Paul Tillich

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Doubt is the necessary tool of knowledge. And meaninglessness is no threat so long as enthusiasm for the universe and for man as its center is alive.

Paul Johannes Tillich (20 August 188622 October 1965) was a theologian and existentialist philosopher. Tillich was one of the most influential Protestant theologians of the 20th century. He is known for his works The Courage to Be (1952) and Dynamics of Faith (1957). In his major three-volume work Systematic Theology (1951–63), he developed his "method of correlation": an approach of exploring the symbols of Christian revelation as answers to the problems of human existence raised by contemporary existential philosophical analysis.


  • As the Greeks devoted themselves to philosophy, obedient to the logos within the limits of the kairos; as the Middle Ages subordinated the logos to the great kairos upon which their culture was built; as modern philosophy through its kairos adapted itself to the logos of a world-dominating science and technique, so our task is to serve the logos out of the depths of our new kairos, a kairos that is now emerging in the crises and catastrophes of our day. Hence, the more deeply we understand fate—our own personal fate and that of our society—the more our intellectual work will have power and truth.
    • "Philosophy and Fate"
  • Where else, then, can we get it? "Nowhere," Pilate answers in his talk with Jesus. "What is truth?" he asks, expressing in these three words his own and his contemporaries’ despair of truth, expressing also the despair of truth in millions of our contemporaries, in schools and studios, in business and professions. In all of us, open or hidden, admitted or repressed, the despair of truth is a permanent threat. We are children of our period as Pilate was. Both are periods of disintegration, of a world-wide loss of values and meanings. Nobody can separate himself completely from this reality, and nobody should even try. Let me do something unusual from a Christian standpoint, namely, to express praise of Pilate—not the unjust judge, but the cynic and sceptic; and of all those amongst us in whom Pilate’s question is alive. For in the depth of every serious doubt and every despair of truth, the passion for truth is still at work. Don’t give in too quickly to those who want to alleviate your anxiety about truth. Don’t be seduced into a truth which is not really your truth, even if the seducer is your church, or your party, or your parental tradition. Go with Pilate, if you cannot go with Jesus; but go in seriousness with him!
    • "What is Truth?"
  • Against Pascal I say: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the God of the philosophers is the same God.
    • Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality

The Courage to Be (1952)[edit]

