Commentary Magazine

The Religion of Paul Tillich

I want to know you, Unknown One,
You who are reaching deep into my soul
And ravaging my life, a savage gale.
I want to know you—even serve.

Friedrich Nietzsche

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?”1 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 Adams2 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.

Tillich loved to eat well and drink well. He loved new inventions, and new problems in all fields of human activity. He loved to walk—to walk and to talk—and the sight of sunlight making spring leaves translucent would make him halt, breathless, at their beauty. Women, encountering him, sensed his power and vitality and energy; and Tillich himself reacted deeply to women. He loved beauty, he loved joy, he loved creativity; he was also vulnerable and sensitive. A theologian who studied under him and lived with Tillich for many years chose one word to apply to him: vitality. Audiences found him charismatic; wherever he taught in later years, the largest auditoria or lecture halls were needed. Students who took part in a discussion with him even once, or attended one of his classes, often came alive in a new way. It was common to hear from students in his last years at Harvard (even while one observed how he was being slighted by professionals) that Tillich stood as one of the two most creative teachers they had encountered in their Harvard careers. Aristotle long ago pointed out that the man of wisdom cannot render his wisdom in words; it can be communicated only in subtle ways, through presence and emulation and imitation. Paul Tillich taught by being what he was, more than by saying or by writing.

Still, Tillich the speculative thinker will be judged in the future, not by the memories of those whose lives he enriched, though they are many, but by what he said in print. The vast public record is heaped up now, exposed and vulnerable; the flame of time and criticism must be applied, so that in the burning we may learn how much was tinder, how much substance.

Tillich—to change the figure—wished his work to connect many presently separated shores. He was fond of saying that he stood “on the boundary” (the title, in fact, of his autobiography)—on many boundaries—but particularly on the boundary between theology and philosophy. Yet the one boundary that Tillich bridged most significantly was that between the grand German idealist tradition of the 19th century and the alienation and anxiety of 20th-century experience. In a peculiarly haunting, improbable fusion, it was Tillich’s genius to wed his beloved Schelling to Kierkegaard; or again, to rescue the damsel, “being,” from the jaws of oblivion, and make her handmaiden to existential decision and self-creation; he brought cosmic being from “out there” into the human heart.

It is for this reason that The Courage To Be, his Terry Lectures at Yale in 1950, may be his most representative, enduring masterpiece. Tillich was the major, perhaps the only, existentialist to thrive in the new world of America, where the crises of life were not war, pogroms, bloodshed, treason, marching boots, but newspaper strikes, power failures, premature ejaculations, and nervous, clock-driven, neurotic personal relationships. It is unlikely that the dialogue between theology-philosophy and existential psychoanalysis to which Tillich contributed will soon lose its relevance. The souls of Americans are irretrievably fashioned by the past in whose traditions Tillich was thoroughly studied.

His major essays, on “The Protestant Principle,”3 on “Kairos,”4 on Christianity and the world religions,5 and other topics have so influenced theological discourse that ripples from their entry will not soon be lost to sight. Many persons, otherwise not theologically oriented, find his collections of sermons, The Shaking of the Foundations (1948) and The New Being (1955), worth regular, leisurely, reflective reading. His brief Dynamics of Faith (1957) will stand as a classic analysis of the complexity of faith in God, an analysis which does not slight the emotive, nor volitional, nor intellectual components of such faith, and which captures the comprehensiveness and driving power of so centered an act.

Consequently, Tillich will stand before historians as a figure to be tangled with, whether or not his own systematic ambitions manifest, as he hoped, creative power. However, there is no doubt that Tillich himself rested his hopes upon the three volumes of his Systematic Theology; it is as a systematic thinker that he invited the judgment of posterity. In accepting this further dare, Tillich draws down upon himself a different standard of criticism. As a versatile, stimulating, ranging mind, he was long ago assured of having, in the retrospective glance of history, few peers upon the American academic scene. But as a clear, systematic, compelling thinker, his claims rightly encounter stubborn resistance; he must prove himself.

In a single essay it is impossible to take up all the strands of the Systematic Theology. Moreover, since Tillich’s overriding claim was that he stood “on the boundary,” it does not seem correct to center this essay upon the theological content of his work, for such a discussion would mainly be of interest to Christians. The fulcrum point at which Tillich hoped to converse with others besides Christians was his doctrine of God; and his doctrine of God is so basic to the Systematic Theology that, if it falls, the seamless garment disintegrates. Unless Tillich is correct about God, he is not (however many good things he has to say) fully correct about Christ, about human society, or about the personal self. For Tillich, God is “the answer to the question implied in being”; He is known when man is “in the state of ultimate concern.” By Tillich’s own testimony, if that concern is wrongly placed, philosophy and theology become destructive. The test of Tillich’s profoundest claim is his Systematic Theology; the test of his Systematic Theology, not the only test but for our purposes the fundamental test, is his doctrine of God.




A generation ago, it was fashionable for philosophers of a certain kind not only to become atheists but also to expend considerable energy refuting the arguments of theists. The new generation of philosophers is either a little less certain of its atheism, or a little embarrassed by Promethean postures; in general, younger men are indifferent to the issue or inclined to a very marked modesty regarding pronouncements one way or the other. In this atmosphere, it is possible to read Tillich with a considerable neutrality; one does not from the outset insist that Tillich speak with the accents of A. J. Ayer; one concedes that such a subject matter may need to be approached in many diverse, odd, subtle ways. Nevertheless, the best way to understand Tillich may be by the route of his older antagonists; the aforementioned essay in Mind by Professor Paul Edwards, despite its echoes from a more distant time, was published in the year of Tillich’s death and will serve our purpose admirably.

Professor Edwards uses the following predicates interchangeably: “meaningless,” “unintelligible,” “devoid of cognitive content,” “failing to make an assertion,” “saying nothing at all,” and “lacking referential meaning.” He writes: “. . . I would be willing to argue that Tillich’s theology is all of the things mentioned—meaningless, unintelligible, and all the rest.” (By “theology,” Edwards seems to mean Tillich’s philosophical notion of God rather than his interpretation of Christ, Holy Spirit, Trinity, and other Christian data.) Edwards concedes that logical positivism was immodest in its reach: “There can be no doubt that metaphysical systems are much more complex than some of the enemies of metaphysics believed—frequently they have all kinds of interesting and curious ‘links’ to experience and they are only on the rarest occasions purely ‘transcendent.’” Just at this point, Edwards overlooks the choice he is about to make. He could have followed this lead and, recognizing that Tillich’s tradition is not his own, nevertheless have tried fresh ways to get at what Tillich was trying to say. Instead Edwards decides, despite hesitations, to make Tillich’s sentences meet the criteria for meaningfulness set forth by logical positivists. It is this choice which characterizes Edwards’s work as of an older generation. Tillich himself tells how he once asked a logical positivist to listen to him lecture and hold up a finger every time he heard something he could not understand; the logical positivist replied that he would have to hold his finger up from beginning to end. It will prove illuminating to follow Edwards’s attempts, with his limited equipment, to understand Tillich.

