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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 38: Pietism. Enlightenment. Autonomy. Heteronomy. Locke. Deism. Modern Development. Final Remarks.


This is my last lecture today. I will continue in the discussion of the main movements and tides, as I have called it – high and low – from the Reformation period to the present. I emphasized the importance of the Orthodox period and gave you some statements about the necessity for every Protestant theologian to study the classical period of Protestant theology, namely the Orthodox period. Then I spoke about the protest of the subjective piety, personal, inner piety, against the objectivism of the Orthodox doctrines. And in discussing Pietism, not in a derogatory sense but in a highly appreciative sense, as a breaking through of an element which was in the early Luther but got lost in the Orthodox development, I said that there are especially three problems with which they dealt, and which changed reality: theology, where they emphasized the existential point of view: you must participate in order to be a theologian; the Church, in which they re-emphasized Luther's principle of the priestly function of everybody, and established the small churches within the large Church.

The third point I want to make now is their influence on the morals in the Protestant world. The situation in the time in which they arose, at the end of the 17th century, was morally disastrous in Continental Europe. Everything was dissolved and in chaotic stages, through the Thirty Years' War, and the following attacks from outside. It was an extremely rough, brutal, unrefined, uneducated form of life. Against this, against which the Orthodox theologians didn't do very much, and didn't even try to do very much, the Pietists tried to collect individual Christians who took upon themselves the burden and the liberation of the Christian life.

The main idea was the idea of common sanctification – ideas which we have again and again in all Christian sectarian movements. This individual sanctification includes, first of all, a negation of the love of the world. And one point was very important in their discussion with the Orthodox theology, the question of the ethical adiaphora. (Adiaphoron means that which makes no difference, that which is not of ethical relevance.) The question was: Are there human actions which are of no ethical relevance, where we can do them or not do them, with equal right? Orthodoxy said they do exist; there is a whole realm of such adiaphora. The Pietists denied it, calling it love of the world. And as things of this kind often used to go, Spener was mild in his condemnation; then Franke and the Hallensian Pietists became very radical. They fought against dancing, the theater, games, beautiful dresses, banquets, too much shallow talk in daily life (which is something which should be taken up), and things like that, which produced an attitude very similar to some Puritan ideas; but in this connection I like to say that according to my very limited knowledge of American Puritanism, it is not so much the Puritans who have produced this system of vital repression, as we have it in most American people, but it was much more the evangelical Pietistic movements of the middle of the 19th century and before that, which are responsible for this condemnation of smoking, drinking» going to the movies, etc.

Now wherever this may be, in Europe it was not Orthodoxy or Puritanism, but Pietism. And I think in this country it was at least half-Pietism which had this influence of repression of vitality.

The Orthodox theologians were under strong attack by the Pietists and reacted accordingly. One of them wrote a book with the title Malum Pietisticum, "The Pietistic Evil."There were different points in which they fought with each other, but finally the Pietistic movement was superior because it was a1lied with the whole development of the period, from the strict objectivism and authoritarianism of the 16th and 17th centuries to the principles of autonomy which appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries. And here I want to say something which is important for clear conceptual thinking:

It is entirely wrong to put into contradiction the Enlightened rationalism with the Pietistic mysticism. For most popular nonsense-talk in this country, reason and mysticism are the two great opposites. If somebody doesn't follow the reason either of rationalism or of naturalism, or of neither of them, and is restricted simply to logical positivism and its analysis of scientific endeavor, then he is called a "mystic" – and you all are mystics, for some people; everybody is a mystic for somebody, namely, everybody has a place in which he experiences levels of life which others do not experience, or refuse to experience; or, if they can help experiencing it – for instance, if they hear music or read poetry – then they push this whole realm into the dark corner of emotion: there it can stay and doesn't do much damage to clear thinking. That is the general feeling.

