William Montgomery Brown
"Episcopus in Partibus Bolshevikium et Infidelium"
In 1920 William Montgomery Brown, retired Bishop of Arkansas, scared the gaiters off his fellow members of the House of Bishops by publishing a little book called Communism and Christianism. The cover was adorned with a hammer and sickle and bore the motto, "Banish Gods from Skies and Capitalists from Earth!" In it he announced his conversion to "Darwinism and Marxism", launched into a militant (and somewhat simplistic) exposition of Revolutionary Communism, attacked what he thought was orthodox Christianity, and set forth his new "symbolic" interpretations. "Jesus," he writes in his autobiography My Heresy, "now became a symbol to me of all the liberators of humanity who had been persecuted and crucified since the dawn of human times, by those who cared more for the preservation of institutions than for the liberation of humanity. He was the symbol, particularly, of the working class, the despised and disinherited of earth, through whose agony and blood all humanity had been sustained and through whose sacrifice it would yet be redeemed."
His heart was in the right place, and symbolic interpretations no less far-reaching abound among the Fathers. But there is no doubt that Bishop Brown often went well beyond the bonds and proportions of the Catholic Faith. This is not at all surprising. In the staunchly conservative, respectable, evangelical Episcopal Church of the time, he had undoubtedly never heard of it. Like more than one bishop before and since, he sometimes confused the breakdown of a rigid, literalist, upper-class version of Christianity with the breakdown of Christianity itself -- but so did his enemies.
The result was a heresy trial by the House of Bishops -- whose own heresies in favor of the rich and powerful went unremarked -- and his "deposition from the sacred ministry." Bishop Brown comments that some newspapers had it "the scared ministry" and the proof-rooms, for some reason, let it stand. It is interesting that the decision did not turn on the "Confession of Faith" which Bishop Brown presented at the trial, but on his answer to the question, "Do you retract the views expressed in Communism and Christianism?" His principled refusal to do so sealed his deposition. The House of Bishops could live with his "symbolism"; it could not live with his politics.
But Bishop Brown had something up his sleeve. In the meantime, he had quietly been consecrated an Old Catholic Bishop. His "Confession of Faith" had circulated widely, and received a warm welcome in the Soviet Union, especially among adherents of the Living Church movement in the Russian Orthodox Church, one of whose prelates offered to receive him into the Russian Church and raise him to the orders of priest and bishop. This he found tempting, but when the Most Rev. William H. Francis, Archbishop and ranking prelate in the U.S. of the Old Catholic Church, befriended him and proposed that he be received into the Old Catholic Church, he accepted and received episcopal orders that the Episcopal Church could not avoid recognizing and from which it could not depose him. Now that we have a "Bishop to the Armed Forces", it is comforting to know that, whatever his failings, we once had a "Bishop to the Bolsheviks and Infidels"!
The following are excerpts one of his later pamphlets, extracts from the Confession of Faith he submitted to his heresy trial, and an encyclical letter he wrote as an Old Catholic Bishop. -- Ted M.
from Bishop Brown's Lectures No. XII, Why I am a Communist, October, 1932.
Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason for the hope that is in you.
We look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. -- Peter
It is said that St. Peter was the first Christian bishop. That does not mean much nowadays excepting to bishops and to those who hope to become bishops. But I am a bishop. I was a bishop before I became a communist; and, if I am going to tell how I became a communist, I must be permitted to do it in a perfectly episcopal manner. I like St. Peter. I always did like him, although in my orthodox days I never quite knew why. But now I know. He was not orthodox. The old heavens and the old earth did not satisfy him, and he hoped for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. He was red. That hope made him so. It covers much, if now all, of the communist ideology.
St. Peter was no mere reformer. He was a revolutionist, a bolshevik. There is no indication that he thought the old world would do if it were only patched up a bit. The old order had to be abolished, completely uprooted, before the reign of righteousness could begin.
