This morning I stumbled across a free copy of Christianity and the Working Classes. It seems that the book was serving no other purpose than taking up valuable space in our tiny parish library, and so was destined for the Goodwill bin. Thankfully, the title caught my eye. The book is a collection of essays from 1906 probing a series of difficult questions: has the church become a church for the well to do at the expense of the working class? Is religion, at least as far as demographics go, the prized possession of the middle to upper classes? Why does the church fail to speak to those who need it most?

The answers vary and the solutions offered by each contributor are eerily similar to our current debates about declining membership and mission strategies. Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun.

One essay in particular stands out. The Rev. J.G. Adderley of the Christian Socialist Union writes,

Our worship seems to many remote from life. Men ought indeed to feel that in church they are away from the wicked world, but not that they are away from what is human. It is at this point that we see how the Christian Social movement is the legitimate outcome of the Tractarian.

As Adderley explains,

We are learning that the creeds and sacraments have been rescued from oblivion not that they may be looked upon as interesting discoveries to be deposited in a museum, but that they may be used and realized for twentieth century human progress.

It is significant that the first modern Socialist Society in England was a “ritualistic” one, the Guild of St. Matthew. The Guild has always put prominently forward the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion as the basis of a true social life. It has taken Baptism very seriously, and treated the bulk of the working classes as having been admitted while infants into the great democratic society of the Catholic Church. It has exalted the Eucharist as the great protest against luxury, snobbery, and competition, the demons which have made havoc of society.

Over a hundred years after Christianity and the Working Classes, we in the Anglican communion seem to have come full circle. The brief postwar boom has all but ended in the West, leaving profound economic and social questions again at the church’s doorstep. Issues surrounding class and the morality of the workaday week grow more pronounced with each passing year as the numbers joining the ranks of the “working poor” continue to swell. Will we today take seriously that fact that Baptism and Eucharist, rather than being “interesting discoveries to be deposited in a museum,” are in fact “the basis of a true social life?” And not only for our Sunday worship or internecine debates, but for the working world as a whole?

The stakes couldn’t be higher. As Arthur Henderson remarks in his contribution, it is the

want of a true Christian idea that has led to the alienation of the working classes from the Churches and strengthened the ranks of distressing indifferentism, deadly materialism, and doleful pessimism. Not until Christianity is shown in its real nature as an aggressive force, destroying the evil of the individual life, transforming the character of the workers’ environment, taking cognizance of social defects, seeking to right industrial wrongs and remove the injustices under which the workers suffer, will it command the sympathies of the common people.


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.

Tawney sketch

If men are not intrinsically of equal worth, as Christianity teaches, why should rewards not go to the brightest and best citizens, without regard for the resulting gap in living standards between them? And why think it bad, as Tawney did in stressing dispersion of power, that certain people should have the power of live and death over others?

If it is not in men’s nature to need and cooperate with his fellows, why put special value on solidarity, and consider it regrettable that people are not within reach of each other? If there is no reason, based on the doctrine of God the Creator, for man to respect nature as sacred, why should he not endlessly exploit nature for material progress, at least until he has so fouled his cosmic nest that prudence dictates curtailment?

Ross Terill on the foundations of R.H. Tawney’s Christian Socialism in R.H. Tawney and His Times: Socialism as Fellowship.

How’s this for an opening?

Economists think of themselves as scientists, but as I will be arguing in this book, they are more like theologians. The closest predecessors for the current members of the economics profession are not scientists such as Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton; rather, we economists are more truly the heirs of Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther.

Robert Nelson, Economics as Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond, xv.


John Milbank has an excellent post up at the ABC Religion and Ethics page called, “Can the Market be Moral? Peace and Prosperity Depends on a Reimagined Socialism.

Along with socialist historians R.H. Tawney and Karl Polyani, Milbank argues that capitalism in the west began as a result of systematically dividing morals from markets. Rather than the inexorable logic or march of history, capitalism was founded on a debased understanding of total depravity bequeathed from the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

Unlike today’s economists, Milbank argues that the medieval era maintained an oikonomia “grounded in the view that there is an abundance of divine grace that is adapting itself to our finite needs. This is exactly the opposite of what we have come to think of as the economic, where we have infinite needs but the resources are scarce… This debased conception is precisely an inversion of the original meaning, in theology, of oikonomia.”

The solution for today then is a “civil economy socialism – if socialism is exactly the right word. That would be a socialism that would see the economy as fully part of civil society and would try to redesign the economic contract itself. It would be a socialism less inimical to the co-priority with production of exchange. A socialism still suspicious of usury like Thomas Aquinas, but also accepting, like Aquinas and unlike most classic socialisms, of returns on shares, if real risks have been undergone and real responsibilities co-shouldered.”