  • Experience of the power of being which is present even in the face of the most radical manifestation of non being.
  • Vitality in man is proportional to intentionality.
  • Vitality that can stand the abyss of meaninglessness is aware of a hidden meaning within the destruction of meaning.
  • Absolute faith is the dependence of the experience of nonbeing on the experience on being and the dependence of the experience of meaninglessness on the experience of meaning. even in the state of despair one has enough being to make despair possible.
  • Absolute faith, the acceptance of being accepted. Of course, in the state of despair there is nobody and nothing that accepts. But there is the power of acceptance itself which is experienced. Meaninglessness, as long as it is experienced, includes an experience of the "power of acceptance". To accept this power of acceptance consciously is the religious answer of absolute faith, of a faith which has been deprived by doubt of any concrete content, which nevertheless is faith and the source of the most paradoxical manifestation of the courage to be.
  • One of the unfortunate consequences of the intellectualization of man's spiritual life was that the word "spirit" was lost and replaced by mind or intellect, and that the element of vitality which is present in “spirit” was separated and interpreted as an independent biological force. Man was divided into a bloodless intellect and a meaningless vitality. The middle ground between them, the spiritual soul, in which vitality and intentionality are united, was dropped.
    • p. 82
  • What is the end of all the magnificent means provided by the productive activity of American society? Have not the means swallowed the ends, and does not the unrestricted production of means indicate the absence of ends? Even many born Americans are today inclined to answer the last question affirmatively. But there is more involved in the production of means. It is not the tools and gadgets that are the telos, the inner aim of production; it is the production itself. The means are more than means; they are felt as creations, as symbols of the infinite possibilities implied in man’s productivity. Being-itself is essentially productive.
    • pp. 108-109
  • The anxiety about death is met in two ways. The reality of death is excluded from daily life to the highest possible degree. The dead are not allowed to show that they are dead; they are transformed into a mask of the living. The other and more important way of dealing with death is the belief in a continuation of life after death, called the immortality of the soul. This is not a Christian and hardly a Platonic doctrine. Christianity speaks of resurrection and eternal life, Platonism of a participation of the soul in the transtemporal sphere of essences. But the modern idea of immortality means a continuous participation in the productive process.
    • p. 110
  • [American] conformism might approximate collectivism, not so much in economic respects, and not too much in political respects, but very much in the pattern of daily life and thought. Whether this will happen or not, and if it does to what degree, is partly dependent on the power of resistance in those who represent the opposite pole of the courage to be, the courage to be as oneself.
    • p. 112
  • Individualism is the self-affirmation of the individual self as individual self without regard to its participation in its world. As such it is the opposite of collectivism, the self affirmation of the self as part of a larger whole without regard to its character as an individual self.
    • p. 113
  • Pietism and methodism reemphasized personal guilt, personal experience, and individual perfection. They were not intended to deviate from ecclesiastical conformity, but unavoidably they did deviate; subjective piety became the bridge of the victorious reappearance of autonomous reason. Pietism was the bridge to Enlightenment. But even Enlightenment did not consider itself individualistic. One believed not in a conformity which is based on biblical revelation but in one which should be based on the power of reason in every individual. The principles of practical and theoretical reason were supposed to be universal among men and able to create, with the help of research and education, a new conformity.
    • p. 114
  • The courage to be as oneself within the atmosphere of Enlightenment is the courage to affirm oneself as a bridge from a lower to a higher state of rationality. It is obvious that this kind of courage to be must become conformist the moment its revolutionary attack on that which contradicts reason has ceased, namely in the victorious bourgeoisie.
    • p. 116
  • In a man like Friedrich von Schlegel the courage to be as an individual self produced complete neglect of participation, but it also produced, in reaction to the emptiness of this self-affirmation, the desire to return to a collective. Schlegel, and with him many extreme individualists in the last hundred years, became Roman Catholics. The courage to be as oneself broke down, and one turned to an institutional embodiment of the courage to be as a part.
    • p. 117
  • The anxiety of fate is conquered by the self-affirmation of the individual as an infinitely significant microcosmic representation of the universe.
    • p. 120
  • Even loneliness is not absolute loneliness because the contents of the universe are in him.
    • p. 121
  • Enthusiasm for the universe, in knowing as well as in creating, also answers the question of doubt and meaninglessness. Doubt is the necessary tool of knowledge. And meaninglessness is no threat so long as enthusiasm for the universe and for man as its center is alive.
    • p. 121
  • The existential attitude is one of involvement in contrast to a merely theoretical or detached attitude. “Existential” in this sense can be defined as participating in a situation, especially a cognitive situation, with the whole of one’s existence.
    • pp. 123-124
  • There are realms of reality or — more exactly — of abstraction from reality in which the most complete detachment is the adequate cognitive approach. Everything which can be expressed in terms of quantitative measurement has this character. But it is most inadequate to apply the same approach to reality in its infinite concreteness. A self which has become a matter of calculation and management has ceased to be a self. It has become a thing. You must participate in a self in order to know what it is. But by participating you change it. In all existential knowledge both subject and object are transformed by the very act of knowing.
    • p. 124
  • Knowledge of that which concerns us infinitely is possible only in an attitude of infinite concern.
    • p. 125
  • Plato … teaches the separation of the human soul from its “home” in the realm of pure essences. Man is estranged from what he essentially is. His existence in a transitory world contradicts his essential participation in the eternal world of ideas.
    • p. 127
  • In Calvinism and sectarianism man became more and more transformed into an abstract moral subject, as in Descartes he was considered an epistemological subject.
    • p. 133