But he did not believe that human reason should be abolished. In that respect, many of his successors in the episcopate seem to part company with him. They do not want to be bothered to give reasons for the hope, if any, which is in them. They prefer to cling to the faith of their fathers and let it go at that. They prefer to go on believing whatever they were brought up to believe. People with such preferences simply can not give a reason for either their hopes or fears.
When you pin such people down with questions, you often discover that they not only have no particular reason for their hope. They may hope to go the heaven, but it will be the same old heaven, a heaven that was always just so, with the furniture in just such an arrangement, and in which no tired theologian would ever have to change his mind again. As for the earth, while they may concede that it might stand certain little improvements, they want it understood that they are unalterably opposed to anything like revolution. They do not want the world to be completely made over into a new human society. . .
Well, I like St. Peter because he was not that kind of a bishop. I might disagree with him on many points. He knew nothing of Darwin. He never read Marx. He never saw the rise of modern industry, in which the masses starve not because there is any famine but because they have produced more of everything than they need, and St. Peter would doubtless have to study the situation for some time before he could make head or tail out of it. But I am sure he would not like it. I am sure he would call for a complete new deal, and for a new world wherein dwelleth righteousness.
So I may say I am a communist because I am a Christian bishop and because I have tried to follow the advice of my great predecessor, St. Peter. Like him, I am able and willing to give an answer to any man who asks for a reason for the hope with which Darwin and Marx have inspired me.
I had spent a generation preaching the gospel of Jesus as I had understood it. I did not understand, as St. Peter did, that it was a revolutionary gospel, quite as much so as the gospel of either Darwin or Marx. I did not understand that the world I lived in would have to be completely torn down and rebuilt on a new foundation before righteousness could be established. I though that righteousness was a garment which anybody could wear if he wanted to, and such a nice, pretty garment that it was altogether too bad that so many misguided wretches seemed to prefer to clothe themselves in the ugly robes of sin. So I urged people to be kind and sweet and good, and to put up with the misfortunes of life (sickness, poverty, unemployment) understanding that the Lord knew best and was sending these afflictions in his infinite wisdom for their own spiritual good.
If a workingman's wife were to die because there was not money enough in the house to hire adequate medical and nursing care, I believed that the Lord had given and that the Lord was taking away. I told the workingman so, and I thought I was preaching the gospel of Jesus. But if the workingman became so irritated and discontented with the deal he was getting that he did something which I did not consider proper, I thought the thing to do was to call the police.
To be perfectly fair, I did not get that attitude from Jesus, nor from St. Peter, not from any judicious reading of the Bible. I got it from orthodoxy. According to orthodoxy the right and wrong of everything was perfectly clear, and although I did not understand it at the time, the rules were all fixed up against the workingman and in favor of the class which owned property, especially the factories in which the workers had to work.
Of course, we did not know this, It never occurred to us that we were prejudiced. If any one accused the episcopate of siding with the propertied classes against the propertiless class, we considered the charge not only unfair but ridiculous. We bishops supposed ourselves to be thoroughly impartial. We believed in calling the police in behalf of a humble workingman whose dollar watch had been stolen, quite as much as we believed in calling them to protect a million dollar factory against possible depredations on the part of locked-out employees. To us the watch was property quite as much as the factory was property.
But a job in the factory was not property, and it never occurred to any among the bishops to call the police because somebody had been robbed of an opportunity to work. One got a job, as we saw it, when somebody who owned property wanted to hire him. If nobody wanted to hire him, it was the Lord's will, and we had no conception of a state or a church which had any responsibility in the matter.
This suited the propertied classes exactly; and, even if they did not always come to church, they furnished the money by which the work of the Lord was carried on. But it did not suit the working classes, and they became more and more antagonistic to the church. Individually, they might believe in property rights quite as much as we did. But it was only now and then, if ever, that their watches were stolen, while they were always in fear of losing their jobs, or of being paid so little when they were working that they could not make a decent living.
