In our first contribution we tried to dispose of some common fallacies and prejudices with regard to our subject. The purpose of this second article is to sketch in brief the historical background of communism and the many influences that molded its founders, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
For a proper understanding of these influences we have to go back a few centuries, since the roots of the eighteenth century are to be found in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Since the beginning of the great Reformation Europe has been the theater for the warfare between four views of li[e, namely: the Reformation over and against the Roman Catholic Church, Niocienzism in its broadest meaning, including the views of almost all unbelieving philosophers of importance from the humanist, Renaissance, rationalist and idealist schools, and finally Mysticism.
Reformation and Revolution
The Reformation proclaimed the Word of God anew over and against the heresies of the Roman Catholic Church. It was not a revolt, neither the cause of the French Revolution, rather it has been the power that quelled a tremendous revolution ready to break out at that time, in its embryo. Many Roman Catholic and modern authors and historians try to make us believe that the Reformation is a forerunner of the French Revolution, and, by the same token, also of the American Revolution. It is a shame that so many Reformed people, even scholars, go down on their knees for such untruth. That the Reformation changed the whole structure of Europe, economically, politically, and ecclesiastically is no proof at all that the Reformation can be placed in line with the French Revolution or any other revolt of the same nature.
The Reformed historian sees in the Scriptures the secret of all the advances and prosperity of Europe after the Reformation. The reformation of the church, the faithful and renewed obedience to the Word of God, has been blessed so richly by the Lord that every sphere of life, including that which we call economic and political, prospered and flourished.
More than a century ago the famous Dutch historian and statesman, Groen van Prinsterer, made this simple principle of our Reformed confession as to the importance of the Scriptures the basis of his practical and scientific activity. In his great work Unbelief and Revolution, published in 1818, he already proved the thesis that the Reformation delayed the Revolution that three centuries later shook Europe to its foundations.
There exists no reason at all to look with disdain because Mr. Groen van Prinsterer lived so long ago and was but a Dutchman. Recent research, especially in Germany, has brought to light that Europe during the last centuries of the Middle Ages was much like a spiritual volcano. The number of heretics was legion. The tolerance of the Roman Catholic Church extended so far that the most outspoken denial of the Scriptures was often allowed to exist within the church. The church had become an institution that kept itself busy with all sorts of economic and political intrigues instead of the faithful administering of the Word of God. Satan was ready to sweep into his fold the apostatizing remnants of the church. Some of the unbelieving scholars who describe the history of that time still gnash their teeth when forced to admit the victory of the Word of God over all the satanic powers of that time.
Europe and the Reformed Churches
The history of Europe cannot possibly be understood without taking account of the central position of the Reformed churches. The heresies of the Reformation period were the starting point of the modernism and mysticism that later came up in Europe. It was not the sword of the Roman Catholic Church that destroyed the churches of the Reformation, but the apostasy of the Reformed churches with modernism and mysticism that defeated these churches. This is not to say, of course, that the Roman Catholic counter-reformation did not damage the advance of the Reformed churches. One need only to mention the bitter wars of religion to get some idea of the intensity of the struggle. The result of these wars has been so tragic that in France, for example, at the end of the seventeenth century one could scarcely find a trace of the more than 2000 Calvinistic churches that flourished there a century earlier. This ruthless destruction of everything that reminded of the Reformation, in turn, cleared the wav for freethinkers and atheists like Voltaire who prepared the mind of the French people for the coming Revolution. The so-called counter-reformation alone, however, never succeeded in exterminating the Reformed churches. This task was left for mysticism and modernism.
When our Belgic Confession speaks in article 29 of the many sects that call themselves church, it has particularly mysticism in view. So important was the danger of this mysticism that obscured itself under the name of church that one, in reading the works of Calvin, gets the impression that the fight against this form of pious apostasy was at times more important than the battle with the Roman Catholic Church.
In this connection we think usually of anabaptism as the most pronounced form of mysticism. But it is for a good reason that the Belgic Confession speaks in the plural form of “sects.” Recent historical research brought to light that the number of all those sects that embraced one form or another of mysticism ran in the hundreds. In fact, this mysticism has proven itself much more dangerous to the churches of the Reformation than the worldly power of the Roman Catholic Church and bare-fisted modernism combined. The religiosity and pious devotion of the mystic has throughout history made much more impression on the hearts and minds of people than the true and pure service of God.
