Przywara, Eucharist and Work (2)

Father Erich Przywara, S.J. (1889–1972) was one of the most prolific theologians of the twentieth century whose wide-ranging contributions to theology and philosophy were esteemed by men of such stature as Ratzinger, von Balthasar, and Karl Barth. Though often appreciated for his philosophical contributions relating to the analogy of being, he also played a small part in the Liturgical Movement, both as a critic of what he perceived to be the aestheticizing tendencies of the Benedictine approach and as a contributor in a more Jesuit vein.

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  1. Eucharist and Work

In his first published volume, Eucharistie und Arbeit (1917), Przywara offers a fervent meditation on the nature of Christian work seen as a consequence of Eucharistic reception.

The Eucharist is the conduit through which Christ’s divine power seizes our mortal coil and transforms it into an instrument of his great Work of universal redemption: “For he wanders no more on Earth, as once he did in Galilee, in his visible Person. Now the Lord goes teaching and healing around the world through the work of the souls who receive him.”

a) Christ-Work

Taking his starting point in St. Paul’s litany of apostolic labors (2 Cor 11), Przywara shows how Eucharistic reception implies the thoroughgoing expression and performance of a Eucharistic logic in every aspect of our lives, the gradual transformation of our narrowly circumscribed human actions into the divine acts bearing the stamp of Christ’s universal redemptive mission in the Eucharist.

And Christ-work is a fiery work indeed. Przywara’s “downright Old-Testament” understanding of God blazes forth in his untiring condemnation of soft Christianity, with Biblical language mediated through the searing imagery of his Romantic German:

“God does not give his grace as a sweet indulgence or a bed of roses: a firebrand is he, blazing in heart and hands, until in the smithy of the human will the holy deed of work is hammered out, a sword of St. Michael, that flashed and smote in the battles of Heaven.

The work of Christ: not a dainty little chore; not work such as even the pagan in whom Christ does not live could perform; work that is worthy of a son of God who lives in you—Christ-work.

That is why the life of these souls must be a life of Christ, and their work a work of Christ.

This life and this work alone are to be the measure of your Eucharistic movement and the only authentic entrance card to the Eucharistic World Congress.

It is no sign of the true Christ to place our hands quietly in our lap and leave all the work up to God;

Boldly intervening, valiantly pressing forward, ceaselessly struggling onward—

This is the Eucharistic personality; for him there is no fear, no hesitation, no standing still, no resting satisfied; “more, always more”, this is his fiery watchword; precisely because the will of God is the foundation of the soul, its power is inexhaustible and its struggle is tireless; for as God is endless, so is his will endless, endless in width and depth and height.”

b) Holiness and Exterior Work

Work is only fruitful when it proceeds from holiness, which is the image of Christ in the soul, carefully hewn out in asceticism. Furthermore, personal holiness achieves its end in the formation of a Eucharistic culture, when man reaches out to carve Christ’s image into culture:

“Man’s soul must form its interior world according to his Image, so that it may renew the outer world in Him; all the outer work of culture must be rooted in the interior work of holiness, and all interior work toward holiness must radiate outward into the practical work of genuine culture, which in turn culminates in the sanctification of all humanity.”

c) The Universal Character of Eucharistic Work

The Eucharist configures and fires the soul toward the performance of divine acts: fashioning a “Eucharistic personality.” But inasmuch as Christ’s divine act of redemption was universal in scope, so the Christian worker working in sympathy with the Eucharist must also allow himself to be stretched into a universal, “Eucharistic personality,” a kenotic übermensch

“The universal savior of a universal work stretches the narrow individual soul into the dimensions of a world soul and its individual work into world-work. Through this widening of the individual soul and its work springs the growing Union of the one Body, which as the ‘body of Christ’ grows up into the image of Christ, but not into a frame of Christ, which is the aim of the limited individual soul’s work, but rather into a complete image of Christ: ‘to the measure of the full stature of Christ.’

The Eucharistic personality works to bring out the ideal form of Christ in every age and person, like a master craftsman who plies a block of marble. This work is universal in space, intruding itself—as Christ—into every cranny of the universe, excluding no task or circumstance in its embrace.

“So for Eucharistic exterior work there is no circumstance or field of work that could be unwonted, unholy, meaningless, or unprofitable.

Only one thing is unwonted: not to see Christ in everyone.

Only one thing is unholy: not to do everything for Christ.

Only that work that does not have Christ as its beginning, its content, and its end is meaningless and unprofitable.”

