Business, Beauty and Liturgy - a Theology of Work and the Entrepreneur

In his book the Wellspring of Worship, Jean Corbon (who also wrote the section on prayer in the Catechism) wrote the following: 'Work and culture are the place where men and the world meet in the glory of God. This encounter fails or is obscured to the degree that men "lack God's glory" (Rom 3:23)... If the experience is to be filled with glory, men must first become once again the dwelling places of this glory and be clothed in it; that is why, existentially, everything begins with the liturgy of the heart and the divinisation of the human person.' Elsewhere he states that an absence of communion through Eucharistic liturgy 'that is at the root of injustices in the workplace, with its alienating structures and disorders in the economy.' (pp 225, 229)

How can we change society and the culture into one that is beautiful, is just and is built on true community? I say, following on from Corbon, that if we wish to change society we look to ourselves first so that we become the people who are transformed in Christ - transfigured - and show him to others by our actions and interactions. Society is network of personal interactions, and we change society, therefore by changing the way we interact with others. There is no aspect of human life to which this does not apply.


Only God's grace can do this for us, and it is by prayer, or more precisely, by worship of God that we encounter Christ in such a way that it can happen. When we can be one of those people, then people will be drawn to the Church through us and join us. To the degree that anyone is participating in the divine nature and showing people the transfigured Christ in their daily lives, he is someone who, by grace, will relate to others in properly ordered love. This is what attracts people to the faith. This will be evident in the workplace as much as anywhere else. All economic interactions ought to be personal and loving as much as any other in a good society. In the sphere of economics this is how the principle of superabundance is invoked that creates prosperity for society. This principle of superabundance is the great untold secret for the creation for wealth; if it isn't actually the pearl of great price it will certainly give you means to buy it!

None of us should ignore this, for we are all involved in economic interactions of some sort and we all need to flourish and make sufficient wealth to live on. However, some people have a particular calling to be entrepreneurs. They have a special grace, an ability to make money beyond their personal needs and in a way that encourages human flourishing at all levels. When they do this they are participating in the creative work of God and contributing to the culture by creating something of beauty. However, for that calling to be realized, they need also to be aware of not only how to make money in a way that is in accord with the common good, but also, the end to which that money should be directed responsibly. They must be good stewards.  It is the nature of charisms that unless they are directed in love, they evapourate, ie they cannot be misused. So while it is possible for someone to make money selfishly, or course, and also for people who do not have this particular calling to develop the skill of entrepeneurship and be driven by good motives. The person who has this charism, however, and special calling, will generate wealth almost effortlessly (compared to others) and in great abundance when does so in accordance with the principle of love.


Benedict XVI describes this ideal for personal interactions in economic activity in his encyclical, Caritas in veritate. It is a network of such personal interactions that in aggregate form a free society and the free economy described by John Paul II in Centesimus annus.

Benedict describes how Christians are transformed in Christ in this life by degrees and by grace - transfigured and participating in the divine nature - through a personal encounter with God in the Eucharist. To the degree that human relationships are driven by concern for the other person, they are in accordance with the Trinitarian dynamic of love that is the model for the loving component of personal relationships. When this Love is present it is always superabundant. Love is superabundant  - fruitful without measure - because of the generosity of God who can give beyond all limitations and creates out of nothing. It is by this principle that wealth is generated in properly ordered economic transactions.

Though we may not think of it as such, the ordinary exchange of goods for money that we are daily engaged in does not redistribute wealth, it creates wealth. By this simple exchange both parties have something they value more than before and so wealth has been created (otherwise they would not both choose to make the exchange). There is a caveat. This is true provided that there is personal freedom (understood not simply as lack of constraint, but also full knowledge of the practicable best).


One of the beauties of the participating in the market in a free economy is that if I am dealing with someone in such a transaction who is genuinely free to choose whether or not he trades with me, then even if I am driven by selfish ends I am forced to consider his needs and what is good from his point of view. If I don't then the chances are that he will choose not to trade with me because he is free not to do so. So provided that freedom is present, even the selfish like me are forced to some degree at least into loving action. Even in this minimal form of love there is superabundance. In practice, rarely is someone wholly driven by selfish interests, just as it is rare that is someone wholly loving in action and thought. Superabundance is maximized to the degree that both parties are genuinely interested in the well being of the other as they engage in the transaction. This is when all the aspects for which a price cannot be paid - at a simple level a genuine care and attention, for example are given freely too. To the degree that the loving component grows then people relate to each other so that the other flourishes. When the conditions exist that allow for this to happen, people will naturally seek out others who interact in this way and the complexion of the economy gradually changes. Economic prosperity is maximized to the extent that the activity that creates it is in harmony with a flourishing of the society of human persons. When people are transformed in Christ, then they are more naturally inclined to consider the other in what they do and go beyond the simple contractual elements of trade, and create an economy that is rooted in a love which goes beyond the minimum requirement of justice.


One might refer to this as a covanental economy, one that is ordered to mutual giving, rather than one that is purely contractual and relies on the alignment of self-interest alone.

John Paul II pointed out in Centesimus annus that the market is the most efficient and best way to distribute goods for which a price can be paid. He then stated that this also defines the limitations of the market, it cannot distribute those things for which a price cannot be paid which are also vital in life and the flourishing of the human person. That is why he said that this market will be in the context of what he called a 'free economy'. Benedict in Caritas in Veritate connects the two much more directly in each economic transaction and says that unless those aspects for which money is not paid are present there too (he calls this additional element one of gratuitousness) then there is no superabundance. In fact he goes on to say that gratuitousness must be present if wealth is to be created.

When freedom is lacking - as it would be even in an otherwise free society in the case of an addict buying illegal drugs for example, the result is not the superabundant creation of wealth, but an enforced redistribution of wealth that favors one party more than the other inequitably. The party that gains is not just taking advantage of the other person in the exchange, but is parasitical upon society as a whole , drawing from it, rather than contributing to it; one only needs to look at a neighborhood in which drug dealing is rife to see the effects. Similarly, government taxation directed towards paying for activities that go beyond the natural role of government (which  should be limited to the regulating for and protecting personal freedom) are also acts against the common good that go against freedom, are contrary to what a government's role should be and will have the stultifying effects on society as whole that we see, for example, in Venezuela today and we saw in the Eastern bloc countries of the past so markedly.

Benedict describes in many places in his writings how the personal transformation, by which a person is capable of and inclined to interact lovingly with his neighbors, will occur. Perhaps one of the most simply and concisely present examples is his little paper on the New Evangelization. We must first look at ourselves; we must learn to pray. It is through prayer, and to be precise a liturgically centered piety that we are transformed.

Not all prosperous societies are Catholic societies (whatever we mean by that) and not all Catholic societies are prosperous. But it is to the degree that any earthly city and its people participate in those ideals of the City of God, Catholic or not, that it is prosperous and stable.

It is the beauty of the culture, and especially the culture of Faith that will inspire Christians to pray well, and non-believers to pray at all. Beauty engenders creativity, inspires us to love and so to participate in the superabundant love in anything we do, including trade. This is why beauty, the free economy and the liturgy are inseparable.

Jeffries & Co. / NYC

People today yearn for community and for a beautiful culture that they feel is absent from their lives. This is not a new thing, this is what people have yearned for since their were people around to yearn for anything in life. The answer lies in each of us looking to ourselves. We must retreat to the wilderness symbolically in prayer, the place where Christ engaged with the devil, then transformed, we emerge and engage with our fellow man. We do not need to flee further at this point. We engage wherever we happen to be, wherever there are people. In doing so we will create the culture and the community we yearn for around us, where we are now, right here and right now. If this is not happening, then we look afresh at ourselves. While this mean that work becomes that of the artisan, like St Joseph, which we tend to romanticise today, we do not need to think that this is a process of turning back the clock. Rather it is one of adding to the workplaces that we are already in, the factory, shop, office, building site and so on and raising it up to a place of beauty and love.

Even in these workplaces, which are often seen as places that are opposed to Christian values, we can be that person, clothed in glory, who transforms those around them and transform the work culture. This is the message of the Church and of the New Evangelization. It begins with us being transformed in the liturgy and the hope is that after we engage with them we lead others back to the liturgy. It will be by the grace, beauty and love that others see in our work that they will let us do so.

A word on the pictures: the first is Titian's Transfiguration, the second by the 20th century Italian artist Pietro Annigoni is St Joseph the Worker with Our Lord. The other three photographs are of a car production line, a NY trading floor and a clothes factory in India. It is easy in some ways to look back on the work of St Joseph as a carpenter and see this as participating in the Transfiguration, and this is reflected brilliantly by Annigoni. We tend to romanticise the work of the artisan nowadays and assume that somehow this work is intrinsically different from the work most people do today. This is why, supposedly, the factory worker is more alienated today than the agricultural worker of the 16th century. I am not persuaded of this. I think it depends as much on the people involved as the nature of the work. I suggest that we should not seek to eliminate or escape from the modern workplace, but work for its transformation with our participation in the liturgy at the heart of what we do. Then by our engagement with them, these places too can be in harmony with the life of the world to come. I hope that when we look back on the work of the sacred artist if the 21st century, it will portray saints on the trading floor with as much empathy as the man tilling the land; or the seamstress on the shop floor with the same light of grace as Our Lady sewing the curtains for the temple.

— ♦—

The book, the Way of Beauty is a manual for a formation in beauty that explains how the whole culture is a reflection of divine love, how we can become agents of that change  as well as educators who can form offer that formation to others. It is available from Angelico Press and Amazon.

JAY W. RICHARDS, Editor of the Stream and Lecturer at the Business School of the Catholic University of America said about it: “In The Way of Beauty, David Clayton offers us a mini-liberal arts education. The book is a counter-offensive against a culture that so often seems to have capitulated to a ‘will to ugliness.’ He shows us the power in beauty not just where we might expect it — in the visual arts and music — but in domains as diverse as math, theology, morality, physics, astronomy, cosmology, and liturgy. But more than that, his study of beauty makes clear the connection between liturgy, culture, and evangelization, and offers a way to reinvigorate our commitment to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the twenty-first century. I am grateful for this book and hope many will take its lessons to heart.”

