Charles Gore and the Lux Mundi School

Birmingham Cathedral


Charles Gore (1853-1932) was successively bishop of Worcester, Birmingham and Oxford, and a leading figure in the Christian Social Union, founded by Scott Holland in 1889. Although he ackowledged his debt to Maurice, Gore always said that his passion for social justice dated from a tour of the slums of Oxfordshire he was given by the trade union leader Joseph Arch. His socialism was cautious -- he indicated that he would probably prefer to stop somewhere this side of full-fledged socialism, but always added that we have a very long way to go before we get there.

In 1892 Gore founded the Community of the Resurrection, a religious community of men with a stong Christian social commitment. Some of its priests, like Fr. Paul Bull, played a major role in the Church Socialist League in the early 1900's and in support of the Independent Labour Party then forming in the north of England. The Community's influence continues. As Alin Wilkinson points out in The Christian Socialist Magazine, "In 1939 Trevor Huddleston went to join [the Community of the Resurrection], inspired by Gore and its Christian Socialist foundation. It was Gore who in 1900 urged CR to work in South Africa and from then until 1977 CR trained most of its black Anglican priests including Desmond Tutu. So there is a direct line running from Gore to Tutu through Huddleston his mentor."


Lux Mundi

From Ruth Kenyon's "The Social Aspect of the Catholic Revival", in Northern Catholicism; Centenary studies in the Oxford and parallel movements, ed. by N. P. Williams and Charles Harris. London, SPCK, 1933.

We have here . . . to consider another aspect of the work of the third generation of the Revival, that associated with what might well be called the second Oxford Movement, the famous Lux Mundi group. It was this group which succeeded in doing that which the Tractarians has failed to do, viz. the relating of the Church's claim for the primacy of the spiritual to the new circumstances of a democratic age. Charles GoreLux Mundi was in fact the foundation of a new apologetic in which Catholic thought no longer stood on the defensive against the thought of the age, but incorporated it and made it a vehicle for its own doctrine. The guiding principle was found in the Johannine doctrine of he Incarnate Logos, the Word entering to redeem the world of which He was already the Creator -- a world which included the historically-developing social order . . . Newman and Manning [had] sought to revive and give practical effect to some such idea of the world and of man. But on the whole the theology of the Movement had remained within the old Evangelical circle of thought -- the soul, sin, and redemption. To this it had added the thought of the Church as the sphere, the sacraments as the means, of Redemption, but still only the redemption of the soul, not the redemption in the full sense of man, nor the redemption of the world. Lux Mundi looked back behind redemption to creation. Evolution was accepted as the work of the Logos through whom all things were made. It followed, among other things, that man's historical development, including that of the present age, is part of the creative movement of the Word, and therefore manifests His Light. Democracy, which characterises the present era, can thus be seen as interpreting the worth of personality and the brotherhood of men. Socialism, again viewed as an existing tendency, illuminates the idea of authority in so far as this involves a rightful claim of the whole upon the part. But only the Incarnation, the fact, that is, of the Word personally become flesh to fulfill and redeem the world order which He had originally created, but which had fallen away from Him, is adequate, together with its extension in the Church and the sacraments, to interpret and validate the life of the individual and of society . . .

Gore's claim was primarily upon the Church and upon the Christian qua Christian. His earnest endeavor was to recall the Church to the idea of Christianity as being "first of all 'The Way' -- a social life to be lived." If the Church would only live this life, revive the distinctness of her saviour, let her light shine, she would be representing Christ in the world by the method of Christ Himself. She should be the visible symbol and sacrament of the life of man as the Creator meant it to be lived. So far as Gore contemplated a relationship of the Church to the world other than that of enlightening it by shining, it was in the prophetic office of the Church as interpreting to the world that which at bottom the world knows to be good, because in posse the world is Christian.


The Everlasting Gospel and the Spirit of the Age

From Charles Gore's Christ and Society; the Halley Stewart Lectures 1927. London, George Allen & Unwin, 1928.