The Danger of Mysticism
The danger of mysticism is that it seems to be much more pious and serious than our Reformed confession. But Professor Heppe2 very properly observed once that for the mystic the Bible is too rigid, the Scriptural commands bother him too much. In other words: his religiosity is a strong-headed obstinacy that places him over and against the Bible. The mystic will very seldom contend that the Bible is the truth; for him the Bible is the truth to the extent that it serves his own purpose, namely, to prove his own inner religious feeling. The mystic uses terminology that sounds quite Scriptural, but that it is not Scriptural at all appears when one actually checks it with the Bible. The use of words and verses out of their context is a normal practice.
But the main idea of the whole system3 is that God can be known apart from the medium of his Word. In other words: there is salvation for mankind without first believing the Word of God as it is proclaimed in and by the church. It seeks salvation through illumination by an “inner light” that it mistakenly calls the Holy Spirit of God. Mystics speak a lot about the “union” with God, but it is not a union effected by means of the Word of God, but a participation in, and fusion with the “inner light.” They made their doctrine even more objectionable by reserving participation in this union for the elect only, at the same time condemning all the other people as reprobates. It is nothing less than a revived paganistic Gnosticism, already rejected by the earlier councils and synods of the Christian church. There is, in fact, really nothing in our confession that a mystic will accept. Nevertheless, it is this sanctimoniousness under the guise of Christianity that gradually triumphed over the Reformed churches. It rendered these churches defenseless against the flood of modernism. that came up during the eighteenth century.
The result has been that it made the church so obnoxious to many people in Europe that thousands upon thousands turned their back on the faith of their fathers and became radical unbelievers. This situation makes one of the most famous expressions of Karl Marx, namely, that religion is an opiate for the people, at least understandable. Certainly, mysticism is a religion that is opium, poison for men.
Another main factor that contributed to the deformation of the church has been the marriage between the church and modernism in its various aspects of materialism, rationalism, and idealism. So devastating has been this covenant that it is not necessary to describe it all in detail. Friedrich Engels tells us that the Christian religion in France was, as a matter of fact, so completely overthrown at the time of the French Revolution that Napoleon himself could not re-introduce it without opposition and difficulty. When Napoleon asked a famous astronomer why in his work on this subject he even did not mention the Creator, the answer he proudly gave was that he did not have any use for such a hypothesis. At the eve of the Revolution an avowed materialism, under the name Deism, was the creed of the cultured and educated youth of Europe. That is what became of the once Christian nations of Europe. And this apostasy is the key to the understanding of the history of Europe since the French Revolution.
The Occasion for the French Revolution
It is from the deformation of the churches, their alliance with mysticism and modernism, that the French Revolution issued. By and since this Revolution unbelief became a ruling principle in this world, Groen van Prinsterer used to say. By this statement he did not mean to say that unbelief never had been a terrific power in this world, but that it since the French Revolution had replaced the Word of God and the church as a dominant power in world politics, economics, and science in general. A century after he wrote this we may now add: the French Revolution was the starting point of world revolution that is still going on.
The main reason why this revolution is still uncompleted is that it was a complete failure as far as its start was concerned. Never have people been so much disillusioned as after this Revolution. Great were the expectations, but the end was a destruction as was never seen prior. The promised eternal peace found its realization in the Reign of Terror,the Napoleonic dictatorship, and the ruination of Europe politically, economically and, not in the least, in the sphere of religion and church. For years and years Europe suffered from the consequences of this Revolution.4
But although the Lord spoke so plainly, there was no return to his Word. Instead the nations of Europe became the more determined to realize the ideals of the French Revolution. No one cared to admit the failure of the principles of unbelief, and most everyone wanted to attempt their application again. Difficulties arose, however, about the proper method to follow. Some were in favor of radical methods, others preferred a milder method calling for the gradual adjustment of existing conditions to the revolutionary principles. Already during the time of the Revolution there were two camps of revolutionaries, divided according to these lines. At that time they were called Jacobins and Girondins, the Jacobins being the most ruthless and radical branch.
Ever since revolutionaries have been divided into these two camps, which later on became known as liberal or conservative versus the radical. Besides these two extremes there was always a middle of the road party, known as the party of the center. The antipathy of the people to extremes combined with the defeatism produced by the failure of the Revolution is the reason that the parties of the center played a dominant role during the first decades after the Revolution. For the time being the task of making another forceful attempt to realize the principles of the Revolution was left for a younger generation. And to this younger generation belonged Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels!
