The Church and Social Problems
from Charles Marson's God's Co-operative Society, 1914
The past is past, because it was outgrown. Every cry with "back" in it is self-condemned. Back to the Primitive Church, to the Middle Ages, to the Reformation, back to the land, to the Commune, to Owen or Wesley, to republican Rome or the disunited States of Greece, to the Egyptians or the Incas, to the Guilds or to Karl Marx, to the painters before Raphael or the Goths before Varrus, to the Saxons before William, or the critics before Strauss, or the music before Wagner; these are all examples of vain cries. . . Back flies the foam, the hoisted flag streams back." If we look to the past, it is to see not the actualities which have disappeared, but those inset ideas, which are everlasting. We look to last year's fruit, not because we complain that it is moulded away, but to see what we may expect of the tree which bore it. We look to the tree, not because it bore fruit last year, not hoping that it is hung with fruit now, in the winter, but because if it ever bears again it will bear fruit of the same brand, though possibly better, larger, and more abundant. If the Church now and in the future is to speak socially and politically, she must obviously speak as one true to herself. Therefore we must turn, with apologies, but without shame, to ask in what direction the primitive believers Newman speaks of, would have used the rights which were denied to them. The answer requires a chapter to itself.
The teaching of these primitive believers leads us to see that they would have exercised their powers in the direction of the frankest Socialism. It is evident, indeed it is almost an axiom, that every writer who is sound and saintly declares himself wholly and unhesitatingly in favour of the common holding of goods, of equality of opportunity, and of interdependence. Even writers who are less orthodox, and consequently more inclined to favour some kinds of individualist law, are entirely at one with their more orthodox contemporaries in a fierce opposition to that covetousness, which now calls itself enterprise, smartness, exertion, thrift, push, and the like. The New Testament may be passed over, because it is in everybody's hands, and is read with such inconceivable prejudice, that most people are entirely unable to see what is there set forth. For instance, the very word "righteousness" has been pared and lopped down to mean no more than the personal virtues, whereas dikaiosune has no such limitation, and would be better, for the moment, rendered "justice," in each of its eighty-six occurrences; as its opposite, adikia, used twenty-five times, would be better understood as "injustice." The stories are impaired by every perversity of gloss the wit of man can contrive. The ninth century was supposed to be a dark age, but how clear is its teaching, compared with the nebulousness of the nineteenth. Take one example, the story of the man who wished his brother to divide the inheritance with him. To Joseph Milner it suggested that happiness consisteth not in abundance, to the Victorian divines that our Lord refused to pronounce upon questions of property, but to Walafridus Strabus, the monk of Fulda, in his Glossa Ordinaria, it appears thus:
"Who made Me, &c. I am no God of division, but of peace and unity, who came to federate men with the angels, that many might have one heart and one mind. Not that things be divided up, but that they may have all things common, neither among them may be any that lacks. He who does not (thus) gather with Me is a divider of brotherhood and a breeder of dissension."
Between these commentators there is a gulf fixed, which seems to make of the New Testament two books with nothing in common, nothing, that is, in common about social life. For this reason we learn more of what the New Testament teaches and does not teach, by seeing it reflected in the Fathers, than when we gaze at it directly for ourselves.
Directly we turn to the Apostolic Fathers we are confronted with a mass of social teaching, which no ingenuity can explain away.
The Epistle of Barnabas, on the "Way of Light," says, "Thou shalt communicate in all things with thy neighf bour; thou shalt not call things thine own. For if ye are communlcants In the thIngs that cannot pass away, how much more in those that can?"
This was caught up in the same words by the Apostolical Constitutions with the additional clause that "it is appointed by God, that all men should hold the necessaries of life in common."
The Epistle to Diognetus tells us of the brotherhood of the common table but not the common bed, of the imitation of God in His kindness, which is "not to overcome our neighbours, not to wish to have more than those who are weaker, not to grow rich nor to do violence to the poor."
St. Clement of Rome shows clearly what we may call the democratic spirit of the Church. "The more a man seems to be great the more he ought to be humble and to seek the common welfare of all and not his own." The true confession of Christ is "to be restrained, merciful, good, to be in sympathy with one another, and not to love riches."
Indeed indifference to social wrongs is looked upon by St. Ignatius as a note of heresy. "Observe those who are heterodox concerning Christ Jesus' grace, which came to us, how contrary they are to God's will. They have no regard for a love feast, none for the widow or the orphan, the oppressed, the bound, the freed, the hungry, or the thirsty."
