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Class Hatred and Communism within (early) Proletarian Christianity

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  • Class Hatred and Communism within (early) Proletarian Christianity

    From Foundations of Christianity (1908) by Karl Kautsky. A historical materialist analysis of early Christianity.

    Class Hatred

    The first thing we encounter is a fierce class hatred against the rich.

    It appears clearly in the Gospel according to St. Luke, a composition of the beginning of the second century, especially in the story of Lazarus, which is found only in this gospel (16, verses 19f.). The rich man goes to hell and the poor man to Abraham’s bosom, and not because the rich man was a sinner and the poor man just: nothing is said about that. The rich man is damned just because he was rich. Abraham says to him: “Remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” The thirst of the oppressed for vengeance is gloating here. The same gospel has Jesus say: “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (18, verses 24f.). Here too the rich man is damned for his wealth, not for his sinfulness.

    Likewise in the Sermon on the Mount (6, verses 20f.):

    “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh ... But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.”As we see, being rich and enjoying wealth is a crime that merits the most bitter atonement.

    The same spirit breathes through the epistle of James “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad,” dating from the middle of the second century:

    “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered: and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord” (5, verse 1f.).

    He even thunders against the rich in the ranks of the faithful:

    “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted; But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. ... Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” (James 1, verses 9 to 11; 2, verses 5 to 7).

    The class hatred of the modern proletariat has hardly reached such fanatical forms as did that of the Christian.In the brief moments in which the proletariat of our days has come to power hitherto, it has never taken vengeance on the rich. It is true that it feels stronger today than the proletariat of budding Christianity did; and one who knows he is strong is always more magnanimous than the weak man. It is an indication of how weak the bourgeoisie feels today that it always takes such frightful vengeance on the proletariat in rebellion.

    The Gospel according to St. Matthew is some decades later than that of Luke. In the interval prosperous and educated people had begun to come close to Christianity. Many Christian propagandists felt the need of giving the Christian doctrine a form which would be more attractive to these people. The uncompromising tradition of primitive Christianity became inconvenient. Since however it had struck too deep roots to be simply put aside, an effort was made at least to revise the original composition in an opportunistic way. By virtue of this revisionism the Gospel according to St. Matthew has become the “Gospel of Contradictions” , and the “favorite gospel of the church.” Here the church found “the unruly and revolutionary elements of enthusiasm and socialism in primitive Christianity so moderated to the golden mean of a clerical opportunism that it no longer seemed to endanger the existence of an organized church making its peace with human society.”

    Naturally, the various authors who successively worked on the gospel according to St. Matthew left out all the inconvenient things they could, such as the story of Lazarus and the rejection of the inheritance dispute, which too gives rise to an attack on the rich (Luke 12, verse 13f.). But the Sermon on the Mount was already too popular and well-known to be treated in the same way. It was patched up: in Matthew, Jesus is made to say:

    “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ... Blessed are they, which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (chap. 5).

    Of course all the traces of class hatred have been washed away in this adroit revisionism. Now it is the poor in spirit that are blessed. It is not certain what sort of folk these are, whether idiots or people who were paupers only in an imaginary sense; who continued to have possessions, but assert their heart is not in them. Apparently the latter are meant; but in any case the condemnation of wealth which was contained in the blessing of the poor is gone.

    It is really amusing to find the hungry transformed into those that hunger after righteousness, who are assured that they shall be filled; the Greek word used here (chorazein – have their fill) is used of beasts for the most part, and applied to men humorously or in contempt. Having the word used in the Sermon on the Mount is another indication of the proletarian origin of Christianity. The expression was current in the circles from which it sprang, to indicate the complete quenching of their bodily hunger. It is ludicrous to apply it to quenching the hunger for righteousness.

    The counterpart to these blessings, the cursing of the rich, has disappeared in Matthew. Here even the shrewdest manipulation could not find a formulation acceptable to the prosperous groups whose conversion was being aimed at. The curses had to go.

    [But although influential groups of the Christian community, turning opportunistic, strove to efface its proletarian character, the proletariat and its class hatred were not eliminated, and there were always individual thinkers who expressed it. The little book of Paul Pflüger, Der Sozialismus der Kirchenväter, gives a good collection of passages from the writings of Saint Clement, Bishop Asterius, Lactantius, Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Ambrose, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Jerome, Augustine, etc., almost all figures of the fourth century, in which Christianity was already the official state religion. They all contain bitter attacks on the rich, whom they equate with robbers and thieves.
    Last edited by | K Y L E |; 04-14-2006, 05:49 PM.

  • #2
    Communism

    In view of the strong proletarian imprint on the community, it was likely that it should strive toward a communistic form of organization. This is testified to expressly. The Acts of the Apostles says:

    “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship [communism, koinonia], and in breaking of bread, and in prayers ... And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (2, verses 42f.). “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common ... Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need” (4, verse 32f.).

    We all know that Ananias and Sapphira, who withheld some of their money from the community were immediately punished by death, by a divine visitation.

    Saint John, called Chrysostom (Golden Mouth) because of his fiery eloquence, a fearless critic of his time (347 to 407), attached to the above description of primitive Christian communism a discussion of its advantages which sounds very realistically economic and not at all ecstatic and ascetic. This is in his eleventh homily (sermon) on the Acts of the Apostles. There he said:

    “Grace was among them, since nobody suffered want, that is, since they gave so willingly that no one remained poor. For they did not give a part, keeping another part for themselves; they gave everything in their possession. They did away with inequality and lived in great abundance; and this they did in the most praiseworthy fashion. They did not dare to put their offering into the hands of the needy, nor give it with lofty condescension, but they laid it at the feet of the apostles and made them the masters and distributors of the gifts. What a man needed was then taken from the treasure of the community, not from the private property of individuals. Thereby the givers did not become arrogant.

