The Socialist's Church

Chapter I: The Church as Instrument of Social Reform

It was early in the year 1850 that F. D. Maurice and the little band of men he had gathered around him first gave utterance to that most pregnant phrase, Christian Socialism. And from that time onwards there have always been Churchmen who have insisted that the principles of Socialism are distinctly Christian principles. They have done this, as Maurice and Kingsley and the others did, in the face of a twofold opposition, being attacked by those Socialists who held that in order to establish Socialism you must destroy Religion, as well as by those Christians who maintained that it was life after death, or only spiritual matters here and not a righteous condition of industry on earth, that Religion had to deal with. This attack is still going on. Mr. Blatchford and Mr. Belfort Bax are as vehement against what they suppose to be the Christian Religion as ever Karl Marx was; and, on the other hand, there are still some Churchmen who teach that the poor's chief duty is contentment. But on the whole the situation has changed and is changing; Mr. G. Bernard Shaw's declaration of his belied that it is only by means of Religion that Socialism can be accomplished is as significant on the one side as the declaration made by Bishops and others at the Carlisle Church Congress were on the other: it sill indeed pays the opposite party at an election to call the Socialist or Labour candidate an atheist, but such candidates -- if they have not the electoral courage to reply, :If I am an atheist, what has that to do with the question, or with you?" -- are easily able to get priest after priest to come to their support.

Now, even though the next general election may not turn, as the Times foretold that it would, on the question of Imperialism versus Socialism -- though both those terms will have to stand a course of Socratic questioning -- there is probably not much doubt that when the Labourists in Parliament are forced to consider whether they are Socialists or merely the delegates of the men's Trade Unions, ignoring the black coated working man, the working woman, and the professional workers, there will be a shrinkage in Labourism and a readjustment of Parties -- followed probably by the formation of a Socialist Party, and when it is strong enough to refuse to be played with, by a union of other parties against it.

Can the duty of the Church to Socialism and of Socialists to the Church under these conditions be laid down? Is it merely that Maurice and those who have followed him were kind-hearted but mistaken philanthropists, or is there anything in the essential constitution of the Christian Church which makes it clearly the active duty of its members to take an active part in the abolition of monopoly in the means of production, which, phrase it as you will, is of the essence of Socialism?

The purpose of this essay is to suggest that beyond all doubt -- so far, at any rate, as the fundamental teaching of the Church of England goes -- this is so. That those Socialists who attempt to destroy the Church, or who attack the Church, or who ignore the Church, so far from acting in the interest of Socialism, are hindering its accomplishment; that in the Church they will find an organisation ready to their hand; and that those Churchmen who do not realise this have failed to realise one great essential function of the Society to which they belong.

The question to be discussed is not whether individual Churchmen have not been violently anti-Social in their conduct and teaching: not whether the State has not forced upon the Church Bishops who have been quite out of touch with Christian ethics: not whether owing to the Patron instead of the Church being established in each Parish, you have not got generally a quite wrong kind of Priest -- these evils may all be admitted; but the main question is whether the basis, the constitution, the essential documents of the Society are or are not in favour of those who want to substitute a co-operative brotherhood in the place of anarchic competition in industrial life. In order to understand the connection between the Church and Socialism, we must blot out from our memory the Bishops' votes in the House of Lords: the action and talk of highly-placed laymen and laywomen: the general tone of clerical opinion as represented by the Guardian newspaper, and go straight away to the basis and Sacraments of the Church.

