Theology and commerce

Daily Reading for April 1 • Frederick Denison Maurice, Priest, 1872

I acknowledge as fully as any one can that commerce is an instrument in the Divine education and that if there is, lying at the root of Society, the recognition of the unity of men in Christ, the actual intercourse of men in different countries will bring out that belief into clearness and fulness, and remove the limitation and narrowness which arise from the confusion between Christ Himself and our notions about Him. But that commerce is in itself apart from this principle any bond of brotherhood whatever—that it does not rather lead to the denial of all brotherhood, to murderous conflicts between labour and capital, to slavery and slave trade—I know not how in the face of the most patent and recent facts it is possible to maintain. In the sixth century there were mobs in Constantinople partly to uphold blue or green in the circus, partly to put down Monophysite or Nestorian opinions. In Boston, in the nineteenth century, there were mobs to put down Mr. Garrison and the supporters of the negroes. You may if you please say that Theodora and her mobs were working in the supposed interests of theology, you must say also that the New England mobs were working in the supposed interest of commerce. That both were mistaken on their own grounds we are agreed; but that admission does not prove commerce to be a more uniting principle than theology.

On the contrary, I am thoroughly convinced that all the scandals and falsehoods which are most reasonably complained of in modern theology result from its mixture with commerce and the adoption of commercial principles as the groundwork of it. Mr. Bright said most truly at the meeting on Saturday that from the time the slave states adopted the doctrine that slavery was a Divine institution the question became a religious one, and a religious war was inevitable. That [assertion that slavery is a divine institution] is the most conspicuous and flagrant instance of the adoption in a money-worshipping community of a religion based on the acknowledgment of a God who is the enemy of Mammon into its [Mammon’s] service. But it is only an instance.

Our English theology, popular as well as systematic, has been gradually reconstructing itself on the commercial or material bases; I find it the hardest thing possible not to adopt phrases in the pulpit and in writing which assume its habits and motives. The creeds have been the perpetual witnesses to me against this commercial theology, which is, I believe, helping to destroy our commercial as well as our personal morality. . . . The limitation of God’s favour to Christians arises, it seems to me, from the notion that a Christ who came into existence eighteen hundred years ago is the Head of a sect, not the Light of Light, the very God of very God. A simply humanitarian Christianity, whatever largeness it may affect in theory, will practically shut up humanity within the conceptions of the person who professes it. Humanitarians will therefore try to throw off Christianity as a restraint. But the vagueness and hollowness of a mere worship of abstract humanity will soon be palpable to them.

From a letter to a clergyman written by F. D. Maurice, dated July 1, 1863, quoted in The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice, Chiefly Told in his Own Letters, edited by his son Frederick Maurice, volume 2 (London: Macmillan, 1884).

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