Paulus – Reminiscences of a Friendship. Rollo May. New York:
Harper & Row Publishers, 1973. 113 pages.
Reviews by Thomas Wlodek, Kendra Moore, Samuel Lovett, Kaci Norman, Hyunwoong Hwang Matthew S. Beal, Divine Aguh, and Jennifer Coleman.
A reader's initial exposer to a main character reveals the intricacies and core values of a
character. The opening chapter to Rollo May's Paulus, describes Paulus's chiseled yet
winsomeness features. May includes a comment from his own daughter describing Paulus's head
as beautiful.  Following, May recounts Paulus's anxiety as he grapples with inadequate english
skills in Union's classrooms. Paulus is met with dread and the need to escape as stumbles
through informal english vernacular.  As Rollo May continues his biography on Tillich one sees
the interplay between intimacy and anxiety experienced in Paulus's life. Yet, Rollo May's
biography does not function as an objective interpretation of Paulus's life; May attempts to
construct the Paulus of May and Tillich's friendship. Thus May's biography cannot be seen as the
comprehensive collection of Tillich's life, rather, May's biography functions has a thread in the
tapestry to understand Tillich's life and passion. Thus prior to understanding who Tillich is, we
must first understand Rollo May. Then, we will attempt to understand May's construction of
Who is Rollo May?
Although, May's Paulus concerns the life and teachings of Paul Tillich, Rollo May
interweaves himself into the life and experience of Paulus Tillich. Rollo May met Paulus Tillich
during his senior year at Union Seminary in New York. However, May was formed by Tillich
during May's doctorate program in clinical psychology at Colombia University, in which Paulus
Tillich was his advisor. May's thesis The Meaning of Anxiety, was predominately directed by
Tillich which Tillich encouraged Rollo May to know everything possible about anxiety and
despair.  As a result of May's The Meaning of Anxiety, Tillich found it necessary to answer Rollo
May's question thus producing The Courage to Be. As their relationship continued, Rollo May
considered Paulus to be a teacher and a friend. In fact, Rollo May provided the address at
Paulus's memorial service in 1966. 
Who is Paulus Tillich?
The stories included in Rollo May's Paulus construct Paulus differently than other
biographies. The stories that are not included also hint at what the author deemed to be not to be
as important. May's biography does not begin with Paulus's birth and childhood, rather May
introduces Paulus as he flees Germany and lives in New York. This is when May first meets
Paulus as well. As the biography continues, May's begins to describe Paulus's character as an
individual who lived with his emotions always showing. As Tillich's student, May writes, “I saw
Paulus in many meetings of groups of people, blushing or looking in despair or pacing up and
down the hall during a recess in the discussion.” Tillich's emotions brought him to care about
each and every person he met.
To experience Tillich is to experience intimacy. May includes a story of Paulus's love for
fantasy to experience one another. May introduction of Tillich to his fiancée resulted in both of
them lying underneath a tree and constructing a world filled with elves, trolls and wood sprites.
The encounter ends with May's fiancée longing to lie with Tillich.
May's first historical insight into Paulus is his chapter on the death of his mother. May
states that Paulus's relationship to his mother was incredibly influential on his sexual
development. Paulus wished to marry his mother significantly longer than what would be
considered common. Yet, as a young child his sexual energy was redirected towards knowledge.
His sexual repression did not survive his experience in the Great War. As Tillich unlocked and
embraced his erotic nature, Tillich became increasingly aware of his need for emotional
connection to combat his constant anxiety.
To conclude Paulus, Rollo May provides a psychoanalytical insight into his experience.
Highlighting Paulus's eroticism and anxiety, May describes Tillich as a dear friend who is to be
loved and understood. However, Rollo May is incredibly kind to Tillich's life and past. Rollo
May glosses over Hannah's experience and relationship with Paulus. I wonder how May's
biography juxtaposes Hannah Tillich's biography and how the two perspectives can be
reconciled. I am interested to hear from Hannah.
Rollo May, Paulus (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1973), 1-2.
May, Rollo. Paulus. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1973.
Chapter 1: Our First Meeting
Rollo May relays his first encounters with Paul Tillich. He shares his own observations of Tillich trying to acclimate himself to the American way of life and professorship. Among Tillich's mishaps were the many misuses of the English language, but these misuses also served to endear him to students. May notes that during Tillich's initial stage of initiation into this new American world, he often looked at Tillich with pity for the confusion he knew Tillich must have felt in those moments when students would laugh at him, simply not knowing that Tillich's previous German situation engendered much different circumstances through which professors and students interacted with one another. May illustrates in this chapter the early affections he felt towards Tillich as a professor, mentor, and friend.
Chapter 2: Ecstatic Reason
May uses this chapter to articulate the great intelligence with which Paul Tillich spoke and thought, regardless of any physical clumsiness or linguistic troubles he may have had early on in his integration to America. May acknowledges Tillich grand ability to synthesize information, and that as smart as he was, he never used it aggressively to humiliate his conversation and debate partners. Tillich also devoted long hours to the acquirement of his vast knowledge, which May notes was often to the neglect of his social responsibilities.
Tillich's transformation into an existentialist is illustrated here as occuring after he witnessed his fellow officers maimed in WWI while he was serving as a chaplain. After witnessing such physical horror, Tillich no longer believed that humans could master their essence cognitively without considering their physical existence. This shift in thought was significant for his own philosophical musings on being and non-being in the attempt to answer the ontological question, "Why is there something? Why not nothing?" (18).
Tillich's own vigorous academic endeavors were influential for Rollo May when he began his own journey towards a doctorate in clinical psychology, noting that Tillich expected what felt like too much of him, perfection even. May reflects that it was the weighty expectations Tillich placed on him to know everything about the research of anxiety that forced May to produce a work that served as a significant contribution to the field of psychological studies and existentialism.
Chapter 3: Paulus' Personal Presence
Tillich was known as having an intense and absorbing presence, whether to friend or
stranger. He not only had the type of "stage presence" that made him an engaging lecturer, but he also knew how to draw in the listener to become just as caught up in the majestic whirlwind of ideas as he was (25-28). He made listeners in his audience feel that they had important contributions to make, even if they originally asked questions of spurious clarity. In his intention with students and lecture audiences, May notes his capacity to make people feel known, an experience he admits as being completely vulnerable, but equally rewarding and expanding in one's own self-knowledge. It is this intense presence that May proposes as the reason for women being drawn to him, which culminated in many relationships throughout Tillich's life.
Due to Tillich's intense personal presence, May notes Tillich's great appreciation and deep need for his solitude in order to recharge the energy spent on presence and even the energy spent (whether conscious or not) on being so emotionally open and honest to students, friends, etc. May pithily states that "some solitude is necessary for any human being to preserve his capacity for presence" (31). Among the ebb and flow of Tillich's presence and solitude, Tillich did wrestle with the problem of too intense a presence. May notes the moments spent on a sailboat with Tillich where he felt trapped when Tillich began to fill the space with his heavy presence through intense conversation. May admits in that moment, he wanted to tone down the intellectual talk into something lighthearted and less involved, something Tillich was not adept at doing. May relates this to the human need to break away from constant peak experiences (33). For May, part of Tillich's presence was due to his ability to synthesize the past, present, and future. While many people, according to May, may have the tendency to bracket out the past and future for the benefit of focusing on the present, people were drawn to Tillich because of his ability to hold all aspects of life with him, enriching his conversations with everyone who had contact with him.
Chapter 4: The Death of His Mother
This chapter explains the powerful influence Tillich's mother had over him as a guide to life, and in her death, Tillich was completely de-centered and left wandering, "standing on the edge of the abyss" (41). His mother gave him a sense of identity and definition to his life's purpose, and all that was stripped from him in her death, so much that he had to find his own way of seeing and being. May's illustration of Tillich and his mother centers very much around the Oedipus complex, and May describes this relationship and then sudden loss as the beginning of his interesting relationships and desire for women. Tillich, according to May, was always looking for his mother in a woman. The sexual energy that developed within Tillich but was always repressed as a child became manifest in his adult years mostly in his quest for deep and vast knowledge. Later in his life, his repressed sexual desires developed into sensual eroticism with various women, which May believed was Tillich's way "to make up for lost time" (39). Alongside Tillich's mother, this chapter focuses largely on Tillich and his grief. When his mother died from melanoma, he was seventeen. She was such a grand force in his life, that May parallel's Tillich's loss and grief with Nietzsche's "lament on the death of God" (42).
