Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple by El Greco

Christian communism is a theological view that the teachings of Jesus Christ compel Christians to support religious communism as the ideal social system. Although there is no universal agreement on the exact dates when communistic ideas and practices in Christianity began, many Christian communists claim that evidence from the Bible suggests that the first Christians, including the apostles, established their own small communist society in the years following Jesus' death and resurrection.[1] As such, many advocates of Christian communism argue that it was taught by Jesus and practiced by the apostles themselves.[2] Some historians confirm its existence.[3]

A variation of the hammer and sickle with the hammer replaced by a Christian cross.
A variation of the hammer and sickle with the hammer replaced by a Christian cross.

There are those who view that the early Christian Church such as that one described in the Acts of the Apostles was an early form of communism and religious socialism. The view is that communism was just Christianity in practice and Jesus was the first communist.[4] This link was highlighted in one of Karl Marx's early writings which stated that "[a]s Christ is the intermediary unto whom man unburdens all his divinity, all his religious bonds, so the state is the mediator unto which he transfers all his Godlessness, all his human liberty".[4]

Overview

Christian communism was based on the concept of koinonia, which means common or shared life, it was not an economic doctrine but an expression of agape love.[5] It was the voluntary sharing of goods amongst the community.[6] Acts 4:35 records that in the early church in Jerusalem "[n]o one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but shared everything in common." which likely was a means for the early Christians to survive after the destruction of Jerusalem[7] although the pattern would later disappear from church history except within monasticism.

The early Church Fathers, like their non-Abrahamic predecessors, maintained that human society had declined to its current state from a now lost egalitarian social order.[8] Some historians view the early Christian Church, as described in the Acts of the Apostles (specifically in Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32-35),[9][8][2] as an early form of communism.[10][11][12] Among Christian communists the view is that communism was just Christianity in practice and Jesus Christ was himself a communist.[4] Later historians have supported the reading of early church communities as communistic in structure.[13][14][15]

From the High Middle Ages in Europe, various groups supporting Christian communist and communalist ideas were occasionally adopted by reformist Christian sects. An early 12th century proto-Protestant group originating in Lyon known as the Waldensians held their property in common in accordance with the Book of Acts, but were persecuted by the Catholic Church and retreated to Piedmont.[16] Around 1300 the Apostolic Brethren in northern Italy were taken over by Fra Dolcino who formed a sect known as the Dulcinians which advocated ending feudalism, dissolving hierarchies in the church, and holding all property in common.[16] The Peasants' Revolt in England has been an inspiration for "the medieval ideal of primitive communism", with the priest John Ball of the revolt being an inspirational figure to later revolutionaries[17] and having allegedly declared, "things cannot go well in England, nor ever will, until all goods are held in common."[18] Christian socialism was one of the founding threads of the British Labour Party and is claimed to begin with the uprising of John Ball and Wat Tyler in the 14th century CE.[19]

In Christian Europe, communists were believed to have adopted atheism. In Protestant England, communism was too close to the Roman Catholic communion rite, hence socialist was the preferred term.[20] Friedrich Engels argued that in 1848, when The Communist Manifesto was published, socialism was respectable in Europe while communism was not. The teachings of Jesus were frequently described as socialist, especially by Christian socialists.[21] The Owenites in England and the Fourierists in France were considered respectable socialists while working-class movements that "proclaimed the necessity of total social change" denoted themselves communists. This branch of socialism produced the communist work of Étienne Cabet in France and Wilhelm Weitling in Germany.[22]

In the 16th century, English writer Thomas More, who is venerated in the Catholic Church as Saint Thomas More, portrayed a society based on common ownership of property in his treatise Utopia, whose leaders administered it through the application of reason.[23] Several groupings in the English Civil War supported this idea, but especially the Diggers,[24] who espoused clear communistic and agrarian ideals.[25][26] Oliver Cromwell and the Grandees' attitude to these groups was at best ambivalent and often hostile.[27]

