Abraham Kuyper’s Advice for the New School Year
At the start of the new year I wanted to put this question to you before the face of God: What should be the goal of university study and the goal of living and working in the sacred domain of scholarship? I wanted to see whether I might perhaps rouse in some of you a more sanctified passion.
To have the opportunity of studying is such an inestimable privilege, and to be allowed to leave the drudgery of society to enter the world of scholarship is such a gracious decree of our God. Nature out there (God’s Word says as a punishment for sin) is hard for 99 percent of the human race. Of the 1,400 million people who live on this earth there are at least 1,300 million who literally have to eat their bread “by the sweat of their brow”—on farm or factory, at lathe or anvil, in shop or office, forever occupied in wresting food, clothing, and shelter from nature by processing, shaping, shipping, or selling it. And the real man of science does not look upon this with contempt. On the contrary, he senses that to live such a life should really have been his lot too, and that he, bowing under God’s ordinances if that were his occupation, would have found happiness and honor in it. But God created, in addition to the world of nature with all its elements and forces and materials, a world of thoughts; for all of creation contains Λόγος [Logos]…
Now the deeper meaning of this Λόγος is only disclosed to us through the revelation of God’s mystery. He who does not worship God as the Triune One does not understand this mystery. But even if for now we do not try to remove the curtain from this holy place of worship, this at least is clear: there is not only a creation but also a Λόγος in the creation, and man, created in the image of God and therefore a logical creature, has the capacity and the calling to use his logical thought to reflect upon this Λόγος which shines in all creation.
And this, students, is the beautiful, exalted, sacred task of science.
Now if nature were not so hard and life not so cruel, many more people could have the enjoyment of that sacred calling. But things being what they are, only a few are granted that honor and by far most people are deprived of that privilege.
But you and I have received this great favor from our God. We belong to that specially privileged group. Thus, woe to you and shame on you if you do not hear God’s holy call in the field of scholarship and do not exult with gratitude and never-ending praise that it pleased God out of free grace to choose you as his instrument for this noble, uplifting, inspiring calling.
It is for God’s honor that there should be scholarship in the land. His thought, his Λόγος in the κόσμος [kosmos], must not remain unknown and unexamined. He created us as logical beings in order that we should trace his Λόγος, investigate it, publish it, personally wonder at it, and fill others with wonder. This too proclaims the glory of his name. Without scientific research that treasure remains hidden in the world and does not rise to the surface. As the Zulu for centuries walked over the goldfields without suspecting what treasures the miners of Transvaal would one day dig up, so too the nonscientific person treads upon the soil of God’s creation until the man of science discovers the mine of knowledge, opens it up, descends into it, and searches there for silver, to bring out the gold of God’s thoughts.
Of course man can live without science and scholarship, witness the native peoples of Botswana, Mongolia, and North America. But not until a higher form of consciousness awakens in people does human life receive its nobility from the thoughts of God. Then man increases his power over nature and moves from the dark cellar to the bright upper room flooded in light.
Thus there are three wonderful things about science: it brings to light the hidden glory of God; it gives you joy in the act of digging up the gold that lies hidden in creation; and it grants you the honor of raising the level and well-being of human life. So whatever made you think that you can become a scholar merely by studying and cramming for exams? No, I tell you, even if you had stuffed your brain full of facts and theories and had passed every examination summa cum laude, you would still be no more than a hewer of wood and a drawer of water in this elite corps of scholars if you had not entered that world of God’s thoughts with all your heart and all your mind and if in that world of God’s glorious thoughts you had not heard the voice of him who had ordained you a priest of learning and anointed you with consecrated oil for that holy priesthood.
Every man of learning should be fired with a zeal to battle against the darkness and for the light. The glow of gas lay hidden for centuries in the dark coal mine, but not until that coal was dug from the mine and processed by human art did it reveal its luster. Similarly, it is your high calling to wrest the light of God’s splendor from the hidden recesses of creation, not in order to seek honor for yourself but honor for your God.
This is an excerpt of a convocation address given by Abraham Kuyper in 1889 to the students of Vrije Universiteit (Free University) in Amsterdam. The address has been published in a volume titled Scholarship, which can be downloaded for free via Logos. The volume is a teaser to a forthcoming volume on education in the twelve-volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, sponsored by the Acton Institute.