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Tillich and Popular Culture

Tillich and Music by Martha Brundage

For Paul Tillich, theology and the arts inform each other. While theology should never claim to do the tasks of aesthetics, depth of meaning and spiritual substance may arise in and through form, pointing to the ultimate being beyond the form of artwork. Although Tillich's true love was visual art, he occasionally refers to music throughout his theological works. The form of music for Tillich is rational in a manner similar to mathematics. However, “the emotional element in music opens a dimension of reality which is closed to mathematics” (Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, 77). The emotional aspect of music touches the spiritual substance within the art itself and within the listener. According to Tillich, religion is the substance of culture. Therefore, art of all kinds serves to direct humans to the ultimate being.

The symbols created in the arts reach levels of reality that are unattainable by other methods. Tillich's theological system requires that God be understood in a mediated way. The symbols found in the arts can provide such a method of mediation. Finite objects are capable of pointing to the infinite God. While visual art usually provided Tillich with this connection to the divine, there is a particular moment mentioned in Wilhelm and Marion Pauck's biography of Tillich when music powerfully moved Tillich. During his reunion with Hermann Schafft, Tillich celebrated his fiftieth birthday. On the morning of his birthday, Schafft gathered a small orchestra to play the melody of the Lutheran chorale “Die güldne Sonne, der Mensch hat nichts so eigen” beneath Tillich's window. The Paucks write that the melody caused Tillich to cry, remembering how a regimental band had played “Full Thirty Years Old Are You Now” on the battlefront on his thirtieth birthday. According to the Paucks, “it was as though a dam holding in all the emotions evoked by reunion with friends, conflict with family, and the sense of inevitable separation from home, now gave way, released by the sound of music“ (Pauck, 193). The emotional power of music released Tillich's own emotions, allowing him to access his ultimate concern through memory and understanding of his current surroundings. While he may have preferred the visual arts, music also deeply touched Tillich's heart and theological sensibilities.

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