May describes Tillich as holding tension within him always; tensions that on either side represented something like his father and mother, eastern and western Germany. May regards this personal tension as the beginning of Tillich's love for opposites and for finding where they might join in union. This tendency can clearly be seen in Tillich's own Systematic Theology. Tillich even notes, "Truth is found in the midst of struggle and destiny, not, as Plato taught, in an unchanging beyond" (45). He would spend his life engaging opposing forces and dwelling somewhere in between, whether those forces were his own personal sorrow and joy or his theological and philosophical development. May relays that the natural scene of the ocean from his East Hampton home provided a sense of calm in Tillich's life when this tension was overbearing.
Chapter 5: Eros
Here May attempts to portray Tillich as an irresistible erotic force in his relationships,
especially with women. His portrait of Tillich here is that of an enigmatic wizard who has cast a spell on all the women he meets, and in response all the women appreciate and cherish every interaction with him. These women who love Tillich are described as being opened up to new parts of themselves and new confidences that they never knew to exist within themselves. Tillich, however, felt that he received a great deal in return from women. "They were made into creatures who possessed the power of salvation" (60). May again in this chapter draws strong connections between the loss of his mother with his eternal seeking for stability, love, and salvation from other women to fill this loss. May also makes the distinction between sexuality and intimacy, noting that although sex was part of Tillich's relational endeavors, he truly desired an intimacy that reached deep into a person's being; he wanted to know and be known (51-52). The bits and pieces of letters May shares are reminiscent of a correspondence between a worshipper and his deity. Tillich played the role of worshipper, and the woman played the role of deity. The women provided him so much comfort and support to balance out the intellectually draining tasks he was committed to.
May suggests that the reason he was unable to fully commit to Hannah was that he was reacting against the intensely close relationship and subsequent loss of his mother, from whom he never had the chance to declare his own independence before her death (58). Here, readers catch a glimpse of how Tillich withdrew from his family and neglected them in order to devote his energies to academic and intellectual endeavors (60).
May notes that "if a person is made into a God, he is also made into a devil" (61), which he paralleled with Tillich's occasional tendency to "destroy" them. He again ties Tillich's hostility towards women back to his relationship with his mother. These destructive tendencies that May highlights give Tillich back a human character, illustrating his flaws and even highlighting Tillich's own insecurities about whether or not his sexual experiences and sadistic tendencies were the right way to live.
Chapter 6: The Agony of Doubt
Tillich appreciated the ambiguous nature of life, and he lived with doubt. It was part of his very nature, and often part of his feelings of insecurity and guilt. However, he believed that to address uncertainty and doubt was the best way to live. “The self is the stronger the more non-being it can take into itself” (83). May shows how Tillich's intention to be in the midst of two opposing principles contributed to his own exile in his social spheres, but he believed in the mysticism found in those in-between spaces.
Chapter 7: That God beyond God
Rollo May lays out Tillich's firm belief in the fallacy of stating that God exists. For Tillich God is beyond existence and non-existence, and for God to actually be God, God cannot exist. God must be free of the structure in which humans dwell, otherwise God would be just another being beside beings. Tillich was then accused of pointing to various mediums for salvation that took away from the salvific nature of Jesus Christ. May agrees with this observance Tillich's critics noted, and he also agreed with Tillich. May then expounds upon his own desire for Tillich's thought to actualize in the world in a way that all people might find salvation through whatever means they find.
Chapter 8: “Today is Dying Day”
When Tillich began to near death, he was not afraid to address and acknowledge its nearness. Although May admits to asking Tillich if he was afraid of death, he notes that Tillich said he was of course, but that death was an inevitable part of human finiteness, the ultimate symbol for it (100). In his last moments, he asked forgiveness from Hannah for all he had done to hurt her. When he died in the hospital, it was on good terms with her (105). He was remembered well after his funeral, and his spirit and devotion to ultimate concern lived on in his friends and loved ones.
Epilogue: A Great Teacher
May notes that Tillich was considered a great teacher because his lectures were meaningful for the issues of life and death (114). Tillich grasped the importance of discussing openly issues of anxiety and tragedy, and May states that this was especially important for him in school in the days after the wars when everyone had lost someone and was simultaneously looking for something to fill the void. Tillich played the role of a great teacher, but also a great mentor who desired intimacy with students in a way that would help foster their own desire to learn and grow, and this was infinitely meaningful for many of his students.
One of the greater insights of Rollo May's book is that it gives a glimpse into a particular aspect of Paul Tillich's relationships to people, namely to a student like May. Tillich was clearly very influential and beloved by innumerable students and other people, and May grants Tillich a gracious reading of his life story, always trying to grasp at the depths of what Tillich really intended with every thought and action. May speaks to his own experience and development in terms of the influence Tillich provided to him. There is a sort of dialectical relationship at play in May's pages that enhance an understanding of Tillich in the role of mentor, professor, and friend as he guided May through his own intellectual endeavors.
However, there are many more ways to understand Tillich in terms of his relationships to women, his wife, children, family, etc. May appears to idealize and romanticize some of the experiences that I find otherwise vastly complicated and ambiguous. His explanation on women, for example, is one that characterizes a vast array of healthy and great relationships each with uniqueness and full of love. May at one point notes with surprise that there was never any jealousy that he could see in the women who loved Tillich (51). This seems dubious at best. While May psychologizes Tillich's personal life in an insightful manner that tunes readers to many of his intentions and desires, he seems to go too far in romanticizing his life, perhaps because of his own close personal relationship to Tillich and the attempt to preserve his legacy posthumously. He does, however, bring his explanation back around to address some of the destructive tendencies in those relationships, but what is most bothersome is how in light of all his relationships, there is not a substantial amount of balance and clarity that illustrates to the reader how Hannah Tillich felt.
Chapter four's exposition on Tillich's loss gives readers an extremely psychologized focus on Tillich's relationship to women. It seems a bit of an overreach to say that Tillich was always looking for his mother in women rather than allowing that desire to arise from a number of other personal needs. However, May ties Tillich's mother so closely to him that she seems to be Tillich's very own "first cause." May continues to draw connections to various other places in Tillich's life back to his mother, and I do not find that May is always convincing in illustrating how those theories fit into Tillich's overall picture.
Overall, May provided an insightful book that gives readers a better sense of Tillich's personal affections and emotional states, something readers are unlikely to find in places like Tillich's Systematic Theology. With May's guidance, readers can appreciate Tillich's thought and learn where perhaps some of the impulses for those thoughts came from. The only admonition for readers is to not get caught up in the excitement of psychologizing every little thing Tillich ever did or said and allowing him the space to be a human who does not always think before he acts.
In New Hampshire at six years old, I remember watching Rollo May walk to the end of his driveway. He checked his mailbox, at the street across from my house, and then walked out across a field and into the trees. A few years later he died, and his old property remained uninhabited for some time.
I would walk out to the eight-foot by six-foot writing hut in the woods where he'd worked on his books during the summer months. The hut had quickly been reclaimed by the moss, mold, and thicket of all unused natural elements. Its roof had caved in, creating the appearance of having slowly melted into itself. Strewn across the interior remained the shrapnel of his writing craft: a little built-in desk with stub pencils; a well-worn Miriam-Webster, empty notebooks, and randomly flown blank sheets of typewriter paper.
According to my family's oral tradition, May woke up early. He would take a thermos of coffee under his arm and walk out through the woods to his little cabin. If the loons have maintained their constant flight patterns in recent decades, he would have heard great black and white birds flying overhead about a half-hour after sunrise. The loons would have been on their way to feed in the quiet upper lakes, their haunting calls reverberating around the hills around him. May would work into the early afternoon, then pause for lunch and family, perhaps to resume work later in the evening if he could get away.
When Paul Tillich visited Rollo May in New Hampshire, he would likely have accompanied May along the well-worn path to his former student's creative dwelling. From May's account in Paulus, the two men shared active time together in New Hampshire, climbing mountains and sailing. The story goes that May didn't tell his neighbors about Tillich's visits until after Tillich had departed, to the great dismay of the mountain intelligentsia. The local professors and preachers would have likely clamored at the chance to meet Paul Tillich.
The fact that May prized his visits from Tillich-and would have gone to great lengths to defend the quality of their time together-is duly affirmed on every page of his Paulus.
“His words called forth truths in myself that I had vaguely known for years but never dared articulate,” (4) writes a sixty-four year old Rollo May in the early pages of his book. Here at the outset, May begins to explain why he wrote this book, expressing his deep gratitude, deference, and debt to his former teacher. May's words embody what Paul Tillich awakened in him: namely, a courage to articulate; courage to literally embrace anxiety-Tillich urged May as a student to learn everything there is to know about anxiety-and affirm his creative existence.
