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 one of the most influential Protestant theologians and existentialist philosophers of the 20th century, famous 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.


The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the God of the philosophers is the same God.

The Protestant Era (1948)[edit]

  • Dialectics is the way of seeking for truth by talking with others from different points of view, through "Yes" and "No," until a "Yes" has been reached which is hardened in the fire of many "No's" and which unites the elements of truth promoted in the discussion. It is most unfortunate that in recent years the name "dialectical theology" has been applied to a theology that is strongly opposed to any kind of dialectics and mediation and that constantly repeats the "Yes" to its own and the "No" to any other position. This has made it difficult to use the term "dialectical" to denote theological movements of a really dialectical, that is a mediating, character; and it has resulted in the cheap and clumsy way of dividing all theologians into naturalists and supernaturalists, or into liberals and orthodox. The Protestant Era by Paul Tillich 1948 Introduction
There are moments, as I myself have emphasized on different occasions, in which "kairos," the right time, is united with "logos," the "eternal truth," and in which the fate of philosophy is decided for a special period.
  • As Hegel called the place at the end of philosophy the "place of truth," so Marx thought that the proletariat occupies this favored position, and the psychoanalyst attributes it to the completely analyzed personality, and the philosopher of vitalism to the strongest life, to the process of growth, to an élite or a race. There are, according to these ideas, favored moments and positions in history when truth appears and reason is united with the irrational. There are moments, as I myself have emphasized on different occasions, in which "kairos," the right time, is united with "logos," the "eternal truth," and in which the fate of philosophy is decided for a special period.
    • "Philosophy and Fate", a translation of his inaugural address as chair of Professor of Philosophy at the University of Frankfort on the Main (June 1929)
  • The union of kairos and logos is the philosophical task set for us in philosophy and in all fields that are accessible to the philosophical attitude. The logos is to be taken up into the kairos, universal values into the fullness of time, truth into the fate of existence. The separation of idea and existence has to be brought to an end. It is the very nature of essence to come into existence, to enter into time and fate. This happens to essence not because of something extraneous to it; it is rather the expression of its own intrinsic character, of its freedom. And it is essential to philosophy to stand in existence, to create out of time and fate. It would be wrong if one were to characterize this as a knowledge bound to necessity. Since existence itself stands in fate, it is proper that philosophy should also stand in fate. Existence and knowledge both are subject to fate. The immutable and eternal heaven of truth of which Plato speaks is accessible only to a knowledge that is free from fate—to divine knowledge. The truth that stands in fate is accessible to him who stands within fate, who is himself an element of fate, for thought is a part of existence. And not only is existence fate to thought, but so also is thought fate to existence, just as everything is fate to everything else. Thought is one of the powers of being, it is a power within existence. And it proves its power by being able to spring out of any given existential situation and create something new! It can leap over existence just as existence can leap over it. Because of this characteristic of thought, the view perhaps quite naturally arose that thought may be detached from existence and may therefore liberate man from his hateful bondage to it. But the history of philosophy itself has shown that this opinion is a mistaken one. The leap of thought does not involve a breaking of the ties with existence; even in the act of its greatest freedom, thought remains bound to fate. Thus the history of philosophy shows that all existence stands in fate. Every finite thing possesses a certain power of being of its own and thus possesses a capacity for fate. The greater a finite thing’s autonomous power of being is, the higher is its capacity for fate and the more deeply is the knowledge of it involved in fate. From physics on up to the normative cultural sciences there is a gradation, the logos standing at the one end and the kairos at the other. But there is no point at which either logos or kairos alone is to be found. Hence even our knowledge of the fateful character of philosophy must at the same time stand in logos and in kairos. If it stood only in the kairos, it would be without validity and the assertion would be valid only for the one making it; if it stood only in the logos, it would be without fate and would therefore have no part in existence, for existence is involved in fate.
    • "Philosophy and Fate"
  • 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"

The Courage to Be (1952)[edit]

