“Laborare est orare, sed potare clarius.”

I have always struggled with authors like Umberto Ecco who throw in long quotations in other languages and then never offer a translation, even as a footnote.  So please forgive my pretension for titling this week’s post in Latin.  However, for those of you who never studied the language or for those like me who have forgotten all they ever learned with the possible exception of “Amo, Amas, Amat,” I will not keep you guessing for long.

The phrase “Laborare est orare, sed potare clarius” is based on the Benedictine motto,  “Laborare est orare,” which means, “Working is praying.”  This was to emphasize not just the importance of work but that explain that work, when done mindfully, dutifully, and in the service of God and of others, is as sacred and important to one’s spiritual well being as prayer.   The beer-in-a-beer-mug-with-ears-of-wheat-and-halo-T-Shirtsexpansion, “Working is praying, but drinking is superior,” would seem to be rather tongue in cheek.  But is it?

I first came across this phrase in an article by Todd Agliaoro entitled, The Theology of the Bottle.  He in turn cites a passage written by Hillaire Belloc,

” [I]t was five miles since we had last acknowledged the goodness of God in the drinking of ale, which is a kind of prayer, as it says in the motto : “Laborare est orare sed potare clarior, which signifies that work is noble, and prayer its equal, but that drinking good ale is a more renowned and glorious act than any other to which man can lend himself. And on this account it is that you have a God of Wine, and of various liquors sundry other Gods, that is, imaginations of men or Demons, but in the matter of ale no need for symbol, only that it is King.”


The more attentive among you will have noticed that my quotation and Belloc’s are slightly different.  That is because, according to my friend and Latin scholar, Carl Rubino, the Latin should be “clarius” not “clarior.”

But what really matters is not so much grammar but whether or not the quotation has any theological validity.  Is Belloc right in claiming that the drinking of good ale is indeed a kind of prayer? Perhaps the better question is why shouldn’t it be?

God hands beer to manWhy shouldn’t be enjoyment of best things in life be a spiritual act?  Beer comes both from the fruit of the earth which is a gift of God and as the result of human labor and ingenuity, which is also a gift of God.  If we approach a mug of good beer with such reverence and recognition, how could it not also be an act of devotion?  How could it not deepen our appreciation of all the blessings of this life and of the goodness of God?

This is not to say that all drinking of beer is sacred, any more than all work is sacred.  But it does allow that all beer, particularly beer that is well crafted and of good quality, holds the potential to become a sacred experience.  Or as Agliaoro puts it, the jolly melding of Church and tavern that celebrated God’s presence in creation from tabernacle to tankard”

Such a continuum and continuity of the sacred and mundane is very much in keeping with the principles of Celtic theology which asserts that God can be encountered and known through creation and in the mundane experiences of life.

So the next time you set out to enjoy that glass of craft beer, take a moment to pause and consider all that the beautiful swirling liquid embodies.  I promise the wait will be worth it because in the end it can only make the beer taste better and it might even bring you closer to God.


2 thoughts on ““Laborare est orare, sed potare clarius.”

  1. Well, if it’s a Latin scholar told you it should be “clarius”, not “clarior”, I guess one should believe it. I suppose that depends on whether “potare” is masculine, feminine, or neuter: http://latindictionary.wikidot.com/adjective:clarus. And you’ve just totally nerd-sniped me so I had to look up this stuff. Incidentally, the “amo amas amat” is exactly why I use my initials as my internet handle.
    All of which has nothing to do with the main point of your post. In regards to that: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first miracle Christ did was to create some superior wine (not just any old wine, GOOD wine). A loud declaration that the Son of Man knew all about that melding of the sacred and mundane.

  2. Interesting post, and I feel a bit twisted about it.
    I acknowledge that taking a moment and realizing where I can see the glory of God, to “come and taste the goodness of the Lord” is something we may do not often enough.
    However, I may be not enough of a beer lover – and with German background certainly hold a different world view on what is good beer – I would hold that true to anything else we have, including eat and drink. To be superior to prayer seems a strech, but it may be “indeed a kind of prayer”.
    I just got reminded of the notion of the head of a Christian conference center (hohe-rhoen.org), that we share the deepest community in prayer and at meals (or having a beer?). I see some truth in it. As you say in another post (mosh pit), people tend to build communities. A meal, a beer in the bar, build a community and within a community people become open for another. It creates space to share thoughts – including spreading the gospel – and having a beer, too.

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