In other words, we bishops who claimed to be the successors of St. Peter were not such at all because we did not hope with him for a new earth wherein righteousness might dwell. We were sure we favored righteousness, but we saw no reason why it might not dwell in this world of capitalism in which one class thrived upon the poverty and misery of another class. We were entirely above such material considerations.
This was especially true of the bishops. Sometimes a clergyman of lower rank saw red and began to call for an entirely new earth, but we seldom made a bishop out of preachers like that. The workers might listen to him but the capitalists might not care to pay his salary. Not that we intended to give consideration to such materialistic factors, but our attitude was so helpful to the class which profited from the status quo that the status quo usually reciprocated by keeping us in funds.
Oh yes, according to our understanding, we were strictly impartial. If we did not urge the workers to rebel against their poverty, neither did we urge the capitalists to rebel against their wealth. In each case, we said that the Lord had handed it to them and they must bear it with Christian fortitude. And we were so successful generally that I, for one, imagined that Christianity was making steady progress. All that was need, I thought, was just a little more kindness, a little more charity and a little more church-going and the kingdom of heaven, whatever that was, would be established.
Then I woke up one day and found all Christendom in the throes of war, All the great Christian nations in the world were armed to the teeth and were fighting each other in a perfect orgy of hate. Blood was flowing all over the map. Nobody seemed to know what it was all about, but each was calling on God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit to come to the aid of whatever party the worshipper happened to be fighting with . . .
The World War had very much to do with my turning from capitalism toward communism.
First, I wondered as millions of other Christians wondered, since no one wanted to have such a war, why we could not all get together and agree to live in peace. I had always thought of Jesus as the Prince of Peace but with such a war raging throughout Christendom, I could not seem to understand what Jesus was driving at any more than the other bishops could. To be sure, we acted rather differently. They seemed to see a Jesus leading our dough-boys over the top, and egging them on to butcher more German Christians, while I was unable to get such a picture in my mind at all. I could not even see him selling Liberty Bonds; and, indeed, the more I tried to locate him in all this excitement, the more he seemed to fade out of the picture entirely. Finally I could see nothing but madness and slaughter, seemingly without reason and without any rational objective.
As I have explained in the autobiography, My Heresy, it was Karl Marx who finally brought me to Jesus. Marx, who was not a Christian, as not even an orthodox Jew. It was Marx who showed me how governments which are organized to protect property, instead of being organized to provide for human needs, must not only wage a constant war upon the propertiless classes within their own boundaries but, as world commerce develops, must become involved in the world-wide conflicts of great competitive property interests. . .
We have a world of war because most of its nations are founded on the capitalist system of economics and the principle, the heart, of capitalism is competition. Now economic competition on a national scale always leads toward war at home and abroad.
Not mere reform of such a world will answer our purposes. We must have a new world. We must have a world in which people do not even hope to get ahead of each other, a world in which they will not want to get ahead of each other. . .
The change I speak of does not involve any change in human nature. It merely involves the organization of human affairs upon a human principle, the family principle, the cooperative principle, the communist principle.
In our ignorance, we have tried to organize human affairs on a competitive basis, only to discover by bitter experience that no house divided against itself could stand. Always, because we were human, we have had to introduce cooperation, or we could not get along at all.
The family is just one instance. The institution of the family could thrive only as it adopted the principles of communism. The need of every member had to be considered, the various members as a rule learned family loyalty, family devotion, and family love. If these expressions are not as strong as they once were, it is not because human nature has changed but because there are so many human affairs nowadays that the family cannot attend to, and they have to be carried on by other organizations. In those other organizations, however, we have neglected the principle that made the organization of the family so successful. We have neglected the principle of all for each and each for all, and war and misery and unrighteousness have been the inevitable result. . .
