The Protestant Era 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 Protestant Era was published by The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois in 1948. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock<
TILLICH'S CONCEPT OF THE PROTESTANT ERA, by James Luther Adams
"The Reformation must continue." With these words Friedrich Schleiermacher, over a century ago, raised a protest against the Protestantism and the prevailing mentality of his time and pointed forward to a new Protestant realization. Protestantism and its culture, he believed, were in need of a Protestant reform.
These words of Schleiermacher could well serve as the epigraph of the writings of Paul Tillich. This does not mean that Tillich recommends, any more than Schleiermacher did, a return to the Reformation. Like Schleiermacher, who was also a theologian of culture, schooled in the dialectic of philosophical idealism, Tillich is concerned not only with the religion of the churches but even more with the religious bases and implications of the whole cultural process. In his view, which is based on a realistic philosophy of meaning, religion has to do with man’s ultimate concern, his concern with the meaning of life and with all the forces that threaten or support that meaning, in personal and social life, in the arts and sciences, in politics, in industry, education, and the church.
(Editor's Note: The variety of Tillich’s interests is reflected in his prolific literary output, not to speak of his many corresponding practical activities. His larger literary productions published in Germany between 1910 and 1933 include two treatises on the philosopher Schelling and one on eighteenth-century theology; Masse und Geist (1922), a work treating modern mass movements and using representative works of art as symbols of changing attitudes; Das System der Wissenschaften (1923), a study of the classification, methods, and objects of the sciences; Religionsphilosophie, published in Max Dessoir’s Lehrbuch der Philosophie, Vol. 11(1925); Die religiöse Lage tier Gegenwart (1926), a critical survey of major aspects of contemporary culture; and Die sozialistische Entscheidung (1933), a study of philosophical, economic, and political aspects of religious socialism. He has also edited and contributed to two symposia on Protestantism, entitled Kairos I (1926) and Kairos II (1929), and he has published in German and English over a hundred pamphlets and articles dealing with art, philosophy, theology, economics, sociology, political theory, education, and technology. A volume of collected essays, Religiöse Verwirklichung (‘Religious Realization"), appeared in 1930. Two volumes of translations of his writings have been published in English, The Religious Situation (1932) and The interpretation of History (1936). as well as his essay, "The Religious Symbol," translated by the present writer and Dr. Ernst Fraenkel for the Journal of Liberal Religion, II (1940), 13—33. In 1933, Dr. Tillich, who had been a leader of the religious-socialist movement in Germany was deprived by the Nazis of his position as professor of philosophy at the University of Frankfort; he then came to the United States, where he has taught in various Universities. Since 1934 he has been professor of philosophical theology at Union Theological Seminary, New York City. Many of the themes that have occupied his attention are dealt with briefly in his first chapter, "The World Situation," in the symposium, The Christian Answer (1945), edited with an Introduction by H. P. van Dusen.)
It is with respect to the total cultural situation, then, that Tillich would say: "The Reformation must continue"; for we are living at the end of an era.
The present era, which, at its beginning in the Reformation and the Renaissance, was ushered in, or so it believed, under the sign of the morning star after a long night of darkness, the age of Enlightenment and of liberalism, which, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of rational and industrial revolution, thought it was nearing its meridian, in the twentieth century has come upon a darkling plain swept with confused alarms of struggle. The contradictions in the mentality and in the social structures of contemporary society (and the world-encompassing destructive tensions resulting therefrom) have impelled large numbers of men to seek new bearings. In fact, our society is already undergoing a revolution that affects all areas of life, a transformation that is most readily evident in the widespread trends toward one or another form of collectivism.
This change constitutes a fate for Protestantism and also for the liberal humanism stemming from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. These movements have exercised a major influence in the shaping of the modern mentality. Indeed, this influence has been so decisive that Tillich calls the period of the last four centuries the "Protestant" or the "Protestant-humanist" era. But certain aspects of Protestantism and humanism which have played a decisive and positive role in the Protestant era—an era of tremendous accomplishments—have also been a contributory cause of its present contradictions; and they now constitute a formidable obstacle to the overcoming of these contradictions. Indeed, Tillich believes the present situation heralds the end of the Protestant era as we have known it.
If Protestantism is to play a critical and creative role at this juncture, it must break off certain of its attachments to the outlooks and structures of the cultural epoch that is now approaching its possible dissolution; and it must, through a new understanding and application of its principles, assist in the creation of new forms of integration in church and society. In this context the words of Schlelermacher acquire a significance that he could not have foreseen. They become fighting words again.
The articles included in the present collection have been drawn from Tillich’s writings of the last twenty years. Although only a few of the articles deal directly with Protestantism, they are all related to the background and character, or to the problems and the present status, of the religion and the culture in which Protestantism has expressed itself. The problems that are dealt with necessarily extend beyond the confines of organized Protestantism: they have to do with the major social and spiritual issues that confront contemporary society in its present stage of transformation. Tillich’s discussion of these problems does not necessarily presuppose on the part of the reader a special interest in Protestantism, or even in religion as ordinarily understood. It does presuppose, however, a feeling for the significance of the moment in which both the "religion" and the "culture" of the past era have reached their limits and in which a fundamental reformation of both is demanded.
In setting forth the principal elements of Tillich’s view of the present situation (as it has been presented in his various writings), we shall concern ourselves, first, with his conception of the rise and the decline of the Protestant-humanist era; second, with his philosophy of religion and culture and its implications for the interpretation of the main trends of Protestantism; and, third, with his application of this philosophy to the problems of reconstruction. The first section of this essay will therefore center the attention especially upon what Tillich calls "the bourgeois principle"; the second upon his conception of "the Protestant principle" and upon his philosophical elaboration of this principle in "belief-ful" or "self-transcending realism"; and the third upon what we shall call "the religious-socialist principle."
In confining attention mainly to these aspects of Tillich’s thought, we shall forgo any systematic consideration of his Christian theological position. The reason for this omission is twofold. Professor Tillich provides in his own Introduction to the present volume some general characterizations of his theological method and of his fundamental theological presuppositions. Moreover, he is at present engaged in preparing for publication his systematic theology. Hence an extensive and systematic discussion of it may properly be postponed. We turn our attention now to a presentation of his conception of the Protestant-humanist era and of his interpretation of the present religious and cultural situation.
Beginning as a rediscovery of the prophetic message of the majesty of God and emphasizing the doctrines of predestination and of justification through faith, early Protestantism raised a protest against a hierarchical system which had interjected itself between man and God with "a demonic claim to absoluteness." This prophetic message reaffirmed the unconditional character of God. Sin and guilt, the Reformers asserted, cannot be overcome by any mediating human agency. Union with God is received through grace and faith alone. Through this union the sinner paradoxically becomes just before God. Man’s love is the consequence and not the condition of this justification through faith. Analogously, the concept of predestination was the doctrinal statement of the experience of regaining the meaning of life without human activity, an experience that is God’s work and that has an explanation hidden from man.
In accord with these Protestant affirmations, the absolute doctrinal authority of the church, the constitutional authority of the hierarchy, and the independent power of, the sacraments were all renounced as blasphemies, as attempts of man to elevate himself above God and to subject to outer conditions the approach of God to the soul and of the soul to God. In so far as humanism set up human reason as the final arbiter and adopted an anthropocentric orientation, humanism was also renounced on the basis of corresponding objections. The Reformers cut through all these mediations; they also cut through church history and returned to the source of the message of justification, the Bible.
The positive element taking the place of ecclesiastical authority found its initial expression in the claim of freedom of conscience to interpret the Scriptures, a freedom that was expected to issue in a new unity supported by a providentially inspired harmony. This Protestant freedom of conscience was an "ecstatic" rather than a purely autonomous, humanistic freedom; it was interpreted as the "pneumatic," or, as Tillich would call it, the "theonomous," response of the individual member of the church to the message of the Bible. Obedience to the hierarchical priesthood was therefore supplanted by belief in the priesthood of all believers. Clerical domination yielded, in principle, to radical laicism. The Bible, it was assumed, would interpret itself sufficiently for man’s salvation. Every individual as a monad in the body of Christ would be able to find truth in the Bible. The saving gospel is there, and the Reformers believed that it would create a unified church wherever it was proclaimed and listened to in faith. Thus, although Protestantism appealed to the individual consciousness and conscience (guided by Scripture and nourished by the religious community), it relied from the beginning upon a hidden automatic harmony. Tillich holds that much of the history of Protestantism and also of modern culture must be understood in terms of this and of corresponding theories of harmony.
Protestantism did not carry through unaided its resistance to the previously accepted authorities; nor was it able alone to establish new integrations in church and society. It eventually made an alliance with the humanism which it had at first opposed as strongly as it had opposed Roman Catholicism. Philosophical and linguistic exegesis was required for the interpreting of the Bible. Protestantism joined humanism to overcome Catholic exegesis. Here it was assumed that autonomous criticism and Protestant criticism would fundamentally agree. This same pattern was adopted also for other areas of common interest. Gradually the "holy" legend of the Catholic church was dissolved by the modern historical consciousness and by humanistic-Protestant historical criticism; humanistic education was combined with biblical education; scholasticism was supplanted by autonomous science, in which theology claimed a leading role (later to be lost); monastic and feudal conceptions of work were replaced by an inner-wordly asceticism and activism (especially on Calvinistic soil). Belief in harmony between divine and natural law gave rise to a new amalgamation of Stoic and biblical ethics. To be sure, there have been and there still are countertendencies within Protestantism. In Europe neofeudal types of authority continued to play a role. Moreover, in many quarters rigid forms of ecclesiastical orthodoxy have ignored the original Protestant protest. As a consequence, they have, in principle, maintained the traditional authoritarian outlook. They have merely substituted for the authority of the Roman Catholic church some new absolute, such as the Bible or the confessions of faith, a Catholicism of the word.
The alliance of Protestantism with humanism gradually developed into an alliance also with a humanist theory of harmony. This development in its outcome must be viewed as simply another dimension of the changes already described; accordingly, it can be best discerned by observing its characteristic negations and affirmations.
