return to religion-online

My Search for Absolutes 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. A part of the "Credo Perspectives" series, planned and edited by Ruth Nanda Anshen. Published by Simon and Schuster, New York, 1967. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Chapter 1: What Am I: An Autobiographical Essay: Early Years


The fact that I was born on August 20, 1886, means that a part of my life belongs to the nineteenth century, especially if one assumes the nineteenth century to end (as one should) with August 1, 1914, the beginning of the First World War. Belonging to the nineteenth century implies life in relatively peaceful circumstances and recalls the highest flourishing of bourgeois society in its productive grandeur. It also implies aesthetic ugliness and spiritual disintegration. It implies, on the one hand, revolutionary impulses directed against this self-complacent period and, on the other hand, a consciousness of the Christian humanist values which underlie even the antireligious forms of this society and which made and make it possible to resist the inhuman systems of the twentieth century. I am one of those in my generation who, in spite of the radicalism with which they have criticized the nineteenth century, often feel a longing for its stability, its liberalism, its unbroken cultural traditions.

My birthplace was a village with the Slavic name Starzeddel, near Guben, a small industrial town in the province of Brandenburg, at the Silesian border. After four years my father, a minister of the Prussian Territorial Church, was called to the position of superintendent of the diocese of Schönfliess-Neumark. Superintendent was the title of the directing minister in a group of parishes, with functions similar to those of a bishop but on a smaller scale. Schönfliess was a place of three thousand inhabitants, in eastern Brandenburg. The town was medieval in character. Surrounded by a wall, built around an old Gothic church, entered through gates with towers over them, administered from a medieval town hall, it gave the impression of a small, protected, and self-contained world. The environment was not much different when, from my twelfth to fourteenth year, I stayed as a pupil of the humanistic Gymnasium, and as a boarder of two elderly ladies, in Königsberg-Neumark, a town of seven thousand people with the same kind of medieval remains but bigger and more famous for their Gothic perfection.

These early impressions may partly account for what has been challenged as the romantic trend in my feeling and thinking. One side of this so-called romanticism is my relationship to nature. It is expressed in a predominantly aesthetic-meditative attitude toward nature as distinguished from a scientific-analytical or technical-controlling relation. It is the reason for the tremendous emotional impact that Schellingís philosophy of nature made upon me -- although I was well aware that this philosophy was scientifically impossible. It is theologically formulated in my doctrine of the participation of nature in the process of fall and salvation. It was one of the reasons why I was always at odds with the Ritschlian theology which establishes an infinite gap between nature and personality and gives Jesus the function of liberating manís personal life from bondage to the nature within us and beside us. When I came to America I found that Calvinism and Puritanism were natural allies of Ritschlianism in this respect. Nature is something to be controlled morally and technically, and only subjective feelings of a more or less sentimental character toward nature are admitted. There is no mystical participation in nature, no understanding that nature is the finite expression of the infinite ground of all things, no vision of the divine-demonic conflict in nature.

When I ask myself about the biographical background of this so-called romantic relation to nature, I find three causes which probably worked together in the same direction. First, I find the actual communication with nature, daily in my early years, in my later years for several months of every year. Many memorable instances of "mystical participation" in nature recur m similar situations. A second cause of the romantic relation to nature is the impact of poetry. German poetic literature, even aside from the romantic school, is full of expressions of nature mysticism. There are verses of Goethe, Holderlin, Novalis, Eichendorff, Nietzsche, George, and Rilke which never have ceased to move me as deeply as they did when I first heard them. A third cause of this attitude toward nature came out of my Lutheran background. Theologians know that one of the points of disagreement between the two wings of the Continental Reformation, the Lutheran and the Reformed, was the so-called "Extra Calvinisticum," the doctrine that the finite is not capable of the infinite (non capax infiniti) and that consequently in Christ the two natures, the divine and the human, remained outside each other. Against this doctrine the Lutherans asserted the "Infra Lutheranum" -- namely, the view that the finite is capable of the infinite and consequently that in Christ there is a mutual in-dwelling of the two natures. This difference means that on Lutheran ground the vision of the presence of the infinite in everything finite is theologically affirmed, that nature mysticism is possible and real, whereas on Calvinistic ground such an attitude is suspect of pantheism and the divine transcendence is understood in a way which for a Lutheran is suspect of deism.

