C. S. Lewis on Vocation

Have you read C. S. Lewis’s “Learning in Wartime”?  It’s an address to students at Oxford on the verge of World War II.  They were wondering how they can pursue a liberal arts education–studying poetry, digging into history, thinking through ancient philosophy–when the world is seemingly coming apart and they themselves may soon have to go to war.  Lewis’s perspective on education is priceless, but I had forgotten how he also treats with great insight  the doctrine of vocation.  A sample:

We are now in a position to answer the view that human culture is an inexcusable frivolity on the part of creatures loaded with such awful responsibilities as we. I reject at once an idea which lingers in the mind of some modern people that cultural activities are in their own right spiritual and meritorious — as though scholars and poets were intrinsically more pleasing to God than scavengers and bootblacks. I think it was Matthew Arnold who first used the English word spiritual in the sense of the German geistlich, and so inaugurated this most dangerous and most anti- Christian error. Let us clear it forever from our minds.The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord”. This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow. We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation. A man’s upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation. If our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is prima facie evidence that the life which we, at any rate, can best lead to the glory of God at present is the learned life.

Lewis.Learning in War-Time.pdf (application/pdf Object).

All vocations are equal before God.  Our vocation is a function upbringing, talents, and circumstances.  Where we are now is where we are to serve.  “A mole has to dig, and a cock has to crow.”   That’s vocation!

HT:  Zach Simmons

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Steve Billingsley

    I love it. Lewis’ lecture on “Membership” makes similar points.

  • Steve Billingsley

    I love it. Lewis’ lecture on “Membership” makes similar points.


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