Last modified on April 18, 2021, at 15:41

Christian socialism

Christian Socialist cover.png

Christian socialism was a movement in the 19th century by Protestants in Europe, especially Britain, calling for more government investigation and regulation to alleviate the distress of the poor, which they blamed on unrestrained capitalism. Supporters claimed that Socialism was compatible with Christianity as the early apostles in Jerusalem had all things in common (by private agreement, not because of government regulation), and conversely they view Capitalism as greedy and thus an extension of covetousness.

A few Americans joined the movement, although the Social Gospel was much more important in the U.S. in the era of the Third Great Awakening. The movement originated before Karl Marx and had little in common with Marxist socialism. Their stated goal was to build God's Kingdom on earth.

Critics accused social gospel preachers of focusing on this world rather than focusing on goal of saving souls. Christian socialists felt that they were doing God's will when they worked to improve conditions for their fellow human beings on Earth. Doing God's will would help to save souls. The Christian socialists formed a small part of the larger Social Gospel movement. It appealed to ministers and labor activists, but won few followers among actual workers.



Two clergymen of the Church of England were major figures of the movement. Frederick Denison Maurice(1805–72), a professor of theology at King's College London until 1853, and Charles Kingsley. John Malcolm Forbes Ludlow, a young lawyer, was also an important early figure. They were influenced by the movement of Chartism.[1][2] The term Christian socialism was first used by them to express their position that socialism was really but a development, an outcome of Christianity, and that to be effective and true it must be grounded on a definite Christian basis.

They first started by publishing a little penny weekly, entitled Politics for the People. In addition to Maurice, Kingsley, and Ludlow, other contributors included Archdeacon Hare, Professor Conington, Sir Arthur Helps, Archbishop Whately, Dr. Guy, French, Stanley, and Osborn. Kingsley wrote in Politics for the People the well-known (at the time) articles signed "Parson Lot". The first number appeared May 6, 1848. The columns, moreover, contained many communications from Chartists, among others one signed by "One of the wicked Chartists of Kennington Common." The paper, however, was discontinued after a short run with weak circulation.

In 1849, a cooperative institution was started which they believed was a practical embodiment of their ideas, and in 1850 a society for promoting working men's associations was formed, with Maurice for its president, and became the nucleus or center of the cooperative movement. The fundamental principle of this society was "the practical application of Christainity to the purposes of trade and industry."[3]

In December, 1849, a dinner was held at Ludlow's and a plan for cooperative stores was discussed, and for the first time the term Christian Socialism was agreed upon. Said Frederick Denison Maurice, in a tract in 1850: "That is the only title which will define our object and will commit us at once to the conflict we must engage in sooner or later with the unsocial Christians and the unchristian socialists."[4] This position was taken largely under the influence of Ludlow, who had been in Paris and seen there the associations ouvriers, and who had written to Maurice from there that "socialism must be Christianized or it would shake Christianity to its foundation, precisely because it appealed to the higher and not to the lower instincts of man." The Christian Socialists, now working under this name, started a periodical and also a cooperative store under the leadership of Walter Cooper, the ex-Chartist.

Their periodical, The Christian Socialist, was edited by Ludlow, but contributed to by all the members. The following, by Ludlow, clearly expresses its ideas:

"A new idea has gone abroad into the world: that socialism, the latest born of the forces now at work in modern society, and Christianity, the eldest born of those forces, are in their nature not hostile, but akin to each other; or rather, that the one is but the development, the outgrowth, the manifestation of the other. . . . That Christianity, however feeble and torpid it may seem to many just now, is truly but as an eagle at moult; that socialism is but its livery of the nineteenth century, which it is even now putting on, to spread erelong its wings for a broader and heavenlier flight. That socialism without Christianity, on the one hand, was lifeless as the feathers without the bird, however skilfully the stuffer may dress them up into an artificial semblance of life. That every socialist system which has maintained itself has stood upon the moral grounds of righteousness, self-sacrifice, mutual affection, and common brotherhood. . . . That Christianity, on the other hand, in this nineteenth century of ours, becomes in its turn chilly and help-less when stripped of its social influences; or, in other words, when divorced from socialism. . . . That if the Gospel speaks true, and 'ye cannot serve God and mammon,' it is wholly incompatible with a political economy which proclaims self-interest to be the very pivot of social action; . . . but that it is compatible with those theories or systems which have for a common object to bind up into fellowship, and not to divide by selfishness and rivalry; to substitute fair prices and living wages for a false cheapness, and starvation, its child; and which have adopted for their watchwords Association and Exchange instead of Competition and Profit. . . . If it be given us to vindicate for Christianity its true authority over the realms of industry and trade, for socialism its true character as the great Christian revolution of the nineteenth century, so that the title of socialist shall be only a bugbear to the idle and to the wicked, and society from the highest rank to the lowest shall avowedly regulate itself upon the principle of cooperation, and not drift rudderless upon the sea of competition, as our let-alone political economists would have it do then, indeed, we shall have achieved our task; and no amount of obloquy, ridicule, calumny, neglect, shall make us desert it, so long as we have strength and means to carry on the fight. For a fight it is, and a long one, and a deadly one a fight against all the armies of mammon."

The Christian Socialist was, nevertheless, less long-lived than Politics for the People. The movement, however, did not end. Kingsley published his Alton Locke. It brought down on the Christian Socialists a shower of abuse. Says Professor Seligman of it:

"Tracts full of raving and disreputable rant; mouth-pieces of class selfishness, popular prejudice and ignorant passion; ravings of blasphemy, rapine and nonsense; miserable delusions; mischievous provocations clothed in oily phrases of peace and charity; a clique of way-Opposition ward-minded men who, from a morbid Encountered craving for notoriety or a crazy straining after paradox, have taken up the unhallowed task of preaching the doctrines of Jacobinism and the Jacquerie:" this and much more of the like was said of them in all the reviews and journals. Advertisements were refused by the daily papers, booksellers did not dare to keep copies of their publications. The Christian Socialist was prohibited by the French Government from circulating in the realm. A committee of King's College was appointed to investigate Maurice's activity in these dangerous schemes, and he narrowly escaped losing at once his professorial position. Kingsley was invited to deliver a sermon in a London church, and at the close his opinions were openly branded as untrue and dangerous by the officiating rector."

