Socialism in Church History
(Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1911)
by
Rev. Conrad Noel

Ed. Note: The historical term "Christian Socialist" is nowadays little known. Historically, it used to be widely known. For background, see explanations, e.g.,

"Christian Socialism" (Answers.com) "Christian Socialism" (Spartacus)
"Christian Socialism" (Wikipedia) "History of Socialism," 1789-present

and writings, e.g.,
  • Christian Socialism Articles, Machinists Monthly Journal, Vol. XVIII, Issue 8, August 1906
  • Rev. Dennis Hird, Jesus the Socialist (London: Clarion Press, 1908)
  • "What Socialism Is," The Painter and Decorator, Vol. 27, Issue 1 (January 1913), pp 721-724
  • Upton B. Sinclair, The Profits Of Religion (New York: Vanguard Press, 1918).
  • Socialism in Church History

    Table of Contents
        The Argument7
    1. Socialism15
    2. The Jewish Scriptures33
    3. The Gospels57
    4. The Early Church91
    5. The Sociology of St. Paul117
    6. The Sacraments141
    7. The Holy Roman Empire163
    8. The Reformation195
    9. The Night of Christendom233
    10. Before the Dawn253

         |  7 The Argument

    Many members of the Church of England are socialists, and would establish a commonwealth whose people should own the land and the industrial capital and administer them co-operatively for the good of all. Such public ownership they regard as urgent, and as a necessary deduction [logical conclusion derived] from the teachings of the Church. They are not communists but socialists. Far from seeking the abolition of private property or the curtailment of personal freedom, they desire such an industrial rearrangement of society as shall not only increase the national output but shall secure to the majority the wealth they produce and the liberty they have hitherto been denied.

    The Christian Faith cannot be summed up in the word socialism, nor should it be finally identified with any political or economic system. For all this, Churchmen are convinced that the principles which underlie socialism are, so far as they go, the principles of the Christian religion as applied to political, commercial, and industrial problems.

    Orthodox Church folk recognize the statement that the Church should have nothing to do with politics or with material life as a deadly and soul-destroying      |  8 heresy, contradicting the Christian doctrines of Creation, Incarnation, and of the Resurrection of the body. The kingdom of heaven, a kingdom not "of" this world, but "in" this world, is thrust like leaven into the ages, until every avenue of human activity is leavened. The Church, established by God, as the mouthpiece of the kingdom, must seize every opportunity of interfering with the world, until it has transformed its evil, warring, factious kingdoms into the international commonwealth of God and of His Christ.

    Ed. Note: "the final criterion established and left us by Jesus as the only one is, "I was hungry and you gave me to eat; l was thirsty and you gave me to drink, was a stranger and you took me in, was stripped naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me, imprisoned and you came to see me"' (Matt. 25:35-36), says Prof. Jos P. Miranda, Comunismo en la Biblia, transl. by Robert Barr, Communism in the Bible (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1982), p 4.
    Prof. Miranda asks, "How are we going to give food to all who are hungry if we leave the means of production in private hands, which necessarily destine these means to the augmentation of capital and not to the satisfaction of the needs of the population?," p 5.
    The more efficient way to fulfill Christ's will to aid the hungry, thirsty, homeless, imprisoned, etc., is, in short, systematically, as distinct from relying on random acts of individual kindness.
    God's Bible Society Management Laws are a systematized method of fulfilling God's will in this regard. Ancient Biblical Israel was successful when it obeyed. But eventually, as Upton Sinclair observes in, Profits Of Religion (New York: Vanguard Press, 1918), p 286, Ancient Israel unfortunately came into "contact with the capitalist ideas of the heathen empires," and deteriorated thereafter.

    To this end [of fulfilling Christ's will in this regard] it [the Church] must neither neglect nor confine itself to the political sphere. It must be as ready to make temporary alliances with political parties as it is determined to entangle itself inextricably with no political party soever.

    The object of the present work is to justify the foregoing position by an appeal to Christian history, and to suggest that economic socialism provides the practical and scientific form for our own day and in one important human sphere for the realization of those very objects which the Church has always had at heart.

    It is not my purpose to identify Jewish legislation, primitive Christian practice, Church law, with the proposals of economic socialism, but rather to point out that the eternal purposes of Holy Church, expressed from age to age in various more or less ineffectual efforts, must now be expressed in the eminently effectual system of socialism.

    Socialism is no fixed and final scheme of perfection, but we claim it as the solution for our day of a      |  9 multitude of evils. In the centuries to come socialism will give place to some other system more applicable to the needs of a now undreamt-of future.

    Churchmen sometimes argue that, although economic socialism does not necessarily involve " rationalist" positions, so many of its supporters are unorthodox that they consider it dangerous to identify themselves with the movement. But it is precisely because the Church of to-day has so largely failed us, that the construction of a socialist philosophy has fallen into the hands of persons alienated from the traditions of Christendom. All the more necessary is it for that handful of Churchmen who value not the dead letter but the living spirit of tradition to come forward and make their own intellectual contribution to the building of the international commonwealth. Previous writers have dealt with parts of the subject. Amongst the authors to whom I am chiefly indebted are Messrs Ashley, Rauschenbusch, A. J. Carlyle, R. W. Carlyle, Stewart D. Headlam, Thomas Hancock, and Charles Marson. So far as I know, no existing work covers the whole ground, and I am conscious how imperfectly what is a very large subject is dealt with here. My hope in writing will be realized if someone more competent than myself should be tempted to deal with the subject at greater length, and if meanwhile the present work directs attention to a vital aspect of Church thought too often neglected.

    CONRAD NOEL.
    Advent, 1909.

    -9-

    Ed. Note: For more on Rev. Conrad Noel, click here and here.
    Socialism in Church History, is reprinted in full at two sites, archive.org and google.com.
    Rev. Conrad Noel "helped to found" "the Church Socialist League," and cites "the definition" of "socialism" as: "Socialism is the principle according to which the community shall own the land and industrial capital collectively and use them cooperatively for the good of all," pp 15-16 of Socialism in Church History (1911), in turn cited in John C. Cort [1913-2006], Christian Socialism: An Informal History (New York: Orbis Books, 1988) (Chapter 8, "England," 7, "The Church Socialist League (1906-1924)," p 160.
    Rev. Conrad Noel is cited with approval by Upton Sinclair, in his book Profits of Religion (New York: Vanguard Press, 1918), at page 82 and page 286.

    Related Information
    Bibliography of Christian Socialist Writings