October 8: William Dwight Porter Bliss and Richard Theodore Ely, Priest, 1926 Economist, 1943

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, and then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

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.

Published in The Comrade (New York), v. 2, no. 7 (April 1903), pg. 164.

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).

Collects

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.

Psalm 18:21-31

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

http://www.jstor.org/stable/3164615

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.

http://www.anglocatholicsocialism.org/morgan.html

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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9 Responses to October 8: William Dwight Porter Bliss and Richard Theodore Ely, Priest, 1926 Economist, 1943

  1. Michael Hartney says:

    Hebrew reading: This reading just seems presumptuous for these men.
    New Testament reading: That ‘they shared everything’ seems a bit trite a theme for them.

    Bio. Ely is first and Bliss is second – yet in the title Bliss is first and Ely second. Why the switch in order?

    They both need ‘who they are’ and ‘why they are important’ statements and ‘he died in …’ statements. Oh, and Bliss needs a year of his birth, too.

  2. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    In second paragraph change “effort was made” to “an effort was made.”

    Glenn Beck wouldn’t like these guys! Sorry, i coulnd’t resist.

  3. TEK says:

    I agree with the needed biographical info as Michael says. Over all, I think they are an appropriate addition to the Calendar.

    A few things about the collect: (1) I think the phrase “where all the hungry are fed and the downtrodden are raised up” feels excessive. Simplicity is usually best. (2) The word “commonweal” might need to be changed, if for no other reason than the person in the pew might not understand it. (3) At the conclusion, “Jesus Christ our Liberator” sounds a bit precious, and I think we are creating some theological problems by capitalizing adjectives which are implied as being interchangeable with the word “Lord” or “Savior.” Why not maintain Anglican tradition and use “Jesus Christ our Lord,” or, if we want to be free of gender, “Jesus Christ our Savior?”

  4. John LaVoe says:

    I’m surprised to read this commemoration, but I find that putting my finger on exactly why, is subtle.

    Part of my reaction is that while they are “good” in every regard, they don’t seem exemplary or outstanding — much less heroic in the same class as other HWHM commemorations — in any way. There’s an element of controversy in the very economic subject matter and its parlance, but that in itself is not a forbidden thing. Still, trying to walk the tightrope between the excesses and abuses of capitalism and socialism, even though neither is a simple panacea, feels like the stuff of “in your face” politics (at least these days).

    Both men give the impression of ivy tower dwellers living in a time rife with real world need, and a bit removed from it, despite their attention to the existence of the needy.. I guess I expect more “hands-on” activism for them to be in HWHM.

    The collect, especially, seems to oversell what the biographies deliver. I don’t get the feeling from the bio of that they actually accomplished things in the way of real-world “economic justice.” I don’t see the boldness in the claim that they were “bold reformers of the world and the Church.” (What reforms did they make?) I don’t know what their “self-sacrifice” consisted in, even though one was attacked for his teachings. (Being attacked in theoretical academia is, perversely, part of the fun of being paid attention to, which is a good part of the fun of academia!) And, while I heartily applaud the inclusion of an eschatological dimension (“where all the hungry are fed and the downtrodden are raised up”), I’m afraid the use of the otherwise legitimate ” through Jesus Christ our Liberator” sounds just a tad jingoistic in this context.

    I’m not recommending improvements. I see them as unsuitable for “Holy Women, Holy Men.”

  5. Bill Petersen says:

    Ely as a layman of the Episcopal Church was also a proponent of more frequent celebration of the Eucharist, seeing the sacramental base for his social views and thus connecting the celebration of our values in worship with our activities for social justice. He had a hard time getting Episcopal clergy to cooperate with clergy of other denominations.

  6. Nigel Renton says:

    I suggest a better subheading would be simply “Social Reformers”. Bliss is not listed because he was a priest, nor Ely because he was an Economist.

    The bio is written first about Ely, logically enough. This doesn’t match the headings. If they can be reversed, and reference to them in the Collects also reversed, that would be an improvement. Otherwise, we are left with rewriting the bio to cover Ely first, or just leaving this awkward arrangement.

    We should have birth dates and death dates for each person.

    William Dwight Porter Bliss was born in Constantinople, Turkey, on August 20, 1856. He died on October 8, 1926. Since the text shows Ely’s place of birth, I believe we should also show the interesting city where Bliss was born.

    Richard Ely was born April 13, 1854,
    He died (in Old Lyme, Connecticut) on October 4, 1943.

    At the end of the first paragraph, add “He was appointed Professor of Economics at Northwestern in 1925.”

    I suggest adding at the end of the second paragraph “He was one of the founders of the Christian Social Union, and served as its Secretary.”

  7. Steve Lusk says:

    Couldn’ t these guys share a date with Rauschenbusch?

  8. Celinda Scott says:

    This part of the commemoration is very relevant to us today, I think:
    ” 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.” If only, if only, that could be heeded.

    I wonder, however, if he really said the Gospel was social “rather” than “individualistic in nature.” It seems to me so clear that the Gospel is both. Given what Ely is quoted as saying above, I’d think he thought it was both, also. Has anyone researched him enough to know for sure?

  9. It would interest me greatly, and others also I suspect, to connect the dots between these social gospel pioneers and social gospel advocates today, including the Christian socialism of someone like Cornel West (Democratic Socialists of America?) and church advocacy of the recent Occupy (e.g., Occupy Wall St.) movements. I love the way this commemoration articulates a balanced critique of the excesses of both capitalism and socialism (thank you), and seek discernment for how to advocate for such balance in our own day when we are so enthralled by the middle-class captivity of our faith. I pray the assigned readings help us harvest the gospel legacy of Ely and Bliss.

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