What the Working Classes Owe to Christianity -- By: George Francis Greene

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 103:411 (Jul 1946)
Article: What the Working Classes Owe to Christianity
Author: George Francis Greene

What the Working Classes Owe to Christianity

George Francis Greene

(Concluded from the April-June Number, 1946)

Let us now ask what were the actual effects of the doctrines of Christianity upon the condition of the working classes in early Christian history—say, during the first three centuries of our era. There can be no better test of what the spirit of the Christian religion is than the changes it practically accomplishes in social conditions.

No effect of early Christianity was more pronounced than the elevation of labor to a nobler plane than it has ever occupied under pagan influences. Nothing can possibly degrade labor more than a system of slavery; and wherever the gospel was accepted the foundations of slavery began to be undermined. While for good reasons there is little or nothing of express condemnation of slavery in the words of Jesus Christ, it is plain that a gospel which declares that God “hath made of one blood all nations” (Acts 17:26) and that there is before the Highest no distinction of “bond or free” (in the Church, Gal 3:28), works logically to the final extinction of slavery. Hence we are not surprised to find express denunciation of slavery in the teachings of the Fathers. Thus Clement of Alexandria declared that “no man is a slave by nature” (Paedagogos, iii. 12). This echoes the spirit of Christ as over against the universal teaching of paganism. And through strictly Christian influences, within two centuries after the death of our Lord, reforms looking to the abolition of slavery were inaugurated in Rome. That slavery in civilized states lingered in the world until the 19th century was no fault of the gospel of Christ; and, apart

from the question of slavery, Christianity operated from the first in the societies in which it found acceptance to give a dignity to manual labor it had never before received. Chrysostom taught that labor is essentially noble and denounced idleness as a most serious sin (cf. Social Results of Christianity, p. 214). “Work with your hands” was the exhortation of Barnabas (Epistles, xix). Under such teaching, work cannot remain a badge of servility. It becomes a crown of honor to the worker. Those who toil with their hands become God’s freemen. In early Christian societies, again, we find the happiness of the working class promoted by certain forms of Christian charity. For instance, hospitals for the sick were established through the inspiration of Christian teaching. The first hospital is said by Mr. Lecky to have been founded in the 4th century by Fabiola, a Christian woman of Rome, as an avowed Chris...

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