Man is estranged from what he essentially is. His existence in a transitory world contradicts his essential participation in the eternal world of ideas.
  • At the end of ancient civilization ontic anxiety is predominant, at the end of the Middle Ages moral anxiety, and at the end of the modern period spiritual anxiety.
    • p.57
  • 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
  • The first element is the experience of the power of being which is present even in the face of the most radical manifestation of non being. If one says that in this experience vitality resists despair, one must add that vitality in man is proportional to intentionality.
    The vitality that can stand the abyss of meaninglessness is aware of a hidden meaning within the destruction of meaning.
    • p. 177
  • The second element in 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.
    • p. 177
  • There is a third element in 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.
    • p. 177

Systematic Theology (1951–63)[edit]

Man is infinitely concerned about the infinity to which he belongs, from which he is separated, and for which he is longing.
  • 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. The question implied in the ambiguities of life derives to a new question, namely, that of the direction in which life moves. This is the question of history. Systematically speaking, history, characterized as it as by its direction
    • Vol.2, p. 4

Love, Power and Justice (1954)[edit]

  • The Great Commandment demands of everyone the total love of God and the love one's neighbour according to the measure of man's natural self-affirmation. If love is emotion, how can it be demanded? Emotions cannot be demanded. We cannot demand them of ourselves. If we try, something artificial is produced which shows the traits of what had to be suppressed in its production. Repentance, intentionally produced, hides self-complacency in perversion. Love, intentionally produced, shows indifference or hostility in perversion. The means: love as an emotion cannot be commanded. Either love is something other than emotion or the Great Commandment is meaningless.
    • p. 4
  • There is no truth without the form of truth, namely justice.
    • p. 21
  • Without the eros toward truth, theology would not exist.
    • p. 31

The New Being (1955)[edit]

  • God's forgiveness is unconditional. There is no condition whatsoever in man which would make him worthy of forgiveness. If forgiveness were conditional, conditioned by man, no one could be accepted and no one could accept himself. We know that this is our situation, but we loathe to face it.
    • Chap. 1: "To Whom Much is Forgiven..."
  • We cannot love unless we have accepted forgiveness, and the deeper our experience of forgiveness is, the greater is our love.
    • Chap. 1: "To Whom Much is Forgiven..."
  • Secular movements ... try to avoid myths and rites. ... How shall Christianity face them? Shall Christianity tell them: Come to us, we are a better religion? ... Shall we make of the Christian message a success story, and tell them, like advertisers: try it with us, and you will see how important Christianity is for everybody? Some missionaries and some ministers and some Christian laymen use these methods. They show a total misunderstanding of Christianity. The apostle who was a missionary and a minister and a layman all at once says something different. He says: No particular religion matters, neither ours nor yours. But I want to tell you that something has happened that matters, something that judges you and me, your religion and my religion. A New Creation has occurred, a New Being has appeared; and we are all asked to participate in it.
    • Chap. 2: The New Being
  • Where else, besides in scholarly work, should we look for truth? There are many in our period, young and old, primitive and sophisticated, practical and scientific, who accept this answer without hesitation. For them scholarly truth is truth altogether. Poetry may give beauty, but it certainly does not give truth. Ethics may help us to a good life, but it cannot help us to truth. Religion may produce deep emotions, but it should not claim to have truth. Only science gives us truth. It gives us new insights into the way nature works, into the texture of human history, into the hidden things of the human mind. It gives a feeling of joy, inferior to no other joy. He who has experienced this transition from darkness, or dimness, to the sharp light of knowledge will always praise scientific truth and understanding and say with some great medieval theologians, that the principles through which we know our world are the eternal divine light in our souls. And yet, when we ask those who have finished their studies in our colleges and universities whether they have found there a truth which is relevant to their lives they will answer with hesitation. Some will say that they have lost what they had of relevant truth; others will say that they don’t care for such a truth because life goes on from day to day without it. Others will tell you of a person, a book, an event outside their studies which gave them the feeling of a truth that matters. But they all will agree that it is not the scholarly work which can give truth relevant for our life.
    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!
    • Chap. 8: "What Is Truth?"

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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