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The History of Christian Thought 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 Herb and June Lowe.


Lecture 34: Luther (cont.) Christology, Doctrines of the Church and State. Zwingli.


We now come to something about Luther's doctrine of Christ. He is interesting first of all in his method, which is quite different from the method of the old Church, It is, as I would call it, a real method of correlation., namely correlation between what Christ is for us and what we say about Him. The approach is an approach from the point of view of the effects Christ has upon us. Melanchthon in his Loci, his famous dogmatik, has expressed the same idea. The object of Christology is to deal with the benefits of Christ, not with Him and His nature besides His benefits. Luther says, describing this method of correlation, "As somebody is in himself, so

is God to him, as object. If a man is righteous himself, God is righteous. If a man is pure, God is pure for him. If he is evil, God is evil for him. Therefore He will appear to the damned as the evil in eternity, but to the righteous as the righteous, according to what He is in Himself." Now this is a correlative speaking about God. Calling Christ God means, for Luther, having experienced Divine effects which comes from Him, namely forgiveness of sins. If you speak about Him besides His effects, then this is a wrong objectifying method.. You must speak of Him in terms of the effects He can have. He who has Divine effects is Divine this is the criterion.

What we say about Him has always, therefore. the character of participation suffering with Him, being glorified with Him; crucified with Him, being resurrected with Him. "Preaching the Crucified means preaching our guilt and the crucifixion of our evils." "So we go with Him ~ first servant, therefore now King, first suffering, therefore now in glory; first judged: therefore now Judge." So you must act: first humiliation, in order to get exultation!" Together condemned and blessed, living and dead, in pain and in joy/" This is said of Christ and is said of us. The law of contradiction, which we have discussed, the law of God always acting paradoxically is fulfilled in Christ; He is the key to God's acting, namely by contradicting the human system of valuations. This paradox is also valid in the Church. It is, in its visible form, miserable, humble, but in this humbleness exactly as in the humbleness of Christ, we have the glory of the Church. Therefore the glory of the Church is especially visible in periods of persecution, suffering and humility. Christ therefore is God for us, our God, God as He is in relationship to us. Luther also says: He is the word of God. This is the decisive thing, and from this point of view Protestantism should think Christology in existential terms, namely in terms of never giving up the immediate correlation of human faith and what is said about Christ, and not making Him an object where you discuss chemical formulas, between Divine and human nature; or biological formulas, between Son of God and Son of Man all this has sense only if it is existentially received.

Luther emphasizes very much the presence of God in Christ. In the Incarnation the Divine Word or Logos is incarnated. Luther's doctrine of the Word has different degrees. First it is the internal Word, which he also calls the heart of God, or the eternal Son. Only this internal Word, which is God's inner Self-manifestation, is perfect. As the heart of man is hidden, so the heart of God is hidden. The internal Word of God, His inner Self-manifestation, is hidden to man. But Luther says: :We hope that in he future we shall look to this Word, when God has opened His heart,. .by introducing us into His heart."

The second meaning of the Word, in Luther: The Word which is Christ as the visible word. In Christ the heart of God has become flesh, I. e., historical reality. In this way we can have the hidden word of the Divine knowledge of Himself, although only for faith, and never as an object among other objects.

Thirdly, the Word of God is the spoken word, by prophets, by Jesus, by the Apostles, and so the Biblical word, in which the internal word is outspoken. But the revealing. Being of the eternal word in Christ is more than all the spoken words of the Bible. They witness to Him, but they are only in an indirect way the Word of God. Luther was never so bibliolatrous as so many Christians still are today. And when we speak today about the theology of the "word," then we can say Luther was not a theologian of the word in this sense, namely if "word" is translated by "talking." "Word" for him was Self-manifestation of God, and this was already by no means only in the words of the Bible. In it, it was in, with, and under, but not identical with it.

Luther has a fourth meaning of the word of God, namely the word of preaching, but this is only number four, and if somebody speaks of the "Church of the word," thinking of the predominance of preaching, in the services, then he is certainly not a follower of Luther in this respect.

Luther's doctrine of incarnation has a very special character. He emphasizes again and again the smallness of God, in the Incarnation. Man cannot stand the naked Absolute, God; he is driven to despair if he deals with it directly. Therefore He has given the Christ, in whom He has made Himself small. "In the other works, God is recognized according to the greatness of His power, wisdom, and justice, and His works appear too terrible. But here, in Christ, appears His sweetness, mercy, and charity." Without knowing Him we are not able to stand God's majesty and are driven to insanity and hate. This is the reason why Luther was so much interested in Christmas, and has written some of the most beautiful Christmas hymns and poems. The reason is that he emphasizes the small God in Christ, and Christ is smallest in the cradle. And so this paradox, that he who is in the cradle is He who is Almighty God at the same time, was for Luther the real understanding of Christmas. This was Christmas for him, this mystical paradox of the smallest and most helpless of all beings, having in himself the center of Divinity. And this is something which we must understand, out of his thinking in the paradoxical nature of God's Self-revelation, that the slowest and weakest is the strongest, because God acts paradoxically.