Systematic Theology (1951–63)[edit]

  • A theological system is supposed to satisfy two basic needs: the statement of the truth of the Christian message and the interpretation of this truth for every new generation. Theology moves back and forth between two poles, the eternal truth of its foundation and the temporal situation in which the eternal truth must be received. Not many theological systems have been able to balance these two demands perfectly.
  • The object of theology is what concerns us ultimately. Only those propositions are theological which deal with their object in so far as it can become a matter of ultimate concern for us.
  • The question now arises: What is the content of our ultimate concern? What does concern us unconditionally? The answer, obviously, cannot be a special object, not even God, for the first criterion of theology must remain formal and general. If more is to be said about the nature of our ultimate concern, it must be derived from an analysis of the concept “ultimate concern.” Our ultimate concern is that which determines our being or not-being. Only those statements are theological which deal with their object in so far as it can become a matter of being or not-being for us.
  • Man is infinitely concerned about the infinity to which he belongs, from which he is separated, and for which he is longing. Man is totally concerned about the totality which is his true being and which is disrupted in time and space. Man is unconditionally concerned about that which conditions his being beyond all the conditions in him and around him. Man is ultimately concerned about that which determines his ultimate destiny beyond all preliminary necessities and accidents.
  • Philosophy asks the question of reality as a whole; it asks the question of the structure of being. And it answers in terms of categories, structural laws, and universal concepts.
  • Philosophy and theology ask the question of being. But they ask it from different perspectives. Philosophy deals with the structure of being in itself; theology deals with the meaning of being for us. From this difference convergent and divergent trends emerge in the relation of theology and philosophy.
  • Life remains ambiguous as long as there is life.

Dynamics of Faith (1957)[edit]

Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned.
  • Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned. The content matters infinitely for the life of the believer, but it does not matter for the formal definition of faith. And this is the first step we have to make in order to understand the dynamics of faith.
  • Faith as ultimate concern is an act of the total personality. It happens in the center of the personal life and includes all its elements. Faith is the most centered act of the human mind. It is not a movement of a special section or a special function of man's total being. They all are united in the act of faith. But faith is not the sum total of their impacts. It transcends every special impact as well as the totality of them and it has itself a decisive impact on each of them.

Quotes about Tillich[edit]

Tillich initially promoted an "idealistic anarchism" in the sense that he envisioned a theonomous culture arising from "communities themselves and their spiritual substance" instead of being promoted by the state.
  • Buber and Tillich each took similar paths toward their common destination of religious socialism. Both had been influenced early in their careers by the 19th century German philosopher Nietzsche's rejection of bourgeois culture in his classic book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and were further influenced by Karl Marx's doctrine of human self-estrangement and objectification in capitalist society while rejecting his anti-religious bias. Moreover, Buber and Tillich, along with all religious socialists, rejected the Marxist “revolutionary dictatorship” of the proletariat. This would represent the extreme of heteronomy for Tillich and the political manifestation of the I-it relationship expressed by Buber that is based on human instrumentalism. … Tillich initially promoted an "idealistic anarchism" in the sense that he envisioned a theonomous culture arising from "communities themselves and their spiritual substance" instead of being promoted by the state. They would eventually part ways to some extent, with Buber continuing to promote a "federalistic communal socialism" yet not rejecting the political component of social life, while Tillich promoted the possibility of a central government that is not absolute in a theonomous society.
    • Marc A. Krell, in Modern Judaism and Historical Consciousness : Identities, Encounters. Perspectives (2007), edited by Andreas Gotzmann and Christian Wiese; Ch. 8 : Fashioning a Neutral Zone: Jewish and Protestant Socialists challenge Religionswissenschaft in Weimar Germany, § 3 : Fashioning a Neutral Zone of Religious Socialism, p. 218

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