Romanticism means not only a special relation to nature; it means also a special relation to history. To grow up in towns in which every stone is witness of a period many centuries past produces a feeling for history, not as a matter of knowledge but as a living reality in which the past participates in the present. I appreciated that distinction more fully when I came to America. In lectures, seminars, homes I visited, and personal conversation with American students I found that an immediate emotional identification with the reality of the past was lacking. Many of the students here had an excellent knowledge of historical facts, but these facts did not seem to concern them profoundly. They remained objects of their intellect and almost never became elements of their existence. It is the European destiny to experience in every generation the wealth and the tragedy of historical existence and consequently to think in terms of the past, whereas Americaís history started with the loss both of the burden and of the richness of the past. She was able to think in terms of the future. It is, however, not only historical consciousness generally which was emphasized by the romantic school; it was the special valuation of the European Middle Ages through which romanticism was deeply influential in the intellectual history of the last one hundred years. Without this influence I certainly would not have conceived of the idea of theonomous periods in the past and of a new theonomy in the future.

Two other points of biographical significance ought to be mentioned in connection with the years in Schönfliess and Königsberg. The first is the effect which my early life in a parish house had upon me, standing as I did with a confessional Lutheran school on the one side and on the other a beautiful Gothic church in which Father was a successful pastor. It is the experience of the "holy" which was given to me at that time as an indestructible good and as the foundation of all my religious and theological work. When I first read Rudolf Ottoís Idea of the Holy I understood it immediately in the light of these early experiences and took it into my thinking as a constitutive element. It determined my method in the philosophy of religion, wherein I started with the experiences of the holy and advanced to the idea of God and not the reverse way. Equally important existentially as well as theologically were the mystical, sacramental, and aesthetic implications of the idea of the holy, whereby the ethical and logical elements of religion were derived from the experience of the presence of the divine and not conversely. This made Schleiermacher congenial to me, as he was to Otto, and induced both Otto and myself to participate in movements for liturgical renewal and a revaluation of Christian and non-Christian mysticism.

Existence in a small town in eastern Germany before the turn of the century gave to a child with some imaginative power the feeling of narrowness and restrictedness. I have already referred to the surrounding wall as a symbol of this. Movement beyond the given horizon was restricted. Automobiles did not exist, and a secondary railway was built only after several years; a trip of a few miles was an event for man and beast alike. The yearly escape to the Baltic Sea, with its limitless horizon, was the great event, the flight into the open, into unrestricted space. That I had chosen, later, a place at the Atlantic Ocean for the days of my retirement is certainly due to those early experiences. Another form of escape from the narrowness of my early life came in making several trips to Berlin, the city in which my father was born and educated. The impression the big city made on me was somehow similar to that of the sea: infinity, openness, unrestricted space! But beyond this it was the dynamic character of life in Berlin that affected me, the immense amount of traffic, the masses of people, the ever-changing scenes, the inexhaustible possibilities. When, in the year 1900, my father was called to an important position in Berlin, I felt extreme joy. I never lost this feeling; in fact, it was deepened when I really learned of the "mysteries" of a world city and when I became able to participate in them. Therefore I always considered it a good destiny that the emigration of the year 1933 brought me to New York, the largest of all large cities.

Still deeper in their roots and their effects than restrictedness in space and movement were the sociological and psychological restrictions of those years. The structure of Prussian society before the First World War, especially in the eastern part of the kingdom, was authoritarian without being totalitarian. Lutheran paternalism made the father the undisputed head of the family, which included, in a ministerís house, not only wife and children but also servants with various functions. The same spirit of discipline and authority dominated the public schools, which stood under the supervision of local and county clergy in their function as inspectors of schools. The administration was strictly bureaucratic, from the policeman in the street and the postal clerk behind the window, up through a hierarchy of officials, to the far-removed central authorities in Berlin -- authorities as unapproachable as the "castle" in Kafkaís novel. Each of these officials was strictly obedient to his superiors and strictly authoritative toward his subordinates and the public. What was still lacking in discipline was provided by the Army, which trespassed in power and social standing upon the civil world and drew the whole nation from earliest childhood into its ideology. It did this so effectively in my case that my enthusiasm for uniforms, parades, maneuvers, history of battles, and ideas of strategy was not exhausted until my thirtieth year, and then only because of my experiences in the First World War. But above all this, at the top of the hierarchy, stood the King of Prussia, who happened to be also the German Emperor. Patriotism involved, above all, adherence to the King and his house. The existence of a parliament, democratic forces, socialist movements, and of a strong criticism of the Emperor and the Army did not affect the conservative Lutheran groups of the East among whom I lived. All these democratic elements were rejected, distortedly represented, and characterized as revolutionary, which meant criminal. Again it required a world war and a political catastrophe before I was able to break through this system of authorities and to affirm belief in democratic ideals and the social revolution.

