Troeltsch’s Treatment of the Thomist Synthesis in The Social Teaching as a Signal of His View of a New Cultural Synthesis
- The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 57, Number 3, July 1993
- pp. 381-401
- View Citation
- Additional Information
TROELTSCH'S TREATMENT OF THE THOMIST SYNTHESIS IN THE SOCIAL TEACHING AS A SIGNAL OF HIS VIEW OF A NEW CULTURAL SYNTHESIS * WENDELL s. DIETRICH Brown University Providence, Rhode Island WITH RESPECT TO the new Western cultural synthesis he envisages in the final phase of his authorship, Ernst Troeltsch counts the medieval Thomist synthesis both as a formal model and a source of content. That is the principal contention of this essay. Or to look at the matter from the perspective of successive phases of Troeltsch's authorship, Troeltsch 's treatment of the Thomist synthesis in The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches 1 provides a signal of his subsequent view of a new cultural synthesis. In arguing that case, I propose to focus first on Troeltsch's exposition of the Thomist synthesis in The Social Teaching, taking into account as well that running commentary which Troeltsch simultaneously presents on the magisterially sponsored repristination of the Thomist synthesis in late nineteenth century neoThomism . That task completed, I will lay out briefly my under- *An earlier version of this paper was contributed as a presentation at the Nineteenth Century Theology Working Group, AAR Annual Meeting, 1991. I would also like to express my gratitude to the participants in my Brown University graduate seminar on Troeltsch's The Social Teaching, 1989-90: Vaughn Allen, David Aune, James Gubbins, Mark Hadley, and Richard Wright. They aided me immeasurably in clarifying my mind. 1 Ernst Troeltsch, Die Soziallehren der christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen, Gesammelte Schriften Band 1 (Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1965). Hereafter cited as Die Soziallehren. Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, trans. Olive Wyon, 2 vols. (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1931). Hereafter cited as The Social Teaching. 381 382 WENDELL S. DIETRICH standing of Troeltsch's conception of a new contemporary cultural synthesis, especially the version of that conception worked out in Der Historismus und seine Probleme.2 Furnished with this grasp of what Troeltsch means by a new cultural synthesis, I will assay an appraisal of how the treatment of the Thomist synthesis in The Social Teaching is a signal of things to come and an appraisal of the limited but genuine ways in which Troeltsch counts classic Thomism and neo-Thomism as formal model and source of content for his new cultural synthesis. But before the main thesis can be plausibly defended a major objection must be dealt with head on. On the face of it, it is highly improbable that Troeltsch should count the medieval Thomist synthesis as either a formal model or a source of content for a present-day Western cultural synthesis. After all, the medieval cultural synthesis articulated conceptually by Thomas is the culmination and classic statement of the " unitary conception of truth ", a conception Troeltsch repudiates in the name of modern historical consciousness and the awareness of a plurality of truths. On behalf of the Western medieval church, Thomas asserts that Christian truth is unitary, that the magisterium authoritatively teaches it, and that the truths of reason and revelation are one in a hierarchically ordered synthesis. Troeltsch rejects such claims. A comparable issue is at stake in the case of Troeltsch's appraisal of the magisterially sponsored revival of neo-Thomism in the nineteenth century. Troeltsch is very much aware of the disputes between the neo-Thomists and the Roman Catholic Modernists . He is positively attracted to the work of Alfred Loisy as a major representative of the Modernists and registers substantial agreement between Loisy and himself in their common espousal of "the modern historical conception of truth ".8 2 Ernst Troeltsch, Der Historismus und seine Probleme, Gesmnmelte Schriften, Band 3 (Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1961). Hereinafter cited as Der Historismus. 3 For a detailed analysis of Troeltsch's appraisal of the dispute between Loisy and Harnack over the "essence of Christianity", see Wendell S. Dietrich, "Loisy and the Liberal Protestants," Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 14 (1985) : 303-311. TREATMENT (ff THE THOMIST SYNTHESIS 383 I. Troeltsch on the Thomist synthesis But despite rejection of a unitary conception of truth, Troeltsch does count the medieval Thomist synthesis both as a formal model and as a source of content for a contemporary cultural...