In 1890 Robert Dolling created a storm of controversy by inviting an organization called the Guild of Saint Matthew to give a series of five lectures in St. Agatha's, Landport. Dolling hoped the lectures would help break down the prejudices against Christianity which were prevalent among radical working class circles in Portsmouth by showing that Catholic Christianity was not identified with the ugly puritanism and biblical literalism with which Christianity is often confused, and that the Faith of the Incarnation was by no means indifferent to the material and social conditions under which human beings live. The first lecture was given by the warden of the Guild, the Rev. Stewart Headlam. Fr. Dolling's biographer notes, "Socialism in the strictest sense was not directly dealt with, but the whole tone of the lecturer was certainly not calculated to reassure anyone who mainly valued the Church of England as a form of police force in the interests of landed estates and of property generally."
Unfortunately, much of "respectable" Portsmouth as well as the Bishop were decidedly not reassured. The remainder of the lectures had to be held in the gymnasium rather than in the church, and the Bishop implied that should Father Dolling not publicly repudiate the opinions of Mr. Headlam he would have to be removed. It is characteristic of him that Father Dolling replied to the bishop's threatening letters as follows:
I fear that in all honesty I must tell you, though I hate paining your lordship, that I hold myself, and have preached, and must continue to preach, all that Mr. Headlam's lecture taught, except on some matters of detail.The Guild of Saint Matthew has been referred to as the "shock troops" of Christian Socialism in the 1880s and 90s. The guild, under Stewart Headlam's influence, more than made up for its smallness in number by the militancy of its tactics and the audacity with which it expressed its always firmly-held convictions on everything from the centrality of the Mass and Henry George's "Single Tax", to the delights of the ballet and music hall. It hated puritanism and never let go an opportunity to skewer the smugly respectable. Theologically, it seasoned the Anglo-Catholicism of the Oxford revival and the "ritualist" slum priests with a healthy dose of F. D. Maurice, and never made the mistake of confusing mere conventionality with orthodoxy.
Something of the spirit of the Guild was captured by P.E.T. Widdrington, writing in 1945:
Fifty years ago Christian Socialism was represented by the Guild of Saint Matthew. It was a militant organization, small in membership, but intensely alive. It published for many years a well-written monthly: The Church Reformer. Turning over its pages one is struck by the variety of causes it espoused and the vigour with which it conducted its campaigns. War on poverty, on slums, on sweating, on dangerous trades; war on puritanism and bigotry - - the recognition of the Stage and the Ballet; a campaign for the restoration of the land; the removal of political disabilities, and the extension of popular education . . . The poverty of the people - - poverty in the fullest sense of the word - - and the degradation which resulted from it, were the motives that impelled us to action. The state of things was intolerable; remedies must be found, and we were not prepared to wait. To expect any move from the official Church would have been fantastic. It was as complacent and smug as the rest of society. It had implicit confidence in that wage system which the late S. G. Hobson was wont to call the permanent hypothesis. A redeeming feature was the heroic devotion of its slum priests, inspired by the Oxford Movement, in parishes like St. Peter's, London Docks, and elsewhere. An example of the incredibly stupid outlook of churchmen was their rejection of a proposal of the London School Board to install wash-basins in a school in a poor area, on the ground that the provision of soap and water and towels by a Public Authority was opening the door to Socialism! It was the infuriating mixture of stupidity, callousness, and the belief that this was the best of all possible worlds that was the immediate cause of our throwing ourselves into the Socialist Movement. Looking back over fifty years I do not see what other course was open to us . . .
The Guild of St. Matthew was a Catholic society, and its members practising Catholics. Belief in the Incarnation and the Mass constituted our theological basis. We had no time to sit down and work out the implications of the Faith. We took them for granted: our aim was "justify God to the People".
-- from M. B. Reckitt, ed., Prospect for Christendom, 1945.
Guild of St. Matthew
I. -- To get rid, by every possible means, of the existing prejudices, especially on the part of "Secularists" against the Church -- her Sacraments and Doctrines; and to endeavor to justify God to the people.
II. -- To promote frequent and reverent Worship in the Holy Communion, and a better observance of the teaching of the Church of England as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.
III. -- To promote the Study of Social and Political Questions in the light of the Incarnation.
Warden, Rev. S. D. Headlam, B.A., M.L.S.B.