I. There the Socialists will find themselves on firm ground. The Church, by means of its Sacraments -- its seven Sacraments -- two of which the Church holds to be universally necessary in order that men may lead a sound, healthy life -- keeps alive and to the front those great principles on which all the reforming of Society must be based. Baptism, the Sacrament of Equality, and Holy Communion, the Sacrament of Brotherhood; these two are fundamental; the one abolishing all class distinctions, and admitting all into the Christian Church, simply on the ground of humanity; the other pledging and enabling all to live the life of brotherhood: the one making it clear that Christ is the Head, and that it is of all men that He is the Head; the other bearing perpetual witness to the power of Christ's life, making it clear that it is by allowing Christ's life to influence our lives, by being strengthened and refreshed by Him, by realising His presence, that we can live our lives. Now what kind of a world Christ would have it to be is made abundantly plain in many ways, but especially in His long series of works of deliverance, and His constant teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven to be established on earth. If each Parish -- if all the wage-earners of the nation -- simply made much of these two essential Sacraments, their power as social reformers would be irresitable. The idea that everyone equally is a member of Christ, the child of God, and a present inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth: the idea of human solidarity, co-operation, brotherhood, brought right home to people: both these ideas centred in the life and character of Jesus Christ: with men's imaginations fired and their minds convinced by these influences, what a power they would be: how much easier all the details of social legislation would become if these were the dominating ideas; if it was with men of good will, with men who had accepted the thing in principle, that you had thus to deal in urging such legislation.

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The other five Sacraments also bear, in their own degree, a Social witness: Confirmation, by which the child, beginning the critical period of adolescence, is strengthened by his conscious membership of the Socialist Society: Marriage, which, by being treated as a Sacrament, tells each couple of their duties, not only to each other, but to the nation and the Church: Penance, which enforces the acknowledgment of sin, and acknowledgment essential to progress, progress which is so much hindered by the self-satisfied, unideal people who are quite pleased with themselves: Orders, which tell of the Priesthood set apart to absolve and to bless, and make men realise the presence of that Christ who is the people's advocate: and even the last unused Sacrament of Unction -- to be revived probably in the lifetime of any who are under twenty -- which is the Sacrament of the power of Will over Matter.

Now these seven Sacraments, especially the two great essential Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, are institutions which compel all who make much of them to an adherence to the Social ideal; those who allow them to be used for the individualistic religious luxury of the pious few, as well as those who refuse to take their part in them, who stand aloof from them, are both alike gravely responsible for throwing away a splendid opportunity for impressing on the minds and imaginations of the people the principles on which all Social reform is founded: the thoughts which these Sacraments arouse; the ideals which they enshrine; the tone and temper, the atmosphere which they create, are the ideals, tone, temper and atmosphere which are essential to human progress. If the Church had given us nothing but these, the Church would have been a great instrument for Social Reform.

2. Those who use these Sacraments as a private spiritual luxury and those who make no use of them at all are alike responsible for the evils which spoil our life both in town and nation.

But the Church has other means by which it would guide the Socialists and stimulate them in the fight against degrading poverty, grinding toil, class distinctions, and the robbery of the poor by the rich, The Church has given us the Bible, that great collection of Hebrew literature, which, if men could but appreciate it, would but read it as they read any other library of books, they would find brim full of stuff which would catch their Social conscience and inspire them with an enthusiasm for national and municipal righteousness.

The Church has given the Bible to the people, and cannot recall the gift. On the people therefore rests the responsibility if they forget that it is an inspiring literature and make it instead a collection of either infallible texts to regulate their life or of foolish isolated sentences to be flung by atheists against Christians, and by Christians against atheists. As has been well said by Professor Moulton, whose edition of the Bible is strongly to be recommended, the fact that the Hebrew literature can be had in a single volume for tenpence is a marvelous testimony to the demand for the book and to the wonders of the printing press. But this single-volume edition has been purchased at an enormous cost: at no less a cost than the loss of the whole literary form of it -- so that hardly anyone reads it now intelligently or with any appreciation of its beauty. More and more, said Matthew Arnold, must we look to the best literature to inspire us, to console us, to sustain us: the best literature which in its substance and matter is distinguished by seriousness and importance and in its style and manner by diction and movement. An the vast proportion -- not all of course, but most -- of the Bible is in this sense the best literature: but we miss it, we do not allow its seriousness and importance, its diction and movement to inspire us, console us, and sustain us, because we make it, either for defence or attack, merely a collection on infallible texts, and missing it, we miss the greatest possible incentive to Social Reform. No one can read it as literature -- as they wouold read any other great literature -- without being impressed by it, without being excited and stimulated towards national and Social righteousness by it; without being convinced by it that there is an unseen righteous Being who speaks to them, without feeling in the end that the man Christ Jesus, the people's friend, is the highest expression of that Being. The Church and the Church's Sacraments are, of course, antecedent to the Bible, and could exist without the Bible, but the Bible, intelligently and reasonably treated, not as the infallible Word of God, but as the most inspiring literature of a nation whose best men were convinced hhthat there was one righteous God, and that personal and social righteousness was the main thing, will be found close up to the Sacraments as one of the Church's great instruments for Social regeneration. The ideals, tone, temper, atmosphere, which are necessary in order that the Socialists may get their reforms carried in Parliament, in the Municipalities, and in Social life will all be nourished and developed by an intelligent appreciation of this majestic Library.