In the New Testament story, Jesus looked upon a world of misery and hate, although the people in it would obviously have been more successful, and would have enjoyed life more abundantly, if they had loved one another and cooperated joyously in making one another happy. But they were not doing it. Why? It was not because human life and all its institutions were vile. One of its institutions, at least, had worked so well that human beings could thank it for about all the love, cooperation and loyalty that had ever happened. That was the family.
"If I were organizing a world," he said (at least he is represented as in substance saying so) "I would organize it according to the principles upon which family organization is based. I would have all men brothers. My kingdom would not be like this at all . . ."
What is imperatively demanded now . . . is (1) not a better capitalism, but the complete uprooting and liquidation of capitalism; (2) not a more perfect cooperation between the classes, but the complete elimination of classes, and (3) not a highly improved world which, with all possible improvements, must still take us in the wrong direction, but a new world in which righteousness may dwell.
The Rt. Rev. William Montgomery Brown
Brethren of the Review Court: I thank you for allowing me to speak on my own behalf. I shall but very briefly refer to just one episode of my appearance before the Trial Court in the hope of securing for it the favorable influence it should have upon the issue of your deliberations.
I was asked if I believed the Creeds, and I said I did. Then I repeated the Apostles' Creed, subscribing to it with uplifted hand as each inspiring symbol renewed my faith in the divinest of all trinities: Life, Light and Love. . .
"I believe in God." Yes, my prosecutors and judges, I do believe in God. Not, certainly, in a God with arms and legs, and brains, and with that human attribute which we call Personality; but in the All-in-All, in which we live and move and have our being, and to whose Law we must all conform if we are to attain the most abundant life on earth, and the attainment of this life constitutes the chief end of man -- all there is of true knowledge, right conduct, religion and politics and of anything else which is for the good of the world. If this law is Jehovah's will, we serve the same God.
"I believe in God, the Father Almighty." Not, to be sure in a biological sense, is my God a Father. Not a being with masculinity, as every father must literally be. I use the world symbolically. Father is for me a precious symbol of the infinite Reality which has brought us and all things into being as parts of one inclusive whole . . .
I believe in Jesus, not less than do the literalists, whether Modernists or Fundamentalists, but more. Jesus, to me, is more than a historical character and more than a second term in an ancient theological equation. Whatever this Court does, it can not strip me of my uplifting belief in Jesus. I see in Jesus the Man of Sorrows -- every Man of Sorrows from the first dawn of human intelligence and oppression; and who, in every instance, was vilified and punished and put to death.
It is Epiphany, the manifestation. I see in Jesus the Eternal Servant manifest. I see in Him every toiling, sweating, bleeding Son of Man. I see in Him the uncounted, unnamed and unknown workers of the world, in every age and every country, in none more than our own, despised, disinherited and crucified. I see in Jesus my God and my Lord made manifest in suffering flesh.
This faith of mine is no cross-word puzzle. It is beyond words; for words at their best are but symbols of the Truth. You can not imprison God within a literal creed, not mine, nor yours. You can not limit the Truth to one incident in Roman history; and to attempt to do is to blind yourself even to the significance of that incident.
Remember, then, when I take the name of Jesus, that I am taking on my lips the Holy Name of the Son of God and Son of Man; and in so far as I leave one son of man out of the reckoning, I want you to count it against me for blasphemy worthy of punishment.
I want you to know that I am including in that most Holy of all names, Jesus, the Name at which every knee shall bow, all the victims of injustice, all the toilers whose unpaid labor has given leisure and luxury to a few, and all those millions who have been sent to war to bleed and die for the few.
Let us not excuse ourselves. We as a Church did help to send them to their myriad crucifixions. We blessed the war. We told them that God was on our side and that they were doing a holy thing in fighting His battles for the good of the world, whereas they fought for the enrichment and aggrandizement of the small owning class and the impoverishment and degradation of the large working class. Their blood is upon us, and it cries to heaven against the churches of the belligerent countries on both sides. We sent them into shambles of torture and into hells of hate. They were serving their country, we told them; and in our literal mindedness we directed them to a little, tribal, fictitious divinity, instead of to the great, universal, real God. I want that fact to burn into your consciousness if the thought of punishing me for rejecting Mosaism and Paulinism (except as symbols) for Darwinism and Marxism so much as crosses your minds . . .
