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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 35: Zwingli and Luther. Calvin.. Predestination and Providence. Capitalism. Church and State.

We started discussing Zwingli, but my state of tiredness prevented me from giving a full account of him. I don't want to go back to it, but I want to say that the interesting thing, in the first half of the Swiss Reformation, in Zurich where Zwingli was carrying it through, is that one could call it a synthesis of Reformation and humanism. When I say this, you remember that I spoke about Luther's relationship to Erasmus and the final break, but the continuation of humanistic elements in the further Reformation on Lutheran soil, represented especially by Melanchthon. These two men, Zwingli and Melanchthon ("Melanchthon" from the Greek, meaning "black earth,") Luther worked together with Melanchthon almost from the beginning of the Reformation, in Wittenberg (the theological wing which was dependent on him was often called Philippism) i.e. dependent on Philip Melanchthon, or "Blackearth," if you want to retranslate him out of the nobly sounding Greek into less nobly sounding language! This man was deeply influenced by Erasmus, and never broke with him. Similarly with Zwingli. Both were Reformers insofar as they followed Luther. They were at the same time humanists insofar as they accepted elements coming from the master and leader of all humanism, Erasmus.

This was the difference between Luther and the Swiss reformers. When we come to Calvin, keep in mind that he is largely dependent on Zwingli, as well as on Luther, that he turns back to a certain extent from Zwingli to Luther, but in spite of all this he also was humanistically educated and in his writings shows the classical erudition in style and content.

This is the general character of the Swiss Reformation, in contrast to the Lutheran. I believe that whenever liberal theology arises, as it did from the 17th to the 19th centuries, that since that time theologians develop in all denominations who are nearer to Zwingli than to Calvin. One of the main points I made is that Zwingli believes that the Spirit is directly working in the human soul and that therefore God's ordinary working goes through the Word, the Biblical message, but that God, extraordinarily, can also work on people who never had contact with the Christian message with people whom we speak of as living in foreign religions, or the humanists. The examples given by Zwingli are mostly from Greek philosophers, such as Socrates, and others.

I just read yesterday a hymn which, besides Christ and Luther, l think Socrates was in the content to be sung by a congregation of southern Negroes or Middle Western peasants. And I don't think whether it is very wise to bring theology in this way into a hymn. And if people like Zwingli, Calvin, and others, speak of revelation and salvation in men like Socrates, and Seneca, and many others, whom they mention, then there is a mistake in this, the mistake that they know pagan piety only in these representatives; but pagan piety has exactly the same character as Christian piety in this respect, that it is at least equally intensive in the common people who are really pious with respect to what they know of God, and these are the men they should have mentioned. But since they were good humanists, they mentioned only their own sociological class, namely the people who were not only great men but who also belonged to the intelligentsia. And if you ever decide as ministers to take such things into a hymn, please decide against it. Although I gave you in these classes as much Socrates and Plato as I could, nevertheless I don't sing to them

Now I come to another point, the immediacy of the Spirit, the possibility of having the Spirit without the Word. I didn't discuss last time the special doctrine of God in Zwingli, which is a very important doctrine, namely the doctrine that God is the universal dynamic power of being in everything that is. In this sense you can recognize some of my own theological thinking in Zwingli and Calvin, but you can recognize it also in Luther only that the Zwinglian humanistic form in which this was conceived has much more rational deterministic character God works through the natural law. And therefore the idea of predestination which Zwingli strongly accepted has a color of rational determinism. We shall see that the same is true of Calvin, while in Luther it has much more the character of Occamism and Scotusism, namely the irrational acting of God in every moment, which cannot be subjected to any law.

This has something to do and here is another point of difference between the Lutheran and the Zwinglian Reformation, namely that the law plays a different role in both of them. In Zwingli it is not the law which makes us sinful, but the law shows us that we are sinful; while Luther had the profound psychology which we have rediscovered in modern psychological terms, that the law produces resistance and therefore, as Paul has called it, makes sin more sinful. This was lacking very much in Zwinglian and also in Calvinistic thinking. The concept of law has a very positive connotation. Now this refers to natural law generally. And natural law, as you probably have not forgotten, means in ancient literature, first of all law of reason the logical, ethical, and juristic law. And secondly, also the physical law. So don't think of physics when you read of "natural law," in books of the past. Usually it means the ethical law which is in us, which belongs to our being, which is re-stated by the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount, but which in itself is by nature, I. e., by created nature, by that which we are essentially. And this kind of law is much more in the mind of Zwingli and Calvin than it is in the mind of Luther. Luther detested the idea that God has established a law between Himself and His world, between Him and the finite actions and things and decisions. He wanted everything as non-rational, non-legal, as possible, not only in the process of salvation but also in the interpretation of history and nature; while Zwingli and Calvin accepted nature in terms of law. When therefore Immanuel Kant defined nature as a realm in which physical law is valid, this was much more Calvinistic or Zwinglian; in any case, it was not Lutheran. For Luther nature is the mask of God through which..He in an irrational. way very similar to the Book of Job acts when He acts with mankind.

