The duty to work

264. The awareness that “the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31) is not an exoneration from being involved in the world, and even less from work (cf. 2 Thes 3:7-15), which is an integral part of the human condition, although not the only purpose of life. No Christian, in light of the fact that he belongs to a united and fraternal community, should feel that he has the right not to work and to live at the expense of others (cf. 2 Thes 3:6-12). Rather, all are charged by the Apostle Paul to make it a point of honour to work with their own hands, so as to “be dependent on nobody” (1 Thes 4:12), and to practise a solidarity which is also material by sharing the fruits of their labour with “those in need” (Eph 4:28). Saint James defends the trampled rights of workers: “Behold, the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (Jas 5:4). Believers are to undertake their work in the style of Christ and make it an occasion for Christian witness, commanding “the respect of outsiders” (1 Thes 4:12).

265. The Fathers of the Church do not consider work as an “opus servile” — although the culture of their day maintained precisely that such was the case — but always as an “opus humanum”, and they tend to hold all its various expressions in honour. By means of work, man governs the world with God; together with God he is its lord and accomplishes good things for himself and for others. Idleness is harmful to man’s being, whereas activity is good for his body and soul.[577] Christians are called to work not only to provide themselves with bread, but also in acceptance of their poorer neighbours, to whom the Lord has commanded them to give food, drink, clothing, welcome, care and companionship [578] (cf. Mt 25:35-36). Every worker, Saint Ambrose contends, is the hand of Christ that continues to create and to do good.[579]

266. By his work and industriousness, man — who has a share in the divine art and wisdom — makes creation, the cosmos already ordered by the Father, more beautiful[580]. He summons the social and community energies that increase the common good[581], above all to the benefit of those who are neediest. Human work, directed to charity as its final goal, becomes an occasion for contemplation, it becomes devout prayer, vigilantly rising towards and in anxious hope of the day that will not end. “In this superior vision, work, a punishment and at the same time a reward of human activity, involves another relationship, the essentially religious one, which has been happily expressed in the Benedictine formula: ora et labora! The religious fact confers on human work an enlivening and redeeming spirituality. Such a connection between work and religion reflects the mysterious but real alliance, which intervenes between human action and the providential action of God”[582].


Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (