By the time of Maurice Reckitt the Christian Socialist movement had taken an interesting turn. Reckitt, along with Anglican Socialists Charles Gore and Percy Widdrington, began equating authentic socialism with “Christendom.” Contrary to Marxist or Fabian socialism, only a religiously inflected socialism could stand as the one sure counter-offense against capitalist property relations, plutocracy, wage slavery, and dehumanizing labor. If there ever was a reason to get behind the ideal of Christendom, then I suppose this would be it.
In appealing to Christendom, however, Reckitt was not summoning that which provokes the ire of Stanley Hauerwas or John Howard Yoder. The term does not denote the idea of a foundational secular order on which one superimposes sacred or Christian principles. Christendom, rather, is the rejection of any such neutral social plane. As such, there is no daylight between economics and faith, no hinterland between the spiritual life and politics. Most importantly, as can be seen below, Christendom rejects the protestantization of faith.
As Reckitt writes,
The failure of the Christian witness in the world has been largely due to the readiness of its disciples to urge their fellowmen to “find Christ” without any effort to reveal to them that thus they may find Christendom. Christianity so presented affirms indeed the soul to be precious; yet for all that, it leaves personality frustrated and isolated. It may lead men to hunger and thirst after righteousness, but it tempts them to rest content with a purely subjective realization of it. Hence the impression which remains with the world outside that Christian, in proclaiming “salvation,” assert nothing but the possession of a kind of spiritual patent-right, the privileges of which they are prepared to conceded, but on their own terms. The faith thus never appears as a clue to the problems which bewilder and terrify mankind, but merely as a drug by which the weak may hope to gain some degree of oblivion (153-154).
It’s safe to say that we’re now familiar with the dangers of an apolitical Jesus or regarding belief as a “spiritual patent-right,” but we still seem to be a long way from grasping the social nature of the faith.
For Reckitt and other contributors to The Return of Christendom, “Christian Sociology,” as they called it – not to be confused with the sociology of Christianity or religion – meant a direct assault on the anti-Christian notion of private property and the evils that follow in its wake. Talk of saving souls or “everyday spirituality” abstracted from the diurnal round of labor amounted to nothing more than “ambulance work.” Just as one cannot build sacred principles upon a prior secular foundation, one cannot spread a thin veneer of spiritually upon the world of industrial capitalism. Otherwise, the church misunderstands the meaning of baptism. According to Reckitt,
Into a social order so compounded how can God’s Kingdom come? Plutocracy (and the capitalist fabric through which it operates) does not merely constitute a force hostile to religion: it is a religion… At the moment when the boy (or girl)in a working-class parish is being urged to make recognition of the tremendous claims made for him at his baptism, he is going forth into a world which by every manifestation of its public life denies and frustrates every one of them, and makes plain his fate as a member of the proletariat, the child of Mammon and the inheritor (if he lives long enough) of nothing but the servile dole of an old-age pension. How can the priest bid the wage-slave commend his vocation to God, or serve faithfully a Fraternity in which he has neither status nor honor? He cannot find these things in his work: but till he can do so, the Church which sends him forth can never rightly be other than a foe to the social order which so tragically engulfs him (7-8).
The Christian Socialist movement and its unique appeal to Christendom, however unhelpful the term may be, reminds us that the Church Catholic has always been at her best when she takes an active stand against Mammon.