Clayton Way of Beauty

Liturgy, Anthropology, Economics and Work

It seems at first an unlikely connection but it is made directly in a book called the Wellspring of Worship, by Jean Corbon. I read it because I heard Scott Hahn recommend it recently. It was Hahn's excellent book the Lamb's Supper which first made clear to me how the Book of Revelation relates the heavenly and earthly liturgy to each other and first opened the door to a sense of the cosmic dimension of the liturgy upon which so much of the Way of Beauty program rests. Corbon was a Dominican in Beirut who was an Eastern (Melkite I think) Catholic. He is also the person who wrote the section on prayer in the Catechism. Corbon wrote the following: 'Work and culture are the place where men and the world meet in the glory of God. This encounter fails or is obscured to the degree that men "lack God's glory" (Rom 3:23)... If the experience is to be filled with glory, men must first become once again the dwelling places of this glory and be clothed in it; that is why, existentially, everything begins with the liturgy of the heart and the divinisation of the human person.' Elsewhere he states that an absense of communion through Eucharistic liturgy 'that is at the root of injustices in the workplace, with its alienating structures and disorders in the economy.' (pp 225, 229)

Is the answer to economic problems and injustice in the workplace really the liturgy? This might seem a stretch. However, when one thinks of the nature of economics and the human person (anthropology) the connection seems less obscure. I first heard of the connection between anthropology and economics made when I attended a great series of economics lectures last summer run by the Acton Institute called Acton University in Grand Rapids, Michigan (there is still time to sign up for this year's if you're interested).

In the excellent introductory lectures the speakers described how economics is a reflection of network of social interractions. And the nature of these interractions derives from our understanding of the human person, which in turn comes from Catholic social teaching.

In our use of the terms here, a human person is distinct from an 'individual' (although in common language the two are often used interchangebly). A human person is always in relation with others, starting from birth. No one by choice disengages from society altogether (not even a hermit) and is happy. Indeed, we know who we are by the way we relate to others. If for example you ask people to talk about themselves they will talk about the relationships they have in order to describe who they are: where they work, the community where they grew up, the nature of their immediate family and so on.

This understanding of the human person has a profound effect on how we view what society is. A relationship of the sort we are now envisioning, when properly ordered (and of course it can be disordered) is always between two subjects ie two people freely cooperating as moral agents (freedom is as important a component here as morality). This is termed covenantal and is based upon mutual self-sacrifice (love) on behalf of the other. This freedom to respond as a person is one of the essential elements of society. Society therefore is the vector sum of the relationships within it. It is not a collective of self-contained individuals and their actions.

Covenantal relationships are founded on properly ordered love. When they occur God is present because God is Love. This Love always bears fruit and is creative: in a family for example the fruit of marriage is children. In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict used the term 'superabundant' to describe this creativity because it means something created out of nothing. Even in what we might view as less important relationships the same principles apply. In business, for example, a transacation properly ordered for the good of the other is creative too. It creates wealth. Although we don't normally associated love with business transactions, the Pope describes how this mutual interest in the other, which is what love is, is the source of the creative component in business.

Contractual relationships, in contrast to covenantal relationships, are founded on the alignment of self-interest. this is not to say they are worthless. In this fallen world, only a fool would attempt to run a business without contracts: but in practice the actual transactions will usually involve a mixture of the contractual and the covenantal activity. Even if bolstered by signed contracts, very few have absolutely no interest in the good of the other when doing business with them, even if it is only to try to consider how to make a product more valuable to a customer by suiting his needs better. Also, there must be a basic trust and mutual respect otherwise, for all the legal protection in the world, no business would be done. What the Pope tells us is that it is the covenantal aspect that is the wealth creating superabundant part. Presumably, therefore, if one wishes to maximise the creation of wealth this is the aspect upon which we should focus. I have written about this more here.

As with all things that exist in human nature, the essence of personhood exists in perfection in God in whose image and likeness we are made. However, there is only one God and unlike us He is complete unto Himself and does not rely on any external relationships in order to exist. Revelation helps us here: through it we know that there is one God and three persons in the Trinity, in perfectly realized relationship. As with the human person each person of the Trinity is by nature relational.

A Christian concept of the human person and his relationship with God, it seems to me (this liturgical aspect of the anthropology I am about to describe was not discussed at Acton) explains Courbon's quote which connects liturgy and economics: our joy as human beings rests in the nature of our participation in the liturgy. We are liturgical beings, first and foremost - we are made for the liturgy. Through the liturgy we enter into a truly personal relationship with God: we approach the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. Put another way, when we participate in the liturgy we enter the mystery of the Trinity through the Church, the mystical body of Christ. When we do so, by grace, we can relate first, personally, to the Son as man; and second to the Father through the Son as God. The Son is one person, but two natures.

The point that Courbon makes very strongly in his book is the fact that through our participation in the liturgy and this personal relationship with Christ as man, we are divinized. To quote St Athanasius of Alexandria in the 3rd century: 'God became man that man might become gods.' We are not fully partaking of the divine nature in this life, but by degrees and to the extent that we actively participate in the liturgy, we are partially divinized in this life. Our ordered participation in any human relationships rests on the foundation of our relationship with God; and our relationship with God rests on our and the Church's participation in the liturgy. It is a lack in our participation that causes difficulties in our personal lives and our participatio in society. Any problem of modern society that we care to mention is at root a problem relating to our personal relationships, for personal relationships are the building block of society. Similarly all that is good in day to day mundane living can be so because of personal relationships ordered liturgically. Therefore, it is to the degree that we are divine, shining with that same light that was seen at the Transifiguration, that we can act as agents for a good society, a good culture, a good economy. Accordingly, this all depends upon our ordered and active participation in the liturgy.

As Pope Benedict points out in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, the schism between the culture of faith and the broader culture occurred in the 19th century. All of the preceeding discussion points to the conclusion that this occured due to problems with the liturgy at this time that remain with us to this day. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council addressed this directly and the Reform of the Reform movement, which looks directly to Pope Benedict as its figurehead is aimed at a proper implementation of what this council called for in Sacrosanctum Concilium. In his analysis of the problems in the liturgy of the Church that caused this schism, presented in paper at a conference in 2002 which was attended by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, Stratford Caldecott points to a misunderstanding of the anthropology due to the influence of the Enlightenment. He describes how the traditional and scriptural view of man as body, soul and spirit had been usurped by a dualistic picture of man as body and soul only. I have written about this here.

Where does this leave us in regard to the economy? There are many today who point to problems, especially cultural problems in modern society which they feel have economic causes. So the sense of alienation of the person from society through variously too much work, the lack of it, or the wrong sort; the lack of genuine community in work that supports the family, and a culture bereft of grace and beauty with art that doesn't look like art at all, music that doesn't sound like music, ugly mass-produced goods and ugly houses, factories, civic buildings and churches. Many who have this view blame in varying degrees causes such as capitalism, the unfettered free market, mass production, industrialisation to name four.

I share this concern about the culture and the nature of work today, not as an economist about which I know very little, but just as someone who is part of society and works. But like Corbon I feel that the problem to be solved is liturgical and with all of these things the first question to ask is of myself: how am I participating in the liturgy? To me industrialisation and capitalism are not inherently bad, in fact quite the opposite. I think they are very good. However, because they developed in this post-Enlightenment age, the forms we now see them in lack something very important. That is a foundation of personal relations that are resplendant, at least to greater level, in the Glory of God. Only once we seek this union with God through an ordered and active participation in the liturgy can we  see a change. Any proposed solutions to these problems that are simply economic in nature, in the sense that they take no account of man as a liturgical being and his participation in the liturgy, will I think end in failure. It may solve the immediate problem, but will create others elsewhere. It is like the huge bump on the head of Tom the cat in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. Jerry aims to cure it by hammering the bump flat. He succeeds, but as the first bump diminishes with each hammer blow, a second appears and grows elsewhere by equal degrees.

My belief is that if we adopt a model of economics that is rooted in a liturgical view of the anthropology, then we can transform the industry and the economy into power houses for culture of beauty. It will never be perfect, but it can be a lot better. We do not need to go back in time to a medeival pre-industrial society.

What would an economy based upon a liturgical view of the anthropology look like? I have no idea. I am not an economist. My guess is that we don't have to specify it. To the degree that the liturgical transformation of man occurs it will happen organically as each personal relationship becomes more ordered and shines with the glory of God. If there is a role for the government here it is not so much and active one where it tries to direct human economic activity, but rather passive - to protect personal freedom so that each unique person can relate to others in the way that is natural to them. Through God's grace the creativity of man is boundless. The government, an institution, is less likely to be inspired in its actions, its seems to me, than some, at least, individuals; given that there are so many individuals and just one government. Therefore, the more the government takes an active role, rather than passive, the effect is likely to be that in promoting the one course of action that it favours, it will stifle the almost limitless variety of individual actions that do not correspond to it. This reduces the chance of a solution being found in any situation from high to virtually negligible.

To quote Corbon at greater length: "Work and culture are the place where men and the world meet in the glory of God. This encounter fails, or is obscured to the extent that men 'lack God's glory' (Rom 3:23). If the universe is to be recognised  and experienced as filled with his glory (see Is 6:3), men must first become once again the dwelling places of this glory and be clothed in it; that is why, existentially, everything begins with the liturgy of the heart and the divinization of the human person. We deal in abstractions when we say that a man is a microcosm, and we delude ourselves when we hope that man can divinize his world - as long as it has not become clear that God's glory is the source of his divinization."  (p225)

"For this light that transfigures both work and the created thing that work shapes is the light of communion.Like the eucharistic liturgy, the Eucharist as lived out in daily life is crowned by communion. At bottom, it is the absence of this communion that is at the root of injustices in the workplace, with its alienating structures, and of disorders in the economy. The liturgy does not do away with the need for our inventiveness in dealing with these problems. However, it does something even better: since it is not a structure but the Breath of Spirit, it is prophetic; it discerns, it challenges; it spurs creativity and is translated into actions. It cries out for justice and is the agent of peace." (p229)

Unfortunately, I am unable to make Acton University this summer as I am returning to England for the month. I will be sorry to miss it. I would recommend anyone interested in these issues of the economy, the human person and Catholic social teaching; and meeting many like minded people, to attend.

However, any who can make it to New Hampshire over the summer and are interested by these issues might consider coming along to our weekend retreats which are a combination of lectures about the cosmic liturgy and practice in accordance with the ideas above. See here  for more details about the Way of Beauty Summer Retreats.

