Christian T. Collins Winn
“Leonhard Ragaz”
Leonhard Ragaz (1868-1945)
Leonhard Ragaz was the founding editor of the primary organ of Swiss ReligiousSocialism, Neue Wege , and along with Hermann Kutter (1863-1931), was a central figurein the development of Swiss Religious Socialism which reached its high point in the earlytwentieth century just prior to the First World War.Born in the small Swiss village of Tamins in the vicinity of Chur, Ragaz wasdeeply affected by the communitarian and cooperative aspects of village life. His later understanding of Socialism was indelibly colored by this early experience. Ordained in1890, Ragaz held a series of pastoral positions before receiving a call to the cathedral of Basle in 1902. In Basle, his engagement in social issues turned more decidedly towardthe left and by 1903 his identification with the workers movement was solidified throughinvolvement in the Basle Bricklayers Strike.In that same year he came into contact with the thought of Christoph Blumhardt(1842-1919) as mediated by Hermann Kutter. Kutter’s 1903
Sie Müssen
marked the beginning of the Swiss Religious Socialist movement in earnest and gave decisiveorientation to Ragaz’s early thought. Though unbalanced, the work opened up a wholenew world to Ragaz and introduced him to the theological interpretation of Socialism thathe had been searching for: Socialism is a sign of the coming Kingdom of God. ThoughRagaz would later distance himself from Kutter (the two would unfortunately becomerepresentative figures for opposing groups within the Religious Socialist movement) theinfluence of Blumhardt would persist up to Ragaz’s death in 1945 and Ragaz would playan important role in seeing Blumhardt’s thought get a wide audience.
In 1906 Ragaz founded
 Neue Wege
, the primary organ of the Religious Socialistmovement in Switzerland. Through this journal Ragaz would shape the ReligiousSocialist vision, influence Socialist and Marxist party politics and give commentary onworld events from a Religious Socialist perspective. In 1907, while at a conference inAmerica, Ragaz met Walter Rauschenbusch and in 1908 was invited to become professor of Practical Theology at the University of Zürich, a position he would later resign (1921)to work in the slums of Zürich.The First World War was a shock for Ragaz. In the face of the collapse of international Socialism he began to withdraw himself from Socialist party politics,though he remained vigorously involved in the broader movement of ReligiousSocialism. Ragaz turned more toward pacifism as he believed that the war was God’s judgment on the nations. This new orientation also guided his earliest evaluation of Fascism. As early as 1923, Ragaz recognized Fascism as a brutal and growing menacewhose core was fundamentally anti-Christian. In 1926 he published a full-scale analysisof Fascism and in 1930 he was the primary author of a warning put forth by theInternational Union of Religious Socialists on the danger of National-Socialism. Thiswas sharpened by a 1933 declaration that explicitly attacked the Anti-Semitism of the Nazi’s. Though forbidden to publish his journal by the Swiss authorities, for fear it wastoo critical of the Nazi’s, Ragaz remained engaged by working with Jewish refugees,continuing his lively correspondence with Martin Buber (1878-1965), and writing on the“Jewish Question.” His thought on Judaism and Christianity was ahead of its time.Ragaz died on December 6, 1945.
Bock, Paul, ed. Signs of the Kingdom: A Ragaz Reader. Translated by Paul Bock.Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1984.Ward, W. R. Theology, Sociology and Politics: The German Protestant SocialConscience, 1890- 1933. Bern: Peter Lang, 1979.Christian T. Collins Winn