Eric Gill (1882-1941) was a famous sculptor, engraver, designer of typefaces and drawer of some of the finest nude studies of the twentieth century. He was also a devout Roman Catholic. His philosophy of life and work caused him to be critical of the welfare state that enabled people to retire into leisure and so deny them the need to fulfill their lives in creative work. He wrote about the tragedy of state-sponsored idleness and paid unemployment. Work, to Gill, was sacred. It was the vocation of man. Take away work, take away the incentive to work, the opportunity to work, and you take away the purpose of life.
His writings are worth quoting because they are relevant to the debate about the nature of mankind.
“The nature of man is likeness to God – for God created him in his image. He is a rational soul. The purpose of his existence is to know God, to serve God and to love God on earth and to be with him eternally in heaven. The manner of man’s existence is incarnation. He is spirit and matter…. It is the spiritual which determines man in his species….
It is significant that the rising of what we call modern science synchronized with the throwing off of spiritual authority. We have deliberately thrown off the ‘easy yoke’ and ‘light burden’ and have placed ourselves under the hard taskmaster of immutable and impersonal ‘laws of nature’, and this has been done in the name of freedom. The highest virtue we can attempt to claim is a stoical courage in the face of a meaningless concatenation of fortuitous circumstances. Such is the freedom of the sons of science.
Our fault is that we have sought freedom – we found an iron law of causality. We sought free-thought – we found psychological determinism. We sought free love – we found we had lost Love itself. Dear silly sheep, we have lost the Shepherd and found only the wolves.
We have thrown away free will. We do not like to be held responsible. We like to be treated as animals, automatons. When the psychologist says, ‘it is heredity, it is early environment, it is a complex’, we applaud. When Augustine says ‘it is sin’, we deride. The word ‘sin’ has become almost meaningless; it has become a sentimental word like ‘art’.”
Gill was contemptuous of consumerism, and of the industrialization of products. He was an artist who made his own way despite the tumultuous times in which he lived. His life and legacy are well worth studying. He should inspire us to live out our vocations according to our gifts and opportunities.