Most difficult to overcome was the impact of the authoritarian system on my personal life, especially on its religious and intellectual side. Both my father and mother were strong personalities. My father was a conscientious, very dignified, completely convinced and, in the presence of doubt, angry supporter of the conservative Lutheran point of view. My mother, coming from the more democratic and liberal Rhineland, did not have the authoritarian attitude. She was, however, deeply influenced by the rigid morals of Western Reformed Protestantism. The consequence was a restrictive pressure in thought as well as in action, in spite (and partly because) of a warm atmosphere of loving care. Every attempt to break through was prevented by the unavoidable guilt consciousness produced by identification of the parental with the divine authority. There was only one point at which resistance was possible -- namely, by using the very principles established by my fatherís authoritarian system against this system itself. And this was the way I instinctively chose. In the tradition of classical orthodoxy, my father loved and used philosophy, convinced that there can be no conflict between a true philosophy and revealed truth. The long philosophical discussions which developed belong to the most happy instances of a positive relation to my father. Nevertheless, in these discussions the break-through occurred. From an independent philosophical position a state of independence spread out into all directions, theoretically first, practically later. It is this difficult and painful break-through to autonomy which has made me immune against any system of thought or life which demands the surrender of autonomy.

In an early polemic between Karl Barth and myself, he accused me of "still fighting against the Grand Inquisitor." He is right in asserting that this is a decisive element of my theological thought. What I have called the "Protestant principle" is, as I believe, the main weapon against every system of heteronomy. But Karl Barth must have realized in the meantime that this fight never will become unnecessary. History has shown that the Grand Inquisitor is always ready to reappear in different disguises, political as well as theological. The fact that I have equally often been accused of neo-orthodoxy and of old liberalism is understandable in view of the two strong motives I received in the years under discussion: the romantic and the revolutionary motives. The balancing of these motives has remained the basic problem of my thought and of my life ever since.

In the year 1900 we moved to Berlin. I became a pupil at a humanistic Gymnasium in Old Berlin, passed my final examinations in 1904, and was matriculated in the theological faculties of Berlin, Tübingen, and Halle. In 1909 I took my first, in 1911 my second theological examination. In 1911 I acquired the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Breslau and in 1912 the degree of Licentiat of Theology in Halle. In the latter year I received ordination into the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the province of Brandenburg. In 1914 I joined the German Army as a war chaplain. After the end of the war I became a Privatdozent of Theology at the University of Berlin, the beginning of my academic career. Reviewing these fifteen years of preparation, interrupted and at the same time completed by the war, I found abundant material for philosophical reflection. But I must restrict myself to some observations about the impact of these years on my own development.

In Königsberg, as well as in Berlin, I was a pupil in a "humanistic Gymnasium." A Gymnasium, compared with American institutions, consists of high school plus two years of college. The normal age for finishing the Gymnasium is eighteen. A humanist Gymnasium has as its central subjects Greek and Latin. My love of the Greek language was a vehicle for my love of Greek culture and especially the early Greek philosophers. One of my most enthusiastically prepared and best received courses had as its subject matter the pre-Socratic philosophy. The problem of the humanistic education is its relation to the religious tradition which, even without a special religious instruction, is omnipresent in history, art, and literature. Whereas in the United States the basic spiritual conflict is that between religion and scientific naturalism, in Europe the religious and humanistic traditions (of which the scientific world view is only a part) have been, ever since the Renaissance, in continuous tension. The German humanistic Gymnasium was one of the places in which this tension was most manifest.

