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The Protestant Era 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. The Protestant Era was published by The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois in 1948. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock<


Author's Introduction

"The change of country and continent, the catastrophe of a world in which I had worked and thought for forty-seven years, the loss of the fairly mastered tool of my own language, the new experiences in a civilization previously unknown to me, resulted in changes, first, of the expression and then, to a certain degree, of the content of my thinking. These changes were supported by the dramatic events in Germany under the rule of naziism." The articles of this book "betray changes of style, of temper, of emphasis, of methods, of formulations, which cannot escape any reader."

Chapter 1: Philosophy and Fate
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.

Chapter 2: Historical and Nonhistorical Interpretations of History
Two main types of history are discussed: the first type in which history is interpreted through nature and the second in which history is interpreted through itself. The first type Tillich calls nonhistorical for it is set forth in natural terms and denies an original and independent character of history. The second acknowledges history as an original reality which cannot be derived either from nature or from supernature, but rather draws these into its own development

Chapter 3: Kairos
Tillich discusses a summons to a consciousness of history in the sense of the kairos (fullness of time), a striving for an interpretation of the meaning of history on the basis of the conception of kairos, a demand for a consciousness of the present and for action in the present in the spirit of kairos.

Chapter 4: Religion and Secular Culture
The persons of today, who feel separated by a gulf from the theistic believer, often knows more about the "ultimate" than the self-assured Christian who thinks that through their faith they have God in their possession, at least intellectually.

Chapter 5: Realism and Faith
The persons of today, who feel separated by a gulf from the theistic believer, often knows more about the "ultimate" than the self-assured Christian who thinks that through their faith they have God in their possession, at least intellectually.

Chapter 6: Philosophy and Theology
As long as theological thought has existed, there have been two types of theology, a philosophical one and—let me call it—a "kerygmatic" one. It is a theology that tries to reproduce the content of the Christian message in an ordered and systematic way, without referring to philosophy. In contrast to it, philosophical theology, although based on the same kerygma, tries to explain the contents of the kerygma in close interrelation with philosophy. The tension and mutual fertilization between these two types is a main event and a fortunate one in all history of Christian thought.

Chapter 7: Nature and Sacrament
The phenomenal growth of secularism in Protestant countries can be explained partly as a result of the weakening of the sacramental power within Protestantism. For this reason the solution of the problem of "nature and sacrament" is today a task on which the very destiny of Protestantism depends. But this problem can be solved only by an interpretation of nature which takes into account the intrinsic powers of nature. If nature loses its power, the sacrament becomes arbitrary and insignificant.

Chapter 8: The Idea and the Ideal of Personality
Personality is that being which has the power of self-determination, or which is free; for to be free means to have power over one’s self, not to be bound to one’s given nature.

Chapter 9: The Transmoral Conscience
Conscience has many different functions: it is good or bad, commanding or warning, elevating or condemning, fighting or indifferent. Which of these functions are basic, which derived? These questions refer only to the description of the phenomenon, not to its explanation or valuation.

Chapter 10: Ethics in a Changing World
This is the meaning of ethics: to express the ways in which love embodies itself and life is maintained and saved. Love alone can transform itself according to the concrete demands of every individual and social situation without losing its eternity and dignity and unconditional validity. Love can adapt itself to every phase of a changing world.

Chapter 11: The Protestant Principle and the Proletarian Situation
A word can be spoken by religion to the people of our time only if it is a transcending and therefore a judging and transforming word. Otherwise, religion would become another contributor to what is accepted anyhow, another servant of public opinion, which in some cases is a tyrant as terrorizing as any personal tyrant. If our religion is able to transcend all this, in which direction must it do so?

Chapter 12: The Word of Religion
What makes Protestantism Protestant is the fact that it transcends its own religious and confessional character, that it cannot be identified wholly with any of its particular historical forms. Protestantism under the stress of the proletarian situation must decide for the Protestant principle as against historical Protestantism

Chapter 13: The Protestant Message and the Man of Today
Protestantism must proclaim the judgment that brings assurance by depriving us of all security; the judgment that declares us whole in the disintegration and cleavage of soul and community; the judgment that affirms our having truth in the very absence of truth (even of religious truth); the judgment that reveals the meaning of our life in the situation in which all the meaning of life has disappeared. This is the pith and essence of the Protestant message.

Chapter 14: The Formative Power of Protestantism
Protestantism, by its very nature, demands a secular reality. It demands a concrete protest against the sacred sphere and against ecclesiastical pride, a protest that is incorporated in secularism. Protestant secularism is a necessary element of Protestant realization.

Chapter 15: The End of the Protestant Era?
It is the basic proposition of this chapter that the traditional form of the Protestant attitude cannot outlast the period of mass disintegration and mass collectivism—that the end of "The Protestant era" is a possibility. In order to demonstrate this proposition it must be shown that there is such a tendency toward mass collectivism. In addition, it will be necessary to explain why the Protestant principle is in contradiction to the newly emerging principles of social organization. Finally, it should be asked whether any possibility exists for Protestantism to adapt itself to the new situation without renouncing its essential character.

Chapter 16: Storms of Our Times
The present world war is a part of a world revolution. Although it appears as a war of nations, it is something different, and it can be understood only in terms of the radical transformation of one period of history into another one. Following the breakdown of the natural or automatic harmony on which the system of life and thought during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was based, the attempt is now being made to produce a system of life and thought which is based on an intentional and planned unity.

Chapter 17: Marxism and Christian Socialism
Man is estranged from himself and his true humanity, he has been dehumanized, he has become an object, a means of profit, a quantity of working power—according to Marx. He is estranged from his divine destiny, he has lost the true dignity of his being, the image of God, he is separated from his fellow-man by pride, cupidity, and the will-to-power—according to Christianity.

Chapter 18: Spiritual Problems of Postwar Reconstruction
The spiritual disintegration of bourgeois society was foreseen as early as the middle of the nineteenth century by Russian religious thinkers and has been restated by Nicholas Berdyaev and others, supported by ideas of Nietzsche and Spengler. It was the chief topic in the German and French literature of the turn of the century. It has been developed in a combination of Marxist and religious ideas by the movements of religious socialism in Europe and America. And this analysis is not yet finished.

TILLICH'S CONCEPT OF THE PROTESTANT ERA, by James Luther Adams
The first section of this essay centers attention especially upon what Tillich calls "the bourgeois principle"; the second upon his conception of "the Protestant principle" and upon his philosophical elaboration of this principle in "belief-ful" or "self-transcending realism"; and the third upon what we shall call "the religious-socialist principle." Tillich believes the present situation heralds the end of the Protestant era as we have known it, but Protestantism knows a principle that will not end it.

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