An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Christian Socialism

The beginnings of Christian socialism in the Church of England are associated with the work of J. M. Ludlow, Charles Kingsley, and F. D. Maurice. Maurice was its prophet and theologian whose influence continues today. But he was no Marxist, and with most Englishmen he was unsympathetic to revolution. But these leaders did see constructive forces at work in the revolutionary impulses. In assuming the name Christian socialism, they did not propose an economic doctrine nor a program of reform, but the “science of partnership.” They held that Christianity looked to a society in which people would work cooperatively together. Competition was held to be a denial of what the church believed. Maurice proposed cooperative workers' unions and educational institutes. Maurice died in 1872, but his ideas continued to be influential. In June 1889, the Christian Social Union was formed to urge fundamental Christian social principles. Bishop B. F. Westcott was its first president, and its leaders included Henry Scott Holland and Bishop Charles Gore. In the twentieth century several successive Christian socialist groups were formed in the Church of England. In 1921 The Return of Christendom appeared, in which industrial capitalism was criticized in the light of catholic doctrine. In the United States, the American Church Socialist League and its successor, the Church League for Industrial Democracy, sought to further the Christian socialist agenda. The great figure of the twentieth century was William Temple (1881-1944), Archbishop of Canterbury, who urged that the church must choose between socialism and heresy. His Christianity and Social Order is a basic text for twentieth-century Christian socialism. The emphasis on theology and the gospel in Christian socialism rescues any effort to change social structures from simple expediency and avoids the separation of prayer and action.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.