Luther's doctrine of the Church:

Here we ask the question, which nobody can omit asking who knows the Reformation: Is it possible that on the basis of these principles of the Reformation, which I have developed, that a Church can live? Doesn't a Church mean something else, namely a community, organized, authoritarian, with fixed rules, traditions, etc? Isn't a Church necessarily Catholic, and is not the Protestant principle that God alone is everything and man's acceptance of God is only the secondary thing, doesn't this Protestant principle contradict the possibility of having a Church?

Now there is no doubt that Luther's doctrine of the Church is his weakest point, and that the Church problem was the most unsolved problem which the Reformation left to further generations. And the reason is that the Catholic system was not replaced and could not be replaced definitively by a Protestant system of equal power, because of the anti -authoritarian and anti-hierarchical form of Protestant thinking.

The type of the Church which Luther chooses and with him Zwingli and Calvin .against Evangelical Radicals, is the ecclesiastical in contrast to the sectarian type. You know all this distinction from Troeltsch, and it is a very good distinction. It is a distinction between a Church which is the mother, out of which we come, which always was there, which we have not chosen, to which we belong by birth and if we awake out of the dimness of the early stages of life, we can perhaps reaffirm that we belong to it in confirmation; but we already belong to it objectively.

Now this is quite different in the churches of the radical Enthusiasts where the individual deciding that he wants to be a member of the "church" is the creative power of the church. The church is made by a covenant by the decision of individuals to, make a church, namely an assembly of God. So here you find everything is dependent on the Independent individual who is not born from the Mother Church, but who produces active church communities. These differences are very visible if you come from the Continent, where we have the ecclesiastical, while you have, even in the old denominations here the sectarian type.

Luther's distinction between the visible and the invisible Church :is one of the most difficult things to understand. The one way in which you can understand it immediately is to understand when you hear those words that they are the same Church, they are not two Churches. This is the main point we mus t make. The invisible Church is the Spiritual quality of the visible Church. And the visible Church is the empirical and always distorted actualization of the Spiritual Church. So they are not two realities. They are one and the same. This Was perhaps the most important point of the Reformers against the sects. The sects wanted to identify the Church according to its visible and its invisible side. The visible Church must be purified, purged as all totalitarian groups call it today from everybody who is not Spiritually a member of the Church. This presupposes that you know who is Spiritually a member of the Church. And this presupposes judging, looking into the heart, into which God alone can look. This of course produces something which the Reformers could not accept, because they knew that there is nobody who does not belong to the "infirmary" that is the Church, as they called it, the infirmary which is the visible Church. But this "infirmary" is for everybody; nobody can get out of it definitely. And therefore everybody belongs to the Church essentially, even if he is Spiritually far away from it.

Now what is this Church? The Church is an object of faith, according to its true essence. It is, as Luther said, "hidden in spirit." It is an object of faith. When you see the actual working, the ministers, the building, the congregation, the administration, the devotions, etc., then you know that in this visible Church, with all its shortcomings, there the invisible Church is hidden. It is an object of faith, and it demands much faith, if you look at the life of the ordinary present-day congregations, and have the faith that in this life, which is by no means a life of high standing, in any respect, the Spiritual Church is present. And you can believe it only if you believe that it is not the people who make the 'Church, but it is the foundation, which is not the people but the sacramental reality, the Word, which is the Christ. Otherwise we would despair about the Church.

And don't ever forget that for Luther and for the Reformers, the Church in its true nature is a Spiritual matter Luther also called it invisible; spiritual and invisible is usually the same in him; it is an object of faith and cannot be shown. And so when you tell somebody who criticizes you because of the Church, and you say: "Yes, it is a quite good institution; there are many good people who come out of it; some people in it are much more serious than some secular people; some are very willing to sacrifice, and the moral standards are always very high, on the average higher than other groups in all this you are right, but you don't speak of the Church. And then the next day you can find that you were much too optimistic and you find out it is rather miserable, what you say. This is not the basis of faith. The basis of faith is exclusively the foundation of the Church, namely Christ, the sacrament and the Word.

