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The Interpretation of History by Paul Tillich


Paul Tillich is generally considered one of the century's outstanding and influential thinkers. After teaching theology and philosophy at various German universities, he came to the United States in 1933. For many years he was Professor of Philosophical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, then University Professor at Harvard University. His books include Systematic Theology; The Courage to Be; Dynamics of Faith; Love, Power and Justice; Morality and Beyond; and Theology of Culture. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


On the Boundary
Tillich discusses the boundaries that have determined his life, the boundaries between the different temperaments of his mother and father, between city and country, between social classes, between reality and imagination, between theory and practice, between heteronomy and autonomy, between theology and philosophy, between church and society, between religion and culture, between Lutheranism and socialism, between idealism and Marxism, between home and alien land, and, in retrospect, some limitations on the boundary concept.

I: The Demonic
Tillich discusses the reality and nature of the demonic, its effect in history and the demonries of the present. The demonic is the perversion of the creative, and as such belongs to the phenomena that are contrary to essential nature, or sin. The doctrine of sin without the comprehension of the demonic must be robbed of its content.

II: Kairos and Logos
Time is all-decisive; not empty time, but pure expiration; not the mere duration either, but rather qualitatively fulfilled time, the moment that is creation and fate. We call this fulfilled moment, the moment of time approaching us as fate and decision, Kairos. The thinking in the Kairos is opposed to the thinking in the timeless Logos, which belongs to the methodical main line. It must become apparent that the consideration of reality in the sense of the timeless Logos is at best an immense abstraction which cannot do justice to the passing fate and decision of immediate existence— Kairos.

I: The Problem of Power
Power as a social phenomenon always depends on a position of power recognized by society, on an institution in which society collects its intrinsic might and only thus really constitutes itself. The might of a group can really only be born when the group creates for itself a unified, advancing, and eventually retreating will. The institution in which this happens is the sphere of power determined by the group. Only he who directly or indirectly, openly or secretly is accepted in this sphere is in possession of social power.

II: The Two Roots of Political Thinking
That each individual must constantly suppress within himself subgroups of life-tendencies in favor of his unified life-process shows that we are dealing with a very deep-seated phenomenon, through which the Utopian rejection of force is refuted. In every meaningful life-process of an individual and a society, the subjection of opposing tendencies for the sake of unity takes place. Force is therefore inevitable.

I: Church and Culture
In the foundation of every philosophy of religion and culture, we can define the Church as that sociological reality in which the holy is supposed to be presented, and society as the sociological reality in which the profane appears. But one sees the loss of holiness in its being placed on the same level as the profane.

II: The Interpretation of History and the Idea of Christ
Christology faces the concept of history and history cannot be treated without regarding the Christological question. To develop Christology means to describe the concrete point at which something absolute appears in history and provides it with meaning and purpose; and this indeed is the central problem with the philosophy of history.

III. Eschatalogy and History
Religious problems are approached by either of two methods—the scientific or the authoritarian. Tillich suggests a third, that through phenomenological intuition—an attempt to isolate and clarify in rational terms the content present in the religious act.

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