It might be urged that Hermas likens the Christian rich man to the elm and the Christian poor man to the vine, the former supporting the latter but barren in prayer, the poor man rich towards God for both. But this, read with what goes before it, on the positive perniciousness to the servants of God of owning houses, lands, or wealth in any but our own land, will be seen to be no real instance on the other side, but an attempt to turn the inequalities of the world to Some spiritual account. In the Eighth Similitude, too, the Master-builder squares the stones for His temple by cutting off their riches altogether.
The whole Christian teaching in Hermas about aimsgiving is so extremely explicit, that one of the works of absolute command, under pain of spiritual bondage, is to rescue the poor from their grief and inconvenience, which could then be done by bounty and benevolence alone. This, with the little communes of the monasteries, where all things were held in common, were the only things open to Churchmen, for a long time, on the actual plane. In the next generation Irenaeus, in his synodical letter from Lyons, lays down the emphatic rule that, "In whatsoever direction a man can do good to his neighbours and does not do it, he shall be deemed an alien from the love of God."
As the Church grew and enlisted the educated men, the debt to Plato became more and more frankly owned. Much of his teaching was the common stock of thought, and adopted by men who possibly knew nothing of the bank from which it was drawn. But the scholars, as early as Clement of Alexandria, saw in the great exponent of the common life the Attic Moses, who "prefigures the Republic of Christ," as St. Chrysostom declared; whose teaching is "hardly ever alien from the Church," "whose disciples can with very little change bow their necks to Christ," as St. Augustine put it. Indeed the criticism of Plato, and the divergence from his teaching, which we find in Christian writers, serves only to throw into greater relief the enthusiasm for what was accepted.
For instance, Clement departs from Plato on the slavery question: " We must treat servants as we do ourselves, for they are men, like ourselves, and God, if you consider it, is equally the God of all, both to free men and to slaves." Upon this subject St. Augustine teaches that slavery is as unnatural as sin, and that no Christian may own a man, as he would own a horse or money. Innocent I declared that "nature bore men free, fortune made men slaves," and "a slave has such treatment as no man would inflict upon himself," and thus the condition clashed with Christian law -- an argument which admits of yet wider application. Then again Clement, of course, fell foul of Plato upon the community of wives, as Christian writers were all bound to do and did. St. Chrysostom adds a further contrast between Plato's city and Christ's. "His doctrine can only be understood by the learned, but labourers, sailors, and masons can see ours; his plans are all city ones, but ours do in deserts also; his way needs full-grown men, but ours even does for babes." In other words, the Platonic communism was never rejected, although polygamy, slavery, and exclusiveness were all challenged and rejected. Lactantius was inclined to quarrel with Plato's community of goods: he says that it is bearable about money, although "impracticable and unjust"; but he is furious about the community of wives. Yet Lactantius is as zealous for equality as the Jacobins themselves. "God, who begat and inspired men, wished them to be all equal, that is all on a level." He also is equally desirous of the golden age, with its common property in land.
"No right there was to peg or bound the plain;"In that God had given the land in common to all, to lead a common life, not for wild and mad covetousness to usurp all things for itself nor to give to any what was born for all."
But all men Bought the common gain."
Another question upon which there is also a unanimous accord among the Doctors of the Church is usury. Indeed it is so well known how opposed the Church has been to this practice that the opposition only ceased in the days of the prophet Bentham. Renan accuses the Church of putting back civilisation for a thousand years thereby. The subject is dealt with in Professor Ashley's Economic History, but the moral question frightens our clergy into curious inconsistencies. If the Church has authority she has pronounced against usury. So has the Bible. So has the Prayer Book. So have all the men we quote as authorities. But the State allows it, civilisation (meaning the rule of modern commerce) is built upon it. Children are forced, by laws and policemen, to learn sums about it. Two seemingly contradictory arguments are evident to all men. The borrower of money, like the hirer of a cab, ought to pay his fare. The lender, who does not work, should not eat the labour of other men's hands. Most of us feel this to be an impasse, shrug our shoulders, and invest our cash in likely ventures. If we are cross-questioned, we get uncomfortable or abusive according to our piety or the want of it. Yet the only people who would square modern practice with ancient teaching are the reviled Socialists, who would solve the moral problem by making lending a State function.