Therefore the attitude toward nature in Calvinism and in Zwinglianism is much more according to the demands of bourgeois industrial society, namely to analyze and transform nature for human purposes; while Luther's relationship to nature is much more in the sense of the presence of the Divine, irrationally, mystically, in everything that is. And if I hadn't known this before, very theoretically, and not very safely, .I would have learned it when I came to this country.

For Zwingli the law of the Gospel is law not only, of course: he accepts Luther's doctrine of the forgiveness of sins, as did every Reformer, naturally. But he at the same time spoke about a new evangelic law, as nominalists and humanists did. This law should be the basis of the law of the state. Don't forget that Wyclif and Occam had exactly the same idea, and that in this point a more Catholic element is in the Reformed thinking, namely the thought that the Gospel can be interpreted as the new law. This term, the "new law," is a very old one, appearing very early in Church history. For Luther, this would have been an abominable term; the Gospel for him is grace and nothing other than grace, and never can be the new law. But for Zwingli it can be. And this law is valid not only for the moral situation but also for the state, the political sphere. Politically, the law of the Gospel decides the laws of the city. If, therefore, cities do not subject themselves to the law, they may be attacked by those cities which' subject themselves to the law; and the law is against Catholicism; so Zwingli started the war against the cantons in Switzerland, and died in the battle against them, and was conquered. But the principle remained, the principle that the law of the Gospel should be the basis of the state law, and this had tremendous influence in world history: it saved Protestantism from being overwhelmed politically by the Roman Church, by the Counter~Reformation.

But there is still one deeper element of difference between Luther and Zwingli. It is the doctrine of the sacraments. The fight between Luther and Zwingli in 1529 in Marburg was a fight between two types of religious experience one, of a mystical interpretation of the sacrament; the other, of an intellectual interpretation Zwingli said: The sacrament is a sure sign or seal reminding us as symbols, and expressing our will to belong to the Church. This: Divine Spirit sets beside them, not through them. Baptism is a kind of an obliging sign, like a. badge. It is a commanded symbol, but it has nothing to do with subjective faith and salvation, which are dependent on predestination.

In the doctrine of the Eucharist, the decisive point was seemingly a matter of translation, but, in reality a matter of a different Spirit. The open discussion went around the statement: "This is my body," about the meaning of the word "is. " The humanists usually interpreted it by "signified."m means." Luther emphasized that it cannot mean this but must be taken literally: the body of Christ is literally present. For Zwingli it is present for the contemplation of faith, but not per essentiam et realiter (by essence and in reality) "The body of Christ is eaten when we believe that He is killed for us." You see that everything is centered on the subjective side. It is the representation of a past event. The present event is merely in the subject, in the mind of the believer. He is certainly with His Spirit present in the mind, but He is not present in nature. Mind can be fed only by mind, or spirit by spirit, and not by nature.

Against Luther he says that the body of Christ is circumscripte (by circumscription) in Heaven, i.e., on a special definite place. Therefore it is a special individual thing; it does :not participate in the Divine infinity. As man with a body Christ is finite, and the two natures are sharply separated. Therefore the Lord's Supper is a memory and a confession but not a personal communion with somebody who is really present. Luther emphasizes the reality of the Presence, and in order to do this he Invented the doctrine of the omnipresence of the body of the elevated Christ.

The presence of Christ is repeated in every act of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Historical person and sacramental person are identical. In order to do this, Luther said against this: "Where you put God, there you must put humanity: they cannot be severed or separated; it has become one person." To say that the Divine character of the bodily Christ is only said in symbolic or metaphoric terms is from the Devil. So Luther completely rejected the idea that the Divinity of Christ is separated from His humanity in Heaven, Even in Heaven, the Divinity and humanity of Christ belong together. He expresses this in the profound and fantastic doctrine of the ubiquity of the body of Christ the omnipresence of the body of the ascended Christ. "Christ is present in everything, in stone and fire and tree, but for us He is present only when he speaks to us through everything. Now this is the idea that God drives toward embodiment, towards corporeity. and that the omnipresence of the body of Christ m the world is the form in which God's eternal power is present in the world. Now if you want to carry this through in scholastic terms, namely taking it literally or superstitiously, then it is an absurd doctrine because it belongs to a body to be circumscribed. But if you take it symbolically, then it is a profound doctrine because it says that if God is present in anything on earth He is always also present with His concrete historical manifestation, namely with Christ.

