IT is not necessary to agree with Troeltsch in all his opinions in order to rejoice heartily at the appearance of an English translation of his greatest book. It stands beyond question without a rival, whether in thoroughness or in comprehensiveness, as an exposition of Christian life and thought in their relation to contemporary social facts, ideas, and problems from the beginnings of Christianity down to post-Reformation developments. And we owe much gratitude to the skilful translator.
FRIEDRICH VON HÜGEL, in his essay on The Specific Genius of Christianity, remarks that “it is not easy to furnish a short yet useful account and criticism of Troeltsch’s Soziallehren, with its nearly thousand pages, its bewildering variety of topics, and the range and delicacy of competence it so strikingly reveals.” It is obvious that the translation of this “monumental work,” as Baron Von Hügel calls it, would present peculiar difficulties. In addition to the wide range of the author’s learning and his extensive use of unusual and technical terms, there was the added difficulty of an extremely involved style.
For the sake of clarity the translator has introduced crossheadings which are not in the German text. Paragraphs have been subdivided, and where it was possible sentences have been broken up into their constituent parts. The present work, however, is an unabridged translation of the famous book published in Germany in the year 1911 under the title: Die Soziallehren der christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen. It forms the first volume in the Collected Works of Ernst Troeltsch.
The footnotes occupy a large part of the book. Some of these notes are dissertations or articles rather than “notes,” and they often contain most valuable material. In order to free the text from this mass of annotations, however, the longer notes have been placed at the end of the chapters to which they belong. Actual footnotes alone have been left in their original position. A very few notes have been slightly condensed. No references have been omitted, and the numbering of the German edition has been retained. Note 80, which belongs to Chapter II, will be found on page 199, at the end of the Notes belonging to Chapter I.
The translator owes a very great debt of gratitude to several friends who have given most generous help out of the stores of their knowledge and experience. She would offer her cordial thanks to Mrs. Margrieta Beer, M.A.; Mrs. John May, B.A.; Frau Maria Schlüter-Hermkes, D.D.; and Miss Evelyn Underhill. The Rev. A. E. Garvie, M.A., D.D., D.Th., has kindly read the full text of the translation; for this, as well as for other most generous assistance, the translator wishes to render special acknowledgement and gratitude.
In accordance with my own desires and those of others, I have gathered within this volume the fruit of my scattered researches. Apart from my large work on the place of Protestantism in contemporary culture, most of my researches have been gathered into monographs, studies of method, and various sketches, covering a great variety of subjects. Now that they appear in public in collected form, it will be clear that, in spite of the fact that they are drawn from so many sources, they all spring from a unified plan. On this point a few words of explanation are necessary.
The connection of ideas is easy to recognize. Trained in the school of Ritschl, I learned very early that two elements were united in the impressive teaching of this energetic and great scholar: a distinct conception of traditional dogma by means of which modern needs and problems were met, and just as decided a conception of the modern intellectual and religious situation, by means of which it seemed possible to accept and carry forward the teaching of tradition, understood in the Ritschlian sense. The question arose, therefore, quite naturally, first, whether this conception were true to dogmatic tradition in its actual historical sense, and, second, whether the present situation was being interpreted as it actually is. Then it became clear that from both sides a certain process of assimilation had been completed which did not correspond with actual facts and which did not permit the real contrast to appear in its full actuality. Thus I found myself confronted by a double task: to make clear to myself both the ecclesiastical dogmatic tradition of Protestantism in its own historical sense, and the intellectual and practical situation of the present day in its true fundamental tendencies. Hence the double nature of my researches — the analysis of early Protestantism and the analysis of the modern world. All this research, however, was only intended to serve the purpose of solving the systematic problem, in order to think through and formulate the world of Christian thought and life in frank relation to the modern world. This led me to researches in methodology and in the philosophy of religion which are absolutely necessary before a Christian doctrine of thought and life can be built up. In the process, however, I found that the more I studied modern problems the more I found that the balance leaned to the side of ethics. If Christianity is first and foremost a matter of practice, then its main problems lie in the sphere of practical life, and it is from this realm that the most complicated difficulties and contrasts arise in opposition to the world of Christian life. Particularly in relation to social ethics the ethic of the churches is out of date.