If the assertion is correct, that the early Christians were entirely convinced of that associative principle which includes what we now call Socialism, we shall find this brought to light in the attacks of the Church's enemies and the exaggerations of her heretics. This is obviously the case. The persecutions took place under the law of Combinations, which was drawn to protect the Constitution. They were political, against revolutionaries. The Faith was objected to; as a caerimonium illicitum, it contradicted the spirit of the Constitution. The Apologists, with one consent, point out that the Church was pacific: Christ's servants did not fight, at least not with swords. The first great reasonable opponent was Celsus, and his grave charge was that both the Jewish and the Christian religions had their origin in revolt, stasis. This charge was cleverly made, for who can deny that Israel came out of Egypt by a great brickmakers' strike? And the constant charge against Christians was that they worshipped one whom the law condemned; and themselves turned the world upside down. Origen's reply was a challenge to Celsus to name any armed rising caused by the Christians, and an explanation that Christ's law works no violence nor does men to death. The defence really evades the gist of the charge, for Celsus probably knew that the Church did not appeal to that clumsy weapon the sword.
With regard to the heretics, it is enough to point to Basilides, Epiphanes, and Carpocrates, who all defined justice as community, and advocated theft and universal wantonness with all the violence of the modern anarchist. Land, wealth, and women, the last-named declared, could not be held as private and peculiar, but were open to all to seize. Since the defence was a vindication of law and of marriage, it was not the communism, but the inhuman anarchy, which was repudiated.
The equality of all men, bond and free, which came with the Gospel, was a common theme of all Christians. It seems to have been a levelling not of wealth and wits, but of social position. Origen gives as his illustration, "As you can see in most of the orthodox churches, especially in large towns, the leaders of God's people take no precedence; and they make no exception even for the most perfect disciples of Jesus." St. Chrysostom seems to mean by it no more than that Churchmen should not give themselves airs, nor vaunt themselves over their brother priests and kings; for he is careful to say that it does not mean there is no authority and no obedience. It came at last to mean no more (and no less) than George Herbert's first speech to his wife, when he assumed his canonical coat." You are now a minister's wife, and must now so far forget your father's house, as not to claim precedence of any of your parishioners; for you are to know, that a Priest's wife can challenge no precedence or place, but that which she purchases by her obliging humility."
The true character of Christian teaching can only be judged ab extra after the edict of toleration, when the Christian quarrel came out of the criminal courts into the schools. The fourth century might at first seem to be chiefly interested in the Arian heresy, rather than in any social questions. But the question whether the Divine Son was inferior to the Father, as touching His Godhead, had a very practical side to it, which was perceived by the emperors, and made them keen partisans of Arianism. Modern students seem to imagine that their choice was a captious and haphazard one, and indeed part of that inexplicable interest in religion which so astonished the wiseacres of modern times. Politically the question resolved itself into whether the Society of the Divine Son was subordinate to the natural order of the civil life and its rulers. When once this is admitted it will at once become clear why the imperial Arians persecuted the democratic Catholics with such otherwise inexplicable fury. The great Doctors were none the less Socialists because they were defending the citadel of fundamental theory and not fighting merely for legal applications. The common fallacy that the Divine Word operates only in the sphere of the immaterial or at least of the personal life is roundly repudiated by St. Athanasius. He does not look to some ready-made hereafter to reward the cowards who despair of God's purpose here. He goes out of his way to tell us that "the work of atonement would be incomplete and Christ not have received His due, unless all things were given to Him, including food and rest for the workers and burden-bearers; and that if we did not have rest and food the primal curse would not be removed."
St. Basil the Great came of a rich and powerful house, and refused his friend Julian's invitations to court, not because he had no political teaching to offer, but because, at the time, he considered that this would be more effectively carried out in preaching, almsgiving, hospitals, and monastic communes. He never concealed that "the Word calls us to Socialism (to koinonikon), brotherly love and obedience to Nature, for man is a political and gregarious animal. So in the common polity and mutual society, generosity is a necessity for the uplifting of the needy."