Treasurer, Mr. J. F. Harries
Secretary, Mr. Fredk. Verinder
Council, 1896-1897: Rev. W. Busby, Rev. P. Dearmer, Rev. T. Hancock, Rev. G. R. Hogg, Rev. Donald Hole, Rev. A. L.Lilley, Rev. W. M. Morris, Mr. F. J. Bacon, Mr. H. W. Hill, Mr. C. J. Lee, Mr. B. H. Langworthy, Mr. E. J. Peters, Miss Crickmay
from a Lecture by the Rev. Stewart D. Headlam. London, The Fabian Society, 1892.
Long before the Fabian Society was founded I learnt the principle and was familiar with the title of "Christian Socialism" from Maurice and Kingsley, the Professors of Philosophy and History at Cambridge.
There were those then, as there are those now, who object both to the title and to the principles it expresses: the connection of the adjective "Christian" with the noun "Socialism" seems to them out of place. And the reason for this is, that for long both earnest Christians and those who have equally earnestly opposed the Christian religion, have been in the habit of thinking and talking as if "other-wordliness" was the note of a true Christian -- as if his main object should be to get to Heaven after death. Whereas, on the contrary, so far at any rate as the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself is concerned, you will find that He said hardly anything at all about life after death, but a great deal about the Kingdom of Heaven, or the righteous society to be established on earth. . .
Take, first of all, that long series of works of Christ's which are generally now called "miracles," but which St. John, at any rate, used to call "signs." significant acts shewing what kind of a person Christ was, and what He wished his followers to be; and you will find -- without troubling for the moment how they were done, but merely considering what all those who believe they happened are bound to learn from them -- that they were all distinctly secular socialistic works: works for health against disease, works restoring beauty and harmony and pleasure where there had been ugliness and discord and misery; works taking care to see that the people were properly fed, works subduing nature to the human good, works shewing that mirth and joy have a true place in our life here, works also shewing that premature death has no right here. . .
Turn your attention next to that series of teachings of Christ's which we call parables -- comparisons, that is to say, between what Christ saw going on in the everyday world around Him, and the Kingdom of Heaven. If by the Kingdom of Heaven in these parables is meant a place up in the clouds, or merely a state in which people will be after death, then I challenge you to get any kind of meaning out of them whatever. But if by the Kingdom of Heaven is meant (as it is clear from other parts of Christ's teaching is the case) the righteous society to be established on earth, then they all have a plain and beautiful meaning: a meaning well summed up in that saying, so often quoted against us by the sceptic and the atheist, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you": or, in other words, Live, Christ said, all of you together, not each of you by himself; live as members of the righteous society which I have come to found upon earth, and then you will be clothed as beautifully as the Eastern lily and fed surely as the birds. Well, we have lived, as you know, on the opposite principle to this; we have lived on the principle of every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost; we have lived as rivals and competitors instead of living as brothers, laborer competing against laborer, shopkeeper against shopkeeper, trader against trader; with the result that very few of us are clothed beautifully and many of us not fed surely. Christian Socialists therefore say that it would be worth while to try the experiment, which such an one as Jesus Christ said would succeed, to try and live in a rational, organized, orderly brotherhood, believing that then, only, but then most certainly, all the men and women and children of England shall be fed surely and clothed beautifully.
Or look for a moment at two of the parables a little more in detail. Take one of the few parables in which Christ spoke about Hell. For though He did not speak of Hell so much as some of His modern followers do, it is important to bear in mind that He was not only the Jesus meek and gentle of whom some of you may have sung in your childhood, but also the Jesus stern and angry; He had His eight woes as well as His eight blessings; He had fierce denunciations for those who, as He phrased it, devoured widow's houses and for a pretence made long prayers; for those who made the sabbath-day a dull, dreary day by their narrow rules and restrictions; for those who had the key of knowledge and would not enter into the treasure house themselves, and hindered those who wished to enter in from entering. Yes, even He had language which some superfine people would call outrageous, ungentlemanly, when He sent that message to the king of His country, calling him a jackal -- a word of the utmost contempt when we remember that the jackal was the natural scavenger of the Eastern city. We need not be surprised, then, that He who at the right time could be so righteously angry, now and again spoke about Hell.
But who, according to Jesus Christ, was the man who was in Hell? It was the rich man who was in Hell; and why was he in Hell? Not simply because he was rich, for Christ said it was possible, though difficult, for a rich man to enter into His society. No, the rich man was in Hell simply because he allowed the contrast between rich and poor to go on as a matter of course, day after day, without taking any kind of pains to put a stop to it. That, according to Christ, was the worst state into which it was possible for a man to fall.