It is also universal in time. Each age has its work, and it would be a denial of the Eucharist’s universal power if one were to deem one age more apt that another:

“So Eucharistic exterior work, that is the exterior work of the Christian, knows no artificial distinction of times. It neither flees from the present into an idealized past, nor loses itself in the fantastical Fata Morgana of a “coming age,” wasting precious years of work. It is not fettered by the notions and working methods of an age narrowly circumscribed. It knows that no time is ideally good, and no time excessively bad, that no time is wholly a progress and that no time is wholly a decline. It rejoices with the hearts of its contemporaries, extending its able hands to help them, and cheerfully as a bell-stroke its chisel blow resounds, carving out a fresh image of Christ from precious marble.”

d) The Eucharist and Suffering

It is unavoidable that the Eucharistic personality, like Christ, will suffer for its work. Opposed by the complacent majority who resist this incorporation into the divine Act, he must live a life of suffering and rejection, a constant Golgotha.

“It is practically impossible for the Everyman to overcome his limitations, his distaste for what is new, his natural inclinations. The masses’ Crucifige in Pilate’s Praetorium is their resounding salute to anyone who out of sacred spiritual obligation does not follow the paths of everyone else.”

As a result, he will find himself opposed at every turn. But this opposition is the heart of the Eucharistic logic:

“This is the spirit of Christ for those elect souls, that on the heights of their spiritual vision they dig a well of endless capacity for sacrifice and death, a constant Gethsemane and Golgotha, and that they enlarge themselves to an extent of boundless love and goodness for their uncomprehending and envious persecutors.”

The Eucharistic personality–the “leader-soul”–should even expect to find himself opposed. But this opposition is mean to purify his work of any traces of self-love:

“A community in which a particular tradition of mediocrity stifled all fresh initiative would be the opposite of a “Body of Christ.” The disputes that emerge from the disagreement between the independent spirit and the mediocre majority are not meant to suppress or eliminate him, but by means of the mediocre majority’s formation, to foster his selfless understanding and humble submission.

The Eucharistic soul’s greater capacity to give must flow into a greater love for the persecuting majority:

“Christ, living in the leader soul, leads it ever deeper into the depths of a perfect self-abandonment, expands dark nights of austerity before it and demands an ever mightier love from the well-springs of its sufferings. It must smite the water of life from rocks of opposition, the blaze of its charity must be darkened by the heavenly night of its life.”

The duty of the “Everyman” is to make himself disposable to the Eucharistic soul, who is the “leader soul” of his age, the master craftsman who fleshes out Christ’s Eucharistic image in every soul, institution, time, and place, until all is led into the captivity of Christ.

Erich Przywara, S.J.’s Eucharist and Work (1917)

German isn’t my best language, but here’s a sample of my attempt at Erich Przywara’s Eucharistie und Arbeit (Herder, 1917). The whole can be downloaded by clicking here.

It is a beautiful reflection on the cruciform, Eucharist heart of all Christian action.


 

Work

1.

“Christ lives in me” was the life motto of the Apostle of the Gentiles.[1]

In the power of this consciousness he worked more than any other, bore hardships on land and sea, “in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked,”[2] bearing the Word of Christ “before Gentiles and kings.”[3]

In the power of his union with Christ, he snatched up an ancient world that was sinking into death and raised it to the Sunday of Christ. His world-renewing work and nothing else is the proof of his bold word: “Christ lives in me.”

“You yourselves are our letter…written not on tablets of stone but on tablets of living hearts.”[4]

Converted and sanctified Christians, the world renewed by him in Christ–that is the unique, unmistakable evidence that Paul carried the Lord in his heart; this is the statistic of the Eucharistic movement that dominated his fiery heart; it is the decree of the Eucharistic Congress, applauded by a thousand voices in his soul:

Lofty, passionate work as the only sure indication of a true Eucharistic movement;

Selfless, arduous world at every post;

Bold, fearless work, even when it appears contrary to “reputation” or “good old habit”;

Zealous, tireless word until the end, even when “the enjoyment of well-earned glory” seems more deserved;

Work ever looking forward, even when one is already hailed in every paper as “the master of our age.”

2.

There is a principle in the life of grace, a crushing weight for the sluggish, uplifting for the tireless: the more grace we receive, the more work we must accomplish.

God does not give his grace as a sweet indulgence or a bed of roses: a firebrand is he, blazing in heart and hands, until in the smithy of the human will the holy deed of work is hammered out, a sword of St. Michael, that flashed and smote in the battles of Heaven.

This holds true for individual grace.

But in Holy Communion the fullness of Grace made flesh goes up into the human heart: man receives the giver of grace himself. It follows with an inexorable logic: the work of this man must now become the work of Christ.