These are two men extremely well suited for each other. The question of to what extent Tillich influenced May is a recurrent theme in this book. Likewise, any suggestion that May influenced Tillich gave the former the greatest joy. May expresses feeling more honored than he could express by Tillich's apparent statement that The Courage to Be was written as an answer to May's first book, The Meaning of Anxiety (23).
Rollo May had every right to write Paulus. His stature as theologically trained psychotherapist and respected cultural commentator-and his long-standing relationship with Tillich-almost demanded it. But whether he accomplished any of his intended goals through this publication remains debatable.
Among its many purposes, Paulus is clearly a defense of Paul Tillich. Chapters one through four orient us to May's relationship with Tillich and give us a sense of Tillich's childhood, fixing our attention particularly to the dynamics of Tillich's relationship with his mother. Chapters six through eight (and epilogue) comb through aread of Tillich's thought of most interest to May. He focuses on doubt, God, existence, and introduces Tillich's “correlative method” of putting two dissimilar things in conversation with each other and asking questions about their relationship. May closes the book with Tillich's death, legacy, and various additional reflections.
These two groupings-chapters one through four and six through eight-serve as bookends to the fulcrum chapter five. This chapter on Eros is May's main motivation for writing this book. Indeed, the other chapters serve as subordinated vassals to the primary task of presenting and affirming Tillich's relationship with women. “The most difficult if fascinating side of Tillich's life to write about is his love for women and their love for him” (49). May embraces this task with the special verve of one who a pondered a topic for decades, delving into his teacher's ego, deconstructing the compulsions of love, with a special relish only a publically known psychotherapist could perform.
May paints the picture of a man who needed intimacy, required it like an engine requires fuel. But unlike an engine, May never met a woman who didn't cherish her time with Paul Tillich. Women were not consumed in their relationships with Tillich, he contends. “[Women] felt the encounter as one of the most treasured experiences of their lives, and kept it in memory as a mixture of dream and reality which had its own separate existence” (54). Tillich comes through to us a man seeking muses in pursuit of his art, simultaneously improving the lives of his female friends in the process. May takes the reader's doubt and as understandable, but clearly feels he is making a compelling case in favor of Tillich.
In some instances this mutually beneficial relational equation seems plausible. At other times in this chapter, it is difficult not to interpret Tillich's interactions with women-as presented by May-as myopically self-interested. May couches Tillich's behavior in the Oedipal language of latent innate desire; Tillich could not have acted any other way given his childhood and the loss of his mother at a vulnerable developmental moment in his life. His behavior is understood by May as an eternal search for lost mother, underscored by a dream Tillich once recounted to him. In the dream, Tillich's mother is making Tillich dance on a coin. May imbues this dream with profound meaning with implications for Tillich's love life.
But the clearest sense of Tillich's “erotic patterns,” as May labels them, comes through Tillich's own words. We see a transcript of Tillich writing to a woman he loved, musing that “my only hope is that I never violated too much of the principle of agape which transcends even the anatomy of love” (64). It seems Tillich was comforted by this sense of agape, a sense that one would be apt to categorize using the language of sublimation if May didn't report that Tillich hated that word (54). He thought sublimation was Freud's most puritanical concept. Nevertheless, Tillich fully connected the idea of agape to the “work of the holy community.” In his book Love, Power, and Justice (1954), Tillich affirms libido and sexual desire as pathways to God. As with all his work, we see he lived out his questions throughout his life.
May does a good job of explaining why Tillich does not adhere to the American sexual and cultural norms of his day. He interprets it as a rebellion against the bourgeois sexual morality that governed Tillich's boyhood in Germany. May seems to share this openness to non-conformity, accepting the “sensual seduction” that Tillich engaged in with May's fiancé in New York. May reports to the reader he felt no jealousy over the event. At times, Paulus feels like an attempt by May to convince readers of the acceptable internal coherence of his and Tillich's existentially derived understanding of broadly defined agape.
Without much commentary, May offers an account of Tillich trying to strangle his wife, Hannah, after a psychoanalysis session. He offers the account without any reflection on how this must have frightened or affected Hannah, who was no stranger to May. The story merely indicates a man's psychological urge to “kill off the woman to protect one's freedom” (61). From May's inability to explore Hannah as her own unique entity in this story, it's difficult to trust May's limited analytical voice.
But when Tillich's behavior seems most extreme, the existence of that extreme's counterpoint fittingly comes into focus. We see Tillich's concept of agape also caused him great uncertainty. We see an element of doubt crystalized in a later letter to the same woman mentioned above. Tillich wonders, “Was my erotic life a failure or was it a daring way of opening up new human possibilities?” (65). He confesses to her that he doesn't know the answer. May, not surprisingly, affirms the latter possibility. Regardless, the question Tillich poses is brazenly human, and it is hard not to respect a person with that degree of honest and deep self-exploration.
Reminiscing three-and-a-half decades from the first days of the student-teacher friendship he forged with Tillich, May takes Paulus as an opportunity to show how his depth of psychoanalytical vision has developed in the intervening years. He translates vignettes from his own experience with Tillich for a lay audience.
Many of the little stories about Tillich that the average person would note but not dwell on have rich and layered meaning for May. He thinks of them as entry points into his former teacher's inner-world: Tillich on the New Hampshire mountaintop rolling around with a child's delight; Tillich sailing on a lake reminiscing about his father; Tillich walking down the sidewalks of New York taking his acquaintances by the arm and leading them to wherever he was going. May adds the stories to his analysis, having spent much of his life mining the depths of this man's mind, perhaps looking for what in him reacted so strongly to Tillich.
For this reason, Wilhelm and Marion Pauck in their book Paul Tillich: His Life And Thought (1989) rightly refer to Paulus as a ‘memoir’ rather than a biography, due in part to the personal and subjective nature of May's remembrances. By the nature of May's profession, he reflexively uses himself as the subject and Tillich as the object, making it difficult to critique certain aspects of this book (as difficult as it would be to critique someone's diary). Paulus deals less with historical events than it does with an existential interpretation of one man's life.
May returns time and again to the theme of power, and will to power, as a vehicle to explore Tillich's life. Fittingly, the publication of this book, and the latter part of Tillich's career, was set in a Cold War mindset. May notes that the end of Tillich's life overlapped with the beginning of the space age. Tillich explored the implications of widespread reconsideration of our cultural conception of space. All this to say that power is an understandable and appropriate force to consider in conjunction with the meaning of a human life in the era that Tillich lived.
How then did this powerful man affect his students? How did he affect Rollo May? In responding to a glowing birthday toast Tillich once made for him, May reflects that he had often thought through the years whether his life would have turned out differently if he'd never met Paul Tillich. As he ponders this question out loud, I could almost hear the echo of Tillich saying to a young May, …You must know everything about anxiety. If you know one thing completely it serves as a center€then what you learn about anything else will fall into pattern” (23). It's the echo of an true lesson from an intricate, deep intellectual and teacher who, despite his detractors, unquestionably lived a life equal to the depth of the questions he asked.
I could almost, almost understand when May concludes his thought that if he had never met Paul Tillich, he would have probably turned out more or less the same.
Writing of his dear friend, Paulus Tillich, Rollo May offers stories and analysis of a life he considered great, and of a person he obviously deeply admired. While Rollo May does little to humanize Paulus, because he seems to go to the extreme of praising Paulus endlessly, his presentation of him as the teacher, scholar, and lover par excellence is endearing, as well as insightful. Of course, their relationship was more complicated than this brief description can represent, Rollo May's infatuation with Paulus perhaps has much to do with his own professional development and Paulus' support of it. To explicate how willing May is to accommodate Paulus, he is even rid of jealousy when Tillich seduces his fiancé (50). It is scenes such as these that characterize May's biography of Tillich and alert the reader to May's intimate, but likely very biased description of Paul Tillich.
May relies on his own psychoanalytic tools throughout his exploration of Paul Tillich. It is this prevalent methodology that seems to guide his discussion about Tillich's interactions with other people, of which he accounts many. One primary relationship for May is Tillich's relationship to his mother. According to May, this relationship guides all of Tillich's future interactions, but was certainly also a cause for struggle at the same time because his mother was no longer there to center his self-identity (42). Moving forward in his life, this relationship with his mother was what allowed him (and perhaps provoked him) to interact with women the way that he did (43). I find it particularly interesting, despite his psychoanalytic background, that Rollo places so much emphasis on this moment in Tillich's life, since it seems that Tillich was not at a loss for a source to which he could anchor himself with his myriad rich relations.
