Cum dignitate otium, or Rest

The Education is for Life Series

This principle was another where I had to do my own searching for an applicable Latin motto. I could not leave out the concept of Leisure, the Basis of Culture, or Rest, or scholé. However, I had to laugh at myself, I started with a Google search of “Schole Latin motto.” Scholé, is, of course, Greek, and so nothing helpful came up.

So, I discovered that otium was the Latin word for leisure, and although I have not encountered it in education talks, it seems to have been the word used by philosophers to mean precisely what Pieper in Leisure, the Basis of Culture was trying to convey: that to truly cultivate arts – including those of reading, thinking, and discussing – we must have a space apart from the cares of marketing, buying, and selling.

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Cum dignitate otium

Otium – leisure – can mean idle restlessness. Just as our word leisure can be used to talk about watching tv at night, so otium could carry similar connotations of mere unproductiveness. The phrase otium cum dignitas was a phrase used to distinguish the kind of leisure being discussed. It is a leisure that is with dignity, not a leisure of sloth or indolence. That is, it is a leisure characterized by worthiness, appropriateness, propriety, nobility, dignity, and self-respect.

In the classical world, otium cum dignities meant one had time apart from an income-earning job to read, think, discuss, and participate in politics. Such a state was either a retirement earned after a lifetime of occupation or came as a result of inheritance.

Cicero defines otium as a state of security and peace, of tranquility of mind, which is cultivated when one is not seeking profit and personal gain, but rather contemplating and having a mind at ease.

In the medieval period, this word otium came to be used primarily to indicate peace of mind – a leisure that is internal more than an external circumstance. Petrarch, writing in the 13th century, says that otium is ideally spent on nature appreciation, serious research, meditation, contemplation, writing, and friendship.

So in this phrase we have wrapped up both the concept of a space set apart from economic considerations or “getting ahead” and also the concept that leisure is internal, a way of being. I think we need both meanings in our lives.


Rest is a word that looms large in the Scripture. It is one of my pastor’s favorite biblical topics, and one he weaves through many of his sermons. As with leisure, it is so easy to fall prey to the assumption that an admonition to rest is an admonition to do nothing. There are many layers to rest in the Bible:

  • God rests on the seventh day of creation.
  • Noah’s name means ‘rest.’
  • God commands the Israelites to rest on the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments.
  • God calls the Promised Land a last of rest, of peace, of inheritance.
  • God promises David that Solomon will bring a king who brings rest, or peace.
  • Hebrews speaks of Heaven as the ultimate rest and the ultimate promised land.
  • Jesus fulfilled the law when we could not, so our salvation rests in His work and not our own.

This is not at all an exhaustive list.

I don’t want to get into the controversy over Sabbath observance in this article, but whether or not Sunday is the New Covenant Sabbath or if the fourth commandment is still binding at all, I do think it is clear that God rested on the seventh day of creation in order to set a pattern for His people. It is a Good Idea, it is a pattern woven into Creation, that we have a weekly rhythm that includes time spent resting from our toil, from our cares and anxieties, and in God’s provision and grace.

In the Bible, rest is both a real physical thing we do bodily, it is a spiritual thing (resting from sin, resting in Christ’s merit instead of working for our own), and it is a matter of the heart, the attitude, the mindset: it is peace and freedom. I posit that we should incorporate all three aspects into our lives. We are creatures who require all three. We need daily and weekly and periodic times of physical rest. We need the forgiveness of and freedom from sin that only comes from Christ’s work done on our behalf. We need an attitude of peace and patience to reign within at all times, even while our bodies are working.

Rest in the Home

How can rest and housework exist together? Are they not opposed to one another? I believe the answer is both yes and no.

