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Troeltsch, Ernst - The Place of Christianity Among the World-Religions

Troeltsch, Ernst - The Place of Christianity Among the World-Religions

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Unformatted text preview: El'HE PLACE 0F CHRISTIANITY AMONG THE WURLD-RELIGIDNS Translated Ery Miss Mas? E. Cranes. Gendarme in Pfisleropifiy to“. the Unioer’rfry rerarnica. Carg'aily excised 5y Bacon F. was Hours. and Paorsssoa CLEMENT C. ]. Wsau. Q’RN‘St—warclTSCk ((6/23) I THE PLACE OF CHRISTIHNITY _ ELMONG THE WORLD-RELIGIDNS IT has long been my great desire to visit _ the famous University of |[Iii-aford, which shines across to us in my country with the splendour of its medieval days, and is most closely associated for us with the problem of the development of_Nominalism and Empirieism out of the Scholastic philo- sophy. But that it would be my privilege to survey it from the height of an Oxford lecture-platform was a thing which eXceedcd my boldest aspirations. I am indebted for this high honour to Professor Clement C. J. Webb, and to the kind interest which you have shown in my literary work. I am deeply conscious how great an honour it is, and I should like to offer you and Mr. Webb my very sincere thanks. I can only hope that you will not miss to-day the wisdom and learning of your ordinary teacher. 3- -i- CHRISTIANITY AMONG WORLD—RELIGIDNS In view of thcse unusual circumstances, I could not select any other subject than the one which contains the centre and starting point of my academic work. This central theme is most clearly, I think, set forth in my little hook on Tile Aldrct’ttre Validity of Christianity, which forms the conclusion of a series of earlier studies and the beginning of new investigations of a more comprehensive - kind in the philosophy of history. Moreover, this subject is for me the point at which my own original interests and the problems pre- sented by the modern religious situation have met together. It was recognised as such by a countryman of your own, Mr. A. C. Bouquet. in his book I: Christianity rd: Fina! Refigiwt i” and I atn indebted to him for a very able statement and criticism of the position. I should like, therefore, to occupy this hour in explaining the position I adopted in my little book, and in elucidating the further development of my thought by means of this same small work. To put it briefly, the central meaning of this hook consists in a deep and vivid realisa- tion of the clash between historical reflection and the determination of standards of truth and value. The problem thus arising pre- sented itself to me at a very early .age. I had ' ' “H'.:IV"'<-:1‘-_':F-g -:-.-_1n ....y:...—___.: _.‘.. rvrr-v- --v-_ “Fem-‘7‘ fis'mfifiwrmmfiemswm'nwr" CHRISTIANITY AMONG WORLDvRELIGIGl-‘JE 5 M had a predominantly humanistic and his- torical education, from which I had been led to extend my studies and interests over a vvide field of historical investigation, using the terms ” history ” and ”humanity in the sense we in Germany have been wont to attribute to them in our best periods—namely, in the objective sense of a contemplation of objects which covers as far as possible the whole extent of human existence, and which ‘finds its delight in all the abundant. diversity and ceaseless movement characteristic of human existence, and this without seeking any pre- cise practical ends. It seems to us that it is the wealth of moral life and development that manifests itself in this endlessly diversified world of history, and imparts some of its own- loftiness and solemnity to the soul of the observer. ‘ I was, however, inspired by another interest, which was quite as strong and quite as much a part of my natural endowment as the first, I mean the interest in reaching a vital and effective religious position, which could alone furnish my life with a centre of reference for all practical questions, and could alone give meaning and purpose to reflection upon the things of this world. This need of mine led me to theology and philosophy, which I s cnnIsTIauITv nnono WORLD—RELIGIONS devoured with an equally passionate interest. I soon discovered, however, that the historical studies which had so largely formed me, and the theology and philosophy in which I was now immersed, stood'in sharp opposition, indeed even in conflict, with one another. I was confronted, upon the one hand, with the perpetual flux of the historian’s data, and the distrustful attitude of the historical critic towards conventional traditions, the real events of the past being, in his view, discoverable only as a reward of ceaseless toil, and then only with approximate accuracy. find,npon the other hand, I perceived the impulse.