Gertrude Himmelfarb, a conservative historian, points out that "the generic form of Christian socialism ... was present among all the late-Victorian socialist groups, including the most radical of them." She notes that Keir Hardie, the late nineteenth-century trade unionist who became the first leader of the parliamentary Labour party early in the 20th century, described socialism as "the embodiment of Christianity in our industrial system." Himmelfarb finds that while these reformers tried to secularize religion, "that transference was rarely complete. What remained, for many socialists, was a spirit that transcended man, a moral idea rooted in religion which provided the ultimate rationale for socialism.[5] Himmelfarb notes that a frequent complaint was that it appealed more to the upper class than the working class, or as one critic snapped, "Christian Socialism is the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat."[6]

The Cooperative Movement

Opposition and obloquy, so far from discouraging the Christian Socialists, only acted as a spur to further exertion. "I am a revolutionist," says Kingsley in one of his letters. His "Bible Radicalism" meant to go to the root of the matter, and to recover the true and original basis of Christian fellowship. At the same time they all felt that if their work was to prosper they must put their hand to the plow and give a practical demonstration of their theory. In this work the laymen of the movement were most prominent. Among these most of all Mr. E. Vansittart Neale, who, with a prodigality of self-sacrifice rarely witnessed, provided the funds for the first attempts in cooperative production, and the establishment of the central cooperative agency. In this case many of the aristocracy and clergy wished to encourage the promoters. From both orders came flowing in, and the success that was so far attained by such means induced the promoters to open an "East-End Needle-women's Workshop," and to aid the formation of an association of shoemakers. Thus in course of time a number of productive associations were formed in London and the provinces, principally in the North, especially after visits by invitation from Air. Maurice, Mr. W. Cooper, and others, to render advice in their formation. With the further development of the movement, the need began more and more to be felt for legal protection, such as did not exist at the time. But more than legal and other advice was required, the power of the Legislature was invoked and obtained, though not without a struggle, owing to the prejudices still pervading the House of Commons and the country. But the real boon, the "Magna Charta of Cooperation," the Industrial and Provident Partnerships Bill, did not pass till February, 1852.

The Society for Promoting Working Men's Associations received now a new constitution, the principles of which were stated to be:

1. That human society is a body consisting of many members, not a collection of warring atoms.

2. That true workmen must be fellow-workers and not rivals.

3. That a principle of justice, not of selfishness, must govern exchanges.

It will be seen from this that the principles remained the same, though the altered condition of the law required a change in the by-laws and regulations for the conduct of business.

When the cooperative associations grew strong enough to stand on their own legs; when it was discovered that those among them which had risen up independently, and had received less or no support from the promoters the societies for distribution were also those which throve the best, then it began to be felt by the main body of the promoters that their work in this direction was done. What they must do in the future, they thought, must be done by means of education. This led to the establishment of the Working Men's College, which was opened in 1854, in close vicinity of the scenes marked by the earliest successes of Christian Socialism. Henceforth the history of the Christian Socialism of England of this period was lost in the cooperative movement developing in the North of England. The London stores separate from this either failed or were swallowed by the larger movement. But the Christian Socialist thought lived. According to Maurice, the world is essentially a manifestation of God's order, but the selfishness of man has produced a deviation from the original principles. "God's drder seems to me more than ever the antagonist of man's systems," he writes.

Says Professor Seligman: "These Christian Socialists were reformers in the fullest sense of the word. The kingdom of Christ was to them no empty formula; they were thoroughly imbued with the belief that this kingdom, created through Principles of revelation, actually existed and was the Early destined in time to subjugate all wickedness and misery. Society, according to them, is not to be made anew by arrangements, but is to be regenerated by 'finding the law and ground of its order and harmony, the only secret of its existence, in God.' In speaking of the term Christian Socialism, they denied having adopted the word Christian merely as a qualifying adjective; they maintained that Christianity has 'the power of regenerating whatever it comes in contact with, of making that morally healthful which apart from it must be either mischievous or inefficient." They strongly protested against the notion of turning the Bible into a book for keeping the poor in order. The Bible they considered, on the contrary, the poor man's book, the voice of God against tyrants and humbugs.

"Justice from God to those whom men oppress, glory from God to those whom men despise," was to them the thought running through the Bible.

Men of such a stamp viewed with a sovereign disdain the social doctrines of the Manchester school of political economy. They wrote: "Of all narrow, conceited, hypocritical, anarchic, and atheistic schemes of the universe, the Cobden and Bright one is exactly the worst." To the Christian Socialists a Manchester ascendancy seemed a horrible catastrophe. Said Kingsley:

"I expect nothing from a public press which panders to popular Mammonism by scraps of politico-economic cant, and justifies the ignorant miser to himself by retailing Benthamite phrases which sound like scientific laws, while they are really nothing but the assertion of barren truisms. I expect nothing from the advocates of laissez faire - the pedants whose glory is in the shame of society, who arrogantly talk of economics as of a science so completely perfected, so universal and all-important that common humanity and morality, reason and religion must be pooh-poohed down, if they seem to interfere with its infallible conclusions, and yet revile, as absurd and Utopian, the slightest attempt to apply those conclusions to any practical purpose. . . . The man who tells us that we ought to investigate Nature, simply to sit still patiently under her, and let her freeze and ruin and starve and stink us to death, is a goose, whether he calls himself a chemist or a political economist."