3. But the whole thing is spoilt if the Bible is treated as a collection of infallible texts, giving us dogmas and doctrines. And yet we want dogmas and doctrines. We want, that is to say, the concentrated wisdom of the best men of the past, tested by ages of experience; we want dogmas and doctrines which have lived and which can only live because they have helped men out of difficulties, helped them to understand themselves and their relations to one another. And so the Church does not only give us Sacraments which touch us in every relationship of life, and the Bible which catches our conscience as we read its legends and stories, its history and poetry and philosophy; above all, as we read the story of Jesus and of the foundation of His Church. But it also gives us some definite dogmatic metaphysical teaching. It does not give much of this -- not much at any rate as obligatory upon the Laity; but the little it gives is of prime importance, and it is contained in the Church Catechism.

4. The seven Sacraments, the inspiring literature, the definite dogma: all these will help to make life more worth living, help men to get a noble pleasure our of life, help to make the State minister to the well-being of the people instead of maintaining the monopolies of the few. But there is yet another weapon in the Church's armory. The Church has further given us the Christian Sunday, instead of the narrow Jewish sabbath -- the bright, emancipating Christian Sunday -- the day of worship, rest, and recreation. When we have got the Social Revolution -- which, I take it, will not come suddenly, but like the Kingdom of Heaven, of which it is a part, "without observation" -- which indeed is coming now gradually by the patient work of people on committees, of people who are conscious of their citizenship, of people who vote wisely, of people who educate, agitate, organise -- when that good time comes, then the Christian Sunday will be as a rule a day on which you hear Mass in the morning and from time to time make your Communion, a day for genuine healthy mental and bodily recreations, a day on which, as far as may be, no work shall be done except such work as is necessary for the worship and the recreation of the people. That is the ideal to which the Christian Sunday bears witness. Those who do not worship on Sunday at the one only service which the great Social Emancipator Jesus Christ ordained, and those who put a ban on Sunday games and recreation and healthy outdoor life and cheerful social intercourse, are both alike enemies of Social Reform.

The Puritan whose only permitted pleasure is money-making -- the Puritan, as in a Midland Town, with his back to the Theatre and his face to the Market Place -- is, equally with the man who will not humiliate himself to the common Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood, and who lets the Church appear to be the property of a few pious middle-class ladies, hindering the cause of progress, preventing the creation of a moral atmosphere in which Social Reforms would grow healthily and speedily. The Christian Sunday properly spent is like Beauty, a kind of extra wayside Sacrament, an outward and visible sign of the well-ordered life which Christ desiderates.

But perhaps after all the greatest thing the Church has done in this way is its own existence -- or, to put it more accurately, perhaps Jesus Christ, by the mere fact of founding His Church, has done more for the fulfilling of our highest Social aspirations than by the institutions, the books, the Sunday and the dogmas which His Church has given us.

If Socialists would read of it without prejudice, with an open mind, they cannot fail to be attracted by the beauty of Christ's life and character: His self-sacrifice for the moment at any rate conquers us. By degrees, perchance, we learn too that when we worship Him, we worship God, that in Him we get at the very highest imaginable perfection. But He knew us too well to leave it at that: the fascination of His character, the unveiling in Him of the Godhead, the consummated sacrifice on the cross -- even these -- and centuries of devout and keen theologians have devoted their energies in attempting to appreciate what these mean -- but even these were not enough. He must needs also build His Church -- He must say to that Church at its beginning, "The works that I do shall ye do also, and greater works than these shall ye do."

And it is by Socialists recognizing their membership in that Church and claiming their rights in it, by living in each parish as a united body, to carry on, a large scale, the works of secular human deliverance which Christ did on a small scale in Palestine, that the Social Revolution will be accomplished.