The pictures are from various medieval manuscripts and psalters. The painting below is The Fight between Festival and Lent by Breugel


The Pope and the CEO - John Paul II's Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard

Here's a great book about discovering your personal vocation and how to work towards it. It is written by Andreas Widmer who is both the young Swiss Guard and the not-quite-so-young CEO referred to in the title. This book is simple and short (just 150 pages) but powerful. He engages us with many great anecdotes of the great Pope that illustrate his points and reveal insights into the man’s personality that I was not aware of before.  It was also interesting just to find what a Swiss Guard does (apart from standing still for tourists wearing striped baggy trousers). He builds on these tales with his subsequent experience as a businessman. There are valuable practical lessons for businessmen here, but it is wider reaching than that. It is as much about the realisation of personal vocation (Andreas's happens to be that of a businessman) and so is, potentially, of interest to everyone.

I have written before, here, about how I was inspired to believe that if we have faith enough to believe it possible, that a life of joy and abundance is possible for everyone. Much of what I read confirmed the guidance that I was given, and much adds something new and useful to it.

He describes very well the different types of vocation and how every single person has a personal vocation that offers them a life of joy and fulfilment. Every aspect of our life can be ordered to this calling and ultimately everything is ordered to love of God and our fellows on our final destination of union with God in heaven. It is our joy in the journey that will do so much to attract others to the Catholic life.

What is particularly good is how he tackles head on the question of earthly and material success. So many assume, I think, that we should aim to be as poor as we can and those who are wealthy are somehow less holy.

Widmar presents a different picture. Riches empower us to do what we are meant to do and so some need these things in order to be able to fulfil their vocation. It is a modern day noblesse oblige - the balancing of privilege with responsibility. He stresses how important it is that striving for these things doesn't detract us from our ultimate calling and the wealthier we are, the more important it is to develop detachment through personal discipline and, as mentioned before cultivating a joy in life that ensures that we do not rely on anything other than God to make us happy. If we strive for these things then we can be the example that draws others to the faith.

I enjoyed his explanation of how the spiritual life is not a handicap to business, even in worldly terms but rather, it is an asset. For those whose vocation is to be a businessman (an important qualification) then following the path of holiness in business will tend to encourage the flourishing of that business. If God intends someone to be wealthy, then holiness will increase their chance of success. It will enhance creativity, resourcefulness, efficiency and importantly more competitiveness.

This is contrary to a commonly held view that making money by carrying out the core business activities cannot be harmony with those actions that promote a more caring 'person-centred'' business; and leads to the assumption that a business must necessarily compromise profitability in order to care properly for its employees and customers. The message that I take from Widmer's book (and he speaks with some authority as an experienced and successful businessman) is that when the conduct of the those in the business reflects good values, it will add value to the goods and services offered; and give a company a greater competitive edge.

Widmer stresses need for prudence and guidance in making decisions where the options both seem morally sound. In other words how do I know not just what is good, but what it the best. He gives good advice in facing these situations.

There is perhaps more that could be said on how to improve prudence and creativity so that our actions are in closer harmony with the cosmos and the beauty of the Trinity: and that is through a traditional education in beauty. Also in regard to ordering the different aspects of our personal vocation, it is useful to take into account that man is made to worship God - it is intrinsic to his being. The liturgy is the earthly bridge to the heavenly realm, so if we are seeking to conform anything that we do to our heavenly end, then it will be a great help if liturgical principles come into play. These are small points in the context of the whole book and it's not surprising that they occur to me, as they are my particulary personal interests... so I would say that wouldn't I! So overall this is a great book and strongly recommended.

See more about the book and order a copy at


Using the Principles of the Liturgy and Beauty in Retail

High Shelf Esteem! When James Woodward, owner of Woodward Menswear, decided to open a second high-end men’s clothes shop he wanted to model it upon the principles he had read about in the Way of Beauty. He had already started to put some of the principles into practice in his first shop, in Oxted in Surrey, England and had been encouraged the results. Because he was beginning with a blank page in this new venture, he saw the opening of his second shop in Banstead, also in Surrey, as an opportunity to use them more fully. I received a telephone call from him earlier this year asking for ideas about the layout and decoration of the new place. He had already been trying some of these things out in the first shop, but hadn’t been able to implement them properly because a lot of the things were already set differently when he had thought about introducing them. Nevertheless the changes that he was able to make had made an impact he thought. The local bank manager had told him at one point, in the deepest part of the recession, that his was the only business on his books that showed any significant signs of growth. ‘I had been making money and I felt that this had contributed. The growth of the business is helping to fund the investment in this new shop. But it isn’t just the money,’ he told me. ‘The principles that I had been able to try seemed to show me a way of having the values of my Catholic faith penetrate much more deeply than before the everyday activities of business.’

James is a Catholic convert of about 10 years. I had known him for several years because we both attended the London Oratory when I lived in London. We had had conversations about the Way of Beauty over the years, just as a result of staying in touch and his curiosity about what I was up to over here. At some point he started to ask me how he might introduce into what he was doing in his first shop. Even so, I was surprised to be asked recently to contribute so much to the new project.

So what has he done? As a starting point I suggested that whatever he does he constantly ask himself the question, is this beautiful? And to be prepared to go against the trend of modern design if necessary. I did offer some specific points:

  • The general layout is one that gives a general impression of symmetry and order. I suggested that he introduce some details of asymmetry. If it is too rigidly symmetrical it would be cold and sterile. He went directly against the advice of his retail designers here, who were recommending more sweeping and turning curves in the layout; and asymmetry ordered to the personal intuition of the designer. I suggest that the colour scheme should be based around natural earth colours if possible.
  • The clothes are presented on shelves and I suggested that the spacing of the shelves should not be even, but should vary so that the largest spacing is at the bottom and smallest at the top, mimicking the proportions of storey size in traditional architecture.
  • He has the natural beauty of plants in the shop too, either pot plants or cut flowers. Because there are people walking around the shop, this meant that he had to design into the layout spaces and shelves just for this purpose so that the arrangements could be placed without impeding the flow of people or the views of the clothes he was selling.
  • I told him to try to avoid pop or rock music and again, if you have music to opt for something that is beautiful. I am not completely against all pop music per se, but even good music that is designed for dancing at midnight is unlikely to promote calm and peace, which is what we were aiming for here. In the end James opted for no music at all. He was really sticking his neck out here. Almost all retailers install music systems and have background music constantly. The outfitters cite scientific studies that prove that when you play such music, people stay for a shorter period of time and buy more quickly. Also the staff initially wanted it too for their own entertainment. He is not certain he wants to maintain the silent vigil and is considering using classical music.
  • I felt it was important to have the face of Christ as a focus in the décor (a good principle for all main rooms in a building). In the end he bought a small icon of the mandylion and put it on the wall behind the till. This meant that every customer who went to the counter would see it. In his previous shop James put also a nativity scene in the window every Christmas and he intends to the same here. Aside from any thoughts about décor, he wanted to bear witness to his faith in an open, but quiet way.  Again, the advice of the professionals on this one was the exact opposit! It would offend and put off non-Christians he was told. He has had no complaints from customers since he did this, and several complementary remarks. Small children were pulling their parents into the shop as a result of the nativity in the window.
  • Finally, I had suggested that he pray the Liturgy of the Hours as part of his spiritual life and even if he couldn’t pray all the hours, try to mark each Office with a prayer of some sort. He might, I thought, consciously dedicate this prayer as a sacrifice for the well being of his employees and customers.

The photographs of the shop and are shown, so you can make your own mind up about the look. The shelves are solid oak veneer and the flooring is solid oak coupled with pure-wool carpeting.  The paintwork is all natural-pigment traditional paint (produced to re-create eighteenth-century decorative schemes). What strikes me is that although traditional proportions and materials have been used, it has a clean-cut modern look. This is not trying to recreate and Italian villa or a Georgian town house. The modifications are subtle.

Clearly,  using these high quality materials involves a greater outlay than the usual materials. He has now been going for about three months and when I spoke to him recently I was interested to know: did he feel the extra investment had been worthwhile?

‘The look of the place has had an impact. Several customers and other local retailers have complimented the shop actually using the word “beautiful”. For example I was at the local newsagents and the lady behind the till engaged me conversation. When she realized I was from the new Woodward Menswear she immediately told me that people had been saying to her how beautiful the shop was.

‘Many customers have told me how comfortable and inviting the shop is and one top-notch fellow fashion retailer said it was a really beautiful shop and “very calming”. What I find so interesting is that they can't really tell why it is. they respond to the overall look but they can't say why. I haven't made it look like a Victorian shop or anything, the look is similar in many respects to other shops, but the modifications are subtle. I think that unless it was pointed out to them, for example, they wouldn't know that the shelves are spaced differently to other places.’

And the bottom line?

‘It’s early days of course, but I am very pleased. We are already making as much money as my first shop, which I bought as a business of 30 years standing and have been running for several years. This is better than I had expected. Of course, these beautiful features are not the only thing that will be contributing to the business.  I have learnt a lot about retail while running my first shop and so have put many lessons in to practice in this second. I still had to get the location and the stock right along with all the other business variables. However, if it’s only for the comments and my own pleasure at working in such a lovely environment, I definitely feel that it has been worthwhile.’

What about the future? James pointed out to me that this was done on the basis of reading blog articles and an hour’s telephone conversation. He wants to know more about the Way of Beauty.

‘I am impressed by the impact that this has had and I get the feeling that I am scratching the surface here. I do my best but I don’t know much about the Liturgy of the Hours or how to pray it and I definitely could learn more about how these proportions are linked to the liturgy. I am planning on coming over to the creativity retreat at Thomas More College in New Hampshire in August. And I will probably pay a visit to the menswear shops in Boston while I’m here too, just to see how they do it over there!’

Clothes fit for a Church Father - Boethian proportions were used for the shelf spacing.








The Liturgy and Community

Our own sense of who and what we are is based upon the relationships we have with others. If you go around a group of people and ask them to describe themselves, apart from their name they will talk about themselves in terms of their relationships with others: for example, ‘I work with this company’, ‘I am a father and I have three children’. This is the essence of a person, as distinct from an individual. A human person is always in relation with others, starting from birth. No one, by choice, disengages from society altogether (not even a hermit) and is happy. This understanding of the human person has a profound effect on how we view what society is. A relationship of the sort we are now envisioning is always between two subjects, that is two people freely cooperating as moral agents. This is termed covenantal and is based upon mutual self-sacrifice on behalf of the other - love. This freedom to respond as a person is one of the essential elements of society. Society therefore is the vector sum of the relationships within it. It is not a collective of self-contained individuals.