No doubt, Tillich’s greatest failure in America was his refusal to take logical positivism, pragmatic naturalism, and Anglo-American empiricism with primary seriousness.6 Tillich was content to co-exist; he was conscious of countless criticisms, assaults, and even insults, and near the end, at least, he had little stomach for the battle. Perhaps he was a victim of the general neglect which Christian theologians in the United States afforded Anglo-American philosophy. Although Royce, Peirce, James, and Dewey are—with their emphasis upon community, personal development, concrete history, and knowing as a mode of acting—in all of philosophical history among the philosophers most congenial to Christian theology, American theologians seemed to prefer German and Latin philosophical models. Even Reinhold Niebuhr spent years attacking Dewey, when he might have welcomed him as an ally in the beginning as, tacitly, he did at the end; certainly, pragmatism was to mean more to Niebuhr than the German idealism which so strongly nourished and continues, unrecognized, to nourish Protestant theology.

Still, the fault was not only Tillich’s; the parochialism was not one-sided. Professor Edwards, for example, accepts the framework of Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion without criticism. Hume’s Demea posed the problem in terms of a God whose attributes are “perfect, but incomprehensible.” If God is perfect, man cannot know Him; if man knows Him, He is limited by man’s mind and imperfect. Cleanthes calls thinkers like Demea “atheists without knowing it.” Edwards then interprets Tillich as a Demea—and it is not difficult to foretell how, in this framework, the analysis will go; a machine could perform it. Hume, and with him Edwards, imagines a God who is part of the world of our experience, among the rocks and trees and people and events of our lives. Consequently, they wish to be able to talk about Him in language borrowed, as all language is, from this concrete world of experience; and they wish this language to lie still, to be tame, to be used literally and simply. If God cannot be spoken of in such a language, then of course one is not really speaking of anything at all.



But the theist who accepts the challenge of verbalizing his belief in God takes up a different point of view from that of Hume and Edwards. He recognizes from the outset that the Humean framework is too narrow. He knows from the beginning that the God in whom he believes is not an object among objects, not a person among human persons. He knows, moreover, that there is no adequate name for God. It is impossible to speak of God adequately in human language. Consequently, all verbalizing of belief in God is, according to the ordinary rules of language, self-defeating. On his chosen ground, Hume has won the debate before it starts; but the main action lies elsewhere. The theist (if he knows what he is doing) is attempting to change the rules of ordinary language in systematic ways, so that what he is doing is plain to those who take up a fruitful framework from the beginning. In the most delicate of inquiries one expects initiative, self-criticism, and experimentation on the part of those who try to learn. If one method of proceeding fails, the teacher hopes the student will try a new framework for a moment. The difficulty with crying “unintelligible” is that one may be characterizing one’s own intelligence or good will.

Tillich’s way of pointing to the new, fruitful framework, it must be admitted, is misleading. To have chosen the suspect language of “being-itself” was a red flag to bulls in Tillich’s china shop. But to have based his new framework for discussing the issue upon “metaphorical or symbolic” language was to make careful practitioners of linguistic analysis wince with pain. Tillich allows us to make one, and only one, statement “directly and properly” in our attempt to give utterance to what we mean by God. That statement makes it plain that God is not a being among other beings, an object among objects, a person among persons. It is the statement that “God is being-itself.” Edwards quotes a relevant passage from Systematic Theology:

God as being-itself is the ground of the ontological structure of being without being subject to this structure Himself. He is the structure; that is, He has the power of determining the structure of everything that has being. . . . If anything beyond this bare assertion is said about God, it no longer is a direct and proper statement.

Such language is not likely to make the ordinary American Protestant utter a prayer; more likely, it will sound heretical to him, or scholastic, or—Edwards’s word—meaningless. Still, the ordinary man does not think aυ/t when he encounters instances of acceleration. One must allow a thinker his own language system; and to understand it, one must enter into it. That American philosophers should expend the effort required to master the language of “being” is too much to expect; to the extent that communication was important to Tillich, his choice of language failed.

Nevertheless, Tillich’s point here—if the critic understands and accepts the rules of the language of “being”—is successful. The language by which we differentiate one object from another, one person from another, cannot properly and directly be used of God. Tillich is not a pantheist;7 but he is saying that God is more like the structure of all things, or the force that in the green grass drives all things, than He is like any particular thing of our experience. God is not an object within reality, but “the ground of reality” or “the matrix of reality.” An exact notion of God, then, cannot be reached by the operations, or according to the methods, by which we reach other notions. God is not the object of our various operations of experiencing, nor can He be pointed to ostensively, nor can He be conceived of as a scientific hypothesis. Nor do we need God in those ordinary experiences which we can tend to ourselves. Nor, finally, do we need God to fill the “gaps” either in our science or in our ordinary experience.



If God were to be reached in any of these ways, Tillich’s lifelong argument continued, such a God would be a function of man, an idol. We must look at the question the other way around. God does not make a difference within the universe of science or within the universe of ordinary experience; the fact that God is does not interrupt the probabilities and/or necessities of scientific laws, nor obtrude into our ordinary conscious experience. Within the world of our experience the actuality of being-itself is, as Edwards puts it, “compatible with anything whatever.” Such a concession, Edwards argues, shows that the term “God” fails to have a referent; but to Tillich it shows that God is not an object in our experience but transcendent. The question that has arrested Tillich’s attention, but not that of Edwards, is why anything should exist at all. The word “being-itself” does not refer to a power that is discovered by its interventions within the universe known to science or within the universe known to ordinary experience. It refers, rather, to a power8 that has determined that the universes of science and ordinary experience, whatever their successive states of affairs, should be rather than not be. “Why should anything exist at all?” Wittgenstein sometimes felt obliged to ask. Pitching his tent on the spot where that question perennially arises, Tillich answers: Because the ultimate point to which our minds can penetrate is that being-itself prevails; there could have been nothing at all, but there are things.

There are atheists and agnostics who search for God but do not find Him. Tillich, in archaic language, tells them that God is not to be found among things; they are looking with the wrong focus. The fruitful focus is one that does not look for a God who is needed to manipulate the states of affairs within the world, but one who is present in any and all states of affairs, present wherever things, events, and persons are, present by the fact that things are, rather than by the characteristics that things have.