Under all the ceaseless insistence upon almsgiving lies the Christian doctrine of the injustice of the world and God's purpose for a better state and a juster order. A fair specimen of this may be taken from St. Basil: "The harshest form of covetousness is not even to give things perishable to those who need them. What injustice do I do, by keeping my very own? Tell me, what is your own? whence did you get it and have it for your living? It is exactly as if a man seized a theatre seat and drove off all who came to it, claiming as his private property what is granted for the common use of all. Such exactly are the rich. They pounce upon the common heritage and make it private by their pre-occupation. But if every man took but what sufficed for his own need, and left what is over to the needy, no one would be rich and no one poor. Did you not fall naked from the womb? Will you not go back naked to the earth? Whence came what you have now? If you reply it came automatically, you are an atheist: you do not recognise the Creator, nor give thanks to the Giver. But if you reply, it is from God, tell me the reason of the gift? Is God unjust to portion our living so unequally. Why are you rich and he poor? Surely it is entirely that you may have the reward of a kindly and faithful stewardship and he the great guerdon of patience. But you, engulfing all in the insatiable maw of covetousness, fancy that you wrong no man, when you rob so many. Who is the covetous man? He who stays not at sufficiency. Who is the robber? He who carries off all men's goods. Are you not covetous? Are you not a robber? What you obtained for stewardship, you profess to be your private property. He who strips a man of his clothes will be named footpad; is not he who fails to clothe the naked when he could do it, worthy of no other title. It is the hungry man's bread you hold; it is the raiment of the naked you lock in your cupboard, the shoes of the barefooted are mildewing in your house. You have the money of the needy in your hiding. All those that you could help and do not, you are treating unjustly." The teacher goes on to point out that the words, "Depart, ye cursed," were not said to a robber, but "it is the unsocialist (akoinonetos) who is condemned."
It would be waste of labour to point out that the life of angels, as the monastic life was called, repudiated private property, not as a temporal discipline, but as an essential part of the better state. One short extract from St. Basil's Monastic Constitutions will suffice. "First of all they must have, what is in its nature a lovely thing, they must embrace a common life and common diet. I call community of life most perfect, wherein private property is wholly barred out, the jar of opinion is banished, and all confusion and emulation and strife are cleared away. And all things are common -- souls, opinions, bodies with all that nourishes and serves them -- God is common, the work of worship is common, salvation common, the spiritual warfare common, the labours common, the garlands common, many are one and the one not a unity, but a manifold union."
It is quite evident that this was no esoteric doctrine for cloisters, for in sermons to the whole people he holds up the communism of Pentecost, as a mark to be aimed at by all Christians altogether.
The patristic, indeed we may say the Catholic view, both of poverty and of slavery, is the same. These things are not laws of nature and inevitable; they are diseases bred of sin, works of the devil, which the Son of God came to destroy. This may be illustrated by a specimen quotation from St. Gregory Nazianzen: "Do let us remember God's law, which is highest and first. He rains upon the just and upon sinners; and makes His sun to rise upon all alike. He has prepared the earth, field, springs, rivers, and woods for all the dwellers upon dry land: the air for the winged things and the water for those whose life is of that. He has given the necessaries of life to all jointly, without limit or stint, not impossibly conditioned or legally hedged, not prescribed by partition; but He has bestowed the same in common and richly, and has left no want unsupplied. He respects the natural equality of rank by an equality of gift, and displays the riches of His kindness. But men must needs get gold and silver, and all sorts of soft clothes and useless shining stones and all such matters, which are the symbols of war and rebellion and tyranny. With these they are stupidly puffed up, and close their mercy against their kindred in distress, refusing to succour them even with necessaries out of their own superfluities. What blockishness! what stupidity! Whatever we do, pray let us reflect that poverty and riches, what we call freedom and slavery, and similarly named things are later effects on the race of men. They are the common diseases which have fallen upon our baseness, and the symptoms of that. But in the beginning it was not so. He who first formed man, made him free and a master, bound only by the law of God's commandments and rich in the pleasures of paradise. All this He wished to bestow upon the rest of mankind, who should spring from the first man's seed."
St. Chrysostom is the wittiest, raciest, and most effervescent of all the patristic writers. To him the words "mine" and "thine" are words of the devil! He was well aware that Plato had sighed and given up the problem of the perfectly just state, because he could not see how eyes, fingers, and lips were ever to be communised. St. Chrysostom saw no difficulty at all. It is a reasonable sacrifice: it is Christ's politic (he politeia he kata Chridton) that members should be presented, as war-horses are provided for the use of the State, not to be reclaimed for private use. He often expresses the resolute opinion that private property is the root of all Church disasters and checks. It is not for lack of miracles that the Church is stayed, it is because we have forsaken the angelic life of Pentecost and fallen back on private property. If we lived as they did, with all things common, we should soon convert the whole world, with no need of miracles at all.