While we were introduced into classical antiquity in formal classes meeting about ten hours a week for about eight years, we encountered the Christian tradition at home, in the church, in directly religious instructions in school and outside the school, and in indirect religious information in history, literature, and philosophy. The result of this tension was either a decision against one side or the other, or a general skepticism or a split-consciousness which drove one to attempt to overcome the conflict constructively. The latter way, the way of synthesis, was my own way. It follows the classical German philosophers from Kant to Hegel and has remained a driving force in all my theological work. It has found its final form in my Systematic Theology.

Long before my matriculation as a student of theology I studied philosophy privately. When I entered the university I had a good knowledge of the history of philosophy and a basic acquaintance with Kant and Fichte. Schleiermacher, Hegel, and Schelling followed, and Schelling became the special subject of my study. Both my doctoral dissertation and my thesis for the degree of Licentiat of Theology dealt with Schellingís philosophy of religion. These studies seemed to foreshadow a philosopher rather than a theologian; and indeed they enabled me to become a professor of philosophy of religion and of social philosophy in the philosophical faculties of Dresden and Leipzig, a professor of pure philosophy in Frankfurt, a lecturer in the philosophical departments of Columbia and Yale, and a philosopher of history in connection with the religious-socialist movement. Nevertheless I was a theologian, because the existential question of our ultimate concern and the existential answer of the Christian message are and always have been predominant in my spiritual life.

The fifteen years from 1904 to 1919 in various ways contributed to this decision. My experiences as a student of theology in Halle from 1905 to 1907 were quite different from those of theological student Leverkuhn in Thomas Mannís Doctor Faustus in the same period. There was a group of great theologians to whom we listened and with whom we wrestled intellectually in seminars and personal discussions. One thing we learned above all was that Protestant theology is by no means obsolete but that it can, without losing its Christian foundation, incorporate strictly scientific methods, a critical philosophy, a realistic understanding of men and society, and powerful ethical principles and motives. Certainly we felt that much was left undone by our teachers and had to be done by ourselves. But this feeling of every new generation need not obviate the gratefulness for what it has received from its predecessors.

Important influences on our theological existence came from other sides. One of them was our discovery of Kierkegaard and the shaking impact of his dialectical psychology. It was a prelude to what happened in the 1920s when Kierkegaard became the saint of the theologians as well as of the philosophers. But it was only a prelude; for the spirit of the nineteenth century still prevailed, and we hoped that the great synthesis between Christianity and humanism could be achieved with the tools of German classical philosophy. Another prelude to the things to come occurred in the period between my student years and the beginning of the First World War. It was the encounter with Schellingís second period, especially with his so-called "Positive Philosophy." Here lies the philosophically decisive break with Hegel and the beginning of that movement which today is called Existentialism. I was ready for it when it appeared in full strength after the First World War, and I saw it in the light of that general revolt against Hegelís system of reconciliation which occurred in the decades after Hegelís death and which, through Kierkegaard, Marx, and Nietzsche, has become decisive for the destiny of the twentieth century.

But once more I must return to my student years. The academic life in Germany in these years was extremely individualistic. There were no dormitories for students and few, impersonal activities for the student body as such. The religious life was almost completely separated from the life of the churches; chaplains for the students did not exist and could hardly be imagined. The relation with the professors and their families was sporadic and in many cases completely absent. It is this situation which made the fraternities in Germany much more important than they are in this country. My membership in such a fraternity with Christian principles was not only a most happy but also a most important experience. Only after the First World War, when my eyes became opened to the political and social scene, did I realize the tremendous dangers of our prewar academic privileges. And I looked with great concern at the revival of the fraternities in post-Hitler Germany. But in my student years the fraternity gave me a communion (the first one after the family) in which friendship, spiritual exchange on a very high level, intentional and unintentional education, joy of living, seriousness about the problems of communal life generally, and Christian communal life especially, could daily be experienced. I question whether without this experience I would have understood the meaning of the church existentially and theoretically.

