Review of Metaphysics 49 (2):275 - 294 (1995)

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. 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. 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, such a mediation--which must be oriented on the relative natural law--must qualify the original radical Christian claim. Whereas the old church allowed both forms of the natural law to stand alongside each other without mediation and was therefore unable to overcome their estrangement within the surrounding social reality, the Christian Middle Ages succeeded in uniting both forms by replacing the distinction between the gospel and the world with a distinction between the natural and the supernatural, interpreting each as a level of a metaphysical whole. 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, the concept of natural law assumed a virtually fundamental status: it grounded both moral and social philosophy and enabled the rise of the "unified culture" characteristic of the Christian Middle Ages, from which the Reformation later departed in order to regain the radicalism of the gospel. 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. Its interpretation as the "boundless, comprehensive, and guiding institution of salvation," 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." 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.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph1995492155
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