This is Luther's doctrine of the Church. What about the Church offices? Every Christian is a priest, and therefore has potentially the office of preaching and administering the sacraments. They all belong to the spiritual element. But for the sake of order, some especially fit personalities shall be called by the congregation for this purpose. The ministry is a matter of order. It is a vocation like all other vocations, but it is not a state of perfection or of higher graces or of anything like this. No priest is more a priest than any layman is priest. But he is the "mouthpiece" of the others, because they cannot express themselves and he can. Therefore only one thing makes the ministers, namely the call of the congregation. Ordination has no sacramental meaning at all.

"Ordaining is not consecrating,"he says. "We give in the power of the Word what we have, the authority of preaching the Word and giving the sacraments: that is ordaining." But this is not producing a higher grade in the relationship to God.

The Church government became identical very soon with the state government in the Lutheran countries, and with the society government we call it "trustees in the Calvinist countries. The reason was that the hierarchy had been removed by Luther. There is no pope, no bishops, no priests, in the technical sense. Who shall govern in the Church? Now of course first of all the ministers, but they are not sufficient; they have no power. The power comes from the princes, or from free associations with society, as we have very often in Calvinism. Therefore the princes are called by Luther the highest bishops of their realm. But they are not to interfere with the inner-religious things; they have to perform the administration the ius circa sacrum, the right around the sacred, but not into the sacred, which remains for the ministers, and every Christian.

The situation which produced this was an emergency situation. There were no bishops, no authorities, any more; but the Church needed administration and government. And so emergency bishops were created, and nobody else could be this except the electors and princes.

Out of this situation, which Luther accepted as an emergency situation, something occurred already, when it began to work, namely the state Church in Germany. The

Church became more or less and I think "more" than "less" a department of the state administration, and the princes became the arbiters of the Church in all respects. This is not intentionally so, but it shows that a Church needs a political backbone. In Catholicism it was the Pope and the hierarchy; in Protestantism it was the "outstanding members of the communion" who must take over, after the bishops have disappeared either the princes, or social groups in more democratic countries, or if the princes do not take it.

Luther's doctrine of the state:

This certainly is not an easy thing, because many people believe that Luther's interpretation of the state is the real cause of Nazism. Now first of all a few hundred years means something in history, and Luther is a little bit older than the Nazis! But this is not the decisive point. The decisive point is that the doctrine of the state was a doctrine of positivism, of a Providence which was positivistical1y interpreted. Positivism means that the things are taken as they are. The positive law is decisive, and this is connected by Luther with the doctrine of Providence. Providence brought this power and that power into existence, and therefore it is impossible to revolt against this power. You have no rational criteria by which to judge the princes. You have, of course, the right to judge them from the point of view whether they are good Christians or not. But whether or not they are, they are God-given, and so you have to be obedient to them. Historical destiny has brought in the tyrant, the Neros, , the Hitlers. And since this is historical destiny, we have to subject ourselves to it.

Now this means that the Stoic doctrine of natural law, which can be used as criticism of the positive law, has disappeared. There is only the positive law. The natural law does not really exist for Luther. The Stoic doctrines of equality and freedom of the citizen in the state, are not used by Luther at all. So he is non-revolutionary, theoretically as well as practically. Practically, he says that every Christian must stand every bad government because it comes from God providentially.

The state, for Luther, is not a reality, in itself, and it is always misleading to speak of the "state theory" of the Reformers. The word "state" is not older than the 17th or .l8th centuries, but instead of that they had the concept of Obrigkeit , I. e. ,authority, superiors. The government is the authority, the superiors, but not the structure called the "state." This means there is no democratic implication in Luther's doctrine of the state. The situation is such that the state must be accepted as it is.

But how could Luther maintain this? How could he who more than anybody else has emphasized love as the ultimate principle: of morals, accept the despotic power of the states of his time? Now he had an answer to this and this answer is very much full of spirit. He says that God does two kinds of works, the one is His own, his proper, work, as he calls it namely the work of love, which is mercy, grace, always giving. And then is "strange" work, which also is the work of love, but it is strange; it works through punishment, through threat, through the compulsory

power of the state, through all kinds of harshness, as the law demands. Now people say this is against love, and then ask the question: How can compulsory power and love be united with each other? And they derive from this a kind of anarchism, which we find so often in ideas of Christian pacifists and others. The situation formulated by Luther seems to me to be the true one. I believe that he has seen, profounder than anybody whom I know, the possibility of uniting the power element and the love element in terms of this doctrine of God's "strange work" and God's "proper work." The power of the state which makes it possible that we are sitting here, or that works of charity are done, is a work of God's love. The state has to suppress the aggression of the evil man, of those who are against love, and the strange work of love is to destroy what is against love.