"Competition," said Maurice, "is put forth as the law of the universe. That is a lie. The time is come to declare that it is a lie, by word and deed. I see no way but by associating for work instead of for strikes." Kingsley maintained that not self-interest, but self-sacrifice, was the only law upon which human society could be grounded with any hope of success." That self-interest is a law of human nature, I know well. That it ought to be the root-law of human society, I deny, unless society is to sink down again into a Roman empire and a cage of wild beasts." The enthusiasm of the promoters was unbounded. Thomas Hughes thought that they had found the solution of the labor question; but at that time he was also convinced that "we had nothing to do but just to announce it and found an association or two, in order to convert all England and usher in the millennium at once, so plain did the whole thing seem." And the majority of the promoters were equally sanguine.

The Christian Socialists were mistaken. Not thus are millenniums ushered in. It takes more than a cooperative association or two to make a millennium. Says William Clarke in the Fabian essays:

"The Christian Socialist, which was the organ of Maurice and Kingsley, betrayed great simplicity as to the real nature of the economic problem. It neglected Owen's principle of 'community in land,' and supposed that by working together and selling articles of good quality at a fair price poverty could be eliminated, while yet every worker in the community was paying his tribute of economic rent to the owners of the instruments of production."

Maurice's Tract

The Christian Socialism of Maurice and his coworkers was true socialism. The first of The Tracts on Christian Socialism, published in 1849, was written by Maurice. It commences as follows:

A Dialogue between Somebody (a person of respectability) and Nobody (the writer).

Somebody. CHRISTIAN SOCIALISM! I never saw that adjective united to that substantive before. Do you seriously believe that a socialist can be a Christian, or a Christian a socialist ?

Nobody. I seriously believe that Christianity is the only foundation of socialism, and that a true socialism is the necessary result of a sound Christianity.

S. Sound and true ! One imderstands those words very well. True socialism is your socialism, not that of Owen, Fourier, Louis Blanc, or any other Englishman, Frenchman, German. Sound Christianity is your Christianity, not that of any church, "sect, school, or divine hitherto known in Christendom.

N. The socialism I speak of is that of Owen, Fourier, Louis Blanc, and of the Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, who have fraternized with them or produced systems of their own.

S. A sufficient warrant for the other half of my proposition. Your Christianity then, I presume, is that of Owen, Louis Blanc, Fourier ? A rather peculiar species of a very comprehensive genus ! But to waive that point for the present. Your socialism is that of a hundred different men at strife with each other.

N. All these men, if I understand them rightly, are attempting to compass the same end. They differ about the means of compassing it.

S. The same end ? Happiness, I suppose. Socialists and anti-socialists are probably agreed so far.

N. The watchword of the socialist is COOPERATION; the watchword of the anti-socialist is COMPETITION, Any one who recognizes the principle of cooperation as a stronger and truer principle than that of competition has a right to the honor or the disgrace of being called a socialist.

N. further says in the tract: "I grant you that a Christianity which is merely brought in to help out the weakness of a system formed in the eighteenth or nineteenth century will be a very poor, weak Christianity indeed. I do not believe that these French reformers, if they are as honest as I hope some of them are, can ever be content with such a feeble and paltry creation. They want a ground to stand upon, not a Corinthian capital, to make their edifice look more stately and graceful. And if they begin to look earnestly at the Bible history, at the creeds of the Christian Church, at the records of it from the Day of Pentecost to this time, I believe they will find more and more that they have the ground there, the only one upon which they can stand or work. They will not read in the Divine Book of a great strife of individual competitors, but of a Divine family, expending itself into a Divine nation, of a universal society growing out of that nation, recognizing and preserving both the forms of human fellowship out of which it was unfolded."

By 1870, Anglicans acknowledged that a 'theological transformation' had taken place which made the Incarnation central to Anglican thought. High Church organizations such as the Guild of St. Matthew, founded in 1877, embraced Maurice's theology of the Incarnation, and the Christian Socialists planned a new course for the church in its relations with society, social reform, and the rights of the working class.


Christian Socialism in Germany dates in its present form from the period of the Lassalle agitation, with its precursors in the philosophy of Johann Fichte and G. W. F. Hegel and the communistic preaching of Albrecht the Prophet and of Weitling. We consider its Roman Catholic and Protestant developments separately.

The Roman Catholic movement came first. Early in this century Franz Xavier von Baader, moved by the sorrows of the working class, recommended a "theocracy," a monarchy guided by Divine Politics, as opposed to a democracy of revolution, a state held together by Christian love, equally free from slavish despotism and lawless individualism. "The Church," he said, "must strive for this. It must provide a new diaconate to bring about a more equitable redistribution."

German Catholic Christian Socialism

A greater German Roman Catholic Christian Socialist was Wilhelm von Ketteler, the late Bishop of Mayence. Von Ketteler was in very many ways like Kingsley. He said of himself: "I have lived with and among the people, and know them in their sorrows and complaints. There are few of the tears and none of the sufferings among the people committed to my charge which have escaped my notice." He had especially endeared himself to his people by his bravery and devotion during an epidemic of typhus fever in 1847. He was elected to represent his district in the Germanic Confederation at Frankfort. As early as 1848 he preached a course of sermons on the social subject in the cathedral at Mayence to audiences of many thousands. He largely endorsed the socialistic program of the day, invoking State protection against the encroachments of irresponsible capitalists; but he held that to endure, society must be founded on the rock of St. Peter. He pointed out the impotence of legislation to equalize property. Christianity alone, he taught, could put cooperative associations on a sound basis." May God in His goodness," he cried," bring all good Catholics to adopt this idea of cooperative associations of production upon the basis of Christianity." Yet little directly resulted. In 1864, however, Ketteler published a treatise, The Labor Question and Christianity, and in 1868 organization was reached in the Christian Social Working Man's Associations. An organ of the movement was started, Die Christliche Sociale Blaetter. In 1870 the Catholic Journeymen's Clubs, which had been started in 1847 by Father Kolping, a pious artisan, joined the Christian Socialist movement. These clubs numbered, in 1872, 70,000 persons, mainly in Bavaria and Westphalia. They were strictly under the control of the Church, and therefore were more or less opposed by the Social Democrats. Yet the movement grew. In 1878 it numbered 12,000 in Westphalia alone. It took many forms: benefit associations, savings and credit associations, associations for diffusing literature, working girls' associations, etc. The movement is represented by several papers. At the meeting in 1871 Canon Mou-fang, in a memorable speech, presented the points which have become the program of the movement:

(1) Legislative protection of the rights of labor; (2) pecuniary State subvention in aid of cooperative associations; (3) reduction of the burdens of taxation and military service; (4) restriction of the power of capital, and the removal of evils arising from usury and over-speculation.

