Banners Thomas Hancock

Social Teachings

from the introduction to the second edition of The Peculium, by William Edward Collins, Bishop of Gibraltar

For many years together Hancock preached for the Guild of St Matthew. But, whatever his congregation might be, his social teaching is always the same: the application of the teaching of our Lord and the Gospel first to a man's own spiritual life and then to the life of others. It was his realization of the sacredness of all life which made him jealous of any monopoly or privilege that was used merely for selfish ends:

What is usually the final argument, and the prevailing argument, against any measure which attempts in a more or less decisive way, it may be often in a very blind and wrong way, to reassert the rights of the universal Lord and His universal human family in politics, or in education, or in church discipline? Is it not that it will "interfere with the sacred rights of property"? The preacher of the Gospel may go a great way in attacking the prejudices of his hearers and be patiently tolerated; but let him even seem to lay an iconoclastic hand upon their most sacred idol, and he will find that the fanatical intolerance which he has aroused is fundamentally a religious intolerance. What the sepulcre of Jesus Christ was to our fathers in the Middle Ages, property is to us in this age . . . I belive that property is sacred. But why is it sacred? Because "the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof": it belongs to the Sacred One who is at once the Lord and Judge of the rich and the poor.
Or again, we may refer to a beautiful sermon for Christmas Day entitled "The Poor are God's Elect and the World's Creditors." On this day, he says, "we ought to remember what we owe to the poor. I do not mean what we ought to give them. I am speaking of what the poor have given, and are still giving, to us," in that the bulk of the world's work, in which all our daily life consists, rests upon them. Or we may weigh the wise words about temperance in a sermon entitled "The Church and the Public House"; or his tenderness for the tramp, to whom, even if he should spend the twopence given to him in the public house, Hancock will not begrudge the "hour of club-life in the warm and social tavern on the roadside."

This is what he says with regard to the meaning of Mammon:

What is Mammon? The Son of God used a Chaldaean word which all his hearers understood. . . But if the Lord were to appear among us, and speak to the English instead of to the Jews. . . what English word would he take, in our age, for the most fit and complete possible modern personification of the worst enemy of God and of humanity? The English word for Mammon when our version was translated would have been "wealth" or "riches". The English for Mammon, in our present condition of social development, is "capital". . . What the Son of God and Son of Man, the Judge of every creature, says to us Englishmen is this, "Ye cannot serve God and capital."

One of his most striking sermons is that on the Magnificat as "The Hymn of the Social Revolution," in which he affirms that

No such revolutionary hymn, no such socialist song, has ever been sung by angry crowds as that which is so quietly and unexpectedly sung every afternoon in thousands of Christian parishes. What is more wonderful is that it is said or sung daily by the proud, the mighty, and the rich themselves to their own condemnation. If there had not been a tacit assumption amongst us that all iots words are not to be taken in their plain meaning, . . would not the police, in some lands at least, have prohibited such words from being said or sung? "The carpenter's wife," they would say, "is exciting the parishes to revolution. Her so-called hymn is nothing but a disguised socialist war-song: it is setting class against class; it implies that the three classes of society whom she describes as the proud, the mighty, and the rich, are opposing themselves to God and goodness, to the coming of the Father's Kingdom and the doing of His will on earth. She does not utter a word in condemnation of the evident vices of the poor and hungry. She speaks of the proud being scattered, the mighty put down from their seats, and the rich sent empty away: she actually rejoices in the vision of this catastophe of wholesale confiscation. She has not a word to say on behalf of the rights of property or class, or of a fair compensation. The bishops and clergy, if they would earn their pay and justify their social position, ought to point out the dangerous tendencies of these revolutionary stanzas. It sould be a very fortunate thing for respectable society if some eminent critic could prove that it was spurious, or if some very early manuscript of the Third Gospel could be discovered in which the Magnificat is wanting." Indeed it is impossible to imagine anything more contrary to the sort of hymn which would proceed from the Virgin of Lourdes, or the Virgin of La Salette, or the Virgin of Marpingen, or the Virgin of Einsiedeln, or any other of those local Virgins wo whose statues sound Conservatives and Reactionists all over Europe are now [1886] going on pilgrimage. A Pope [Leo XIII] has declared that the Blessed Virgin is the great foe of Socialism. If the Magnificat be her song, it would be far more reasonable to call her the Mother of it.