Now Luther meant that much more primitively, but his meaning is that in every natural object you can have the presence of the Christ. And in a Lutheran service during the Sundays in Spring, you always find a tremendous amount of flowers and nature brought into the church, because of this symbol of participation of the body of Christ in the world.

Now what kind of principles are involved in this discussion?

When it came to an end, all the Reformers agreed that they denied the; transubstantiation doctrine and agreed about a lot of points about the Lord's Supper, but they did not agree about the ubiquity, I. e., the presence of Christ everywhere. This means there is a fundamental difference, which Luther stated when he left the castle of Wittenberg: "They have not the same spirit with us." What did this mean? First of all, it is the relationship between the spiritual and the bodily existence. In Zwingli you have the humanist intellectualism separating the spirit from the body, and ultimately the Neoplatonic background of this. Therefore in Calvinism there is a lack of interest in the problem of expression. But for Luther, spirit is only present in its expressions; it is directly present in consciousness which finally led to the amalgamation with Cartesian ideas.

The interest is incorporation. The (mystic) Oetinger said: "Corporality is the end of the ways of God." Therefore the great interest in the bodily reality of Christ, in history and in sacrament.

The second spiritual difference is the religious meaning of nature, the control of nature in Zwinglian thinking which demands regularly calculable natural laws the dynamic naturalism of Luther which often goes into demonic depths and is not interested in any law of nature.

And then the final and most important form which was expressed in two Latin formulas. Finitum capax infiniti the finite is capable of the infinite. For Zwingli this is not possible. They said directly: finitum non capax infiniti -- the finite is not able to have the infinite within itself. And this of course is a very fundamental difference, which first occurs in Christology and then is extended to the whole sacramental life and the whole relationship to nature.

It is perhaps wise to say that in the Swiss Reformation, from which, with Zwingli, we now turn to Calvin, .the sociological background was co-determining for the special form in which the whole thing happened. In Luther we have the form of surviving aristocracy. In Switzerland we have the large cities which, like Zurich and Geneva, were mostly trade and small factory cities. That means that sociologically the background of the Swiss Reformation drives in the direction of industrial society. In the German Reformation especially the North German, the Lutheran Reformation it sticks to the pre-bourgeois situation as much as possible If you read Luther's little catechism, you have there a paternalistic culture of small farmers and some craftsmen in villages and small cities. If you read, in contrast to this, some letters and other expressions in Zwingli and Calvin, then you have the men of the world. who have a world-wide horizon, through the trading relationships in the centers in which they lived. This produces a quite different attitude towards nature, the state, and everything.


This leads us now to Calvin himself The first point I want to make in my discussion of Calvinism is his doctrine of God and man. Here we have the turning point of everything in him. One has said that the doctrine of predestination is the main point. Now this is easily refuted by the fact that in the first edition of his "Institutes" it was not even developed; only in the later editions did it acquire great space. But it is to be refuted also from more important points of view.

In every theology. the decisive thing is always the doctrine of God I told you this with regard to Luther, to Augustine. etc. For Calvin the central doctrine of Christianity is the doctrine of the majesty of God. The attitude in which God is known as an existential attitude, more than in any other of the Reformers - -at least in formula, even more than in Luther. For Calvin human misery and Divine majesty are correlated. Only out of the human misery can we understand the divine majesty and only in the light of the Divine majesty can we understand the human misery. Calvin applies to God a word which has been rediscovered by Rudolf Otto numen, the numinous. God is a numen for him, He is unapproachable, horrifying. and at the same time fascinating. He speaks of "this sacred numinous nature," when he speaks of God. This is distinguished from all idols, from every polytheistic God. It is transcended in a radical way. so radically that you cannot speak directly of God. And here he has a very interesting theory of Christian symbolism. The symbols are significations of His incomprehensible essence. Symbols have to be momentary, disappearing, self-negating, He says they are not the matter itself. I think this self-negating is the decisive characteristic of every symbol with respect to God, because if they are taken literally, if they are not self-negating, then they produce idols. This is Calvin and not a mystical theology such as in Pseudo-Dionysius, who says this. So when you speak of symbolism when referring to God, you can refer to a man who is certainly beyond suspicion of being less than orthodox. namely, to Calvin.

The truth of a symbol drives it beyond itself. "The best contemplation of the Divine Being is when the mind is transported beyond itself with admiration." The doctrine of God can never be theoretical-contemplative; it must always be existential, by participation. The famous phrase by Karl Barth, which is taken from a Biblical text "God is in Heaven, and you are on earth" --is often said and explained by Calvin. The Heavenly "above" is not a place to which God is bound, but it is an expression of His religious transcendence, not an expression of a physical transcendence.