How is such a God found? If a man does not wonder why anything exists at all, philosophical inquiry about God cannot in his case be fruitful. Wonder is the beginning of adoration. For wonder about the actuality of things—wonder at the sharp, clean taste of being alive, and conscious, and related to real things, persons, and events—is the only path whereby a God worthy of man’s adoration can be conceived. If God alters states of affairs, interferes, manipulates, makes things go, then God is either a function of the world, inseparable from it, or a meddler who may well be man’s enemy. And, of course, scientific inquiry knows nothing of such a God; there is no such God. But if God is conceived as present in all things, not by giving them their character and motions, but by making them to be, His transcendence is preserved. All things depend upon Him; but they have their own distinctive character, laws, and contingent relationships, which human investigation can discern independently of theology. Tillich is implicitly defending the autonomy of science, as well as the dependence in being of men upon God:

The power grasping us in the state of faith is not a being beside others, not even the highest; it is not an object among objects, not even the greatest; but it is a quality of all beings and objects, the quality of pointing beyond themselves and their finite existence to the infinite, inexhaustible, and unapproachable depth of their being and meaning.9

But perhaps man cannot know anything about “the structure of being,” the “depth” of being.

It may be said that there is no approach for man to the structure and meaning of being, that what being is, is revealed to us in the manifoldness of beings and in the world in which they all are united and interrelated to one another. It could be said: Look at minerals and flowers, look at animals and men, look at history and the arts, and you will learn what being is, but do not ask for being itself above all of them. To this we must answer: You cannot prohibit man from asking the most human question; no dictator can do so, even if he appears in the gown of humble positivism or modest empiricism. Man is more than an apparatus for registering so-called “facts” and their interdependence. He wants to know, to know about himself as thrown into being, to know about the powers and structures controlling this being in himself and in his world. He wants to know the meaning of being because he is man and not only an epistemological subject. Therefore he transcends and always must transcend the “No trespassing” signs cautiously built by skepticism and dogmatically guarded by pragmatism. The meaning of being is his basic concern, it is the really human and philosophical question.10

It is from this vantage point that Tillich’s famous definition of God as the name for our ultimate concern becomes relevant. Tillich chose the word “concern” because he wished to emphasize that the psychic drive in question is not merely rationalistic; it is intelligent, passionate, and willed: it is a “centered act” of the entire human personality. But the word “concern” is misleading. Every man is concerned, and in some sense every man has an ultimate concern: in a vulgar phrase, every man can be bought at some price. As every novelist knows, a man’s identity is clarified by his choices between conflicting concerns. Tillich argues, in effect, that an ultimate concern can be either creative or destructive. And Tillich has at the back of his mind a psychology and an anthropology: honesty, courage, compassion are creative; hatred, cowardice, hypocrisy are destructive. Given these criteria, a man can test his own ultimate concern. When the chips are down, what identity do his choices reveal? A man who is faithful to understanding, brave, compassionate, manifests the power of creativity—the power of being. But why should a man be honest, courageous, compassionate? Why should a man prefer to create rather than to destroy? Even an atheist or an agnostic must choose. Tillich would argue that atheists who are not nihilists and who opt for creativity are despite themselves testifying to their faith in the preeminence of being-itself; they side with being over against destruction.

Thus Tillich reverses the claim of Hume’s Cleanthes, who calls believers like Tillich “atheists despite themselves.” Tillich calls atheists like Hume theists despite themselves. Atheists and theists dislike being mistaken for one another, but enjoy converting one another by definition. Perhaps the point is that the tyranny of names too easily overcomes even careful men. What difference does it make what we are called, so long as we support with all our power values like courage, compassion, and fidelity to understanding? Tillich finds in these inescapable values signs of a “depth” in human life; atheists and agnostics will see in them no such “depth.” It is more important to practice such values than to interpret such values in the same way.

The argument between theist and non-theist, then, in America at least (where the temptation of nihilism has seldom been strong, and naturalism is benign), is a question of how to interpret the significance of the fact that human beings live by values like honesty, courage, and compassion. The issue is not whether men create these values for themselves and by themselves; for if this is the case, the fact that men can create such values indicates that human destiny is not as absurd as it sometimes appears. Theists are led by the power of such values to think that belief in being-itself (or the reality pointed to by some such name) is plausible, even compelling. Non-theists hesitate both to conceive of such a reality and to commit themselves to such an inference. The evidence—the existence of human values of certain kinds—is the same for both theists and non-theists.



What, then, is the main argument of the non-theist against Tillich? For Edwards, it is that Tillich’s symbols and metaphors about being-itself are not “reducible.” A symbol is “reducible” when “the truth-claims made by the sentence in which it occurs can be reproduced by one or more sentences all of whose components are used in literal senses.” “To say that a sentence is irreducible is to say in effect that no new referent can be supplied.” Edwards next goes on to show that Tillich’s being-itself, like Locke’s material substratum, “is, even in principle, inaccessible to anybody’s observations.” Edwards then shows how even the one proper, direct statement about God which Tillich allows, that God is being-itself or the ground of being, is metaphorical. Never does Tillich offer us a literal sentence to which we might “reduce” the metaphors. His language is, even in principle, irreducible in Edwards’s sense. For Edwards, Tillich’s language therefore lacks cognitive content. But at this point, Edwards shows traces of docility. He notes that Tillich sometimes allows us to speak of God as “majestic,” as “father,” as “healer,” and the like. He then goes on to suggest that, given Tillich’s presuppositions, “God may no less appropriately be said to be a soprano, a slave, a streetcleaner, a daughter, or even a Fascist and a hater than a father and a king.” This is a perceptive observation; for insofar as anything is, it participates in being-itself and stirs the contemplative mind. God, Edwards ought now to realize, is everywhere. “If God is the creative ground of everything that has being, everything insofar as it is must express something knowable about God.”11

Edwards dislikes intensely the “bombastic descriptions of empirical facts” to which existentialists like Tillich are prone. If Freud died in 1939, he died, he did not “migrate from being to non-being.” If selfishness and other unadmirable motives are involved in even the best human actions, it does not follow that “Even in what he considers his best deed non-being is present and prevents it from being perfect. . . .” The literal, empirical mind wars with the symbolical, metaphysical mind; in our culture there is no question who will win.



But let us push the literal, empirical mind a bit. Edwards makes some effort to understand Tillich; he doggedly chases down references through two books. Let us assume that the inquiry was open, and could have gone in more than one direction, and reached other than one predetermined verdict. Edwards’s drive to understand, in that case, is more fundamental than his decisions about criteria of relevance and evidence, his conceptual operations, and even his present range of information. The drive to understand is not limited by the given information; it may demand more. It is not restricted to the chosen conceptual operations; confronted with difficulties or chastened by criticism, it may try alternative operations before reaching a conclusion. It is not limited a priori to any one set of criteria of relevance and evidence; for arguments about presuppositions, point of view, and the weight to be assigned various factors are not only possible but common. The drive to understand, then, the relentless question-asking drive in man, is one of the elements in Edwards’s actual argument. But Edwards nowhere draws attention to this drive. He is concerned with objects for experience, objects for conceptual operation.

