Communistic Religious Associations

Communistic Religious Associations. Christianity from its beginning was connected with socialistic ideas. It taught the equality of all men in the sight of God, and it placed a high value on voluntary poverty. In the Middle Ages, it taught that private property came into existence as a result of the tall of man, and it set up a community of possessions as an ideal. Various ascetic orders attempted to put this idea into practice but without success. Several heretical sects included the community of Property as a part of their creeds.

The Waldenses in the twelfth century and the Apostolicans in the thirteenth century were examples of such brotherhoods. In both cases, they claimed to be applying the principles of the early church. The doctrines of Wyclif and Huss were easily assimilated by the classes discontented with their social and economic status and already inclined toward communism, and the peasant revolts of the fourteenth century in England and Bohemia were markedly democratic and socialistic.

It has been pointed out that the communist sects from the twelfth century onwards were composed mainly of weavers, and that the character of that occupation seems to have had a direct influence in fostering the idea of a union of workers possessing common property.

The communistic movement spread from Bohemia into Germany, where the peasants were heavily burdened by feudal exactions and by ecclesiastical extortion, and where the workers of the towns were exploited by the powerful guilds and capitalistic corporations. This economic discontent, already manifesting itself in sporadic revolts, was brought to a head by Luther’s doctrines, and resulted in the Peasants War.

Lacking arms and organization, the peasants were defeated by the trained soldiers of the princes. The communistic idea, with a strong religious background, survived in the tenets of the sect known as a Baptist. The sect was especially numerous in the Netherlands. Their doctrines were considered heretical and they were accused of licentious practices. As a result, they were bitterly persecuted.

About 1526 a Baptist migrated in large numbers into Moravia where they maintained an elaborate communistic organization for about a century. They despised learning but held manual labor in high respect. Property was held in common, and private family life was abolished.

The community was organized into large households consisting of several hundred persons. Marriages were usually arranged by the heads of the community, and children were taken from their parents at an early age and brought up under a strict system of common instruction.

The community was democratically organized, a council of elders acting in the name of the members as a whole. Economically, the experiment was a success, and the society was prosperous until it was destroyed by force of arms. In its organization, it showed marked similarities to the schemes proposed in Plato’s Republic and More’s Utopia.

The Baptists considered the state a necessary evil, to be obeyed in so far as its laws did not conflict with the dictates of conscience. They refused to take an oath in the courts or to hold public office, believing that active participation in political life conflicted with Christian equality and brotherhood. They opposed war and frequently refused to bear arms.

Groups of Baptists, gradually abandoning the most untenable elements of their belief, survived persecution in various parts of Europe. Some migrated from Holland into Eastern England, and in the seventeenth century, their ideas were revived by the English Quakers and Independents.

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