Tillich's open attitude toward death was also of significance to May. For Tillich, death was interspersed with life, and the two complimented one another (100). This is a position that Rollo May perhaps finds fascinating, and so emphasizes the number of conversations he and Tillich had about the topic and the times he witnessed Tillich's holding of the tension between life and death. May writes, “’This is dying day,’ he said. A mood of sadness comes over me as I write about it now, but also hope and courage. For in his last day Paulus was still the creative teacher in that he showed how a human being may encounter his death.” (104). Even amidst his last breaths, Tillich was for May the exemplary teacher for things beyond scholarly pursuit, integrating his study and his action so perfectly. I find it is this attitude that Paulus was always operating out of a unique place in the world that Rollo May sees most clearly, confirming his own suspicions that Paulus was a particularly special person.
One aspect of Tillich's life that May continues to return to over and over in this work is Tillich's presence with people. It seems that for May this presence was the most important part of Paul and his theology. He cites incidences where Paul grabs him by the arm, having remembered something Rollo had previously said, and makes him discuss the matter further (27). Especially important, too, were Paul's frequent walks along the beach with guests under a number of different circumstances (55). I appreciated in his description of Paulus's presence Rollo's nuanced description of Paulus as being continually torn between the process of self-reflection and intimately engaging with those around him (31). Paul's presence meant so much to Rollo precisely because it pulled something new out of Rollo that he had never before experienced in himself. While I do not negate the significance of this for May, in his presentation of Paulus he seeks to include this same type of interaction with all people Tillich met, even going so far as to say, Paulus' life was the clearest demonstration of eros in action I have ever seen.” (52).
Perhaps because of his presence, May frequently points out that Tillich was a unique person. Not only was his scholarship special in its approach and depth, but the way he conducted himself in the classroom and as a teacher were particularly impressive to May. During the research and writing of May's dissertation on anxiety, May found Tillich to be a demanding teacher, who always expected a little more out of him than he thought he could give. For this, May was grateful in the end (22-23). Beyond the pure scholarship of academics, May also points out that when Tillich spoke, it seemed that he was speaking to each individual in the room (26). This fact is used to show that Tillich had a deep consciousness, and as May discusses this consciousness one gets the sense that May seeks to illustrate the oneness of Tillich's inner and outer world. He writes, for instance, “I used to notice at times how intently he looked at me or at others. It was an X-Ray look, as though he were searching me out-for what? Neither condemning nor approving, he just looked at me as though he realized there were parts of me which he did not yet know.” (31) To be so utterly transparent while also deeply connected to the person(s) in one's midst is a skill not many possess, and May rightly points out the significance of this in both Tillich's professional and personal life.
May also is sure to mention several times that Tillich had proclivity to spend time appreciating nature. According to May, Tillich was sensitive and pondering from an early age (70). As previously mentioned, Tillich often took the opportunity to walk along the beach with guests to his East Hampton home, sharing his love of nature with those around him. In these moments, May juxtaposes what Tillich is experiencing in nature with his inner world. May illustrates through several scenes that for Tillich it was nature that coincided with the powers of being within him. Perhaps, too, Tillich's interactions with nature also point to what May calls his child-likeness, seeing in it exactly the joy and playfulness that he needed to, alongside the deep sorrow (48). Interestingly, May points out that Tillich preferred to live this way, being stretched between two poles, or as Tillich wrote, “on the boundary.” (72). When Tillich was faced with the choice between the poles independence and dependence, he almost always chose independence, which brings me to a brief discussion on May's presentation of his relationships (74).
Finally, Rollo May discusses the great importance of relationships for Tillich. Whether these are with women, colleagues, friends, or Hannah, relationships for Tillich gave him the creative force necessary with which to conduct such a robust life. These relationships are balanced by both the solitude needed to maintain his intense sense of personality and his choice of autonomy. It does not seem that Tillich chose autonomy because he felt he had so much to give; it seems, rather, that he felt that to tie himself to a singular person would limit what he could receive from others. Because of this, he participated in a great number of romantic relationships afforded him by his presence and unique way of seeing a person. May mentions that these many women each contributed something special to Paulus, and as such, never felt they were being deceived by Paulus' engagement with other women (51). Rollo is careful when he discusses Hannah, as his work is written in reaction to her own about her relationship with Paulus, and so it seems that this is one relationship Rollo May leaves to others to analyze, other than noting the friendship he shared with her as well.
Throughout this whole work, May utilizes psychoanalytic discourses on reality and anxiety, and ponders about consciousness, darkness of the soul, and what it means to be human, all seen through the life of Paulus Tillich. His presentation of Paulus makes it seem as if Tillich had perfectly integrated all the moving pieces of his life through his own ability to be uniquely present. He presents Tillich as if in each moment Tillich was able to feel the depth of creation and respond accordingly to the present moment. While the vignettes and philosophical ponderings offer a glimpse into Tillich's world, this work perhaps more closely follows the grief of a dear friend and admirer. For these reasons, May's presentation of Paul Tillich creates out of him a character both infinitely approachable and unapproachable at the same time. While he might have been the particular kind of person who attracted others to him through his charisma, he is also presented as the teacher and person par excellence. May's analysis and reminiscences of Paul Tillich's life and their friendship provide insight into the ways that Tillich's life and thought coincided, but also limited the ways Tillich in which he can be interpreted.
Humans are anxious. Although I cannot assert whether there are some people who are totally free from this proposition mentioned above, Tillich observed and articulated humans' anxiety through his philosophy. In other words, he means that humans are stuck with their finitude as well as, existentially they are afraid of nonbeing: death, despair, or fear of disappearance. Tillich calls it as anxiety. Rollo says that Tillich faced his anxiety from his experience like two wars and immigrants.
It turns that experience of war was a big transition to Tillich. Rollo conveys a story of Tillich,
In World War Ⅰ, his fellow officers were brought in on stretchers, chopped to pieces by gunfire, wounded or dead. That night “absolutely transformed me,” he used to say. “All my friends were among these dying and dead. That night I became an existentialist. From then on he could no longer separate truth from the human being who acts on it.”
His existential life-experience helped him to dive into his inner questions like “Why is there something?” or “Why not nothing?” It becomes the ultimate motive to explore God. It reveals that he began to seek for truth from at the very bottom of his life experience.
Moreover, Tillich desperately faced threat of anxiety through the language barrier as well as lived out ambiguity as an immigrant. He was an object of derision for students in his class. Rollo witnesses, “Most the students indeed were not used to hearing a German professor lecture, no matter how eminent.”  Although he already had the reputation in his field as a German professor, he must have felt to be denied not only his fame but also himself as a being. It would lead him to face the threat of nonbeing. It is easy to assume that he was existentially experiencing his philosophical concerns such as anxiety and ambiguity. Thus, I assert that without understanding his life context, nobody can wade through Tillich's philosophy, or thought.
For me, his philosophical concepts, like anxiety and ambiguity, are more fascinating than concepts of other theologians. This is because I can identify my anxious life with Tillich's life. Following him, I can confront with my anxiety and accept its threat as something natural, as well as I can travel toward God likewise Tillich searched for Being itself.
I think, however, Tillich's philosophy is hard to avoid criticism by conservative Christian tradition. Tillich's philosophy is not easy to obtain universality concerning God. This is attributed to the reason that Tillich's philosophy is originated from his own specific and existential context. According to Rollo, “For Tillich, man in his questioning is the beginning, and then God. Though he often soared high in his writing about spirit, he always identified himself with man as his basis.”  He always developed thought from humans to Universe like his Systematic Theology's order in the method. Hence, his philosophical analysis is a process from concreteness to universality.
One thing I can grasp in the reading is that he tried to be honest about his existential issues. That is, at least he was not a person who fell under self-deception concerning his existential themes. His private life is a good example of this. According to Rollo, he explains Tillich's private life as Tillich's friend,
He often appears superficially insincere, but he is also unable to deceive others on any profound level. Hence the complications of Paulus' affective life led, paradoxically, to his extraordinary degree of psychological honesty.
Here, it is worth to think how Tillich thinks his Eros following the author. Rollo indeed analyzes Tillich's desire through psychological method. First of all, Tillich's pursuit of knowledge resulted from the refuted sexual desire.
His energy as a small boy was thus shifted from sex to knowledge. This is not a difficult jump, since the two are already so richly related in myth and literature. He was always greatly intrigued by the Garden of Eden myth and often spoke of the identification of sex and knowledge in the story of Adam and Eve. Here the attainment of sexual knowledge is used as a kind of synonym for the gaining of all knowledge. 
Furthermore, Rollo interpreted that Tillich tried to make intimate relationships up the deficiency as a compensation for not being accepted by his mother. In other words, since the death of his mother, his sexual desire had been rejected. Indeed, “His early sexual development seemed to have been delayed, as well as Paulus was to approach women with confidence that testified to his feeling successful acceptance in the arms of his mother.”