The work of Christ: not merely a pious aspect, high-flown thoughts, well-polished intentions—work.

The work of Christ: not a dainty little chore; not work such as even the pagan in whom Christ does not live could perform; work that is worthy of a son of God who lives in you—Christ-work.

So Christ lives in you:

Not an ordinary man, a shrunken, work-shy man-child—

No, Christ, “in whom all things were made.”[5]

And Christ lives in you:

Not a fading memory hovering about your soul—

No, a life of electrifying work, flaming zeal for the Kingdom of God,

The greatest Life of all lives in you.

3.

How often does he live in you?

Once a year?

Because it is true that in holy Communion Christ comes into our soul (that is an eternal truth);–

Because it is true that we are in an age of frequent, even daily Communion (and experience has taught us this):

How many people must be full of the Lord!

How must the working power of Catholics surpass the mass of non-Catholics, who only catch scraps from the table!—

How all troubles must disappear from Catholic families!

How gloriously the great Catholic organizations must flourish!

How brotherly love must shine serene in Catholic shops!

How the peoples of the earth must be amazed at the heaven-storming work-zeal of the Lord’s youth!

How the face of the earth must renew itself in the sunlight of the Savior!

Does this happen?

4.

We would like to address ourselves alone in the quiet of our room:

 

Tell me, soul, how do you reckon your Eucharistic statistics?:

your work on your self,

your selfless cooperation in the great tasks of the Church?

Does the number of your Holy Communions measure up to the tally of your glorious works, glorious as only a Christian who receives Christ into his soul so often can make them?

Caritas Christi urget nos.[6]

Every Holy Communion is a flaming torch pricking you on to a fitting work.

Woe to thee, if the divine fire sputters out!

Woe to thee, if it must be put to use so shamefully to sear you out of your inertia!

Then are you like a prison for our Lord, which he will burst open the tomb in the Garden of Nicodemus!

Let Christ live in you, live for an untiring labor, a readiness for work that shies away from no task!

Whether Christ renews the whole world depends on you.

For he wanders no more on Earth, as once he did in Galilee, in his visible Person.

Now the Lord goes teaching and healing around the world through the work of the souls who receive him.

That is why the life of these souls must be a life of Christ, and their work a work of Christ.

This life and this work alone are to be the measure of your Eucharistic movement and the only authentic entrance card to the Eucharistic World Congress.

This truly Eucharistic World Congress is the cheerful cooperation of the Catholics of every land, unrestrained by the prejudice and petty conceits of the nation, in the universal tasks of the universal Church.

 

Interior Work

1.

Christ is the eternal archetype of the interior and exterior world.

All the loveliness of the universe, the majesty of the mountains, the charming simplicity of the green valleys, the bright concert of bird song in the young spring woods, the crack of thunder and the lightning of night storms, the stilly solitude of the mountain hermitage and the confused hustle and bustle of the factory town:–

All so many images of his unity.

All the beauty of man’s interior life, the bell-bright laughter of a child, the stormy impulses of youth, the earnest zeal of manhood, the generous sacrifice of a wife, the gentle repose of age;

The anxious, probing meditations of the scholar and the laborer’s rough grappling with the forces of nature;

The merchant’s cool calculation along with the heart-wrenching intuitions of the artist:––

All so many images of his unity.

This one Christ,

Eternal ideal unity of the interior and exterior worlds,[7]

Unites himself with the soul of man.

What can his purpose be, if not: through the work of this human world to drawn the inner world and outer world ever closer to himself, to assimilate it to him, to make it one with him![8]

2.

This is in fact the object of the Eucharistic Savior’s work:

Man’s soul must form its interior world according to his Image, so that it may renew the outer world in Him; all the outer work of culture must be rooted in the interior work of holiness, and all interior work toward holiness must radiate outward into the practical work of genuine culture, which in turn culminates in the sanctification of all humanity.

The root of this work-unity is the interior work of holiness. Every exterior work—be it ever so lofty and sublime—is soulless without the holiness of the worker: “sounding brass.”[9]

The profit it brings the world remains mired in the realm of matter: the world becomes corporally richer, but spiritually poorer.

The work of unsanctified hands is like a corpse; for it no longer has a soul.

But for the world of living men, only life has worth.

The content of this life of holiness is assimilation to the Eucharistic Savior. Because he is the “eternal life,” his replication is the authentic life of exterior work: the authentic interior work.

Two things are contained here:

Christ as the eternal Ideal Unity of all the efforts of the interior world, demands that each individual craft himself in the image of this Unity;

Christ as the omnipotent God working from his profound concealment in the Eucharist wills that the mighty power of works conformed to his Image be united with the greatest humility.

