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The Theological Basis of Digger Communism

  • Paul Elmen (a1)


The Diggers who broke the turf on St. George's Hill Sunday morning, April 1, 1649, have an importance far larger than the number of people involved would suggest, for their action was the first effort to bring into being a socialist Utopia. Their bold combination of theoretical and practical communism baffled their contemporaries, and historians ever since have failed to see them in the totality of their meaning.*** Were they simply hungry men, agrarian revolutionaries filing one more protest against economic and social injustice? Or were they religiously inspired men who used the most dramatic means at their disposal to portray the sinfulness of man and the possibility of redemption? The ambiguity of the Digger experiment has lent color to both explanations.



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1. Tawney, R. H., Religion and the Rise of Capitalism (New York, 1947 ed.), pp. 211–12.

2. Gooch, G. P., English Democratic Ideas in the Seventeenth Century (2d ed., London, 1927), p. 180.

3. Cromwell and Communism, tr. H. J. Stenning (London, 1930), p. 107.

4. Left-Wing Democracy in the English Civil War (London, 1940) p. 178.

5. Strachey, John, The Theory and Practice of Socialism (New York, 1936), p. 296.

6. “The Apple that the first man eats, is not a single fruit called an Apple, or such like fruit; but it is the objects of the Creation” (The New Law of Righteousness [1649] in The Works of Gerrard Winstanley, ed. George H. Sabine [Ithaca, New York, 1941], pp. 177, 182).

7. Ibid., p. 177.

8. New Law, Works, p. 210.

9. Fire in the Bush (1650), Works, p. 489.

10. An Humble Request (1650), Works, p. 242.

11. New Law, Works, p. 194.

12. Truth Lifting up its Head, Works, p. 113.

13. New Law, Works, p. 149. The reference is to Matt. XIII:44.

14. Ibid., p. 205.

15. The True Levellers Standard, Works, p. 251.

16. Troeltsch, Ernest, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, tr. Wyon, Olive (New York, 1931), II, 956, n.456.

17. Fire in the Bush, Works, p. 452.

18. James, Margaret, Social Problems and Policy during the Puritan Revolution, 1640–1660 (London, 1930), p. 103.

19. The Breaking of the Day of God (1648), Works, p.90.

20. Holdsworth, W. S., An Historical Introduction to the Land Law (Oxford, 1927), p. 94.

21. “The Literature of the Diggers,” University of Toronto Quarterly, XII (1942), 315.

22. Sabine, George H., Works… Winstanley, p. 3.

23. Watch-Word to the City of London (1649), Works, p. 329. See also New Law, Works, p. 204.

24. Piers Plowman, XXII, 274–75.

25. Milton in the Puritan Revolution (New York, 1941), pp. 314–15.

26. Acts II:44–45.

27. Fieldus, Jo., “A Briefe Confession of Faythe,” (1572), in The Seconde Parte of a Register, ed. Albert, Peel (Cambridge, 1915), I, 87.

28. Cited by Wolfe, , Milton in the Puritan Revolution, p. 318.

29. New Law, Works, p. 153. See also pp. 182 and 205.

30. Hudson, Winthrop S., “Gerrard WinStanley and the Early Quakers,” Church History, XII (1943), 194.

31. Cromwell and Communism, p. 69.

32. New Law, Works, p. 215.

33. Propositions, Part IV, p. 26.

34. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, p. 14.

35. Theory and Practice of Socialism, p. 298.

36. Troeltsch, , Social Teaching, II, 712; see also Hudson, “Gerrard Winstanley and the Early Quakers,” pp. 177 ff. However, Jones, Rufus M. says that “the contrasts between Winstanley and Foxe are fully as marked as the similarities” (Studies in Mystical Religion, [New York, 1909], p. 495).

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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