Henry Scott Holland was born at Ledbury, Herefordshire, on 27th January, 1847. Henry's father, George Holland, was extremely wealthy and could afford to send his son to Eton. Henry was not an outstanding student and he initially failed his entrance exam at Oxford University. He tried again in 1866 and this time he was successful.
Holland struggled academically until he came under the influence of Thomas Hill Green, the senior tutor in philosophy at Balliol. Holland was inspired by Green's ideas on religion and social reform and he eventually obtained a "First in Greats", one of the highest academic honours at Oxford.
Impressed by his academic achievements, Holland was offered the post of lecturer in philosophy at Christ Church College. As well as teaching Holland found time to publish several books and articles including The Duties of the Parochial Clergy Toward Some Forms of Modern Thought(1873). Holland also began visiting industrial slums in Britain. He was deeply shocked by what he discovered and began to argue for Mission Houses to be built that would serve as a point of contact between the "academic community and the deprived classes".
In 1884 Holland left Oxford University and became a canon at St. Paul's Cathedral. Holland's experience of social problems in London convinced him that the Church of England needed to change. In his controversial book Lux Mundi (1889) Holland argued that Christianity was to be experienced, not contemplated. He suggested that the Church needed to reject the "old truths" and to "enter into an understanding of the new social and intellectual movements of the present". Holland pointed out that the "streets of London reek with human misery" and the Church could no longer afford to ignore this suffering. Holland advocated radical reform, or what he called, the "Christianization of the social structure whereby all men live in accordance with the principles of divine justice and human brotherhood".
Henry Scott Holland formed a group called PESEK (Politics, Economics, Socialism, Ethics and Christianity). Members of the group investigated social problems and came to the conclusion that the plight of the urban poor was due to the way capitalists "exploited the working classes". In one report Holland declared that "Powerless! that is what the workers bitterly experience. They have been enfranchised only to find themselves powerless to determine how they will live their own lives."
In Holland's opinion modern capitalist companies had no conscience and were therefore acting immorally. According to Holland, capital and labour should be cooperating forces, sharing a common objective, but the system had turned them into unequal rivals. Holland's solution to the problem was state regulation. Only the state was powerful enough to "evoke, to direct, to supervise, to empower, and to regulate the actions" of capital and labour. The role of the Anglican Church declared Holland should be to convince society that "duty to God and duty to man are the same thing."
In 1889 Holland formed the Christian Social Union (CSU) to provide direction to this new social gospel. The stated purpose of the CSU was to "investigate areas in which moral truth and Christian principles could bring relief to the social and economic disorder of society". Local chapters of the CSU were established throughout Britain.
The Christian Social Union also published a journal, Commonwealth, that provided a forum for discussions on religion and social reform. The journal and upset the leaders of the Liberal Party in 1897 when he claimed that the party had failed to protect labour from capitalism. The Commonwealth suggested that wealthy Liberals who showed no sympathy for the poor should be ousted from the party.
The Commonwealth also carried out an investigation into the injustices of bad housing, pollution and low wages. It also campaigned strongly against the Poor Law that forced people into the workhouse. The Christian Social Union also published a large number of pamphlets and booklets that suggested solutions to social problems. This included a minimum wage and state benefits for the unemployed.
In 1910 Holland returned to Oxford University as Regius Professor of Divinity. Holland's health deteriorated after 1914 and he was restricted in the work that he could do. Henry Scott Holland died on 17th March, 1918.