3.

Interior Unity.

 

Man’s sinful condition is manifest in his spineless capitulation to every sort of temptation. As soon as he is carried away by the images of his own senses, he becomes the play-thing of his inclinations. There is no more unity or governing principle in him. His is not governed by his will, but by the multiplicity of his sense impressions and the passions.

But Christ is eternal Unity.

In his personality as the Gospels portray Him, meekness is united with terrible wrath, simplicity of speech with a chasmic profundity of thought, a cheerful soul with a stern spirit of penitence.

All his interior motions are balanced against one another in an imperturbable unity.

In this way he is “ the reflection of the Father,” in whom the multiplicity of creation has its unitive source, its unitive power, and its unitive end.

Therefore Christ, living Eucharistically in the human soul, can work for no other object than this one thing alone, that a kingly order of unity should reign inexorably over its life.

This order of unity is the holy will of God.

The neophyte must submit to it by keeping the Ten Commandments and the laws of the Church, the true Christian through obedience in the face of all worldly and spiritual authority, and the saint through cheerful readiness to face the most bitter way of the Cross.

“Obedient unto death, even unto death on a cross.”[10] With these words the Apostle of the Gentiles puts his finger on the deepest nature of Christ and of the Christian disciple.

Fiat voluntas tua, that is the human soul’s everlasting rock of unity, onto which, as he goes cheerfully into the harsh struggle, he attaches the entirety of his emotions and affections, and blossoms into one stem and one flower head.

Fiat voluntas tua, this is a motto to live by, clear to the humblest initiate, unplumbably deep for the young advancing in holiness, and eternally inexhaustible for its greatest masters.

The sign of a truly “Eucharistic” soul will be its ever-ready obedience.

He who brings Christ into himself, must draw near to the same food as He, and the food of Christ is:

“to do the will of him who sent me.”[11]

4.

Supreme power united with supreme humility.

The peculiarity of the Eucharistic Christ is expressed well in this division of work.

As he traveled throughout Palestine, it is true that “power went out from him and he healed all.”[12] But the power was carefully ordered as he entirely resigned his Godhead to the cross: it is there he worked the Redemption.

Divinity and humanity are concealed in the Eucharist; here is power at its apex: for millions and millions of men he makes the fruits of Redemption effective in conversion and sanctification.

Where Christ works most secretly, he also works most mightily.

This must also become a feature of the “Eucharistic” soul.

In its life the Eucharistic Christ must radiate outward;

This demands the heights of its power and the depths of its humility.

The heights of its power:

It is no sign of the true Christ to place our hands quietly in our lap and leave all the work up to God;

Boldly intervening, valiantly pressing forward, ceaselessly struggling onward—

This is the Eucharistic personality; for him there is no fear, no hesitation, no standing still, no resting satisfied;

“more, always more”, this is his fiery watchword; precisely because the will of God is the foundation of the soul, its power is inexhaustible and its struggle is tireless;

for as God is endless, so is his will endless, endless in width and depth and height.

The depths of its humility:

Just as the eternal God works all things in the world and yet remains unseen, so the Eucharistic Christ governs and fructifies the spiritual life of all humanity, but is seen by no one;

The “Eucharistic” soul’s distinctive “I” must perish in its work. It is not the Christian’s object to make a name for himself through his work. He is like the seed corn that dies pushing up the sprout: the work lives, the worker dies.

Christ gave life to the world by his death, but he also wants to pass it on: through the death of his disciples.

It is not the number of Christians who should be reckoned, but rather Christian works;

Not the number of Eucharistic souls, but the number of Eucharistic works.


NOTES:

[1] Gal 2:20

[2] 2 Cor 11:27

[3] Acts 9:15

[4] 2 Cor 3:2,3

[5] Col 1:16

[6] “The love of Christ compels us.” 2 Cor 5:14

[7] Augustine: Cuius sapientia simpliciter multiplex and uniformiter multiformis (City of God 1.12, ch. 18) et omnes unum in ea (On the Trinity 1.6, ch. 11)

[8] Augustine (On the Trinity 1.4, ch. 7): Quia ab uno . . . Deo . . . evanueramus in multa, discissi per multa et inhaerentes in multis: oportebat . . . ut iustificaremur in uno iusto facti unum . . . per Mediatorem Deo reconciliati haereamus uni, fruamur uno, permaneamus unum.

[9] 1 Cor 13:1

[10] Phil 2:8

[11] Jn 4:34

[12] Lk. 6:19