A human relationship is an entity in itself. Two people create, through the properly ordered love between them, a relationship that is distinct from each person, and does not destroy either’s integrity.

It is analogous, I think, to a chord created by two notes played simultaneously. We perceive the chord as something distinct created by the proximity of two notes, but the integrity of each note is not diminished by it. Something has been created out of nothing. This creation out of nothing is ‘superabundance’; love is always superabundantly fruitful (an example is the creation of the third person in a family). A loving relationship is created out of the harmony that exists between two hearts when each acts for the good of the other. There is a song (by U2 I think) that describes love as two hearts beating ‘as one’. In fact it might be more accurate to say that when love is present, two hearts beat not as one, but as three.

By using the word ‘love’ I do not always have in mind profoundly deep relationships. Any relationship, however casual, can reflect a motive for the good of the other. Even a cheery hello to a shopkeeper can reflect either a loving or self-centred motive. This means that whatever I do I bring to the party, so to speak, an aspect of every relationship that I have. I represent to some degree every community of which I am part – family, work, parish, tennis club and so on.

Liturgical activity is an act of love, in which I participate in the sacrifice made by Christ for all humanity. In participation of this supreme act of love is a transforming experience that by degrees changes me and makes me a better lover (and God knows, there is much room for improvement). This means that through every relationship I have, every other person and community with whom I relate benefits profoundly from my participation. Participation in the liturgy is a sacrifice of love their behalf. The effect is through what one hopes subsequently might be a more loving direct interactions with each person; but also because I am transformed through this participation, the relationship that exists between us and my prayers and intentions for them in the liturgy facilitate a supernatural transformation to the same degree and through my intentions for those people in the liturgy.

The liturgy therefore is the binding principle of society and those communities in which I participate. Family, friends, parish, Church, workplace, living quarters, country – will all benefit from my participation in the liturgy. This is so even when I am the only person who is doing this and no one else knows of my participation. When I go to Mass or pray the liturgy of the hours, I try to remember to consciously dedicate that day’s prayer to all those groups and individuals with whom I relate.

There is a maxim that the family that prays together, prays together. In the encyclical Marialis Cultus (On the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary), as well as describing how praying with Christ in the Liturgy is the fullest expression of devotion to Mary, Paul VI calls the Liturgy of the Hours the 'highpoint which family prayer can reach'.(54)

By extension, I suggest, this is true for all communities. The benefit of this liturgical participation in the sacrifice of Christ is magnified if the community prays in community. Unless its raison d’être is communal prayer it is rare that in any community every single member can or would even want to pray regularly with his fellows. But by degrees it is possible to move towards this ideal anywhere. If practicalities allow (and we must be aware that often they will not) a visible posting of regular times that the Liturgy of the Hours is prayed with an invitation for any member to join, would invoke the public nature of liturgy. If that invitation extends to the general public to attend the community prayer, the better still. At Thomas More College we are lucky to have priests who can say daily Mass; in addition a core of devotees to the Liturgy of the Hours have organized a rota by which we do our best to ensure that two or three of us at least pray Lauds and Vespers each day for the community.

Culture reflects the cult that is at the core of it. However modest the fulfilment of this ideal, this is the means by which the culture of community or organization can be transformed to a Catholic culture that will be in harmony with all other institutions and social groups and work for the common good. It is no surprise, therefore, that any organization, such as many businesses which typically give no thought to liturgical piety at all, reflect a secular culture. So much so, that it doesn’t even occur to many people that the workplace can be or can even aspire to be a community. Consequently it is taken for granted that while it might contribute to the financial support of the families who work there, that it is intrinsic to business that it will undermine the family (for example through demands of time) and so many other aspects of an ordered culture. I do not accept this.

This suggests though that any attempt to change things in a community or organization that does not consider its culture and what culture really is will be dealing with symptoms not causes; and the problems even if apparently solved will eventually reappear elsewhere or in a different form. It is like the Tom and Jerry cartoons when Tom has hit on the head with a giant mallet and has a huge bump on his head. In response he puts his hand on the top of it and pushes it down until the scalp is once again smooth. The only problem is that as the first bump diminishes, a second appears on the side of his head and grows. The end result is that the bump has simply moved. Most organizational change I have seen in the workplace has struck me as bump moving, rather than bump healing.

In the end, I suggest, that answer is always the same: to change a culture you must change the cult.




Reviving Growth: A God-Centered Model

What can businesses do to regain their equilibrium after the financial meltdown?  The standard responses to tough times, such as reducing staff, pruning the product range and balancing budgets may cut costs but they do not stimulate the profit-generating activity needed for sustainable recovery. In fact, these actions often contribute to the downward spiral by degrading the very assets – the resources, projects and people – needed to grow revenues and profits. What else can be done? A better alternative comes from the organizational principles that form the core of the Christian tradition and have been practiced, for example, by Benedictine monasteries. These principles are based on the idea that God is the Creator of all that is good. Profit is the end to which a good business is ordered, so the activity of any business will be improved if it can tap into a set of principles that open it up to this source. While the effectiveness of these principles can by explained in the context of Christian faith, one does not need to be a Christian or even have a faith in God to follow them and reap the benefits.

Turn to Creative Practices

The example of the Benedictine monastery is a good starting point for exploring how to restart growth in our businesses and world economy. St Benedict developed his Rule for monastic life in the 6th century AD and Benedictine monasteries have been flourishing over the centuries ever since. Some will be aware from their history lessons of the important role that Benedictine monks played in the preservation of culture and the intellectual life in the early middle-ages. The Rule of St Benedict required that monasteries were required to be financially self-sufficient. For this reason, the Benedictines turned their minds to trade and commerce as well as to prayer and the intellectual life. They were so successful at this that sometimes their assets were eyed with envy. Henry VIII of England dissolved them in order to seize and strip them of their assets. You might say that the Benedictine monastery is the longest existing and most successful business franchise in history.

What did the Benedictines do so well? While there is very little mentioned explicitly about trade in their rule; St Benedict suggested for example that wherever possible, the monasteries should aim to sell the goods they produce at slightly lower than market price so that there should be less temptation to greed and so that ‘in all things God can be glorified’. The monasteries were good at business because their activities were deeply infused with Christian principles and therefore focused on people and the relationships between them. Underlying these relationships is the creative principle of love – of God first, but also of neighbor and of all of God’s creation. By ordering their activity so that it was in harmony with the divine order, they sought to act in loving service to each other and all others with whom they related, both inside and outside the cloister.

Today we view this type of business model superficially as one of superior customer service or in management-consultant speak as ‘quality-based management’. But it involves something deeper -- trade and commerce practiced in a loving, sustainable way. When all people who are impacted upon by the company are genuinely valued, including employees, customers, and suppliers or service providers, then the company is tapping into the creative and productive force that generates revenues and profitable growth. This principle in business was recently highlighted by a modern-day Benedict – Pope Benedict XVI – in his latest encyclical Love in Truth as one of ‘superabundance’. The result of this superabundance, he describes, is a sustainable profit that is naturally in harmony with the spiritual and material well-being of employees and their families, with society as a whole, and also with the environment. Put in another way, all parts of business are in harmony with the common good.

The Secret of Growth – Covenantal Relationships

For all that companies tell us how they care about their employees and customers, the nature of their business activity often says something else. If their business relationships are in fact governed only by the alignment of self-interest, then the message transmitted is just that – I am driven by self-interest – thus, the customer or employee feels treated as no more than a means to profit. If, on the other hand, the relationship is governed by the striving for mutual self-sacrifice, then the impact will be the opposite and people very often respond by pulling together and giving to the full. The former is termed contractual, the latter as a covenantal relationship. It is the covenantal relationship that is genuinely and fully productive. This is not to say that contracts are unnecessary. They are; however, they should be seen as defining the minimum requirements in an employee relationship, management contract, business partnership, or merger and acquisition.

Those companies that achieve sustainable growth are the ones that give more in their relationships. Often the things given are those that can be given freely -- an attitude of care, courtesy and genuine concern for those with whom they deal expressed in a myriad of ways. It is most often seen working effectively in entrepreneurial start-ups and in family and private firms. When the covenantal element is present in organizational relationships, employees can be heard to say, “I feel part of something good,” “I love my job,” or “I love our customers.” They, in turn, give more, ask less, and work longer hours on projects, so as to make the overall organization successful – not because they are forced to, but because they want to. Similarly, customers can be heard to say that they buy from or work with the company because they feel valued and that they can trust them. The covenantal principle of giving beyond the minimum requirement was also referred by Pope Benedict in the same encyclical. He called it ‘gratuitousness’.

When the covenantal aspect is absent, we see the weakening of businesses, even when they have a viable business model (considered in purely economic terms). This results, for example, in the familiar pattern of CEOs and top executives siphoning-off excess pay and firing lower-paid workers thoughtlessly; in theft at all levels of corporate intellectual property, equipment and other assets; and even litigation.

Recovering a Sense of Order and Harmony

A covenantal model of business relationships encourages and promotes an atmosphere of creativity and productivity. It generates more ideas and better ideas and is better equipped to see those ideas implemented through to the generation of revenue. The source of this creativity and productivity is supernatural. It is the principle of love that is made present whenever a relationship is, at least in part, covenantal. Love is always fruitful. If God is Love, then where there is love, God is present also. We are used to seeing this fruitful love in the context of the family, where the love between the father and the mother gives us out of nothing, so to speak, the gift of children. Love, in the context of the business, is creative too, but is ordered to those things that a business should create. Entrepreneurs come together to turn their ideas into products and services directed towards profit.

Developing Covenantal Relationships

How do we develop these covenantal relationships? In any company, permeating through and sitting alongside the formal and necessary managerial reporting structure, is the naturally developing social network of business acquaintances and friendships. These are the productive relationships that are to be encouraged, and when they flourish, pay back financially at high multiples. This applies as much to small businesses as large ones. In fact the power of the Internet means that its accessibility and the multiples seen are greater than ever. The key to developing this supernatural productivity lies in identifying and developing these naturally occurring covenantal relationships. It can be done, but it must be done with care and sensitivity. It must be built up relationship by relationship, and in such a way that the integrity of the whole organization is not compromised. The ideal upon which this is based comes from consideration that God loves each person fully as a unique individual.