Believe me, these things are in my consciousness as I take the Name of Jesus; and I want you to see it as I do, when I repeat: "He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into Hell."
But, happily, O how happily, this, my prosecutors and my judges, is not the end. The dawn is already breaking. The Sun of Righteousness will yet arise, and Love and Life will triumph over Hate and Death. Or, to put it into the sublimest of all symbolism:
"On the third day, He rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
"I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins, the Resurrection of the Body, and the Life everlasting" . . .
Synod of the Old Catholic Church, January 12, 1926
The Gospel of Jesus is universal in its application; and the Christian Church, if it is to be a Christian Church, must be catholic in character.
It must not ally itself with any favored group. It must not become a bulwark of established privileges.
It must not become a respecter of persons; and so long as the human family is disrupted by the existence of classes, it should be the first concern of the Christian Church, following in the footsteps of Him who was despised and rejected of men, to minister to the disowned and the disinherited.
To ignore the existence of classes in the world today is not true catholicism. To hint that it makes no difference whether one is rich or poor, and to promise mansions in the sky for such faithful servitude as will provide mansions for the favored few on earth, is to commit the church to cowardice if not to downright fraud. It is to cry Peace when there is no peace, and to offer stones of theology to those who cry for physical and spiritual bread.
The brotherhood of man is not to be so realized. To tell those who are counted out of human society that they must not notice it, or that Jesus loves them and that everything will be rectified beyond the grave, is to make a mockery of His life and teachings and to confess ourselves impotent for any practical purpose.
To bring the human family together again should be our aim, and to see that none of the least of these, our brethren, is counted out. Therefore, we conceive it to be the special mission of a Catholic Church to count them in; not the wealthy, but the needy; not the righteous, but sinners; not those who are honored and applauded and upheld as model citizens, but those who are hated and hunted and imprisoned for the sins of the world.
The true Catholic Church can not be a Church of the classes. It must be a Church of the masses, of the uncultured "rabble". It must include every one through concentrating upon the inclusion, not of the exclusive, but of the excluded; and it must still be, as it was in the beginning, the Church of the underworld.
For there are classes in the world today, much as there were in the ancient Roman Empire, in an obscure province of which, and amongst its lowliest and most despised people, our version of the Christ story had its setting.
There is an Imperialism as ruthless as the Imperialism of Rome. There are aristocracies of wealth, aristocracies of race, and aristocracies of privilege who view the masses of the earth's inhabitants, especially those of African and Asian origin, not as brothers but as aliens and as foreigners whom it is their aristocratic privilege to exploit. In such a situation it should not be difficult to find the way of brotherhood and to evidence our kinship with the Negro and the Asiatic.
Even in favored America, there is an upper- and an underworld. Although the nation abounds in luxury such as no nation in human history ever knew before, great masses of the working people are still doomed, through unemployment and exploitation, to lives of poverty and insecurity and degradation. Crime and violence are therefore rampant. Prisons are overflowing and courts are working overtime, while murder stories in the newspapers furnish the populace with a daily spectacle of blood.
In this situation, Churches have given themselves to theological bickerings, and disputes concerning the interpretations of ancient documents the originals of which have been lost for centuries; or, in spite of the fact that America has more laws and more lawlessness than any other great civilization on earth, they have devoted themselves to propaganda for still more laws, ranging from the proposed prohibition of the sale of peanuts on Sunday to the regulation of fashions in women's clothing.
Some of these Churches have burlesqued the religion of Jesus by supporting war, or by exalting the ideal of Native White Supremacy in the name of an Imperial Wizard and a masked and hooded Christ.
