October 8: William Dwight Porter Bliss and Richard Theodore Ely, Priest, 1926 Economist, 1943
October 8, 2010 9 Comments
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About this commemoration
Richard Theodore Ely was born in 1854 in Ripley, New York. The son of Presbyterians, he became an Episcopalian while working on his undergraduate degree at Columbia. After receiving his doctorate in economics at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, he taught at Johns Hopkins University and then at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
In 1894, Ely was accused of teaching socialist principles and effort was made to remove him from this professorship. Ely, who rejected the extremes of both capitalism and socialism, stated in his defense, “I condemn alike that individualism that would allow the state no room for industrial activity, and that socialism which would absorb in the state the functions of the individual.” What was needed instead, he argued, was a proper and healthy balance between public and private enterprise. Ely favored competition with regulation that would raise the moral and ethical level of economic practice.
Ely claimed that the Gospel was social rather than individualistic in nature, and he consistently called the Episcopal Church to work toward the reform of capitalism for the sake of the rights and dignity of the American worker. Ely’s principles were highly inﬂuential on his friend Walter Rauschenbusch, one of the major ﬁgures in the Social Gospel Movement.
Like R.T. Ely, William Dwight Porter Bliss believed that the church was called to work for economic justice, the principles of which were grounded in the Gospel. Originally ordained a Congregationalist minister, in 1886 he became an Episcopal deacon and was ordained to the priesthood the next year. He served parishes in Massachusetts, California, and New York before organizing the ﬁrst Christian Socialist Society in the United States in 1899. Bliss consistently claimed that economic justice, for which all Christians were responsible, was “rooted and grounded in Christ, the liberator, the head of humanity.” Among his written works are The Encyclopedia of Social Reform (1898) and The Hand-Book of Socialism (1895).
I Blessed God, whose Son Jesus came as servant to all: We offer thanks for William Bliss and Richard Ely, whose dedication to the commonweal through economic justice led them to be bold reformers of the world and the Church; and we pray that we, with them, may ﬁnd our true happiness through self-sacriﬁce in service of thy reign, where all the hungry are fed and the downtrodden are raised up through Jesus Christ our Liberator; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
II Blessed God, whose Son Jesus came as servant to all: We thank you for William Bliss and Richard Ely, whose dedication to the commonweal through economic justice led them to be bold reformers of the world and the Church; and we pray that we, with them, may ﬁnd our true happiness through self-sacriﬁce in service of your reign, where all the hungry are fed and the downtrodden are raised up through Jesus Christ our Liberator; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Lessons: Isaiah 61:1–4, Acts 2:41–47, and Luke 16:19–31
Preface of a Saint (2)
From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
Also of interest
William Dwight Porter Bliss’s Christian Socialism by Richard B. Dressner. Church History Vol. 47, No. 1 (Mar., 1978), pp. 66-82 (article consists of 17 pages). Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Society of Church History
The Star-Spangled Banner (adapted to the situation). From Hymns and Songs of Socialism for Social Meetings of the Church of the Carpenter, Boston 1893.
We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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