Ora et labora is a Latin saying, praying and working! and has its origins in the Late Middle Ages (see Literaturepochen). The saying can be regarded as an essential principle of the Benedictines, a monk’s order of the Roman Catholic Church. In principle, it is a matter of the fact that the work and the prayer are always alternating, whereby it is assumed that the work – when it demands man and reveals his talents – occupies an important place in human life and is also essential to this to the same extent. Prayer is, however, not to be regarded as idleness, but rather as a form of inner work.
The word sequence is part of a long Latin sentence, which reads: “Ora et labora et lege, Deus adest sine mora”, and can be prayed and read, and God is translated without delay. This ordinance is, however, usually only reproduced in a shortened manner and summarized in the word sequence ora et labora. This, however, leaves a part necessary for understanding.
The decisive factor, according to Benedict of Nursia (around 480-547), is that this interplay between work and prayer ultimately leads to God and thus includes a fundamental principle of faith. The important thing is that there is no balance between duty and the unprincipled, for Benedict himself held that the idleness […] is the enemy of the soul.
It is much more a question of an interplay between inner and outer work, which ultimately leads to the encounter with God. The meaning of the word Ora et labora is the belief that the way to God is only through prayer and hard work. A very similar discussion is also found in the Bible. Thus it is said in the first book of Moses, that is, in the first book of the Christian Bible:
In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat thy bread, till thou return to the ground; you are taken from him. For dust is yours, you must return to the dust (Gen 3:19 EU).
In 529, Benedict of Nursia, the founder of the Order, wrote a monastic regularism called Regula Benedict (Benedict’s Rule), which is the foundation of the Order of the Benedictines. In this book Benedict pooled numerous rules that were meant to clarify everyday life and life in the Order. However, Ora et Labora did not appear. Benedict, however, describes in the 48th chapter the regular daily routine of the monks, whereby manual work, study and communal prayer always alternate and formulates indirectly the Latin saying Ora et labora.
In this statement – in any case when it is considered in its entirety – there is still the demand to deal with literature, or at least with the written word. Benedict gave books a special appreciation, whereby all the monks also learned to read and write, thus gaining access to the (world) literature, thus gathering knowledge in very different areas. Numerous orders of monks were then devoted to the copying of folios and the building of libraries, which gave them the knowledge of the world in monastic libraries and scriptories (monasteries).