At the conferences of German Roman Catholic societies at Breslau, in 1872; Aachen, 1873; Mainz, 1874; Schlesien, 1877, and especially at Düsseldorf in 1883 and Trier in 1887, the social question was very prominent. Gradually two wings have developed: one tending to individualistic methods of reform and "self-help," etc.; the other calling for State action and much of the socialist program. At Trier and Düsseldorf especially the latter wing showed itself in the majority. The rapid growth of the Social Democratic Party in Germany has, however, made it very difficult for the Catholic Socialists to maintain their hold on the working man. Nevertheless, in 1882 they had no representatives in the Reichstag, and in 1891 they counted 820 unions with 75,000 members.

In fact, the main strength of Catholic Socialism lies in this widely spread system of organization. In places the number of associations of operatives under Church auspices surpasses the aggregate amount of all other similar associations taken together. There are Catholic associations of masters and apprentices, of factory laborers, miners, and vintners; there are "Patriotic Bavarian" and Westphalian unions of peasant proprietors, and a number of other societies of men and women in every direction, exercising a powerful influence under strict clerical supervision, the result of which is that in purely Catholic regions for any efforts of social reform to be successful, it is essential in the first instance to secure the Catholic ecclesiastics as auxiliaries in any such undertaking.

The movement has thus enabled the Roman Church to bring into the field a strong force of artisans in the battle of the culturkampf, developing at times a strange political union between the Radical and Church Socialists in the struggle against the Bourgeoisie, and fulfilling the prediction of Cavour of a union between Romanism and Socialism, between the red and the black International, between Ketteler's "Kosacken regiment," as it has been contemptuously called, and the followers of Lassalle and Karl Marx. This union, however, it must be remembered, is only political, and only exists at times and for particular ends. The Social Democrats of Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, are opposed to all churches.

German Protestant Christian Socialism

Protestant Christian Socialism in Germany has been a wholly separate movement. As early as 1838 Victor Aime Huber, who may be called the founder of German Christian Socialism, at the request of Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia commenced in Berlin a paper, the Janus, advocating religious cooperation. After the revolution in 1848 this was discontinued, but Huber formed an Association of Christian Order and Liberty. It was not successful, although Huber himself seems to have been a man of sound judgment and full of beneficent plans. "The father of vagabonds" he called himself, and in a little town among the Hartz Mountains he established a home among the poor, going out thence on journeys through Germany, France, and England, urging cooperation in agriculture and in all forms of life. He died July 19, 1869.

About 1878, however, commences the chief movement of Protestant Christian Socialism in Germany, begun by Pastor Todt and brilliantly championed by Stocker, the court chaplain. From the first it allied itself to the paternal State socialism, which has become the policy of the Prussian monarchs.

Kaufmann, in his Christian Socialism, says of this German Protestant Christian Socialism: "This title is somewhat misleading, since those to whom it is applied, and who cheerfully accept the appellation, are so far from being socialists, in the ordinary sense of the word, that the name 'Defenders of Society on Church and State Principles' would convey a more correct idea of their aims and purposes to English readers. Properly speaking, they are conservative would-be saviors of society, who see no other means of escape from the present social dilemma but in a firm alliance between crown and altar for the purpose of regenerating society."

An association was formed and soon gained adherents in "Christian circles." It called itself the Central Union for Social Reform on a Religious, Constitutional, Monarchical Basis. It sent forth an appeal to the clergy, reminding them that the hour had come for the Church to bestir itself to meet the social crisis with the spiritual weapons at its command, as an evangelical body. Two fundamental principles are laid down in the program, one indicating the duties of the State, the other those of the Church:

1. That thorough reforms have become necessary in order to inspire the enfranchised masses with confidence toward the Government.

2. That the solution of the social question is impossible without the cooperation of the moral and religious factors, and the Church's recognition of the just demands of the fourth estate (the working men).

Among the objects of the association are mentioned the diffusion of a wholesome literature for the purpose of stemming the tide of materialistic and revolutionary modes of thought and feeling among the masses; the publication of a paper, the Staats Socialist, for the exposition of free discussion of burning questions in political economy; the collection and organization of the scattered loyal elements among the people as the best available means of defense against the anarchical attempts of social democracy; and the full expression both in word and deed of sympathy with the rightful demands of the working classes, to assure them of the support of the "main pillars" of society, the Church and the State.

Eventually, Todt and Stocker founded two associations: first of all, the Central Union for Social Reform, and then the Christian Social Working Men's Party. Although the same ideas and nearly the same persons had directed the formation of the two groups, their aims were very different. The Union for Social Reform was to be composed of well-to-do and educated men, such as ministers of the Church, professors, manufacturers, and land-owners, who would join in seeking for means of conciliating the anarchic classes through reforms inspired by the spirit of Christianity. The Christian Social Working Men's Party was to rally and to aid working men.

The movement met great opposition. All the progressive papers protested against it as mucker-socialismus, or sham socialism. The liberal press also opposed it. "We prefer," said one paper, "socialists in blouse to socialists in surplice."

