Friday, 15 October 2021

Introducing Peter Maurin's Easy Essays

 NOTE: In 1975 Stanley Vishnewski wrote the following introduction to Peter Maurin's Easy Essays The Essays are reproduced on the SOCIAL ART page of

ter Maurin's Easy Essays were never meant to be written. His Essays were intended to be declaimed in public. Peter did not consider himself to be a writer. He was inclined to look upon himself as a modern Troubadour. One who would tour the length of this industrial society preaching in his singsong method the thoughts that he had painstakingly gleaned from his voluminous readings and studies.

It was only when people would refuse to listen that Peter went to the trouble of writing out his Essays and leaving them with people who he thought would be interested.

Peter was a classic example of not judging a man by his appearance. I recall one evening when I was with Peter in the auditorium of a church where a forum on Social Justice was being conducted. I remember how the chairman persistently refused to recognize Peter because of Peter's shabby appearance. But somehow Peter managed to get to speak and in a few minutes he had the audience enthralled as he recited his Easy Essays and the applause was thunderous.

Peter was a thinker and a synthesizer of history. He had a great grasp of history -- a knowledge that caused Father Parsons S.J., then editor of America, to comment that Peter was the best read man that he had ever met.

Peter was a man with a message. It was a simple message, so simple that it was a stumbling block to many who wanted a complicated program of action. Peter's teachings were based upon Cult, Culture, and Cultivation.

By Cult, Peter meant the Liturgical Cycle of the Church with its yearly cycle of festivals and ceremonials. A worship of God that would use the whole man (the holy man) in the worship and adoration of God.

By Culture, Peter meant the study of literature and the great classics. The cultivation of the mind by the intimate knowledge of literature.

By Cultivation, Peter meant the return to the soil -- The Green Revolution. The establishment of Community Life in a strongly individualistic society.

When Peter Maurin met Dorothy Day in 1932, during the depths of the Great Depression, he came with a program of action based upon his message. Peter, in his wisdom, realised the futility of preaching to men who were homeless and had empty stomachs. ("You can't preach to a man on an empty stomach," a saint was reported to have said.) So the first plank in his program was the establishing of Houses of Hospitality. These would be centres (many times store fronts) where those in need would receive help from those who came to serve them at a personal sacrifice.

Once the needs of people were taken care of and they no longer had to worry about their next meal or a place to sleep then it was time, Peter taught, to start the second part of his program, which was Round-Table Discussions. By means of discussions, talks, leaflets, papers, people were to be given an understanding of history. People were to be led to understand for themselves what there was nf history that led up to the Great Depression and was the cause of unemployment, war and their own misery. Once they understood this, then by studying the present they could slowly prepare the groundwork for a new social order.

The Catholic Worker paper was established to carry out the second part of Peter's program. The first issue of 2500 copies was launched by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in May, 1933. From this small beginning the paper, as the organ of The Catholic Worker Movement, spread throughout the world. Today (1975) some 90,000 copies a month are printed.

A great deal of controversy surrounded the publication of the Catholic Worker. The issues of land reform, unionisation, war and peace, industrialism vs agrarianism filled the pages of the paper.

But there was little controversy on the first part of the program: Houses of Hospitality. The ideal of taking care of the poor and the needy at a personal sacrifice appealed to hundreds of young men and women -- many of whom gave up comfortable homes and good jobs to live with the poor. It was Peter's idea that the voluntary poor should live with the involuntary poor to give them hope and love.

Before long there were 35 Hospices in the United States -- most of them falling victim to the slum clearance that followed the Second World War. But today as I write (1975) there has been a complete resurgence of the Hospices and Dorothy Day tells me that there are now 46 Hospices, with new ones coming into existence from time to time.

The third part of Peter's program was more visionary. It was the establishment of Farming Communities. Peter dreamed of a society where it would be easier for men to be good. He dreamed of Farming Communes where those unemployed would find work and security. Peter wanted to restore the ideal of Community in a Church that had forgotten the ideal -- and because Churchmen had lost the ideal, the heresy of Communism had sprung up.

Peter's philosophy of action, as he was the first to admit it, was not a new philosophy at all, but one so old that people had actually forgotten it. The Church, Peter taught, had a message that was so revolutionary that to preach it would rock the social order from one end to the other. But what had happened was that Catholic scholars had sealed the message in pious tracts and that it was now the mission of the Catholic Worker to explode the dynamite that was inherent in the teachings of the Church. These thoughts of Peter are here in this slender volume of Easy Essays that the Chicago Catholic Worker Hospice had reprinted. They will bear careful reading and studying. They are the distillation of a lifetime of serious studying and thinking of the problems of our age. The money from the sale of this book will be used for the work of the Chicago Hospice and I am happy to be able to add these words of mine to the memory of a man whose greatness will one day be recognized. Stanley Vishnewski, Catholic Worker Farm, Tivoli, New York (1975)

NOTE: The Easy Essays are reproduced on the SOCIAL ART page of

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