A most interesting passage from the sermons at Constantinople may be cited, not only for its social but for its historical value.
"That is a lovely saying: Grace was upon them all. The cause of the grace was, there was none that lacked. This means the zeal of the givers was so great that none lacked. They did not give partly and partly husband: nor give all, but as their private property. They wholly cast out class distinction and began to live in great plenty. They did it, too, with such great credit. They did not even presume to give away by hand, nor to make conceited largesse; but brought it to the feet of the apostles and let them be the stewards and made them the masters, so that finally the gift should be communal and not personal. This, too, was that they should not become vainglorious. If this were done now our lives would be far happier, be we rich or poor. It would bring just as much happiness to the rich as to the poor. If you please let us describe this only in words, and garner the happiness in this, since you do not want it actually. It is quite plain from what was done then that the sellers were not lackers, but they made the poor rich. Very well, let us describe this now, only verbally, and let all of you sell all you have and bring it to a common fund. I am only speaking verbally. Let no one hoot, be he rich or poor! How much money do you fancy it would come to? I estimate (for it is impossible to speak by the book) that if all men and all women here parted entirely with all their money and gave their lands, goods, and houses (I must not say slaves, for they had none then or possibly set them free), they would easily total a million pounds of gold, more likely, two or three million. Now tell me, what is the total population of our city, counting all sorts? How many do you grant are Christians? A hundred thousand, and the rest Greeks and Jews? How many myriads of gold have they got? What is the sum total of the poor? I fancy not more than fifty thousand. To feed these every day what would be the cost? But when there was common table and they were fellow battelers it would not be so very costly. Ah, but what shall we do, you say, when all was spent? Do you really fancy that could ever be? Would not the grace of God grow ten thousandfold? Would not God's grace be poured out richly? What is more, should we not have turned earth into heaven? If there the numbers were three and five thousand and the thing succeeded so shiningly and none of them complained of poverty, how much better with so great a company as ours? Why, which of them without, would refuse to con- tribute 1 To prove that it is this separation which is costly and the cause of poverty, take a house, with ten children and a mother and father. Let her work in wool and let him bring out-of-door wages. Tell me, if they had a common table and had one housekeeping, would it cost more than if they were all separated? It is plain that separation would be the expensive thing. If they had to be separated the ten children would want ten dwellings, ten tables, ten servants, and all else at the same rates. Is not that so where there are many slaves, they have one table just to cut down the expenses? Division always brings loss, consent and harmony always bring gain. The monastery folk live now, just as the faithful did then. Which of them dies of hunger? Which of them is not fed with abundance? Ah, but now men are more terrified of this than of falling into a shoreless and boundless sea. If we put it to the proof, then we should get heart for the venture. How much grace do you think they had? Then when there were no faithful save the three and the five thousand, when all the folk of the world were hostile, when they looked for help from no quarter, they yet dared the plan; how much rather now, when by God's grace the faithful are to be found everywhere? Who would then still be a Greek. I myself think no one would. It is by these means we should attract and draw them to us. Yes, if we set forward on this road, I trust to God it will be so indeed. Only hearken to me and let us carry out the matter systematically, and if God grant life, I trust that we shall soon bring ourselves to this constitution."
It would be tedious to heap up instances, either from these great doctors or from lesser writers like Asterius Amasmnus, because the argument concerns the tone and spirit and not the temporal proposals of the leading Churchmen.
The audacity of the Greek intellect, the fact that Plato was of their race, and various other like explanations, have been put forth to account for the dissimilarity between the message of Churchmen then and now. But these ingenuities do not seem to explain away the Latin Fathers. These have exactly the same spirit. In whatever way else East and West are divided, it is certainly not in the social teaching of the Doctors.
The Church, according to St. Ambrose, is herself the mirror of justice, "the embodied form of justice, all men's common right. She prays in common, she works in common, and she possesses in common."