The higher dignitaries of the Evangelical Church held aloof from the movement, or indeed were hostile to it; but the common clergy were stirred. More than 700 ministers sent in their adhesion to the Central Union for Social Reform. Dr. Kogel, one of the court preachers, Dr. Buchsel, the superintendent-general, and Dr. Bauer strongly urged the Protestant clergy to take up the social question. Dr. Stocker displayed wonderful courage. He attended public meetings at Berlin, where he confronted the most fanatical opposition of the Socialist Democrats, and sometimes, by sheer force of eloquence, he won cheers from the hostile crowd. He was attacked with extraordinary violence by Herr Most, who organized what he called a Massenaustritt aus der Kirche, or formal renunciation of the Church.

The Central Union for Social Reform also obtained the adhesion and even the cooperation of several well-known economists, such as Professor Adolf Wagner, of Berlin University; Dr. Schaeffle, former Minister of Finance in Austria, and author of Socialismus und Capitalismus; Herr Adolf Samter, banker at Konigsberg; and Professor von Scheel. But in order to influence the masses, as the Catholic Socialists have done, the assistance of the clergy was needed; and it was to gain this assistance that the founders of the movement, Stocker and Todt, directed all their efforts. According to them, the duty of ecclesiastics, and even of the Protestant Church as a body, was to take part in discussions on the social question. This question, they said, embraces the whole of humanity. The Social Democracy rests on materialism and propagates atheism, while liberalism and so-called positive science, by endeavoring to eradicate the religious sentiment, supply it with weapons. Who is to defend this precious treasure, if not the pastor ? Christ came to bring the "glad tidings" to the poor; His disciples and apostles ought to do likewise. They ought to search out the causes of the ills of the lower classes, in order to find the remedy. Political economy can alone throw light upon these difficult questions, and it must accordingly be sedulously studied. The clergy ought unceasingly to remind the State and the upper classes of the duty imposed upon them by the law of the Gospel in respect of their destitute brethren. The passion for accumulating riches is becoming more and more the characteristic of our age. This " Mammonism" is the enemy of Christianity, and must be unwearyingly combated.

Pastor Todt was the chief author of the movement, his book, Radical German Socialism and Christian Society, having a large reading and much influence. In this work Todt condemns the economics of liberalism as unchristian, and seeks to show that the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity are scriptural, as are also the socialist demands for the abolition of private property and of the wage system, the laborer to have the full produce of his labor, and labor to be associated. Herr Todt places the following epigraph at the head of his work: " Whoever would understand the social question and contribute to its solution must have on his right hand the works on political economy, and on his left the literature of scientific socialism, and must keep the New Testament open before him." Political economy, he adds, plays the part of anatomy: it makes known the construction of the social body. Socialism is the pathology which describes the malady, and the Gospel is the therapeutics which apply the remedy.


France may be said, in a very real sense, to be the birthplace of Christian Socialism. As long ago as 1790 did Claude Fauchet,once a court preacher, and then a leader in the Revolution, advocate a radical Early Christian communism, and founded a Christian communist paper - the first socialist paper of the world, Bouche de Fer (The Iron World).

He founded Christian socialist clubs, and exerted no little influence. The bon mot of Camille Desmoulins, calling Christ le bon sans-cutlotte, is well known. Saint Simon himself has been sometimes called the first Christian Socialist. His first idea was to induce the Pope to found a new Christian social order, and when he failed in this, he undertook himself to found what he called a New Christianity. Several of the Saint Simonians, notably Buchez, believed that they could, and endeavored strenuously to establish a new social Christianity. Far more truly may Lamennais be considered a leading French Christian Socialist. His journal, L' Avenir, began in 1830 with its motto, " God and liberty, the Pope and the people," and after his break with the papacy, his Les Paroles d'len Croyant (The Words of a Believer, 1839), are among the noblest and most burning Christian socialist utterances ever made. Cabet, the brilliant author of the Utopian Icaria, must also be mentioned here, with his book, Le Vrai Christianisme suivant Jesus Christ (1846), striving to show that Christianity is communism. Yet in spite of these and other brilliant utterances there has been no organized Christian socialist movement in France until very recent times.

Says Kaufmann, in his Christian Socialism, p. 169: "De Maistre. Lamennais, Lacordaire, on the one hand, Bonald, Le Play, and le Comte de Mun, on the other, represent in the order we have placed them, though not in chronological sequence, the ascending and descending scale from and to the Ultramontane standpoint of Christian Socialism."

The great movement of Le Play can, in itself, however, scarcely be called a Christian Socialist movement, although it has led to some extent to a movement sometimes using this name. Le Play himself, although a devout Roman Catholic, aimed to make his movement purely educational. The founder of the real Roman Catholic socialist movement in France is the Comte de Mun. He, with the Comte de la Tour-du-Pin Chambly, founded, soon after the Franco-Prussian War, the Oeuvre des Cercles Catholiques d'Ottvriers, an association organized for the purpose of bringing together working men on a Church basis, and standing on the social principles of the encyclical and syllabus of 1864. Its professed object is "the counter-revolution, made in the name of the syllabus, and the great work of reestablishing a Christian order in the world of labor." The followers of this school hold the Protestant Reformation to be the parent of all France's moral and social ills. They see in the Reformation a revolution against God, the worship of the sovereignty of the man in place of the sovereignty of God. They class Luther, Calvin, Voltaire, Rousseau, Danton, Robespierre, side by side. Against the Reformation, with its asserted ecclesiastical, political, social, and moral results, they declare war. In place of Protestantism and economic individualism they would establish cooperative association with State aid, under the patronage of the Church of Rome. With the Social Democrats they have nothing to do. Since the Pope has condemned socialism under that name, though indorsing many of its principles, they deny that there can be a Christian Socialism. The movement is more ecclesiastical and political than really Christian Socialist. It is an effort to hold the working classes for Rome. The direction of the unions is placed in the hands of local committees in close connection with a central committee in Paris. It is an attempt, moreover, of bringing together the higher and lower classes of society by means of Christian sympathy, and so to effect social union. These Catholic working men's associations combine the advantages of a religious club, a cooperative supply association, and a laborer's friend society all in one. Eventually the Oeuvre purposes to become the nucleus of a number of benevolent institutions to promote the welfare of the working man. Originally intended for the workmen of large towns, these associations have spread into the villages, and are now what the Comte de Mun calls calmly settled "islets in the midst of immense populations agitated by the tempests of social war. ' There were 450 of these cercles in 1880, and several employers of labor, like the Christian philanthropist Harmel in the Val-des-Bois, are able to give most satisfactory reports of their own attempts to transform unruly colonies of workmen into quiet and industrious communities by the adoption of the principles of the cercles, and thus to establish a happy relationship between employer and employed.