All this leads to a central attitude and doctrine of Calvinism, namely the fear of idolatry. This is tremendously strong in him. Calvin fights the idols wherever he believes he sees them. He is not interested in the history of religion, which is practically condemned as a whole as being idolatrous. Religion cannot help having an idolatrous element. Religion is a factory of idols all the time. Therefore the Christian and the theologian must be on his guard and prevent idolatrous trends from overwhelming his relationship to God.

He fights against the pictures in the churches, all kinds of things which can divert the mind from the merely transcendent God. This is the reason for the sacred emptiness of the Calvinist church buildings. There is always a fear of idolatry in the depths of men who have overcome idolatry. So it was :with the prophets, so it was with the Arabians (Islam), so it was now with the Reformers. Calvinism is an iconoclastic movement crushing icons, idols, pictures of all kinds, because they deviate from God Himself.

Now this idea that the human mind is a perpetual manufacturer of idols is one of the deepest things which can be said about our thinking of God. Even orthodox theology very often is nothing other than idolatry.

Now we have on the other side the human situation, which is described in much more negative terms than it is by Luther. "From our natural proneness to hypocrisy, any vain appearance of righteousness abundantly contents us, instead of the reality, which is our sin. Man cannot stand his reality; he is unrealistic about himself or as we say in modern times, he is ideological about himself; he produces unreal imaginations about his being. -- This of course is a very radical attack on the human situation, but this corresponds to God as the God of glory. When Calvin speaks of the God of love, it is usually in context with those who are elected. There He reveals His love. But the others are from the very beginning excluded from love. Now you can say this is always true; but is it not then also true that in Calvin God is also the creator of evil?

I turn now to this question in connection with his doctrine of providence and predestination

Calvin was very well aware that his kind of thinking would easily lead to a half-deistic type of putting God at the side of the world. Hundreds of years before the deistic movement appeared in England, Calvin warned against deism, namely putting God beside the world. Instead of that, of course, 'he conceives of a general operation of God; in preserving and governing the world, so that all movement depends on Him. Deism is a carnal sense which wants to keep God at a distance from us. If He is sitting on His throne and does not care what is going on in the world, the world is left to us. And this is exactly what the Enlightenment and industrial society needed. They couldn't stand A God who is continuously in interrelation with the world, who continuously interferes. They had to have a God who has given to the world the first movement. but then sits beside it and doesn't disturb the activities of the business man and the industrial creators. So. this anticipation of deism is a very important thing.. Against this he says: "Faith ought to penetrate further." .God is the world's perpetual preserver, "not by a certain universal action actuating the whole machine of the world and all its respective parts, but by a particular providence sustaining, nourishing, and providing for everything which He has made." All this implies a dynamic process of God within the law she has given. But he knew that the doctrine of natural law easily would make God into something beside reality. All things, therefore, have, according to Calvin, instrumental character; they are instruments through which God works in every moment. If you want to call this pantheism, then it could be right, which means everything is "in God." The things are used as instruments of God's acting according to His pleasure. (Here we are very near to Luther.) And he also gives a concept of omnipotence which is against the absurdity of imagining highest God sitting somewhere and deliberating with Himself what He should do, and knowing that He could do many other things or everything He wanted, by saying: No, I don't want to do this. I want to do that. This is exactly like a woman in the household who decides to do-this or to do that. This is an undignified view of God, and this the Reformers knew. "Not vain, idle or almost asleep, but vigilant, efficacious, operative, and engaged in continual action; not a mere general principle of confused motion, as if He should command a river to flow through the channels once made for it, but a power constantly exerted on every distinct and particular movement "For He is accounted omnipotent, not because He is able to act but does not,'and sits down in idleness.

Omnipotence is omni-activity. Providence consists in continuous Divine action. These elements of the idea of God in all: the Reformers are very important.

Now it comes to the problem with which Calvin was still wrestling on his death-bed: If this is so, isn't God the cause of evil? Now Calvin was not afraid to say that natural evil is a natural consequence of the distortion of nature. Secondly, he said: It is a way to bring the elect to God, and in such a way it is, justified. But then he said a third thing: It is a way to show the holiness of God, in the punishment of those whom He has elected and in the selection of those who are selected. Now this third point is that God has produced evil men in order to punish them and in order to save others who are evil by nature, from their evil nature. If you have this exclusively theocentric point of view, everything centered around the glory of God, then it is understandable that you also have the attack on Calvin (to which he was very sensitive), namely, he made God the cause of evil. But whatever this may mean, we will discuss it the first hour of next week, and then in the last two hours we will have a survey on the Protestant development.


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