Tillich, on the other hand, was concerned with objects of ultimate concern, and specifically with an object which is the appropriate response to the unrestricted human capacity for asking questions. He calls this response “being-itself,” which he explicitly thinks of as an answer to a question. Being-itself is experienced by anticipation as (let us say) “everything that will be known when our drive to understand is wholly satisfied.” Thus, being-itself is known through reflection upon our drive to raise questions. We do not know being-itself directly, for we have not asked all possible questions, nor come to that unified vision in which all possible questions are related in one intelligible whole. But in proportion as we are aware of our own unlimited capacity for raising questions, we have a springboard for constructing, indirectly and as it were merely formally and without content, an anticipation of that full intelligence in whose light our partial inquiries cohere. Every act of inquiry presupposes the intelligibility of the relationship between knower and known, and between the things known. Tillich speaks the language of being rather than the language of knowing. But a careful reading shows that every sentence of his in which “being” occurs can be translated into a sentence employing a correlative act of knowing.12

In this sense, Tillich’s “symbols” are all reducible. But the human experiences to which they are reducible are not sense experiences, nor are they concepts derived from scientific or ordinary commerce with things. They are the experiences of the inquiring subject, especially the experience of insight (Tillich leans to the Platonic side of the metaphysical tradition, and tends to rely heavily upon intuition, and the experience of deciding upon which criteria of relevance and evidence to use in reaching reasonable judgments of fact. If the human spirit may be defined operationally as inquiry, these are the operations of spirit. It is these operations which suggest that man is different from other things in the world in which he lives, like trees and cats; that man is an end and not a means; that he does not live by bread alone; that the goods which constitute the profoundest levels of human community are truth and honesty and communication; and that the universe in which men live is not, finally, silent, mechanical, dead, but penetrated through and through with intelligence to which man’s drive to understand is a progressive response.

Every being participates in the structure of being, but man alone is immediately aware of this structure. . . . Man occupies a preeminent position in ontology, not as an outstanding object among other objects, but as that being who asks the ontological question and in whose self-awareness the ontological answer can be found. . . . The point is that man is aware of the structures which make cognition possible. He lives in them. They are immediately present to him. They are he himself. . . . The truth of all ontological concepts is their power of expressing that which makes the subject-object structure possible. They constitute this structure; they are not controlled by it.13

The prosaic, literal, empirical temper is correct so far as it goes. From Tillich’s point of view, however, it fails to reflect sufficiently on those presuppositions by which it escapes nihilism and engenders, in America at any rate, so much hope in historical advancement. The will to act has beliefs implicit in it; Tillich argues that such beliefs include belief in the prevenience of being-itself over the absurd and the destructive. It is perhaps intellectual imperialism for him to argue that all humanism is implicitly theonomous; but it is easy to see why, from his point to view, that conviction is plausible. And until atheistic humanists tell us why they are not nihilistic, and spell out the implications of their liberalism in contrast to alternative and more pathetic conceptions of history, Tillich’s case will continue to goad the uneasy conscience of many philosophers.




Every resolution of the problem of theism vs. non-theism into a standoff of opposite points of view is unsatisfactory. We cannot rest content in the belief that there are two different kinds of men, such that for some, arbitrarily, “God” says something, and for others not. Doubtless, the personal history in which each man has learned the use of the word “God” is here of critical importance. Sartre tells us in The Words how his childhood God was an all-seeing eye, an implacable bureaucratic ticket-collector at the end of the line. How many are the men in our century whose experience of “God” led to bitter death at the hands of soldiers blessed by “God’s” ministers? How many have heard the word “God” from those who speak, as Bernanos wrote, with lips like a hen’s ass, mouthing the platitudes by which they reinforce their bigotry, insecurity, and passion for violence? In the 20th century, the chasteness of pragmatism and empiricism comes as welcome relief after the flatulence of religious speech. Few neutral observers are convinced that all ministers of God believe what they say.

“My whole theological work,” Tillich said in 1964, “has been directed to the interpretation of religious symbols in such a way that the secular man—and we are all secular—can understand and be moved by them.”14 It seems certain, however, that although Tillich spoke clearly enough for a great many believers, he never broke down the difficulties which prevent non-believers from understanding him. The reason seems to be that in standing “on the boundary” Tillich in fact stood within the Christian community and barely placed one foot outward; the questions he raised, and the symbols he employed, derived their meaningfulness from their source “within the theological circle.” The inherent power in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, which has shaped all of us, assured that an original mind like Tillich’s could stir chords which nearly everyone could at least take seriously. But at the crucial points. Tillich’s argument failed.

To a non-theist, Tillich’s being-itself appeared to be just as much an illusion as any other name for God. To say that a man has a genuine ultimate concern seems to say nothing whatever about an added reality like being-itself, but only about the way a man interprets his own identity; there may be no being-itself, no God, for him to relate to, except in his propensity for personification and projection. Tillich tried to meet this objection; but in so doing he was caught in the dilemma Freud pointed out in The Future of an Illusion: if the critical believer removes consolation and anthropomorphic images from his understanding of God, then he loses touch with the community of faith in which most ordinary people stand; and if he does not purify his understanding, the advance of science will do so for him.

Tillich’s view was that a historical community of faith supplies concrete symbols which “point to” God. These symbols are not adequate for all times or all purposes, but men cannot do without them; if churches do not supply them, political parties or other organs will. There is a tension between man’s need for concrete symbols and his need for abstract, critical thinking. The first involves his whole active personality; the second preserves him from understanding the concrete symbols to be more than “pointers.” Tillich thought that it was necessary both to stand within a concrete, historical community of faith and to deny through critical reflection that any concrete symbol is identical with genuine ultimate concern. The name “being-itself” warned that God is not a being like other things, and cannot be named like other things.

Tillich began, then, as one who already believed in God, in the Christian God, in the God of the Protestant tradition. He accepted Gustave Weigel’s observation that he had an “immediate awareness” of God, so strong that argument was neither necessary nor possible. Thus, Tillich interpreted the ontological argument, not as an argument, but as the most fundamental expression of this awareness. The other traditional arguments, he thought, merely pointed to this same basic expression.15 Tillich wrote as a man who has already experienced God in his conscious awareness; he urged others not to look for God as a reality to be added to other realities already known, but as one who was already present in their experience. Tillich viewed the matter as if every man is already in a conversation with God, in the very cognitive processes by which he inquires about anything at all. The fact that men do inquire shocked Tillich; he marveled at human inquiry. He claimed that empiricists give too shallow an account of inquiry. He himself did not so much point to new evidence, as ask us to look at the available evidence in a new way.