The Way of Beauty and Free Enterprise

When a business is built around the covenantal principle, its products and services will attract with the radiance of love. The common word for this radiance is beauty. Beauty can be seen as much in a gracefully offered service as in a well-designed piece of equipment.

The free market is the mechanism which best nurtures covenantal relationships and so best enables commerce to generate growth, profit and wealth while benefiting society. Freedom is the operative word here, as all that is given in this context must be given freely. Most would accept that the freedom of the market should be tempered, however, by moral considerations. These moral considerations are not really restrictions on freedom; rather, they point to the right exercise of freedom for the good of all. We say also that there is another set of useful guidelines: those of harmonious covenantal relationships – the principles of beauty. The moral and the beautiful do not restrict profit. On the contrary they increase it by directing us, when faced with an array of choices, to the source of sustainable profitability in harmony with creation.

This is the Way of Beauty, the via pulchritudinis, recently described by Pope Benedict XVI as a principle of harmony that points to God. In his address to artists in Rome last year, he described this as one of the ways, ‘perhaps the most attractive and fascinating’, to be able to find and love God. In the context of business, it is also the path of creativity and productivity. The reason that the Benedictines knew how to apply this principle was that beauty is a principle the apprehension of which can be taught. The study of the order, symmetry, and patterns in creation as reflections of the divine order was part the traditional liberal arts education of the Christian medieval world.

When we do something beautifully we are moving on that path to God that is in harmony with the natural order. A scientist does this when proposing a new theorem that is simple and symmetrical – and during their reviews, peers will often use the word ‘beautiful’ to describe the solution. The idea for the solution comes from their intuitive perception of natural beauty. Because beauty is apprehended intuitively, an education in beauty develops the intuitive faculty. It creates possibilities that previously didn’t exist for us. When we conduct business beautifully, we tap into the supernatural principle of abundance in harmony with the family, society as a whole and the environment (because God is the Creator who made these things too). Everyone gains.

This holistic way of thinking offers genuine hope for the future and it can be taught to anyone who wishes to learn it. It has begun to be used successfully by businessmen and businesswomen today to restart growth and sustainability in our businesses and world economy.

This article was written in conjunction with John G. Carlson, CEO of System Change, Inc, a management consulting firm.  He has held executive positions at Tessera Technologies, General Instrument and other firms.


Art, Grace, Education and the Beautiful Business

As an artist, I am aware of the need for inspiration and creativity in my work. Traditionally, artistic training was one that was designed not only to teach artists the skills of their craft, but to develop in them the disposition to be open to God’s grace.

In fact all students, not just artists, can benefit from being open to God’s grace in their work. By examination of the structures of the colleges of Oxford University one can see that traditionally Catholic educational institutions were structured so that they facilitated the flow of grace, by ordering all their activities liturgically. That is, they lived by the rhythms and patterns of the liturgy, so that their activities both ushered in grace and were open to guidance from it, for the good of all. Even the design of the buildings was done so as to assist in the liturgical life.

By extension this leads us to consider the possibility of ordering any social institution liturgically, so that it can flourish as God intends. This article considers particularly business. Even a business can be ordered liturgically, joining all of creation in praising the Father and becoming a portal of grace. Such a business would support the human person fully – materially and spiritually – and be a beacon of truth and beauty that assists man in his mission of worship of God, charity to mankind and the perfecting of creation.

Part of my study as an artist was in Florence, in Italy, where I was trained in the academic method of drawing and painting.

The academic method is named after the art academies of the seventeenth century. The most famous early Academy was opened by the Carracci brothers, Annibali, Agostino, and Ludivico, in Bologna in 1600.  Their method became the standard for art education and nearly every great Western artist for the next 300 years received, in essence, an academic training. Under the influence of the Impressionists the method fell out of favour so that by 1900 nearly every school teaching the academic method had closed down (the US academies in, for example, Boston, lasted a bit longer).

Within the last 30 years there has been a small but growing re-establishment of the academic method in both Europe and America. The founder of my school was trained by an octogenarian in the 1970s who had studied in Boston about the time of the First World War. By the time of my attendance there in 2005, there were four schools in existence in Florence, each teaching a similar form of “classical naturalism.”

Along with all of the students who attended, I am immensely grateful for the excellent education in technique and the stylistic elements of seventeenth-century Baroque naturalism. Despite this, pretty much everyone at this atelier agreed on one thing: although there were some good contemporary artists, no one in the modern era was producing work of anything like the quality of the old masters (Velazquez was the standard we aspired to). This realization cast a cloud of pessimism over the ateliers of Florence. Something seemed to be limiting the standard of the students. If classical naturalism was to become a mainstream art form again, the students would have to be getting steadily better and surpassing the work of their teachers, but it didn’t seem to be happening.

The pessimism was exacerbated when one looked at the work of the students once they had left these schools. Some were happy doing precisely what they had been taught. They could make a good living as portrait painters, or paint traditional still lives of high enough quality to sell in the alternative “realist” art market of the US. There is a valid place for this sort of art today, in my opinion, but it would never be the basis of the required “new epiphany of beauty” called for by John Paul II.  Others who left felt the need to use what they had learnt and develop it. The mark of any truly living tradition is an evolution of style that nevertheless remains faithful to the timeless principles that define it. The problem was that no one seemed to know how to change anything without eroding what we had learned.

I saw a number of people struggling with this. They might introduce some exaggerated and expressive brushwork, or some heightened colour. Guided only by their own gut feeling of what was right they travelled on their own little personal journey through the artistic styles of the later centuries – Romanticism, Neo-classicism, Impressionism, Fauvism, and Expressionism. Some settled for a style somewhere along the way, perhaps with an expressionist or a fauvist influence dominating. Others, sometimes the most talented, knew this was a path that was leading them to the place that they had sought to escape, and after a struggle gave up painting altogether in disillusionment.  It seemed that whatever was being given to us contained the same fatal flaw, whatever that might be, that caused the tradition gradually to decline and then finally to collapse when challenged by Monet et al. 100 years before.

How could students break out of this downward spiral?

It seemed to me that there were two things missing in our education. The first was a lack of full acknowledgement and hence limited understanding of the fact that the style we were learning was the product of a Catholic worldview.  With a few notable exceptions, the old masters, even if not conventionally Christian, accepted the worldview that the stylistic elements of Baroque art were developed to communicate.


The second reason is one that was apparently ignored completely, and yet it is something that is important in all education: the necessity of grace, without which wisdom and virtue cannot be developed.  If Velazquez was the standard we were aiming for, then something must have allowed him to be greater than his own teacher.  Perhaps the answer lay not just in Velazquez himself, but in the education he received.

Velazquez’s teacher was his father-in-law, a Spaniard called Francisco Pacheco.  He published an instruction manual for painters called El art de la pintura in 1649.  This articulated what an accepted authority on the Baroque, John Rupert Martin, called “the clearest definition of the transcendental significance of Baroque naturalism.”  Pacheco clearly sees the role of the artist as being to imitate nature in order to bring glory to God.  In doing so, he asserts, he will be practising a virtue.  Therefore the act of painting will serve to lead both artist and those who see the painting to “contemplation of eternal glory, and as it keeps men from vice, so it leads them to the true devotion of God our Lord.” In doing this the artist will achieve his principal goal, which is “to achieve a state of grace through the study and practice of his profession.”

Velasquez’s training was as much an education in humility and apprehension of beauty as an education in skill. It was designed to open him up to any inspiration that God might choose to give him. He was taught to study nature and the work of recognised masters with self-discipline and under the careful eye of his teacher, who corrected him along the way. But if the process of education were limited to passing the knowledge of the teacher on to the student, then because no teacher can hope to pass on everything he knows to his pupil, it would necessarily involve a diminution of knowledge. Clearly in the case of Velasquez something had enabled the pupil to surpass his teacher. The obvious answer is sheer talent – the genius that enables one person to excel another. We live in an individualistic age, and the post-Renaissance obsession with artistic genius makes it hard to conceive of any other factor.  But talent is a gift from God, and not necessarily the most important in producing truly great work. Artistic inspiration itself is a gift, as any artist will tell you.  The beauty of nature is a gift, when we recognize that all things come from God.  The deeper answer, therefore, is grace.  Velasquez surpassed Pacheco partly because of how he responded to the grace of God.

Of course, not every great artist is a Christian, or even a virtuous person. God inspires whomsoever he pleases. But when it comes to opening ourselves to the grace of God, participation in the sacramental life of the Church is likely to help dramatically. “All true human art is assimilation to the artist, to Christ, to the mind of the Creator…. When a man conforms to the measure of the universe, his freedom is not diminished but expanded to a new horizon.” ((Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2000), 153.)) I do not know if Velasquez was as fervent a believer as his teacher, but as part of the court of seventeenth-century Spain, he will at least outwardly have been a Catholic conforming to the liturgy of the Church. Through that liturgy we can become attuned to the deepest of all sources of inspiration.

How the consideration of grace can affect the organisation and physical structure of an educational institution

The example of Velasquez and his education in beauty could provide an important lesson to anyone seeking to develop a method of education – and not just the education of artists.  An education in the perception and making of beauty is inevitably an education in opening up to inspiration, an education of the intuitive faculty that gives us insight into reality. It is hard to see that there is any academic discipline (or for that matter any human activity) that cannot be improved by a development of the intuitive faculty. The scientist tests his hypothesis in a step-by-step application of reason by the experimental method, but the hypothesis itself is more often than not the result of intuition.

Once one accepts the importance of grace it can affect the design of the institution right from the curriculum through to the layout of the buildings and the living arrangements, as well as, most obviously, the sacramental life. As the liturgy is the source and summit of human activity and all aspects of human life can be ordered to it.

The college system at Oxford University can be used to illustrate this. From the thirteenth century, residential educational institutions were founded by the new orders of friars, the Dominicans, the Franciscans and the Carmelites as well as the older monastic orders such as Benedictines and Cistercians and the bishops. The community was infused with the rhythm of the heavenly liturgy through participation in the Mass and the Divine Office. The full Office was sung each day, if not by the whole community each time, then by some of its members on behalf of everybody within it.