As Milbank concludes, “turning from the impersonal machine to the living but crafted social organism of interlinked personal relations in connected continuity with the organism of created nature is not merely a necessity of justice, but also of future world peace.” Amen.

Or so argues Heather Havrilesky in her recent New York Times article, Why Are Americans So Fascinated With Extreme Fitness?

But our new religion has more than a little in common with the religions that brought our ancestors to America in the first place. Like the idealists and extremists who founded this country, the modern zealots of exercise turn their backs on the indulgences of our culture, seeking solace in self-abnegation and suffering. “This is the route to a better life,” they tell us, gesturing at their sledgehammers and their kettlebells, their military drills and their dramatic re-enactments of hard labor. And in these uncertain times, it doesn’t sound so bad to be prepared for some coming disaster — or even for an actual job doing hard labor, if our empire ever falls.

It makes sense that for those segments of humanity who aren’t fighting for survival every day of their lives, the new definition of fulfillment is feeling as if you’re about to die. Maybe that’s the point. If we aren’t lugging five gallons of water back from a well 10 miles away or slamming a hammer into a mountainside, something feels as if it’s missing. Who wants to sit alone at a desk all day, then work out alone on a machine? Why can’t we suffer and sweat together, as a group, in a way that feels meaningful? Why can’t someone yell at us while we do it? For the privileged, maybe the most grueling path seems the most likely to lead to divinity. When I run on Sunday mornings, I pass seven packed, bustling fitness boutiques, and five nearly empty churches [emphasis mine].


In 2008 John Milbank claimed that Charles Péguy “is the man for the hour.” In his latest book, Beyond Secular Order, Milbank again evokes Péguy, writing, “there can be no storming of the Bastille as a historical event without its annual commemoration” (8). The quote in many ways paraphrases Milbank’s entire political theology.

It’s clear that for those interested in Anglican social thought – or, indeed, any form of social or political ecclesiology – that Péguy might indeed be the man for the hour. Consider this passage from Temporal and Eternal where Péguy discusses the true cause of the church’s decline in France.

All the Church’s difficulties stem from the point; all its real, profound, popular difficulties: from the fact that in spite of some so-called works among the working-class, under the cloak of some so-called social workers, and a few so-called Catholic workers, the factory is closed to the Church and the Church to the factory; that in the modern world, it too has suffered a modernization, has become the religion, almost solely the religion of the rich, and is no longer, if I may so express it, socially the communion of the faithful…

Thus the whole tension of the modern world, its whole tendency, is toward money and the whole drag toward money ends by contaminating the Christian world itself, causes it to sacrifice its faith and its morales for the sake of maintaining economic and social peace (55, 64-65).

The culprit – bourgeoisie capitalism – has been in plain sight all along for Péguy, which is why it is so difficult for so many to see.

Péguy’s analysis rings true for today, especially as we debate the issue of declining church attendance. Interestingly, Joel Kotkin discusses this topic in his latest book, The New Class Conflict. Declining church attendance is a product of a rapidly declining economic order. Although Kotkin doesn’t drill down on the reasons why, it’s clear that for most working class folks the weekend, let alone a Sunday, has all but been obliterated. We know that the fastest growing job market is the service sector, which often means late Saturday night and Sunday day shifts. Unless one’s parish celebrates a weekday Eucharist, one can be out of luck when it comes to receiving the body and blood of Christ.

So what is the solution? Do we take the Benedictine option and form communities of virtue? If not Benedict, then do we opt for the Dominican option? Or do we seek to re-enchant the world through a mystic Christendom?

Albert Camus

When we are assured that tomorrow, in the natural order of events, will be better than today, we can enjoy ourselves in peace. Progress, paradoxically, can be used to justify conservatism. A draft drawn on confidence in the future, it allows the master to have a clear conscience. The slave and those whose present life is miserable and who can find no consolation in the heavens are assured that at least the future belongs to them. The future is the only kind of property that the masters willingly concede to the slaves.

Albert Camus, The Rebel, 194.


Over the past ten years or so, we’ve heard a lot about the need to re-enchant the universe, largely from figures like Charles Taylor, John Milbank and their followers. Sadly, the term itself, as is the fate of most ‘buzz words,’ seems to have lost its original fervor, to say nothing of having provided ample fodder for critics.

Yet in The True and Only Heaven, Christopher Lasch gives us an important reminder of just how important this idea is for the Church Catholic.