The alliance was possible, if not inevitable, because humanism resisted many of the same things that Protestantism resisted. Tillich, employing a conception familiar in modern myth research, characterizes the pre-Protestant, or Catholic, era in terms of its "myths of origin." In general, this sort of myth expresses man’s numinous sense of relatedness to the originating or creative powers of nature and history; it provides a feeling of security and support by relating men to sacred powers of origin rooted in the soil, in the blood, in a social group, or in some other support and sanction of a vital and authoritative tradition. For the Middle Ages the superhuman origin of life was found in a primeval revelation, which was preserved as a holy tradition and guarded as a mystery by the priesthood. This holy tradition found objective manifestation in a sacramental system (which included within it the natural powers of origin). Medieval freedoms, securities, and authorities were supported by this comprehensive myth of origin. Innovation could be introduced only in the name of the "origin." All privileges of "domination," including those attached to the feudal ranks, appealed to the same sanction. Since the system was largely controlled by the priesthood, the latter achieved a certain social independence as the bearer of religion and as the consecrating agent for the sacred powers of origin. Against this medieval myth of origin and the corresponding authorities both humanism and Protestantism revolted, humanism in the name of an autonomous humanity and Protestantism in the spirit of ancient prophetism and in the name of the doctrines of justification and predestination.
Protestantism, as we have seen, returned to the Bible, where it found not only its own myth of origin but also a sense of mission, a sanction for pushing forward to a new church and society. This does not mean that the medieval myth of origin was wholly eliminated; rather, it was transformed. Just as in ancient Hebrew religion prophetic and priestly elements were combined, so in Protestantism prophetic elements were grafted onto Catholic sacramental elements. However, in rejecting the claim of the priesthood to be the consecrating agent of the powers of origin, Protestantism initiated a process whereby it would in time weaken its own independence. Partially as a consequence of the principal of radical laicism (implied in the belief in the priesthood of all believers) the modern man has taken a larger share in the shaping of social policy than did his predecessors. Because of these changes, Protestantism has had to depend more and more upon extra-ecclesiastical social forces for support. It entered more and more, especially after the Enlightenment, into alliance with the developing state bureaucracies or with the bourgeois powers and customs.
Humanism also rejected the old myth of origin and introduced a new conception. According to this new conception, man in his possession of universal humanity was believed to be rooted in the divine Logos. In its struggle against authoritarianism, humanism can scarcely be said to have developed a myth of origin, but it did create its own "myth of mission" (a term suggested by Michels and not used by Tillich, though it conveys Tillich’s idea); this myth of mission drove humanism forward toward the liberation of man, who as the bearer of reason and truth was to bring in a new rational order of society. This myth came to its full growth when the "enlightened authoritarianism" of the early modern period was replaced by liberal and democratic social myths and forms. This full growth took the form of a theory of natural harmony.
In humanism the Judeo-Christian trust in providence was transformed into a reliance upon a "pre-established harmony" in the cosmos, in the human psyche, and in society. This harmony, it was believed, would progressively engender unity and general well-being if every man had the freedom to follow his own conviction and his own economic interest; in pursuing his own interests, he would be pursuing the interests of the community.
This theory of natural harmony may be understood either from the point of view of the human subject—the mind—or from that of the object—nature and the social, productive forces. With respect to the object, the theory of harmony asserted that, in sense-perception, nature gives herself to man in such a way that a natural knowledge emerges which is adequate for purposes of control; and it asserted that the free sway of all human creative forces—in the cultural area through tolerance, in the economic area through liberal political economy ("laissez-faire"), in the political area through the rule of the majority (democracy)—would lead to the rational shaping of Society. In other words, it held that the human being, as soon as he can develop in a manner free from the irrational powers of origin, may through a natural harmony achieve true fulfillment. With respect to the subject, the theory asserted that the categories of the human spirit are the structure-giving elements of nature; hence nature is amenable to rational knowledge and control. Society can be rationally shaped because the human species is undergoing in history an education that will fulfill its rational potentialities. Taken together, then, both the objective and the subjective aspects of the theory of natural harmony presupposed a religious faith in the essential unity and goodness of man and the world and in a spiritual unity between man and nature. It must be noted here that, although certain pessimistic motives of classical Christian thought were ignored, the optimistic world view that was adopted came primarily from Judeo-Christian, rather than from pagan, sources, as did also the activist, world-shaping impulse (which was given marked impetus through Calvinism).
The developments in philosophy during the period of rationalism and enlightenment may be taken as typical of the trends, both practical and theoretical, which gave expression to the theory of natural harmony. From the seventeenth century on, one philosopher after another worked out the implications of the theory of harmony: Spinoza, Descartes, and Leibniz in metaphysics; Shaftesbury and Helvetius in psychology and ethics; Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Adam Smith in political and economic theory; Voltaire and a host of others in the progressivist philosophy of history. Reason, both speculative and technological, both revolutionary and formative, working in the individual and in society, was to usher in the kingdom of universal brotherhood. An original motive power in this drive toward emancipation came, of course, from the recognition of the sacredness of personality, from belief in human rights and human worth. But other ideas also soon appeared, ideas that reflected an increasing tension between the objective and the subjective aspects of the theory.
The enthusiasm for the rational control of nature and society, besides releasing new energies, introduced a new alienation between man and man and between man and nature, an alienation that would in time disrupt the harmony. Employing a characteristically "existentialist" interpretation of the outlook of modern mentality, Tillich asserts that one of the decisive elements of modern thought is the contrast between "subject" and "object," a contrast that tends to stress the "objectivity" or the "subjectivity" of reality. This dichotomy between subject and object superseded the subject-object unity of the high Middle Ages and became the "prime mover" of Western philosophy and also of modern technological, capitalist society. The sense of the immediacy of the origin, of the creative sources of man’s life, was gradually lost. Personality and community became merely objective things, thus losing their intrinsic powerfulness and depth. The attitude toward things followed the same course, partially as a consequence of the developing technology; in the human consciousness "things" lost their intrinsic value and depth. Thus personality, community, and things became the instruments of an autonomous secularism; they became merely objects for control and calculation in the service of man’s economic purposes. A spirit of "self-sufficient finitude" invaded the common life. Indeed, religion itself lost its sense of the immediacy of the origin and became one sphere among other spheres; even its God became a "thing" among other things, and the language of religion assumed an "objective," literal character that could only elicit skepticism. In philosophy both realism and idealism exhibited the loss of the sense of immediacy, emphasizing in corresponding ways the dichotomy of subject and object. Romanticism attempted to recapture the lost unity between subject and object (and with it the lost splendor of life) by restoring old myths of origin or by developing new ones, but it achieved only the spurious immediacy of irrationalism, either in the archaism of religious revival or in primitivist organicism and vitalism. Romanticism, however, did not much alter the main trend in capitalist society. Positivism became the characteristic philosophy of a technological society, seeking the domination of the object by the subject. In the spirit of this positivism, the dynamic ethos of capitalist society became increasingly determinative for the Protestant-humanist era.
This characteristic dynamic is epitomized in what Tillich calls "the bourgeois principle." Wherever technology and capital have been at work in the modern world, this principle has been operative. Its success is to be observed in its permeation of almost the entire planet, in a world domination which no one can escape. The definition of this principle can be formulated most succinctly in terms of its goal. The goal of the bourgeois principle is the radical dissolution of the bonds of original, organic community life, the dissolution of the powers of origin into elements to be conquered rationally. Science, religion, politics, art, the relations between the classes—all have been drawn into the crucible of the bourgeois principle. It is true that the bourgeois principle has never been—indeed, it never could be—the sole support of capitalist society. The principle was itself primarily utilitarian and critical; it unconsciously presupposed previously existing creative powers and supports. Just as Protestantism retained and transformed Catholic elements, so modern capitalist society has presupposed and has in varying ways retained contact with the powers of origin. It has not carried through the bourgeois principle in complete consistency. This fact becomes evident whenever the middle classes feel themselves threatened; they then appeal to myths of soil and blood, to nationalism, as a protection of middle-class interests. Yet the characteristic positive preoccupation following from the bourgeois principle has been the creation of means of objective control; and this preoccupation has displaced the intuitive grasping of intrinsic values; both things and persons have been enervated by subordinating them to economic purposes. The spirit of bourgeois society is the spirit that, after having dissolved the primary ties of origin, subjects a "thingified" world entirely to its purposes. This process of "thingification" has been carried through by the motive power of the theory of harmony and progress
The amalgam of Protestant and humanist faiths in a principle of harmony has produced the modern age with its tremendous creativity; it has produced the modern ideas of tolerance and education and democracy; it has provided the energy and goal of the age of "free enterprise." The practical implications of the theory of natural harmony become especially clear if one observes the contrast between the social and metaphysical presuppositions of the Protestant-humanist era and those of the Catholic era. Catholicism has relied upon a hierarchy that is supposedly based on an ontological hierarchy of being. It has attempted to make the hierarchical system exercise control in all spheres of society. Where Catholicism has been dominant, it has elicited sharp resistance from these spheres, as, for example, in Italy and France. The Protestant-humanist era, on the other hand, has depended upon a hidden harmony. Accordingly, Protestantism has exhibited a greater co-operation and harmony with the evolving autonomous cultural spheres than has Catholicism. (As we shall observe later, this fact must be taken into account in any attempt to understand Protestant secularism.) Moreover, a certain harmony has prevailed within Protestantism itself, despite the lack of authoritative courts of appeal. "A decisive harmony," says Tillich, "has again and again come about automatically. And so the division of Protestantism into numerous mutually antagonistic churches, sects, denominations and movements did not involve any dangers so long as the common fundamental attitude was both positively and negatively unshaken."
Humanism’s faith in harmony was for a time no less confirmed by history than was Protestantism’s corresponding faith. The residues of earlier social coherence, expanding markets, and relatively free competition, these and other similar factors made it appear at first that the "law" of harmony expressed the nature of reality. The rise in the standard of living for many, the great increase in wealth, and the "success’ of Western imperialism made tragedy in history seem (at least to the middle-class mentality) a thing of the past.
But the prevailing forms of Protestantism and humanism are now reaching their limits. The cunning of history pursues elusive, labyrinthine ways, and it makes unexpected turns. Capitalism with its religion of harmony has culminated not in harmony but in contradiction and crisis. This turn is no accident.
What earlier seemed to be the natural laws of harmony turned out to be contingent historical circumstances. The theory of the harmony of interests presupposed the eighteenth-century society of small producers and merchants, a society not yet controlled by mammoth corporations. Developments unforeseen by classical liberal economics were to bring about tremendous structural changes—and the breakdown of harmony. Already, within a half-century after the promulgation of the theory of the harmony of interests, the liberal utopia began to assume the physiognomy of Lancashire and Manchester. Subsequently, the theory of harmony has more and more become an ideology protecting the interests of the new ruling groups and sanctioning an increasingly destructive application of the bourgeois principle. Instead of producing harmony, the structural changes have in the twentieth century raised "the storms of our times."