Tillich constantly warned his readers that no way can be found to God apart from the experience of a relationship already begun. “Man cannot speak of the gods in detachment. The moment he tries to do so, he has lost the god and established just one more object within the world of objects. Man can speak of the gods only on the basis of his relation to them.” Moreover, men in the past have tried to understand this relationship with God: “. . . the idea of God has a history. . . . In order to understand the idea of God, the theologian must look into its history.” Increasingly in later years, Tillich looked to all historical religions for hints and analogues by which to discern the elements and the meaning of the experience of God which he had.

It is the experience of ultimate concern which, for Tillich, is basic. He writes of “the openness of being-itself, which is given in the basic religious experience.” And again: “although essence and existence are philosophical terms, the experience and the vision behind them precede philosophy.” “God” is not an answer to a question about the existence of some X or other; “God” is the answer to the question which arises from the human awareness of finitude. One must wonder why there is anything at all. One must recognize the contingency of the self and of all things besides. For Tillich, this intuition came rushing upon him in the contrast between non-being and being: the possibility that there might be nothing at all, and the apparently contingent fact that there are things. It does not matter whether things “began” at a point in time or “always were.” It is not temporal origin which is in question, but the power to be at all.

When Tillich looked at the world, it was not only “empirical reality” which preoccupied him—the discrimination between thing and thing, and the systematic classification of things. It was also a “dimension of depth.” Persons, things, and events evoked in Tillich a sense of mystery and reverence; more appeared to him to be happening in human life than meets the empiricist’s eye. He wished with unrelenting hunger to know all that he could know. He recognized that he was finite, and yet in the very formulation of his awareness of his finitude he recognized by anticipation an infinite understanding of all that is to be understood. He argued that one did not “project” the infinite understanding. Rather, it was the screen, or background, or backdrop16 of all finite acts of understanding; it was the matrix or ground which makes the sustained enterprise of understanding coherent and hopeful. Tillich recognized that he himself was in transition from limited, partial understanding toward fuller, complete understanding. Complete, full understanding was in some way part of his own being; he “participated” in it; he was drawn by it and was ever on the move toward it. Yet he himself was not and could not be infinite. (“And a good thing too!” Professor John Herman Randall, Jr., used to chide Tillich at this point in their weekly conversations.)



Now if I am not mistaken, the empirical fact to which Tillich regularly pointed is the fundamental element in human inquiry which I have already called the unrelenting drive to ask questions. The drive to ask questions is unlimited in its range, in the search for further information, in the revision of presuppositions, and in the fundamental selection of criteria of relevance and evidence. We can turn this drive upon ourselves; it is the source of that self-questioning which discredits idols and uncovers self-deceits. Some call it conscience, prophetic judgment, or even “the Protestant principle.” But we can also direct this drive in a scientific direction, inventing methods of inquiry designed to discount quirks of personality and accidents of time and place, in the search for self-consistent systems of general laws. Tillich has paused more than most thinkers in our century to reflect upon the significance for the human situation of the fact that man is possessed of such a drive. What does it tell us about ourselves if a basic drive of ours heads always beyond us, even to the extent of bringing us under its judgment? Tillich had a very strong sense of the fact that we do not possess truth; when we enunciate a true proposition, we are possessed by something greater than ourselves. We participate in an understanding in whose light our own hypocrisies or characteristic errors stand condemned. We pursue full understanding, trying to make our intelligence ever more faithful, accomplished, and docile.

Tillich translated the data of the drive to understand into the language of being. Total and complete understanding, fecund and creative and realized, is being-itself. Sense-knowledge and concepts, by contrast, refer merely to beings and relations between beings. The human understanding in via is divided between understanding and not understanding; thence derives the experience of being and non-being. Ignorant, unable to dare the next steps, uncertain whether our efforts are assured success, we are anxious. To press onward is to have the courage to be. Like man, moreover, reality is in progress. The fundamental though usually implicit axiom of Tillich’s thought is that being and knowing are correlative; that every statement of ontology may be translated into a statement about human psychology: specifically, about human ultimate concern.

Tillich did not choose to use the language of understanding; he preferred “concern.” For in the wake of British empiricism, understanding has come to mean a relatively impersonal, dry, “merely” cognitive act. (Indeed, a dualism between cognitive and emotive is often deemed tenable.) To an empiricist, consequently, Tillich’s language was bound to seem intolerably muddy; empiricists in general fear nothing so much as a draught of subjectivity. When Tillich combined two sentences such as the following, they shuddered: “. . . the gods are not objects within the context of the universe. They are expressions of the ultimate concern which transcends the cleavage between subjectivity and objectivity.”

Moreover, Tillich made a faulty step just at this point. He tells us: “It remains to be emphasized that an ultimate concern is not ‘subjective.’” Now there is a way of explaining ultimate concern so that it is clearly not “subjective.” But Tillich had already effectively disguised that way:

“God” is the answer to the question implied in man’s finitude; He is the name for that which concerns man ultimately. This does not mean that first there is a being called God and then the demand that man should be ultimately concerned about Him. It means that whatever concerns a man ultimately becomes god for him, and, conversely, it means that a man can be concerned ultimately only about that which is god for him.17

In this passage, Tillich seemed to make “god” and “ultimate concern” analytical; wherever one term appears, the other may be supplied in its place.18 As a phenomenological description, this device may be legitimate. But without warning Tillich began to use criteria by which to distinguish genuine ultimate concerns from spurious or even demonic ultimate concerns. “Only that which is holy,” he wrote four pages later, “can give man ultimate concern.” But it is surely a misuse of words to claim that for the taxi driver whose ultimate concern is beer and television, the television room is “holy” or “sacred.” Tillich himself seemed to fear the looseness of his thought here, and inserts a brief paragraph which offers at least one criterion: “Justice is the criterion which judges idolatrous holiness. . . . In the name of social justice, modern revolutionary movements challenge sacred institutions which protect social injustice.”

In short, Tillich had objective criteria for judging among the many candidates for ultimate concern which men in fact choose. He had a way of distinguishing the true God from false gods. But he was so anxious to counteract rationalistic-empirical prejudices that he did not wish to call this method “objective.” For in an empirical, Anglo-American context, “objective” seems to connote the attitude of a scientific observer who, with impersonality and detachment, studies objects “out there” and their relationships. In eschewing this meaning for “objective,” there is all the more reason for Tillich to work hard, in a prominent place in his system, to establish the necessary criteria and controls. Instead, Tillich’s own language connotes dangerous attitudes which, in American philosophical circles, give rise to legitimate fears. He writes in the same work: “If the word ‘existential’ points to a participation which transcends both subjectivity and objectivity, then man’s relation to the gods is rightly called ‘existential.’” But the word “existential” is as foggy as any in the language; it connotes passion, leap, uncritical commitment, true believing, adolescent identity crises, and highly unpragmatic and unproductive dramatic episodes. The verb “transcends” chills sensitive ears; while, since Plato, the word “participation” has made careful thinkers despair of finding a clear, obedient employment for it.