The First World War was the end of my period of preparation. Together with my whole generation I was grasped by the overwhelming experience of a nationwide community -- the end of a merely individualistic and predominantly theoretical existence. I volunteered and was asked to serve as a war chaplain, which I did from September 1914 to September 1918. The first weeks had not passed before my original enthusiasm disappeared; after a few months I became convinced that the war would last indefinitely and ruin all Europe. Above all, I saw that the unity of the first weeks was an illusion, that the nation was split into classes, and that the industrial masses considered the Church as an unquestioned ally of the ruling groups. This situation became more and more manifest toward the end of the war. It produced the revolution, in which imperial Germany collapsed. The way in which this situation produced the religious-socialist movement in Germany has often been described. I want, however, to add a few reflections. I was in sympathy with the social side of the revolution even before 1918, that side which soon was killed by the interference of the victors, by the weakness of the socialists and their need to use the Army against the communists; also by inflation and the return of all the reactionary powers in the middle of the Twenties. My sympathy for the social problems of the German revolution has roots in my early childhood which are hard to trace. Perhaps it was a drop of the blood which induced my grandmother to build barricades in the revolution of 1848, perhaps it was the deep impression upon me made by the words of the Hebrew prophets against injustice and by the words of Jesus against the rich; all these were words I learned by heart in my very early years. But whatever it was, it broke out ecstatically in those years and remained a continuing reality, although mixed with resignation and some bitterness about the division of the world into two all-powerful groups between which the remnants of a democratic and religious socialism are crushed. It was a mistake when the editor of the Christian Century gave to my article in the series "How My Mind Changed in the Last Ten Years" the title "Beyond Religious Socialism." If the prophetic message is true, there is nothing "beyond religious socialism."

Another remark must be made here regarding my relation to Karl Marx. It has always been dialectical, combining a Yes and a No. The Yes was based on the prophetic, humanistic, and realistic elements in Marxís passionate style and profound thought, the No on the calculating, materialistic, and resentful elements in Marxís analysis, polemics, and propaganda. If one makes Marx responsible for everything done by Stalin and the system for which he stands, an unambiguous No against Marx is the necessary consequence. If one considers the transformation of the social situation in many countries, the growth of a definite self-consciousness in the industrial masses, the awakening of a social conscience in the Christian churches, the universal application of the economic-social method of analysis to the history of thought -- all this under the influence of Marx -- then the No must be balanced by a Yes. Although today such a statement is unwelcome and even dangerous, I could not suppress it, as I could not suppress my Yes to Nietzsche during the time in which everything which deserves a No in him was used and abused by the Nazis. As long as our thought remains autonomous , our relation to the great historical figures must be a Yes and a No. The undialectical No is as primitive and unproductive as the undialectical Yes.

In the years after the revolution my life became more intensive as well as extensive. As a Privatdozent of Theology at the University of Berlin (from 1919 to 1924), I lectured on subjects which included the relation of religion to politics, art, philosophy, depth psychology, and sociology. It was a "theology of culture" that I presented in my lectures on the philosophy of religion, its history and its structure. The situation during those years in Berlin was very favorable for such an enterprise. Political problems determined our whole existence; even after revolution and inflation they were matters of life and death. The social structure was in a state of dissolution; human relations with respect to authority, education, family, sex, friendship, and pleasure were in a creative chaos. Revolutionary art came into the foreground, supported by the Republic, attacked by the majority of the people. Psychoanalytic ideas spread and produced a consciousness of realities which had been carefully repressed in previous generations. Participation in these movements created manifold problems, conflicts, fears, expectations, ecstasies, and despairs, practically as well as theoretically. All this was at the same time material for an apologetic theology.

It was a benefit to me when, after almost five years in Berlin, my friendly adviser, the minister of education, Karl Becker, forced me against my desire into a theological professorship in Marburg. During the three semesters of my teaching there I encountered the first radical effects of neo-orthodox theology on theological students: Cultural problems were excluded from theological thought; theologians like Schleiermacher, Harnack, Troeltsch, Otto were contemptuously rejected; social and political ideas were banned from theological discussions. The contrast with my experiences in Berlin was overwhelming, at first depressing and then inciting: A new way had to be found. In Marburg, in 1925, I began work on my Systematic Theology, the first volume of which appeared in 1951. At the same time that Heidegger was in Marburg as professor of philosophy, influencing some of the best students, Existentialism in its twentieth-century form crossed my path. It took years before I became fully aware of the impact of this encounter on my own thinking. I resisted, I tried to learn, I accepted the new way of thinking more than the answers it gave.