Window - Birmingham Cathedral I speak as one who believes that the Catholic Creed about Jesus Christ is justified by the evidence and is true. And this belief in the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth involves the centrality and finality of his teaching . . . Nothing can exceed the importance of emphasizing this "given" element of doctrine, moral standard and organization, if Christianity is to stand stoutly against disintegrating influences.

But the whole truth is not to be found here. The same divine "wisdom" or "word" which was incarnate in Jesus Christ has always and everywhere been at work in the world. The divine Spirit which spoke in Palestine and in the first century had everywhere been finding some utterance or echo. The same sort of inspiration which we find in Amos or Hosea we cannot but feel also in that older Iranian seer, Zarathustra; only it led in Persian history to no continuous and advancing influence, but was submerged in superstition. Again, the same divine wisdom which we hear in the Bible, we hear also -- only in different tones and with a less certain direction -- in the poets and philosophers and moralists of Greece, of Rome, or of the Farther East. Something certainly of religious truth the Jews had learned before our Lord's time from Persian and Egypt and Greece. It had become incorporated in their tradition and so passed into Christianity.

Then, once more, when Christianity went out into the world, being by origin a religion grown on the Jewish root through and through, yet it proceeded to assimilate a good deal from Hellenism, both in philosophy and ethics. Christian teachers assimilated the current idea of the Logos, as the divine reason immanent in the world, and spoke of philosophy among the Greeks as having been, like the Law to the Jews, their tutor to bring them to Christ. They recognized in the Roman Empire a divine preparation for the spread of the universal Gospel. The conception of the four cardinal virtues, which becomes central in Christian Ethics, came, partly by the channel of the Book of Wisdom, from Greek and Roman thinkers, and with it the root conception of the Natural Law -- revealed everywhere more or less clearly in human consciences and human society. The extent of this process of "borrowing" by the Christian Church can easily be exaggerated -- it has been exaggerated. But it is there. Its justification depends upon the recognition that it is not only in Israel and in Jesus that the divine wisdom or word has spoken. There is a light which lighteneth every man -- a natural conscience, social and individual, to which the Christian message is bound to "commend itself," and which it is bound to prove itself able to assimilate.

I am anxious to insist upon this at starting. I am to seek to show what is the social and ethical content of the Christian message. That is a study in past history. We need to make this study as dispassionate as possible and as purely historical. But that is not enough. If we are to apply the religion of Christ, we need also and equally to have our ears open to the moral ideals of each age and country -- especially of the present age. For instance, the ideas associated with democracy -- the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity -- we must believe to be, at their best, of divine origin -- real expressions of the divine purpose and the divine wisdom for to-day.

We must lend our ears, then, not only to the wisdom of the gospels but to the wisdom of the ages and of the present age. We must learn to preach "the everlasting Gospel" so that the men of our time may catch in it the reflection of their own best thoughts and aspirations. We must interpret the old creed into modern speech. I am quite aware that some who claim to be doing this are not really interpreting the old message, but ignoring it in part and in part plainly misinterpreting it. We must avoid such rash dealing with what rightly claims to be a divine message and word of God. Nevertheless, if we believe that there is such a permanent Gospel which speaks through all changing ages to the unchanging heart of man, yet it must be able to recognize also a fresh "movement of God" in each age. As of old it spoke in terms intelligible to the spirit and philosophy of the Greco-Roman Empire, and again of the Middle Ages, and again of the Renaissance -- correcting the current spirit and philosophy but also assimilating it -- so also it must be able to assimilate the movement of God in the heart of our own age as well as to correct what it interprets.


Four Propositions

From Charles Gore's Christ and Society; the Halley Stewart Lectures 1927. London, George Allen & Unwin, 1928.