In 1887 there were 400 cercles and 130 cooperative associations.


Belgium has distinguished herself in the literature of Christian Socialism. Huet, born in 1814, was an out-and-out Christian Socialist. His Le Regne Social du Christianisme, published about 1850, is one of the earliest and best statements of Christian Socialism in any language. Professor deLaveleye was his pupil, and says of this book that it has not received the attention it deserves, being too full of Christianity for most socialists and too full of socialism for most Christians. A Roman Catholic of the school of Pascal and Bossuet, he protested to the last against ultramontanism, and for a liberal Catholicism and a spiritual secularity. Professor Emile Louis de Lave-leye, his most distinguished scholar, belongs to the same school. Professor of Political Economy at Liege, he is as well known for his Christian Socialism as for his economic and sociological writings. A Catholic, although of the extreme liberal type, his position on Christian Socialism may be summed up in the passage from the introduction to his Contemporary Socialism, where he says: "Every Christian who understands and earnestly accepts the teachings of his Master is at heart a socialist; and every socialist, whatever may be his hatred against all religion, bears within himself an unconscious Christianity. Professor C. Perin, of the Roman Catholic University of Louvain, belongs to the ultramontane school. His treatise on Wealth in Christian Society was published in 1861. Later he published a work on the Laws of Christian Society, which was prefaced by a pontifical breve, dated 1875. In 1879 he published a work on Christian Socialism, to which was added an address he delivered at the opening of the Congress of the Directors of the Roman Catholic Workman's Associations, at Chartres, August Q, 1878. Perin founds social order on Divine authority, but trusts largely to the moral rather than the dogmatic influence of the Church. Industry, he believes, should be organized, both paternally and fraternally, under employers, and yet with a Christian fraternal spirit. With all these and other Christian Socialist writers in Belgium, one is not surprised to find much fruit. Roman Catholic Workman's Associations have existed in Belgium some 25 years. Although in many ways not popular organizations among the masses, since they are very largely managed and controlled by priests and Jesuits, they do reach many workmen, and their frequent congresses have been very influential. On the occasion of the congress at Liege in 1886, Pope Leo XIII. addressed a favorable letter to the Bishop of Liege, which was enthusiastically received. The International Catholic Congress at Liege in 1887, under the presidency of the Cardinal Archbishop of Rheims, and attended by prelates from all over Europe as well as by Belgian members of Parliament and employers of labor, gave large attention to social questions, and took position largely on the lines advocated by Professor Perin. At the congress at Liege in 1800 there were 1500 delegates, including 10 bishops. The Catholic movement, however, in Belgium has two schools, one of which would oppose Catholicism to the socialist movement, and try and defeat it; the other would work with the socialists so far as possible, and try and Christianize their movement. Both parties, however, are opposed to radical democratic socialism, and are, therefore, violently opposed by the Belgian socialists, who would away with pope and bishop, as well as capitalist and king.

The United States

Many of the participants in the Brook Farm and the early Fourier experiments acted on motives largely those of Christian Socialism. As early as 1849 Henry James, Sr., in a lecture delivered in Boston, argued the identity of Christianity and Socialism. In 1872 a Christian Labor Union was organized in Boston under the lead of George E. McMill, Edward H. Rogers, Hon. T. Wharton Collins (of New Orleans), the Rev. Jesse H. Jones, Henry T. Delano, and others. The Rev. Jesse H. Jones from 1874-75 published a paper in Boston called the Equity, really a paper of Christian Socialism. The writings of the Rev. R. Heber Newton, D.D., of Drs. Lyman Abbott, Rylance, Washington Gladden, Professor Richard T. Ely, are well known. Yet were there no Christian Socialists, so-called, in America till organization was effected in Boston, April 15, 1889,[7] largely under the lead of the Rev. William Dwight Porter Bliss. It was called the Society of Christian Socialists, and the pamphlet What is Christian socialism? was their society's manifesto.[8] They adopted the following principles:

"To exalt the principle that all rights and powers are gifts of God, not for the receiver's use only, but for the benefit of all; to magnify the oneness of the human family, and to lift mankind to the highest plane of privilege, we band ourselves together under the name of Christian Socialists.

I. We hold that God is the source and guide of all human progress, and we believe that all social, political, and industrial relations should be based on the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, in the spirit and according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

II. We hold that the present commercial and industrial system is not thus based, but rests rather on economic individualism, the results of which are:

(1) That the natural resources of the earth and the mechanical inventions of man are made to accrue disproportionately to the advantage of the few instead of the many.

(2) That production is without general plan, and commercial and industrial crises are thereby precipitated.

(3) That the control of business is rapidly concentrating in the hands of a dangerous plutocracy, and the destinies of the masses of wage-earners are becoming increasingly dependent on the will and resources of a narrowing number of wage-payers.

(4) That thus large occasion is given for the moral evils of mammonism, recklessness, overcrowding, intemperance, prostitution, crime.

III. We hold that united Christianity must protest against a system so based and productive of such results, and must demand a reconstructed social order, which, adopting some method of production and distribution that starts from organized society as a body and seeks to benefit society equitably in everyone of its members, shall be based on the Christian principle that 'We are members one of another.'

IV. While recognizing the present dangerous tendency of business toward combinations and trusts, we yet believe that the economic circumstances which call them into being will necessarily result in the development of such a social order, which, with the equally necessary development of individual character, will be at once true socialism and true Christianity.