These storms have created a darkness so readily visible that it is now almost a work of supererogation to describe it. Whether we think of the far-flung conflicts between imperialisms and of their exploitations in the domestic spheres or in the colonies, of the growth of monopoly and the concentration of wealth and economic power, of the disparity between increasing powers of production and decreasing purchasing power, of the opposition between the classes, of two world wars within our generation, of the inability of capitalism to use the full resources of the economy except in time of war or of depression and unemployment (the normal sequel to "normalcy"); whether we consider the "thingification" of man through the rationalization of industry and through his being made into a mere quantity of working power subject to the laws (or chances) of the market, or the "thingification" of nature through its being viewed as something only to be conquered and used as only something to be shoveled about; whether we think of the prostitution of education to merely utilitarian ends or of the complacently accepted corruption of politics through special interests; whether we think of the irresponsible and commercial vulgarization of the idea industries (radio, movie, and printing), of the increase of agitation, propaganda, and mass-production methods for the influencing of public opinion (with the consequent weakening of individuality and tolerance and responsible discussion), or of the decline of ethically powerful and uniting symbols in the democracies and in the churches—in each and all these tendencies we discern the causes or the consequences of the disruption of "automatic" harmony. This disruption has created a mass society in which reason has lost its depth and dignity (having created a huge impersonal machine which it does not control); in which societal sadism and insensitivity to suffering and injustice are taken for granted; in which the average individual is lost and lonely; in which the fear of insecurity and lack of spiritual roots produce neurosis and cynicism; in which mental-hygiene hospitals and psychiatric counseling have become major institutions; in which the sense of personal insignificance is compensated by egregious group egotism; in which a flat secularism, the spirit of "self-sufficient finitude," prevails in church and society, exhibiting contemporary man’s blunted sense of his relatedness to the creative depths of personality, existence, and meaning; and therefore in which there is a void of meaninglessness, yearning for meaning. This is the world, said Henry Adams in 1892, which is ruled from ‘‘a banker’s Olympus.’’
Whether one accepts Henry Adams’ dictum in its simplicity or not, one must recognize that Protestantism in its alliance with the evolving middle-class humanism has tended in many respects to become merely the religious aspect of capitalism. Humanist and Protestant harmonism have together moved from their originally creative phase through a technological stage to become a passionately conservative force. Just as Roman Catholicism first helped to shape the culture of the Middle Ages and then became fettered in the "Babylonish captivity" of the waning Middle Ages and of a petrified Counter Reformation, so Protestantism has helped to form the Protestant era and then, in differing ways in its different forms and countries, has to a large extent become bound in a new Babylonish captivity within capitalist culture. It languishes (all too comfortably) in this prison, or, to change the figure from a Reformation to a biblical one, it is largely a prostituted, a "kept" religion. It has lost its relatedness to an ultimate ground and aim, and thus it has lost much of its original prophetic power. Its God has become domesticated; it is a bourgeois god. In its major effect its ethics is largely indistinguishable from the "ethics" of the bourgeois principle.
As a consequence the Protestantism that offers "religious" embellishment for the bourgeois principle merely aggravates the contradictions of capitalist society. Its appeal to individual consciousness and conscience (detached from the socializing influences of a nourishing spiritual tradition) and its belief that the freedom of the individual by virtue of the centripetal power of harmony moves toward a common center and then issues forth in health and healing for the individual and the society have become a means of evading basic social-ethical issues and of merely protecting the governing powers of the status quo. Philanthropy and social reform emanating from the churches usually assists these governing powers by moving strictly within bourgeois presuppositions. Through its emphasis on economic and spiritual "individualism" combined with a class-bound moralism, this Protestantism has also helped to dissolve communal symbols and supports. It has been drawn into the general process of dissolution.
It is true that the dissolution described here has not disintegrated spiritual and ethical values in America to the extent visible during recent decades in Europe. As Tillich puts it, "America lives still in a happy state of backwardness." But many of the conditions and attitudes that led to fascism in Europe exist also in America, and they will constitute an increasing threat as the postwar period proceeds.
The foregoing characterization of the present status of Protestantism is, of course, one-sided and incomplete; indeed, Tillich asserts (as we shall observe presently) that genuinely Protestant motives have persisted in the churches and even in certain aspects of secularism. Yet the tendencies described have been largely responsible for, or have accelerated, the decline of the Protestant-humanist era.
In response to these developments, dynamic movements of revolt have for a century been abandoning the characteristic tenets of bourgeois and Protestant-humanist individualism and automatic harmonism and have been moving in the direction of new (and sometimes of collectivist) forms of faith and society. Some of these movements have opposed the churches and liberalistic humanism as the bulwarks of privilege; other movements have appeared within the churches or in the form of neohumanism. The spectrum of revolt is a wide one. Communism, fascism, and Roman Catholic corporatism assume varying shades of red and black. The Christian socialist movements, neoliberal and neo-orthodox, occupy other positions in the spectrum. In certain areas of the spectrum a desire to "escape from freedom" is evident. The burden upon the individual has become almost too heavy to bear. Consequently, many people relinquish individual religious or political responsibility; they are willing to sacrifice their autonomy in the hope of finding on the path of authority a new meaning in life, new symbols and forms of life. The present attraction of Roman Catholicism and communism must be understood partially in this context. All these movements have been seeking a way out of the Protestant-humanist era.
The whole situation is a paradoxical one for both Protestantism and humanism, the partners of the modern era. In a recent essay Tillich has succinctly described the plight in which Protestantism finds itself. The description applies also to humanism. "That which Protestantism denied at its rise," he says, "is today—in an altered form—the demand of the age. That demand is for an authoritative and powerfully symbolic system of mass-reintegration: but it was just that—in a distorted form—against which Protestantism protested The Protestant era is finished, after nearly all the historical conditions upon which it rested have been taken away from it." Indeed, the very manner of the rise of Protestantism would seem to have determined its present limitations.
It is clear that if Protestantism is to play a prophetic and creative role in the new situation, it must effect a break and transformation as disruptive and as boldly productive as the changes made at the beginning of the Protestant era; and the transformation must in its effect on the social structure move in a direction opposite to that of the earlier break and transformation.
The title of the present collection of articles suggests questions that are importunate for Protestantism and humanism at this epochal moment. It will suffice if we here formulate these questions as they concern Protestantism. Will Protestantism escape its Babylonish captivity and assist reformation again? Will it extricate itself from the disintegration of the mass society of the late capitalist epoch? Or has it cast its lot irrevocably with the transitory and exhausted forces that now serve as its ideological expression and protection? Will it be able to exhibit again the self-surpassing power of the historic Christian dynamic by disassociating itself from these forces and by giving a sense of meaning, a direction, and a quality of greatness to new forms of thought and life? Or will the coming era take shape in opposition to organized Protestantism? Will it be in any significant sense a Protestant era? Or will it eventually be called a post-Protestant era because of the emergence of some new type of Christianity which will help to determine a new spirit and form of society?
Obviously, no one can today give the answers to these questions (or to corresponding questions that might be posed concerning liberalistic humanism). The questions serve the purpose, however, of giving concrete relevance to a consideration of the problems, the perils, and the opportunities that now confront Protestantism. But they cannot be properly dealt with in the manner of the soothsayer. In considering the problems which they raise, Tillich aims, as he says, "to drive the analysis to a point where the vision of a possible reconstruction" of Protestantism and contemporary society may appear. Hence the title of the volume means to suggest not only that the Protestant era is now approaching its limits but also that the end of the Protestant era would not be the end of Protestantism. Indeed, a new realization might be more in accord with the nature of Protestantism.
A main trend, a characteristic dynamic, of the Protestant era has been expressed, as we have seen, in the bourgeois principle supported by the theory of natural harmony. But the harmony has not come. Instead, men have lost their sense of relatedness to the creative springs of life; community has been frustrated, and neurotic insecurity is the "order" of the day. In so far as the Protestant spirit has identified itself with the prevailing ethos, it participates in and aggravates the disintegration of our world. The bourgeois principle is insufficient to create community. The questions arise then: By what principle can the bourgeois society be criticized and transcended? By what principle can Protestantism regain a prophetic and newly creative power?
Tillich holds that, even if the Protestant era is finished, Protestantism knows a principle that is not finished. Like every other finite reality, Protestantism in any particular historical realization must reckon always with the possibility of its exhaustion. But the principle of Protestantism is not finite and exhaustible. As a witness to this principle, Protestantism is not to be identified with any of its historical realizations. It is not bound to the Protestant era. It can drive forward to qualitatively new creation. It can also, in the name of its principle, protest against the Protestant era and against organized Protestantism itself. The latter are relative and conditioned realities. This does not mean that they are lacking in significance. They are to be understood in the light of the Protestant principle.
Protestantism here confronts the perennial problem of the one and the many, what Emerson called the problem of philosophy. This problem, he asserted (quoting Plato), is "to find a ground unconditioned and absolute for all that exists conditionally." The Protestant principle aims to express the true relation between the unconditional and the conditioned.( For a definition of "the unconditional" see below; see also Tillich’s definition in Chapter 3)
Only by appeal to such a principle can Protestantism transcend its cultural entanglements at any particular time and offer both criticism and creative direction in personal and social life.
This principle is presented in a dual aspect. On the one hand, it is a universally significant principle, pointing to the source and judge of every religious and cultural reality. It points to a moving, restless power, the inner infinity of being, that informs and transforms all conditioned realities and brings new forms to birth. Thus Protestantism can lay no exclusive claim to it. On the other hand, the principle refers to the characteristic possibility, the essential power, of Protestantism as a historical movement. It is the principle by which Protestantism is supported and judged. When Protestantism is not loyal to this principle or when it does not judge itself according to the principle, it is no longer truly Protestant.
Catholicism, in effect, identifies its own historical realizations of the Catholic era with the ground and judge of all religious and cultural realities. Luther called this self-absolutization the "worship of man-made gods." This worship of man-made gods appears in Protestant as well as in Catholic forms, in the sacramentalism of the word as well as in the sacramentalism of holy institutions and objects. It appears also in the "secular sacramentalism" of capitalism and nationalism. This claim to an absolute authority can conflict with similar claims of other authorities. It can also elicit the resistance of autonomous freedom. At the beginning of the modern era the autonomy that was expressed by humanism and that rebelled against ecclesiastical and political heteronomy, vibrated with a residual religious power. But in both ancient and modern times autonomy has again and again shown itself to be precarious and unstable. It loses its original sense of an unconditional demand for truth and justice; it becomes self-inclosed. As we have observed, this is what has happened in capitalistic society, in which the spirit of self-sufficient finitude now prevails. Increasingly, modern autonomy has degenerated into relativism or into a new heteronomy. Among intellectuals who have been deeply affected by modern historicism, the former tendency is widely evident, but in the culture at large the latter tendency is undoubtedly the stronger. The typical bourgeois man accepts the presuppositions of the capitalist mentality and the societal forms of capitalism with the same rigidity and absoluteness as the fundamentalist exhibits in his religion. But heteronomy and autonomy do not exhaust the possibilities open to man.
