*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 1st of February 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Specific topics are sure to either completely bore or raise some hackles. So, get ready for one of those responses, and I’ll try to walk you off the ledge.

So… have you ever heard of 19th and early 20th-century German Critical studies, especially as it refers to theology? I can say I’ve had professors who thought it useless, dangerous, and insightful (and I have the idea that one of them thought it was all three).

I bring this up because, on this day in 1923, Ernst Troeltsch died at the age of 58. He is probably best remembered for his place in the History of Religion school. It was, very simply put, an approach to Christianity that considered the idea that religions in general, and Christianity in particular, aren’t disembodied ideas but rather have tangible cash value in the real world and change as societies change.

Imagine a German theologian who thought, “I don’t think the church institutions are giving us the freedom to think critically about what is and what was,” and so he begins- with some friends- an attempt to tear down what he sees as an inappropriate authority. Yes, this could be the Luther story- but it is also the story of German theologians in the 19th and 20th centuries. The church and university had so fused that suspected heterodoxy could mean the end of an academic career. The later German theologians are far from Luther in some respects, but the iconoclastic spirit is there (and not consistently unhelpful).

Ernst Troeltsch is in this school, but he doesn’t have the rosy idealism of some of the more prominent names in the movement, from Schleiermacher to Ritschl and Harnack (if those names are foreign, don’t worry about it).

Troeltsch was born in 1865 in Augsburg; he spent time studying at Gottingen, Where Ritschl taught. It was there that he began his fascination with the study of religion as a historical phenomenon- that is, how beliefs were accepted, adapted, and discarded in any society. And while Troeltsch would focus on Christianity, he argued that it should be studied in the same way any historical religion was studied.

Troetlsch would teach in the faculty of religion at the University of Heidelberg. He would become friends with Max Weber (the very famous “Protestant Work Ethic” theory amongst others). Weber was the founder of the academic study of religion from a sociological perspective. Both of these men thought, “how can I relate the Christian Faith to all of these new academic tools in our tool belt?”

An easy thumbnail sketch to put Troeltsch in context is to remember Adolph Von Harnack’s influential multi-volume “History of Dogma.” Troeltsch was undoubtedly familiar with that work and responded in kind with his “The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches.” It wasn’t a repudiation of Harnack but rather an acknowledgment that ideas don’t exist in a vacuum.

With the outbreak of WWI, Troeltsch had a typical German optimism and national optimism. After the war, however, he took a different approach to the state than many of his colleagues. Troeltsch didn’t bemoan the death of the monarchy and the new democratic spirit in the Weimar Republic. He would write a famous work in favor of Democracy and be invited to the United Kingdom to be the first German academic to lecture. After the war. Unfortunately, he died unexpectedly before he could do so, on this, the 1st of February in 1923.

A few quick words: first, this show ties in with this weekend’s Weekend Edition when we tackle one of my favorite topics-that-might-seem-boring: Christianity and the Enlightenment. How does the faith- tied to an event in history- deal with historical criticism? And, if this new knowledge is meant to emancipate- why does it sometimes do the opposite? How do we take people with good insight but separate the wheat from the chaff? How do we keep the risen savior and the empty tomb both central and in real space and time?

Ernst Troeltsch is a product of the late 19th century but did not conform to it completely and instead asked fundamental questions about lived historical theology and both the disciplines of theology and history.

The Last Word for today comes from Psalm 73:

When my soul was embittered,
 when I was pricked in heart,
I was stupid and ignorant;
 I was like a brute beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
 you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
 and afterward, you will receive me with honor.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
 And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
 but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 1st of February 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517. org.

The show is produced by a man who enjoys watching the Boilermakers and drinking them… He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by, oh man… C’mon… that game? Please subscribe to my new podcast- the Rams History Almanac… I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.