"A Common Treasury"
Remembering the Diggers
Michael F. Bird
Photo by Asher Legg on Unplash.
In 1649, shortly after the execution of Charles I in England, Gerrard Winstanley—a religious reformer, political agitator, and social activist—led a group of “True Levellers” or “Diggers.” This group of commoners wanted to level the laws of the land and portion out private land so that people could dig for their own crops, hence the designation, “Diggers.” Winstanley published a pamphlet entitled The New Law of Righteousness, which took its inspiration from the vision of common property in the Book of Acts. Winstanley complained that God made the Earth as a “common Treasury for all to live comfortably upon, is become through man’s unrighteous actions one over another, to be a place, wherein one torments another.” The solution, he reasoned, was, “The Earth becomes a Common Treasury again, as it must, for all the Prophesies of Scriptures and Reason are Circled here in this Community, and mankind must have the Law of Righteousness once more writ in his heart, and all must be made of one heart, and one mind.”
Winstanley also made reference to prophetic and ecstatic utterances of his followers, what people said in a “trance,” namely, “Work together, Eate Bread together, Declare this all abroad” and “Whosoever labours the Earth for any Person or Persons, that are lifted up to rule over others, and doth not look upon themselves, as Equal to others in the Creation: The hand of the Lord shall be upon that Laborer: I the Lord have spoke it, and I will do it.”
This call for communal land mixed with prophetic pronouncements about justice were directly influenced by the Book of Acts!
Michael F. Bird is an Australian biblical scholar and priest. He lectures in theology at Ridley College, Melbourne. This reflection first appeared in his digital newsletter, Word from the Bird, on 28/03/2022 and has been re-published here with permission.
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