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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 37: Protestant Orthodoxy. Pietism.


We finished yesterday the theology of the Reformers. The next section is a lecture which would ordinarily last one semester, four hours a week, on the development of modern Protestant theology. But what we can do with these last two hours is to give a kind of survey on the rhythm in which Protestant theology has developed in the last 350 years. This development is important not only in itself, from the historical point of view, but also because elements of everything which has been created within this development are in your minds, souls and bodies, and you cannot get rid of it without knowing it Therefore I believe, negatively and positively it is of extreme importance to have a history of Protestant theology or at least, if this is impossible, to show the tides because this whole development is like a tide going up and down; but each wave and each low tide is different from the other.

Now the immediate wave which followed the Reformation period is the period we usually call Orthodoxy. Now Orthodoxy is a great and serious thing, much greater and much more serious than what you call Fundamentalism, in this country, which is a product of a reaction in the 19th century, and which is a primitivized form of classical Orthodoxy. Classical Orthodoxy was great theology. We can say it was Protestant Scholasticism, with all the refinements and methods which the word "Scholastic" includes. Therefore, when I speak of "Orthodoxy," I mean the way in which the Reformation established itself as an ecclesiastical form of life and thought, after the dynamic movement of the Reformation had come to an end. It is the systematization and consolidation of the ideas of the Reformation, partly in contrast to what I said before about the Counter-Reformation.

As such, Orthodox theology always was and still is the solid basis of all coming developments, whether these developments as was mostly the case were directed against Orthodoxy, or whether they were attempts of a restoration of Orthodoxy. In both cases, they are dependent on it. Liberal theology, up to today, is dependent on the Orthodoxy against which it fights. Pietism is dependent on the Orthodoxy which it wants to transform into subjectivism. the present-day and former restoration movements try to restore what was once alive in the Orthodox period. Therefore we should deal with this period with much more seriousness than it is usually done in this country. I can tell you that in Germany, at least, and I think everywhere in European theological faculties France, Switzerland, Sweden, etc. every student of theology was supposed to know by heart the doctrines of at least one classical Orthodox theologian of the post-Reformation period, be it Lutheran, be it Calvinistic; and that in Latin Now even if we forget about the Latin today, we should know these doctrines, because they are the classical system of Protestant thinking. And it is a state of things of which I would say that it is unheard of, that the Protestant churches of today largely don't even know the classical expression of their own foundations namely, the Orthodox dogmatics - -so that you cannot even understand, really, even the opposition to them: you cannot understand people like Schleiermacher or Ritschl, or American liberalism or social-gospel theology, without understanding that against which they were all directed, and on which they are dependent as everything which is against something is dependent on that which it is against; you know when you are against your parents, and your parents against you, or husband against wife. And in this sense, all theology of today is dependent on the classical Orthodox systems. So the next lecture should be a seminar on one of the classical Orthodox systems Now all this has to be done in a short time. re should be a seminar on one of the classical Orthodox systems, and then we could go beyond it. This shows the shortcomings in our theological education.

Orthodox theology was not only theological, it was also political. It was political, because of the necessity to define the religious status in the political atmosphere of the post-Reformation period. It was a period which prepared the ThirtyYears' War, in which the Roman Empire, namely Germany, and the German emperor, demanded that every territory define exactly where it stands, because this was the basis of its legal acknowledgment within the unity of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation.

Beyond this the theology was a theology of territory princes. They wanted to know from their theological faculties exactly what a minister was supposed to teach, and they had to know it because they were the legal lords of the Church, as summi episcopi , as highest bishops. So in all the theological problems of the Orthodox doctrines, a legal problem was involved. So when you read about the Augustana variata or invariata (re: the Confession of Augsburg), then you think, "What nonsense!" Not only the unity of Protestantism was threatened, but people were killed because the people introduced the Agustana variata against the invariata, without the princes' permission. ... It was not only nonsense; it was more than this, even theologically. It was the difference between what at that time was called not Barthianism, but Flaccianism, or gnesio (genuine-)Lutheranism, original Lutheranism. (Flaccius was the greatest Church historian Protestantism produced, : and was at the same time a gnesio-Lutheran, and as such had a very similar point of view of the total depravity of man, as today the Barthian school has namely, as he called it, in Scholastic terminology, the substance of human nature is original sin This was not accepted but the tendency was very strong.