However, although Tillich was sincere in his desire to make up the loss time as Rollo mentioned, it is not enough to justify his intimate relationship with women who are not a wife. Their relationship is not easy to be regarded as an equal and fair affair because it is not certain that the women were as existentially honest as Tillich did. It is bound to that problem usually happens when thoughts are translated into behavior. In a thinking level, it is not possible to judge ethical propriety from Rollo May's psychological interpretation concerning Tillich's love. Nevertheless, it has important implications for us in the ambiguous context. Although Rollo May concluded that Tillich's behavior was a way of opening up a new human possibility, it might be possible only when all people define what is love exactly. It also might be an improbably happy end.
Finally, Rollo presents that Tillich's philosophy was not an eternal truth but reaction to his period. Rollo cited Tillich's word, “I am determined to much by the present Kairos.”  It might be a humble expression that he tried to answer to the present era. Nevertheless, Tillich's philosophy opens a new meaning in the present era. If we do not learn from him, we might be shut up in prison of outdated thought, and it will end blocking up a new possibility of our era. Thus, likewise the author predicted, I strongly agree with the mention that “Tillich will be rediscovered and revalued as the thinker who does authentically speak to human beings and their condition.”  I think there are two benefits when we meet Tillich's thoughts.
Firstly, the one reason Tillich's thought is meaningful is that it offers a valuable wisdom to the theologies that deal with human experience because his theology usually causes from his life concerns like anxiety and ambiguity. I think, unfortunately, Western metaphysical theology has not empathized enough with humans who existentially suffered from hardship. In other words, the traditional theology has focused on God's transcendence over humans only by highlighting God's grace. Although it was successful to obtain a God's glorious achievement, relatively it failed to consider human existence in a terrible predicament. We need a theology that reacts to our situation. I believe Tillich's existential thought is pretty well penetrating through our situation.
Secondly, Tillich had predicted the arrival of the era which does not point only one standard. According to the author, “We are moving into a new polytheism”  Accordingly, Tillich tried to use art as symbols so that we can participate in reality. It indicates that he profoundly understand a new type of polytheism. For example, many Christian people warn about dangers when some people are saying, “Salvation will be found in some other way or at some other place than in Jesus Christ.”  I think those who are stuck with the doctrine of salvation can get arrogant although they say such and such about God's salvation. They seem to possess the authority of salvation and judge other religion, other tradition and other people who have a different background. I think people are experiencing this ambiguity of life more than ever before. People ceaselessly try to find the meaning of life as long as they live in this ambiguous situation. Tillich was a person who faced life-ambiguity such kind of a new polytheism as well as eagerly tried to answer the life question. I do not think Tillich cast quick answer to our ultimate concerns. Nevertheless, I strongly believe he invites us so that we set out on a life journey to be courageous.
May, Rollo, Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship (New York; Harper&Row, Publishers, 1973), 18.
I begin this review with an overview of May's content as he presents it. I then offer an in-depth overview of its content followed by critique of key shortcomings. I conclude in the spirit of May's self-disclosing, psychoanalytic manner (as an explicit nod of gratitude and honor to May for his contribution) by briefly offering self-disclosure of my own interior psychological response to the work and its presentation of the man, Paulus Tillich.
As Paul Tillich's student and close personal friend, Rollo May is uniquely positioned to offer a biography of “Paulus' fascinating life” (vii). As a brilliant and influential existential psychotherapist, he is not only uniquely positioned but uniquely equipped for precisely this biography. Tillich's life provides rich soil from which to draw such a biography, and the nature and content of Tillich's thought both justify and necessitate a biography with a distinctively psychological orientation. May wisely prepares the reader for a biography replete with autobiographical elements, saying, “this book turns out to be about two men, Paulus and me,” (ibid.). I noticed this in the preface after finishing the book and felt relieved that he had included such a note, as I found myself somewhat surprised at the degree to which his inserted autobiographic elements into the book. This may otherwise have seemed a significant intrusion of the author's own life and a diversion from Tillich's life.
The book provides a wide-ranging description of the man, husband, scholar, friend, lover, theologian, professor, and conflicted human being that was Paulus Tillich. His chapters cover three primary aspects of Tillich's life: personality, theology, and psychological. May moves in characteristically poetic language from visual descriptions of his first encounter with Tillich in a dormitory hallway to psychological analysis of Tillich's sensual drives to the interior tensions of his joyful and depressive personality. May is honest about Tillich's angst and about controversial aspects of his lifestyle, yet it is clear throughout the text that May is not only a grateful student and a dear friend but also an adoring fan; May clearly loves Tillich deeply. This subjective adoration presents itself as both a great strength and a potential liability in the text.
May's chapters flow between the personal, psychological, and theological with what strikes me as an unplanned ease. The three themes overlap often, and he illustrates them richly with anecdote and autobiographical disclosure. He begins with the autobiographical first encounter with Tillich which sets the tone as the rest of the book as one of non-defensive, honest adoration. He notes Tillich's pronunciation difficulties, for instance, while exulting that “I had been waiting all my life for someone to speak out as he did” (p. 4). He cites, particularly, Tillich's highly emotive facial expressions during lectures, how Tillich ranged between “agony and joy” (ibid.) with an authenticity that always mirrored “his inner, personal commitment to what he was saying” (p. 26). May discloses vulnerability of Tillich's ego while simultaneously initiating the reader into the growing intimacy of their relationship in rehearsing that he sent Tillich a personal note of encouragement after seeing “the pain…and indeed the suffering on his face” when students laughed at his linguistic slips. Indeed, May seems proud that Tillich received the note with gratitude (p. 6), and this is our initiation into the growing intimacy between student and teacher, who become close friends.
He jumps with no apparent transition from the very personal tone of the first chapter into the more cognitive analysis of Tillich's thinking - specifically his view of reason - in the second chapter. He celebrates Tillich's “ecstatic reason” as described in the first volume of his systematic theology as “reason grasped by ultimate concern” and “overpowered, invaded, shaken” (p. 12). But May does not remain detached or impersonal in this analysis. The self-disclosure continues with May asserting that he can relate to Tillich's response to his childhood climate of anti-intellectualism, as May's own father had blamed his sister's psychotic break on “too much education” (p. 13). To May, Tillich's thought had an “all-embracing quality” which he relates to the experience of watching fog obscure and reveal the expansive clarity and “vastness” of standing on Mt. Washington, in May's native New Hampshire (pp. 16-17). He notes Tillich's rigor as a doctoral director together with the emphasis on creativity, an emphasis which even fosters what could be seen as laxity in Tillich's response to May skipping most of his classes (other than Tillich's) for an entire year (p. 21).
This section flows naturally into the third chapter on Tillich's “personal presence” (p. 25). Here we see May's adoration clearly. He views himself as occupying a veritable “John-the-Baptist role” to Tillich as a figurative Christ (p. 25). He lauds Tillich as a radically authentic person with “emotions always showing” to the degree that despite the previously noted embarrassment at linguistic slips, Tillich “never tried to hide his embarrassment or blushing or discomfort” (30). He conveyed a sense of direct personal connection to each individual in a lecture (p. 26) and an eminently gracious disposition even toward “silly” questions (p. 27). This was characteristic of his strong sense of “presence” and “the intensity of his concentration on whoever was with him” (p. 28). This intensity, May describes with the erotic language of absorption, ecstasy, and even penetration (pp. 28-29). It resulted in a personal presence that could even be intense to a problematic degree (pp. 31-33). Tillich's intensity was beautiful and powerful, but one “cannot have peak experience all the time” (p. 33), May admits, and Tillich thankfully also loved solitude and spread his emotionally weighty presence around.
This would be a natural segue to the chapter on Tillich's erotic disposition. However, May first sets the stage for this important and difficult matter by locating the source of vital Tillichian personality traits to his early childhood, his relationship to his mother and her death when he was 17 years old, certainly, but also the Oedipal conflict with his father (p. 79). He cites the conservative Lutheran sexuality of Tillich's upbringing as fostering a repressed Oedipal sexuality which fostered delayed sexual development (p. 39). May takes the poem he wrote at the time of his mother's death (p. 41) as paradigmatic of Tillich's psychological tension and sensual drive. Ever after Tillich's erotic path is that of “seeking his mother” (p. 56), despite May's having previously couched Tillich's apparent sexual liberation from a repressive upbringing as “making up for lost time” (p. 39).
