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Translator’s Preface - Heinrich Rommen, The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy 
The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy, trans. Thomas R. Hanley. Introduction and Bibliography by Russell Hittinger (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1998).
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The present volume is a translation of Die ewige Wiederkehr des Naturrechts (Leipzig: Verlag Jakob Hegner, 1936). The English version, however, amounts to a revised and enlarged edition of the original work. The author has, at my suggestion, added many new sections; and he has further made, or consented to, several alterations in the text itself. Thus the worth and importance of an already valuable study of the history and philosophical foundations of the idea and doctrine of natural law have been considerably enhanced, especially for readers of the English-speaking world.
The studies and activities of the author peculiarly fitted him to interest himself in the striking phenomenon of the perpetual recurrence of the natural-law idea. Having completed his studies and obtained degrees in political economy as well as in civil and canon law at the universities of Muenster and Bonn, he dedicated his talents and abilities to the cause of Catholic social action in Germany during the last fateful years of the Weimar Republic. From 1929 to 1933 he was head of the Social Action Department, Central Office of the Volks-Verein at M.-Gladbach. More or less simultaneously, too, he served as chairman, vice-chairman, director, and executive vice-president of various other national and local German Catholic organizations and institutes with educational, social, and economic aims. In one of these he was closely associated with such well-known German Catholic students of society as Oswald von Nell-Breuning, S.J., G. Gundlach, S.J., P. Tischleder, Goetz Briefs, Franz Mueller, and the late Theodore Brauer.
With the advent to power of Hitler and his Nazi party, Dr. Rommen, who had distinguished himself in the struggle against the Weltanschauung and concrete aims of growing Nazism, was closely watched, carefully investigated, and finally arrested. His thorough knowledge of law, however, besides the care he had taken to destroy evidence which might prove incriminating in Nazi eyes, contributed at length, after a month of confinement, to procuring his release. With his former sphere of activity now closed to him, he lived henceforth under continual police surveillance. For some years he worked as legal advisor of a Berlin corporation. It was during this period of stress and personal insecurity that, in his leisure time, he wrote and published the German original of the present volume, intended as a protest against the widespread abuse of the idea of natural law in contemporary legal and political philosophy generally, but in particular in those circles most influenced by the Nazi Weltanschauung. It is to this circumstance that the author attributes what he modestly refers to as shortcomings of the work.
In 1938 Dr. Rommen at last secured permission to go to England. Having then obtained a teaching position in a Connecticut college, he brought his family to the United States in the same year. Since that time he has been engaged in teaching, in lecturing, and in writing. An American citizen, he now holds the position of professor of political science in the College of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Dr. Rommen is the author of numerous scholarly and semipopular books, articles for periodicals, and articles for encyclopedias in the field of legal and political philosophy. In 1945 appeared his The State in Catholic Thought; a Treatise in Political Philosophy (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co.).
Except in works destined for restricted scholarly circles, the use of footnotes has been declining in recent years. When scholars write for the general public, or even for the educated portion of the public, they are accustomed to omit all scholarly apparatus. Their reputation is the presumed guaranty of their undocumented statements and of the authenticity of what quotations they do make. Thus the German original of the present translation is entirely devoid of footnotes. However, the provenance of the scattered quotations is almost always indicated by the respective author’s name in parentheses, and the relatively few specific references to passages in such works (especially in the case of St. Thomas Aquinas) are similarly inserted in the text.
Nevertheless, it seemed best, in adapting the volume to the Anglo-Saxon cultural milieu, to take liberal advantage of the handy device of the footnote. Wherever it has been practically possible, all citations and references have been identified and given in full for those who may wish to check them. But a few quotations, which could not be readily located, have been retained on the author’s responsibility. Moreover, in view of the importance of many aspects of the problem of natural law in history and philosophy, I have considered it desirable, and indeed eminently worth while, to add on my own responsibility a considerable number of footnotes of a bibliographical, illustrative, explanatory, and critical nature. It is hoped that the reader will find them stimulating and helpful rather than distasteful and impeding; at all events, they can be skipped or ignored at will. It would not, of course, have been difficult to multiply such footnotes, particularly on the bibliographical side; but to overload the book with footnotes would undoubtedly have been to defeat the purpose of the author.
Accordingly, apart from perhaps a dozen bibliographical indications furnished by the author himself and a small number of precise references to passages in the works of St. Thomas and in Roman law, the translator must be held responsible for all footnotes, bibliographical and other.
An extensive treatment of moral problems from the standpoint of the natural law or rational ethics often leaves the impression that ethics, as a branch of philosophy, is quite sufficient to lead man to perfection and happiness, individual and social. From such a viewpoint the supernatural order, with its elevation of man, divine revelation, and divine grace, all too often takes on the appearance of something artificial or unnatural, something unnecessary and superfluous. Mature reflection, however, will show that such an impression is quite unwarranted. Neither as a science nor as an art is ethics, or the doctrine of the natural moral law in its concrete applications, able of itself to lead man as he actually is to his individual and social goal.