V. Our objects, therefore, as Christian Socialists, are:

(1) To show that the aim of socialism is embraced in the aim of Christianity.

(2) To awaken members of Christian churches to the fact that the teachings of Jesus Christ lead directly to some specific form or forms of socialism; that, therefore, the Church has a definite duty upon this matter, and must, in simple obedience to Christ, apply itself to the realization of the social principles of Christianity.

VI. We invite all who can subscribe to this declaration to active cooperation with us, and we urge the formation of similar fellowships in other places throughout the land."

This society included members of all churches. Its president was a Baptist, the Rev. O. P. Gifford, and among its officers Rev. P. W. Sprague (Episcopalian) and Mrs. Mary A. Livermore (Universalist). Branch societies were also started in many cities. The society also established, in 1889, a monthly organ, The Dawn, for some years published in Boston by Mr. Bliss. The society, however, no longer exists. Mr. Bliss has established an Episcopal mission, the Church of the Carpenter, in Boston, which supports the name and principles of Christian socialism, but through the country the organization has not taken root. This is, perhaps, however, somewhat due to the fact that Christian Socialism has in one form or another very largely entered the churches themselves. The Dawn in January, 1893, published a list of some 700 clergymen more or less actually engaged in Christian Social reform. In the Episcopal Church, a Church Social Union has been established that has reached 1000 members. In the Baptist Church a Brotherhood of the Kingdom has been formed. Still larger and more influential is the American Institute of Christian Sociology, which is not confined to any one denomination. In many colleges and divinity schools there are now either chairs or courses of lectures in Christian Sociology. Especially active in this work has been the Rev. G. D. Herron, D.D., Professor of Christian Sociology at Iowa College, Grinnell, la. Professor Herron is author of many small but brilliant books, and is constantly lecturing or holding institutes of Christian Sociology in all sections of the country. The Rev. Graham Taylor, Professor of Christian Sociology in Chicago Theological Seminary, is also working, though more conservatively, on Christian social lines. The Kingdom, a monthly of applied Christianity, published in Minneapolis, has reached a circulation of some 20,000. Almost all Church papers in the United States, notably The Outlook and The Christian Statesman, published in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, are full of earnest articles on Christian social reform. Much of this movement, however, is not committed to the definite principles of Christian Socialism, nor to the radical measures (advocated in The Dawn in this country and among most English Christian socialists). The emphasis of Dr. Herron's teaching, e.g., is upon the coming of the kingdom of God and the enthronement of Christ as king over all social life. Savs a reviewer of Dr. Herron's work: "His spirit is one of intense loyalty to Jesus Christ, demanding His immediate enthronement in those spheres of action in which most Christians and the world have denied Him sovereignty. There are no books that breathe a stronger personal attachment to a risen living Lord than his. His basal principle is the Cross self-sacrifice as the law for Church and society, State, nation, and world, as well as for individual life. And this he iterates and reiterates with an intensity and passionate eagerness, a particularity and a wideness of scope that no man in history has attempted (so far as I know) this side of Paul. 'In the class room from day to day, as well as in the pulpit on Sundays, he seems determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.'"

Dr. Herron steadily declines to go into detailed schemes for the reconstruction of society. He believes it to be the function of Christian sociology not to enter such details, but to present the general principles according to which a true society must be constructed. Without fear or favor, however, Dr. Herron condemns the present industrial, social, and ecclesiastical conditions, and demands their reformation in the name of Christ.

Radical Christian Socialism

On the other hand, the Christian Socialism advocated by The Dawn and a few of the more radical Christian Socialists of the country does advocate the definite measures of the socialist program, yet ever in the name of and based upon the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Says a tract by the Rev. William Dwight Porter Bliss:

"Christian Socialism is the application to society of the way of Christ. It believes that Christ has a social way. and that only in this way are there healing and wholeness for the nations. Christian Socialists do not deny the necessity of individual Christianity. The first thing to do is for the individual to accept Christ. Repentance, faith, baptism, the sacraments, the individual spiritual life Christian Socialism is no substitute for these. It is no salvation by the wholesale, by machinery, by power of environment; it is no new gospel of modern thought. It is, rather, simply the carrying out of the full, old gospel, which is to all people. It holds that Christian Socialism follows from and is involved in personal obedience to Christ. It is first Christian. Its starting-point is the Incarnation.

"But this being so, it quickly adds, that while Christian Socialism follows from personal obedience to Christ, it is not enough to-day to say that all that is needed is for the individual to follow Christ. This, while true, is too indefinite. It begs the question. We need to be told what it means to follow Christ. Those sentimental Christians who will listen to naught else, and say that all that is necessary is for individuals to obey Christ, and to induce others to follow Him, are in danger of saying, 'Lord, Lord,' without showing what the Lord would have us do. Christian Socialism tries to voice the social law that it has learned from Christ.


In Hungary, the Hungarian Christian Socialist Movement was active from 1895 to 1918, with ties to the agrarian movement and the Catholic People's Party; its leaders were theologian Ottokár Prohászka (1858-1928) and Sándor Giesswein (d. 1923), canon of Györ.

21st century


In the 21st century, the Christian Socialist Movement in England is a movement of Christians with a radical commitment to social justice, to protecting the environment and to fostering peace and reconciliation. It is holding a joint event on Cut The Carbon with Christian Aid at Labour Party Conference. Labour Party leader and former prime minister Tony Blair calls himself an 'ecumenical Christian' and has tied to Christian Socialism, though he led the secular Labour party to renounce its traditional commitment to government ownership of industry. "Christianity helped to inspire my rejection of Marxism," Blair explained.[9]

Christian Socialist Parties

Famous Christian Socialists


"Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist."[10]
- Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, Section 120, (May 15, 1931)

"There is a tendency, apparent at this present time, to think little of the conversion of individuals and to look upon the work of the Holy Spirit upon each separate person as much too slow a business for this progressive age. We hear grand theories of a theocracy of a kind unknown to Holy Scripture - a semi-political dominion of the Lord over masses wherein the individuals are unregenerate. We listen to great swelling words about the uplifting of nations and the advancement of the race. But these lofty ideas do not produce facts, nor have they any moral power. Our "cultured" teachers are weary of the humdrum work of bringing individual souls into light. They want to do it wholesale, by a far more rapid process than that of personal salvation. They are tired of the units - their great minds dwell upon "the solidarity of the race."