What can it mean, then, to “transcend both subjectivity and objectivity”? Perhaps the following translation of Tillich may be at least partly successful. It is naive to think that any human being can be objective tout court. In order to make judgments which will be given credence by other critical, questioning men, a man must submit himself to long discipline, arduous labor, and the demands of time, place, and situation relevant to his field of inquiry. In order to become “objective,” a man must undergo many “subjective” changes. Lack of information, undue or aberrant emotional involvement, weak imagination, the absence of important kinds of experience, even the deficiency of a certain kind of sympathy—all such “subjective” deficiencies might disqualify a man as an “objective” judge in a given field of inquiry. There is no straight path to objectivity; the way lies through subjective growth, discipline, and socialization. “Objectivity” is itself a subjective state. The “cleavage” is overcome.

That Tillich must have meant something like this is shown by his analysis of the intellectual, volitional, and emotive components of “centered acts of the personality” in Dynamics of Faith. In scientific inquiry as in ethical action, it is not the mind but the whole man that is implicated in judgment. A theory of scientific method or of ethical behavior which disregards the required development of the subject is lamentably deficient. This is precisely Tillich’s criticism of Anglo-American empiricism. The philosopher dedicated to the methods of science is at one and the same time “subjective” and “objective” in his commitment. Such a commitment, like every other commitment, demands a justification. Tillich sows a further doubt: is such a commitment, for a human being, a worthy ultimate commitment? What view of the relationship between human inquiry and reality does it presuppose? What does it take for granted about the human situation?



No doubt many interpretations of the significance of human life are possible. Moreover, it is part of the human situation that each person, faced with many possible interpretations of his own identity under these stars, must choose one of them. No one view imposes itself upon us. We must decide who we think we are. We do so by our actions if not by our theories; we do so by our style of life, our loves, our laughter, our fears, if not by explicit philosophizing or theologizing. As an argument compelling all men to change their view of themselves and to interpret their lives in a new way, Tillich’s work could not hope to succeed. As one possible interpretation, his is not the least rich, the least fruitful, or the least discriminating. It would be well to live as Tillich lived; and, be it noted, he lived out his own theory.

Is not that, after all, the pragmatic test which at earlier points in such discussions eludes analysis? Theism and non-theism are ways of life; as interpretations of human identity, each is too comprehensive for ordinary pragmatic tests. The test comes in living. Most American atheists seem to live as if the “matrix of reality” were intelligible; as if fidelity to intelligence were a policy coherent with the world of our experience. To say that there is a God, for Tillich, means no more than that. God is not an extra, added being; He suffuses all things. He is the name for the effectiveness of our ultimate concern for honesty, modesty, compassion; He is not a being, but the power, bitterly contested, of intelligence, love, and creativity in ourselves and in our world. Communities of religious people continually project beings to put in His place. But even atheists “participate” in the power that makes things, where there could have been nothing, marvelously to be. Tillich seriously reduced the distance between critical theists and critical non-theists, by learning from the deepest currents of thought in Judaeo-Christian history that God is not an object among objects, or a person among persons, but must be thought of in a secular way. The critical theist is very like an atheist, in not thinking of God as a thing while yet giving ultimate and hopeful allegiance to the unrelenting drive to understand.

It is not of primary importance, then, for theist and non-theist, in America at least, to distinguish themselves from one another.19 The real enemy, the enemy of both of them, is the crowd of idol-worshippers: the violent partisans of “the American way of life,” of the white God of white men, of the God of the social and political status quo, of the God of taboo and conformity and inhibition. This God, this bitch, is so strong in American life that all available rebels, theistic and non-theistic, have urgent common cause.




Both christians and secular thinkers, however, register sound objections against Tillich’s attempt to stand “on the boundary.” Ironically, the basic objection from both sides is the same: Tillich is not, after all, a Christian; it is impossible to see in Tillich’s God the God of revelation. Here I think the critics are mistaken, although the difficulties involved must be sorted out and faced directly, and the fact that Tillich never quieted this doubt must count against him. Let us consider the argument of non-theists first.

An eminent American philosopher—“the high priest of positivism” he was called by the relator of this anecdote—was once obliged to hear Tillich preach at the funeral of an academic colleague. Tillich did not speak of hell or heaven, nor of the God of mercy and judgment; he spoke of anxiety, courage, ultimate concern, and being-itself. Descending the steps of the chapel, the philosopher grumped angrily: “Why, the man is not a Christian at all!”

Non-theists often play the role of defenders of orthodoxy. They often insist upon a literal interpretation of religious utterances and of religious tradition. With Freud, they opine that their own illusions are not, “like religious ones, incapable of correction.” Religion must be static; it cannot evolve. Entering upon religious terrain, they suddenly seem to lose their sense of discrimination and their sense of history; they sometimes lump all religious phenomena together and speak of Jesus, Lao-tse, Aquinas, Luther, and Billy Graham in one paragraph. They do not allow that the faith of a washerwoman and a theologian, a child and a grown man, a politician and a scientist, a 3rd-century and a 19th-century philosopher might be significantly different as well as in some ways the same. Like the Russian astronaut who said after his long search through the heavens that, plainly, Our Father isn’t there, they insist upon the literal sense or else accuse the religious man of cheating. Is there or is there not a hell? Where? Do you believe in Satan? Can God have a son, and would a good God wish His son to die (or bid Abraham to behead Isaac), or His flesh to be eaten in the eucharist by human beings? Half the fun of being non-religious appears to lie in the exercise of revulsion against literal interpretations, and in the exercise of suspicion against symbolical interpretations, of religious faith.

But there are more substantive reasons for this misunderstanding. Even when we grant that religious faith is for all men, in all eras of history, and that it does not require the educated to turn off their minds and become uncritical, the problems of relating critical, philosophical language to the ordinary language of the various religious traditions remain acute. There is, for example, an obvious gap between what Tillich says of God in the philosophical part of his work and what he says of Him in the theological part. According to his famous “method of correlation,” Tillich argues that man is both a philosophical and a theological animal; there are not two separate truths about man. This point of view is a refreshing and an honest one, and I think Tillich has received too little credit for it.

What Tillich’s conception implies is that Christianity presents itself as a full world view; it is a whole, rounded, although not yet complete, interpretation of human existence. It is, in brief, a hypothesis. It is to be tested according to how well it meets the facts of human experience. Tillich never states the matter quite so sharply; but surely when he says that, from a philosophical point of view, human experience raises a question about the meaning of man and that, from a theological point of view, Christianity provides one answer to this question, he suggests that the logical status of Christian doctrine is that of a hypothesis. If the answer does not meet the requirements of the question, it must be rejected.