The Protestant principle stands in contrast to both these attitudes. The negative implication of the word "Protestant," a word that arose out of an actual historic protest against ecclesiastical authoritarianism, makes it eminently appropriate to serve as the name and the historical manifestation of the prophetic protest against every conditioned thing that makes an unconditional claim for itself. This negative implication of the Protestant principle has from the very beginning of the Protestant movement included also a protest against any autonomy that forgets its unconditional source and judge and that rests in its own conditioned self-assertion.
But the Protestant principle is not only negative and critical; it is also creative. Indeed, the critical presupposes the creative element. This positive element is the formative dynamic that sustains the fundamental attitude of seriousness and responsibility which belongs to all creative endeavor. It points to the ground and source of meaning that is present in a singular way in every relative achievement; but it cannot be exhausted or confined in any realization, not even in a definition. This dialectical principle which combines critical negation and dynamic fulfillment is the basis for what Tillich calls the "Protestant Gestalt of grace." The ultimate orientation involved here Tillich calls "theonomy." Before defining "theonomy," however, we must give further consideration to the Protestant principle.
This principle has been apprehended again and again in the history of religion and culture. In the West its lineage derives ultimately from Old Testament prophetism with its message of judgment and fulfillment. For the Christian the decisive expression of the essential power and meaning of reality is (in Tillich’s formulation) the New Being manifest in Jesus as the Christ. Here the essential power and goodness reveals itself as agape, "love," an ontological and ethical dynamic that overcomes the frustrations, the fragmentariness, and the perversions of human existence, bringing together that which is separated. Agape is the source of justice and law, supporting, criticizing, and transforming them. It is, on the one hand, a command, and, on the other hand, it is the power that breaks through all commands. Thus it relates ethical life to the universal and the unconditional, and yet it adapts itself to every phase of the changing world. The Protestant principle presupposes this original critical and dynamic Christian message and its proclamation of the Kingdom of God near at hand. But there is a peculiarly Protestant statement of the principle.
Tillich finds this characteristically Protestant version of the principle in the Reformation assertion of the unconditional character of God and in the idea that the fulfillment of human existence ultimately depends not upon human devices and mediations (of Catholic, Protestant, or secular type) but rather upon justification through faith. But the doctrine of justification has become well-nigh unintelligible to the modern man and even to the modern scholar. The situation is partly due to the fact that in some instances the doctrine has come to mean a rule of faith imposed as a "law"—just the opposite of what was originally intended. Tillich has therefore attempted to give the doctrine a restatement in modern terms by devising a Protestant interpretation of a conception that has been used in existential theology and philosophy, the concept of "the human boundary-situation." This restatement presents Tillich’s peculiarly Protestant interpretation of the character of human freedom and fulfillment.
Human existence is the rise of being to the realm of freedom. Being gets free from bondage to natural necessity. It becomes spirit and acquires the freedom to question itself and its environment, the freedom to raise the question concerning the true and the good and to make decision with regard to them. But man is in a sense unfree in his freedom, for he is compelled to decide. "This inevitability of freedom, of having to make decisions, creates the deep restlessness of our existence; through it our existence is threatened." It is threatened because an unconditional demand confronts man to choose and fulfill the good, a demand that he cannot fulfill. Consequently, man as spirit has a cleavage within him, a cleavage that is manifest also in society. There is no place to which he may flee from the demand. And in confronting the demand he can never provide himself with absolute security.
The point at which every self-provided security is brought under question, the point at which human possibilities reach and know their limits, Tillich calls "the human boundary-situation." "Right" belief and "right" action, church and sacrament and creed, piety and mystical experience, and also secular substitutes for any of these things are recognized as false securities. An ultimate and threatening "No" is pronounced upon them all.
But human freedom and existence find support as well as threat at the boundary-situation. This support comes from beyond or beneath the interplay between person and society. What is involved here is the deepest level of man’s existence. Just where dependence upon the finite creations of spirit is relinquished, a new confidence and a creative impulse arise from the infinite and inexhaustible depths.
This experience of the boundary-situation is not something that takes place in a flight away from the concrete and the temporal. The boundary is, so to speak, at the edge of a particular complex of spiritual and cultural realities. The specific consequences of the experience of ultimate threat and support will therefore be different in the time of Luther or Pascal from what they were in the time of Jeremiah. But always the transcendent significance of, and judgment upon, temporal realities are envisaged anew. One gains at the boundary a paradoxical sense of the immediacy of origin and of threat. Beneath the dichotomy between subject and object a new, a third, dimension, the dimension of depth, is discerned. The creative and destructive and recreative powers of being erupt into the consciousness. A new relation to things and men appears. Things are no longer viewed merely as objects for use or as technical means without intrinsic worth. They are seen again in their "powerfulness," which is rooted in the inner infinity of being. In place of "the mutual domination between thing and personality," there appears a mutual service between personality and things," an "eros-relation." This eros-relation becomes manifest also in a new sense of community and of its depth. In place of the community that breaks the personality and bends it under its yoke, there can now emerge a community of free personalities who know themselves as belonging together through their connection with the ultimate supporting and threatening reality. The personality recognizes something holy and unconditional in the dignity and freedom of other persons; for persons, like things, are seen now to be supported by the inner infinity of being. Here, it would seem, we have Tillich’s rendering of Luther’s idea of the "love of neighbor"—the consequence of justification.
Man does not, however, by his experience of the boundary gain control of the ultimate threat and support. He can prepare for receiving the support by exposing himself consciously and without reservation to the claims of the unconditional. But the awareness of the ultimate meaning and of the possibility of fulfilling that meaning in a particular situation is a matter of "destiny and grace." Neither a church nor any other group can subject the ultimate threat and support to human conditions or techniques. For this reason the radical Protestant attributes only a provisional importance to the church and its forms. Here he stands nearer to the secularism that is skeptical of the conventional securities of piety than to any orthodoxy, whether it be "religious" or secular.
In this connection one of the most striking and original aspects of Tillich’s rendering of the doctrine of justification should be noted. Luther applied the doctrine of justification only to the religious-moral life. The sinner, though unjust, is "justified." Tillich applies the doctrine to the religious-intellectual sphere also. No act of will accepting "right" belief can be properly demanded by any authority. Devotion to truth is supreme; it is devotion to God. There is a sacred element in the integrity that leads to doubt even about God and religion. Indeed, since God is truth, he is the basis and not the object of any question about God. Any loyalty to truth is religious loyalty, even if it leads to a recognition of the lack of truth. Paraphrasing Augustine, the serious doubter may say: "I doubt, therefore I am religious." Even in doubt the divine is present. Absolutely serious atheism can be directed toward the unconditional; it can be a form of faith in truth. There appears here the conquest of meaninglessness by the awareness of the paradoxical presence of "meaning in meaninglessness." Thus the doubter is "justified." The only absolutely irreligious attitude, then, is absolute cynicism, absolute lack of seriousness.
Returning, now, to the consideration with which the concept of the boundary-situation was introduced, we may restate the implications of the Protestant principle as they relate to heteronomy and autonomy. Both these types of "religion" are overcome by what Tillich calls "theonomy" (a concept that had been used previously by Troeltsch and others). In the face of the destruction or weakening of freedom which accompanies heteronomy and autonomy, theonomy goes beyond them both, preserving and transforming an element from each. It emphasizes the commanding element in the unconditional demand for the ultimate good, for truth and justice. This ultimate ground of meaning and existence is not (as in heteronomy) identified with any conditioned reality or social form; yet it calls for obedience. Here an element of heteronomy is retained and transformed. But the unconditional is not arbitrary; it never demands the sacrifice of the intellect; it is not alien to man; it fulfills his inmost nature, his freedom. Theonomy takes from autonomy this element of intelligibility and self-determination and transforms it. Recognizing that self-sufficient autonomy, as the self-assertion of a conditioned reality, is not able to create a world from within itself and recognizing that every conception of the ultimate good must reflect the cleavage within man and society, theonomy deepens autonomy to a point where the latter is transcended. Theonomy supports autonomy and at the same time breaks through it without shattering it. Thus theonomy brings both heteronomy and autonomy to the boundary-situation, where in differing ways they confront the ultimate threat and support and are transformed. In short, theonomy is the condition in which spiritual and social forms are imbued with the import of the unconditional as their supporting ground and judge.
The critical and creative principle which expresses the ultimate threat and support is what makes Protestantism Protestant. It is, therefore, called the "Protestant principle." But it is clear that this principle is no sectarian principle. It cuts through all sectarianisms (both religious and secular) to that which shatters and transforms all self-inclosed forms. Its first word, therefore, "must be the word against religion"; and this means its first word is against every movement that idolizes established forms, whether religious or secular, orthodox or liberal, ecclesiastical or nonecclesiastical. All these idolizations are merely forms of "pharisaism." The Protestant may not attribute a classical status even to the Reformation or to any other period (e.g., the period A.D. 30—33) in a normative sense. "It is of the essence of Protestantism," Tillich says, "that there can be no classical period for it." The principle protests also against any idolization of religious language, whether it be old or new, whether it be in the Bible or in the church confessions. Reformation must continue in language as well as in other forms. We must "learn to see with our own eyes and name with our own words that which is not bound to any time or any eye or any word." The Word of God is that reality (a word, a person, a thing, or a situation) in and through which the ultimate divine power breaks into the present.
From this it follows that the Protestant principle has not been and never can be in the secure possession of Protestantism or of any religious movement. It can be apprehended by men who are ostensibly anti-religious or anti-Christian. In fact, some aspects of the principle were more nearly expressed by Marx and Nietzsche in nineteenth-century Germany than by most of the churches. "With Marx," Tillich says, it was "the spirit of ancient Jewish prophetism in both language and content, with Nietzsche the spirit of Luther in both language and content." If this struggle—in the one instance for justice and in the other for the creative life as against bourgeois "Christian" inhumanity and conventionalism—was fought against God and religion, it was against a god and a religion that were bound to the standpoint of bourgeois society. Grave deficiencies are to be discerned in both these men and their disciples, but something like the shattering and newly creative power of genuine prophetism was there.