The chapter on Eros follows directly on the loss of his mother. While the two chapters cover significantly different periods of Tillich's life, the connection is unmistakable in May's analysis. He prefaces this chapter almost defensively, saying “whatever I write will be misunderstood” (p. 49). The facts at risk of “misunderstanding” include that Tillich had sexual relations with numerous women, viewed and read pornography (p. 63), engaged in sadism of an undisclosed nature (p. 62), once almost strangled his wife (p. 61), and “often went to talk” with prostitutes (p. 63). All of this was, in some fashion, cloaked in “secrecy,” which was an “essential trait of Paulus' erotic life” (p. 55). May interprets this non-judgmentally and quotes Tillich as seeing one of his paramours as “representing the divine voice” (53). This is consonant with May's observation that “one of the qualities with which he endows eros, and the loved woman, is the capacity to constitute him as a being.” (53). May argues that Tillich was “psychologically incapable of investing his love openly and completely in the one woman whom he married” (p. 58). He interprets this as primarily a consequence of mother's death and the fact that he could thereafter never achieve his autonomy from her despite his various displaced efforts, which included “going off with his bachelor friends” on his wedding night (p. 58). May also notes Tillich's inner turmoil over these lifestyle choices and the harm it does to his wife and children (p. 60).
The following sections deal with May's interpretation of Tillich's experience of “The Agony of Doubt,” by which it appears that May refers to the various tensions and vulnerabilities of Tillich's “life on the boundary” (p. 72). These tensions included the tension between theology and philosophy, intellectual heteronomy and autonomy, between “intellectuals and the proletariat” (p. 73), and logic and emotion (p. 80). These are typified in his experience of “the abyss,” which May defines as “creative chaos which transcends values” (p. 69). It is, apparently, in this creative chaos that Tillich's theology was able to take a radical departure from traditionally orthodox conceptions of God as a highest being - by which God “appears as the invincible tyrant” (p. 87). Chapter 7 presents May's understanding of Tillich's theology of God as the ground of being. May shares his own experience of feeling “a wave of freedom” as well as “a wave of anxiety” (pp. 88-89) at Tillich's theology of God as “being itself” (p. 87). May affirms that Tillich is not a pantheist but aligns Tillich with “a new polytheism” which May claims that “Paulus would have called…’heteronomy’” (p. 93). He illustrates the new polytheism with a description of his own practice of meditation, and links this with “Courage to Be” (p. 97). In the final chapter, “Today Is Dying Day,” May shares how this courage played out in Tillich's final days. He depicts this consistently, with Tillich meeting his end as a complex, brilliant, and courageous individual who “showed how a human being may encounter his death” (p. 104).
May has provided a valuable portrait of Tillich. His unique view of Tillich proves valuable to a holistic understanding of the man. His psychological insight interprets Tillich for the reader openly, honestly, reflecting Tillich's great heights and depths of emotion in its rigorous handling of Tillich's brilliance, passion, turmoil, and humanity. Here Tillich is not merely as an intellectual giant. Nor is he a philandering heretic. Here he is almost a father and clearly a revered friend and mentor. Any reader of Tillich's theology would benefit from exposure to May's interpretation of Tillich. Yet May's radically subjective approach, one of deep intimacy, may contribute to significant problems as well.
First, there is the problem of May's proximity to the matter at hand. While this is an asset in that the reader gains intimate first-person accounts of Tillich's personality and life, it is a liability in that May seems too invested in Tillich to provide even a modicum of distanciation in his accounts. He loves Tillich, clearly, and a discerning reader cannot help but wonder how this distorts the vision of Tillich provided. Granted, all accounts of anything come from an embedded location that necessarily influences the perception and transmission of information. This is no different, but it is herein exacerbated by the frequency and degree of elaboration of May's autobiographical elements. Much of this book is not about Tillich at all but is manifestly about May. How then can the reader disentangle her/himself from May to behold Tillich? This is unclear to me, and the text does little to disambiguate the two.
Second, as a therapist with psychodynamic training, I cannot help but notice that Tillich himself had only a brief experience of psychoanalysis. Thus any analytic interpretations of his life must be, in my opinion, tentative and exploratory at best. May's interpretations make sense and present as viable hypotheses. However, in light of the degree to which May adores Tillich and inserts himself into the narrative, it is crucial to inquire about the degree to which the reader is observing the phenomenon of psychological transference (placing May on the couch) and counter-transference (with May in the therapist's chair). Since May occupies both positions in such a biography, and since he is radically non-objective, there can be no answer to this question, and his interpretations must be understood only in this light. Moreover, May presents Tillich variously as a giant among men and a tortured, needy soul. This presentation fails to note the mundane, the boring, and the ordinary. To the degree that this contention is accurate, the narrative is borderline in its presentation and therefore of questionable accuracy as a holistic picture of the man.
Third, May's presentation of Tillich lacks cohesive structure. I have summarized the primary categories of his content as psychology, theology, and personality, and I believe this accurately captures the work. However, May did not provide this structure. His structure is an entangled, eclectic assemblage of anecdotes, biographical references, first person observations, letters, second person observations, and theological analyses. The book as a whole lacks cohesive flow, and the individual chapters reflect this tendency as well.
Fourth, I cannot dismiss the supposition that May minimizes the essentially sexual character of his behaviors in favor of a glossed-over eroticism. His mention of sadism, prostitutes, pornography, and the soteriological conception of his erotic need and satisfaction begs for a deeper analysis, particularly in light of its effect upon his relationship to his wife and children. I would need a more explicit defense of his choices and/or a much more deeply probing explanation of their root motivation in order to experience the sort of empathy and acceptance from which May seems to write. As it is presented, and with professional knowledge of sexual addiction, I find myself confident that May's treatment is inadequate in this regard.
Finally, May's understanding of some key points and themes in Tillich's theology strikes me as questionable. For instance, May understands Tillich's idea of heteronomy as polytheism: “Paulus would have called the new polytheism ‘heteronomy,’ meaning many norms, or many pointers in different directions” (p. 93). Tillich, however, upholds theonomy as the solution to the conflict between autonomy and heteronomy. Similarly, May defines Tillich's conception of “the abyss” as “a realm of creative chaos which transcends values” (p. 69), which may have relevance if referring to a primordial mh on, the non-being of potentiality, but bears little resemblance to Tillich's use of abyss in volume one of his Systematic Theology. And May writes concerning the idea of “God above God„ that “to me this means that man's concept of God is continually changing; it is flexible, dynamic, always ‘in process’” (pp. 89-90), but Tillich does not envision the ground of being (God) as “continually changing.” Due to space limitations these brief observations must suffice to illustrate May's surprisingly haphazard use of key theological terms.
I find myself strangely conflicted as I read May's excellent overview of Tillich's life, thought, and personality. The conflict tangentially involves his theology, which I am still exploring and considering. With Tillich I understand God as the ground of being and being itself, but I am unsure if it is necessary to dismiss God's agency and whether that is even possible while remaining within the historic Christian faith. Certainly the tension Tillich's theology causes within the flow of orthodox Christian confession and constructively disturbs my inner being with its veiled threat to expose my concern as sub-ultimate. However, more central to my experience of tension is May's description of the sexual choices Tillich made and his sense of non-monogamous, erotically constructed identity. I find this troubling, to say the least. It is troubling not least of all because it strikes me as a curable ill. He harmed his wife and children by his desperate search for meaning and psychological integrity in the erotic and sexual demand for self-affirmation and (likely) an addiction to his own intoxicating effect upon women. His abortive foray into his own analysis betrays the depth of his dysfunction, and a more wholehearted engagement could have led him to the self-actualization needed for healthier relationships by addressing the Oedipal roots, the possible PTSD and sexual addiction. Tillich may have “won the Oedipal conflict” between himself and his father (p. 79) as May claims, but it seems likely that he failed to find it lastingly between himself and himself.
That being said, the central locus of my own experience of tension and turmoil in reading May's account is my own intra-psychic conflict. Despite my judgment (which I offer as a confession of my inadequate empathy, grace, and mercy), I am jealous of Tillich. I have often fantasized about having the animal magnetism and naturally vivacious personality described in this book. To hear that he had this effect upon women exacerbates my own sense of inadequacy, highlighting my own unresolved issues. In this way, May has re-opened a deep wound, one that never closes well or for long. It is one that requires attention, and for this I am grateful to May and consider his effect upon me a gift from God.
are akin to portraits painted by artists which differ in style following the
perspective of the artist. Paulus: The Reminiscences of a friendship,
represents an attempt by Rollo May, a distinguished psychoanalyst, to tell
the story of Paul Tillich, undoubtedly one of the most outstanding
theologians of the Twentieth Century. It would not be surprising then that
the tone and technique of this brief biography of Tillich follows the
perspective and instruments of the author’s own specialty.