Thomas Müntzer, in 16th century Germany, led a large Anabaptist communist movement during the German Peasants' War[28][29] which Friedrich Engels analysed in The Peasant War in Germany.[30][31] The Marxist ethos that aims for unity reflects the Christian universalist teaching that humankind is one and that there is only one god who does not discriminate among people.[32]

Criticism of the idea of private property continued into the Enlightenment era of the 18th century through such thinkers as the deeply religious Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Raised a Calvinist, Rousseau was influenced by the Jansenist movement within the Roman Catholic Church. The Jansenist movement originated from the most orthodox Roman Catholic bishops who tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century to stop secularization and Protestantism. One of the main Jansenist aims was democratizing to stop the aristocratic corruption at the top of the Church hierarchy.[33] The participants of the Taiping Rebellion, who founded the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, a syncretic Christian-Shenic theocratic kingdom, are viewed by the Chinese Communist Party as proto-communists.[34] Soong Ching-ling was a Methodist who held the highest positions in the Communist People's Republic of China.

The Hutterites believed in strict adherence to biblical principles, "church discipline" and practiced a form of communism.[35] The Hutterites "established in their communities a rigorous system of Ordnungen, which were codes of rules and regulations that governed all aspects of life and ensured a unified perspective. As an economic system, Christian communism was attractive to many of the peasants who supported social revolution in sixteenth century central Europe" such as the German Peasants' War and "Friedrich Engels thus came to view Anabaptists as proto-Communists".[36]

In the earliest years of the Mormon movement, Joseph Smith promoted the law of consecration and the concept of the United Order. Today, some fundamentalist groups still apply this principle.[37][38]

Pehr Götrek translated the Communist Manifesto into Swedish the same year it was published in German, but made changes in it from his Christian influence, such as changing the now famous quote, Workers of the world, unite! to Folkets röst, guds röst! (i.e. Vox populi, vox Dei, or "People's voice is God's voice"). He also wrote several works criticising the developing capitalist society from a Christian perspective.[39]

Basis

The Masses, 1917 political cartoon by the socialist cartoonist Art Young
The Masses, 1917 political cartoon by the socialist cartoonist Art Young

Christian communists typically regard biblical texts in Acts 2 and 4 as evidence that the first Christians lived in a communist society.[10][8][9] This was likely based on an understanding of Luke 12:33 where Christ commands his disciples to sell what they have and give alms and Luke 14:33 where he says that no one can be his disciple who has not forsaken all his possessions. This conclusion is bolstered by the fact that Acts was also written by Luke.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. ... Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. ... There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.[40]

— Acts 2:44–45, Acts 4:32–35

Montero offers anthropological evidence that the practices recounted in Acts 4:32–35 were historical and were practiced widely and taken seriously during at least the first two centuries of Christianity.[41] Other biblical evidence of anti-capitalistic belief systems include Matthew 6:24: "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."[42] The slogan "Each according to his abilities" has biblical origins too. Acts 11:29 states: "Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea." The phrase "To each according to his needs" also has a biblical basis in Acts 4:35, stating "to the emissaries to distribute to each according to his need". Preaching by Thomas Wharton Collens describes biblical sources supporting a common-property society.[43][page needed][44][page needed]

Christian communism does not depend merely on the principles of the early apostles. In fact, Christian communists claim that anti-capitalist ideals are deeply rooted in the Christian faith. While modern capitalism had not yet formed in the time of Christ, his message was overwhelmingly against the love of money (greed) and in support of the poor. Christian communists see the principles of Christ as staunchly anti-capitalist in nature. Since "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10), it seems natural for Christians to oppose a social system founded—as Christian communists claim—entirely on the love of money. Capitalism is heavily based in the collection of usury which was condemned for centuries by the Church based in numerous scriptures. In fact, Christian opposition to the emergence of such an interest-based system largely delayed capitalist development and capitalism did not gather popular support until John Calvin endorsed capitalist practice from a religious perspective.[45]

Groups

This is a dynamic list and may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness. You can help by adding missing items with reliable sources.