In 1925 I was called to Dresden and shortly afterward to Leipzig also. I went to Dresden, declining a more traditional theological position in Giessen because of the openness of the big city both spatially and culturally. Dresden was a center of visual art, painting, architecture, dance, opera, with all of which I kept in close touch. The cultural situation was not much different when, in 1929, I received and accepted a call as professor of philosophy at the University of Frankfurt. Frankfurt was the most modern and most liberal university in Germany, but it had no theological faculty. So it was quite appropriate that my lectures moved on the boundary line between philosophy and theology and tried to make philosophy existential for the numerous students who were obliged to take philosophical classes. This, together with many public lectures and speeches throughout Germany, produced a conflict with the growing Nazi movement long before 1933. I was immediately dismissed after Hitler had become German Chancellor. At the end of 1933 I left Germany with my family and came to the United States.

In the years from 1919 to 1933 I produced all my German books and articles with the exception of a few early ones. The bulk of my literary work consists of essays, and three of my books -- Religiose Verwirklichung, The Interpretation of History, and The Protestant Era -- are collections of articles which themselves are based on addresses or speeches. This is not accidental. I spoke or wrote when I was asked to do so, and one is more often asked to write articles than books. But there was another reason: Speeches and essays can be like screws, drilling into untouched rocks; they try to take a step ahead, perhaps successfully, perhaps in vain. My attempts to relate all cultural realms to the religious center had to use this method. It provided new discoveries -- new at least for me -- and, as the reaction showed, not completely familiar to others. Essays like those on "The Idea of a Theology of Culture," "The Overcoming of the Concept of Religion in the Philosophy of Religion," "The Demonic," "The Kairos," "Belief-ful Realism," "The Protestant Principle and the Proletarian Situation," "The Formative Power of Protestantism" and, in America, "The End of the Protestant Era," "Existential Philosophy," "Religion and Secular Culture" and my books Dynamics of Faith and Morality and Beyond -- these were decisive steps on my cognitive road. So were the Terry Lectures which I delivered at Yale in October 1950 under the title "The Courage to Be." This method of work has the advantages referred to, but it also has its shortcomings. There is even in a well-organized work such as my Systematic Theology a certain inconsistency and indefiniteness of terminology; there is the influence of different, sometimes competitive motives of thought, and there is a taking for granted of concepts and arguments which have been dealt with in other places.

The first volume of Systematic Theology is dedicated "to my students here and abroad." The Protestant Era could have been dedicated "to my listeners here and abroad" -- that is, to the numerous nonstudent audiences to whom I spoke in addresses, speeches, and sermons. Looking back at more than forty years of public speaking, I must confess that from the first to the last address this activity gave me the greatest anxiety and the greatest happiness. I have always walked up to a desk or pulpit with fear and trembling, but the contact with the audience gave me a pervasive sense of joy, the joy of a creative communion, of giving and taking, even if the audience was not vocal. But when it became vocal, in periods of questions or discussions, this exchange was for me the most inspiring part of the occasion. Question and answer, Yes and No in an actual disputation -- this original form of all dialectics is the most adequate form of my own thinking. But it has a deeper implication. The spoken word is effective not only through the meaning of the sentences formulated but also through the immediate impact of the personality behind these sentences. This is a temptation because one can use it for methods of mere persuasion. But it is also a benefit, because it agrees with what may be called "existential truth" -- namely, a truth which lives in the immediate self-expression of an experience. This is not true of statements which have a merely objective character, which belong to the realm of "controlling knowledge," but it is valid of statements which concern us in our very existence and especially of theological statements which deal with that which concerns us ultimately. To write a system of existential truth, therefore, is the most difficult task confronting a systematic theologian. But it is a task which must be tried again in every generation, in spite of the danger that either the existential element destroys systematic consistency or that the systematic element suffocates the existential life of the system.