In these lectures I am seeking, not for the first time, to advance the influence of certain ideas, already perhaps familiar to those I am speaking to. They are these --

(1) That the present condition of our society, our industry and our international relations, though it presents encouraging features, yet, on the whole, must inspire in our minds a deep sense of dissatisfaction and alarm, and a demand for so thorough a reformation as to amount to a revolution, though one which the teaching of experience, no less than the teaching of Christ, leads us to believe can only be brought about by gradual and peaceful means.

(2) That the evils which we deplore in our present society are not the inevitable results of any unalterable law of nature, or any kind of inexorable necessity, but are the fruits of human blindness, willfulness, avarice, and selfishness on the widest scale and in the long course of history; and that therefore their alteration demands something more than legislative and external changes, necessary as these may be: it demands a fundamental change of the spirit in which we think about and live our common life, and conduct our industry, and maintain our international relations. The cry must be "Repent ye -- change your minds," if "the kingdom of heaven" is to come as a welcome gift of God and not as a scathing and destructive judgment.

(3) That we should not look for such change of spirit to arise from any simultaneous conversion of men in masses. If we accept the teaching of past experience, we should expect the general alteration to arise from the influence in society of groups of men, inspired probably by prophetic leaders, who have attained to a true vision both of the source of our evils and of the nature of the true remedies; and who have the courage of faith, which can bind them together to act and to suffer in the cause of human emancipation, till their vision and their faith come to prevail more or less completely in the general mind and will . . .

(4) That Jesus Christ is really the Saviour and Redeemer of Mankind, in its social as well as its individual life and in the present world as well as in that which is to come: and that there lies upon those who believe in Him a responsibility which cannot be exaggerated to be true to the principles which He taught, and by all available means to bring them to bear upon the whole life of any society of which they form a part, especially when it professes the Christian name.

The Kingdom of God

From Charles Gore's Christ and Society; the Halley Stewart Lectures 1927. London, George Allen & Unwin, 1928.

We go back, then, to study the moral teaching of Jesus Christ, especially in its bearing on human society. He proclaimed His mission as the "good tidings of the kingdom of God" now "at hand," or, even more, already present. JeremiahThis meant that His message was rooted in the ancient bed of prophetic teaching, and to interpret it aright we must go farther back to the prophets of Israel to whom we owe a moral debt which is hardly possible to exaggerate. We owe to them our sense of the indissoluble union of religion with morality and with social morality, because they proclaimed constantly and continuously that Jehovah -- the God of Israel and, as was finally recognized, the only God, the Creator of all that exists -- is a being of moral character, of justice and mercy and truth, and that His purpose in His whole creation is good. These prophets of Israel found themselves surrounded with non-moral religions -- religions with a cultus divorced from character -- both outside their own people and within it. In strong reaction from the surrounding ideas they denounced in words which live forever this non-moral or immoral cultus as worthless and profane. "Bring no more vain oblations: incense is an abomination unto me: your new moons, your sabbath days and calling of assemblies are an offense unto me; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting." It would seem as if they were rejecting the ceremonial cultus altogether. But when after a long and seemingly unsuccessful struggle within their own people they won the victory for their root idea, it was not in this sense that their meaning was interpreted. A cultus is necessary for any common religion. So, however ambiguous its origin, it was ethically transformed, not abandoned or abolished . . .

Well, then, from this point of view, upon what sort of world did the prophets have their outlook? It was upon a world trampled by brutal and bloody conquerors, a cruel and merciless world. And in the two separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah they saw an even more revolting spectacle -- more revolting because it was a spectacle of sin against the light. They saw selfish luxury in high places and contempt of the poor, and triumphant greed and lust and cruelty, and fraudulent commerce, "grinding the faces of the poor." They could at the time accomplish no permanent or effective reform within, nor offer effective resistance from without. But they knew, as surely as God is God, wickedness must be overthrown, God must come into His own, the kingdom of God must come. Their hopes deceived them as to the how and the when, time after time. Their particular anticipations were not realized. Still there remained the confident assurance of a good time coming. This is the gospel of the kingdom of God. In the later apocalypses -- influenced by a spirit of despair of this world, and also by a breath of dualism from the farther East -- this "good time." this kingdom of God to come, tends to find its realization in some other world, some distant heaven, quite outside the world of present experience. But in the canonical books of the Old Testament it is always in this world, purged through whatever fiery judgment -- always in this world, with Jerusalem as its centre, that the kingdom is to be found . . .