Protestantism (or any other religion) always needs the correction that comes from the "secular" protest against any tendency within it to identify itself with the unconditional. In this function, as well as in the challenge of its creative achievement, secularism on Protestant soil may be called "Protestant secularism." The very existence of this sort of secularism shows that grace is not bound up with explicit religion, i.e., with those forms whose express purpose it is to serve as a medium of grace. It is "a concealed form of grace," a manifestation of "the latent church." It often serves to remind Protestantism of its own principle and in some cases exhibits a better, even if an unintended, apprehension and application of that principle. Protestantism can appropriate this stimulus only if it stands at the boundary between itself and secularism. When there is a vital relation between church and society, "the church is the perpetual guilty conscience of society and society the perpetual guilty conscience of the church."
These implications of the Protestant principle are given corresponding expression in Tillich’s definitions of religion and culture. Religion is "direction toward the unconditional." Culture is direction toward the conditioned forms of meaning and their unity. Despite this contrast, however, genuine religion and vital culture have ultimately the same roots. "Being religious is being unconditionally concerned, whether this concern expresses itself in secular or (in the narrower sense) religious forms." All sharp divisions between the sacred and the secular must be eliminated in recognition of a transcendent critical and formative power which is present in both religion and culture. "Secular culture is essentially as impossible as atheism because both presuppose the unconditional element and both express ultimate concerns." Implied here is a dialectical view of religion and culture. Religion, in order to achieve realization, must assume form and become culture; in doing so it is religious in both substance and intention. But culture, even when it is not religious by intention, is religious in substance, for every cultural act contains an unconditional meaning, it depends upon the ground of meaning. Yet when religion becomes culture, it may lose its depth and its sense of relatedness to the unconditional; it may degenerate into an absolute devotion to conditioned cultural realities. On the other hand, culture, even in the act of opposing "religion," may rediscover the unconditional threat and support, and it may bring forth new religious creation. Accordingly, the major types of explicit religions appear in implicit form in the history of "secular" culture. With Schelling, Tillich would say that the history of culture is in a broad sense the history of religion. The Protestant principle, in pointing to that universally operative reality which judges and supports all meaningful existence, interprets religion as present wherever there is a uniting of negation and affirmation, of threat and support, of judgment and grace, of crisis and form-creation. Perverted religion and perverted culture appear wherever this dialectic is absent.
The demand is always placed before Protestantism, then, to transcend itself at the boundary-situation and to move toward new realization. It must effect this realization directly in relation to secular realities. This means that its prophetic and creative power must become manifest in a concrete historical situation; it means also that it must combine prophetic and rational criticism (as it has done almost from its beginning). The Protestant principle, therefore, relates "the line upward," the reference to the eternal meaning, to "the line forward," the direction toward the temporal realization of the eternal meaning in accord with the demands of a rational understanding of a particular historical situation. In emphasizing "the line forward" as well as "the line upward" and in demanding a dialectical relation between Protestantism and secularism, Tillich turns away from pietistic indifference to "the world" and history and stresses the world-affirming and world-shaping dynamic of Calvinism and modern humanism.
In the light of the Protestant principle there can be no official philosophy for Protestantism, and there can be no official program for the application of the principle. Yet, if the principle is to achieve relevance in any particular historical situation, it requires both a philosophical elaboration and a program for action. His own philosophical elaboration of the principle Tillich calls "belief-ful" or "self-transcending realism," for it combines realism and a faith that transcends realism. Belief-ful realism "is a turning toward reality, a questioning of reality, a penetrating into existence, a driving to the level where reality points beyond itself to its ground and ultimate meaning." It does not look "above" reality to a transcendentalized spiritual world; it looks down into the depths of reality to its inner infinity.
In his introductory chapter to the present volume Professor Tillich gives a characterization of some of the central concepts of this belief-ful realism, such as "the kairos," "the Gestalt of grace," and "the demonic"—concepts that have in a special way become associated with his name and through which his influence is today most readily perceptible. Here we shall, therefore, direct attention mainly to the underlying characteristics and to the historical background and context of Tillich’s outlook. In doing so, we shall have to give further consideration to certain of the concepts that have already been referred to in a preliminary way.
"Belief-ful realism" may be characterized as an existential and dialectical philosophy of meaning-fulfillment. The word "meaning" in this context suggests the characteristic concerns of the Neo-Kantians—Dilthey, Rickert, and Troeltsch—who combined philosophy of culture with "historical thinking." The word "fulfillment" implies the dynamic conception of history, stemming from Old Testament prophetism and continuing down through the New Testament and the eschatologies of the left wing of the pre-Reformation and the Reformation. The word "existential" recalls the names of Kierkegaard and Feuerbach and also certain contemporary movements. The word "dialectical" suggests the variegated strand of philosophical and theological tradition that has both Greek and Hebrew sources and that reaches down through Jacob Boehme and the German philosophical idealists to Marx and the present.
The concept of "meaning" has become almost indispensable in discussions of philosophy of culture and philosophy of history during the past three-quarters of a century, especially since Dilthey gave it a central place in his "critique of historical reason." So great a role has the concept played in recent times that Tillich says the problem of the meaning of history has become the problem of the present period in contrast to the previous period’s major interest in the control of nature. This shift of interest is a symptom of the crisis in the culture.
The writings of the Neo-Kantians, as well as those of the phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl, no doubt provided an intellectual stimulus for Tillich to develop the concept of "meaning" (though the decisive stimulus for Tillich the existentialist was probably offered by "the storms of our times," in which the meaning of life is radically threatened). He starts with the twofold idealistic presupposition that all the spiritual life of man forms an inner unity and that this spiritual life, both as a whole and in its parts, is to be understood only in its religious roots. But in his "self-transcending realism" he goes beyond epistemological idealism and the critical-dialectical method corresponding to it. He is always conscious of the tension between any synthesis and the unconditional quality pointing beyond it. Moreover, he emphasizes the necessity of taking account of the meaningless and the destructive, as a power negating the synthesis; thus he rejects the idealistic conviction that the antithesis should be thought of only as "sublated" in the achieved synthesis. In this way he replaces the idealistic philosophy of Mind by a realistic philosophy of Meaning.
Tillich’s concern with the concept of meaning first came to the fore in connection with his interest in art (an interest he has pursued in a somewhat systematic fashion since the years of his service as a chaplain in the first World War). In great works of art Tillich senses something deeper than form and content. In looking at the Michelangelo murals in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, for example, he was impressed by an intuition of reality that seems to have grasped the artist who created the work and that grasps anyone who looks into its depths. This intuition was expressed with special power in the expressionist art of two decades ago and seems to have given special impetus to Tillich’s formulation of belief-ful realism. The thing that gives to art its quality of greatness, he says, is its pulsating witness to something sublime and holy that shimmers through or overflows the form and the content. In such creations, as in painting or music, for example, an ambivalent numinous quality is perceptible; it is as if one were hearing the song that the stars sang on the morning of creation and yet were also looking into the abyss of absolute nothingness. The intuition is not dissimilar to the paradox of the philosophical shock experienced when one faces the question of why there is not nothing. It is the experience of "a meaning-reality, the ultimate, the deepest all-shattering and ever newly creating meaning-reality." Tillich speaks of this essential power and meaning of reality as the import of a work of art in contrast to its form or content. This import is intuited, for example, in a painting in which the artist seems to waver between the portrayal of an object and the expression of a meaning that transcends it. In short, the artist reveals a power and meaning that transcend himself as well as the form and the content of the painting, that transcend both subject and object. The relation between form and import requires a much more thorough (and dialectical) discussion than is here possible. Moreover, Tillich would today probably modify some of the formulations presented in his early writing on art.
Tillich employs the distinction between import (Gehalt) and content (Inhalt) as the basis of an elaborate philosophy of art and culture and science. Indeed, meaning or import is, in his view, the life-blood of metaphysics. The forms of meaning are filled with a living import. This import, he says, is what the mystics have in mind when they speak of the "ground of the soul," "the unconscious," "the primordial will." It refers to a foundation in being, a suggestion by things of "another thing" that is still no other thing.
This sense of the enhancement of existence and meaning by another power is an "ecstatic" experience. Ecstasy operates in such a way as to break through a given form of individual existence, bringing it into union with the ultimate ground of meaning. It is the experience of being grasped by the essential power and meaning of reality, "the really real," the unconditional—that which is man’s ultimate concern so long as he remains within the realm of being and meaning. Applying these ideas to art, Tillich says: "It is possible to see in a still-life by Cézanne, an animal picture by Marc, and a landscape by Schmidt-Rotluff, the direct revelation of an absolute reality in these relative things. The world-import experienced in the artist’s religious ecstasy shines through the things; they have become ‘holy’ objects."
It is this living import that Tillich has in mind when he speaks of religion as direction toward the unconditional. This unconditional element is recognized in and beyond all absolutely serious concerns, in all logical and aesthetic, in all legal and social, action. In all these meaningful activities there appears not only a definite concrete meaning but also a sense of the meaningfulness of the whole, the unity of all possible meanings. But more than a totality of meaning is involved, for a mere totality of meaning could sink into a void of meaninglessness. In the totality of meaning there lives an unconditional meaning which is itself not a meaning but rather the basis of meaning. This is the unconditional element in all being and meaning.
The term "the unconditional" is unsympathetic to the average ear, though it was used almost from the very beginning of philosophical discussion in the West. (We have already cited Plato’s use of the concept; as we shall observe later, it is quite different from Tillich’s.) The term has played an especially significant role in the writings of philosophical idealists since the time of Kant and Schleiermacher. In Tillich’s usage it is a philosophical symbol for the ultimate concern of man. It is the prius of everything that has being or meaning. This basis or ground of being is something "secret" in to which thinking cannot penetrate, because, as something existing, thought is itself based upon it. Tillich therefore sometimes uses Schelling’s term Das Unvordenkliche to refer to that which is prior to and inaccessible to thought. The term "the unconditional" carries more powerful connotations in German than in English usage. As Tillich uses it, the German term Das Unbedingte connotes the majestic and the awful, the ultimate and the intimate, the sovereign, the commanding, that which cannot be tampered with, that which makes demands that cannot be ignored with impunity.
