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We don’t need a new doctrine,
we need an old technique.
We need the old technique
of the first Christians
and the Irish scholars.
What was good for the first Christians
and the Irish scholars
ought to be good enough for us.
What was practical for them
ought to be practical for us.

Peter Maurin, Easy Essays, Page 67

Hello Readers, hope all’s well. Today I present another Christian book review for The Christian Book Corner.

Today’s book is Easy Essays by Peter Maurin.

Peter Maurin was a colleague of Dorothy Day, a famous Catholic who dedicated her life to serving Christ by serving the poor. She spent most of her life running houses of hospitality, where the poor could get food and a place to stay. I reviewed one of her books earlier this year. Check out my review HERE. In that review, I said:

Dorothy Day is an increasingly popular topic in recent years. This famous Catholic worker is praised for her life of dedicated service, charity, and hard work running houses of hospitality. These were places where she and others performed acts of Christian mercy: Feeding, clothing, and sheltering the poor.

She also helped run the Catholic Worker, the newspaper for the pro-worker, pro-equality, antiwar Catholic worker social movement.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know I disagree with Catholic theology in the strongest terms. But I have nothing against someone who spent their life serving the poor. And now here I am reviewing a book written by another member of this same group of Catholics.

But to be honest, Easy Essays is not really a Catholic book. When you read this book you can replace every instance of “Catholic” with “Christian,” and it still works. Peter Maurin doesn’t get into Catholic theology. He says nothing about Mary, nothing about saints. What he writes about is basic Christianity.

Easy Essays, which is a collection of “easy essays” he wrote for the Catholic Worker newspaper, has a message all Christians could support. The message of the book is influenced by Jesus and the earliest Christians. And it’s an important message, one which is definitely relevant for Christians today.

What’s in the Book

This book collects Peter Maurin’s “easy essays.” These are short and simple arguments he published in the Catholic Worker newspaper. There are about a hundred of these little essays in the book.

His “easy essays” are unique and curious, as he wrote them almost in a verse style. When you open up the book it looks like a book of poetry, but it’s not. It’d be better if I just give an example:

The love for God and neighbor was the characteristic of the first Christians.
This love was expressed
through the daily practice
of the Works of Mercy.
To feed the hungry,
to clothe the naked,
to shelter the homeless,
to instruct the ignorant
at a personal sacrifice
was considered
by the first Christians
as the right thing to do.

Peter Maurin, Easy Essays, Pages 73-74

Looks a little strange, doesn’t it? He arranges his easy essays like poetry, but they’re not poetry. He’s trying to argue a point in each essay. So he thought it was best to arrange his thinking like this. Every essay in the book (about a hundred in total) is written like this.

The result is that the book is easy to read. I thought it was a nice read, and a relaxing one. But just because it’s an easy read doesn’t mean it’s simplistic. The topics covered in these Easy Essays are heavy.

His essays deal with everything from Catholicism to history to politics to the economy, and more. The theme of the whole collection, the purpose of all these essays, is Maurin’s vision for how society should be. He wants to create a new society with the 2,000 year old philosophy of the earliest Christians.

If there’s any over-arching point to Easy Essays and what Maurin wrote, it’s this. We need to create a new society based on the old values of the earliest Christians.

[…] to create a new society
within the shell of the old
with the philosophy of the new,
which is not a new philosophy,
but a very old philosophy,
a philosophy so old
that it looks like new.

Peter Maurin, Easy Essays, Page 37

Peter Maurin uses repetition, like a teacher, saying the same thing over and over to make his point. So over the course of the book, his proposal for how to create this new society comes down to the following points. These aren’t the only points he has. But I’d say these are the core of his argument and his method for building his vision of a more Christian society.

  • Embrace the philosophy of the first Christians
  • Live in a community of believers like in Acts 2:44-46 and Acts 4:32
  • Perform the Works of Mercy (feed the hungry, clothe the naked, […]) daily, at a personal sacrifice
  • Outlaw loaning money at interest (usury) in agreement with the teaching of the Prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church
  • Build houses of hospitality and farming communes for doing this work

The first Christians lived in a community together, where they gave up personal property. They shared everything they had, and gave to the needy among them. They used their extra goods to care for the needs of their needy brothers and sisters. This is shown in Acts 2 and 4.

(44) All the believers were united and shared everything. (45) They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. (46) Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity.

Acts 2:44-46 (CEB)

(32) The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. (33) The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. (34) There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, (35) and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need.

Acts 4:32-35 (CEB)

Their philosophy was one of being good to each other, having a community spirit and taking care of one another. None of them loved money or was trying to get rich. No one was trying to accumulate goods. Instead, they all wanted to sacrifice and give of themselves.

The earliest Christians were focused on performing the Works of Mercy every day, at a cost to themselves. This was their sacrifice, and the way they honored God. The Works of Mercy are: Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the prisoner and the sick. The early Christians did these things on their own and the pagans around them took notice.

In the first centuries
of Christianity
the hungry were fed
at a personal sacrifice,
the naked were clothed
at a personal sacrifice,
the homeless were sheltered
at personal sacrifice.
And because the poor
were fed, clothed and sheltered
at a personal sacrifice,
the pagans used to say
about the Christians
“See how they love each other.”