To begin life anew in the United States at forty-seven years of age and without even a minimum knowledge of the language was rather difficult. Without the help of colleagues and students at Union Theological Seminary and the assistance of German and American friends it might easily have been disastrous. It was for over eighteen years that I taught at the Seminary, and after my retirement age I continued my bonds of friendship with Union Seminary.

It was first of all a shelter at the moment when my work and my existence in Germany had come to an end. The fact that shortly after my dismissal by Hitler I was asked by Reinhold Niebuhr (who happened to be in Germany that summer) to come to Union Seminary prevented me from becoming a refugee in the technical sense. Our family arrived in New York on November 4, 1933. At the pier we were received by Professor Horace Friess of the philosophy department of Columbia University, who had asked me in Germany to give a lecture in his department. Ever since 1933 I had been in close relation to the Columbia philosophers, and the dialectical conversation across Broadway (the street separating Columbia and Union) never ceased but rather developed into an intensive cooperation. It was Union, however, that took me in as a stranger, then as visiting, associate, and full professor. Union Seminary was not only a shelter in the sense of affording a community of life and work. The Seminary is a closely knit community of professors and their families, of students, often likewise with their families, and of the staff. The members of this fellowship meet one another frequently in elevators and halls, at lectures, in religious services and social gatherings. The problems as well as the blessings of such a community are obvious. For our introduction into American life all this was invaluable, and it was also important for me as a counteraction against the extreme individualism of oneís academic existence in Germany.

Union Seminary, moreover, is not an isolated community. If New York is the bridge between the continents, Union Seminary is the lane of that bridge, on which the churches of the world move. A continuous stream of visitors from all countries and all races passed through our quadrangle. It was almost impossible to remain provincial in such a setting. Unionís world-wide outlook theologically, culturally, and politically was one of the things for which I was most grateful. The cooperation of the faculty had been perfect. During eighteen years at Union Seminary I had not had a single disagreeable experience with my American colleagues. I regret only that the tremendous burden of work prevented us from enjoying a more regular and more extensive exchange of theological ideas. The work at the Seminary was first of all a work with students. They came from all over the continent, including Canada. They were carefully selected, and their number was increased by exchange students from all over the world. I loved them from the first day because of their human attitude toward everything human (including myself); because of their openness to ideas, even if strange to them, as my ideas certainly were; because of their seriousness in study and self-education in spite of the confusing situation in which they found themselves in a place like Union Seminary. The lack of linguistic and historical preparation produced some difficulties, but these were overbalanced by many positive qualities. Union Seminary is not only a bridge between the continents but also a center of American life. Its faculty, therefore, is drawn into innumerable activities in New York and in the rest of the country, and the more so the longer one is on the faculty. It is obvious that in spite of the great benefits one can derive from such contacts with the life of a whole continent, the scholarly work is reduced in time and efficiency.

Beyond all this, Union Seminary gives to its members a place of common worship. This was a new experience for me, and a very significant one. It provided for the faculty an opportunity to relate theological thought to their own, and to the general, devotional life of the Church. It created for the students the possibility of experiencing this relation of thought to life and thereby of judging the one in the light of the other. It placed upon me the obligation of expressing myself in meditations and in sermons as well as in the abstract theological concepts of lectures and essays. This added in a profound way to the thanks I owe to Union Theological Seminary.

For external and practical reasons it became impossible to maintain the relationship to artists, poets, and writers which I enjoyed in postwar Germany. But I have been in permanent contact with the depth-psychology movement and with many of its representatives, especially in the last ten years. The problem of the relation between the theological and the psychotherapeutic understanding of men has come more and more into the foreground of my interest partly through a university seminar on religion and health at Columbia University, partly through the great practical and theoretical interest that depth psychology aroused in Union Seminary, and partly through personal friendship with older and younger analysts and counselors. I do not think that it is possible today to elaborate a Christian doctrine of man, and especially a Christian doctrine of the Christian man, without using the immense material brought forth by depth psychology.