    “Should we do as much today, we should all live much more happily, rich as well as poor; and the poor would not be more the gainers than the rich ... for those who gave did not thereby become poor, but made the poor also rich.

    “Let us imagine things as happening in this way: All give all that they have into a common fund. No one would have to concern himself about it, neither the rich nor the poor. How much money do you think would be collected? I infer – for it cannot be said with certainty – that if every individual contributed all his money, his lands, his estates, his houses (I will not speak of slaves, for the first Christians had none, probably giving them their freedom), then a million pounds of gold would be obtained, and most likely two or three times that amount. Then tell me how many people our city [Constantinople] contains? How many Christians? Will it not come to a hundred thousand? And how many pagans and Jews! How many thousands of pounds of gold would be gathered in? And how many of the poor do we have? I doubt that there are more than fifty thousand. How much would be required to feed them daily? If they all ate at a common table, the cost could not be very great. What could we not undertake with our huge treasure! Do you believe it could ever be exhausted? And will not the blessing of God pour down on us a thousand-fold richer? Will we not make a heaven on earth? If this turned out so brilliantly for three or five thousand [the first Christians] and none of them was in want, how much more would this be so with such a great quantity? Will not each newcomer add something more?

    “The dispersion of property is the cause of greater expenditure and so of poverty. Consider a household with man and wife and ten children. She does weaving and he goes to the market to make a living; will they need more if they live in a single house or when they live separately? Clearly, when they live separately. If the ten sons each go his own way, they need ten houses, ten tables, ten servants and everything else in proportion. And how of the mass of slaves? Are these not fed at a single table, in order to save money? Dispersion regularly leads to waste, bringing together leads to economy. That is how people now live in monasteries and how the faithful once lived. Who died of hunger then? Who was not fully satisfied? And yet men are more afraid of this way of life than of a leap into the endless sea. If only we made the attempt and took bold hold of the situation! How great a blessing there would be as a result! For if at that time, when there were so few faithful, only three to five thousand, if at that time, when the whole world was hostile to us and there was no comfort anywhere, our predecessors were so resolute in this, how much more confidence should we have today, when by God’s grace the faithful are everywhere! Who would still remain a heathen? Nobody, I believe. Every one would come to us and be friendly.”


    The first Christians were not capable of going into such clear and calm details. But their brief remarks, appeals, demands, wishes, all point to the same communistic character of the beginning of the Christian community.

    In the Gospel according to St. John (dating, it is true, only from the middle of the second century) the communistic life of Jesus and the apostles is taken for granted. They had only one purse among them, kept by Judas Iscariot. John, who here as elsewhere tries to outdo his predecessors, deepens the revulsion felt at Judas’ treason by branding him as a thief from the common fund. He describes how Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with costly ointment.

    “Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein” (chap. 12, verses 4f.).

    At the Last Supper Jesus says to Judas: “That thou doest, do quickly. Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor” (chap. 13, verses 27-29).

    Over and over again in the gospels Jesus requires of his disciples that each give everything that he owns.

    “... whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14, verse 33).

    “Sell that ye have, and give alms” (Luke 12, verse 33).

    “And a certain ruler asked him [Jesus], saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, no not commit adultery. Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich” (Luke 18, verses 18-28).


    This leads Jesus to the image of the camel who goes more easily through the eye of a needle than a rich man into the kingdom of God. Only those can share in that kingdom who share their goods with the poor.

    The gospel attributed to Mark describes the matter in the same way.

    The revisionist Matthew however weakens the original vigor here too. The requirement is put as a condition. Matthew has Jesus say to the rich youth: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor” (19, Verse 21).

    What Jesus was originally supposed to have required of each of his supporters, every member of his community, was reduced in time to a requirement only of those who professed perfection.

    This development is quite natural in the case of an organization that was originally purely proletarian and later admitted more and more wealthy elements.

    There are however many theologians who deny the communistic character of early Christianity, on the grounds that the report of it in the Acts of the Apostles is of later origin, and allege that, as so often happened in antiquity, the ideal condition that one dreamed of was represented as having been actual in the past. In all this it is forgotten that for the official church of later centuries, going out to meet the rich half-way, the communistic character of primitive Christianity was most inconvenient. If the account of it were based on a later invention, the champions of the opportunistic tendency would have protested against it at once and seen to it that the writings containing such accounts were stricken from the canon of the books recognized by the church. The church has tolerated only those forgeries which are in its interest. This, however, would not apply to communism. If it was officially recognized as the original requirement of the primitive community, this surely took place only because no other course was possible, because the tradition on this point had too deep roots and was too generally accepted.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by On The History of Early Christianity by Frederick Engels

      The history of early Christianity has notable points of resemblance with the modern working-class movement. Like the latter, Christianity was originally a movement of oppressed people: it first appeared as the religion of slaves and emancipated slaves, of poor people deprived of all rights, of peoples subjugated or dispersed by Rome. Both Christianity and the workers' socialism preach forthcoming salvation from bondage and misery; Christianity places this salvation in a life beyond, after death, in heaven; socialism places it in this world, in a transformation of society. Both are persecuted and baited, their adherents are despised and made the objects of exclusive laws, the former as enemies of the human race, the latter as enemies of the state, enemies of religion, the family, social order. And in spite of all persecution, nay, even spurred on by it, they forge victoriously, irresistibly ahead. Three hundred years after its appearance Christianity was the recognized state religion in the Roman World Empire, and in barely sixty years socialism has won itself a position which makes its victory absolutely certain.

      Comment


      • #4
        I actually plan on reading this.. Too lazy now..

        Comment

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