- in men towards a definite practical stand-n point—the eagerness of the trusting soul to receive the divine revelation and to obey the divine commands. It was largely out of this conflict, which was no hypothetical one,-but a fact of my own practical ex- perienee, that my entire theoretical standpoint took its rise. Though this conflict was a personal one, however, it was no mere accident of my per- sonal experience. It was rather the personal form in which a vital problem characteristic of the present stage of human development presented itself to me. I am of course aware that the sting of this problem is not equally CHRISTIANITY AMONG WURLERELIGIDNS _'f felt in all parts of the civilised world of Europe and America. As Bouquet has explained in the work I have already mentioned, we must not' apply without reservation to England, still less to flmerica with its very undeveloped historical sense, what is true, in this respect, of other countries. _ Nevertheless, there exists at bottom, every- where, an impression that historical criticism and the breadth of historical interest are fraught with danger to the recognition of simple standards of value, be they of rational or traditional origin. In the Anglo-Saxon coun- tries it is especially ethnography and the comparative study of religion, together with careful philoso hical criticism, that produce this attitude. n my own country it is prim- arily an examination of European civilisa— tion itself that has impressed us with the relativity and transitoriness of all things, even of the loftiest values of civilisation. The effect, however, is very similar in the two cases._ Whether we approach it from the standpoint of Herbert Spencer and the theory of evolu— tion, or from that of Hegel and Ranke and German romanticism, history presents a spectacle of bewildering diversity, and of historical institutions as all in a perpetual state of movement from within. Indeed, the comparative study of religion, which gives an additional impulse to the tendency to relativity produced by historical reflection, has been pre—eminently the work of the great colonising nations, especially of the English and the Dutch. And the criticism of the Bible and of dogma is not without representatives in England ; and thus a growing feeling of uncertainty has been created here in this department also. The difference between this English line of reflec- tion and the historical thought of Germany really consists simply in the fact that the latter is less wont to consider the practical needs and interests of society, whilst in theory it is determined more by the concept of indi- viduality than by sociological or evolutionary principleswhich tend to regard all processes as .leading to asingle goal presented by nature. Important as these differences are, however, they are all but difl’erent aspects of the one fundamental conflict between the spirit of critical scepticism generated by the ceaseless flux and manifold contradictions within the sphere of history and the demand of the religious consciousness for certainty, for unity, and for peace. Whether this conflict becomes more apparent in the critical analysis of details or in the challenging of fundamental principles, the cause and the general effect remain very much the same. In my book on The z‘fdrofnte Voiie’iry of Christianity I examined the means whereby theology is able to defend itself against these difliculties. This of course involved an ex-r amination of the fundamental concepts of theology as such. I believed that I could here determine two such concepts, both of which claimed to establish the ultimate validity of the Christian revelation in opposition to the relativities revealed by the study of history. The first of these concepts was the theory that the truth of Christianity is guaranteed by miracles. In our times we are no longer primarily concerned here with miracles in the external world, i.e. with the so-cnlled “ nature-miracles,” involving an infringe- ment of natural law, but with the miracles of interior conversion and the attainment of a higher quality of life through communion with jeans and His community. In this con- nection, it is claimed, an entirely different type of causation comes into operation from that which is operative anywhere else in the world. The Christian life may indeed be compared to an island in the midst of the to CHRISTIANITY AMONG WURLD—RELIGIUNS stream of history, exposed to all the storms of secular life, and lured by all its wiles, yet constituting, in reality, a stronghold of experi- ence of quite another order. The absolute validity of Christianity rests upon the absolute~ ness of God Himself, who is tnadc manifest here directly in miracles but who manifested Himself beyond this island only as a some remnants—as the ground of the inter-connection of all relative things. In this way both a natural and a supernatural theology are possible, the latter resting upon the new birth and experience of the inner mau, whilst natural theology is based upon the facts and forces of the external world. This theory is simply a restatement of the old miracle apologetic in the more intimate and spiritual form which it acquired under the influence of Methodism and Pietism. The second fundamental concept of thee— logl’. which I have called the concept of evolu- tion, presents a considerable contrast to the first. Its most important exponent