Pauck (1976 ) who gives a more elaborate and vivid account of Tillich’s
life ranging from his early school days, university study, training for the
ministry, his appointment as professor at Marburg, Dresden and Frankfurt
etc., May’s account is rather episodic, a reminiscence of a friendship as
the subtitle indicates . In eight short chapters, the book tries to cover
Tillich’s life from his early boyhood days in a small village in Eastern
Germany to his death in 1965.
begins with the author’s first meeting with Tillich in a corridor of one of
the buildings of New York’s Union Theological Seminary. In a phantomlike
encounter with the author, Tillich is described as a bewildered man with a
remarkable personality (1). The chapter goes on to recount Tillich’s early
life in a “small rustic walled town in Eastern Germany where his father had
been the Lutheran minister” (7). It concludes with Tillich’s emigration to
New York in 1933 following his dismissal from his university professorship
by the Nazis.
examines Tillich’s thought. Tillich is depicted as a man of
ecstatic/transcendent reason, whose logic is grounded on the belief that
“everything that exists is related in profound dimensions to everything
else” (14). As a philosopher, Tillich’s style places him in line with the
ancient Greek philosopher—Aeschylus, Sophocles, Phillias; but the content of
his philosophy is similar to the archaic Greek philosophers such as
Heraclitus, Empedocles and Parmenides. While his encyclical way of thinking
is connected to the ‘circle’ culture of ancient Greece. Thus in Tillich’s
thinking everything comes back, from the depths of the abyss as well as the
heights of ecstasy, to fit everything else” (15)
existentialist for whom truth is not unconnected to the human condition, the
everyday questions of life and existence can only find meaning in theology,
hence Tillich’s method of correlation (81). His encyclopedic mind and his
comprehensive grasp of history spanning from the ancient Greek period
through the Middle Ages to the period of the Renaissance is remarkable
(16-17). Tillich’s personal presence is taken up in chapter three. As an
educator/ lecturer, Tillich was a charismatic and charming personality who
endeavored to make sense out of what otherwise would seem a silly comment
from an audience. Taking his audience for a “creative communion” he sought
and respected their views. His poor grasp of English was neither a stumbling
block to him nor the students who flocked to attend his lectures. At the
level of personal relationships Tillich would attend completely to the
other, value their opinion and unearthed previously unknown potentials in
them. In a word, Tillich had an intense presence resulting from his ability
to unsympathetically accept the negative aspects of none being and from his
“The Death of his Mother”, chapter four paradoxically dwells more on
Tillich’s relationship with his mother as an infant. Tillich is depicted as
one whose Oedipus complex, and complex relationship with his mother had a
strong influence on his sexual life “ He planned as a small boy to marry
this woman he adored, and while it is common for children to want to marry
their parent of opposite sex, Paulus maintained the assumption deeper and
longer than most” (38). Thus the death of Tillich’s mother was more than a
great bereavement; it was a profound abandonment and a betrayal.
five analyses Tillich’s attractiveness to women and vice versa. Depicted as
a lovable man with a combination of spiritual and sensuous charms, women
were attracted to Tillich. While sexual libido was a possible dimension of
Tillich’s relationship with women, the driving force behind such
relationships was not sex, rather it was Eros or Esteem. Like a creeping
plant, Eros and Agape love grow and extend to others (52)
looks at Tillich’s life as a “boundary personality”. By choice and by fate,
Tillich lived “on the boundaries”. By choice, he lived on the boundary
between thought and experience, theology and philosophy, the intellectual
and the proletariat, heteronomy and autonomy. While by fate he lived on the
political boundary as an émigré.
seven appraises Tillich’s concept of God. For Tillich, God does not exist;
he is being itself beyond essence and existence. If he is existence, he
cannot be essence. God is not a being beside other beings and is neither
above nor below. To this end, Tillich is portrayed as a radical thinker who
like Spinoza would be seen as one who upsets the inherited beliefs of
conventional people (88). The chapter also highlights a critique by
Alexander McKelway, a Barthian who argues that Tillich’s revelation of God
in Christ is rather inconsistent. But the author uncritically makes a case
for Tillich on grounds that Tillich’s theology is more ‘inclusivist’
eight logically concludes with Tillich’s death and the circumstances that
surrounded it. For Tillich, life and death are two sides of the same coin.
They are so interrelated that death is inevitable. Death is the ultimate
symbol of finiteness, of which weakness and illness are lesser symbol”
(100). An acceptance of this fact leads to greater joy in life. The chapter
concludes with a long winding address of the author on the occasion of
Tillich’s 1966 memorial service in New York.
strength of the book is at the same time its weakness namely; its
psychoanalytic approach. On the one hand, the approach shows how a
psychoanalyst sees, remembers and presents a friend to the reading public.
On the other hand, in an attempt to idealize a friend, the overall picture
of the friend loses clarity of outline. While psychoanalyses serve the
purpose of interpretation, it also drowns the concrete person in an ocean of
ideas and types resulting in a kind of contradiction.” When he was small,
one may assume he had much sexual energy, as he did at every later stage of
his life”. “He was genuinely devoted to the sensual in life by contrast with
the sexual. He left the woman very much attached to him; consequently there
were over the country a growing number of them who carried a torch for
Tillich. Most of them kept it faithfully lit, like solveig in peer Gynt, and
prized it in their secret hearts. A few resented the ‘unfinished business’
and would have preferred carrying love through to some culmination” (51).
would leave the reader wondering whether it is a biography of Tillich or an
autobiography of May. The impression is that of a self-centered friend who
perhaps for conscience sake tries to pay tribute to the great Guru by
contradictorily denying the guru’s importance to his career. “I said I had
often wondered how I would have turned out if I had never met Paulus. And I
found myself saying that I thought I would have turned out about the same”
effort to express the essence of Tillich’s thought, the author from time to
time takes the reader into a world of sketchy neo-platonic ideas leaving the
reader rather confused. When compared with From Time to Time (1973),
Hannah Tillich’s recollection of her life with Tillich, her husband one
realizes that both authors from their own perspective express a sense of
deep love and loyalty to the one whom they remember. However, Hannah is more
elaborate. From a sense of wounded pride she concretely recounts the life of
Tillich from the depths of human relationship. While May’s work which
borrows from Hannah’s work, from time to time gets into theoretical
abstraction thereby losing the close touch of life. Could this be accounted
for in the difference between a wife who is an artist and a friend who is
As one of
the early biographies of Paul Tillich, the book is important for its
psychoanalytic approach to the subject aside which many may wonder why the
book was written. But certainly the world cannot be poorer, nor book shelves
overloaded by a book in which one dear friend reminisces about another!
Rollo May’s brief book about his relationship with Paul
Tillich reveals more about May than Tillich. The great theologian is
presented through the bedazzled eyes of the acolyte. Admitting his passion
for the spirit of the ancient Greeks, May begins by proclaiming that in
Tillich, “I sensed a direct line from the eminent figures of ancient Greece
– Aeschylus, Sophocles, Phidias – down to Paulus himself” (14). At the end,
in a eulogy for Tillich, May likens Tillich’s death to that of Socrates. In
short, Tillich is May’s hero and the book is a labor of love.
May provides vignettes of Tillich mentoring May,
sharing leisure with May, seducing May’s fiancé (an act May oddly regards as
complimentary), and otherwise being of great importance to May. Although
May’s text depicts Tillich reciprocating May’s friendship, it does not
appear that dependency and love were mutual in intensity or priority.
Tillich was May’s salvation: “I felt I had been waiting all my life for
someone to speak out as he did. His words called forth truths in myself that
I had known vaguely for years but never dared articulate” (4). Tillich’s
salvation lay elsewhere.
May admits hero-worshipping Tillich. In a 1974
interview with Elliott Wright, for “Christian Century,” May claimed that
outrage greeting his book arose from “anger that one should present a man as
a hero” (“Paul Tillich as Hero: An Interview with Rollo May,” 1974). May
acknowledges he wrote Paulus as an “admiring student” who “may not be
the most objective judge of a teacher.” He declared unapologetically: “I’m
not afraid to admire Paul Tillich. He has been my spiritual father. I
learned from him and loved him. Strangely that seems to enrage many people.”
May notes in Paulus that Tillich swore “eternal
enmity” (62) against hero-worship that excluded the hero’s humanity.
Nonetheless May repeatedly minimizes and psychologizes the great man’s human
freedom and frailties. This is especially true when May ventures into
Tillich’s Eros and sexual behavior. For May, ‘Eros’ did not mean sex. Rather
it was the most important daimon (“little god”) of life’s basic motivational
constructs, according to May’s psychology. In Tillich, May saw “the clearest
demonstration of Eros in action I have ever seen” (52). That Eros was “a
pull toward a higher state, an allure of new forms, new potentialities, new
nuances of meaning, in promise if not in actuality” (52). May asserts that
Tillich’s Eros generally excluded physicality.