Now if you call this a strange work, you are right, but it is a work of love, namely, without destroying that which is against love, love would cease to be a power on earth. Now this is the deepest form of the relationship of power and love which I know. This whole positivistic doctrine of the state makes it impossible for Lutheranism to accept revolution, from a theological point of view. Revolution is the production of chaos and even if it tries to produce order, it first produces chaos, and then the disorder is even greater. Therefore Luther was unambiguously against revolution. He accepted the positive given as a gift of destiny.

One more point. One often has said that Luther has something to do with Nazism. I think this is completely wrong. Nazism was possible in Germany, because of this positivistic authoritarianism, because of Luther's affirmation that the given prince is given forever and cannot be removed. This was, of course, a tremendous inhibition against any German revolution, if it had been possible at all which I don't believe in modern totalitarian systems. But an additional spiritual cause was the negation of any revolution, and therefore the acknowledgment of the given authority as authority by everybody. When we say that Luther, is responsible for the Nazis, then we say a lot of nonsense. When we, for instance, think of the ideology of the Nazis, then it is quite clear that this ideology is almost the opposite of Luther's. He had no nationalistic ideology; he had no tribal ideology, no racial ideology. He praised the Turkish state for its good state administration. .. From this point of view, no Nazism is in Luther.

There is perhaps another point of view: the conservatism of his political thinking. That's true, but it also is nothing except a consequence of the basic presuppositions. So don't make this mistake, even if you hear it very often from seemingly expert people. It's only true in one thing: namely, Luther has broken the back of the revolutionary will, in the Germans. There is no such thing as a revolutionary will in the Germans, but that is all we can say, and nothing beyond it.

And let me add here: some say often that it was first Luther and then Hegel who produced Nazism. This is equally nonsense, because Hegel, even if he said that the state is God on earth, didn't mean the power state: he meant the cultural unity of religion and social life, organized in a state. And if this is done, he indeed would say that there is a unity of state and Church. But ""state" is for him not the party movement of the Nazis, the relapse to tribal systems; state is. for him organized society, repressing sin.

Now I go away from Luther. What I was able to give you was rather short. Even a whole semester's seminar on him is not enough. But l hope I gave you some kind of survey helping you to overcome at least some interpretations of this great prophetic personality. In him the Reformation broke through. -- Now I come to people who took over his breakthrough and carried it through in different ways.

Zwingli is not as original a theologian as Luther was, in whom the breakthrough occurred.

He is partly dependent on and partly independent of Luther, but he is never the first beginning, as it was in Luther.

What is the character of Zwinglian Christianity? This is not so easy. Zwingli was very much influenced by the humanists. He remained his whole life a friend of Erasmus, in spite of all the roughness with which Luther separated himself from Erasmus. Zwingli did not, as later on Melanchthon also never did. These people were humanists besides being Christians. They were Christian humanists. And this is especially clear in a man like Zwingli. The authority of the Scriptures in Zwingli is based on the call of the Renaissance: Back to the sources! The Bible is the revelation of God. "God Himself wants to he the schoolmaster.". (Luther could never have written such a sentence; He is certainly something more powerful than a schoolmaster!) But the decisive difference is that Zwingli had a fully developed doctrine of the Spirit, something which was lacking in Luther and the other Reformers. "God can give truth, through the Spirit, in non-Christians also," he said. The truth is given to every individual always through the Holy Spirit, and this Spirit is present even it the word of the Bible is not present. In this way he liberated somehow from the Biblical burden which Luther put upon people.

Luther had a dynamic form of Christian life. Zwingli and, as we shall see, Calvin also had a static one: faith is psychological health. If you are psychologically healthy, then you can have faith, and vice versa. They are identical, actually. Faith for Luther is a dynamic thing, going up and down, reaching heights and depths. This is always possible for Luther. For Zwingli it is much more static, much more humanistically balanced. It is much more something which is similar to the bourgeois ideal of health. Faith is psychological health. "Christian faith is a thing which is

felt in the soul of the faithful like health in the body." The continuous breaking down and re-arising of the community with the personal, wrathful and loving God, is Luther's type. The corresponding undynamic union with God is Zwingli's type. Zwingli is progressive; Luther is paradoxical. And therefore it is so difficult to speak about the paradox, on Zwinglian soil. Either the paradox is dissolved or, if not, then it is accepted. The paradox of the Christian life against the rational progressivism of the Christian life this is the basic difference. But there is another difference to which we shall go tomorrow.

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