Theologies of Work: Guest Post by Michael Paulus

Today’s post follows chronologically and logically after the recent series on “Office Drama,” about CW’s “Masques of Amen House.” I am delighted to share with you this guest post by Michael J. Paulus, Jr.

Michael J. Paulus, Jr., is University Librarian and Associate Professor at Seattle Pacific University. Previous work on Charles Williams, based on an archival discovery at Princeton University, focused on one of Williams’s most significant editorial projects: the publication of the works of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in English. See “From a Publisher’s Point of View: Charles Williams’s Role in Publishing Kierkegaard in English,” in Charles Williams and His Contemporaries, ed. Suzanne Bray and Richard Sturch (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), 20-41, available from You can connect with Michael via Twitter @mjpaulusjr.

The Masques of Amen House and a Theology of Publishing
Michael J. Paulus, Jr.

In her first post on the masques of Amen House, Sørina made a helpful comparison between this dramatic trilogy, which Charles Williams wrote between 1926 and 1930, and Dorothy Sayers’s nearly contemporaneous detective novel 51181GeWvdLMurder Must Advertise, written in 1932. In both works, we see maturing writers—who were also engaged in creative work for pay—apply their literary imaginations to their workplaces. Williams, the poet and publisher, mythologizes the work of creating a book at the London office of the Oxford University Press, where he worked from 1908 until his death. Sayers, the novelist and former copywriter, criminalizes the creation of advertising copy at Pym’s Publicity, which was modeled on the London advertising firm of S. H. Benson where she worked from 1922 until 1929. Both writers thrived in their jobs, enjoying the company of working writers, designers, publicists, and printers, and one can imagine inspired conversations about vocation when the two came to know each other in the mid 1930s.

During the Second World War, as Sayers was thinking through the theological implications of “Creativeness” or what she called a doctrine of human creativity, she began developing a theology of work—of “creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself.” In a talk called “Why Work?,” delivered in 1942 and published in 1947, Sayers called for “a revolution in our ideas about work.” imagesShe criticized “the appalling squirrel cage of economic confusion in which we have been madly turning for the last three centuries or so,” and declared: “A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand.”She wondered what if, as in conditions of war, we asked about the inherent value of work rather than its economic value? Arguing that “work is the natural exercise and function of … the creature who is made in the image of his creator,” Sayers articulated three theological propositions about work: (1) humans are created for work, which is a medium through which one serves God; (2) there is no truly secular vocation; and (3) a worker’s first duty is to serve the work, not the community.[2]

Sayers’s theology of work is idealistic or, more precisely, eschatological.sayers She made a distinction between “work,” a human being’s “divine occupation,” and employment, “the curse of Adam”; and she emphasized “true needs,” “the right handling of material things,” and “looking to the end of the work.”[3] By this time, Sayers’s copywriting days were far behind her and the work of advertisers is explicitly critiqued in “Why Work?” While it is easier to see how Sayers’s eschatological vision of work was more fully realized in her work as an independent and successful writer, it is not clear how well it could be applied to the work of advertising. In Murder Must Advertise, Sayers’s ethical doubts about her former job, which she initially and occasionally enjoyed, are evident. Belying an introductory authorial note about the unlikelihood that “any crime could possibly be perpetrated on Advertising premises,” characters describe their work as “soul-searing,” “unnatural,” “immoral,” and “heart-breaking.” Forced to reflect on the nature of this work, Lord Peter Wimsey thinks of a “hell’s-dance of spending and saving,” a “Phantasmagoria—a city of dreadful day, of crude shapes and colours piled Babel-like in a heaven of harsh cobalt and rocking over a void of bankruptcy.” He also observes how the circumstances and “crookedness of advertising” became an “excellent hiding-place for a big crook.”[4]

masquesofamenhouse_largeSayers’s theological propositions are more comfortably applicable to the work of publishing as it is represented in the masques of Amen House, in which a book functions as a metaphor for a human life. In “The Masque of the Manuscript,” a manuscript dies to be reborn as a book; in “The Masque of Perusal,” the book generates another book; and in “The Masque of the Termination of Copyright,” the chosen book is saved from oblivion. But these plays are not merely metaphorical fantasies. Blending forms of mythical masque and earthy pastoral, to establish correspondences between universal and concrete realities, Williams transforms the secular and daily employment of publishing into a sacred and eternal vocation.