A valuable diagram has lately been published, making clear the proportion which the wage-earning classes bear to the others: it proves that the workers can indeed say with Shelley, "We are many, they are few." But if there was a diagram to show what proportion of those who labour make use of the Church which Christ founded for them, if it could in bold outline be made vivid how the people have allowed the Church which is the whole people's Church to be captured by a few, for the most part by the wealthier classes among the people; if the Socialists could be convinced how they have neglected this great instrument for social regeneration, how they have turned their backs on the great human Emancipator, how they have scorned His Sacraments, misused His Bible, spoilt His Sunday, refused to be braced by the doctrines of His Church, of which they have taken no pains to live as conscious members -- then indeed, in any city where men were so convinced, there would be such a demand for instruction followed by such a joyful worshipping and Communion at Easter as would fill the city with amazement and move others to a great return to the Church.

That this would help men personally it is not now necessary to prove, though doubtless sins of temper and sins of appetite are more easy to conquer when men face them as Christian Churchmen. But what is important to note is that Socialists, as men aiming at certain definite social reforms, and as men anxious to find out the truth as to the best way to conquer certain Social evils, would be enormously helped, both in attaining these reforms and getting at the root of these evils, if they would no longer allow the Church to be monopolised by a few, but make it in deed as well as in word the Church of the People.

A Royal Commission was appointed a few years ago to inquire into disorders in the Church. The Guild of St. Matthew made bold to tell the Commissioners that the real disorders are social and industrial, and not ritual; but it is the absence of those who are specially interested in getting rid of these social and industrial disorders, from any conscious active Church life, which enables a few highly-placed ladies -- busybodies, who work not at all -- to presume to speak and act in the Church's name. The people are fatally to blame for allowing the great instrument of Social Progress to be run in the interest of the idle monopolising classes.

But indeed we should not talk about classes, for all class distinctions shrivel into nothingness in this Divine democratic society. The Church is the People's Church; all are or can be admitted into it by Baptism simply on the ground of their being human beings. The Church is the Church of th People; they can enter into it and enjoy it with all their political and social ideals. The Church is the People's; the great mass of wage-earning workers can crowd its altars and worship in its sanctuaries, making use of its comfortable Sacraments, being inspired by its democratic literature, being mentally strengthened by its carefully thought out and long tested doctrines, enjoying its emancipating Sunday and entering freely into the fellowship of its Society. If they did this, what a hold the SOcialists would have over the few who are the monopolists of the great means of production, who appropriate to themselves a large portion of the wealth which the public create; and also how much stronger and happier would they be themselves. If, next Easter Sunday, the millions of wage-earning workers simply went to church, and went on steadily to claim their full rights in the Church )the right, for instance to abolish the Patron and put the Church in his place), what a fluttering of dovecotes -- what an upheaval it would cause! And how much inspiration and courage would they get themselves by their conscious membership of this great Christian Society.

Socialists are doubtless fighting nobly against the evils of our time; but do they not sometimes want strengthening and refreshing? The insidious power of riches is against them, the indifference of those whom they would help paralyses them, their own personal faults and failings demoralise them. They above all others want the strength and refreshment which Jesus Christ in His Church is present to give them. "I," said Jesus, "I if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me." For the nation's sake, as well as for their own sake, He longs for the workers. "Come unto me," He said, "all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you." Those who know what the difficulties of life are -- for it is to those to whom these words are written -- those who are brought into actual contact with the business of subduing nature to the human good; those who know that a series of accidents, an alteration in machinery, a new invention, or what not, might make them unemployed, and in ten years unemployable -- those who know how dire these evils are and how they can be remedied, and those who are working for their remedy, cannot for much longer refuse the invitation to become active members of the Society of Him who, among other good things, would by means of it establish a righteous Social condition upon earth.