Peter Maurin, Easy Essays, Page 110

If Christians and even non-Christians focused on doing these Works of Mercy, the world would be a better place.

Next, Peter Maurin had a special disdain for loaning money at interest, which is called usury. Usury was forbidden by the Prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church, the earliest Christians. What he sees wrong with usury is that it allows people (mainly the rich) to profit off other people’s labor instead of their own. With interest, money can be used to earn more money. But this leads to a greed mania and the race to gather as much wealth as you can instead of giving any away for the poor.

Peter Maurin sees the legalization of usury, which went against the teaching of the Prophets of Israel and the Fathers of the Church, as a turning point for society. Ever since usury became legal, we have a society built on greed. People are focused on getting as much wealth for themselves as they can.

Last, Maurin argues for creating the houses of hospitality and farming communes all over the country as one means for creating this new Christian society. One where people aren’t greedy and self-centered, but are instead God-centered. One where people choose a non-materialistic life of voluntary poverty and perform the Works of Mercy every day. With houses of hospitality and farming communes, our society would be more like that of the earliest Christians.

He makes other points in Easy Essays too. Sometimes he gives lessons on history, and he writes a lot about communism, critiquing it. But his main focus throughout the book is on this ideal Christian society where people choose a holy life of voluntary poverty, care for each other, and perform the Works of Mercy. A society where people treat each other in a Christian way.

We Have a Foundation here, but no House

So let’s say we build the houses of hospitality and communes all over the place. Is that all it’s going to take to achieve this utopian vision of a Christian society?

This is one criticism I have of Easy Essays and Peter Maurin’s arguments. They’re a little too simplistic at times. Is it impossible to have a Christian society based on the social values of the Sermon on the Mount? The values of caring for each other and being our brother’s keeper? No, I don’t think that’s impossible. I agree with Peter Maurin when he says that what was practical for the earliest Christians should be practical for us too:

We don’t need a new doctrine,
we need an old technique.
We need the old technique
of the first Christians
and the Irish scholars.
What was good for the first Christians
and the Irish scholars
ought to be good enough for us.
What was practical for them
ought to be practical for us.

Peter Maurin, Easy Essays, Page 67

What was practical for them ought to be practical for us.” If they did it, so can we. And none of the differences between their society and ours mean anything in the end. If they did it, it’s possible for us to do it. That’s it, that’s all.

But, how are we going to do what they did? This is where Easy Essays stumbles, in my opinion.

Maurin drives home again and again what the houses of hospitality and farming communes are. And he drives home over and over why we should set these up. But what he doesn’t talk about is how to set them up. And he doesn’t get into the fine details about what goes on at these places. What do the people do there all day? What are the specifics? That’s what I wanted to know.

In other words, he wrote all these little essays about the way to build a new society … and left out the details on how to do it!

That’s how I see it anyway. To learn the specifics of what goes on at the house of hospitality and the farming communes, we must refer to other books. Dorothy Day wrote about this in much more detail, since she was someone who actually ran these places. Peter Maurin was more of a philosopher, spending his time debating and philosophizing and talking. We could say that shows in Easy Essays. Even in writing, he was most concerned with communicating his ideology.

It’s a good ideology which no Christians should reject. But to move to a society built on that ideology would be a massive move, and the details on how he thinks we can do that are lacking. As a result, the ideas in this book can feel unfinished sometimes.

But that’s about all I can criticize the book for. I can’t criticize it for jumping from topic to topic, which can be disorienting at times. But the book is like this because it’s the collection of Maurin’s easy essays, and he wrote about a wide variety of topics. From history to communism to Catholicism and much more besides.

And I can’t criticize the book because I disagree with it at times. I don’t agree with every essay—that just is what it is. If you read Easy Essays, I’m sure you won’t agree with each one either.

So with all that being said, I can call Easy Essays a good read. It’s unique, interesting, and thought-provoking. But in the end I wish Maurin went further into specifics.

The Final Word

Easy Essays is an interesting read, one I won’t forget any time soon. It’s a book of arguments for a Christian utopia presented in such a unique way. I wouldn’t have thought presenting heavy arguments in a poetry-verse-like way would work. But Peter Maurin made it work somehow.

The result is a book like none other, filled with easy-to-read essays on how to create a Christian society in our modern world. But just because the essays are easy to read doesn’t mean they’re elementary. The topics covered in this book are heavy.

But on a positive note, the book’s Catholic-centric view is unimportant. Like I said in the intro, you can replace every instance of “Catholic” with “Christian,” and it still works. That’s because Peter Maurin doesn’t talk about Catholic theology. He says nothing about Mary, nothing about saints. No, what he talks about is more practical than that, and could be accepted by any Christian if we take out the word “Catholic.” So I say it’s a book for all Christians. If more Christians were focused on doing these Works of Mercy, this world would be a much nicer place to live, and God would be glorified more.

And that’s why it’s too bad Easy Essays doesn’t really ‘finish the job’ by giving specific details on how to build these things Maurin advocates for. It feels like important details are missing. That said, Easy Essays is enough to get started on building this Christian utopia. And if we do that, we have Christ to take us the rest of the way.

Easy Essays

by Peter Maurin. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003.

Buy Easy Essays on Amazon (This is an affiliate link. I receive a small commission if you buy through this link.)

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Until next time, be strong and do good!

Your new best friend in Christ,



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