Through these plays the work of the publicist, the head of production, the editor, the librarian—and “all the rest, here or beyond,” engaged in this “absurd and pleasant” work—is connected with the human quest to be brought “by holy learning / To peace and the perfect end.”[5] Though the working staff themselves may “doubt, / If any know what it is all about!,” they focus on their collective and collaborative work, seeking to reveal “wisdom so far hidden” and to realize their being in doing. As they move through their operations they find themselves and their labors rewarded, through publication of the “communicating word” that incarnates “The outward motion of the inward Graal” or the revelation of God.[6] And at the end of the cycle, Williams asserts that their work has been “Touched by “Heavenly Love” and forever “transmuted beyond thought.”[7]

Williams’s Arthurian Commonplace Book provides a great deal of insight into the theology of publishing that he presents in these masques as well as Williams’s own sense of vocation. Citing an unknown source, Williams wrote that “all the great professions had their base … in the failings of men. Law, medicine, [etc.].”[8] Four HallowsIn “The Masque of the Manuscript,” the role of the publisher is to fill voids in human understanding by mediating “holy learning.” In “The Masque of Perusal,” human endeavor is transformed into a “spiritual adventure” when the Book asks—three times—“What serves the Graal?”[9] For Williams, the Graal—the cup of the Last Supper and the cup that caught Christ’s blood as he was crucified[10]—is an image of Incarnation and Passion, which is part of “the one Act—the Creation and the Redemption and the Assumption of man” that is “an entire act of love.”[11] To ask the Book’s question, “What serves the Graal?,” “releases energies frozen by the Fall.”[12] The question represents, Williams noted, “the whole advance of man and his co-operation with the Divine” and reveals a pattern of “birth—death—birth”—a pattern that is reflected in the work of publishing.[13]

Attainment of the Graal is found in reconciliation, in the “agreement of inner and outer.” When the publishing staff is called in “Perusal” to publish, they ritualistically process with the tools of their work—pen, type, paper, periodicals—which become the elements or “hallows” of the Graal. The publishing house becomes like a church, showing “the visible process of reconciliation … the process of Atonement.”[14] “The Graal,” Williams wrote elsewhere, “is obviously communion with God.”[15] Its procession signifies this Sacrament, which Williams noted “is the best we can see of that imparting of the Divine” and through the elements of which we receive “Love from Love.”[16]

The final masque, “The Termination of Copyright,” concludes with a vision of internal inspiration united with external act—a vision of work very close to Sayers’s understanding of work as “a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself.”[17] Toward the end of his Arthurian Commonplace Book, Williams wrote:

Love creates (or was intended to) in a man a sense of exaltation of spirit and sense which enable and excite him to labour and delight in his particular ‘vocation’ – the soldier, poet, statesman, mystic, etc. His love is himself interiorly, his vocation himself exteriorly – love his attitude towards the microcosm, vocation his attitude towards the macrocosm.

What Sayers wrote much later about her writing Williams could have written about his work as a publisher: “the pattern of being which I find in my work and in me … directly corresponds to the actual structure of the living universe.”[18] Williams’s answer to the question “What serves the Graal?,” which he articulates in “Perusal,” is the unity of “labour and purity and peace.”[19]


Amen House of the OUP

Even though full achievement and reconciliation are reserved for the City of the Apocalypse, Williams’s forty-year publishing vocation brought him close to that City.[20] Williams’s Amen House colleague Gerald Hopkins stated that for Williams their publishing house was “the noblest human monument” in the City of God.[21] Applying Sayers’s three theological propositions to Williams’s own thoughts about publishing, it is clear that he viewed publishing as (1) a creative medium that serves the ends of God; (2) a manifestation of the creative, redemptive, and transformative work of God; and (3) participation in divine communication that leads to communion with God and others.