Or take another parable, the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, or the parable of Judgment. In it, if you remember, Christ summoned before his imagination all the nations of the world for judgment; and it is important to note that it was nations and not merely individuals who were summoned by Christ to judgment; for you cannot be a good Christian merely by being good in private life, or domestic life: you must be a good citizen in order to be a good Christian: and so it was nations, and not merely individuals, who were summoned to judgment. And what, according to Christ, did the goodness of a nation consist of? That nation, according to Christ, was good, not which said "Lord! Lord!" most, which was most eager about outward worship or formal religion, but which took care to see that its people were properly clothed, fed, and housed, which looked after those who were in difficulty or distress; and even in the case of those who said they did not know God, who would call themselves or be called by other Atheists, Jesus Christ said that if they were taking pains to see that the people were properly clothed, fed, and housed, however much they might say that they did not know God, God knew them and claimed them as His. Now, what I have to suggest is that modern English Christians need not presume to be more religious than Jesus was; and if He said that the goodness of a nation consisted in seeing that the people were properly clothed, fed, and housed, then surely it is the bounden duty of every minister of Christ, from he Archbishop of Canterbury down to the humblest Sunday-school teacher, to be doing their best to see that the men, women, and children of England are properly clothed, fed, and housed.
I hope, then, that I have said sufficient to make clear that, so far as Christ's works and teachings are concerned, not only is there no contradiction between the adjective "Christian" and the noun "Socialism," but that, if you want to be a good Christian, you must be something very much like a good socialist. . .
[But] "the poor ye shall always have with you," say the modern preachers, and notably the good old Archdeacon of London who was called up on a memorable afternoon to preach to the Socialists in St. Paul's Cathedral. By the way, it is interesting to remember that on that occasion the Socialists were allowed to go to church without having their banners stolen from them by the police . . . inscribed on those banners and flags were words taken . . . in almost every case from the sayings of Jesus Christ or His great apostles -- so much so that my friend Mr. Hancock shortly afterwards preached and published a sermon which he entitled The Banner of Christ in the hands of the Socialists. Well, when these men went into their cathedral they were met by the Archdeacon with words to this effect: No matter, however much you may educate, agitate, organise, you will never get rid of poverty, for Christ has said "The poor ye shall have always with you." Now, from what I have already shown to you, you will see that if Christ had said that, He would have contradicted the whole of the rest of his work and teaching . . . but He did not say that.
He did not prophecy. He simply said, looking back on the history of His nation, looking round on the then condition of humanity, before His kingdom was established, that He noted the persistence of poverty -- a very different thing from saying that there always should be poverty. . . [A] follower of Christ is bound to be an out-and-out fighter against poverty, not merely alleviating its symptoms, but getting at the very root and cause of it.
But you know that Christ not only worked and taught like this, but He deliberately founded a society to keep on doing, throughout the world on a large scale, what He began to do by way of example, in miniature, in Palestine. He said, you know, shortly before His death, to those who were to be the leaders in that society: "He that is loyal to me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works shall he do." The Christian Church therefore is intended to be a society not merely for teaching a number of elaborate doctrines -- important as they may be for the philosophical defence of the faith -- not even for maintaining a beautiful ritual and worship -- important as that is if men and women are to have all their faculties fully developed; but mainly and chiefly for doing on a large scale throughout the world those secular, socialistic works which Christ did on a small scale in Palestine. Now this being so, you would expect to find that the first leaders of the society, though they would be mainly occupied in foundation works, would have something to say on these secular, socialistic questions. Take, for instance, St. Paul; what is his great labor law? The husbandman that laboreth, said St. Paul, should be the first to partake of the fruits. The laborer is to be the first, not the second after the capitalist or the third after the landlord, to share the profits resulting from his work. Or again, St. Paul said, in words which it would be well to din into the ears of the Duke of Westminster and the other appropriators of ground values, "Let the robber rob no more, but rather let him labor;" recognizing that fact of which I have spoken, that if a man is not working for his own living he is preying on the living of others. Or again, take St. James, who was in such close companionship with Jesus for years. His little pamphlet, which has come down to us through the ages, is full of burning words on the labor question. Take one sentence as a sample, where he says that the cry of the reapers who had been defrauded of their wages had entered into the ears of God, who fights; that God fought against every law or custom which tended to deprive the laborers of the full reward of their work. And if God so fights, then surely it is certain that it is the imperative duty of every Christian in England to fight against all laws and customs which prevent the workers in England from enjoying the fruits of their work.
