Contemplation, leisure, action, and bishops

“As for these three kinds of life, the life of leisure, the life of action, and the combination of the two, anyone, to be sure, might spend his life in any of these ways without detriment to his faith, and might thus attain to the everlasting rewards.  What does matter is the answers to those questions: What does a man possess as a result of his love of truth? And what does he pay out in response to the obligations of Christian love?  For no one ought to be so leisured as to take no thought in that leisure for the interest of his neighbour, nor so active as to feel no need for the contemplation of God.  The attraction of a life of leisure ought not to be the prospect of lazy inactivity, but the chance for the investigation and discovery of truth, on the understanding that each person makes some progress in this, and does not grudgingly withhold his discoveries from another.

In the life of action, on the other hand, what is to be treasured is not a place of honour or power in this life, since ‘everything under the sun is vanity’ (Ecclesiastes 1:14) but the task itself is achieved by means of that place of honour and that power–if that achievement is right and helpful, that is, if it serves to promote the well-being of the common people, for, as we have already argued, this well-being is according to God’s intention.  That is why the Apostle says, ‘Anyone who aspires to the episcopate aspires to an honourable task’ (I Timothy 3:1).   He wanted to explain what ‘episcopate’ means; it is the name of the task, not an honour….Hence a ‘bishop’ who has set his heart on a position of eminence rather than an opportunity for service should realize that he is no bishop.  So then, no one is debarred from devoting himself to the pursuit of truth, for that involves a praiseworthy kind of leisure.  But high position, although without it a people cannot be ruled, is not in itself a respectable object of ambition, even if that position be held and exercised in a manner worthy of respect.”   Augustine of Hippo, The City of God XIX. 19. trans. Henry Bettenson. (New York: Penguin Classics, 1984), p. 880. [Emphasis Added]

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