There have not been lacking critics who insist that Tillich has tailored the philosophical question to fit the theological answer, and other critics, like Karl Barth, who insist that Tillich has violated the transcendence of Christianity by tailoring it to meet philosophical questions. Still, a Christian cannot, after all, lead a complacently divided life; Tillich’s attempt to relate philosophy to theology must be judged both courageous and headed in a fruitful direction. Curiously, I find that many militantly secular students respond enthusiastically to Tillich’s analysis of the questions which arise from human experience (as in The Courage To Be), even while they reject his theological answers; while some religious thinkers find his theology stimulating but dislike his ontology. This difference in estimation, it seems, points graphically to the mutual isolation in our society of secular philosophy and theological reflection. Other misunderstandings that Tillich risked arise both from the philosophical separation between Anglo-American analysts, who seldom examine publicly the arbitrariness of their own fundamental commitments to clarity and objectivity, and continental existentialists, as well as from the theological separation between liberal and fundamentalist theologians.



What Tillich proposed to offer was an interpretation of language about God that could win the allegiance of critical philosophers, and also be employed as an instrument of prophetic criticism by ordinary people in ordinary theological discourse. Because human beings live in a concrete, historical world, Tillich had no fundamental objection to the employment of concrete, historical metaphors for God. After all, Moses spoke of God’s extended right arm leading the people from Egypt, and Jesus spoke of his Father. What Tillich did object to was a literal understanding of such language. God has no right arm; He is not, biologically or anthropomorphically, a father. Neither is He a rock, a stream of running water, a tower, or any of the other things which the Bible employs in speaking of Him. Moreover, the Bible itself provides criteria for interpreting its own symbols: Yahweh is the unwritten, the ineffable name, the name unlike any other name; no one should be allowed to think it refers as other names do. In the Christian Testament, St. John tells us (1 John:4) quite clearly and repeatedly: “No one has seen God.”

Moreover, the Bible speaks of God both in an abstract, universal way and in a personal, anthropomorphic way; many of its symbols, particularly those derived from impersonal forces and those having to do with His power over “the heavens,” operate as warnings that anthropomorphic, personal symbols must be understood in an unusual way. In the Christian Testament, St. John’s Gospel speaks of the Logos in whom and by whom and with whom all things were made. The early Greek church was especially fond of the more impersonal “Pantocrator,” rather than the all-too-human “historical Jesus” of the early 20th century. St. Augustine did not hesitate to find God within himself rather than in the cosmos, and thought of Him not as some inner man but impersonally as “my love, my weight.” Aquinas found in the unqualified energy and unceasing activity of Actus Purus a critical name for God, and in caritas or freely chosen love the most serviceable biblical category for speaking of His presence among men. Dante wrote of “the Love that moves the sun and all the stars.”

Consequently, Tillich—I think rightly—felt himself to be part of a well-established tradition of religious discourse. Pascal gave warning that the “god of the philosophers” is not “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” and he divided—accepting the Cartesian split of personality into the emotive and the cognitive—conceptions of the mind from conceptions of the heart. Significantly, Tillich chose to define God in relation to that centered act of the person which Pascal seemed to intend by “raisons du coeur.” Tillich thought of himself as continuing the tradition of Kierkegaard’s “infinite passion and interest,” and perhaps also of the long section on subjectivity as the ground of objectivity in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript.



Some of the resistance to Tillich’s effort, resistance which one encounters in students, at any rate, seems derived from the positive determination of many intelligent people not to be taken as religious. Such students resist any idea of God that is intelligible, all the more if it comes close to pointing to values that they already hold. Their non-theism is more easily defended if theists are constrained to uphold foolish, naive, anthropomorphic or objectified conceptions of God. Yet if in fact there is a God, it would be surprising if He were not already present above all in the experience and profound presuppositions of intelligent, critical, honest, and compassionate men. It would be surprising if God could be found only in church buildings, spoken of only on the lips of a professional caste of clergymen and their phalanxes of stolid churchgoers, or described only in the categories of technical theological traditions. Tillich’s instinct—that God, if there is a God, is already present in the experience of every human being, and most clearly in those with the most fully developed humanistic ultimate concerns—represents the most attractive and plausible, as well as the most traditional, hypothesis.

Tillich’s execution of this point fails, however, because he does not face with sufficient clarity the problems of objectivity and historicity. By turning too quickly to the language of “symbol” and “myth,” Tillich gave the impression of sleight-of-hand. It does not do to counter the objectifying, literal prejudices of most Anglo-American thinkers with a Germanic confidence in the “reality” of symbols (Tillich despised the locution “mere symbol”). In some sense, both Judaism and Christianity are historical religions; concrete, historical facts are important to them; they wish to assert that actions which occur in the space-time continuum bear, precisely as spatio-temporal, responsibility in the eyes of God. By interpreting the narratives of Scripture in a symbolical sense, Tillich at the very least (though not nearly so much as Bultmann) skirts too near the possibility of turning Christianity into a kind of gnosis: it is not the historical deed, in its empirical historicity, but its inward trans-temporal significance that counts. “No historical criticism,” Tillich writes in Systematic Theology II, “can question the immediate awareness of those who find themselves transformed into the state of faith. One is reminded of the Augustinian-Cartesian . . . immediacy of a self-consciousness which guaranteed itself by a participation in being. By analogy, one must say that participation, not historical argument, guarantees the reality of the event upon which Christianity is based.” There is truth in this: Christianity is verified by living it. But there is also the danger of surrendering concrete history to mystical inwardness.

These are the stickiest of all problems for the man who stands in a historical community of faith. The point of the biblical narratives is certainly not to provide us with “objective” information, of the sort useful to scientists, archaeologists, demographers, historians, and the like. Clearly, their point is to induce a metanoia, to bring about self-criticism and a changed way of life. The point of the stories, then, is “real” enough: they call for concrete changes in concrete history—and they have, in fact, dramatically altered the course of civilization.

But in some sense the empirical historicity of the key biblical narratives must also be defended, or else we have the paradox that a faith which insists upon the capital importance of concrete historical deeds is not itself based on concrete historical deeds. Since no Christian theorist has yet given a satisfactory solution to this problem, Tillich, who wrestled manfully with it, cannot be singled out for special blame. He did not wish faith to rest upon the vagaries of historical scholarship, although he gave such scholarship an indispensable role in checking superstition. Still, the empirically-minded will urge, historical research cannot be merely a removens prohibens having nothing to do with the basis of faith. In some stronger way, Judaism and Christianity must allow themselves to be vulnerable to empirical research, at the price of forfeiting an important kind of historicity.

Consequently, the rethinking of Jewish and Christian faith in the context of modern empirical sciences has yet to be accomplished. Tillich was right to see that the cosmic picture of the immediately preceding epoch has been dissolved; Judaism and Christianity can no longer receive support from what used to be called the Judaeo-Christian world view. It should not be presumed too easily, however, that the world view—or lack of one—presented by modern science is in fact less hospitable to Jewish and Christian faith than the neat, orderly cosmic structure taken for granted in the past. The Lord, if there is. such a one, is no less Lord for being Lord of a bundle of loose ends, a changing, open, uncertain historical world, even an absurd world. Despite Einstein, God does, perhaps, play with dice. Tillich made a helpful move in locating the clue to God’s presence in man’s own dynamic striving to be creative in this baffling, contradictory world, rather than in God’s supposed maintenance of an orderly cosmos.