Since it is sometimes objected (though how this is an objection it is hard to see) that the Fathers simply adopted the communal notions of the Stoics, it is worth noticing that St. Ambrose combats two definitions of justice current in his days, and applauds the Stoics rather than pilfers from them. "To hurt nobody unless provoked by injury"; this is traversed by the gospel. "To hold common or public things for public purposes and private for private ends." "Even this is not natural," he says. "Nature lavished all things for all persons in common. For thus God ordered all things to be produced that all might have common sustenance; and the land, therefore, should be a kind of common property of all men. Nature then produced common property, unlawful possession (usurpatio) made private property. In this they say that the Stoics agree that what is born of the earth was all created for man's use; but men were made for the sake of men, to be able to help each other. Whence did they get this saying, but from our Scriptures?" The common ownership and use of the land in justice is a constant theme. Take his treatise upon Naboth. "How far, ye rich men, will your mad greed be strained? Will you dwell quite alone on the earth? Why do you cast out what is natural and usurp the ownership of nature? Nature knows no rich men, she made us all poor." "The world was created for all men, and you, the rich minority, try to claim it for yourselves. Yes, not only the ownership of the earth, but heaven too, the air and the sea, is claimed for the use of the rich minority. This field which you infold in your wide possessions, how many folk could it nourish? Surely the angels do not hold the vaults of heaven divided up, aa thou doest map the earth with thy boundary lines!" "Rich men, ye rob all things from the poor, ye harry everything, ye leave him nothing; but the pain of the poor and more, you rich men have to bear." Alms to the poor are only a rough approach to justice. "It is not yours, that you give to the poor, it is his. What was given for the common use of all, do you alone appropriate. The earth is all men's, not the property of the rich; but those who use their own are fewer than those who have lost the use of it. Therefore (in alms) you pay a debt, you do not bestow a bounty." In the Book of Tobias, he lays down the Christian teaching upon usury. "Nihil interest inter funus et foenus, nihil inter mortem et sortem." Dividends and death are one, capital and capital punishment are the same. It is hardly wonderful that the late Professor Bright should admit with a sigh the Socialist tendency of this great writer.
St. Jerome considers that riches always spell roguery, and a wealthy man is always a knave or the son of a knave. " All riches are born of iniquity and the spoliation of others. Lying dogs the collection of riches, and the hand that is used to lock up treasure chests has a false tongue belonging to it. Truth breeds poverty, falsehood riches." He was very zealous for active labour among Christians, and of course in monks regarded it as robbery and sacrilege for private property to exist. The higher life has always been held by the Church to be inconsistent with having things of our own.
St. Augustine, preaching to the people on Ps. cvi. 42, "They rebelled against Him with their own inventions," writes thus: "This is what He says above: they did not abide His word. That is a poisonous word man gives to man, to seek the things that are his own, not the things which are God's. In his heritage, which is God Himself, when He shall deign to give Himself to be enjoyed by us, we shall suffer no straits with the saints of His Company, by the love of our so-called prIvate property. Yes, that most glorious City of God, when she obtains her promised inheritance, where death and birth are no more, will have no citizens who rejoice in private fortunes, for God will be all in all. Whoso in this pilgrimage yearns sincerely and burningly for that Society will always be used to prefer common property to private property, seeking not his own, but the things of Christ Jesus."
Similarly, when he comments on "a place for the Lord," he points out in a beautiful passage that the place must be in ourselves. "The heart affords a place for the Lord, for there is one heart in the charity of all in union. How many thousands believed, my brethren, when they laid the price of their own fortunes at the apostles' feet? What says the scripture about them? Certainly they became a holy place of God, not only holy places of God apart, but all at once a holy place of God. Then they became a place for the Lord, and as you know one place for the Lord was in all. The scripture says they had one soul and one heart towards God. But many, not choosing to make a place for the Lord, seek their own, rejoice in their own strength, covet earnestly their private property. But he who would make a place for the Lord must not rejoice in private, but in common property. This is what they did. They took their private fortunes and made them common. But did they not lose all they had? Well, if they kept things to themselves, each apart, each would have only had his own. But when each made common what was his own, each had all of all the rest. Of your charity listen. It is because of private possessions that lawsuits, hatreds, discords, wars among men, riots, civil dissensions, scandals, sins, iniquities, and homicides arise. What about? About our private properties. Do we go to law about our communal possessions? We breathe the common air and all behold the common sun. Then blessed are they who thus make a place for the Lord, by finding no joy in private property. ...Let us abstain, then, my brethren, from holding private property, or from the love of it, if we cannot from the holding of it, and we then make a place for the Lord."
