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“Homo faber” – Man the Builder by Fr. George W. Rutler


January 25, 2015
by Fr. George W. Rutler

The great edifices of classical cultures are also morally edifying by their anonymity. The artists and artisans who embellished them are generally unknown because they were honoring something greater than themselves.

The desire to be known, however, is not unworthy of human dignity, provided it is not just selfish pride. Homo faber, man the builder, is entitled to take just satisfaction in an accomplishment, provided thanks for the inspiration are accorded to the Divine Inspirer.

Humility refers all things to God, but it dispenses with the false modesty, like that of Dickens’ Uriah Heep, that solicits praise but pretends not to want it. When Michelangelo carved his name very visibly on his Pietà, he wanted people to know that God had done a great thing through him. That is different from those who want their names known just to advertise themselves. “Their inward thought is that their houses shall continue forever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names” (Psalm 49:11).

Once a man desires to please God first, he will begin to understand that he is not just a statistic in the divine regard. “Non nobis, Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam—Not unto us Lord, but unto thy name give the glory.” St. Paul warned St. Timothy not to be a “man pleaser” because that distracts from the primary relationship with God who made us for his delight. To be dependent on human recognition is to forfeit the radical dignity that God alone gives us. “We love him because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

No one wants to receive mail addressed only to “Occupant.” Christ does not address us as statistics, the way a bureaucrat does. St. Paul wrote his epistles to churches composed of individuals, each of whom he was willing to die for, as Christ died for him. He does not end his letter to the Romans without naming them: Phoebe, Prisca, Aquila, Epaenetus, Mary, Andronicus, Junias, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, Aristobulus, Herodion, Narcissus, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, Julia, Nereus, and Olympas. It is quite like the list of names with which Cardinal Newman ended his Apologia pro Vita Sua. That is the greatest modern autobiography in the English language, and he named his friends because he had shown them that they were friends of God.

The pantheon of fame has its cracks. I recently spoke with a college student who had never heard of Bing Crosby. The only recognition that matters is how we are known to the Lord. Should we be blessed to meet him in glory, he will not say, “How do you do?” He will not even say, “I think I remember you.” He will say, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).
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