One misunderstands the term "the unconditional" if one confuses it with the Absolute of German idealism, with the eternal essences of Platonism, with the superessential One of mysticism, with the mathematically calculated laws of nature, with the Supreme Being of rational deduction, or with the "Wholly Other" (as characterized by Rudolph Otto or Karl Barth). It should not even be called the "unconditioned" (as some translators have rendered it). In all these terms that which should be thought of as Being itself tends to be conceived as a particular being about whose "existence" there might be an argument. One cannot properly argue for the "existence" of the unconditional; nor can one consistently argue against its reality. To argue about it is to presuppose it, for the very argument must itself presuppose some unconditional demand and reality. To argue that it is a being is to try to make it one conditioned thing among other conditioned things; it is to deprive it of its unconditional character. The unconditional is not a section of reality; it is not a thing or an "existing" entity; it is not an object among objects, not even the highest "object." (Following the dominant theological tradition, Kant, once and for all, disposed of these transcendental projections and reifications made by supernaturalism and rational metaphysics.) The unconditional transcends the distinction between subject and object. To forget this is to make atheism inevitable. Atheism is thoroughly justified in protesting against the extrapolation of a transcendent world behind the existing world. The unconditional is not a being. It is a quality or a qualification of all beings and meanings. It is the power of being in which every being participates. It is inexhaustible in its power; it never fully and finally pours itself into the cosmos of forms; it imbues all forms, but it also bursts through them. Hence, as the depth or the infinity of things, it is both the ground and the abyss of being. It is that quality in being and truth, in goodness and beauty, that elicits man’s ultimate concern; thus it is the absolute quality of all being and meaning and value, the power and vitality of the real as it fulfills itself in meaningful creativity. But man has no "control" over it; he cannot manipulate it. If he could control it, it would be something conditional. To attempt to manipulate the unconditional would be like trying deliberately to tell one’s self a lie; to attempt to ignore it would be like trying to be nothing.
Karl Barth, in one of his critical essays on Tillich (written at the height of the controversy between them), rejects the term "the unconditional" as inappropriate for theological discussion. Indeed, he calls it "a frigid monstrosity." In doing so, he reiterates his rejection of philosophy of religion as such, revealing his idolatrous attachment to the words of Scripture and confession. He also forgets that the term is a negative philosophical symbol and is not intended to replace the term "God." God is, in Tillich’s view, unconditional. But the unconditional is not God. The word "God" denotes analogies taken from "objective" thinking; it is "filled with the concrete symbols in which mankind has expressed its unconditional concern." But it denotes also the unconditional element beyond these analogies. In other words, the term "God" denotes ontic symbols which refer to the ontological structure of being. In this connection, Tillich observes the precarious character of all religious language. If language is to express vividly our experience of being grasped by something unconditional, it must use symbols drawn from the actual world of the subject-object correlation. Yet the use of the "objective" symbols brings with it the danger of objectifying God. It also gives rise to "the half-blasphemous and mythological concept of ‘the existence of God.’" To draw the divine down into the world of objects is to commit idolatry. This idolatry before an objectively "existing" God is the ever present danger of all religion. Every truly religious symbol should carry within it a protest against the thingification of God. With this protest (implicit in the concept of "the unconditional") Barth would certainly agree.
Sometimes Tillich expresses this same idea by speaking of the paradoxical immanence of the transcendent. The intention lying behind this formulation is to exclude any spatialization of the infinite and inexhaustible power in things. Hence, Tillich’s conception may not properly be called "supernaturalist" or "neosupernaturalist." It does not imply, as one contemporary critic wrongly asserts, that "the whole meaning and the only meaning of natural existence is found in the unconditional reality of God." Such a conception of meaning contravenes Tillich’s intention; it implies spatialization, the very thing that Tillich rejects. The unconditional does not "wholly transcend the world" in any spatial sense; it qualifies it; it is its depth-dimension.
Tillich accepts Rudolph Otto’s characterization of the numinous or the holy as a masterly phenomenological description of the vivid awareness of the unconditional. He does not, however, accept Otto’s Neo-Kantian epistemology, which makes the holy a separate category alongside the categories of truth, goodness, and beauty. Nor does he, with Kant, interpret it in merely axiological terms. For Tillich, "being is older than purpose." To spatialize it as something that may or may not be related to truth and goodness and beauty is to attempt to condition it.
Nor can the awareness of the unconditional be spatialized. The term "awareness" is used because it is a neutral term and may be distinguished from knowledge. The term "knowledge" presupposes the separation of subject and object. Awareness of the unconditional is neither the awareness of an "object" nor a discrete theoretical act. Schleiermacher recognized the inappropriateness of "knowledge" as the basis of religious consciousness, but he spatialized the awareness by assigning it to "feeling." "Neither the Hegelian conception which assigns it to the theoretical sphere, nor the view of Schleiermacher which assigns it to feeling, has been able to maintain itself." The awareness of the unconditional involves the whole being; in this sense the awareness is existential.
This aspect of the concept of the unconditional becomes clearer if one relates it to the concept of faith. Faith is not a special function; it is effective in all functions of the human spirit. Nor is it belief in the truth of uncertain or doubtful objects. It has nothing to do with acceptance or probability. Faith is not a "work" of the mind or of the righteous will. It is a gift of grace; it is the consequence of being grasped by the power of the unconditionally real and creative depth in things. If one asks how the human spirit becomes intellectually aware of this unconditional meaning-reality, Tillich answers that it is through phenomenological intuition, an intuition that can be justified through the ontological argument, though he warns against the frequent perversion of this argument which connects it too narrowly with rational dialectic and which thereby degenerates into "objective" spatialized thinking. (Tillich has compared his own form of the ontological argument with that of Hocking, Wieman, Lyman, Whitehead, and Hartshorne (see his essay, "The Two Types of Philosophy of Religion," Union Seminary Quarterly Review, I, No; 4 [May, 1946], 3—13). Tillich formulates the ontological principle in this way: "Man is immediately aware of something unconditional which is the prius of the separation and interaction of subject and object, theoretically as well as practically."
This "ecstatic" intuition is the operation of love, the uniting of that which is separated. But it brings not only a sense of union or kinship with the ultimate power and meaning of reality; accompanying it there is also a sense of separation. Yet the separation is related to the union. The failure to recognize this fact is the error of dualism and of supernaturalism, an error markedly prominent in Barthianism. In one of his early essays on art Tillich says of this union and separation: "If we imagine the import to be the sun and form to be the orbit of a planet, then for every form of culture there is proximity to and distance from the sun or the import. If on the one hand it is the power of the sun which is revealed in the nearness to the sun, it is on the other hand the peculiar power in the movement of the planets which is expressed in the distance from the sun; and yet, it is the sun itself which supports both nearness and distance." The sense of nearness and distance spoken of here bears affinity to Nicholas of Cusa’s "coincidence of opposites." This brings us to a consideration of the dialectical character of Tillich’s self-transcending realism.
Tillich’s philosophy of tension is reminiscent of Plato’s dialectic of participation in and separation from the eternal, though Tillich does not, like Plato, idealistically attribute the separation to something in matter radically resistant to form (this would be to deny the doctrine of creation and to move in the direction of Manichaeanism). For him the alienation is due not only to "objective" thinking but also to man’s fateful abuse of freedom. But Plato is rejected not only because of his dualism. Even when he speaks of the presence of the good which appears in things (as well as being concealed by them), his interpretation depends upon a nonhistorical view of reality and history. Tillich’s interpretation aims to be "historical," or we might say eschatological; the essential tension is not the Platonic contrast between cyclical time and eternity but rather the dialectic between kairos (as the divine breaking into time) and telos (as the "end" of the linear movement of time).
In his conception of the cleavage in human existence he stands near to Jacob Boehme, who viewed existence as participating in the depth of being but who interpreted the cleavage as the consequence of the working of a dark, creative, and destructive power which, like Lucifer, drives toward self-inflation. The principal opposition to the divine unity is not a satanic principle of mere negation; it is rather a demonic power that perverts the creative power into a mixture of form-creating and form-destroying energy in history. A demon is something less than God which pretends to be God. The demonic operates not only in the individual’s willful yielding to the temptation to give rein to the libido of sensuality, of power, and of knowledge. It operates even more powerfully in human institutions. Here Tillich, like Augustine, transforms the primitive Christian conception of the demonic so as to make it applicable to social movements. Thus evil is not primarily mere negation; it is a perverse and powerful affirmation. "The simple lack of form," he says, "the weakness of a social structure is naturally not demonic. Demonry is the reign of a superindividual sacred form which supports life and which at the same time contains the force of destruction in such a way that the destructive power is essentially connected with the creative power." This formulation brings us to a consideration of Tillich’s rejection of the idealistic conception of synthesis.
One aspect of the structure of Tillich’s conception of dialectic is to be observed in his adaptation of Fichte’s conception of spirit. Tillich interprets spiritual or cultural life as the synthesis of thought and being in the cultural creations of human mind (this is the basic principle of his classification of the sciences), but the synthesis remains open and ambiguous. Cultural creation is the work of a creatively rational "individual" spirit, like a planet united with and separated from the sun, the living import. This conception of dialectic may be contrasted with the Hegelian conception. Tillich rejects the Hegelian dialectic (which operates in the unambiguous self-explication of the absolute or unconditioned idea) and proposes a dialectic between transcendent and conditioned meaning; the transcendent is viewed as paradoxically and ambiguously immanent in cultural activity. Thus cultural activity (including church activity) is never to be identified with the essential unity and goodness of being. In other words, the shadow-boxing Hegelian dialectic of the unfolding of the absolute idea into ever richer synthesis is transformed by Tillich into an earnest dialectic of meaning. In place of Hegel’s panlogistic synthesis of the absolute idea, Tillich presents the dialectic of a dynamic form-creating and form-bursting power; and in this way he renounces the Hegelian hybris, which presumes to grasp pure being and which in reality identifies essence with existence. He finds in the later philosophy of Schelling an impressive rejection of Hegelian logism, a pushing beyond idealism to a realism in which there appears a sense of guilty separation from the inner infinity of being as well as a kinship with it. Thus human activity, both intellectual and practical, tends to be compounded of the demonic and the divine.
The abstract characterization we have given of Tillich’s conception of dialectic (which in other aspects relating to theological method is presented in his introductory chapter for this volume) could create the false impression that his outlook is merely an academic exercise. But Tillich’s philosophy is not simply another philosophy of the schools. It is existential in the sense that it has been developed out of a direct confrontation with the historical situation. The term "existential" as applied to Tillich’s outlook connects him with certain aspects of a movement that has become increasingly influential during the last hundred years and that has exercised an influence in America, especially since the time of William James.
