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Book Review

Paulus: Tillich as a Spiritual Teacher. Rollo May. New York: Saybrook, 1988. 124 pages.

Review by Jeehyun Baek

Review by Jeehyun Baek

As Paul Tillich's student and close friend, in Paulus: Tillich as Spiritual Teacher, Rollo May attempts to describe Tillich to the reader as he was to May himself: a great teacher and spiritual father. The first edition of this book was published in the same year, several weeks after Tillich's wife, Hannah Tillich, published her autobiography, From Time to Time. It was published out of a concern that the audience may recognize Tillich just as “lover of myriad women” while ignoring his theological works. May tries to provide a picture of Tillich that he believed was accurate in his book, Paulus.

For May, it is true that Paul Tillich was a great intellectual and spiritual teacher who was admired by his students and colleagues. In their first meeting at Tillich's series of lectures at Union Theological Seminary, May confessed that despite Tillich's broken English, May “sensed a direct line from the eminent figures of ancient Greece-Aeschylus, Sophocles, Phidias-down to Paulus himself (p.14).” Not only his theological and philosophical depth, but also his theology itself which is “speaking from his own heart and experience,” his lectures always amazed the audience with his comprehensive quality of thinking and powerful observations on his lived experience in wartime German which is deeply embedded in his theology (p.115). Although there is no doubt that Tillich was one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, May's adoration of Tillich is clear throughout the book, especially evident when he compares his great teacher's death with Socrates' death in Phaedo it is clear that Tillich is perceived as a heroic model (p.105-106).

May, as a psychoanalyst who specialized in theories of anxiety, well-explains how Tillich's existential problems were developed through his theological work. His theological journey was the way to deal with his Angst: both “normal anxiety coming from an inescapable fate, and partly also the anxiety of the creative person (p.45).” May indicates that while Tillich understood “a great deal about how people confront anxiety,” Tillich attempted to demonstrate divine existence, as the ground of Being, and found the way to overcome nonbeing in the midst of the human struggle (p.22). For Tillich, human beings' existence is located in between struggle and fate. In this tension between struggle and destiny (and that of doubt and faith), Tillich sought courage, “not as a virtue alone but as both ethical and ontological” in order that we may able to stand against evil and face struggle (p.23). Here, “in the most chaotic states,” Tillich believed one can have “a dynamic peace,” a peace in our existence of tension which “comes from the courage to meet the devils head on (p.46).“

Along with Tillich's theological and ontological interest, May also explains and minimizes his spiritual father's rich and problematic relationships with women through a psychoanalytic lens. Before dealing with Tillich's erotic life, May explains Tillich's intimate relationship with his mother and his struggle after his mother's death. As Tillich described: the loss of a mother was “the eruption of extreme crisis in [his] identity (p.41).” According to May, Tillich had a deep rapport with his mother, and the loss of this relation was the cause for Tillich's eager desire for the female being, in whom he felt full acceptance as if he found himself in the arms of his mother, despite his being married (p.39). Moreover, in light of this reality, May distinguishes Eros from sexual behavior, apparently seeking to justify Tillich's intimate relationships with women, with few exceptions, as sensual rather than sexual. Here, May fails to realize the power dynamics between this great man and other women, displaying a lack of courage when faced with his hero's humanity. Through the patriarchal lens of psychology, he tries to justify the inappropriate sexual behavior of Tillich. This remains a critical weakness of his view on Tillich, although he describes Tillich's heroic work well in his book.

Jeehyun Baek
Boston University
October 31, 2017

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