The First Red Terror, or Acts 5


One hears, quite often, that sure, there are radical elements within Christianity, but they’re so vague, and so circumscribed by conservative tendencies which negate them, that one can get little further than, say, radical union support, liberal democracy, at the most extreme distributionism or some moderate democratic socialism. So I’d like to take this chance to show just one example of, from even a purely textual standpoint, the openness for radicalism within Christianity, particularly Catholicism (with its focus on the Apostolic tradition, among other things), with a passage from the Bible itself.

Beginning around Acts 4:32 we get a description of the essentially communistic society of the early Christians. We are told that they (viz. “the multitude of them that believed”) held “all things in common” (Acts 4:32). We are told that there were none among them who “ lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, / And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” (Acts 4:34 – 35) (None of which, of course, has any parallels with a certain well known passage from The Critique of the Gotha Program). We’re even given a specific account of a Levite named Joses who joins the community (and is consequently surnamed Barnabas) who sold his land, “brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4:37). Thus Acts 4 ends with an image of the society of the very people who bore Christ’s direct message and we’re divinely guided by the Holy Spirit forming an unequivocally collectivist society, primitive, yes, no model for a real future communism, but communist nonetheless. However radical this may seem vis-a-vis the degenerate bulwark of bourgeoisie society many have attempted to erect Christianity as today, it’s surely dwarfed by the following passage.

In Acts 5, we’re introduced to two members of the community, Ananias and Sapphira, who sold their own possession, but laid only part of it at the Apostles’ feet, keeping the rest to themselves. When Peter questions him about it, asking “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? / Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart?” (Acts 5:3-4) What happens next? Does Ananias give a rousing defense of private property and how it’s the cornerstone of a good Christian Family? Does he appeal to human nature or the need to define and protect the individual and his genius? Whatever Ananias may have liked to say, we’ll never know; God immediately strikes him dead. Acts 5 states explicitly that “Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.” (For those who might suggest the phrase “gave up the ghost” may be ambiguous or metaphorical, this is followed by an account of his burial).

Now, surely God knew the whole time Ananias had retained this bit of property, so why does he wait until he can be confronted about it in public before dealing justice to him? Could the answer be anything but for the very same motivation behind a public guillotine? Is God not, in this passage, cementing the new order, enacting a red terror to make absolutely clear that those who greedily cling to old individualist habits and compromise the collective good are the greatest enemy of the community? And it doesn’t end here. About three hours later, having no knowledge of what occurred, Sapphira arrives, and when Peter questions her about the property, she lies, with Peter answering “ How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out” (Acts 5:9). Sapphira immediately falls dead and is soon buried with her husband, “And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.” (Acts 5:11)

And just to be utterly clear, this is not the ‘God of the Old Testament,’ about whom’s blood-lust we hear ad infinitum. This is the God of the New Testament, the God of forgiveness, The God who ‘so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,’ The God who did not strike dead Saul of Tarsus, the vicious hunter of Christians, but redeemed him as St.Paul, the greatest Christian missionary. And yet this just, forgiving God felt it utterly necessary to execute, in public, the two who dared maintain a drop of private property, in order to create a “great fear,” or, may we say, a Red Terror?


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