Or again, take the two great permanent institutions of the Church, the two sacraments which are universally necessary for salvation -- Holy Baptism and Holy Communion; you will find that they are both entirely on our side. In Holy Baptism, you know, we claim every little baby born into the world as being the equal with every other little baby, no matter whether it be the child of a costermonger or the child of a prince; not waiting for conversion or illumination, or election, or proof of goodness, but simply because it is a human being, we claim it as of right a member of the Christ, the child of God and an inheritor -- not merely a future heir but a present inheritor -- of the Kingdom of Heaven. The great sacrament of equality is assuredly on our side.
And so, too, is Holy Communion. The very name tells you that those who partake of it are bound to live in brotherhood, in fellowship, with one another . . . And that is what this great sacrament teaches us to have. Indeed, it has been well said that the real, the terrible blasphemer is not the man who uses foul language at the corners of the streets . . . but rather the man or woman who says the "Our Father" morning and evening and takes no kind of pains to realise throughout the day the brotherhood which the fatherhood implies, or who comes to the Holy Communion, Sunday by Sunday, month by month, or festival by festival, and is not striving in every-day life to realise the fellowship which the Holy Communion implies. Yes, the great sacrament of brotherhood is entirely on our side.
Once more, take the one only document which is binding on all members of the Church of England, the Church Catechism. You will find it full of good, sound teaching in the principles of Christian Socialism. [See the author's Laws of Eternal Life. London, Guild of St. Matthew.] Let me give you one sentence only, a piece of ethical teaching which, if it were carried out, would alter the whole face of English society. It is there taught that it is the duty which each one, man or woman, rich or poor, owes to his neighbor, to learn and labor truly to get his own living; not to himself, be it noted, in order that he may "get on" -- for you cannot now get on without getting somebody else off -- but to his neighbor, that he may be an honest man . . . The reason why so many have to work under such evil conditions and for so long a time is that they have to produce not only sufficient for themselves and their families, but also sufficient for a large number of others who are themselves producing nothing, or nothing adequate, in return for what they consume. It is against this evil that our socialistic Catechism is aimed. And let it be remembered that, according to its teaching, it is no kind of excuse for a man or woman to say: "True, I do not give back in return for what I consume anything that I myself have produced, but I do give back something which my ancestors have produced." To such we say,You eat your own dinners, you wear your own clothes, you require for yourself so much house-room; your great-grandfather can't eat your dinners, or wear your clothes, or use your house; and therefore in common honesty, you are bound to give back, not something which your great grandfather has produced, but which you yourself have produced.
And lastly, think of that Song of Our Lady, the gentle mother of Jesus Christ, she whom we speak of as not only bright as the sun, fair as the moon, but also terrible as an army with banners. You will find that she has some terrible words there. She holds up to the scorn of the ages, as pests of society, three sets of people, the proud, the mighty, and the rich. "He hath put down the mighty from their seats (or dynasties from their thrones), He has scattered the proud; the rich He hath sent empty away." No wonder that some of the more far-seeing Socialists are eager now and again to go to their cathedrals or parish churches, when they have such revolutionary language as that sung to them.
This, then, must be sufficient to indicate to you what is the religious basis of our Socialism. The work and teaching of Jesus Christ, the testimony of His apostles, of the two greatest sacraments, of the Church Catechism, of the Magnificat -- they all surely make it clear that a Christian is bound to cut right away at the root of that evil which is the main cause of poverty, and which prevents men from living full lives in the world. . .
It would be affectation to pretend that the kind of doctrine I have given in this lecture is the current teaching of the Church at present. In fact, we are often seriously condemned for the line we have taken. It is complained of that we ignore the Eighth Commandment, that we talk about rights rather than duties, that we value material rather than spiritual things. As to the Eighth Commandment, we should indeed be foolish as well as wrong to ignore it; for it is entirely on our side. "Thou shalt not steal" is proclaimed from the altar of West-end churches to upper and middle-class congregations, as well as in prison and penitentiary chapels; because the Church recognises, even though individual clergymen may fail to do so, that it is just as possible, indeed more probable, that the rich will rob from the poor, as that the poor will rob from the rich. "Thou shalt not steal" is just the commandment we want to get kept; we want to put a stop to the robbery of the poor by the rich, which has been going on for so long.
