More Pigs and Less Parsons!

The Night of Christendom

from Conrad Noel's Socialism in Church History, 1909.

The condition of the labourers deteriorated from the time of Elizabeth onwards, but in the middle of the eighteenth century it had been materially improved owing to the increase of wealth from the new agriculture and from the general growth of foreign trade. But then came the great Continental wars and the industrial revolution; and it is a sad but significant fact that although the total wealth of the nation vastly increased at the end of [the 18th] century and the beginning of [the 19th], none of that wealth came into the hands of the labourers, but went entirely into the hands of great landlords and new capitalist manufacturers. -- Gibbons, Industrial History of England.
Meanwhile, what had become of God's Catholic Church, i.e. of the christened people of England? Puritan individualism had scourged them along the road to Calvary, and now they find themselves crucified between two thieves. The name of the one is "Next-worldliness," the name of the other is Capitalism. From its cross democracy cries, "I thirst." but the chief priests and scribes deride him saying:
Nothing is worth a thought beneath
But how I may escape the death
That never, never dies;
How make mine own election sure,
And when I fail on earth secure
A mansion in the skies.
. . . These capitalistic Christians, who found the next world so useful an asset in their war against God's poor, chloroforming them into submission by threats of hell and hopes of paradise, did not really think that the chief end of life was the mansion in the sky; unless, indeed, it was by the merest accident that they had secured to themselves so many desirable mansions on the earth. How had it been done? The wages of the fathers had been reduced to starvation level so that the mothers were forced into the mills, the children sold into slavery . . . The workhouses and semi-starving parents supplied child-stuff for the working of the system. The pauper children were from time to time inspected and packed into waggons and canal boats and sent to the mills. Child-traffickers often took the children off the guardians' hands and kept them in a factory district in dark cellars until the mill owners could send their inspectors to examine them as to height and strength and general bodily fitness. They then became the property of the employer, who did not trouble to feed them or clothe them too well, for children were so cheap and the supply almost unlimited . . .

The condition of the children reflects the condition of the general mass of English labour in the early nineteenth century. Working people were stabled worse than horses, for they were cheaper than horses. They were treated worse than dogs, for they were cheaper than dogs.

The profits of farmers. landlords, mine-owners, and mill-owners increased at an almost incredible rate. Every attempt -- and they were few enough -- on the part of the poor to shake off their chains was denounced by middle-class official Christianity as atheism and treason. . .

Mr George Russell [The Optimist, 1908] has collected . . . an interesting commentary on the condition of the English Church in the early nineteenth century. In 1794 Sydney Smith became curate in charge of a village on Salisbury Plain; he found the church empty and the villagers "aliment for Newgate, food for the halter -- a ragged, wretched, savage, stubborn race." Five years later he wrote: "In England (except many ladies in the middle rank of life) there is no religion at all. The clergy of England have no more influence on the people at large than the cheesemongers of England." William Wilberforce, visiting Brigg in 1796, found no service on Sunday morning, and all the people lounging about the streets. He found Stamford in 1798 "a sad, careless place; . . . a shopkeeper said that none of the clergy were active, or went among the poor." Archdeacon Daubeny, vicar of North Bradley, just before the close of the eighteenth century, found the people so barbarous that they would pull down the walls of the Church and vicarage, then rebuilding, and cut and destroy the trees. In 1800 Bishop Horsley said, "For the last thirty years we have seen but little correspondence between the lives of men and their profession; a general indifference about the doctrine of Christianity, a general neglect of its duties' . . . The former rector [of Alderley] used to boast that he had never set foot in a sick person's cottage . . . [T]he official Church had forgotten her mission to the poor and become the ally of the governing classes . . . Mr Russell tells us that the parson was described as "a furious political demon, rapacious, insolent, luxurious, having no fear of God before his eyes"; the popular cry in the villages was, "More pigs and less parsons."

The bishops in the House of Lords incurred an amount of hatred which only a perusal of their votes can explain:

They were defenders of absolutism, slavery, and the bloody penal code; they were the resolute opponents of every political or social reform; Cat and they had their reward from the nation outside Parliament.The Bishop of Bristol had his palace sacked and burnt; the Bishop of London could not keep an engagement to preach lest the congregation should stone him. The Bishop of Litchfield barely escaped with his life after preaching at St Bride's, Fleet Street. Archbishop Howley, entering Canterbury for his primary visitation, was insulted, spat upon, and only brought by a circuitous route to the Deanery, amid the execrations of the mob. On 5th November the Bishops of Exeter and Winchester were burnt in effigy close to their own palace gates. Archbishop Howley's chaplain complained that a dead cat had been thrown at him, when the Archbishop -- a man of apostolic meekness -- replied: "You should be thankful it was not a live one."

In 1829 Samuel Wilberforce, afterwards the famous bishop, wrote to a friend: "I think that the Church will fall within fifty years entirely, and the State will not survive it much longer."

