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The Religion of Paul Tillich

- Abstract

Paul Tillich (1886-1965) was a human being of immense wisdom. It is, then, according to script that as he walked toward death he should have heard a rumbling chorus of criticism. On the theological front, Bishop Stephen Neill and Kenneth Hamilton were asking, and answering to Tillich’s disadvantage: “Is this great construction that Tillich has given gospel or is it not? . . . Is this a gospel of redemption, or when all is said and done a Gnosis, a doctrine of deliverance through illumination?”On the philosophical front, Professor Paul Edwards of Brooklyn College described once more (in the journal, Mind, of April 1965) in the tone of voice which Anglo-American professional philosophers regularly used when discussing him, “Professor Tillich’s confusions.” At the end, harsh words against him were added by younger theologians, like Thomas J. J. Altizer and William Hamilton, whose mentor he had been. Will Tillich’s reputation decline or grow? In what terms should his labors be assessed?

The labors were arduous. Professor James Luther Adams lists some twelve German titles between 1910 and 1933 when Tillich, at the age of forty-seven, escaped Hitler by coming to America. After having learned a new language and begun a new way of thinking, Tillich added more than a dozen new titles, including the three volumes of his Systematic Theology (1951, 1957, 1963), and scores of articles. Tillich devoured human life. He experienced, questioned, read, visited, and conversed, with an appetite unequaled among 20th-century philosophers and theologians. Yet he seldom missed a scheduled class; and he wrote incessantly.

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