There are, of course, many varieties of existentialism which have appeared from the time of Schelling, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, and Marx down through Nietzsche and Dilthey to the time of Bergson, James, Dewey, Heidegger, Jaspers, and Tillich (Professor Tillich has recently given a comprehensive survey of the history of existential philosophy in his article on the subject in the Journal of the History of Ideas, V , 44—70.) In general, we may say that Tillich is an existentialist in the sense that he takes his place with all those who appeal "from the conclusions of ‘rationalistic,’ (‘objective’) thinking, which equates Reality with the object of thought, with relations or ‘essence,’ to Reality as men experience it immediately in their actual living." The roots of this existentialist philosophy Tillich finds in the pre-Cartesian tradition of supra-rationalism and Innerlichkeit represented by Jacob Boehme. Existentialism represents, therefore, the coming-to-the-fore of a type of thinking which, during the period of Cartesian, Hegelian, and bourgeois rationalism, has been a subdominant tradition in modern European thought. Tillich’s attempt to overcome the subject-object dichotomy and his use and interpretation of the boundary-situation are part and parcel of his drive toward immediate experience understood as a confronting of the unconditional, as a standing between the finite and the infinite. Here both the divine and the demonic, support and threat, a sense of kinship and nonkinship with the ultimate, passionate tension and responsible decision, are the characteristic existentialist motifs. The contrast Tillich sees between Protestantism as a historical realization and Protestantism as a witness to a principle is bound up with an immediate experience of the insecurity and questionableness of the one and the faith in something more reliable (the form-bursting and form-creating reality) pointed to by the other. These depths of the actual situation, Tillich believes, cannot be known except through an existential involvement and decision.
Nor is this view itself pure theory for Tillich himself. As illustrations of his practical activity, we recall his struggle against national socialism in Germany, his leadership in the religious-socialist movement in Germany, his work of mediation between philosophers and theologians, his acquiring of a religious and social outlook that ranges him between typically European and typically American positions, his close contact with "secular" leaders in the various areas of the common life (artists, scientists, statesmen, psychiatrists and the like), his prodigious work in various groups concerned with the care and education of refugees, his co-operation with the United States government (broadcasting many radio addresses to wartime Germany) and with groups looking toward the strengthening of democratic forces in Germany.
In this connection Tillich makes a special application of his conception of the boundary-situation and of his dialectical definition of religion and culture. Just as we do not understand, he says, the possibilities and limitations of the human condition until we have confronted the boundary of the human, so also we do not really know any particular historical situation or any particular creative tendency until, through actual experience, we have apprehended its possibilities as well as its limitations. The border line between the various spheres of social life and also between various tendencies and outlooks is, he believes, a most fruitful place for knowledge and the most fruitful place for practical decision. Many readers will recall that in his autobiographical sketch (published in The Interpretation of History) he presents his life as having been lived on the boundaries between the social classes, between church and society, between idealism and Marxism, and so on. Much of Tillich’s own participation in the life of our time has been conducted through practical activity on these borders.
What with his view of the interdependence of all cultural forces and his insistence upon the insecure and ambiguous character of existence and meaning, it follows that Tillich accepts neither the economism nor the dialectic of Marxism with its crypto-Hegelian and utopian expectation of final synthesis in history. Yet he sees in Marx’s revolt against Hegel not only a justified opposition to a philosophy that only "explains" and does not act (an opposition to an "ideology" protecting an exploiting class and state) but also a powerfully prophetic mood arising out of a deep sense of alienation in human society and aiming to achieve a union between theory and practice. Despite the purely immanental, sociological context of Marx’s view of man and history, Tillich discerns in it closer affinities to classical Christian conceptions of sin and eschatology than to religious-liberal conceptions. What with his emphasis on responsible participation in the common concerns of public life, it follows that Tillich cannot accept Kierkegaard’s aloofness to concrete concerns of social and cultural life. In his view, Kierkegaard represents a bourgeois retreat into subjectivity; hence Kierkegaard achieves by default what Hegel achieves by conservative idealism, namely, a virtual sanctioning of bourgeois complacency. But Tillich takes a decisively positive attitude toward other aspects of Kierkegaard’s thought, toward his powerful dialectic between the finite and the infinite, his insistence upon the profound tension between essence and existence, his revolt against Hegelian "completeness" of system, his emphasis upon the anxiety and despair of merely autonomous freedom, and especially his rejection of the detached "spectator-attitude" of the academic philosopher or scientist. It is in connection with these aspects of existential thinking that he quotes with approval Feuerbach’s exhortation: "Do not wish to be a philosopher in contrast to being a man ¼ do not think as a thinker .... think as a living, real being. ¼ think in Existence." With Kierkegaard, Marx, and Feuerbach he therefore stresses the passionate character of all existential thinking, a kind of thinking which, in Tillich’s view, grips the whole man in his conscious and unconscious life, in his involvement and participation in the ongoing concerns of society and history, in his relation to the lower strata of society (the "rejected"), and in the inescapability of decision.
Here we should indicate the similarities and dissimilarities of Tillich’s thought to the pragmatist school of thought initiated by William James. Tillich stands near to John Dewey, for example, in certain important respects, especially in so far as Dewey stresses the existential involvement of the subject in knowledge and also in so far as Dewey acknowledges the fragmentary and dynamic character of truth and of human fulfillment. On the other hand, Tillich criticizes pragmatism because it has "surrendered itself as ‘instrumentalism’ to the objective process of nature and society, producing means for ends which are finite and, consequently, not a matter of infinite, passionate concern." In Tillich’s view the existential man stands between the infinite and the finite and can never be understood as merely a part of natural objectivity. Tillich also criticizes pragmatist "ethics." In his view its reliance upon experimental "ethics" simply takes inherited values of a liberal society for granted, and thus it cannot from itself provide ethical standards for judging and directing the flux of "experience."
But perhaps the thinker with whom the most instructive comparison can be made is Karl Barth. Tillich has often been classified with him in entirely too simple a fashion. Barth is usually referred to as a representative of existential and dialectical theology. In his article, "What Is Wrong with the ‘Dialectic’ Theology?" (not reprinted in the present volume), Tillich asserts that this neo-Reformation theology at its beginning supplied a powerful and radical religious criticism of church and culture; in the face of naziism it saved the German Protestant church. But he denies that Barth’s theology is dialectical; it is, he says, merely paradoxical. Moreover, by interpreting the divine as "wholly other" and alien to man, it derogates all human culture. It denies significance even to any human questioning concerning the ultimate. (Journal of Religion, XV (1935), 127—45. No doubt it is partially because of his fundamental disagreements with Barth that Tillich has recently characterized his own view as "neo-dialectical." ) By rejecting humanism and autonomy it has created a new heteronomy. Although it opposed the Nazi "Grand Inquisitor" (to use Dostoevsky’s term), it has set up its own Grand Inquisitor "with a strong but tight-fitting armor of Barthian supernaturalism" and scholastic confessionalism. Despite its constant reference to crisis, it has come to view everything as being under judgment—except itself. It has "relapsed into the mere reiteration of tradition." It has forgotten the Protestant protest in the name of which it began and is in danger of becoming a merely weakened form of Catholicism. Moreover, in its criticism of culture it has opposed tyranny only for the sake of the church and not for the sake of human rights. And, as a consequence of its supernaturalism and of its Kantian ethical presuppositions, it has for the most part pronounced only an abstract, formal judgment upon the social order—all things are judged and really nothing is decided. This aloofness to the responsibilities of prophetic religion, an aloofness sanctioned by a supernaturalist pessimism, merely assists (by default) the ruling and dominating powers in society. By this aloofness, Barthianism even helped to destroy the religious-socialist movement in pre-Hitler Germany. And it has not yet been able to explicate a positive conception of fulfillment in history. It turns away from a positive decision with regard to the specific situation "here and now." It escapes backward into an otherwordly traditionalism. Despite its avowed existential attitude, which renounces the spectator attitude, it is unable to find a way forward out of the Protestant era.
Tillich’s philosophy is one that looks toward meaning-fulfillment in all areas of life. Although many of his formulations of this philosophy reveal the influence of modern intellectual movements, its deepest roots are to be found in the Judeo-Christian apprehension of human existence and fulfillment. This apprehension, implicit in what we have already presented, may be epitomized in three familiar axioms—an affirmation of the essential, if not actual, unity and goodness of existence (mythologically expressed in the doctrine of the divine creation of the world) is combined with the recognition of an underivable contradiction in human existence (mythologically expressed in the doctrine of the Fall— which may not be accepted as a historical event or as an explanation of the human condition but as a description of the cleavage in the human spirit and in human society) and with a confidence that the cleavage, the broken unity and goodness, can be restored by the inexhaustible creative power (mythologically expressed in the doctrine of redemption). This Judeo-Christian apprehension, when truly understood, implies a philosophy of history.
In conformity with the "historical thinking" of ancient prophetism and of the modern historical consciousness, which is in part derived from it, self-transcending realism affirms that the focal expression of these three elements is to be found in history, though the form-bursting and form-creating power arises from beneath the level of freedom and existence. Self-transcending realism is a historical realism. In and through the historical "here and now," in and through the dynamics and structures of history, we experience in widest and deepest dimensions the realization and the contradiction of meaning. Here we encounter in its critical and creative power the ultimate threat and support of human existence. History in all its spheres is the arena of salvation, the realm in which the demands of the unconditional are confronted. Salvation occurs in time and through community, in the overcoming of the demonic powers that pervert both personal and social life. It appears in those forms and structures that give a local habitation to justice and love and beauty. And it is the work of a gracious, affirming, healing power moving toward the fulfillment of being and meaning.
The depth, the tensions, and the possibilities of existence are not really known until one in faith apprehends them through passionate participation in the struggles of history. In other words, the existential attitude implicit in the demand for participation presupposes that the subject comes to know the human situation only by entering into the process of fulfillment, a process in which thought and being are merged and transmuted in the creative life of spirit. The mark of the fullest intercourse with reality is found, then, in the uniting of contemporaneity with self-transcending relatedness to the unconditional; it is found in a belief-ful, timely awareness and action in terms of the unconditional demands relevant to the present situation. Such an awareness and action, therefore, demands a venturing decision, the taking of a risk.
When men (or churches) do not direct their deepest existential concern to this focus of decision and participation in the "here and now," they miss an unrepeatable opportunity for the expression of meaning in history; in other words, they miss the kairos. But action or participation is not sufficient. If the action is not accompanied by a decision for the unconditional, then either demonic self-inflation or lack of seriousness ensues. On the other hand, if decision is not accompanied by participation, then knowledge will be abstractly formal or "untimely." Only from an awareness of the inextricable bond and tension between the concrete historical situation and the unconditioned depth of being and meaning can men avail themselves of truly critical and formative power. The unconditionality of prophetic criticism, combined with the timely resoluteness of formative will under grace, can alone bring the fullness or fulfillment of time, the kairos. No aspect or area of life is exempt from the demands of this "timely" criticism and form-creation, i.e., timely in the sense of the kairos. Only through "timely" criticism and action can the significantly new come into being; only in this way can the import and demand of the unconditional impinge upon history. This is the practical implication of the Protestant principle.
