proper (when opposed to CAPITAL). It is also the Psychological part of work.

Part B: The human being applies these skills, talents and virtues onto something exterior to him, in order to produce something again that is new. The exterior resource he utilizes is called CAPITAL. Part B is the Transitive Part.

Part C: Man, the social animal contributes to the total human effort through his work. This is the Social Part of Work. This part is not mandatory for work to exist: example Robinson Crusoe worked; hermits who do not contribute to the general economy can also work.

Part D: By adding value to his work, man deserves a compensation and earns a living—this is the Remunerative Part of Work. This part is not mandatory for work to exist: volunteer work is genuine work.

The Dimensions of Work

In addition to the Parts of Work, from the previous elements of work we can also define the Dimensions of Work.

The Dimensions of work are the Subjective/Objective dimensions and the Positive/Negative dimensions.

The dimensions of work are first to be understood from a secular (or natural law) context:

The Subjective-Positive dimension is: Worker's growth in excellence.

The Objective-Positive dimension is: Worker facilitates production of goods and services.

The Subjective-Negative dimension is: Work as toil and drudgery.

The Objective-Negative dimension is: Work leads to transformation, consumption and destruction of raw materials.

The same dimensions of work can now be understood from a religious context which amplifies the natural law context and raises it to a supernatural level:

The Subjective-Positive dimension is: Worker's Growth in holiness.

The Objective-Positive dimension is: Re-creation of the World (worker contributing to the Father's creation).

The Subjective-Negative dimension is: Worker following Christ in the Cross (worker associating with the Son's in the mystery of Redemption).

The Objective-Negative dimension is: The seed dies.

The Dignity of Work

The importance of work cannot be fully understood until the dignity of work itself is appreciated.

".. the primary basis of the value of work is man himself, who is its subject."

"Thus one rightly concludes that the subjective meaning of work takes pre-eminence over the subjective meaning of work" LE6...

"Such a view point arises from the development of a materialistic civilization which gives prime importance to the objective dimension of work while the subjective dimension—everything in direct or indirect relationship with the subject of work—remains secondary." LE6...

"There is a confusion, or reversal, of the order laid down from the beginning of Genesis: Man is treated as an instrument..."

"This reversal of order should rightly be called 'capitalism', that is it should be recognized that the error or early capitalism can be repeated whenever man is treated on the same level as the material means of production, and not subject and maker, and as the true purpose of the whole process of production." LE7

The Personalist Argument

"..when man works, he wishes... to take part in the work process and a sharer in responsibility and creativity at the workbench to which he applies himself"

"From this spring certain specific rights of workers, corresponding to the obligation to work: in general terms workers desire not only due remunerations for work, but knowledge that, in his work, even on something owned in common, he is working 'for himself.'"

"This awareness is extinguished within him in a system of excessive bureaucratic centralization which makes him feel a mere production instrument rather than a true subject of work with his own initiative" LE15.


"The Church has always taught that man's work concerns not only the economy but, also, and especially, personal values."

"The economic system and production process benefit precisely when these personal values are fully respected."

"In the mind of St. Aquinas, this is the principal reason in favor of private ownership of the means of production (See Summa Theologica II-II q.65, a.2)" LE 15


" is to subdue the earth—all resources of the visible world at man's disposal—through work"

"Ownership is from the beginning linked with work: only through his work can man make these resources bear fruit, thus man takes over these things by making them his workbench through and for work." LE12.

Man derives the dignity of his work from the fact that work has values attached to it. Values are attached to man, the worker but also to the resources of work.


Family as a source of these values

"Work constitutes a foundation for formation of family life, which is a natural right and something man is called to"

"These two spheres of values—one linked to work and the other consequent on the family nature of human life—must be properly united and permeate each other."

"In a way, work is a condition for making it possible to found a family since the family requires the means of subsistence normally gained through work."

"Work influences the process of education within the family, for through work everyone "becomes a human being" which is the main purpose of education."

"Two aspects of work come into play here: the one making family life and its upkeep possible, the other making possible the achievement of the purposes of the family, especially education."

"The family constitutes one of the most important terms of reference for shaping the social and ethical order to human work."...

"Man combines the deepest human identity with membership of a nation and intends his work to increase the common good developed together with his compatriots, thus realizing that his work adds to the heritage of the whole human family." LE10


"Wealth of whatever kind is good, if its usefulness be only properly apprehended. For all these things were ordered by God for the service of man."

"It is then the first principle of economic science to recognize that riches are not intended as an end in themselves, but as a means to an end."

"the objects of gain is that by its means man may provide for himself and others according to their state. The object of providing for himself and others is that they may be able to live virtuously. The object of virtuous life is the attainment of everlasting glory."

(St. Antoninus' Summa Theologica L 1,3, ii)

A theology of affluence is very similar to a theology of work in the sense that it requires to view all created things as resources to one's material needs and the reason that these needs be met is that we can devote time and effort to spiritual needs.

Provided Courtesy of:
Eternal Word Television Network
5817 Old Leeds Road
Irondale, AL 35210