On the other side, we had the tendency of Melanchthon Philippism which was similar to some Reformed ideas, so that it is even difficult today to find out how much in Philippism is Reformed and how much is Melanchthonian. This group was nearer to what we would call today a moderate liberal theology, against the gnesio-Lutherans.

All this shows that at that time the problems came immediately into the foreground which ever since have been problems, and your generation enjoys the fact that this fight against Philippism and gnesio-Lutheranism is now going on between Barthianism and moderate mediating theology.

The result of these struggles at the end of the 16th century, was the Formula of Concord, in which many of the territorial churches found an interpretation of which they believed it is the pure interpretation of the Confession of Augsburg, in its basic form.

All this has one implication, namely that the doctrinal element becomes much more important than it was in the Reformation period itself, where the Spiritual element was much more decisive than the fixed doctrines. Luther didn't fix doctrines, although he himself could be very tenacious. He had to stick to something which according to his own principles had to be condemned by him, but from some mystical theological reasons he stuck to it.

Then we must deal a little with the principles of Orthodox thinking One of the first was the relationship to philosophy. This is not a new invention of Union Theological Seminary since the year 1950, but it is very old and is old in Protestantism. Luther seems to be very much disinclined to accept anything from reason; in reality, this is not true. This is true in many of his angry statements against the philo6ophers by whom he usually meant the Scholastics and their teachers, Aristotle, etc, But Luther himself, in his famous words at the Diet of Worms, said: "If he is not recanted either by Holy Scripture or by reason, then he will not recant." There he adds reasoning to Holy Scripture; he was not an irrationalist, But what he fought against was that these categories transform the substance of the faith. Reason is not able to save, but must itself be saved,

Now this was the point of view in Luther's fight. But immediately it became clear and Luther accepted it and gave Melanchthon this task that you cannot teach theologically without philosophy, and that you cannot teach anything whatsoever without using, consciously or unconsciously, philosophical categories. Therefore, he did not forbid that Melanchthon again introduce Aristotle, and with Aristotle many humanistic elements.

There always were people who spoke - -as some speak today namely, in an attack on humanism, philosophy, Aristotle. There was a man, Daniel Hoffman, who said: "The philosophers are the patriarchs of heresy." Now that is what theologians sometimes say, even today, But if they then develop their own theology, then you can prove easily from which "Patriarchs of heresy: namely from which philosophers they have taken their category, That is an impossible way, But they said: "What is philosophically true is theologically wrong; the philosophers are unregenerated insofar as they are philosophers/" -- This is a very interesting statement, which means there is a realm of life which, by itself, is unregenerated and obviously cannot be regenerated, .But this contradicts again the emphasis on secularism in Protestantism. "Philosophers," said Hoffman, "try to be like God because they develop a philosophy which is not theologically given." -- Hoffman was not able to carry through his idea, but he produced a continuous suspicion against the philosophers, in the theological churches, a suspicion which is much greater than everything in the Roman church, And this suspicion, of course, is very much alive again in the present-day theological situation.

The final victory of philosophy within theology was the presupposition of all Orthodox systems. I will give you the man who developed the classical system of Protestant, especially Lutheran, theology: Johan Gerhard. He is a very great philosopher and theologian, in some way comparable with Thomas Aquinas for the Catholics. He represents the latest flowering of Scholasticism, not only of the Church. He distinguishes articles which are pure and those which are mixed. Pure are those which are only revealed; mixed, those which are rational possible and at the same time revealed. He believes, with Thomas Aquinas, that the existence of God can be proved rationally. But he was also aware of the fact that this rational proof doesn't give us certainty. "Although the proof is correct, we believe it because of revelation."

In this way we have two structures: the sub-structure of reason. the super-structure of revelation. The super-structure is the Biblical doctrines. What actually happened and this is actually a preview of the next centuries was that the mixed articles became unmixed, I. e., unmixed rationally, and that the sub-structure, namely rational theology, dispossessed the super-structure, drawing it into itself, and taking away its meaning. When this happens, we are in the realm of rationalism, or Enlightenment.

