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The New Being 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. The New Being was published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1955. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

Chapter 13: Yes and No

A change in his traveling plans and the angry reaction of the Corinthian Christians to this change is used by Paul for profound and far-reaching assertions about Jesus "the Christ": "In him it is always Yes, he is not Yes and No." This reminds us by contrast of the words of a great Protestant mystic who has said that in Yes and No all things consist, and of philosophers and theologians who are convinced that truth can only be expressed through No and Yes, and above all of Paul’s own central doctrine that God justifies the sinner, that He says "yes" to him to whom He says a radical "no" at the same time. And does not Paul in this second letter to the Corinthians formulate the Yes and No in a most paradoxical way: "Unknown and yet well known, dying and behold we live, having nothing and yet possessing everything." This certainly is Yes and No. But in the Christ, he says, there is not Yes and No. Really not? Do we not come from Good Friday to Easter, which point to the deepest No and the highest Yes—that of the death and life of the Christ?

Yes and No: This certainly is the law of all life, but not Yes alone and not No alone. Yes alone is the advice of a self-deceiving confidence which soon will be shaken by the No of the three gray figures: emptiness, guilt, death. No alone is the advice of a self-deceiving despair whose hidden Yes to itself is manifest in its self-seclusion and its resistance against the Yes of love and communion. And further, Yes and No is the law of all truth. Not Yes alone and not No alone! Yes alone is the arrogance which claims that its limited truth is the ultimate truth, but which reveals by its fanatical self-affirmation how many hidden No’s are present in its ground. No alone is the resignation which denies any ultimate truth but which shows by its self-complacent irony against the biting power of every word of truth how strong the Yes to itself is that underlies its ever-repeated No.

Truth as well as life unite Yes and No, and only the courage which accepts the infinite tension between Yes and No can have abundant life and ultimate truth. How is such a courage possible? It is possible because there is a Yes above the Yes and No of life and of truth. But it is a Yes which is not ours. If it were ours, even our greatest, our most universal and most courageous Yes, it would be contrasted by another No. This is the reason why no theology and no philosophy, not even a theology or philosophy of "Yes and No" is ultimate truth. In the moment in which it is expressed, it is contradicted by another philosophy and another theology. Not even the message of Yes and No, be it said by Kierkegaard or by Luther or by Paul, can escape its No. There is only one reality where there is not Yes and No but only Yes: Jesus as the Christ. First He also stands under the No, as completely as a being can stand; this is the meaning of the Cross. Everything of Him which is only the expression of a finite life or a finite truth stands with all life and all truth under the No. Therefore, we are not asked to accept Him as the unquestionable teacher or as the always fitting example, but we are told that in Him all promises of God have become real, and that in Him a life and a truth which is beyond Yes and No has become manifest. This is the meaning of "Resurrection." The No of death is conquered and the Yes of life is transcended by that which has appeared in Him. A life which is not balanced by death, a truth which is not balanced by error is visible in His being. He shows the final Yes without another No. This is the Easter message; this is the Christian message altogether. And this is the ground of a courage which can stand the infinite tension between Yes and No in everything finite, even in everything religious and in everything Christian.

Paul points to the fact that the Christians say Amen through Christ. One cannot say Amen to anything except the reality which is the Christ. Amen is the formula of confirmation, the expression of ultimate certitude. There is no ultimate certitude except the life which has conquered its death and the truth which has conquered its error, the Yes which is beyond Yes and No.

Paul points to that which gives us such a certainty: It is not an historical report, but it is the participation in Christ, in whom we are established, as he says, who has given us the guarantee of His Spirit in our hearts.

We can stand the Yes and No of life and truth because we participate in the Yes beyond Yes and No, because we are in it, as it is in us. We are participants of His resurrection; therefore, we can say the ultimate Yes, the Amen beyond our Yes and our No.

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