In 1848 Karl Marx dismissed Christian Socialism as "the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heartburnings of the aristocrat" (Marx [1848] 1967). His immediate, if unstated, target was the group of Anglicans around the theologian F. D. Maurice, who that year in London began a short-lived publication, The Christian Socialist. The occasion for their emergence—sympathy with Chartism—was political, and an important part of their activity was practical social witness, such as Maurice’s foundation of the Working Men’s College in 1854. Their Christian Socialism was thus reformist rather than radical and operated within a theological as well as a political context. As Maurice explained, he chose the term Christian Socialist to differentiate them from both "the unsocial Christians and the unChristian socialists" (quoted in Wilkinson 1998). The former were targets because of the pietistic emphasis on individual salvation of contemporary evangelicalism, and for political reasons. At the time Christian views of political economy were primarily shaped by emphases on responsibility: either in Malthus’s warnings about the demoralizing effects of the Poor Law or in the comforting commonplace of the time that he who pursues his own best interests is also supplying the interests of the community as a whole. Maurice attacked such views and the laissez-faire orthodoxy they reflected. Socialism for him, however, seems to have been largely about the church addressing the people inclusively rather than individually, not least through reformist social activity rather than the establishment of an alternative political economy.

Although the term Christian Socialism was popularized in this distinctive nineteenth-century context, it drew, as even Marx acknowledged, upon both biblical and ecclesiastical precepts. It may have been at this point that Christian Socialism began to emerge as a distinct witness, but those who followed in Maurice’s footsteps could associate their views with a much longer tradition. From the Old Testament the providence of land and the Jewish institution of Jubilee implied divine sanction of equal shares in the means of production and divine prohibition of private accumulation, while the prophets provided examples of denunciations of injustice. The New Testament furnishes strictures against the rich and the money changers, while Christ’s message that, instead of the love of self implied by such accumulation, people should love one another became, by the late nineteenth century, the basis for claims that Jesus was the first socialist. And the sharing of all things in common and their distribution according to need in the early church (Acts 2: 44—47; 4: 32—37) suggested protosocialist communities.

There were a number of attempts to re-create such communities in the early nineteenth century. Etienne Cabet in France saw the rise of the medieval church as having corrupted early Christianity, the ideals of which he sought to recapture in utopian communities. The non-Christian Robert Owen simultaneously experimented with such communities in Britain and America. Although his ideas were to influence Maurice, both his and Cabet’s communities ended in failure. Meanwhile, the shadowy League of the Just founded in 1836 and largely composed of German exiles in London was transformed from a body calling for the realization of the Kingdom of God on Earth through universal brotherhood in 1847 into the purported commissioners of Marx’s Communist Manifesto, which sought to achieve the ideal society through class struggle instead.

Some Christians accepted this diagnosis, while rejecting both the materialistic basis of Marxism and its facile assumption that an ideal society requires merely the expunging of class exploitation. They were, however, in a new situation, in which positivistic secular creeds sought to explain the human condition or express social ideals without necessarily having recourse to religious frameworks. Socialism could still benefit from the imprimatur of Christianity, but it could also become a rival creed to churches seen as more focused on salvation in the next world rather than this one. In continental Europe, as well, papal hostility to this challenge in Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors (1864), as well as the extent to which Catholicism had become associated with defense of the established order, meant that nineteenth-century socialism there frequently had a distinctly anticlerical flavor. Despite the efforts of, for instance, Bishop Kettler of Mainz in the 1860s, this antipathy was not to be mitigated until after Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, which, while still condemning socialism, was much more open to labor organizations.

The more pluralistic political and religious culture of the Anglophone world produced different effects. An emphasis on the Incarnation and the corporate life of the church led Anglo-Catholics such as Stewart Headlam to revive Christian Socialism in the 1870s and 1880s. Walter Rauschenbusch’s emphasis in the 1890s on the Kingdom of God as an endeavor for this life, not the next, was also to have wide influence. It led to a positive view of state intervention. Contemporary economic and social developments, especially the emergence of more rigid class differences and secular socialist parties, were also prompting this trend. A "Social Gospel," intended to bridge the gulf to the working classes by a mixture of social work in poorer areas and a generalized language of social welfare, appeared in both Britain and America around the end of the nineteenth century.

In America such figures as Washington Gladden emphasized a new concordat between capital and labor, not least through just wages and profit sharing. Meanwhile, in Edwardian Britain, the more radical idea of Guild Socialism came into vogue. This was an attempt to find ways for workers themselves to directly control their production and entrench the dignity of labor against the materialism of collective socialism. Grounded in part in medieval romanticism, practical expression was most nearly achieved by the guild organization in the building trades established by Quaker businessman Malcolm Sparks after World War I. Such ideas, however, did not long survive in the difficult economic climate of the interwar years.

Anglo-Catholic enthusiasm for a corporate and social expression in faith led instead to experiments such as the Christendom Group around Maurice Reckitt. Meanwhile, within the Roman Catholic Church, while the rise of Catholic Action as a means of engaging with modern conditions prompted a growing accent on social welfare by the 1930s, the theocratic nature of much of Catholic political thought militated against its being expressed in radical political ways. Exceptions included the Catholic Worker Movement founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in New York in 1933.

Significant change came with Vatican II in the early 1960s. In particular, its more active approach to pastoral care opened the way for political engagement. This was particularly true in Catholic Latin America, where popular protest against the extreme social inequalities of the Continent were already gathering strength in the wake of the 1958 Cuban revolution. Bishops meeting in Medellm in 1968 concluded that the Church had to be not only for the poor but of the poor. The focus, as developed in Gustavo Gutierrez’s A Theology of Liberation (1971), was on God’s preferential love for the poor and oppressed, expressed, not least, by Christ himself identifying with their suffering on the cross. This perspective was subsequently to find wide application, particularly in the developing world.

Christian Socialism, then, is to some extent contextual and does not involve a single political or theological viewpoint. It has developed in relation both to secular socialist movements—some of which, like the British Labour Party, now have affiliated Christian organiza-tions—and the wider churches. What is distinctive throughout, however, is the view that a more socially just society requires changes in people’s attitudes toward one another rather than simply in the social system.

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