If in addition to these general considerations further evidence is wanted in order to prove that the Church is intended to be the great instrument of Social Reform, let Socialists turn to Our Lady's song, the Magnificat -- "the hymn of the universal social revolution" -- "the Marseillaise of Humanity," which tells of the deposition of the mighty, the scattering of the proud, the emptying of the pockets of the rich: or to Christ's great parable of Judgment, in which the test for salvation is seeing that the people were properly clothed, fed, and housed; or to the saying of our Lord that by means of his righteous Society men and women were to be clothed beautifully and fed surely; and to the fact that in His great prayer He said not, "May we go to Heaven when we die," but "May Thy Kingdom come on Earth": or to the five names by which the one great Christian Service has been known -- the Sacrifice of our Redemption, reminding us that there is no unseen power of which we need be afraid; the Lord's Supper, telling us that as the Passover Supper reminded the Jews of the great successful strike of Moses against the tyrant of Egypt, so Christ was the human Emancipator; the Holy Communion, telling of brotherhood; the Holy Eucharist, urging us to make life such that all can enter into the highest joys of living; the Mass, uniting us with the rest of Christendom, destroying our English isolation, making for Internationalism.

These are a few details to stimulate men in their search for more. And let no one reply that the Church of England at present has not sufficient hold on this ideal, has not sufficiently acted upon these principles, for that is the whole point in contention -- that the great mass of the workers have allowed to a great degree the Church to be captured by those who misunderstand it or misuse it. It is for the people now to enter into their heritage, and to make the Church what it is intended to be -- the organ of the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth.

For too long have the great mass of the people in England -- the huge wage-earning community -- on whom after all the others depend for their very existence -- for too long have they allowed themselves to be robbed of their rights in the Church by the idle rich and the monopolising few. It is time for them to claim their rights -- to wake up -- remembering that it is Jesus Christ Himself who says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour."

And then what about the few -- what about those who do not labour -- the one-sixth of the nation who claim about one-third of the nation's income as payment for doing nothing, but allow the others to use the land or other great means of production? what about the few who labour and abstain the least and who yet receive the most? These, the sixth of the nation, the monopolists, are just the very people whom the people have allowed to monopolise the Church also; and when the many, the workers who labour and abstain the most and receive the least, when at last in answer to Christ's appeal they come crowding into His Church and claim their rights there, what will be the condition of the few? Well, Christ had some very stern words for the monopolists of His day, and from time to time, if true to Christ, the Christian Church need to use sternness. But probably with a large proportion of the few, of the monopolising sixth, it would be well to remember what has been called the sweet reasonableness of Jesus; that when the people come to be united with them in a common Churchmanship, they will be able to convince many of them that the necessary reforms, though they will make them poorer, will make nthem also happier, and will educate them so as to make them finer men and women.

For the few are now full of good will for the many: the rich, upper, and middle classes are constantly thinking of how they can help the working classes. They devise all sorts of societies for that purpose, from the National Society for educating the children of the poor in the principles of the Established Church, to the least far for preventing the daughters of the working classes from becoming barmaids, including the activities of a highly placed lady who as set people to work all over the country to discover whether, when men do go to Church, the worship is entirely as she would have it. These upper and middle class people are all eager for the people's well-being, and often they are really friendly and sociable; and they are also very anxious about their morals; their charitable activities are marvelous: in fact these monopolists will do almost anything for the people except one thing, and that is, they won;t get off their back -- and they never will get off their back until the people themselves shake them off; but when that is done, and when the few begin to take their fair share in the work of the world, then they will be found, many of them, excellent comrades, some of them valuable leaders.

So when there comes that great inrush of the workers, of the five-sixths of the population into the Church, when they become conscious of their Churchmanship and begin to claim their rights and discharge their duties, nothing need be done which would be of any real harm to the little section of upper and middle class people who at present run the Church in their own interests: only, instead of endless discussions as to how to get the working classes to church, how to deal with the lapsed masses, followed by all sorts of dodges and attractions, it will then be recognised that the People are the Church: and in most cases by influence, in a few cases by stern discipline, the recognition of Brotherhood will be brought about. Then there will be a Revolution. What! it is answered, a bloodless revolution -- that is impossible! "without shedding of blood there is no remission." True indeed, most precious truth: but the blood of the Head and Representative of the whole human race was shed on Calvary, that was an all-sufficient blood-shedding, and by the power of that perfect sacrifice, if men choose, their Social redemption may be accomplished.

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