We must note that the scriptural idea of "the kingdom of God" or "of heaven" is never merely that of "the reign" or "sovereignty of God," as some moderns have led us to suppose: it is always that of the reign of God as embodied in Israel. It is not an abstract idea but an embodied ideal . . .

The establishment of the kingdom of God must involve the final overthrow of all godless tyrannies, the unquestionable victory over all arrogant and cruel institutions and societies. Thus the Day of God is to be a day of judgment.

* * * * * * *

Jesus began His mission by taking up John's message, "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye and believe in the gospel" . . . As we study the teaching of Jesus it appears that not only was the kingdom at hand, but that in some sense it had actually come in His person. There was, at first, no proclamation of Himself as the Christ: but only the proclamation of the kingdom, and the ingathering of those who received his teaching and believed in Him to constitute the New Israel. "Fear not, little flock," He said to them, "it is your Father's pleasure to give you the kingdom" . . .

He would have His disciples apprehend quite clearly what sort of men they must be who would be citizens of that kingdom: for He was organizing a group of persons who were to represent the kingdom in the world: they were to "the salt of the earth" with a distinctive flavour: "the light of the world" clearly distinguishable in the surrounding darkness: "a city set on a hill" in view of all mankind.The Calling of Matthew Men everywhere were to see in them the true expression of humanity as God would have it, and by that spectacle to be won for the kingdom themselves. There are theological implications in our Lord's teaching with which we are not at present concerned. But its dominant theological principle is that of the Fatherhood of God, by which our Lord would have us understand not only a general providence, but a personal care and love for every individual, showing itself eager and active for the redemption of each, and recognizing no one as outcast or hopeless who will but consent to listen and respond to the divine love. . . There are no privileged persons who have a right to think of themselves as more important in God's sight than their fellows, or to exploit others for their own profit or pleasure. The indignation of Jesus against such an insolent temper is the reflection of the indignation of God. Dignity lies only in service, not in the power to compel the service of others for our own profit. Everything that exalts a man in his own eyes above his fellows, as an exceptional or superior person, is viewed with resentment in Jesus' teaching. This He treats wealth or the accumulation of property, and avarice, the acquisitive passion, as an evil, an almost insuperable obstacle to entrance into the kingdom. So also he treats the "learning" which He saw around Him, entitling a select class of men to despise others -- though, be it observed, no teacher ever appreciated more than our Lord the average man's capacity for thought and knowledge, or took more pains to cultivate it: He would have "the key of knowledge" put in every man's hand. But everything that ministers to privilege and pride He hates. He pictures the rich man's banqueting hall as the vestibule of the place of torment. He pours out His wrath on arrogant ecclesiastics. Indifference to the needs of the miserable brings upon itself the divine sentence of judgment -- "Depart, ye cursed." Always He is plainly on the side of the humble and the poor. His gracious offer, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest," is made only to the workers -- those who toil and feel the burden of life. . . And His respect for women is always noticeable. He neglects every convention which would stamp women as of less value than men. With him each man and women counts for one and no one for more than one, and the worth of each one is infinite . . .

So the new community, the true Israel, was to go out into the world -- poor and defenceless but triumphant and joyful -- in happy fellowship, divine and human. It was thus quite right of Seeley to declare that the keynote of the teaching of Jesus was "the enthusiasm of humanity" -- of humanity, that is, as it ought to be and may be.


"I dare any one of you to say that [Christ's teaching] was not a revolutionary doctrine. It is only because we are so used to the sound of words that they can be uttered in any one of our congregations . . ." -- Charles Gore, 1912.

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