I am bold to assert that if ever we despise the method of individual conversion we shall get into an unsound order of business altogether and find ourselves wrecked upon the rocks of hypocrisy. Even in those right glorious times when the Gospel shall have the freest course, when it shall run the most quickly and be the most extensively glorified, its progress will still be after the former manner of the conviction, conversion and sanctification of individuals. Individuals who shall each one believe and be baptized according to the Word of the Lord. I fear lest in any of you there should be even the least measure of despising the one lost sheep because of the large and philosophical methods which are now so loudly advocated. I would not have you exchange the gold of individual Christianity for the base metal of Christian Socialism. If the wanderers are to be brought in, in vast numbers, as I pray they may be, yet must it be accomplished by the bringing of them in one by one. To attempt national regeneration without personal regeneration is to dream of erecting a house without separate bricks. In the vain attempt to work in the gross, we may miss the practical result which would have followed working in detail. Let us settle it in our minds that we cannot do better than obey the example of our Lord Jesus given us in the text and go after the one sheep which has gone astray. "[11]
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, One Lost Sheep, (April 28, 1889)


     "Secondly. Socialism would fail because government is corrupt to-day, and would be more so if it controlled all things.
     "But what makes government corrupt to-day? Is it not the power of money amassed in a few private hands? Is it not this that corrupts our parties, controls elections, bribes legislators, purchases legislature, not of necessity by open bribery, but just as truly and more effectively by making it the interest of electors and legislators to serve the interests of capital. Says Wendell Phillips: 'In combining, perpetual, legalized private wealth, lies our danger to-day.'
     "The rich men of this land are 'our dangerous class.' Newport and Saratoga, Lenox and Wall street, are the centres of our social and national corruption. Under Socialism, where all had a competence and none a superfluity, the cause of corrupt government would be largely removed. Public business, too, can always be better examined and controlled than private business. Even as it is to day, government is purity itself beside the corruption and trickery of the private Western Union Telegraph Company, and most other private corporations.
     "But how about the appointing power, - would not that breed corruption where Government controlled so many offices? Under democratic Socialism, Government would not appoint. Overseers and department heads would not be appointed, but elected by the workers in the department. Good workmen would be known, and enterprise and diligence rewarded by higher office."

—William Dwight Porter Bliss, What is Christian Socialism?, p. 29-30.[12]


  • Boyer, John. Culture and Political Crisis in Vienna: Christian Socialism in Power, 1897-1918. (1995) 702p. excerpt and text search
  • Cort, John C. Christian Socialism: An Informal History. (1988) 402p
  • Hopkins, Charles Howard. The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865-1915 (1940) (Chap. X "Christian Socialism") online edition
  • Phillips, Paul T. A Kingdom on Earth: Anglo-American Social Christianity, 1880-1940. (1996) 303p.
  • Seligman, Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman. Owen and the Christian Socialists (June, 1886) (Political Science Quarterly)
  • Kaufmann, Moritz. Christian Socialism (1888)
  • De Laveleye. The Socialism of To-Day
  • Brooks, Graham. The Church in Germany and the Social Question (December, 1892) (The New World)
  • The Social Movement in French Protestantism (June, 1893) (The New World)
  • Stegmann and Hugo's Handbuch des Socialismus, art. Christlicher Socialismus
  • Nitti, Francesco Saverio. Catholic Socialism (1895) (V, Statement of Principles)
  • Maurice, Frederick Denison. Christian Socialism (1849)
  • Wescott, Brooke Foss. Social Aspects of Christianity (1887)
  • Wescott, Brooke Foss. The Incarnation and Common Life (1893)
  • Headlam, Stewart D. Christian Socialism (London Fabian Society)
  • Sprague, Philo Woodruff. Christian Socialism What and Why (1891)
  • Scudder, Vida D. Socialism and Spiritual Progress (1891)
  • Herron, George D. The New Redemption and the Christian Society (1893 and 1984)
  • Bliss, William Dwight Porter. What Christian Socialism Is and The Social Faith of the Catholic Church (1894)

Primary sources

  • Bliss, William Dwight Porter. The Encyclopedia of Social Reform (1897), page 251
  • Charles Kingsley. The Works of Charles Kingsley (1899) 339 pages online edition
  • Frances Eliza Grenfell Kingsley. Charles Kingsley: His Letters and Memories of His Life (1877) 502 pages online edition
  • Gray, John. The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice: Chiefly Told in His Own Letters (1885) 707pp online edition

External links


  1. (1902) Christian Socialism in the Church of England, 9. 
  2. Moritz Kaufmann (1888). Christian Socialism, 64. 
  3. (1890) Report of the Proceedings. Church congress, 336. 
  4. (1891) Christian Socialist: A Journal for Those who Work and Think, Volume 9. W. Reeves, 129. 
  5. Himmelfarb, Poverty and Compassion, (1991) p. 336
  6. Himmelfarb, Poverty and Compassion, (1991) p. 335
  7. William Bliss & Richard Theodore Ely
  8. What Is Christian Socialism?, Society of Christian Socialists, 1889
  9. Irwin M. Stelzer, "Christian Socialism in Britain." Public Interest 1996 (124): 3-11
  10. Quadragesimo Anno, (May 15, 1931)
  11. (2015) The Complete Works of C. H. Spurgeon, Volume 35: Sermons 2062-2120, 309–310. 
  12. What is Christian Socialism?, (1911)