May presents Tillich as compulsively driven toward
erotic encounters and compares him throughout to Göethe’s Faust. Yet May
consistently maintains that Tillich sought sensual, not sexual, encounters
in his many relationships with women. May presents women as incapable of
resisting Tillich’s “intense presence,” which “was the source of his
capacity to penetrate the woman with his eyes and voice, to a depth below
that in which she had always looked at herself” (29). Tillich’s alleged
mental and emotional penetration of women elevated the great man, and
bespoke his ontological approach to the erotic, according to May. His implication
is that Tillich penetrating women in the base act of physical intercourse was
For a renowned psychologist, May’s attitudes towards
women and physical sexual relations seem disturbed. Despite denying physical
intimacy in most of Tillich’s relationships with women, May notes that
“bodily contact seemed terribly important” (55) to Tillich. Apparently May
distinguishes between physical intimacy and intercourse while asserting that
Tillich’s liaisons with women, with few exceptions, were sensual rather than
sexual. This seems a stretch given May’s comments that Tillich’s erotic
pursuits were “compulsive” (36), driven by a need for physical contact, and
the source of “considerable tension about the guilt and other difficulties
[his] erotic patterns brought upon him” (64). Seemingly May is as bedeviled
by sexuality as Tillich. He tolerates, even honors, his hero seeking “the warm glow” of passion in
his numerous, intimate, encounters with women, but not its “physical
actuality” (55). Even Tillich’s frequent visits to prostitutes, May says,
were pursued for conversation not “explicit sexual experience” (63).
In the preface to Paulus, May states he will do
justice to Tillich by limiting his text to areas “in which our lives
overlapped” and “intermingled” (vii). Almost immediately May crosses this
self-imposed boundary. He assumes the role of apologist and third-party
psychoanalyst of Tillich, particularly when it comes to Tillich’s sexual
life. Yet May did not participate in Tillich’s erotic encounters. In fact,
that area of Tillich’s life was uniquely veiled and beyond May’s access as
the single area in which Tillich demanded and maintained secrecy: “Secrecy
was another essential trait of Paulus’ erotic life. … Secrecy surrounded the
whole area” (55). May’s observations regarding Tillich’s erotic needs and
encounters are seemingly suspect ab initio pursuant to May’s own
criterion—his non-participation in that area of Tillich’s life. And they
are rendered largely speculative by virtue of Tillich’s insistent secrecy.
Hannah Tillich, in her book, From Time to Time
(1973), released weeks prior to publication of Paulus, presents a
very different picture of Tillich’s erotic life. She describes Tillich’s
sexual behavior in lurid detail and dreadfulness that often smacks of
wounded vengeance presenting its own credibility issues. May does not
comment on Hannah’s book in Paulus. He always denied rushing his
book to publication to counteract Hannah’s From Time to Time. The
reality seems otherwise.
In the “Christian Century” interview, May admitted
reading a proof of Hannah’s book in the summer of 1972, and trying to
persuade her not to publish it. He further acknowledged that he was
persuaded to publish Paulus to “provide two versions of Paul
Tillich.” To discredit Hannah’s effort, May asserted that although he was a
biased “admiring student …a wife is considerably less reliable.”
May’s reliability and intentions are suspect as he
ignores his own boundaries, straining to diffuse Tillich’s eroticism and
deny that Tillich sought physical sexual gratification. The clearest example
of this comes when May acknowledges that Tillich’s relations with women could
and did at times become angry and sadistic. May rushes to drain sadism of its heft,
consigning it to psychology and philosophy, and distancing it from the realm
of behavior. Ultimately, May’s idealized construct of Tillich’s sexuality
and eroticism, as ontological Eros, is unconvincing.
The real question then is not whether Tillich pursued
and consummated erotic encounters, but why Rollo May, the preeminent
existential psychotherapist of his day, is so intent to deny his hero
carnality and flesh. Why would consummation in Tillich’s affairs threaten
May’s affair with Tillich? Perhaps May answers the question himself: “In
dealing with people like Paulus, we tend to slide back into the assumption
that with the removal of a few minor aberrations, the worshipped person
would fit our ideal and could then be worshipped without contradiction. …Our
need to worship overcomes our respect for truth” (62). May constructs an
image of Tillich’s sexual conduct that, whether accurate in some respects or
not, likely removes some not too minor aberrations, allowing May to worship
Tillich “without contradiction.”
Among the Greeks May idolized, Socrates was morally
unambiguous, a paradigm of virtue and fidelity for generations. Göethe’s
Faust, to whom May also compares Tillich, is quite another matter. Although May ignores the ambiguity of Faust, his
analogy opens a window to important truths about Tillich, even as May clings
inside to the sill. Göethe’s Faust is a man “petrified” by his study of
philosophy, jurisprudence, medicine, and (most ironic) “worst of all,
Wolfgang von Göethe, Göethe’s Faust; tr. Walter Kaufmann (New
York: Anchor Books, 1990), 93). Faust makes a pact with the devil, Mephistopheles, who in
Job-like fashion obtained permission from God to meddle with Faust. Mephisto
grants Faust “more than any man has seen before” (183), in exchange
for Faust’s soul.
Göethe’s Faust is a decidedly ambiguous figure
straddling the polarities of tragedy and comedy while storming through life
with impunity. He sates his lust, acquisitiveness, hunger for power,
knowledge and passion – through rape, murder, and piracy. He burns the home
of an elderly couple because they refused to sell it to him. He is
hedonistic, repugnant, amoral, and unrepentant. In his vilest act he
destroys Gretchen, the 14 year-old virgin whom he seduced and impregnated.
Then, in a conclusion reviled by some and praised by others, Faust is saved,
redeemed even, by his victim Gretchen.
The comparison of Tillich to Göethe’s Faust, which May
suggests originated with Tillich himself, is tepid in May’s hands:
Paulus had an identification with Faust that deeply
involved his emotions. Both were devoted to power of knowledge. Both
were giants. … Both experienced a great deal of sensuality along the
way, we have seen this in Paulus’ life, and his guilt about it. He often
acted, indeed, as though he had sold his soul to Mephistopheles, a guilt
he consciously admitted. In such avowals, I suggest, his logic came to
the rescue and protection of his undeveloped emotional involvement (May
May fails to acknowledge Faust’s complexity and
ambiguity. He ignores Faust’s (and Tillich’s) depravity and
self-centeredness. Nonetheless, by invoking Faust, May provides the reader
with an opportunity to know Tillich beyond May’s construct.
Tillich’s compulsive quests for knowledge, perfection
in thought, and intimacy with women (whatever that actually entailed)
damaged and hurt others. He neglected his children, acquired and abandoned
women, and caused his wife pain. Tillich was often wracked by guilt about
his erotic life (as reflected in letters Tillich wrote to certain women) and
questioned whether it was ultimately a failure. He emerges, like Faust after
his compact with Mephistopheles, as unrestrained in his appetites, craving
experience, knowledge, perfection in thought, and intimacy generally and
with women particularly. Tillich is a man capable of great love and great
anger, stirred by tragedy and the depths of the “abyss,” and eager to cavort
upon the heights of ecstatic reason grasped by ultimate concern. He
traverses the polarities of chaos and cosmos, perpetual angst and
adjustment, dynamic peace and a tormented spirit, sensuality and sexuality,
tenderness and sadism, ecstasy and depression, secrecy and openness, logic
and emotions, anxiety and courage, good and evil, etc. Like Faust, Tillich’s
adult life is a tragic “quest to be saved by Gretchen, as Göethe puts it, or
by ‘the mothers’” (Göethe 57). Or, as May concludes, by his mother.
Tillich’s life, as presented by May, consists of
innumerable polarities that both exhaust Tillich and bring ecstasy. By some
reckonings, Faust spends his life exploring and exhausting polar opposites
that are never resolved. It is not surprising that polarities are the
foundation of Tillich’s Systematic Theology. It is surprising that
the psychologist May does not explore whether the polarities at the
foundation of Tillich’s life and work, which he clearly presents, are not
also profoundly part of Tillich’s constitution, as some form of bi-polar
illness. Possibly Tillich’s plunges into the abyss, and ascents to ecstasy,
were more than intellectually or situationally determined.
Paulus is an interesting read, especially when
considered along with Hannah Tillich’s From Time to Time. For what it
is worth, my guess is that the truth about Paul Tillich’s eroticism likely
lies in the space between Hannah Tillich’s and Rollo May’s accounts,
probably nearer the shore of From Time to Time. Although May claims
to write about the friendship between himself and Tillich, Paulus is
best viewed as autobiographical, with Tillich as May’s stage and set. More
truth about Tillich will come from reading Göethe’s Faust.
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