Generally, it is true, they have conceived it to be their duty to preach what they belive to be morality, and to separate themselves from all groups whose respectability is not duly attested; and they have generally offered to save sinners by inducing the sinners to become like themselves. Bu they have not fraternized with the underworld as Jesus did, and they have seemingly made little effort to understand its sufferings or its point of view. They have acquiesced in the dominance of property over human life, and have joined generally in the chorus of denunciation of all revolutionary mutterings.
When the proletariat of America, goaded beyond endurance, have dared to suggest a different social order in which the present inequalities shall not obtain, their leaders have been imprisoned, their literature confiscated and their meetings broken up by the police. Toward these outbreaks of tyranny the Churches have for the most part remained silent, where they have not openly acquiesced.
This is not the spirit of brotherhood. It is not the spirit of Jesus, and it is not the spirit through which the human family can be made to realize its one-ness.
We now, therefore, Bishops of the old Catholic Church in America, extend our greetings to the proletariat of the world. Humbly and with hearts that yearn to express our human kinship, we bow to the so-called aliens, especially to the propertyless, the outcast and the dispossessed.
We greet the criminals of America; the convicts toward whom we, as a society, have dealt in anger, instead of in a spirit of fraternal love; the ex-convicts, hounded by the police and generally denied employment, instead of being reinstated and assisted, as they should have been, with every resource at our command; also the so-called murderers, thieves, gun-men, crooks, harlots and other men and women of the underworld, who may still be at large and following the arts of hate and fear because we, their brothers and sisters, have failed to warm their lives with the fires of fraternity and love.
We beg you, the so-called underworld, to forgive us. We have sinned against you. We have failed to recognize that you were our kin; and inasmuch as we have failed to recognize you, we have failed to recognize and have betrayed our Christ.
Let us come among you, we implore, and let us serve you. Let us be friends; and in the warmth of our human friendship, let us find out way together out of the hypocrisies and hatreds of life. Forgive us our jails as we forgive you your guns and blackjacks. Forgive us our capital punishment as we forgive you your murders. Let us find our way, in human brotherhood, out of the whole mess. In the meantime, refusing to pass judgment on each other, may we not worship together?
And we greet the workers of America, especially the unskilled workers, the jobless workers and those who have, through the accident of race or other circumstance, been condemned to work in poverty at the most disagreeable tasks. Our sins against you have been grevious. You have been denied all opportunity for culture, and then you have been berated for your lack of it. You have been compelled to perform the most menial services, and then you have been despised for performing them. And we have promised you fraternity and equality in another world, sometimes persuading you to believe the promise, while we have withheld every expression of fraternity and equality in this.
And to you, the revolutionary workers, we appeal as well. We have seen your sacrifices. We have not utterly failed to be impressed by your devotion to your fellow men. We are not wise in worldly wisdom. We feel unable to criticize your programs and your plans. But you have inspired us by your selfishness, by your fearlessness, and by your determination at all cost to yourselves to reorganize society in a nobler and more human way.
Your comrades in prison, we feel, are our comrades and the laws which are repressing you are oppressing all of us as well. With hatred toward none, we pledge ourselves to do what we can to put an end to all such tyrannies, and to use our influence and help to set your comrades free.
Finally, to the people of the earth who are willing to recognize their kinship to all the people of the earth -- Greeting. May we never more be divided by race or color or creed; and may we unite, as one brotherhood in one religion, regardless of how varied the expressions of that religion may be, regardless even of whether it have a Christian or a so-called "heathen" label, to hasten the full realization of human brotherhood, in a society without classes and without privileges, and in which not one of earth's children shall be classed as alien.
William Henry Francis, Archbishop and Metropolitan
William Montgomery Brown, Bishop
Antonio Rodrigues, Bishop
Albertus Jehan, Bishop
Joseph Zielonko, Bishop
Lionel Capers, Priest, Secretary of the Synod.
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