is Hegel. According to this view Christianity is simply the perfected expression of religion as such. In the universal process of the unfolding of Spirit, the fundamental impulse towards salva» tion and communion with God overcomes all the limitations ofsense experience, ofthe natural CHRISTIflNITY AMGNG WORLDuRELIGIONB It order, of mythological form, until it attains perfect expression in Christianity, and enters into combination with the loftiest and most spiritual of all philosophies, namely, that of Platonistn. Christianity, it is maintained, is not it parrietrfor religion, it is refigion. It is no isolated manifestation of Spirit, but the flower of spiritual life itself. Pill religion implies salvation and re—birth, but outside Christianity these are subject to the limitations of physical nature and are baulltcd by human selfishness. In the prophets and in Christ the Divine Life breaks through these limits and. flows unrestrained into the thirsty world, which finds therein the solution of all its con- flicts and the goal of all its striving. The whole history of religion and its obvious trend are thus a completely adequate proof of Christianity. The historical process does not stand in opposition to it. When regarded as a whoie, and as one process, it rather affords a demonstration of its supreme greatness and all- embracing power. The miracles which attend its development are partly explieable, as in other religions, as mythical elements, accumu- lated during the growth of tradition, but they are partly clfects of the shock produced by the spiritual revolution traceable here. :sThey are thus not so much its credentials as its la CHRISTIANITY AMONG WURLD—RELIGIONS attendant phenomena, and as such they may be left without anxiety in the hands of the historical critic. I found myself obliged to dismiss both these views as untenable. The former l rejected on the ground that an inward miracle, though it is indeed a powerful psychical upheaval, is not a miracle in the strict sense of the term. Are we justified in tracing the Platonic Eros to a natural cause, whilst we attribute a super- natural origin to the Christian figapel‘ And how can we prove such origin, even if we care to assume it i‘ This would only be possible by having recourse once more to the visible signs which accompany these inward miracles, which would be again to treat the accom- paniment as if it were itself the melody. Moreover, we should then be faced with the competition furnished by similar miracles in the non-Christian religions, not to mention the negative results of historical criticism and the trouble attendant upon every theory of miracles. If, however, we turn for this reason to the second view, we find the difficulties to be different, indeed, but no less formidahlc. The actual history of religion knows nothing of the common character of all religions, or of their natural upward trend towards CHRISTIANITY AMONG WORLD—RELIGIDNS I3 Christianity. It perceives a sharp distinction between the great worldhreligions and the national religions of heathen tribes, and further discovers certain irresolvable contra- dictions between these world-religions them+~ selves which render their ultimate fusion and reconciliation in Christianity highly improb- able, either in theory or in practice. Moreover, Christianity is itself a theoretical abstraction. It presents no historical uniformity, but dis- plays a different character in every age, and is, besides, split up into many difl‘erent denomina- tions, hence it can in no wise be represented as the finally attained unity and earplanation of all that has gone before, such as religious speculation seeks. It is rather a particular, independent, historical principle, containing, similarly to the other principles, very diverse possibilities and tendencies. This leads as finally to a conception which has, I think, obtained less recognition in other countries than in Germany—J mean the con- ception which dominates the whole sphere of history, viz. individuality. History cannot be regarded as a process in which a universal and everywhere similar principle is confined and obscured. Nor is .it a continual mixing and remixing of elemental psychical powers, which indicate a general trend of things 1+ CHRISTIANITY ill'riDNG 1'r‘L’lilIi‘.LIJ‘fllELlGI'ECIIINE- towards a rational end or goal of evolution. It is rather an immeasurable, incomparable profusion of always-new, unique, and hence individual tendencies, welling up from un- discovered depths, and coming to light in each case in unsuspected places and under different circumstances. Each process works itself out in its own way, bringing ever-new series of unique transformations in its train, until its powers are exhausted, or until it enters as component material into some new combination. Thus the universal law of his- tory consists precisely in this, that the Divine Reason, or the Divine Life, within history, constantly manifests itself in always-new and alwaysnpeculiar individualisations—and hence that its tendency is not towards unity or