The structure of modern experience gives little encouragement to the belief that we live in a benign universe. It gives far more encouragement to a sense of hopelessness, victimization, cynicism, and despair; and even the myth of progress, which for a long time provided a substitute for religious faith, has now lost much of its plausibility. For millions of people, the expectation of a better world – even if it is only the expectation of a greater supply of material possessions – is no longer experienced as a daily reality (386).

Re-enchanting the universe is not some abstract idea, nor is it a simple intellectual task. It is a summons to face the enemy head on. As Fr. Steward Headlam once remarked, “it seems to me to be the duty of every minister of Christ to do all he possible can to stir up a divine discontent in the hearts and minds of the people with the evils which surround them.”*

*Quoted in Norman, The Victorian Christian Socialists, 114.


Notes on Anglican Christian Socialism.

Were the Christian Socialist really socialists? And if so, what type of socialism did they embody and to what degree?

This question has haunted historians of the movement for some time. In The Victorian Christian Socialists, Edward Norman claims that they really were not socialist at all, as the main figures – Maurice, Ludlow, and Kingsley – were more concerned with morals and education rather than politics. According to Norman, the Christian Socialists never reached the pinnacle of a movement or tradition; in actual fact, they were too fragmented and disjointed.

John Milbank, in Were the “Christian Socialists” Socialist, rejects Norman’s reading. The temptation among historians, according to Milbank, is to read later socialism back into the early forms of Christian Socialism, and then to judge them by this standard. “A great deal of the historiography of Victorian Christian socialism, particularly since the Second World War, has been skewed by an understanding of socialism derived from later historical perspectives” (in The Future of Love, 63). Aside from being simply anachronistic, such readings neglect the fact that socialism itself at the time of the Christian Socialists was not a unified theme: Guild Socialism, Syndicalism, Marxism, Fabianism, Associationism, the Cooperative Movement, and the last remnants of Utopian Socialism were all vying for the title of “socialist.” In The Christian Socialist Revival, Peter d’A. Jones offers a more measured reading, arguing that the Christian Socialist movement was ad hoc and experimental in nature. Key members “tended to borrow whatever economic ideas and techniques seemed appropriate” from both secular and sacred sources, including Marx’s labor theory of value, the French Catholic socialism of Buchez, Guild Socialism, and even the Distributism of Belloc and Chesterton (448). As Ludlow observed in his autobiography,

In these days, when the term ‘Socialism’ is sought to be narrowed in the using of the word, and its history in this country as well as elsewhere, are so grossly overlooked that ‘Co-operation’ and ‘Socialism” are actually treated as antagonistic, both by men who call themselves Socialists and by men who call themselves Co-operators, one cannot too strenuously insist upon the cardinal value of Mr. Maurice’s declarations in the Tract in question:

 “The watchword of the Socialist is Co-operation; the watchword of the anti-socialist is competition. Anyone who recognizes the principle of Co-operation as a stronger and truer principle than that of competition has a right to the honor or disgrace of being called a Socialist” (188).

Further, Norman’s framing of the issue – the choice between political or moral – is problematic. For the Christian Socialists, there is no such distinction. Similar to Owenism, they sought the creation of a society where it would be easier for both women and men to be good. Unlike Owenism and the Fabians, they advocated a middle-out process rather than a top-down.

What’s often neglected in many of the major studies of the Christian Socialists is what they actually intended by the concept of the social. That is, readings of the movement tend to focus on the politics of association and the relative failures of their co-operative enterprises. But few seem to engage with the philosophical concept of the social itself, or at least how the social, economic and theological all hold together (Maurice Reckitt’s important work, Maurice to Temple, stands as one of the great exceptions).

For instance, buried within The Kingdom of Christ, F.D. Maurice makes an interesting critique against the voluntarism endemic to Bentham and his followers in favor of socialism. This is worth quoting in full:

The worship of circumstances is the habit of feeling into which the easy and comfortable part of mankind naturally fall; their inward thought is that their houses shall continue forever, and that thought makes them at once indisposed to change, and skeptical about the existence of any invisible government. When the poor men say, “We, too, will acknowledge circumstances to be all in all, we will cast away any belief in that which is invisible, this world shall be the only home in which we dwell,” the language may well appall all who hear. To one who sympathizes with the poor it is fearful, because of that which it shows they are ready to abandon. To one who has no sympathy with the poor it is fearful, because of that which it shows they are ready to take away from him. Nevertheless, be it observed, the force of these assertions lies in that very point in which they are anti-socialists – it is the “we will” that gives them all their meaning” (IV.iii).

Maurice’s Platonism is of course evident here, but what is most interesting is the distinction he draws between voluntarism and the reality of the social, and how from Maurice’s perspective, the former attempts to subsume the later.



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