In viewing the present social situation at the end of the Protestant era, Tillich sees a negative vindication of the Protestant principle in the consequences of the operation of the bourgeois principle, as well as in the degeneration of self-sufficient autonomy into the current heteronomies of racism, nationalism, and capitalism. These heteronomies have often served to protect the bourgeois principle against radical criticism and thus to negate the Protestant principle. A characteristic consequence of the bourgeois principle (which, it will be recalled, always moves toward the dissolution of the bonds of community life through the rationalization of the powers of origin) is to be seen in the dependence of the working class upon the "free" sale of their physical ability to work, a dependence which, in its turn, relies upon the "laws" (or the chances) of the market. Here the perversion of man’s essential nature assumes tremendous social dimensions. Even in normal times the fateful threat of insecurity confronts the entrepreneur as well as the worker. This threat, as it has expressed itself in the twentieth century, has more and more torn away the ideological veil which romantic conservative thought and progressivist liberal economics have thrown over the contradictions of capitalist society.
These contradictions, in their most general economic aspects, are three: first, the contradition between the rapidity of technical advance and the slowness of the development of societal forms that enable adjustment to the technical advance; second, the contradiction between the increasing production power and the decreasing consumption capacity of the masses (bigger and better factories have brought a higher proportion of unemployment); and, third, the contradiction between the assumed liberty of every individual and the actual dependence of the masses on great concentrations of economic power (which determine not only the production and prices of goods but also the manipulation of symbols through the idea industries).
The way out of the present era can be found only if men can be released from the "possession" of the demonic powers that now carry through or protect the bourgeois principle, only if men can be caught up and transformed by newly creative powers emanating from the depths of being and history. Tillich is convinced that men will not even approach this "timely" moment unless they come to a passionate awareness of the deep void of meaninglessness that the bourgeois principle and its supporting heteronomies have created. The prevailing "neutrality" of the churches to these issues is only a form of ideological concealment of the perversions of the common life. It is true that no Protestant church can properly espouse an official social philosophy or program; to do so would be to violate the Protestant principle. Yet if the Protestant principle is apprehended in a vital and relevant way, it should lead to a turning-away from the void of meaninglessness and to new creation. It should lead to the forging of a principle pertinent to the present historical situation, a principle that in the spirit of radical Protestantism can overcome the bourgeois principle.
This principle might be called the "religious-socialist principle." Tillich has written extensively on this theme; apart from certain collections of his essays, his largest book (Socialist Decision) deals with this subject. Besides this, he was coeditor of a religious-socialist magazine for the Kairos Circle in pre-Hitler Germany. Here it must suffice if we give merely a few hints concerning the meaning of the central principle.
Tillich rejects the legalistic or programmatic type of religious socialism which considers socialism to be the precise demand of the Gospels; it attempts to make the Gospels a socialist textbook. He rejects the romantic type of religious socialism which claims that socialism is itself religion; it rightly asserts that religion does not confine itself to a special religious sphere yet it stifles the radical criticism inherent in the Protestant principle. He also rejects the practical-political type of religious socialism which simply tries to bring about co-operation between organized socialism and the churches; it tends to emphasize merely practical strategies and fails to scrutinize the basic presuppositions of either socialism or religion in their actual forms, and thus it neglects the need for fundamental transformation of either of them.
In his religious socialism Tillich attempts in a dialectical fashion to dissolve the static opposition of prevailing conceptions of religion and socialism; he aims to understand them in their deepest roots and to transform both of them in the spirit of prophetic religion. Accordingly, he aims to interpret religion and socialism in such a way as to point toward a new concrete Gestalt, capable in the deepest sense of meeting the particular needs of our time. The goal of this religious socialism is the radical application of the Protestant principle to both Protestantism and socialism, to both religion and secularism, in order to free Protestantism from bondage to the religious sphere as a separate sphere and also to make possible a religious understanding of the socialism and the secularism of the Protestant era. This type of religious socialism works primarily on theoretical problems. It is not concerned with the development of blueprints for a socialist system of society; its practical effectiveness, as compared with the theoretical, is intended to be small.
Whether or not organized Protestantism will continue its class-bound subservience to the spirit of capitalism is largely a matter of conjecture. There are evidences of change in European Protestantism in the direction of socialism. In the United States there would seem to be a persisting disposition in Protestant circles to rely upon automatic harmony, that is, upon capitalism. In any event, the coming years will bring to birth new forms of collectivism, forms that will vary in the different countries. Religious socialism aims to accept the responsibility of delineating the principles that will be in conformity with the theological demands of self-transcending realism, with democratic ideals, and with economic necessities.
The widespread opposition between Protestantism and socialism is to be understood as the consequence of perversions within both of them. Protestantism’s opposition is due not only to its Babylonish captivity to capitalism and nationalism but also to a widely held supernaturalist conception of the Kingdom of God as purely transcendent; it is due to the complacency of Protestant liberalism and to the "religious" indifference of Protestant fundamentalism and Barthian neo-orthodoxy. All these tendencies reveal in varying ways and degrees the absence of a really disturbed consciousness of the magnitude of the struggle that must be made against the demonries of our time. In face of this situation, religious socialism not only demands that Protestantism should come to a new awareness of the Protestant principle and thus be released from bondage; it also tries to present the special demands of the kairos of our time, the demand for a new order of life imbued with new meaning to take the place of an autonomously emptied and heteronomously controlled society.
The opposition of socialism to religion is as false in principle as is the opposition of Protestantism to socialism. The historical roots of socialism are to be found in the prophetic-Protestant-humanist tradition; in the drive forward to the new in history, represented by revolutionary spiritualist movements of the pre-Reformation period and of the left wing of the Reformation; in the autonomous revolt against the powers of origin claimed by an ecclesiastically controlled culture (a revolt moving in the direction of democracy); in the Calvinist and humanist impulse to give a rational, rather than an arbitrary, shaping to society; in the struggle for man implicit in all these motifs, as well as in the world-affirming spirit of the Enlightenment. Perhaps the most powerful prophetic element in socialism is what has been called its "epochal consciousness," its awareness of the decisive character of the dynamic structures of a whole period. (The very concept of "the Protestant era presupposes this prophetic view that the human situation must be understood in terms of the integrating and the disintegrating structures of a period.) Tillich believes that socialism is today more strongly conscious of the kairos of our period than is any other movement, conscious of an impending epochal fate and opportunity. But it is perverted by the possession of certain untimely elements which are either residues of the era which is now in crisis or new forms of idolatry. Some of these elements were originally creative ideas, and they are now therefore, in their untimely form, all the more dangerous.
Socialism (and especially Marxism) has ignored the transcendent reference of the Protestant principle, and through its false claim to be a science it has degenerated into a new legalism and a new heteronomy. By its merely sociologistic interpretation of the cleavages and corruptions of human existence and by its continued reliance on an unbroken bourgeois principle (with its naive belief in progress) it has transformed originally prophetic expectations for the future into utopianism. Religious socialism aims to correct the false anthropology of Marxism and to overcome its heteronomous and utopian impulses by the achievement of an autonomy deepened by theonomy and by an insistence upon the remoteness of socialism from the Kingdom of God, however clearly "the decision for socialism during a definite period may be the decision for the kingdom of God."
The religious-socialist principle points the direction out of the Protestant era by combining elements that have been either neglected or perverted by both capitalism and socialism. It seeks a new theonomous society in which the powers of origin supporting organic community may be broken and yet fulfilled under the demands of the unconditional; it seeks more than a new economic system, it seeks a total outlook on existence in which all cultural areas retain their autonomy. It rejects the metaphysical core of bourgeois harmonism and socialist progressivism, and it adopts a prophetic philosophy of history in which anticipation of the new (as well as the breaking-away from the old) is combined with the responsibility of planning for freedom. On the basis of these principles, religious socialism would overcome the fear, the insecurity, the loneliness, the thingification of the masses of men; in such a it would overcome the contradictions of our disintegrating world. It is clear, then, that if Protestantism or any other group is to meet the demands of our kairos, concern for individual salvation will have to be coupled with a concern for "the ultimate meaning and salvation of groups and institutions." But men cannot merely by decision bring about so great a change as this. A power more than human, a power greater than that of the now ruling principalities and powers, greater than that of the present demonries that have men in their possession, must be released. If Protestantism responds to this kairos, the Protestant era will not be at an end. The Reformation will continue.
From the foregoing presentation it should be evident that Tillich’s accomplishments are among the most comprehensive and deep going in contemporary theology. The integrity of his thought is to be discovered in his concern with the philosophy of history, a concern that grows out of his conviction that "the meaning of history" is the problem of our period and that a new meaning must be expressed in a new society. Some readers, even though they be sympathetic with his analysis of the present historical situation and its demands, will feel that his conception of the planned society insufficiently recognizes the liberal demand for democratic controls. But disagreement on this point should not distract attention from the principal need emphasized by Tillich—the need for recognizing the spiritual and structural character of the required reintegration of society. Within the context of Tillich’s philosophy of history, all the other elements of his thought and influence must be understood.
It is, of course, impossible to predict which of these elements of his thought will exercise the most direct influence. Reinhold Niebuhr has pointed out that Tillich has already exercised a critical and creative influence as mediator between widely disparate European and American theological tendencies, bringing them into fruitful tension with one another as no orthodox or Barthian theologian could do. In addition to this, he has long served as a mediator between theology and philosophy, between the churches and the secular movements, between the social outlook of Protestant, capitalist individualism and that of religious and secular socialism. His newly devised concepts and his reinterpretations of old concepts (for example, the unconditional, kairos, the demonic, theonomy, and the Gestalt of grace) will do much to break up the encrusted formulations of familiar modes of thought and thus to overcome the supernaturalism which is still widely held in religious circles. He has thereby introduced a new theological conception of nature and of its relation to history; he has disclosed a covert religious element in certain types of secularism and also the blasphemous, irreligious elements in certain types of religion; he has attempted to correct the liberal theology that has exhausted itself by identifying religion with moralism; and he has transcended certain outmoded oppositions between liberalism and orthodoxy. In all these ways he challenges prevailing conceptions of the essential nature of Protestantism. These characteristic concerns of Tillich’s endeavor can be of marked significance for the development of sacramental, as well as of prophetic, elements in the ecumenical movement of contemporary Christianity.
But the form as well as the content of Tillich’s thought will determine his influence, both within and outside the churches. As one of his European orthodox critics has (lamentingly) observed, his writings "delight the reader in a remarkably untheological and secular way." Besides this, the reader will be struck by the architectonic, albeit dynamic, structure of his thought.
Through all these major aspects of his thinking Tillich may help prepare us for the religious and secular reformation which alone can overcome the crisis of the Protestant era and give new, timely access to what the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, has called "the dearest freshness deep down things."
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