Creativity, Craftsmanship, and Catholicism

By Nicolas Larkins

            The creation story culminates with the creation of man, as male and female, in the image and likeness of God. To be made in the image and likeness of God meant, as most of us are familiar with, that man has a spiritual soul and is capable of reason.  But there is a further and oft-neglected point here which is the subject of the present article: to be made in the image and likeness of God includes the imperative to act like God.  Now this must not be mistaken for a mere injunction to moral behavior: it is an invitation to the same category of activity as the creator God.  What God is to the whole of creation, man is called to imitate on a microcosmic scale.  Man’s role in the arc of creation is to return the gift of creation back to God in the same free and creative manner with which it emanates from Him: God creates ex-nihilo, man creates ex materiā.

            Already it should be clear that I have taken a quite different tact from discussions of this sort which often focus on nothing more than man’s “rationality”, by which is meant his computational ability, or man’s “spirituality” by which is meant some ethereal notion of the ability to pray.  In the first case man’s rational nature, rather than the unique aspect of his constitution by virtue of which he intimately images the divine, is reduced to the mere faculty of calculation, and therefore totally irreconcilable with God’s creative rationality.  In the second, man’s fundamental material embodiment and the imperative to image God through the exercise of creative rationality is ignored: it conceives of the image of divine in him as little more than an abstract mental capacity with no intrinsic connection to the body, the world, or any kind of activity.  Both views are woefully inadequate. They fundamentally misconceive the nature of man and the created order; indeed, it would not be untrue to say they misunderstand the whole point of creation.  What is needed is a rediscovery of the harmony of the created order in which man fulfills his call to sanctify the temporal order by the same kind of creative and loving freedom whence they came. The remainder of this article will venture a few preliminary insights.

            The human person is unique in all of creation as the sole being who unites both spirit and matter into one singular composition.  Nothing below him shares in his spirituality, and nothing above him shares in his corporeality.  That man exists as a sort of middle being between two worlds is evidenced by his very constitution.  When one pairs this truth about the basic form of man with a theological understanding of his cosmological function it reveals profound implications for the basic vocation of all men.  Man is called to sanctify the created world and he does so as a mediator between the realms of spirit and matter.  Man alone is capable of sanctifying the created order because man alone straddles the frontier between matter and spirit, fully part of both realms.  Only man is capable of elevating the lower parts of creation to a higher purpose and a participation in a higher realm of being by infusing them with a spiritual intelligence they themselves are incapable of.  It is only man, made in God’s likeness, who is capable of imitating Him as the divine craftsman by imparting intention and intelligence to the material world around him through his spiritual embodiment.

Having laid the theological and philosophical groundwork, I now propose to list, by way of conclusion, just a few examples demonstrating the need for such a return and the direness our present failure to image God to the world through our actions:

  • We no longer build beautiful churches; the high point is recognized as having ended well over half a century ago.
  • The physicality of our homes and public spaces are dominated by the ethic of utility and cost-effectiveness to the spiritual detriment of those who inhabit them.
  • Poetry, painting, sculpture, literature, and the other fine arts are derelict, we do not as individuals or as a culture understand them, appreciate them, or encourage their growth.
  • We live so divorced from the land and natural settings that it is necessary zone specific areas in our cities as “green”, to make special “trips” to be closer to the natural world, and to treat basic elements of our world (pollen, bees, dirt, rain, etc,) as “unpleasant”, “inconvenient”, and “unhygienic”.
  • We know more about the lives of celebrities through social media than we do our neighbors for want of normal human activity.
  • We are concerned and knowledgeable about global affairs to the almost total exclusion of local affairs.
  • The technologies of our world (cell phones, cars, the internet, our homes) are utterly incomprehensible to us: we have become dependent upon, instead of masters of, our own creations.
  • We perpetuate the popular myth that working with your hands is unintelligent “blue collar” work, meanwhile contradicting ourselves by fawning over “handmade” goods.
  • We valuate our lives according to how much money, assets, and stocks we have rather than by productive property, family, community, or skills.
  • We have separated labor from the person, pretending it can be bought like a commodity at the price of X dollars an hour for 40 hours a week, and thereby have also separated the fruit of labor from the laborer.

Indeed, if we are to live out the image of God as is our vocation, we must begin again to act like God. And so, I exhort you, brothers and sisters, to begin to engage in the challenge of our vocation as the frontier being, elevating the natural world and infusing it with beauty. Let us strive to make our families beautiful, the spaces where we live and work beautiful, our neighborhoods beautiful, thus bringing the image of God to bear more and more in the world.