Yes, housework is our toil. It is where we work to get ahead, even if it doesn’t earn us any money. It is part of our contribution to the family economy. We need regular periods of rest from it. We need times where we turn off the eyes that can only see things to do everywhere they look; that might take practice! God worked six days out of seven, and so it seems like a Good Idea to also take a regular, even weekly, break from the productivity mindset. In fact, this rhythm of rest tells us to let go of the guilt of not being always busy and active and getting something done. After we labor six days – fully embracing the goodness of the toil God has given us to do – then we also need time where we cease our strivings and be at peace in both mind and body. As my neighbor (and church elder) says, “There is nothing better or more restful than a Sunday afternoon nap.”

But there’s another side to it, too. Housework does not have to be opposed to rest. While the hands are at work the mind can be free. Housework is menial, which means that it allows us the opportunity to engage in that “life of the mind” that otium is all about even while our hands are getting things done. We can have conversation with our children, we can listen to good music, we can listen to podcasts or sermons or audio books, we can simply have some space and time to think. To the extent that rest is a state of mind rather than a state of body, housework and peace of mind certainly can coexist. In fact, that time spent in housework can even be used to help cultivate peace of mind.

Rest in the Schedule

Our schedules – how we use our time, regardless of how it’s organized – need to take all three aspects of rest into account.

We need physical rest. We need it daily, and it may come through sleep, naps, devotional time, doing a hobby, having family conversation around the table after dinner, reading aloud together as a family. We need it woven into the rhythm of our weeks through worship on Sundays, fellowship with friends, maybe an extra nap or a fun excursion. We also need to not feel guilty if we need it periodically. Summer vacations, retreats or conferences, and holidays are all extras that help us recharge by taking time away from the daily pulls of life.

Also, these days, we need physical rest from our connectivity, from our screens. Try setting times during the day, or maybe a full day once a week, and definitely a vacation period in the summer or at holidays. It can be startling how much the habit of turning to a screen when we want a diversion pulls us out of our life, and one of the ways to curb that is by taking control of it and putting boundaries around it.

We need spiritual rest. We need to be renewed. We need to stop trying to do more and more to earn God’s acceptance or favor, because Christ is the only one who can earn it. He gives it as a gift. Our strivings will not earn us God’s favor and will not guarantee us the outcome we want (as if God owes us children who never mess up big time because we homeschooled them). As the hymn states, “Through His merit we inherit life and peace and happiness.” If you belong to Christ, you are in Christ, and own His merit through no merit of your own; nothing you do gives you more or less of Christ. You are either in Him or you are not.

We need an attitude of rest. In this case, rest is the opposite of stress, not of work, and the two do not need to be synonyms. We need to carry rest, peace, around with us as our possession at all times. Christ purchased it for us and we should use it! It is available and free! It is not easy, but it is possible in Christ.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

What steals our peace? Well, Philippians 4:6 implies that it is anxiety. After commanding us to rejoice always, Paul writes:

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything

Anxiety, stress, worry is the enemy of peace and rest. And God says “Don’t do it!” And what He requires, He gives. He will trade you your worries for His peace. He even says how the exchange works:

but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God

Two things: Prayer. Thanksgiving. Even for the hard stuff, give thanks. Talk to God, and do so with thanksgiving rather than grumbling. We can thank Him in all things (as He commands) because He is in control. Nothing comes to us by chance, but from His fatherly hand; therefore, give thanks. Thanking Him is a practical way of trusting Him.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

It’s simple. It’s a promise. And it’s incredibly difficult. It is something to practice, to attempt, to fail at and yet to get back up and try again. It is growing in Christ.

We can’t give ourselves peace of mind, we can only ask God to give us His.

Oh, we’re talking about schedules?

We must take time daily to be in the word and in prayer, weaving thankfulness and prayer into our days.

I do not have this figured out and I am not consistent. Yet I know that it is true, so I will keep trying, no matter how many times I fail.

Read the rest of the Education Is for Life series.

One Comment

  1. I am learning how to put this concept of rest in my life. This past term at school was my busiest ever, but I have had real peace. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I hope that they will help me more.

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