In this, as in so many things, St. Augustine seemed to tune the Christian pulpits. The same, or parallel sentiments, are expressed by the lesser writers for the next two centuries, and then St. Gregory the Great, the friend of England, concludes the line of the Latin Doctors. St. Gregory had a particularly well-balanced mind. If he tells us, in the story of Dives, that riches are very dangerous, he points out that Abraham was also rich} If he notices that the Gospel call comes equally to all classes, he adds that to each it comes in a different manner. If he points out that men, who have heard God's voice, often defy the powers that be, he is careful to show that they also burn with charity towards those they rebuke.
Yet St. Gregory in his Pastoralis Cura, a book which has always been a text-book for the formation of members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, speaks deliberately and carefully of the theory of almsgiving. Since he was highly renowned for his great benevolence, this passage is of importance. It sounds the keynote of his life. Speaking to those who are commissioned to teach the Faith, he says: "In one way must they be addressed, who neither covet other men's goods, nor bestow their own. In another way those who are free with what they have, but cease not to seize other men's goods. Those men who neither covet other men's goods nor bestow their own must be admonished, that they should carefully bear in mind that the land, the source o their revenue, is the common property of all men, and for this reason its fruits are yielded for the common benefit of all. In vain do those think they are harmless, who claim God's common gift of food as their private property, or that they are not robbers, when they withhold from their neighbour what they have received; because daily as many die of the perishing poor, as they have rations for locked up at home. Really when we minister any sort of necessaries to the needy, we only give them their own, we do not bestow on them what is ours. It is no work of mercy, it is a debt of justice we discharge. Hence it was that Very Truth, when He told us to be careful to show mercy, said: 'See that ye do not your justice before men.' In full accord with this opinion, the psalmist too says: 'He hath dispensed and given to the poor, his justice abideth for ever.' When he was reviewing lavish generosity to the poor he rather chose to call it justice than mercy; because the gift from a Common God is wholly just when those who receive it use it in common. Hence Solomon also said: 'He who is just, will give and cease not.' These folk must be told too to consider carefully the barren fig-tree. The husbandman quarrelled with it because it simply held the ground. A barren fig tree holds the ground, when the mind of the owner keeps without use what could be of service to so many. A barren fig tree holds the ground, when a fool overcasts with his lazy shadow a place which another could use with the sunshine of good work."
It would be difficult to say when or how this teaching ceased: it would not be difficult in the least to construct a huge catena of authorities to support it, through primitive and indeed through medireval times. St. Anselm shuddered at the name of private property. "Even reason taught him that all the riches of the world were made by one Father of all for man's common use, and that by natural law not one of them belongs to one man more than to another." It survived the Reformation. Queen Elizabeth's private Prayer Book of 1578 contains this prayer for them that be in poverty, translated by Ludovicus Vives:
"They that are snared and entangled in the extreme penury of things needful for the body, cannot set their minds upon Thee, 0 Lord, as they ought to do; but when they be disappointed of the things which they so mightily desire, their hearts are cast down and quail for excess of grief. Have pity upon them, therefore, 0 Merciful Father, and relieve their misery through Thine incredible riches, that by Thy removing of their urgent necessity they may rise up to Thee in mind. Thou, 0 Lord, providest enough for all men, with Thy most liberal and bountiful hand; but whereas Thy gifts are, in respect of Thy goodness and free favour, made common to all men, we (through our naughtiness, niggardship, and distrust) do make them private and peculiar. Correct Thou the thing which our iniquity hath put out of order: let Thy goodness supply that which our niggardliness hath pluckt away. Give Thou meat to the hungry and drink to the thirsty: comfort Thou the sorrowful: cheer Thou up the dismayed: strengthen Thou the weak: deliver Thou them that are prisoners: and give Thou hope and courage to them that are out of heart. 0 Father of all mercies, have compassion on so great misery. 0 fountain of all good things and of all blessedness, wash Thou away these so sundry, so manifold, and so great miseries of ours with one drop of the water of Thy mercy, for Thine only Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ's sake. Amen."
Would a prayer of this kind meet with any response, say in the Upper House of Convocation or in the Free Church Council? Would it be used in any of the circles blessed by rubber booms and the antics of Marconis? Obviously not. Yet thoughts so widely, so deeply, so long held by the Christian Church ought to be not only tolerable, but intensely dear to the minds of Churchmen. It might naturally be thought that bishops and archbishops would bless the promoters of modern Socialism, would pray for them in public, subscribe liberally to their Societies, and insist that all who discuss such questions should do so in the light of the Incarnation.
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