universality at all, but rather towards the ful- filment of the highest potentialities of each separate department of life. It is this law which, beyond-all else, makes it quite impossible to characterise Christianity as the reconcilia- tion and goal of all the forces of history, or indeed to regard it as anything else than an historical individuality. These are the historical ideas which have been handed down to us from |German Roman- ticism, the great opposition movement to Rationalism and to all the clumsy miracle CHRISTIANITY AMONG WURLD-RELIGIDNS I 5 apologetic. They illustrate the special char- acter and significance of German Romanti- ciSm, considered as a part of the great Romantic Movement of Europe. They form the starting point of all the German history and most of the German theology ofthe nineteenth century. They present our problem in its most crucial form, and explain why it became a more burn- in 3 problem in Germany than elsewhere, except where it was envisaged in the same way, either as a result of independent reflection or under German influence. ”What, then, is the solution? This is the question which I attempted to answer in my book. I first endeavoured to show that it was in any case impossible to return to the old miracle apologetic. This has been rendered untenable, not by theories, but by documents, by discoveries, by the results of exploration. The force of such evidence cannot be resisted by anyone whose sense of truth has been educated by philology, or even by anyone possessing an average amount of ordinary “ common sense.” I then submitted that the mere fact of the universality of Christianity —of its presence in all the other religions— would, even if true—*be irrelevant. The point at issue was not whether Christianity was as Id CHRISTIANITY AMONG WORLD-RELIGIDNS a matter of fact universal, or at least implicit in all religion, but whether it possessed ultim- ate truth, a truth which might easily depend upon a single instance of itself. This formed a position for further relied- tion.- It is quite possible, I maintained, that there is an element of truth in every religion, but that this is combined with innumerable transitory, individual features. This element of truth can only be disentangled through strife and disruption, and it should be our constant endeavour to assist in this process of disentanglement. The recognition of this truth is, however, an intuition which is born of deep personal esperience and a pace con- scientiousness. N o strict proof of it is possible, for to demonstrate the actual presence of this truth in all the other cases would not be to establish its validity, even if this demonstra- tion were easier than it is. Such an intuition can only be confirmed retrospectively and indirectly by its practical fruits, and by the light that it sheds upon all the problems of life. Thus in relation to Christianity sueh an intuition can only arise from immediate impression and personal conviction. Its claim to universal validity can only be felt and believed, in the first instance, and must be confirmed retrospectively through its genuine CHRISTIANITY AMONG WORLD~RELIGIOHS If ability to furnish a solution of the various problems of life. Now, validity of this kind seems aIways to rest upon the fine point of personal conviction. We still require a broader foundation upon actual, objective facts. I believed that I had discovered such a foundation for Christianity in the terms in which its claim to ultimate validity finds instinctive and immediate expres- sion ; in other words, in its faith in revelation and in the kind of claim it makes to truth. I thought it necessary to compare it from this point of view with other religions, whose belief in revelation and claim to validity were in every case of quite a different kind. If we examine any of the great world-religions we shall find that all of them, judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity, even Confucianism, indeed claim absolute validity, but quite naively, and that in a very different manner in each case, the differences being illustrative of difl’erenccs in their inner struc- ture. These claims are always naive—simple and direct. They are not the outcome of an apologetic reasoning, and the difierences they exhibit in their naive claims to absolute validity indicate the varying degree of such absolute validity as they really mean and intend within their own minds. This seemed to t3 CHRISTIANITY .r'lMUNG WUKLD-RELIGIDNS me to be nearly the most important point in every comparison between the religions, and the one which furnished the most searching test of the character of the dogmatic contents to be compared—contents which, in-them- selves, reveal so little as to the manner of their foundation in immediate religious cXpericnce. at similar line of thought is to be found in the excellent book on National and Unltvrro! Refrgisar, by the Dutch writer, Abraham Kuenen. If we make his distinction the basis of our investigation and comparison, we ...
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