The Necessity of Creativity

Convocation Address University of Dallas

May 21, 1963

". . . A life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before."

The words are thirteen years old now, but they express a perennial truth, as valid for today and tomorrow as on the day in 1950 when, in acceptance of his Nobel Prize for Literature, William Faulkner spoke them. The great American novelist left to mankind a larger achievement than will be possible for most individuals in their respective fields. Genius is rare and productive genius rarer still. But each man is called to be a maker, "to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before;" and with due apology for such fragile embroidery, I should like to suggest some of the implications of Mr. Faulkner's credo.

On Saturday next, when the University of Dallas offers to you, its graduating seniors, the certification of its diploma, you may very well heave the customary sigh of satisfaction. While no one will wonder at your exhalation, you should reflect in the very moment of your justifiable pride of accomplishment, at the meaning of the diploma which you clutch so greedily. Because, of course, the sheepskin will have been awarded you at a commencement! Of that diploma, then, you must understand that it is more than a testimony to the past four years. Rather it is a precept - a commission, if you will, given by the University for the future, obligating you to be creative, to be a maker "of something which did not exist before."

How often have you heard during the past four years that man can only be satisfactorily defined as a rational animal. Uniting within himself the intangible wonders of God.'s unseen, spiritual creation and the fascinating palpability of the material cosmos, the human being is an ever changing, pulsating unity, devised of paradoxical components: of the spiritual and the material, of the infinite and the finite, of the changeless and the changeable, of the rational and the animal. Given a reach beyond the visible universe, he is obviously equipped to be its master. Given a rationality, he is evidently endowed to impress his likeness upon the surroundings which he governs. By reason of intellect and will, every man is destined to seek the true and to pursue the good, a destiny which he must fulfill within a human setting, using the things of the material kingdom which he rules and the situations and events which confront him.

To seek the true and pursue the good is to be a maker. Genuinely to accomplish his destiny, the individual personality must create. The imperative here must not be overlooked. It is a natural imperative, arising from the very consequences of what a man is and is meant to be. So complete is this imperative that it can have no opposition except its own contradiction. A man must be a maker, or he is a destroyer. If he does not create, he perforce annihilates. One hears a great deal in the contemporary period of mediocrity, a word that can be taken in different senses. "Moderate ability," "ordinary," or "disinterestedness towards an issue" may be among its legitimate meanings. But if "mediocrity" implies as so often it seems to imply, a neutrality with regard to basic human values, then the validity of this meaning must be denied. Wherever a man's humanness is at stake, by reason of the natural imperative involved, one cannot be neutral. One must be a maker or a destroyer. The individual who cares but little for important political issues is a destroyer; the person who is not a humble patron of the arts is a destroyer; the man of affairs who will take the business world as he finds it, leaving it unaffected by his presence, is a destroyer; the citizen who is simply not interested in the racial, or moral, or educational issues of the day is a destroyer. With all of this, with his higher vision of faith, the Christian should know very well because he can reflect upon the Savior's warning: "he who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters" (Mt. 12:30).

But to be a mere one does not need the talents or the opportunities of a successful genius. Each man has a personal capacity, differing in kind and in measure from the capacity of his peers. Each man has a personal capacity that is unique, identical to that, of no other man. And each is placed into an identity of circumstances shared with no other human being. Each man's talent, therefore, conditioned by his highly individualized circumstances offers him an opportunity to be a creator, to produce like Charles Peguy's Joan of Arc, something new, something no one has ever seen, something no one has ever heard of - at least, within his own surroundings and in the realm of his own commitment.

With Mr. Faulkner one must insist that a man's creativity must proceed "out of the materials of the human spirit," from the depths of a personal dedication to the true and the good, from the resources of knowledge and love. The human paradox is nowhere so apparent as here. The man who creates must employ the people and the things which surround him in all that he produces, and yet his creation must truly be from within. The external objects which the maker employs are not unimportant. But they are quite secondary to the materials of the spirit. Almost anyone can arrange sounds, but only the artist's native genius creates music; many people preside in classrooms, but only the teacher who has an inner devotion to a discipline and to human values is a maker; many technicians occupy the laboratory, but only the scientist whose eagerness stems from an interior excitement can manifest creativity.