The liturgy is a source of grace for those who pray it, and by participation in the liturgy, the person becomes a portal of grace that benefits those around him too. In these colleges the whole community would have benefited from living in accordance with a divine rhythm, making the whole greater than the sum of the parts. The sense of a community was reinforced by the practice of communal eating. Eating in community is a quasi-liturgical event echoing the Last Supper, which binds together a family as much as a college. It is interesting to note when looking at the colleges of Oxford how much energy was devoted to making the whole college a beautiful place and how nearly as much energy went into making the Dining Hall beautiful as was used for the Chapel. The library was also created as a room of beauty in order to create a room of inspired learning. When designing the buildings, it was not left arbitrarily to each architect to come up with something original. The proportions of the building followed traditional ideas of sacred geometry that created a physical manifestation of liturgical principles. ((The Way of Beauty; Let the Form Conform; The Cosmic Liturgy and the Mind of God; Number; Harmony and Proportion))

As the University expanded it did so mainly by the establishment of new colleges, rather than by the growth of existing ones. This meant that it remained a series of communities so limited in size that each was able to pray and eat together regularly. Even after the Reformation in England, the liturgical rhythm continued in Oxford in form (if not fully in substance) through adherence to daily Anglican offices and services. Even today Mattins and Choral Evensong are sung daily in some colleges during term time (even though many students never attend); and students are required to attend formal meals in hall.

During my four years as a student at Oxford, which was long before my conversion to Catholicism, I did not even once go into the college chapel. Nevertheless I can now see how profoundly I benefited from the fact that others sang the Liturgy of the Hours on my behalf. In this sense I was a freeloader, enjoying the benefits derived by the work of others. It was after I left Oxford that I suffered. Without the spiritual support of the community (although I wasn’t aware initially that this was the primary reason) I was lonely. Although I had people around me, at work and where I lived, I had not developed the good habits that enable me to be the leaven that could create fellowship around me. It was not until I became a Catholic that I understood that fellowship comes first from the Holy Spirit and that I can receive that fellowship through participation in the sacramental life and especially the liturgical rhythm of the day, even if no one else around me is doing so. It ushers in the Spirit that binds people together. It turns a group of people into a community (liturgy is worship of the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit and is what the other sacramentals and sacraments are supporting).

Things have changed since the England of the Middle Ages. There could hardly be greater contrast between the founding of Christ Church College in Oxford by Cardinal Wolsey in 1524, with all the wealth of the sixteenth-century Church at his disposal, and the establishment of the Catholic colleges in the last 30 years or so. For all the differences, though, the success of each institution may be attributed to some basic structural considerations.  Essentially, an educational community that succeeds in delivering a good education will be one that facilitates – or at least does its best not to block – the flow of divine grace. We tend to think of education as a process that connects teachers and students.  But unless God is somehow present as well, as the third factor, the community will ultimately fail to deliver an education in the fullest sense of the word. This in no way replaces the usual consideration of what might constitute the optimal combination of lectures, seminars, tutorials, exams, and coursework. These are vital matters too, off course. Rather, they enhance them further, for without changing them materially they make God present within them.

In my personal experience, I have seen these ideas implemented to great effect at the Maryvale Institute, in Birmingham, England and now at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire. At Thomas More College, through the Way of Beauty programme we explain how the daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and college devotions ordered to the liturgy, such as the rosary, weekly exposition and the nine, monthly First Fridays of the devotion to the Sacred Heart are there for sound educational as well as religious reasons.

Institutions other than college – the beautiful business

If we accept the idea that we can order educational institutions in such a way that they encourage the flow of grace, then it should be possible to extend the principles to other institutions too. If recent events are anything to go by, commerce is an area which could benefit from grace. So can a business be ordered liturgically? Is it worth doing so even if we can? I believe that the answer to both questions is yes. The following are my first personal thoughts on the subject.

The Fathers of Vatican II said that ‘for well disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy of the sacraments and sacramentals sanctifies almost every event in their lives; they give access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power. There is hardly any proper use of material things which cannot thus be directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God’. ((Sacrosanctum Concilium 61))  This says to me that anything that is intrinsically good can be ordered liturgically to give praise to God. We should therefore be aiming to make all our activities and anything we produce consistent with this liturgical principle of worship of God the Father. We can look at those aspects of our daily lives that might seem, at first sight, to be most mundane and removed from church worship and order them liturgically, and this can include gainful employment. If we do this then our work will, through grace, become exactly what God intends it to be, a profitable flourishing company.

Some will instinctively react against a proposal that seems to say, ‘God is good for business.’ This is understandable. It conjures up images of the sparkly-toothed business guru selling us the idea that the introduction of spiritual values into the daily transaction of business will increase profits. Go to any bookstore and you will find shelves of books claiming to show how (inverting the natural hierarchy) we can harness the power of God to generate riches. I cannot attest to whether or not this pray-and-grow-rich message generates money for anyone other than the authors of the books who claim it. However, at some level, God must be good for business if business is good at all.  Any institution ordered properly, will be open to God’s grace and will, with the cooperation of individuals within it, become what God intends it to be and so will benefit it. Business is no exception, once it is ordered liturgically, it can be directed towards the sanctification of men, just as the Fathers of Vatican II describe. This in itself is an end worth striving for. The Canticle of Daniel, sung in Lauds of Sunday Week I in the Liturgy of the Hours, and on all feasts, lists all aspects of creation and beautifully defines them as liturgically ordered by describing them as ‘giving praise to the Lord’. Our aim should be to order business in the same way, so that we could add, ‘Oh all you businesses of the Lord, give praise to the Lord. To Him be highest glory and praise forever”!

The Catechism tells us directly that just as the natural world is ordered to worship of God the Father, so should all man’s activities be similarly ordered: “Creation was fashioned with a view to the Sabbath and therefore for the worship and adoration of God. Worship is inscribed in the order of creation. As the rule of St Benedict says, nothing should take precedence over the ‘work of God’, that is solemn worship. This indicates the right order of human concerns.” ((CCC, 347))

Does this mean that ordering the business so that it will be open to God’s grace will generate more profit also? The answer is yes, possibly, and certainly over the long term because the generation of profit is part of what a business ought to do. (The exceptions are when the core business is contrary to moral law and the common good – those aspects other than profit to which a business ought to be ordered.) But the point here is that it should create other things as well. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the ‘Economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increased profit or power; it is ordered first of all to the service of persons, of the whole man, and of the entire human community...Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another...Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community.  Profits are necessary, however, they make possible investments that the future of a business and they guarantee employment.’ ((CCC, 2426, 2427, 2428, 2432.))

If the economic life ought to be ‘ordered first of all to the service of persons, of the whole man, and of the entire human community’, or as Pope Benedict XVI refers to it in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, ‘the common good’ this makes things complicated for the faithful businessman. How can he possibly deal with the practicalities of generating profit, without which the business cannot exist at all, and consider its impact in the world through the network of seemingly infinite direct and indirect relationships with which it is in contact?

Experience tells us that many employers are aware of such obligations and genuinely try to fulfil them. They make attempts to modify the nature of their business in order to be more family – or environment – friendly. However, very often such attempts create a competition for resources because the profit making activity is not the same as that which supports the family or the environment. So as the focus on reducing harm to family or environment goes up, profits go down. The test of the truth of this is that when times get tough economically, employers cut (albeit usually with regret) the benefits to their employees or abandon any ‘green’ policies they are not legally obliged to keep.

If this is what happens, it is a consequence of the fact that the attempts consciously to conform to the common good are in conflict with its core profit making activity. Therefore the more eco or family friendly the company tries to be, the less business it does. Government attempts to force companies to do such a thing tend to create the same tension. Reducing productivity either by regulation (which effectively forces the company to bear the cost of social or environmental measures) or by taxation (to enable the government to pay for such measures).

An alternative, I suggest, is to order it liturgically first and then to strive for generation of maximum profit. Profit is an end to which a good business is ordered. It is the most necessary condition for its continued existence and the easiest guiding principle to apply. This therefore should be the primary motivation. The application of morality tempers this aim however: we should not, for example, take actions that are dishonest. If morality is completely contrary to the profit motive, then we are in an intrinsically bad business (such as drug dealing) and we should close it down.

Similarly, considerations of the common good, as an aspect of morality, should also be seen as potential modifiers to the primary motive of profit, rather than a primary guiding principle. Being ‘ordered to the common good’ does not mean that all mankind should benefit materially directly from what a business does. It simply means that it acts in accord with the small part laid out for it in God’s overall plan. It is God’s overall plan which is directed to the common good and affects all. It is usually very difficult to predict the impact of our actions beyond those directly affected and so it is better for the most part, not to try. Attempts to do so, aside from reducing profits, will just as likely lead to unforeseen and detrimental secondary effects. Rather, we should aim to order it liturgically, and trust that grace will direct us in following our intuitive judgement in following the profit motive, to do what is best. This is not to say that there should be no consideration of the common good at all. Just as with consideration of morality, it is possible that sometimes it will temper behaviour that would otherwise be driven by the pure profit motive. If we can see that the profit is generated to the benefit of a narrow group of people, but it is obvious that the secondary or general consequences of this are contrary to the common good (for example causing damaging levels of uncontainable pollution) then we should modify our actions. It is this intuitive aspect that will lead us to make the more creative and productive ideas, quite naturally, in the environment that encourages it.

The good business, one that is ordered to the supernatural, generates profit to pay its employees and gives return to its investors; it also supports spiritually those it impacts upon. It is a social institution in itself and one that helps to bind the families together, rather than undermine them by, for example, making excessive demands of time. It is one that works in harmony with the natural world. Its activities and products are directed towards the sanctification of men and, through their beauty, give praise to God. To the degree that a business is ordered liturgically, because it is in harmony with the divine order, it is impossible for the generation of these goods to be anything but in harmony with each other. Therefore, all these other benefits can be accrued through the core, profit-making activities of the business. Pope Benedict, again in Caritas in Veritate, said that the rule of a business ordered to the common good is one of ‘superabundance’. He is not therefore describing a principle that reduces profit, but one that, potentially, adds to it. The good business will last as long as God intends and grow to the degree the He intends. If it is meant to exist at all, given the full range of goods that derive from a good business, there is no reason to believe that sustainable profit will not be one of the results.