In the first place, past and present human experience forces us to agree with theologians who hold that in the present condition of mankind divine revelation is morally necessary in order that the natural moral law itself may be known by the masses of men with sufficient ease, certainty, and fullness. It is true that by the light of unaided reason men can know with certainty the more general and more fundamental principles of right and wrong in their simplest applications; but for the more remote conclusions of the natural moral law and for more complicated cases of human conduct they stand practically in need of some help over and above natural reason; and such assistance is afforded by divine revelation. In this sense revelation is morally necessary for the sure and complete knowledge of the natural law. In addition to divine revelation itself, an authentic and authoritative interpreter of both divine revelation and the natural moral law, the Church, is likewise morally necessary to safeguard and inculcate moral truths and values, to apply with sureness explicit and implicit moral principles to concrete, complex, and changing circumstances of human life and activity, and to settle moral difficulties and doubts that harass even the most learned. This is true especially in domains where human interests and passions of great driving power continually urge the acceptance of solutions that are specious but disastrous. It is indeed undeniable that the great development, refinement, and certainty of rational ethics in Christian circles owe very much to the extrinsic aids afforded by divine revelation and Christ’s Church. Surely, as St. Ambrose, I think, so well expressed it, Non in dialectica voluit Deus salvum facere populum suum.
But there is much more to the matter than this. Knowledge of what our duty is is one thing; but, as daily personal experience teaches every one of us, the actual doing of our duty is quite another thing. As the practical science which, in the light of the primary moral principle and of human nature adequately considered, tells men what acts are good and what are evil, ethics has its great drawbacks. What, then, shall we say of ethics as the art which seeks to teach mankind an easy and efficacious way of doing good and avoiding evil? Experience seems to teach clearly that it is far easier to discover and propagate moral truth than to generate and generalize moral action. If divine help is morally necessary for mankind’s adequate and sure knowledge of the natural moral law, divine assistance is even more necessary for its due observance. Indeed, the Church teaches that without special aid or grace from God a person cannot observe the entire natural moral law for any great length of time.
In the second place, it is a fundamental article of the Christian faith that man has from the very beginning been gratuitously elevated by God to an order of existence which totally exceeds the strict requirements and capacities of his nature. This supernatural order, with the supernatural goal to which man is destined, calls for a supernatural principle of knowledge—revelation of both speculative and practical truths—and a supernatural principle of activity in man, divine grace in its various aspects and with its various effects. Hence no system of natural ethics, however perfect might be man’s knowledge and observance of it, can meet all the needs of his de facto supernatural elevation and orientation. As a consequence, divine revelation and divine grace, besides being morally necessary for the knowledge and observance of the natural law, are absolutely necessary for the knowledge and observance of the supernatural obligations incumbent upon man by virtue of his actual destination to a supernatural end.
But this supernatural order is neither artificial nor unnatural. Grace does not destroy nature; it presupposes, perfects, and elevates it. The supernatural order perfects and elevates the natural order in such a way that the latter is, as it were, integrated into the former. Yet human nature, unchanged in principle, retains its full value as a source of knowledge of the direction in which man’s individual and social development, perfection, and happiness lie. In fact, the Church and its theologians have always viewed human nature, man’s natural end and inclinations, man’s natural faculties and their objects, the natural law—in a word, the natural order—as indispensable sources for determining the proper lines of human conduct which, with the aid of divine grace and with supernatural equipment, man must follow in his quest of his supernatural goal. We can and must distinguish, but without separating, the natural from the supernatural order. Rational ethics, founded on the natural moral law, preserves, therefore, its independence and value like any other branch of philosophy. In this way it performs the valuable function of serving as a basis of understanding and agreement between Catholics and all those who fail or refuse, for one reason or another, to recognize consciously their actual and inescapable incorporation into the supernatural order and their call to actual, full, and living membership in the authentic Church of Christ.
In the arduous task of preparing this translation for the English-speaking world, my requests for assistance met with a heartening response. The author himself, with unfailing kindness and patience, rendered invaluable help by clearing up numerous points which sometimes perplex the translator of a German work. Several other scholars also contributed valuable suggestions in regard to certain thorny and involved questions with which I have dealt: Rev. Dr. Francis J. Connell, C.SS.R., of the Catholic University of America; Rev. Dr. Francis B. Donnelly of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, New York; Rev. Dr. John J. Galvin, S.S., of St. Edward’s Seminary, Kenmore, Washington. But I owe most to the courteous generosity of several of my confreres and colleagues. Rev. Leo P. Hansen, O.S.B., prepared the first rough draft of the present translation before he left to serve as chaplain in our armed forces. Rev. Meinrad J. Gaul, O.S.B., and Rev. Luke O’Donnell, O.S.B., gave unstintingly of their time and special knowledge throughout the preparation of the manuscript. As on a former occasion, however, it is to Rev. Matthew W. Britt, O.S.B., that I am most profoundly indebted. Expertly and meticulously he labored over the entire manuscript and strove mightily to impart a degree of readability to the translation. In many other ways, too, his patience, knowledge, interest, and encouragement made it possible to bring to a conclusion a task which, it is now easy to feel and see, should have been left to another.
THOMAS R. HANLEY, O.S.B.,