. . . The sermons of that time were very models of Christo-capitalism, and if one takes the trouble to trace the more particularly individualistic and next-worldly sentiments in our hymn books back to their source, their origin will almost always be found in the period we are now considering. The religion of a thousand per cent. is admirably expressed in the following verse:

Whatever, Lord, we lend to thee
Repaid a thousand-fold will be;
Then gladly will we give to Thee,
Who givest all.
The spirit of the nineteenth century breathes in the Protestant addition to an early Greek hymn, "O Paradise! O Paradise!":

O Paradise! O Paradise! I greatly long to see
The special place my dearest Lord
In love prepares for me.
One can hardly imagine that even God Himself could forgive young people singing, "Tis weary waiting here," unless it were on the plea of their evident insincerity. We believe that Christ was the revelation of the character of God, and He did not go about the world encouraging young people to seek an early grave, nor suggesting that disease and premature death were His heavenly Father's will. He had come that they might have life, and He restored to the enfeebled material and mental as well as spiritual vitality . . .

To about the same period belongs, "The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate." It must not for a moment be thought that this line is a relic of feudalism, for the feudal system, whatever its faults, never exalted the rich man or his estate of riches as God-ordered. It had its Orders of society, but it was left to Christo-capitalism to preach the Divine Right of vulgar plutocrats.


Newness of Life

from John Neville Figgis, C.R., The Fellowship of the Mystery, 1914.

Men are not wrong in asking to be satisfied that the Christian Church has a future as well as a past; nor are they altogether wrong when they suspect that she has not. If they are misled, it is partly the fault of the Church. Too often has Christianity become identified with mere tradition or outward respectability. Too often it is treated, not as a living spirit, but as a dead deposit. Much even of genuine piety is so hidden behind a conservatism of convention that it is not easy for an outsider to disentangle it . . . Is there in Church history any ground for supposing that . . . from a living power she has become a dead establishment? Every reason there has been in all ages to suspect that she was in danger of this decadence, and no reason to say that she has not escaped it; i.e., if any moment he looks at the spectacle of the Church, an outside observer might be pardoned for thinking that amid all the officialdom, routine, ritual, dogma, formula, and the active and positive worldliness, and even unbelief, of many, the life of religion was at an end. Only, this has never been the case. No institution known to history has shown such amazing powers of recuperation as the Christian Church; nor has any shown such powers of adaptation to fresh conditions. Her transformation by St. Paul from a sect of Judaism to a universal religion was probably unthinkable to the earliest Christians; her conquest of the barbarian races was doubtless beyond the vision of many, even in the age of St. Augustine; while, even to those who took part in them, the Cluniac and Hildebrandine revival in the eleventh century, the Franciscan development with its inspirata novitus in the fifteenth, and the changes specially entitled the Reformation in the sixteenth, must all of them have seemed almost too good to be true before they actually took place.

VoltaireStrangest of all is the recovery after the eighteenth century. That is the period which we ought always to study when we are tempted to depression; for in the eighteenth century was felt the full effect of the Renaissance, together with the development of natural law and the result of the schisms of Western Christendom. The coldly critical rationalism, everywhere triumphant, in that day condemned with its superficial scorn the history and the hopes of Christians alike, and in the imposing establishments of national religion saw nothing but a toppling order, as many do now. Even where a nominal faith was retained, it had to pay toll to the Zeitgeist, and whittled down the Christian creed to a vague belief in God as a supreme governor, and Christ as the prophet of natural religion, coupled with some sense of the value of religion for public order. Never since the earliest times of Christianity has the mind of educated Europe been so openly and universally contemptuous of Christian belief as it was in the era of the "enlightenment" . . . Verily religion seemed at its nadir, Yet we know the startling revival of the sacramental side of Christianity, in the very institutions, like "religious life" and ascetic self-denial, which to the eighteenth century seemed as dead as the Gothic churches which it despised.

The men of wit and taste of the days of Bolingbroke and Warburton and Horace Walpole and Lady Mary Montagu would have rubbed their eyes indeed could they have seem the Church life of the days of Pusey and Liddon, of Lightfoot and Westcott, and Creighton and Gore. . .

Now it is clear that these instances do not prove anything about the present or about the future; but at least they give pause to our thought before we yield to clamour. We must not allow ourselves to be hypnotised into admitting that there is no hope of converting men to Christianity because Christian belief is no longer possible to a certain number of intellectuals, a class conditioned by certain social and economic developments not likely to last. . .

Christians, so long as they are true to themselves, have within them a spring of exhaustless novelty, a power of new effort which will break out when least expected. So long as Christianity remains Christianity at all, she will always be able to rise from the ashes of respectability.


"Unless we can be the Church of the poor, we had far better cease to be a Church at all." - - John Neville Figgis.

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