There is an assumption by some that the motive for a business transaction is a selfish one. To my mind, while we might describe the motivation as one of self-interest, in the sense that each party is seeking to benefit from it, this self-interest is not necessarily selfish, in the sinful sense. A profit motive, for example, can be either selfishly driven or unselfishly driven – it depends on what you want to do with the profits. Profit is neutral, just as with all money or wealth. Certainly, it can corrupt or give those already corrupted greater power to fulfil sinful intentions, but not necessarily so. The converse can be true. It has the potential also to empower people to do greater good. An action is sinful, and therefore bad, when measured against the objective standard of God’s will. If God wishes us to earn money to support ourselves or our families, then it might be construed narrowly as selfish, but it is certainly not sinful to strive to do so by directing our actions towards greater pay or profit, or purchasing a product at a cheaper price. The greater good, at the individual level and beyond, therefore, is always achieved to the degree that individual motives (most likely mixed in practice) are ordered to what is good and individuals are free to choose to make such decisions; and to the degree that they work within institutions that are structured in harmony with the divine order, so as to encourage and harness the good individual decisions to the common good. The natural extension of this argument is that the business environment, ie the market, beyond the institution should also be one that is ordered to common good so that which will encourage such individual choices, and direct it to what is good for society as a whole. The perfect market environment is a debate for the economists, but it seems to me that it is the free market, prudently regulated according to the principles of justice.

The Catechism directed us to the example of the rule of St. Benedict in describing an ordering principle for work and we look to the Benedictine monasteries for inspiration and confirmation of this. Through right ordering in accordance with liturgical principles, the benefits generated by monasteries have been both material and spiritual. Furthermore, the material wealth generated has at times been so great that it was viewed with envy by the state and secular rulers, such as Henry VIII of England. The Benedictine Rule could be viewed as the most successful and long-standing business franchise in history! ((It should be pointed out, in fairness, that the picture is not one of complete purity. The various reforms to the order over the centuries point to the fact that some Benedictines were as unable to resist the corrupting power of money as the rest of us.))

The Beautiful Business

Any work that is in harmony with the divine order is perceived by us as beautiful. A business so ordered will work beautifully and the product of its work will be beautiful. It cannot be otherwise because beauty, truth and goodness cannot be in opposition. Beauty attracts people to itself and then beyond to God. Through grace, the work of man can potentially surpass even natural beauty. The beauty of the Oxford colleges continues to be a factor in the attraction of students from around the globe, increasing competition for places and so raising standards. Similarly, when the goods and services offered by the company are beautiful or presented beautifully, their value is increased because they are deemed more desirable. The value of goods and services, and hence productivity have increased.

All these benefits will increase in the liturgically ordered business as people follow their intuition, guided by reason, in following the profit motive, modified whenever this contradicts morality or affects adversely the common good. We are talking as much about how people act as what they do. Usually consideration of pure profit motive generates answers to what is done. How those ends are achieved will be the product of the attitudes of those who take them to their fellow man. It will demonstrate whether he values those people or views them simply as a means to an end. Ultimately it is the how which is a much, perhaps more so, the creative principle in all that we do and which generates wealth.

Why harmonious relationships create material and spiritual benefits

A harmonious relationship is one that is ordered to the divine order. Such a relationship creates something out of nothing, by allowing the supernatural to work through it. This is the source of that superabundance. All decisions made within the working day can benefit from this. Whether they are managerial decisions that affect overall strategy or simple choices made at an almost instinctive level that affect our manner in dealing with others as we go about our daily duties, all can be open to the grace that flows through harmonious relationships. Projects, products, new services and intellectual property are all created and implemented by this process of harmonious relationship which acts as the driver of corporate growth, revenues and profitability, plus, vitally, meaningful work, jobs and well-being for employees and their families. Very often this is manifested in apparently quite straightforward ways, although they are masking a supernatural process. If the relationship with the customer is built on the right principles, they will be your unpaid travelling salesman, drawing others to you through enthusiastic recommendation because they enjoy the service you provide. Even those who are unfortunate to be laid off can be our advocates in the future if they are treated in a way that respects their human dignity. Going back to our Benedictines again, it is worth noting that their monastic vows included one of stability, which kept activity outside the perimeter of the monastery to a minimum. Despite this, even during the so-called dark ages of the centuries after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, monastic trade and communication extended from Ireland to Byzantium.

What is a harmonious productive relationship?

Consider two musical notes. These can exist in isolation but when they played simultaneously something new is created, a chord. If each note is in a harmonious relationship with the other, we will recognize it as something beautiful. What is interesting about the chord is that is created out of nothing. Without destroying the integrity of each individual note, a new third entity has been created.

When we talk of harmonious human relationships, we are referring to a cooperative, harmonious alignment of wills. In fact the most harmonious relationships are those that we would call loving relationships. When we have loving relationships we talk of two hearts beating as one. In considering what this means for us, we can look at the type for all loving relationships, that which exists between the persons of the Trinity. In fact all harmonious, loving relationships are an unfolding of the perfectly harmonious relationship of the Trinity. The love between two of the persons of the Trinity is crystallized as a third person. St Augustine in De Trinitate described the relationships between the persons of the Trinity as follows:

“Now love is of someone who loves and something is loved with love. So then there are three: the lover, the beloved, and the love (Bk 8 Ch 10). If then, any one of these three is to be specially called love, what more fitting than that this should be the Holy Spirit? In the sense, that is, that in that simple and highest nature, substance is not one thing and love another thing, but that substance itself is love and that love itself is substance whether in the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit, yet that the Holy Spirit is especially to be called love” (Bk 15 Ch 17)…

This is a description of perfect love; mutual self-gift, in which each person gives him or herself to the other utterly and totally. St Augustine goes on to say (Bk 15, Ch19:36) that ‘there is no subordination of the Gift and no domination of the Givers, but the concord between the Gift and the Givers’.Just as in the chord: two notes combine to form something totally new, the chord, but neither is compromised or diminished by their interaction. The ‘chord’ of the harmony of wills in mutual self-gift is Love. It makes God, who is love, present.


It is this love that is the productive component in the relationship. It generates something out of nothing in a supernatural process. All of creation is made by this love. We know that the cosmos is made by God because its beauty directs our souls to the divine order. The word cosmos is derived from the Greek word that means simultaneously ‘order’ and ‘beauty’ (hence the word ‘cosmetic’).

No other relationships are as profound as that of the Trinity, but any relationship that is founded on the principle of love, that is one of mutual self-gift, entered into freely, will, by degrees resemble this Trinitarian model and will be productive in a manner that is in due proportion to the nature of the relationship. This is true for every human relationship from marriage right through to casually passing the time of day with the bus driver.

It is important to note that we are living in a fallen world, and so seeking to institute a covenantal model of operation does not preclude contracts. Contracts regulate the relationships in accordance with the principle of justice. Contracts are very often necessary, but they are never enough. Contracts alone cannot generate the trust and goodwill that oil the wheels of commerce. This is generated by individuals going beyond the demands of justice – and acting in accordance with the principle of love. Pope Benedict XVI calls this covenantal aspect in the context of business ‘gratuitousness’. This is just as it is in marriage. Marriage is defined within the legal system of society as much as the religious. However, a marriage that operates as though it were only a legal contract lacks love and will not last. The contract defines the minimum level of participation. For a marriage to operate at a covenantal level it requires each party to give to degree that goes way beyond legal minimums. It is the free expression of love – giving without demanding return – that makes God present, because God is love. It is what makes it an abundantly productive relationship.

Similarly, the free market is regulated by law in accordance with the principles of justice, and within this contractual agreements describe the participation of individuals and companies within it, again, if done properly, according to justice. But it is the covenantal behaviour that permeates this legalistic structure that generates wealth. Trust and goodwill are necessary components of commerce.

The corollary to this is that the lack of a covenantal approach to relationships in business can cause the downfall of a company when by all other measures it should succeed. Often, there is no economic rationale and the only explanation for such a downward-spiral is the human failings of egotism, vanity, greed.

How do we do order a company liturgically?

One approach is to teach CEOs and those who are in a position to shape a business, the ideas behind the traditional quadrivium (as the Way of Beauty and Thomas More College of Liberal Arts does) so that they can structure a business in accordance with it. Just as with a college, the environment can be created, through the ordering of time and space that encourages a liturgical mode of behaviour in its employees. An institution cannot love, but the individuals within it can. If even one person cooperates on behalf of the community, then it ushers in grace from which all within it can benefit.

In addition, those employees who are open to it can be taught the same principles so that through their free cooperation they and the company will benefit. There can be no compulsion or sense of obligation here for these undermine the principle of charity upon which it relies for its power.

Even if the company as a whole is not structured liturgically at all, it is possible for a single employee to introduce grace by praying for the company in accordance with the liturgical principles and by cooperating with grace, to treat better his fellows in accordance with the principles of caritas. This will introduce the transforming principle that benefits all and draws others to it so that by degrees the culture of the company transforms.

Enhanced Creativity in Business

When we apprehend beauty, we do so intuitively. Therefore, an education that improves our ability to apprehend beauty, as Thomas More College’s Way of Beauty does, develops also our intuition. All creativity is at source an intuitive process so this education develops their creativity. Furthermore, that creativity will stimulate in those employees who undergo such a course not just more ideas, but better ideas. Better because they are more in harmony with the divine order. The recognition of beauty moves us to love what we see. It is a transforming principle so such an education would tend to develop also, therefore, our capacity to love and leave us more inclined to serve God and our fellow man. The end result for such an individual is joy.

Beauty like morality, then is a principle of life that guides our freely chosen activities, so that we choose well. Morality tends to work on a negative basis – it cuts out options on the basis that they are immoral. Beauty on the other hand, is a principle that opens up new possibilities and so in contrast to morality works on a positive basis. It is a principle of creativity, which is vital in business. For those whose intuition is tune with the natural order and ultimately the divine order, seeking do what is most beautiful will guide our personal preferences to those choices that are going to be most productive and in harmony with the common good.