The political interests of my postwar years in Germany remained alive in America. They found expression in my participation in the religious-socialist movement in this country; in the active relationship I maintained for years with the Graduate Faculty of Political Science at the New School for Social Research, New York; in my chairmanship of the Council for a Democratic Germany during the war; and in the many religio-political addresses I gave. In spite of some unavoidable disappointments, especially with the Council, politics remained, and always will remain, an important factor in my theological and philosophical thought. After the Second World War, I felt the tragic more than the activating elements of our historical existences, and I lost the inspiration for, and the contact with, active politics.

Emigration at the age of forty-seven means that one belongs to two worlds: to the Old as well as to the New into which one has been fully received. The connection with the Old World had been maintained in different ways: first of all through a continuous community with the friends who had left Germany as refugees like myself, whose help, criticism, encouragement, and unchanging friendship made everything easier and yet one thing -- namely, the adaptation to the New World -- more difficult. But it was my conviction, confirmed by many American friends, that a too quick adaptation is not what the New World expects from the immigrant but rather the preservation of the old values and their translation into the terminology of the new culture. Another way of keeping contact with the Old World was the fact that for more than fifteen years I had been the chairman of the Self-help for Emigres from Central Europe, an organization of refugees for refugees, giving advice and help to thousands of newcomers every year, most of them Jews. This activity brought me into contact with many people from the Old World whom I never would have met otherwise, and it opened to view depths of human anxiety and misery and heights of human courage and devotion which are ordinarily hidden from us. At the same time it revealed to me aspects of the average existence in this country from which I was far removed by my academic existence.

A third contact with the Old World was provided by my political activity in connection with the Council for a Democratic Germany. Long before the East-West split became a world-wide reality, it was visible in the Council and with many tragic consequences. The present political situation in Germany -- as distinguished from the spiritual situation -- lost nothing of this character. I saw it as thoroughly tragic, a situation in which the element of freedom is as deeply at work as is the element of fate, which is the case in every genuine tragedy. This impression was fully confirmed by my two trips to Germany after the Second World War. I lectured at several German universities, in 1948 mainly at Marburg and Frankfurt, in 1951 mainly at the Free University in Berlin. Of the many impressions these visits gave me, I want to point only to the spiritual situation in Germany, which was open, surprisingly open, for the ideas which are discussed in this volume. An evidence of this was the speed with which my English writings were translated and published in Germany. This way of returning to Germany is the best I could imagine, and it made me very happy.

But in spite of these permanent contacts with the Old World, the New World grasped me with its irresistible power of assimilation and creative courage. There is no authoritarian system in the family -- as my two children taught me, sometimes through tough lessons. There is no authoritarian system in the school -- as my students taught me, sometimes through amusing lessons. There is no authoritarian system in the administration -- as the policemen taught me, sometimes through benevolent lessons.

There is no authoritarian system in politics -- as the elections taught me, sometimes through surprise lessons. There is no authoritarian system in religion -- as the denominations taught me, sometimes through the presence of a dozen churches in one village. The fight against the Grand Inquisitor could lapse, at least this was so before the beginning of the second half of this century.

But beyond this I saw the American courage to go ahead, to try, to risk failures, to begin again after defeat, to lead an experimental life both in knowledge and in action, to be open toward the future, to participate in the creative process of nature and history. I also saw the dangers of this courage, old and new ones, and I confess that some of the new ones began to give me serious concern. Finally, I saw the point at which elements of anxiety entered this courage and at which the existential problems made an inroad among the younger generation in this country. Although this situation constitutes one of the new dangers, it also means openness for the fundamental question of human existence: "What am I?" the question that theology and philosophy both try to answer.

Looking back at a long life of theological and philosophical thought, I ask myself how it can compare with the world of our predecessors in the last generations. Neither I myself nor anybody else can answer this question today. One thing, however, is evident to most of us in my generation: We are not scholars according to the pattern of our teachers at the end of the nineteenth century. We were forced into history in a way which made the analysis of history and of its contents most difficult. Perhaps we have had the advantage of being closer to reality than they were. Perhaps this is only a rationalization of our shortcomings. However this may be, my work has come to its end.

EDITOR'S NOTE: AT THIS POINT THE ORIGINAL BOOK BY DR. TILLICH CONTAINED SEVERAL CARTOONS BY SAUL STEINBERG, TWO OF WHICH ARE DISPLAYED BELOW:

 

 

 

Viewed 94454 times.