One can see the same sort of thing in the process of learning. This, too, is a creation that is wrought ultimately from within the individual (as indicated by the very word education; a drawing out, a leading forth). An instructor can remove many impediments to knowledge, can dramatize the true, demonstrate the false, or obviate the valueless. But, in the end, learning is an interior process, a vital activity that is only conditioned by the efforts of the professor.

"To create out of the materials of the human spirit." There must always be new things, not only because primal matter is ceaselessly giving up its forms in search of newer and better ones, and not only because the dead of winter is ever succeeded by revitalizing spring. New things must always be because the mind and will of man are never quiet. In the constant flow of time and circumstance, each individual has his opportunity for new discoveries, new applications of old lessons, new emphasis of an ancient truth - however limited in scope and restricted in place and time the newness of these things might be.

Man is made to be a maker; not a manipulator of people and things; but an employer of them with docility to his own limitations and theirs. Why do artists keep painting pictures, or philosophers continue inquiry, or businessmen unceasingly seek new methods? Why can we not be content with the art and the philosophy of antiquity or the 'proven" methods of past decades? We cannot because life is a movement - a movement from within - and human life is principally the life of the spirit, the movement of rationality which must be concerned with the make-up of material things and with the ever-changing relationships of these things among themselves; but which, most importantly, must be concerned with the make-up of individual human personalities and the undulating interrelationships which bind them together. About all of this, a man must be creatively active or else, because he cannot call life-movement to a halt, he will bring decay and destruction to the things toward which he is indifferent.

Here, then, is the reason for the experience in the humanities which the University has offered to you. With all of its flaws, its shortcomings, its failures in the achievement of ideals, the University's program has been an opportunity for you, in restricted, controlled circumstances, to begin the work of creativity which is yours. You leave the campus better than when you arrived in the degree in which you have made yourself better, according as you have utilized the climate and the social buffers, the order and experience of this institution and its personnel. Now you are apprenticed to your culture (cf. The Initial Self Study Report of the University of Dallas, Dallas, TX, 1962, p. 11), equipped with an interior discipline, a fund of knowledge, the beginnings of intellectual order with which you may undertake to evolve yourself into the whole man and, at the same time, impress the distinctiveness of your personality upon the people and things of your surroundings.

Whether, consequently, you have elected to enter the professional world of law, or medicine, or business, or education, or art, or athletics; or whether you plan to devote yourself to the rearing of a family, the University will impose upon you next Saturday not a privilege only, but an obligation; the obligation to contribute with originality to the society in which you live.

"Not for glory and least of all for profit. . ." This obligation embraces both your mind and your will, knowledge and love. It is not enough to be an intellectual, a knower. How many perversions have been injected into our culture by those who were great cultivators of the mind, who sought nothing but the acclaim of others or who strove to create new things only for themselves! "The materials of the human spirit" include the action of the will which we call love. For love leads a man forth from the captivity of selfishness, inclining him to focus not upon himself but upon other personalities. The contemporary writer, Gerald Vann, has everywhere insisted on the inseparability of knowledge and love if one is to be free for creative action in the world:

"Truth makes us free, but love makes us willing servants. Every human being has a divine destiny, and society exists to serve it. On the other hand, every human being is a part of society, and must serve society. There seems to be an insoluble contradiction, but there is not; for the divine destiny is to love, and love means the will to serve. If we think of the two things as separate, we shall think them contradictory; on the one side, we shall have selfishness preying on society, on the other, we shall have tyranny degrading men and women. But if we know what it means to be possessed by the truth, we shall know what love means; and then, we shall not keep the two things separate, we shall, of necessity, put them together; and we shall have neither selfishness nor tyranny, but a (society)" The Heart of Man NY: Logmans, 1945, p. 120).
The possibility of your contributing substantially to your society may seem to be out of the question. In truth, you might argue that you have only meager gifts. You should argue that a dedicated love is never meager, that an inner devotion to the truths we call humanities can wholly transform moderate talent and intellectual ability. In tendering each of you a diploma, it is the hope of the men and women who exercise the University's responsibilities that you shall, each in his own proportion, undertake "a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before."

Sermons and Lectures by Damian Fandal, O.P.

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