Now history shows an absolutely different picture. It shows that there was a strong conflict between Orthodoxy and both Pietism ("spiritualism," as it was often called in that time, in the ecstatic not the occultistic sense) and Enlightenment together against Orthodoxy. And that is still the situation. Don't be betrayed by words here. The subjectivity of Pietism, the doctrine of the "inner light" – which became important not only for movements such as Quakerism, but also for many ecstatic movements in the territorial churches of Germany (and I think also of the Calvinistic countries) – everything which is done in the name of the Spirit against the authority of the church has a character of immediacy, of autonomy. Or, in order to make it sharper: modern rational autonomy is a child of the mystical autonomy of the doctrine of the inner light.

The doctrine of the inner light is very old; we have it in the Franciscan theology of the Middle Ages, in some of the radical sects (especially the later Franciscans);in many sects of the Reformation period; in the transition from spiritualism to rationalism, from the belief in the Spirit as the autonomous guide of every individual, to the rational guidance which everybody has for himself, by his autonomous reason. Or again, in another historical perspective, the third stage of Joachim di Fiore (12th century), the stage of the Holy Spirit, is the producer of all thinking of the Enlightened bourgeoisie in terms of a third stage which they called the age of reason, where every individual is taught directly, and ,the one as well as the others go back to the prophecy of Joel, in which every maid and servant is taught directly by the Holy Spirit, and no one is dependent on the Spirit of anybody else.

Now this is one line of thought – from Spirit to reason. So we can say that rationalism is not opposed to mysticism-if we call all this mysticism, namely, the presence of the Spirit in the depths of the human soul; rationalism is the child of mysticism. And both are opposed to authoritarian Orthodoxy.

We have the same situation today. But I come to this immediately.

Now I come to the sources of the enlightenment. Here we are in the good position that the Enlightenment appeared very early as theology. The movement which did this is called Socinianism, from Faustus Socinius, who fled from Italy to Poland where he found a haven of security against the Counter-Reformation and at the same time against the persecution -complex of some of the Reformation churches; he wrote a book called,"The Catechism of Rakovitz." where he developed the first fully rationalistic Protestant theology. Everything later is partly dependent on his ideas, and partly a restatement of the same ideas on the

basis of similar sources. Therefore Harnack, in his History of Christian Dogma says that Socinianism – you can keep in mind the year 1600 – was the end of the history of Christian dogma. In Protestantism there was still some dogma – at least the early dogmas – preserved. Socinianism dissolves all the Christian dogmas with the help of Renaissance rationalism. and humanism. So this is a very important movement, more important even than the repetition of it: first in English deism, where it is radicalized; and then in modern liberal theology, including Harnack himself, where it is carried through.

1) The Socinians accept the authority of the Bible, but they declare that in non-essential things the Bible may fall into error. Beyond this, historical criticism is necessary. The criterion for historical criticism is that nothing can be a revelation of God--and therefore in the Bible--which is against reason and common sense and nothing can be in the Bible as revelation of God which is morally useless. Therefore he speaks of religio rationalis , rational religion, which is given in the Bible and which is the criterion for the authority of the Bible.

2) In the doctrine of God he mainly criticizes the Trinitarian dogma. The Socinians are the predecessors of all Unitarian movements. He says – and :in this he is historically right – the arguments of the Bible for the Trinitarian dogma, as it has later developed, are not developed. The Bible does not have the Trinitarian dogma, although it sometimes has Trinitarian formulations. The Greek concepts and this a very important criticism of the whole dogma in the Ritschlian school (upon which we all depend today) – are inadequate for the understanding of the meaning of the Gospel and are contradictory in themselves.

3) God has created the world out of the given chaos – Genesis 3 (tohu wabohu) , the chaos which all pagan religions and also Greek philosophy presuppose. Man is the image of God because he is superior to the animals; he has reason. Adam was not a perfect man, but he was primitive and by nature mortal. He had neither original immortality nor original perfection. (1 believe this is much nearer to the Biblical text in both respects than the later glorification of Adam which makes his fall absolutely un-understandable. The Socinians derive the fall of Adam from the strength of his sensual impressions and on the basis of his freedom. This freedom is still in man; it has not been lost.