The truly serious threat to Tillich’s future relevance comes from the widespread indifference among the active and the intelligent to ultimate questions. Tillich himself seemed to sense this threat in his definition of indifference as the only true atheism.20 A growing band of young religious thinkers believes that Tillich relied too much upon the inwardness, the romantic wonderment, the pervading religious experience of finitude, so natural to German romanticism but so foreign to American urban pragmatism. Nevertheless, the passionate search for ultimate values among the activists of the New Left is, however secular and even anti-theological its animus, a clear manifestation of what Tillich would call religious seriousness (just as its utopianism is related to the most simplistic theological traditions).



Thus, one threat to Tillich’s future relevance comes from a comfortable, visionless pragmatism, from a consensus concerned with social adjustment rather than with radical questioning. Wherever men are ultimately concerned with the most creative human values they can discover, they have in their experience, Tillich would say, pointers to the presence of God. And he would say that Judaism and Christianity—in his later years, he added Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism—offer alternative historical languages for beginning to babble, however inadequately, about the mystery of human consciousness upon this earth.

But another threat comes from the passing of an era. Much that Tillich wrote will long be cherished, but when he died, a mood, an age, died with him. Rabbi Richard L. Rubenstein learned of his former teacher’s death while visiting the site of the Warsaw ghetto. He wrote:

Somehow, there was something appropriate in hearing the sad news in that place. An important part of Tillich’s greatness was his ability to endow with theological meaning the universal dissolution in two world wars of the old certainties of European civilization. Tillich had known the stability which preceded the breakdown. He had the courage to confront the breakdown and discern within it possibilities of theological renewal.

My sadness was tempered by the knowledge that Tillich’s work was, insofar as any man’s can be, completed. He had spoken for and to his time, but we have moved beyond that time.




1 See, e.g., Kenneth Hamilton, The System and the Gospel, Macmillan, pp. 205-207. William F. Albright calls Tillich “a modern gnostic” and adds: “Tillich has grafted C. G. Jung on Schelling's pantheism . . . and produced a theological system which resembles traditional Christianity only in superficial aspects.” Cited by Gustave Weigel in Leibrecht (ed.), Religion and Culture, Harper & Row, p. 125.

2 Paul Tillich's Philosophy of Culture, Science, and Religion, Harper & Row, pp. 281-282.

3 Contained in The Protestant Era, Phoenix Books, University of Chicago Press.

4 Ibid.

5 The Future of Religions, Harper & Row.

6 John Herman Randall, Jr., judges: “. . . It is [Tillich's] epistemology which seems the least adequate part of his thought, and raises the most questions. The one strand of the philosophical tradition which he does not take very seriously, and consequently fails to illuminate, is the empiricism stemming from Locke. This he is inclined to dismiss as the mere reflection of a transitory bourgeois culture. . . .” “The Ontology of Paul Tillich,” in Charles W. Kegley and Robert W. Bretall (eds.), The Theology of Paul Tillich, Macmillan, pp. 133-4.

7 But he does speak of “a ‘pantheistic element’ in every adequate doctrine of God.” He invokes this element “against the half-deistic theism of much Protestant theology,” which would remove God from the real world of our experience. He sharply denies calling God “the essence of all things,” since this “dissolves God into the essence of the world and removes His qualitative transcendence. . . . But after this has been said, the so-called ‘pantheistic element’ must be used as a corrective. . . .” “Appreciation and Reply,” in Thomas A. O'Meara and Celestin D. Weisser (eds.), Paul Tillich and Catholic Thought, Priory Press, p. 308.

8 Systematic Theology I, pp. 231-237. For Tillich's employment of various symbols, see his “The Meaning and Justification of Religious Symbols” and a series of critiques by others in Sidney Hook (ed.), Religious Experience and Truth, New York University Press, 1961.

9 The Protestant Era, p. 163.

10 Ibid., pp. 86-87.

11 Letter to Gustave Weigel, S.J., published as “Professor Tillich Replies” in Weigel's “The Theological Significance of Paul Tillich,” Paul Tillich in Catholic Thought, p. 23.

12 In my Belief and Unbelief (Macmillan), I have tried to suggest that this is also true of Reinhold Niebuhr and of all religious thinkers.

13 Systematic Theology I, pp. 168-169.

14 See Ultimate Concern: Paul Tillich in Dialogue, edited by D. Mackenzie Brown, Harper & Row, p. 88. No better introduction to Tillich's thought is available than this transcript.

15 “The arguments for the existence of God neither are arguments nor are they proof for the existence of God. They are expressions of the question of God which is implied in human finitude. Their question is their truth; every answer they give is untrue.” Systematic Theology I, p. 205. See also pp. 208-210.

16 “The realm against which the divine image is projected is not itself a projection. It is the experienced ultimacy of being and meaning. It is the realm of ultimate concern.” Systematic Theology I, p. 212.

17 Ibid., p. 211.

18 In Ultimate Concern, however, Tillich replies to an objection that ultimate concern merely “describes how we feel.” “Of course we cannot replace ‘God’ by ‘ultimate concern,’ but we can and must understand that the term ultimate concern, like the German phrase of which it is a translation, is intentionally ambiguous. It indicates, on the one hand, our being ultimately concerned—the subjective side—and on the other hand, the object of our ultimate concern, for which of course there is no other word than ‘ultimate.’” Systematic Theology I, p. 11.

19 Tillich writes: “As an individual I am strongly attached to the quasi-religion of liberal humanistic tradition. . . . The word liberal means here autonomous thought and action. . . . But I try to avoid, as I did as a religious socialist, falling into the process of emptying the liberal humanist ideas of their original religious content. I always go back to the religious source that underlies them, for there is no such thing as humanism in the abstract anywhere. Humanism is always based on a religious tradition. . . . In the Western world since the victory of Christianity, we have a humanism which is always Christian humanism, even if we act as much as possible like anti-Christians. . . . Generally speaking, I would say that the danger of the quasi-religions tends more toward profanization, in the sense of emptiness. Whereas the danger of the religions proper is more that of demonization, in the sense of identifying the revelatory experiences on which they are based with the divine itself, and therefore usurping the throne of the divine' for themselves. Between these two dangers we have to grope our way.” Ultimate Concern, pp. 36-39.

20 “Or we may simply become cynical and have a good time, suppressing the ultimate questions so far as possible. And that is the only unproductive possibility.” Ultimate Concern, p. 41; see also pp. 27-28 ff.

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