As a tribute to R. H. Tawney, we publish, as the most fitting comment on the life and achievement of a great Socialist teacher, the following passage from his work. The excerpt is taken, with acknowledgements to John Murray (Publishers) Ltd., from Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.
By the end of the 16th century the divorce between religious theory and economic realities had long been evident. But in the meantime, within the bosom of religious theory itself, a new system of ideas was being matured, which was designed to revolutionise all traditional values, and to turn on the whole field of social obligations a new and penetrating light. On a world heaving with expanding energies, and on a Church uncertain of itself, rose, after two generations of premonitory mutterings, the tremendous storm of the Puritan movement. The forest bent; the oaks snapped; the dry leaves were driven before a gale, neither all of winter nor all of spring, but violent and life-giving, pitiless and tender, sounding strange notes of yearning and contrition, as of voices wrung from a people dwelling in Meshech, which signifies Prolonging, in Kedar, which signifies Blackness; while amid the blare of trumpets and the clash of arms, and the rending of the carved work of the Temple, humble to God and haughty to man, the soldier-saints swept over battlefield and scaffold their garments rolled in blood.
In the great silence which fell when the Titans had turned to dust, in the Augustan calm of the 18th century, a voice was heard to observe that religious liberty was a considerable advantage, regarded ‘merely in a commercial view’. A new world, it was evident had arisen. And this new world, born of the vision of the mystic, the passion of the prophet, the sweat and agony of heroes famous and unknown, as well as of mundane ambitions and commonplace cupidities, was one in which, since ‘Thorough’
The principal streams which descended in England from Calvin were three—Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, and a doctrine of the nature of God and man, which, if common to both, was more widely diffused, more pervasive and more potent than either. Of these three offshoots from the parent stem, the first and eldest, which had made some stir under Elizabeth, and which it was hoped, with some judicious watering from the Scotch, might grow into a State Church, was to produce a credal statement carved in bronze, but was to strike, at least in its original guise, but slender roots. The second, with its insistence on the right of every Church to organise itself, and on the freedom of all Churches from the interference of the State, was to leave, alike in the Old World and in the New, an imperishable legacy of civil and religious liberty. The third was Puritanism. Straitened to no single sect, and represented in the Anglican Church hardly, if at all, less fully than in those which afterwards separated from it, it determined, not only conceptions of theology and church government, but political aspirations, business relations, family life and the minuti of personal behaviour.
The growth, triumph and transformation of the Puritan spirit was the most fundamental movement of the 17th century. Puritanism, not the Tudor secession from Rome, was the true English Reformation, and it is from its struggle against the old order that an England which is unmistakably modern emerges. But, immense as were its accomplishments on the high stage of public affairs, its achievements in that inner world, of which politics are but the squalid scaffolding, were mightier still. Like an iceberg, which can awe the traveller by its towering majesty only because sustained by a vaster mass which escapes his eye, the revolution which Puritanism wrought in Church and State was less than that which it worked in men’s souls, and the watchwords which it thundered, amid the hum of Parliaments and the roar of battles, had been learned in the lonely nights, when Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord to wring a blessing before he fled.
We do it wrong being so majestical,
To offer it the show of violence.
In the mysticism of Bunyan and Fox, in the brooding melancholy and glowing energy of Milton, ‘unshaken, unseduced, unterrified’, amid a world of self-seekers and apostates, there are depths of light and darkness which posterity can observe with reverence or with horror, but which its small fathom-line cannot plumb.