4)Therefore the idea of original sin, or hereditary sin, is a contradictory concept. He says: there is no sin without guilt; if we are guilty, by birth, then we must have sinned before we were born, or at least in the beginning of our life, which is a meaningless statement. What really is true is that we are historically depraved and that our freedom is weakened. And this makes it necessary that God gives us a new revelation beyond natural revelation. This new revelation is Christ, but he negates the Divinity of Christ. Christ has a true human nature, but not a Divine nature. On the other hand, He is not an ordinary man; He is a higher type of man, a "superman," so to speak – in the Nietzschean, not the comic book sense. Therefore He is an object of adoration.

5) The priestly office of Christ is denied. He is prophet and He is king. All the ideas of substitute sacrifice or punishment or satisfaction are meaningless and self-contradictory, because guilt is always a personal thing and is attributed to individuals, and must be. But on the other hand, He is king and sits at the right hand of God and is really ruling and judging.

6) Justification is dissolved in a moralistic terminology. In order to be justified, we must keep the commandments. With respect to the state, passive resistance against the power forms of the state was favored.

7) Eschatology is dissolved; it is a fantastic myth. But the thing which remains – and which is important – is immortality: this must be preserved by all means.

Now here you have a lot of ideas which anticipate many elements of modern liberalism, and which anticipate the theology of the Enlightenment. What really remains in the Socinian criticism are the three theological ideas of the Enlightenment – god, freedom, and immortality – and nothing else. I like to quote Immanuel Kant in his little writing, "What is Enlightenment.": The Enlightenment is man's going out of his stage of inferiority, as far as he is responsible for it. Inferiority is the inability to use one's own reason without the guidance of somebody else. This state is caused by oneself, if it is rooted in a lack of understanding and in a lack of resoluteness, a lack of courage, namely the courage to use one's reason without the guidance of somebody else. :Venture to use your own reason,: is the advice of the Enlightenment. Kant continues to show how much more comfortable it is to have guardians and authorities, but he says this comfort has to be thrown away: man must stand upon himself; it is the nature of man to be autonomous.

This leads to the concept of autonomy:

Rationalism and Enlightenment emphasize human autonomy. The word "autonomy" is not used in the sense of arbitrariness, of man making himself, of man deciding about himself, in terms of his individual desires and arbitrary wilfulness. Autonomy is derived from the Greek autos and nomos (self-law). It does not say, "I am a law unto myself," but says that the universal law of reason, which is the structure of reality, is in me, and there I must face it. This concept of autonomy is often falsified by theologians who say this is the misery of man, that he wants to be autonomous but would be dependent on God. Now this is poor theology and poor philosophy, if you say that, because you don't know what you are talking about! Autonomy is the natural law given by God, present in the human mind, present in the structure of the world. Natural law means mostly, in all classical philosophy and theology, the law of reason, which is Divine law.

Now following this law as we find it in ourselves: this is autonomy. Therefore autonomy is always connected with the strong, almost emphatic, obedience to the law of reason, and is stronger than any religious idea opposed to anything arbitrary. The adherents of autonomy in the Enlightenment are very much opposed to any arbitrariness which they call., for instance, the Divine grace. They wanted to emphasize man's obedience to the natural law of his nature and the nature of the world.

The opposite concept is heteronomy. Arbitrariness is actually heteronomy; it is the opposite of autonomy! Arbitrariness is given in the moment in which fear or desire determines our actions, whether this fear is produced by God or by society or by one's own weakness. For Kant, the heteronomy, the authoritarian attitude of the churches – and even of God, if He is seen in an heteronomous light – is arbitrariness. Arbitrariness is subjection to authority, if this authority is not confirmed by reason itself. And then it is arbitrariness, because you subject yourselves on, the basis of fear, anxiety and desire.

Now we can say the Enlightenment is the attempt to build a world on this autonomous reason.