Protestantism, in the Orthodox doctrine, has developed two principles: a formal and a material principle of theology;(these are nineteenth-century terms, so far as I know). The formal principle is the Bible; the material, the doctrine of justification. According to Luther, they are interdependent: that in the Bible which gives the message of justification is that which deals with Christ, and is that which is authentic. And on the other hand, this doctrine is taken from the Bible and therefore is dependent on it. This was in Luther very free and creative; Bible and justification were inter-dependent, in a living way. But this was not the attitude of Orthodoxy. The two were put beside each other. This meant that the real principle became the Bible, namely the realm of authority.

What was the doctrine of the Bible in Orthodoxy? The Bible is witnessed in a 3-fold way:

1) by external criteria, such as age, miracles, prophecy, martyrs, etc.;

2) by internal criteria, namely, style, sublime ideas, moral sanctity;

3) by the testimony of the Divine Spirit.

This testimony, however, gets another meaning. It is no more the meaning that we are the children of God, as Paul speaks: the Spirit testifies that we are the children of God. -- It became the testimony that the doctrines of the Holy Scriptures are true and inspired by the Spirit. This means: instead of the immediacy of the Spirit in relationship of man and God, the Spirit witnesses to the authentia, the authenticity, of the Bible insofar as it is a document of the Divine Spirit. Now you see the difference: if the Spirit tells you are children of God, then this is an immediate experience, and there is no law involved in it at all. If the Spirit testifies that the Bible has true doctrines, then the whole thing is brought out of the person-to-person relationship into an objective legal relationship. And that is exactly what Orthodoxy did.

And if this is true, then something else is true, very interesting discussion: the discussion about the theologia irregenitorum , the theology of those who are not converted.. the unregenerate. If the Bible is the legal law of Protestantism~ then it is possible that everybody who can read the Bible and interpret it scientifically is able to write a systematic theology even if he does not participate at all; only because he is able to participate in terms of the understanding of the meaning of the sentences and words. I anticipate something when I say that this was absolutely denied by the Pietists, who said there is only a theologia regenitorum, of those who are regenerated. When we look at this discussion in modern terms, we say Orthodoxy believed in a systematic theology which is not existential, while the Pietists believed in an existential theology which alone is able to give a theology.

Now both of these statements have something difficult. The unregenerated Orthodox theologian is able to say what the Church or the Bible says is necessary for salvation; but he is not able to do it in terms of the application of the present situation. The function of the Orthodox theologian is independent of his religious quality. He may be completely outside. But now what about the Pietist theology? He can say of himself, and others may say of him, that he is regenerated, converted, a real Christian. But then he has to state this with certainty; but is there anyone who can do this, and who can say, "I am a real Christian."? In the moment anyone does it, he has ceased to be in any way a real Christian, because to say it of oneself means to look to oneself in order to have the certainty of the relationship to God. And this certainly is impossible. Therefore this fight goes on through all Protestant churches, today too, and it is going on in you. Some of us would certainly say: "We are unregenerated, but we can understand what you say in systematic theology." And that is all right; otherwise he will say, or feel, that they are regenerated, and that they should have a good conscience, to make theology. How can we decide this problem? It is very important for students of theology because there may be very few, if anybody, who ever could say of himself that he is regenerated. On the other hand you feel that if you are not in the theological circle, existentially, you cannot be a real theologian. Now in my "Systematic Theology," I have solved the problem in the following way:

I have said that only he who experiences the Christian message as his ultimate concern is able to be a theologian, but after this nothing else is demanded. And it might be that he who is in doubt about every special doctrine is a better theologian as long as this doubt about doctrine is his ultimate concern. So you don't need to be converted in order to be a theologian whatever this term may mean. You are not requested to test whether you are good Christians or not, and then to say: "Now since I am a good Christian, I can be a theologian." All this is completely impossible. But the fight is going on in a very important way, even today, and I think that every Pietist would tel1..you: "First, you must be converted before you can be really a theologian." Answer him: "The only thing which is first is that the ultimate concern coming from god has grasped me so that I am concerned about Him and His message; but more than this I cannot say, and even this I cannot say in these terms because even the term 'God' disappears, in some moments, and then I cannot use it as the basis for my belief that I am a good Christian and therefore a possible theologian. "