Another approach to tapping into the principle of superabundance is to develop further those covenantal relationships that already exist. No group of people is without any covenantal relationships. Within any company there is a natural network of them. These in fact represent, supernatural means, its most important wealth-creating assets. They develop out of the informal contact of employees, clients, customers and the friendly relations and friendships that ensue. They sit alongside and permeate through the formal managerial communication lines. There are many business people who will recognise this and see these relationships as assets. Fewer will recognise this as the supernatural basis for the creation of wealth. ((I am aware of one who does this consciously: John Carlson of System Change Inc ( has developed to great effect a method of transforming companies so that their generative covenantal relationships are identified and nurtured and their business strategies modified to encourage and benefit from them. He has been doing this with great success for many years. His work has shown that the effect of applying of these principles is to generate sustainable profit and to make employees feel valued and motivated to work more productively. It becomes, in short, happier more productive place.))


A liturgical ordering of business not only defines how a business can operate in harmony with the divine order; it is also a transforming principle that enables the business to move towards this ideal. If there is a conflict between the generation of wealth and these other goods then in the liturgically ordered business, grace will tend either to transform it into one in which the conflict is diminished and eventually eliminated; or, if the nature money-making activities of the company are intrinsically bad and unreformable it will tend to put it out of business. Racketeering, drug dealing and pimping would not flourish through the introduction of these principles!

The effect of this will be to maximise sustainable profit while benefitting the whole person and the common good. It is the best way to improve workers’ conditions, to improve their involvement with their families and to enhance the environment. In other words in such a company, the more core business that is done, the better it is for those involved, by any measure of good. By following the motive of maximising profits, modified only when it contradicts morality (and as part of the common good), it would tend to perfect and improve the natural environment (or, quoting the Catechism again, ‘prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another)’. It will affect those with whom it comes in contact so that it works for their sanctification. And through its beauty it will praise God and bring joy to man.

Beauty and Superabundance in Business

Consider two musical notes. They can be played separately, but when heard simultaneously something profound happens. Without destroying the integrity of each individual note, a new third entity has been created – a chord. What is interesting about the chord is that is created out of nothing. Crucially, the result is beautiful. What has this got to do with business? This little example is analogous to what happens in business when wealth is created. In his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI describes how wealth is created out of nothing – he uses the phrase ‘superabundance’ to describe it.

It is out of nothing because nothing materially new has been created. Through a transaction two people have exchanged one thing for another which they value more highly (otherwise they wouldn’t have chosen to do it) and wealth has been generated.

The principle of superabundance is based upon the presence of God. When human relationships are founded upon love (ie mutual self-sacrifice) then God, who is Love, is present in a special way. When He is present, they are termed ‘covenantal’ relationships. Covenantal relationships are always fruitful – something new is created out of nothing. In the family, this fruitfulness of love is realised in the creation of children. Clearly not all human relationships are intended to be as profoundly loving as a marriage, but all of them, even those in business, can be ordered to love rather than selfishness and will be more productive for it. Relationships which, in the other hand, are based upon the alignment of self-interest, are termed ‘contractual’.

Pope Benedict describes covenantal relationships in the context of business as being imbued with the principle of ‘gratuitousness’. Gratuitousness exists when something is freely bestowed by one for the benefit of another. It relates as much to the how of the action as to the what. If, for example, the way we treat someone communicates that we genuinely trust and value that person then that is going beyond the simple contractual aspects of the relationship (which are in accordance with the demands justice). This he says is not just desirable, but necessary. He goes as far as to say that, ‘Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function.’ Note he says explicitly the economic function is fulfilled – he is not referring here to incidental social benefits. There is no exchange without some wo

Beauty, I would suggest, is a litmus test of love and so of the maximisation of superabundance. When it is present in our actions then it indicates that we are opening ourselves up to the source of inspiration for greatest creativity and productivity. The generation of ideas and seeing them through to fruition is the basis of entrepreneurial activity.

To the extent that what we do is beautiful, it will be in harmony with the common good also. This means that in serving the aims of the business, there can be no conflict with society or God’s creation. If this is true then we might have found the route to genuinely ‘green’ business activity: one in which the more profitable and productive it is, the better it will be for the environment. This is something much more profoundly ‘green’ that many green activists envisage. The assumption behind the secular worldview appears to be that man is necessarily in conflict with the environment and so their solution is damage limitation in one form or another. This usually boils down to reducing the amount of human activity (which in turn usually equates to reducing the number of human beings on the planet). In contrast, the idea of superabundance offers the vision of a transformed human activity that improves upon the natural world. It is better than an activity that is neutral ie does not destroy the wilderness; it actually improves and perfects it. Nature is meant to flourish under man’s influence, and with God’s grace it is possible. When what we do is in harmony with nature, then in contrast to what we described before, the more active man, is the better it is for nature; and accordingly the more people there are doing it, the better.

How can we combine consideration of what is beautiful with the other considerations of running a business? Profit has to be the driving consideration and this doesn’t change that. Provided that moral law is not contravened the motive of profit will dictate what decisions are made. But an education in beauty (as described in more detail here) will naturally stimulate ideas that are simultaneously good for business (in the sense of profitable) and in harmony with the common good.

There are occasions when I can imagine the principle of beauty being considered consciously: for example when there are number of options available that seem equally valid by other criteria. At that point one might ask which is the most beautiful option? Even then I don’t imagine it will always be an easy criterion to use, we may be trying to apply it in situations in which beauty is not normally associated. In some situations it will be obvious though: if price is set by the perception of the value of an object, and if we make objects for sale more attractive then people will pay more. This is the idea that pitches the more expensive yet visually appealing and user-friendly Apple against the cheaper PC. But we are talking of something deeper as well. Beauty is a guide (along with morality) to the right exercise of our free will. Whereas morality restricts options, beauty multiplies them.

There is another aspect to this. The more we take the principle of beauty into account, the more our actions will be covenantal. We will giving of ourselves and going beyond the limited demands of justice. This gift of self, says the Pope, ‘by its nature goes beyond merit, its rule is that of superabundance.’ Business has its place in the fulfilment of the common good and to that end must be seen as something that is good in itself and business done beautifully is going to be closer to the fulfilment of that ideal.

It is important to note that we are living in a fallen world, and so seeking to institute a covenantal model of operation does not preclude contracts. The market is regulated by law in accordance with the principles of justice (or at least it ought to be), and contracts reflect this. While contracts are necessary, they are never enough. Contracts alone cannot generate the trust and goodwill that oil the wheels of commerce. It is the covenantal behaviour that permeates this legalistic structure that does this and so must be there too. I know of one person who has successfully developed and applied a systematic method of identifying and developing naturally occurring covenantal relationships. John Carlson of System Change, Inc. looks for  those revenue generating covenantal relationships in the companies that he works with. They permeate through and sit alongside the formal management structures in any company (and extend out into the client base). Once identified, he uses these as a basis for sustainable growth in accordance with a covenantal business model.

These considerations, I believe will hasten the business on to its proper end. The end of a good business is the steady creation of wealth in harmony with the common good; but take note, the right end of a bad business (if it doesn’t change) is failure! The indications are that the employment of these principles in the past (for example by the Benedictines) and by modern entrepreneurs works well for sustainable growth when understood in these terms.

For more detail on these principles see articles Sustainable Growth and Art, Grace, Education and the Beautiful Business, both at our sister site,

PS There are two more blogs that have recently started that discuss these and similar matters: Andreas Widmar has started a blog Faith and Prosperity Nexus which is about 'sound business and strong faith in action' and knowing Andreas as I do, it'll be about enjoying the process too!

Fr Michael Sweeney's new blog, Re-Visioning Society discusses the common good and Catholic social teaching. He is an insightful and inspiring speaker if you ever get a chance to hear him.

Business Culture and Creativity

Business decisions are driven by aesthetics When I was living in Oxford, I met an American called Michael Black, who is a former MD of the American Stock Exchange. He is now based at Blackfriars, the Dominican house at the University, where he specialises in the study of the theology of business. In conversation with him one day, he told me a surprising thing. When one examines what motivates people to make the business decisions they do, contrary to what most people assume (even those who make the decisions), it is neither pay nor profit that is the primary motivator.

When he examined actual behaviour and decisions made it suggested something else to him. ‘However, you structure a pay or commission scheme,’ he told me, ‘people act in accordance with the company culture rather than what the commission scheme is motivating them to do. Also you might think, at least for the management within the company, that profit would be the strong motivator; and at one level it is. Except that the way that profit is defined depends upon what is valued, and in practice that varies from company to company. Even standard accounting practices allow for a whole range of definitions of profit.’

If you go to the root of the decision making process, he says, you always find a set of arbitrary assumptions about what the company ought to be doing. Some businessmen may like to think that they act purely by reason, but in fact like everyone else in all walks of life, decisions are made by applying reason to empirically gained information in accordance with assumed principles. What really piqued my interest was Michael’s assertion the choice of starting assumption is at source and aesthetic one; consistent with an innate sense of what is in harmony with the core values of the individual. In other words, whether they are aware of it or not, people choose what they believe to be beautiful.

This means therefore, that an education in beauty is an education in business practice. When we apprehend beauty, we do so intuitively. Therefore, an education that improves our ability to apprehend beauty, as Thomas More College’s Way of Beauty does, develops also our intuition. All creativity is at source an intuitive process so this education develops creativity also.

Beauty like morality is a principle (or perhaps a set of principles) that guides our freely chosen activities, helping us to make good choices. Morality tends to work on a negative basis – it cuts out options that are bad. In contrast, beauty is a principle that operates on a positive basis – it presents new possibilities in the form of new ideas that are in harmony with the common good. Choosing what is beautiful will invoke the principle of 'superabundance'. Superabundance is the creation of wealth out of nothing that Pope Benedict XVI describes in his last encyclical, and which I describe here.

The ‘company culture’ is formed from the aggregate of the values of the people within in. By values I mean what they believe to be good. People flourish within the company when they act in harmony with its culture. And in turn, ultimately, a company will flourish as God intends when its culture is in accord with the common good.

Of course, any culture can be good, or it can be bad. However, Catholics who have a deep understanding of what culture really is  (or at least what it ought to be) are in a position therefore, to create a culture that is in harmony with the cult that sustains and perfects all that we do, that is the liturgy of the Church with the Mass at its centre. The Way of Beauty is rooted in the premise that Catholic culture, in its broadest sense, is rooted in liturgy.

The photographs are of a selection of 18th century mill buildings.