This is a list of Christian groups who do or have formerly held property in common.

Extant groups:

Historically, many groups have practiced Christian communism, and may or may not be extant, depending on the case:

Reception and controversy

Both Christian communism and liberation theology stress orthopraxis over orthodoxy. A narrative of the nature of contemporary social struggles is developed via materialist analysis utilizing historiographic concepts developed by Karl Marx. A concrete example are the Paraguayan Sin Tierra (i.e. landless) movement,[53] who engage in direct land seizures and the establishment of socialized agricultural cooperative production in asentamientos. The contemporary Paraguayan Sin Tierra operate in a very similar manner as that of the reformation era Diggers.[54][55] For Camilo Torres, the founder of the Colombian guerrilla group ELN,[56][57][58] developing this orthopraxis meant celebrating the Catholic Eucharist only among those engaged in armed struggle against the army of the Colombian state while fighting alongside them.[59]

The democratic socialist[60] social gospel advocate[61] Martin Luther King Jr. made an assertion that "no Christian can be a communist". He claimed that "basic philosophy of Christianity is unalterably opposed to the basic philosophy of communism", citing what he saw as rampant secularism and materialism in communism as proof that communism "leaves out God". He further claimed that "for the communist there is no divine government or no absolute moral order, there are no fixed, immutable principles." Nevertheless, King acknowledged that "although communism can never be accepted by a Christian, it emphasizes many essential truths that must forever challenge us as Christians." He adds:

Communism in society is a classless society. Along with this goes a strong attempt to eliminate racial prejudice. Communism seeks to transcend the superficialities of race and color, and you are able to join the Communist Party whatever the color of your skin or the quality of your blood, the quality of blood in your veins… No one can deny that we need to be concerned about social justice… Karl Marx arouses our conscience at this point… So with this passionate concern for social justice, Christians are bound to be in accord. Such concern is implicit in the Christian doctrine of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Christians are always to begin with a bias in favor of a movement which protests against unfair treatment of the poor, but surely Christianity itself is such a protest. The Communist Manifesto might express a concern for the poor and the oppressed, but it expresses no greater concern than the manifesto of Jesus, which opens with the words: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captive, recovering the sight of the blind; to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord…" We won’t have to worry… [about] communism… It can never be defeated with ammunition. It can never be defeated with missiles… The only way that we can defeat communism is to get a better idea, and we have it in our democracy… We have it in our Christianity.[62]

Similarly, when asked about being labeled a Leninist, Pope Francis said: "The communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the center of the Gospel" and communism came "twenty centuries later".[63]

Christian communism and Marxism

See also: Marxism and religion § Communism and Christianity, Christian materialism, and Catholicity

Christian communists may or may not agree with various parts of Marxism, such as on the way a socialist or communist society should be organized.[64][65] However, Christian communists also share some of the political goals of Marxists, for example, replacing capitalism with socialism, which should in turn be followed by communism at a later point in the future.

The young Louis Althusser[66] and Denys Turner[67] are among Christian or Christianity-influenced philosophers who asserted the coherence of Christianity and Marxism, going so far as to adopt Marxism into their belief system.[citation needed] In Althusser's words,

I became communist because I was Catholic. I did not change religion, but I remained profoundly Catholic. I don’t go to church […] I remained a Catholic, that is, an internationalist universalist. I thought that inside the Communist Party there were more adequate means to realize universal fraternity.