The Orthodox doctrine of inspiration takes some of Calvin's elements and makes it more radical and primitive. The theologians are the hands of Christ, the notaries-public of the Divine Spirit, the "pens" with which the Spirit has written the Bible. The words ,and even the pointing of the Hebrew texts, are inspired.. Therefore a theologian of the Orthodox school, Buxtehof, fought against the fact that the consonants of the Hebrew text did not receive their vowel-pointings in the 7th-9th centuries (A. D.), as they certainly did, but that they must be as early as the Old Testament itself. The prophets must have invented the pointing, (which was actually invented 1500 years later. ) This is the consequence of a consistent doctrine of inspiration, because what shall the Divine Spirit do with the Hebrew text? The Hebrew words are ambiguous in many places, if the vowels are not in. Therefore you must put them in in order to make them unambiguous. Then, of course, there is the problem of the Lutheran and the King James translations, and the same problem arises again. You are driven into actual absurdities with this, but that was actually the problem..

Now if you have such an idea, what happens to you? You must make artificial harmonistics there are innumerable contradictions in historical and many other respects in the Biblical writings in order to maintain that they are all dependent on a special action of the Divine Spirit, making you into a (secretary with pen). These contradictions must be only seemingly contradictions. Therefore you must be very ingenious in inventing impossible harmonies between Biblical contradictions. And that was what they tried to do.

But there was something deeper in it, namely the principle of analogia scriptura sanctae the analogy of the Holy Scripture which means that one part must be understood in terms of the other. What was tho result.? It was the establishment of creeds, which really were the analogy of the Holy Scripture. They were the formulae which everybody was supposed to find in the Bible. And this is another inescapable consequence of such a doctrine.

There was another help for these poor people who had to swallow the doctrine of verbal inspiration after they had swallowed it, they were saved; nothing could happen to them. But then the question was: :What about the many doctrines we find in the Bible? Are they all necessary for salvation ?" The Catholic church had a very good answer: You don't need to know any of them; you only have to believe what the Church believes; only the ministers and studied people need to know \of the special doctrines. The Catholic layman believes what the Church believes, without knowing what it is, in many respects. Protestantism could not do this. Since personal faith is everything, in Protestantism, the fides implicita and explicita was impossible for it.

Then an impossible task arose: "How can every little farmer, shoemaker, and proletarian in the city and country, understand all these many doctrines found in the Bible, which are more than even an educated man can know in his theological examinations?" The answer was that they distinguished between fundamentals and non-fundamentals something which is popular even today, in your daily discussions. In principle this shouldn't be, because if the Divine Spirit reveals something, how far can we say it is non-fundamental? And in any case, non-fundamentals proved later on to be very fundamental, when the consequences were drawn from non-fundamental deviations

So it was a dangerous thing. But it had to be done for educational reasons, because most people are not able to understand all the implications of the doctrine. Here two interests were fighting with each other and here I speak with all of you who will become Sunday school teachers, or in any other way religious teachers: the one interest, to increase the fundamentals as much as possible; the interest of the systematic theologian; everything is important, not only because he has spoken about it! but also because it is in the Bible. This attitude of the systematic theologian is contradicted by the attitude of the educator. The educator shall have as little as possible, so that it is understandable, and to leave out all the many and different doctrines of secondary importance.

Finally, the educator prevails. And what we find in rationalism is largely a reduction of the fundamentals to the level of popular reasonableness. That was the beginning. Education has produced, partly, the coming of the Enlightenment; there it becomes a central concern of all great philosophers of that period. And even today the educational departments usually are more inclined towards a theology which is dependent on the Enlightenment than the other departments are. This is not general, but sometimes that is the case. And this has some good reason, one being that the educational needs are a limitation of content, and the theological needs are enlargements of content.

