Rationalization and Natural Law: Max Weber's and Ernst Troeltsch's Interpretation of the Medieval Doctrine of Natural Law

By Honnefelder, Ludger | The Review of Metaphysics, December 1995 | Go to article overview

Rationalization and Natural Law: Max Weber's and Ernst Troeltsch's Interpretation of the Medieval Doctrine of Natural Law


Honnefelder, Ludger, The Review of Metaphysics


In Max Weber's And Ernst Troeltsch's interpretation of the religious and social development of Western civilization, the concept of natural law has a pivotal role. Weber's thesis runs as follows: In the reception and transformation of the Stoics's concept of natural law the Christian faith finds the key that makes it possible to mediate between the originally world-denying claims of the gospel and the "norms of the world."(1) Since natural law must be regarded as having "the purest type of normative rational validity,"(2) its prevalence is of central importance for the rationalization that is linked to the Christian faith.

The backdrop for this thesis is provided by Troeltsch's far more detailed and extensive studies of the social doctrines of various Christian churches and groups.(3) According to Troeltsch's interpretation, the reception of the Stoic concept of natural law is as crucial to Christian ethics as the reception of the concept of logos is to Christian dogmatics.(4) Just as the concept of logos mediates between the truth of revelation and the truth of reason, so the concept of natural law mediates between the moral demands of the gospel and the principles of a worldly ethos. Since there is a distinction between an absolute natural law, which is identical with the radical ideal of the Sermon on the Mount, and a relative natural law, substantially corresponding to the Ten Commandments and to political and social reality,(5) such a mediation--which must be oriented on the relative natural law--must qualify the original radical Christian claim.(6) Whereas the old church allowed both forms of the natural law to stand alongside each other without mediation and was therefore unable to overcame their estrangement within the surrounding social reality,(7) the Christian Middle Ages succeeded in uniting both forms by replacing the distinction between the gospel (or church) and the world with a distinction between the natural and the supernatural,(8) interpreting each as a level of a metaphysical whole.(9) When this idea of a metaphysical hierarchy of reality, attached to the concept of natural law, became linked to the notion of society as a structured organism, as taught by Aristotle and Paul,(10) the concept of natural law assumed a virtually fundamental status: it grounded both moral(11) and social(12) philosophy and enabled the rise of the unified culture"(13) characteristic of the Christian Middle Ages, from which the Reformation later departed in order to regain the radicalism of the gospel.(14) By linking the concept of natural law to the organic interpretation of the social, the Christian Middle Ages could also assign a central role to the church: just as the divine law is the bracket that binds together the levels of moral laws, so the church is the bracket that holds together the members of the social organism.(15) Its interpretation as the "boundless, comprehensive, and guiding institution of salvation,"(16) together with the strong attachment of natural law to eternal and immutable principles, must, in the last consequence, lead to a "conservative, organically patriarchal natural law."(17) Consequently, those elements that were already contained in the medieval form of the natural law but not in the Platonic interpretation of the social order, and which in its later secular form gave it its progressive, even revolutionary, power, remain repressed: the idea of the dignity of the person, the associated' freedom and autonomy of individual reason, the resulting responsibility of personal conscience, and the significance of one's vocation, which stems from the place of the individual within the whole.(18)

With the thesis that the doctrine of natural law represents an essential contribution of the Christian Middle Ages to the course of Western development, and that this contribution is particularly effective in the doctrine of natural law found in Thomas Aquinas,(19) Troeltsch and Weber formulated an insight that stands the test of contemporary research, regardless of their highly questionable presentation of this doctrine in detail. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Rationalization and Natural Law: Max Weber's and Ernst Troeltsch's Interpretation of the Medieval Doctrine of Natural Law
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.