Then let me add quickly a few words about the term "reason," Autonomy is not willfulness. Reason is not calculation. Reason is the awareness of the principles of truth and justice.. In the name of this reason, the Enlightenment fought against the demonic authorities of the ancien in France of the 18th century, and in all Europe. They fought against it in the name of reason which is awareness of the principles of truth and goodness – not in the name of business, of calculcating, reason; not in the name of controlling reason, of usefulness, but in the name of justice and truth. The 18th century had some heroic elements in it: reason is always seen fighting against the distortions of humanity in the regime of the French kings and the Roman popes and all those who worked with them for the suppression and distortion of humanity. So don't be contemptuous about the 18th century, about rationalism and Enlightenment. First know it, and then see what they did for us. It is the Enlightenment which produced the fact that we have no more witch trials. It is Cartesian philosophy applied to concrete problems which made such a superstition impossible. And so are innumerable other things. It is the general education which. we enjoy in the Western countries which is a creation of the 18th century. And it is the democratic ideology which is produced by the same century.

Now that is all done in the name of reason, and this reason had another sound in the ears of most generations of men than it has in our ears, where it has become nothing other than an interdependent but shallow rational calculation.

Then there is a third concept, which follows immediately from the two others. If we find, in the depths of our own being, the principles of truth and justice; if every individual is able to do this, then one must ask: If these individuals have different interests, how then can a common knowledge, common symbols – democracy, economy, etc. , and finally Protestant theology – how can they be possible? Isn't this the end of a coherent society, if autonomous reason in every individual is the ultimate arbiter? The answer was: the principle of harmony. This principle again has nothing to do with harmony in the sense of a nice harmony of everybody with everybody. The 18th century knew how life really was, and it was terrible for many people at least, in the 18th century. The term "harmony" means that if every individual follows his rational, or even non-rational, trends, that then there is a law behind their backs which has the effect that everything comes out most adequately. This is the meaning of the Manchester school of economics, the meaning of the pursuit of happiness in the American Constituion; the meaning of the belief in democracy, that in spite of everybody deciding for himself about the government, a common will, a volonte generale, will develop in this way. This is the belief in ethics and education, that everybody is educated as a personality, and finally a community spirit will be the result. And this is the principle of Protestantism, that if every individual, in his way, encounters the Biblical message, then a kind of conformism of Protestant character will be the outcome.

And now the miracle is that this happened!, that actually, in all these realms, the prophecy, under the principle of harmony, was really verified. The greatest upward development of economy, a very strong type of religion, where 217 different denominations don't mean anything: if you come as an observer from the outside and see the Protestant world, it is a conformity in spite of all this. And if you look at democracy, in spite of the disruptive tendencies which again today are very much visible in America, democracy has worked and is still working. And so in all other realms. This means this third principle is the ultimate principle on which the belief in progress, in spite of lack of authority, is rooted.

Now I come to a few other representatives of the Enlightment – John Locke. I want only to use one concept we must keep in mind, the concept: of tolerance, which is also a product of the development towards the Enlightment. Tolerance has many reasons. One of the main historical reasons was that intolerance would have finally destroyed all Europe. The religious wars almost destroyed it, and it could be saved only by a tolerant state which is indifferent toward all the different fighting confessions. But this is only one point.

When John Locke wrote his 1etters on tolerance, he was very aware that tolerance never can be an absolute principle. So he limited it in a very interesting way. He was the leader of the Enlightenment; he, the type of man who influenced 18th century England more than anybody else – it is, very rare that a philosopher had such influence as John Locke had – he nevertheless said there are two groups which cannot be admitted, against which in the name of tolerance we must be intolerant. The one group is the Catholics, because they are by definition intolerant; they want to subdue any country they canto the authority of the Roman Church, with force. And the others are the atheists, not because they are intolerant but because they threaten the very foundation of Western society, which is based on the idea of God, however this may be formulated in rationalistic or Enlightened terms And the greatest witness for John Locke is Friedrich Nietszche who said that now the transformation of the whole of the whole society is at hand because "God is dead." And that was what John Locke wanted to exclude, in the name of reason.