He goes on to say that we all need to study it for ouselves, and apply its teachings to our own case first of all, and that if we do so we shall find in it a elp and a light for our own consciences. And indeed not only here but throughout this is his teaching, that all social and all spiritual amelioration begins at home. "I cannot tell you how clearly I see, nor how keenly I feel, that we have no right to condemn the Judas outside us, unless we are fighting against the Judas-nature within."


The Banner of Christ in the Hands of the Socialists

from a sermon by Thomas Hancock

[The years 1886 and 1887 saw widespread unemployment and suffering among the working people of London, as well as in the North, and many of them adopted the tactic of marching into fashionable churches to dramatize their plight, armed with banners proclaiming appropriate Scriptural texts. Stewart Headlam responded to the predictable squeals of the pious by saying "It is no worse for a disinherited brother to come to church to 'show his rags' than for a middle class dame to attend for the purpose of displaying the sweetest new thing in Parisian bonnets; but where can the hungry worker make his mute appeal more appropriately than before the altar of Him who bade the hungry thousands sit down upon the green grass and made them eat until all were filled?" The following are excerpts from a sermon Thomas Hancock on the same subject. - - Ted M.]

* * * * * * *

The non-church-going masses have taken to churchgoing. We have seen what journalists of Mammon and Caste call an invasion of the 'Churches by poor Socialists.' We have seen nothing else like it in our generation. 'This is the Lord's doing; and it is marvelous in our eyes' . . .

If some old Athenian philosopher had risen from the dead . . . had come into the streets of London on Sunday and watched the great multitude surging into St. Paul's Cathedral, they would naturally have asked, 'whose disciples are all these men? What leader so they follow? From whom do they derive the axioms and rules which are moving them?'

Have you, my brethren, looked at the banners of this 'mob'? Have you observed 'whose image and superscription' they bear? It is not Caesar's, not Victoria's, not Gladstone's, not Schnadhorst's. not Hyndman's.

You see that they carry banners with mottoes upon them. Who is the author of these texts which express the social faith of this huge multitude? From what teachers have they borrowed the dogmas which they call upon all the city to read and to respect, and to obey? On whose authority are these innumerable crowds of the poor and rough doing this unwonted thing? They, or a great many of them, call themselves 'Socialists.' Let us read what is on their banners; let us discover who is the ultimate dogmatist of this multitudinous sect.

Christians, as you watch the mighty multitude pass by, you will soon be shaken out of your hasty a priori conjectures. Do you expect to read upon their banners wild words of their own invention? Do you expect extracts from Babeuf or from Proudhon, or even from Ferdinand Lasalle or Karl Marx? Are not the 'Socialists' their disciples? Ought not the mottoes by which they declare before the world their convictions, their demands, their faith, to be extracted from Das Capital or from the Arbeiterprogramm? Oh, come, all ye faithful! Look again and again at these inscriptions. Recognize, while you have time, what they are: see, clergy and laity, out of whose mouth the cries of the 'mob' have come. They are the words of your Master. They are the laws of the Eternal Father. They are the lessons which He taught us by His Son. They are the new commandments which you and I were pledged at our Baptism to keep. 'Feed My lambs!' 'My house is a house of prayer, but ye (capitalists and landlords) have made it a den of thieves!' 'I was an hungered and ye gave Me no meat; naked and ye clothed Me not." It is a small matter to what sect or party this great 'multitude' fancies it belongs, or by what denomination it pleases to call itself. You can see to whom they have felt obliged to go in order to find the fullest expression of their faith. 'In the name of our God,' said the crowds of the London poor, as well as the Hebrew psalmist, 'we will set up our banners.' We have not seen in our generation any other such warning, any other such an acknowledgment, that Jesus Christ the Crucified is He whom the Father has exalted to be the Head of Humanity, to lift up an ensign for the peoples, to be the one and only all-sufficient mediator, representative, spokesman, and avenger of 'all that are desolate and oppressed.'

- -quoted in Gilbert Clive Binyon, The Christian Socialist Movement in England, 1931.


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