Now this was a short survey on Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy had one doctrine which was a transition to the next great movement, Pietism. In the Orthodox doctrine of the ordo salutis, the order of salvation, the last step was the unio mystica, the mystical union with God. For Luther this is the beginning of everything, namely the beginning of the faith in justification.. In the moment in which Orthodoxy accepted from the ecclesiastical tradition the unio mystica as a special point which can and must. be reached, the concept of faith became intellectualized. In Luther both are together; in Orthodoxy they are asunder: faith is the intellectual acceptance of the Orthodox doctrine, and communion with God is a matter of mystical experience. This is a splitting of Luther especially the younger Luther into two pieces: the mystical piece and the intellectual piece, one beside the other.

What is Pietism? The word is much less respectable in this country than in Europe. "pious," "pietist" are words which can be used of people; but in this country it can hardly be used, having some connotations of hypocrisy or moralism or all kinds of disagreeable things. Now pietism does not necessarily have this connotation. Pietism is the reaction of the subjective side of religion against the objective side. In Orthodoxy the subjective side was dealt with, of course, in the order of salvation, but it, didn't. mean very much. Actually, Orthodoxy lives in the objectivity of theological and ecclesiastical organization. But we shouldn't overemphasize this. We have the hymns of Paul Gerhard, for instance, in the highest development of Orthodoxy. There was always personal religious relationship to God. But for the masses of the people, it was the license to become licentious, in every respect; the state of things in moral respects was miserable, especially in the Lutheran countries, where the doctrinal element was decisive and no discipline existed.

So the pietists, and first of all the greatest of them, Spener, in Halle,. (my own home university), wrote in continuous reference to Luther. And he showed something which was certainly true, Church-historically, that especially in the early Luther all the elements which Pietism rediscovered were present, and that Orthodoxy didn't preserve but removed them from the other side, namely the objective side of giving the contents of the doctrine to everybody. What Spener tried to do was that Orthodoxy grasped only the one side of Luther. Therefore Pietism had a justification on the soil of justification. And not only in theological respect I come immediately to it but also in other respects: it has a tremendous influence on the whole culture. It was the first to act in terms of social ethics. The Pietists in Halle founded the famous orphanage there, the first one; they were interested in missionary enterprises; the first missions came from them. Orthodoxy said that the nations who are not Christian are lost, because one of the twelve apostles had already gone there.

Each nation had received apostolic preaching immediately after the foundation of the Christian churches e. g , St. Thomas in Asia, and many other legendary figures like that. But they rejected the apostles, and so are guilty; and so we should not go to them and try to renew the missionary enterprise. The :Pietists had quite different feelings about it: they felt that everywhere human souls could be saved by conversion. So they began the first missions in foreign countries. This again gave them world- historical perspectives a man like Zinzendorf, together with Wesley, looked at America, etc., while Orthodoxy was completely conventionally restricted in the orthodoxy of their provincial territorial churches.

The liturgical realm also was very much changed. One of the most important changes was the introduction of confirmation, the sacrament which the Reformers had thrown out and now the Pietists reintroduced, as a confirmation of the sacrament of baptism.

Pietism is especially important for theology in three points: it tries to reform:

1) theology

2) the Church

3) morals.

Theology is a practical habit. He who knows must first believe the old demand of Christian theology. This demand brings in, at the same time, the central importance of exegesis. It is not systematic theology which is decisive, but Old and New Testament theology. And wherever Biblical theology prevails over against systematic theology, we have almost always a pietistic influence. The theologian shall first be educated to self-education, in order to be able to edify others.

The Church is a body which is not there only in order to listen to the Word; and the bearers of the Church are not just the ministers but all laymen. The layman shall have an active part in the priestly function, in different places sometimes in the Church, but mostly in their houses, and in special collegia pietatis, colleges of piety, I. e., coming together in groups to cultivate piety. They should have hours of Biblical interpretation they were therefore called "Stundists" , and they must drive towards conversion.

From this point of view they even introduced Presbyterian elements into the Lutheran churches. They tried to emphasize an ecclesiola in ecclesia, a small church in the large Church. And then they changed moral theology, about which I will say something tomorrow.

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