Now I cannot go much more into these things. Another movement of great importance for modern theology was English Deism, i.e., a kind of people who were less philosophical than practical users of philosophy for the sake of theological problems. Deism is a movement of intelligentsia more than of real philosophy. They wrote attacks against. the traditional Orthodoxy. They criticized in the same sense ill which the Socinians did it, the problems of Biblical religion. All elements of criticism can be found around them. Between 1700-ca.1730, everything was developed which we now discuss in liberal and critical theology. The problems of Biblical history, the authority of Jesus, the problem of miracles, the question of special revelation, the history of religion, which shows that Christianity is not something very special, according to the Deists, the category of myth (which is not invented by Bultmann in the year 1950, in his demythologization book, but which has been invented already by the Deists. . . in the beginning of the 18th century, more than 250 years ago. ) There we have the problems which, since the middle of the 18th century, Continental theology started to deal with. Since ca. 1750 the great movement of historical criticism started. The greatest personality in the German Enlightenment, Lessing, the poet., philosopher, estheticist, etc., was the leader in this fight against a stupid orthodoxy which stuck to the traditional terms. And then the great critical statement in theology – by David Friedrich Straus Schleiermacher, all those in the 19th century up to Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer and Bultmann. All this line of development started in the middle of the 18th century and carried through the ideas of the Socinians and the others.

I spoke of "tides." Now it looks as if this were one all-embracing development,

an ocean which flooded over continents. But that is not true. In all these periods there were reactions against this development. This is what I meant with the high and low "tides." There was reaction already in the early period – Methodism and Pietism, ca. 1730-50; there was reaction at the end of the 18th century, in the Romantic movement; there was reaction in the early middle of the 19th century, in terms of the revivalistic movements; there was reaction in the beginning of the20th century, in terms of the movement which we call now "Neo-Orthodoxy. We always have one or the other of these reactions. And in all these movements, which determine our present. theological situation, one question is predominant, namely the question: "What about the compatibility of the modern mind with the Christian message?"' That's what the great men in these developments tried to find out. It was always an oscillation between an attempt at a synthesis, in the Hegelian and Platonic sense, of the creative unity of different elements of reality – that is what synthesis should mean and always meant. Now in this sense the two greatest theological influences in the beginning of the 19th and end of the 18th centuries are Schleiermacher and Hegel. They together, each in his way, produced what I call the great synthesis. They took into themselves all the impulses of the modern mind, all the results of the autonomous development. And beyond this they tried to show that the true Christian message can come out only on this basis, and not in terms of Orthodoxy; but also not in terms of the Enlightenment. They rejected both and tried to find a way beyond them – Schleiermacher more from the mystical tradition of his Pietistic past (he was a Moravian, as you know); Hegel more in the philosophical term out of the Neo-Platonic tradition from which he came. In the year 1840 both forms of this synthesis were considered as having broken down, completely and radically, and an extreme naturalism and materialism developed. In this time another theological school tried to save what could be saved. This was the Ritschlian school, the great names of which are Ritschl himself; then Hermann (who was the teacher of many, also professors of this Seminary, notably Professor Coffin); and then Harnack, who is still the teacher of all of us, in many respects. Now this development brought a new synthesis on a much more modest level, on the level of Kant's division of the world of knowledge from the world of values.

But this synthesis also broke down at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, partly under the impact of inner theological development – here I name my great teacher, Troeltsch; and then some of the theologians of the 19th century, my other great teacher, Martin Kaehler of Halle, from the Pietistic and revivalistic tradition; and then some others. And first of all of course, from the world-historical events which spell the end of centuries of European life, the First and then the Second World War.

Now again, represented by Karl Barth, the:diastisis against the synthesis between Christianity and the modern mind; was real. And we are now in a period in which even in; many groups formerly liberal in this country, we find an understanding of the problem of the opposition against the synthesis.

Now when you want to hear now, at the end of this whole lecture, my own answer, then I say:

Synthesis never can be avoided, because man is always man and at the same time under God. But he never can be under God in such a way that he ceases to be man. And in order to try a new way beyond the former ways of synthesis, I try what I call the way of correlation, namely to accept all the problems which are involved in self-criticizing humanism - -we call it existentialism, today; it is self-analyzing humanism - -and then, on the other hand, to show that the Christian message is the answer to these questions. Now that is not synthesis, but it is not diastasis either; it is not identification nor is it separation: it is correlation. And I believe that the whole history of thought as I tried to show it to you, points today in this direction.

END OF LECTURES

 

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