[1] Michael J. Paulus, Jr., is University Librarian and Associate Professor at Seattle Pacific University. Previous work on Charles Williams, based on an archival discovery at Princeton University, focused on one of Williams’s most significant editorial projects: the publication of the works of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in English. See “From a Publisher’s Point of View: Charles Williams’s Role in Publishing Kierkegaard in English,” in Charles Williams and His Contemporaries, ed. Suzanne Bray and Richard Sturch (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009), 20-41.

[2] Dorothy L. Sayers, “Why Work?,” in Creed or Chaos? (Manchester, N.H.: Sophia Institute Press, 1995), 63, 64, 72-84.

[3] Dorothy L. Sayers to Bryan W. Monahan, 15 January 1943, The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers, Vol. II: 1937-1943, From Novelist to Playwright, ed. Barbara Reynolds (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), 384; “Vocation in Work,” in Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation, ed. William C. Placher (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 412.

[4] Dorothy L. Sayers, Murder Must Advertise (New York: HarperPaperbacks, 1995), 188, 251.

[5] “The Masque of the Manuscript,” in The Masques of Amen House, ed. David Bratman(Altadena, Calif.: The Mythopoeic Press, 2000), 35-37, 49-50.

[6] “The Masque of Perusal,” in The Masques of Amen House, 59, 63, 72-73.

[7] “The Masque of the Terminal of Copyright,” in The Masques of Amen House, 110.

[8] Arthurian Commonplace Book (ACB), 46.

[9] “The Masque of Perusal,” 70-72; ACB, 110.

[10] See David Llewellyn Dodds, “General Introduction,” Arthurian Poets: Charles Williams (Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1991), 12.

[11] ACB, 80-81, 112.

[12] Charles Williams, “On the Arthurian Myth,” in The Image of the City, ed. Anne Ridler, (Berkeley, Calif.: The Apocryphile Press, 2007), 170.

[13] ACB, 110, 112.

[14] Ibid., 3, 71, 125.

[15] Quoted in “General Introduction,” Arthurian Poets, 11.

[16] ACB, 71, 80.

[17] Sayers, “Why Work?,” 63.

[18] Quoted in Barbara Reynolds, Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993), 312-13.

[19] “The Masque of Perusal,” 72.

[20] ACB, 3, 133. Cf. Charles Williams, He Came Down From Heaven (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), 143-44.

[21] Quoted in Bernadette Lynn Bosky, “Introduction,” in The Masques of Amen House, 17.


About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is a PhD student in English and Presidential Scholar at Baylor University. She also serves as Chair of the Language and Literature Department at Signum University, online. Her latest publication is an academic essay collection on "The Inklings and King Arthur" (Apocryphile Press, December 2017). Her interests include British Modernism, the Inklings, Arthuriana, theatre, and magic. She holds an M.A. from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. Sørina blogs about British poet Charles Williams at The Oddest Inkling, wrote the introduction to a new edition of Williams’s "Taliessin through Logres" (Apocryphile, 2016), and edited Williams’s "The Chapel of the Thorn" (Apocryphile, 2014). As a creative writer, Sørina has published two books of poetry, "The Significance of Swans" (2007) and "Caduceus" (2012).
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1 Response to Theologies of Work: Guest Post by Michael Paulus

  1. Doug Jackson says:

    “Sayers’s theology of work is idealistic or, more precisely, eschatological. ” Thank you so much for this distinction! The entire article is very good but this one phrase crystalized for me an entire category in my thinking. I plan to use it often in the future and will give you credit.


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