Marx and Engels
Both were born in Germany, Karl Marx in 1518, and Engels in 1820. At the time that they were students the philosophy of Hegel reigned in almost all schools of any importance. Hegel loved and admired the Revolution. But he hated God. He declared that the Bible should be regarded in the same way as one would consider any other profane story. Only four years after his death one of his students took his master at his word in deadly earnest. In a work, entitled The Life of Jesus, published in 1835, David F. Strauss demanded that biblical history should be subjected to normal historical criticism. And by normal historical criticism he meant to say that in his view Christ and the New Testament were a creation of myth. Even for that time this was too boldly spoken. His views aroused a tremendous reaction, but they bore fruits. One of Karl Marx’ biographers remarks that Strauss as a contributor to a university journal did more to hold the attention of the readers than all the orthodox theologians, righting tooth and nail for the infallibility of the Bible, put together could have done. So influential has he been, that even today his views are widely accepted and very generally entertained, not the least by the theological faculties of the leading universities.
Ludwig Feuerbach, another young Hegelian, went a step further. In his study Essence of Christianity, he denied the very existence of God by saying that God was the creation of men’s fantasy, and nothing else than the imaginative reflection of his own being. Forty years later Engels’ note about the impact of this book upon Marx and himself: “One must have experienced the delivering power of this book to get a clear idea of it. The enthusiasm was universal and we were all for the moment followers of Feuerbach.”
Strauss and Feuerbach still tried to explain and to defend their views as the highest and purest form of Christianity. But then came Bruno Bauer. With one blow he cut through the half-heartedness of his predecessors and initiated a criticism of the Bible that demolished the last ruins which Strauss had left standing. He contended that there was not an atom of truth in the Scriptures and anything in it was the product of human fantasy.5
The progression from mysticism to atheism and modernism in general as represented in the development of these views presents a practical proof and example of the basic ungodliness of mysticism. Truly, mysticism is in essence spiritual, religious poison.
The influence of these views on Marx and Engels was tremendous. Engels was born in Barmen, a stronghold of German pietism, an “orthodox” variation of mysticism. Allow us to cite a quotation from Mehring’s biography on Karl Marx to show the impression upon Engels: “Still struggling with the beliefs o[ his childhood we find him speaking with unusual gentleness: ‘I pray every day, indeed almost all day, for truth, and I have done so ever since I began to doubt, but still I cannot go back to your belief…The tears are welling up as I write. I am. deeply moved, but I feel that I am not lost, that I shall find my way to Gael, for whom I long with my whole heart. And that is also a manifestation of the Holy Ghost, my life on that, even if the Bible says the contrary ten thousand times.’” Thus spake Engels at the age of twenty-one years. His break with the church a few years later led him then direct to modernism.
Karl Marx was also born in the Rhineland. His Hungarian ancestors had been for generations rabbis under the name Mordechai. Under the influence of German anti-Semitism and Modernism they changed their name to Marx. In general the Jews were delighted when the criticism of the young Hegelians demolished the Christian religion, for they had themselves always abhorred it, but when this school also turned its attention to the Jewish religion they were, of course, in an embarrassing predicament.
As a thoroughly trained Hegelian, Marx felt the extreme criticisms of his friends as a religious liberation from the mixture of Judaism and so-called Christianity he had grown up with. This liberation became for him the basis and the starting point of a new, totalitarian religion of which he would be the great messiah. Bertrand Russell makes the remark somewhere that Karl Marx never could forgive Christ that he was born nineteen centuries before him. In our next article we hope to see how the son of a family of Rabbis, that is, expounders of the law, took revenge on the Man that once fulfilled the law.
1. See St. Hirzel: Heimliche Kirche. Ketserchronik a.d. Tagen d. Reformation.
2. Dr. Heinrich Heppe : Geschichte der Pietismus und der Mystik. Leiden, 1879.
3. See the introduction and explanatory notes by J. Bernhart on his reprint of the Theologica Deutsch, New York, Pantheon, 1939.
4. It is not necessary to reply to the lie that bad economic and political conditions in France caused the outbreak of the Revolution. The conditions in other countries at that time, c. g. Germany, were even more worse, so that according to this line of reasoning-it would be logical to say that the revolution should have began in this country. But even Karl Marx and Engels, the greatest revolutionaries of all times, tell us that the Revolution was prepared in the mind of the French people by the philosophers of the eighteenth century.
5. On Strauss, Feuerbach and Bauer see: J . Randall: The Making of the Modern Mind, Boston-San Francisco. 1926.
6. Mehring. pp. 118, 119. Mystics have a rock in the place where other men usually have their heart. That is the reason why Mehring speaks of “unusual gentleness.” Engels speaks here in this letter to a friend in the same way as all mystics speak about the Bible and he Holy Ghost: obstinately against the testimony of the Holy Ghost as proclaimed in the Bible.