As for rights and duties, it is well said that there are no rights without duties and no duties without rights. But we admit that duty is a more sacred thing than right. And I thank my opponents for giving me that word, for it enables me to say, as I have to thousands up and down the country, that it is your bounden duty to claim your rights in this matter. It is not a thing which you may take up or let alone just on the ground that you feel the pinch of poverty or not, but a duty which you owe to yourselves, to your children, to the outcasts from society; to all who are tempted to degrade their lives in any way for the sake of a living. And more, it is the duty which you owe to God. The earth is the Lord's, and therefore not the landlord's; the earth is the Lord's, and He hath given it to the children of men. And what would any man among you think if he gave to the woman whom he loved some valuable present, and she lightly allowed it to be taken from her? He would be jealous of the man who got it away; and so I say that God is jealous when He finds that we have allowed the most valuable of all the material gifts which He has given to His creatures -- for "land is the mother and labor the father of all wealth" -- to be filched away from us by the Duke of This or Lord That. God is jealous, and we are not doing our duty to God any more than we are doing our duty to our neighbor, unless we are doing our very best to prevent this.
And as for material things and spiritual things, I know full well that man does not live by bread alone. I am as eager for the spiritual welfare of the people as the vicar of this parish or the bishop of this diocese. I know that it is not only the pasture but the Presence of which the people have been deprived. But when they say that because of the importance of spiritual things we should not turn our attention to these great material reforms, I wonder whether they have realised the heredity and environment of a vast mass of the people; whether they have considered the evils which result, not only from extreme poverty, but from poverty side by side with wealth; how art is almost impossible, and lives which should be brimful of mirth and joy are stunted. Because, I take it, that when once a man realises the evils of our present social state, just because he is eager for the spiritual life of the people, he will be doing all he possibly can to put a stop to that robbery which is the main cause of poverty, and so by degrees to establish the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth. Expecto vitam venturi saeculi: I look for the life of the coming age.
"Wading through a Gomorrah"
Stewart Headlam was one of the founders of a group called "The Anti-Puritan League", whose membership also included G. K. Chesterton, Cecil Chesterton, and Edgar Jephson. The group issued a few pamphlets, ruffled a few evangelical feathers, and faded away. But it was through a friend in the Anti-Puritan League that Headlam became involved in the trial of Oscar Wilde, that disgraceful episode of Victorian homophobia and hypocrisy run amok. Wilde was vilified by the press, treated abominably by the courts, and abandoned by his friends. His name was pasted over on theatrical billboards; his colleagues in the theater ran for cover. An exorbitant bail of 5,000 pounds was required, which proved very difficult to obtain until Stewart Headlam came forward with half of it.
Throughout the trial, knowing full well the probable consequences of coming to the aid of a man so universally excoriated and persecuted, Headlam accompanied Wilde to the Old Bailey each morning and braved the hostile, shouting mobs to take him back at night. Wilde had for some time been attracted to Roman Catholicism, but it was the Anglican Catholic priest, Stewart Headlam, who would be at the gates of the prison to meet the broken man on his release two years later
Inevitably, he paid a price for his courage, and predictably, it was Headlam's fellow Christians who were most outraged at his act of Christian kindness. His home was threatened with violence, there were several resignations from the Guild of Saint Matthew, and, perhaps most sadly, the otherwise talented and dedicated Anglo-Catholic Socialist C. L. Marson disgraced himself utterly by opening up a vitriolic attack on Headlam's position as warden of the Guild. He was all for building a New Jerusalem, Marson said, but not for "wading through a Gomorrah first."
There was much in the political thought of Headlam and the Guild of Saint Matthew that needed improvement and Marson was right in many of his criticisms, but Headlam's behavior during the Wilde trial was beyond reproach. As Peter d'A. Jones remarks, "Stewart Headlam's actions were the only break in the solid barrage of cowardice and hypocrisy over the Wilde affair; he showed moral courage of a high order."
-- Ted M.
(images © www.arttoday.com)
"Religious people, especially those who, owing to an evil environment or a fatal heredity, are not called to work for others in order to get their daily bread . . . shut their eyes to the secular side of Christ's work; to the Christian Communism of the Church of the Carpenter: they forget that we are a baptised brotherhood of equals; they think it more religious to have mystic sweet communion with those whose work is done, than to have real genuine fellowship . . . with those whose work is still going on." - - Stewart Headlam, Maundy Thursday 1881.