See also

References

  1. ^ Montero, Roman. "The Sources of Early Christian Communism". Church Life Journal. Retrieved 26 March 2021.
  2. ^ a b Kautsky, Karl (1953) [1908]. "IV.II. The Christian Idea of the Messiah. Jesus as a Rebel". Foundations of Christianity. Russell and Russell. Christianity was the expression of class conflict in Antiquity.
  3. ^ Lansford (2007), pp. 24–25Guthrie (1992), p. 46Renan (1869), p. 152Boer (2009), p. 120Ellicott & Plumptre (1910)
  4. ^ a b c Houlden, Leslie; Minard, Antone (2015). Jesus in History, Legend, Scripture, and Tradition: A World Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 357. ISBN 978-1-61069804-7.
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  10. ^ a b Busky, Donald F. (2002). Communism in History and Theory: From Utopian socialism to the fall of the Soviet Union. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-275-97748-1.
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  14. ^ Boer 2009, p. 120.
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  26. ^ a b The True Levellers Standard ADVANCED: or, The State of Community opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men. R.S. Bear. 2002. That we may work in righteousness, and lay the Foundation of making the Earth a Common Treasury for All, both Rich and Poor, That every one that is born in the Land, may be fed by the Earth his Mother that brought him forth, according to the Reason that rules in the Creation. Not Inclosing any part into any particular hand, but all as one man, working together, and feeding together as Sons of one Father, members of one Family; not one Lording over another, but all looking upon each other, as equals in the Creation.
  27. ^ Bernstein, Eduard (1930). Cromwell and Communism. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
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  34. ^ Little, Daniel (17 May 2009). Marx and the Taipings. University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Retrieved 5 August 2020. Mao and the Chinese Communists largely represented the Taiping rebellion as a proto-communist uprising.
  35. ^ Friedmann, Robert (1 December 1955). "The Christian Communism of the Hutterite Brethren". Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte. Gütersloher Verlagshaus. 46. doi:10.14315/arg-1955-jg14. S2CID 163574509.
  36. ^ Janzen, Rod; Stanton, Max (2010). The Hutterites in North America (illustrated ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. p. 17. ISBN 9780801899256.
  37. ^ "Why I want to Live the United Order". Mormon Matters. 27 January 2010. Retrieved 12 January 2022.
  38. ^ Weidow, Lesley (1 January 2009). "Montana Zion: American Communalism in a Mormon Fundamentalist Community". Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers.
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  40. ^ "Acts204:32-35 NRSV - - Bible Gateway". www.biblegateway.com. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  41. ^ Montero, Roman A.; Foster, Edgar G. (2017). All Things in Common: The Economic Practices of the Early Christians. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 5. ISBN 9781532607929. Retrieved 24 January 2019. I am going to argue that the accounts found in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37 describe historical economic practices found within the early Christian community; practices that were taken very seriously, which were widespread over different Christian communities around the Roman world, and which lasted for at least well into the second century. I am also going to argue that these economic practices were grounded in both Jewish and Christian theology and had precedent in Jewish tradition and practice; as well as the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
  42. ^ "Matthew 63A24 NIV - - Bible Gateway". www.biblegateway.com. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  43. ^ Miranda, José Porfirio (1981). Comunismo en la Biblia [Communism in the Bible]. Colección mínima (in Spanish). Vol. 79 (3 ed.). Mexico, D.F.: Siglo veintiuno editores (published 1988). ISBN 9789682314865. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  44. ^ Miranda, Jose Porfirio (2004). Communism in the Bible. Translated by Barr, Robert R. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 9781592444687. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  45. ^ Osakue, Dawn. "Calvinist Ethics and the Rise of Capitalism". After turning the convert into a capitalist, the Calvinist doctrine of predetermination then made him comfortable with the uneven distribution of wealth. [...] Weber's central thesis on the relationship between Calvinist ethics and the rise of capitalism is that the former directly led to, and sustained the growth of the latter. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  46. ^ "FAQs". Bruderhof. Retrieved 7 January 2022.
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  63. ^ Pullella, Philip. "Pope Francis: Communists 'stole' the flag of Christianity". Reuters Edition International. Archived from the original on 7 July 2014. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
  64. ^ Boer, Roland (19 February 2019). "11: Christian Communism and the Bolsheviks". In Boer, Roland (ed.). Red Theology: On the Christian Communist Tradition. Brill Publishers. pp. 166–82. doi:10.1163/9789004394773_013. ISBN 978-90-04-39477-3. S2CID 159065672.
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Bibliography

Further reading