The Christian conception of work

The “eternal, universal, sacred, divine value of human work,” writes the author, “is the foundation, the unshakeable and indispensable basis of all rights and all duties, all application and all regimes, no matter what kind of human work is involved in time and in space.” Then he continues as follows:

Work is destined to meet the needs of all people; it must not serve the greatest enrichment possible of one person or another. It exists to satisfy human needs, adapted to the time and place of each one in order that man may pursue his temporal and eternal destiny.

This divine and Christian conception of work differs from other conceptions.

1. The liberal conception: Work is a form of merchandise and its only value is that of profit, an economic value influenced by the law of supply and demand, determined by free competition. Work has no moral value. The logical outcome of this conception is the capitalist dictatorship.

2. The socialist conception: Work is the unique source of material wealth; wealth is thus due uniquely to work; hence the class struggle between workers and capitalists. It ends with the dictatorship of the proletariat.

3. The communist conception: Here each man loses his personal vocation because all work must serve the enrichment of the community.

4. The nationalist conception: Work is the means of enriching and strengthening the nation. The worker is a soldier who, through his work, arms his country against his neighbour.

All these systems have forgotten the divine, social, family and personal value of work.

Let no-one say that the Christian conception is a beautiful ideal…but a utopia… No, this conception is the only realistic one; it alone exalts, protects and provides a basis for human work in all these aspects.

It alone illustrates the human aspect of work, the difference of human work from the activity of an animal, a machine, a slave; it alone preserves human dignity, the educational character, the spiritual character of work. It alone responds to true human needs.

The Christian conception of work enables one to place in order the various kinds of human labour. It distinguishes:

1. Priestly work: The priest is a worker in the direct service of souls; his work is the most divine form of labour. Not only does he increase the divine wealth in the world but he is the representative, the depositary, the official representative of God. He is posted to the production of spiritual and eternal wealth.

2. Government work: In a world where public authority is disdained, it is necessary to again honour this work. It is the work of the public authorities that enables all people to work in order and security. It is a labour full of richness but also heavy with responsibilities.

3. Family work: This aims for the conservation, the spread and the education of the human race. It presupposes household, procreative and educational work.

4. Professional work: This may involve administration, management or implementation. Its objective is to provide the objects necessary for life, its preservation and its development.

One may distinguish manual work, which produces products; intellectual work, which seeks the truth; technical work, which aims to discover new work processes. Artistic work which in summary expresses the need for beauty.

There are necessary links between all these kinds of work: The Church here sums up the law of these relations under the double heading of justice and charity.

Outside the Christian conception of work, there is no way to determine the exact value of work. There is no way to distinguish good work from bad work.

One cannot determine what kind of work turns people away from their destiny. Only the Christian conception allows us to determine the limits of work: one does not live to work nor to have the greatest wealth possible but one works to live. This alone enables us to determine all the conditions of work.

The mission of the YCW is to give the working class this essential conception of work, without which liberation of the working class will not be possible.

The YCW must be the school which enables young workers to seek, discover and apply this doctrine.


Joseph Cardijn, La conception chrétienne du travail, in La Croix, mercredi 30 décembre 1942, p. 2. Originally published in Militant ouvrier.