Duty and Vocation

Reflecting on the beards of the Red Sox made me think about the Victorians and a concept that was a major preoccupation of that era but that is hardly talked about anymore today:  Duty.   This is not the same as virtue or morality.  Rather, it is the obligation associated with a particular vocation.

The duty of a husband is to be faithful to his wife, support her, and protect her.  The duty of a soldier is to obey orders, remain at his post, and hazard his life for his country.  The duty of a worker is to do a good job, etc., etc.

Significantly, the place in Luther’s Small Catechism that teaches about vocation, giving the Biblical teachings about “the various holy orders”–such as pastors and laity, rulers and citizens, husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and workers–is called the Table of Duties. 

After the jump is William Wordsworth’s “Ode to Duty,” in which the pioneering Romantic poet writes about how he is sick of living just for himself and how he craves “the spirit of self sacrifice.”  Maybe our culture will get to that point.

By William Wordsworth

Jam non consilio bonus, sed more eo perductus, ut non tantum recte facere possim, sed nisi recte facere non possim”

“I am no longer good through deliberate intent, but by long habit have reached a point where I am not only able to do right, but am unable to do anything but what is right.”
(Seneca, Letters 120.10)

Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!

O Duty! if that name thou love

Who art a light to guide, a rod

To check the erring, and reprove;

Thou, who art victory and law

When empty terrors overawe;

From vain temptations dost set free;

And calm’st the weary strife of frail humanity!

There are who ask not if thine eye

Be on them; who, in love and truth,

Where no misgiving is, rely

Upon the genial sense of youth:

Glad Hearts! without reproach or blot;

Who do thy work, and know it not:

Oh! if through confidence misplaced

They fail, thy saving arms, dread Power! around them cast.

Serene will be our days and bright,

And happy will our nature be,

When love is an unerring light,

And joy its own security.

And they a blissful course may hold

Even now, who, not unwisely bold,

Live in the spirit of this creed;

Yet seek thy firm support, according to their need.

I, loving freedom, and untried;

No sport of every random gust,

Yet being to myself a guide,

Too blindly have reposed my trust:

And oft, when in my heart was heard

Thy timely mandate, I deferred

The task, in smoother walks to stray;

But thee I now would serve more strictly, if I may.

Through no disturbance of my soul,

Or strong compunction in me wrought,

I supplicate for thy control;

But in the quietness of thought:

Me this unchartered freedom tires;

I feel the weight of chance-desires:

My hopes no more must change their name,

I long for a repose that ever is the same.

Stern Lawgiver! yet thou dost wear

The Godhead’s most benignant grace;

Nor know we anything so fair

As is the smile upon thy face:

Flowers laugh before thee on their beds

And fragrance in thy footing treads;

Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;

And the most ancient heavens, through Thee, are fresh and strong.

To humbler functions, awful Power!

I call thee: I myself commend

Unto thy guidance from this hour;

Oh, let my weakness have an end!

Give unto me, made lowly wise,

The spirit of self-sacrifice;

The confidence of reason give;

And in the light of truth thy Bondman let me live!

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.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X