Reader's Guide to Tillich's Systematic Theology

On the Paul Tillich Resources Site

Wesley Wildman Home | WeirdWildWeb | Tillich Home

Reader's Guide Entry Page
Volume 1, Introduction
Volume 1, Part I: Reason and Revelation
Volume 1, Part II: Being and God
Volume 2, Part III: Existence and the Christ
Volume 3, Part IV: Life and the Spirit
Volume 3, Part V: History and the Kingdom of God

Volume I, Part I: Reason and Revelation [71-159]

I.I: Reason and the Quest for Revelation [71-105]

I.I.A: The Structure of Reason [71-81]
  I.I.A.1: The Two Concepts of Reason [71-75]
  I.I.A.2: Subjective and Objective Reason [75-79]
  I.I.A.3: The Depth of Reason [79-81]

I.I.B: Reason in Existence [81-94]
  I.I.B.4: The Finitude and the Ambiguities of Actual Reason [81-83]
  I.I.B.5: The Conflict within Actual Reason and the Quest for Revelation [83-94]
    I.I.B.5.a): Autonomy against Heteronomy [83-86]
    I.I.B.5.b): Relativism against Absolutism [86-89]
    I.I.B.5.c): Formalism against Emotionalism [89-94]

I.I.C: The Cognitive Function of Reason and the Quest for Revelation [94-105]
  I.I.C.6: The Ontological Structure of Knowledge [94-97]
  I.I.C.7: Cognitive Relations [97-100]
  I.I.C.8: Truth and Verification [100-105]

I.II: The Reality of Revelation [106-159]

I.II.A: The Meaning of Revelation [106-131]
  I.II.A.1: The Marks of Revelation [106-118]
    I.II.A.1.a): Methodological Remarks [106-108]
    I.II.A.1.b): Revelation and Mystery [108-111]
    I.II.A.1.c): Revelation and Ecstasy [111-115]
    I.II.A.1.d): Revelation and Miracle [115-118]
  I.II.A.2: The Medium of Revelation [118-126]
    I.II.A.2.a): Nature as a Medium of Revelation [118-120]
    I.II.A.2.b): History, Groups, and Individuals as Mediums of Revelation [120-122]
    I.II.A.2.c): The Word as a Medium of Revelation and the Question of the Inner Word [122-126]
  I.II.A.3: The Dynamics of Revelation: Original and Dependent Revelation [126-128]
  I.II.A.4: The Knowledge of Revelation [128-131]

I.II.B: Actual Revelation [132-159]
  I.II.B.5: Actual and Final Revelation [132-135]
  I.II.B.6: The Final Revelation in Jesus as the Christ [135-137]
  I.II.B.7: The History of Revelation [137-144]
  I.II.B.8: Revelation and Salvation [144-147]

I.II.C: Reason in Final Revelation [147-155]
  I.II.C.9: Final Revelation Overcoming the Conflict of Autonomy and Heteronomy [147-150]
  I.II.C.10: The Final Revelation Overcoming the Conflict of Absolutism and Relativism [150-153]
  I.II.C.11: The Final Revelation Overcoming the Conflict between Formalism and Emotionalism [153-155]

I.II.D: The Ground of Revelation [155-159]
  I.II.D.12: God and the Mystery of Revelation [155-157]
  I.II.D.13: Final Revelation and the Word of God [157-159]

I.I: Reason and the Quest for Revelation [71-105]

I.I.A: The Structure of Reason [71-81]

I.I.A.1: The Two Concepts of Reason [71-75]

Summary:

[71] The study of existence must begin with ontology. Epistemology is a part of ontology, so while epistemology can sometimes be the first aspect of a system to be examined, it presumes a greater and more fundamental basis. [72] Epistemology cannot itself be a basis for a systematic theology, so the theologian should indicate when and where he anticipates an ontological basis to an epistemology (as in the doctrine of reason and revelation). This foundational aspect of ontology is seen in the differences between ontological reason and technical reason. Technical Reason is merely 'reasoning'. The establishment of means-ends relationships. Ontological reason has to do with the shaping and transformation of reality. The separation of the two is artificial, as technical reason is a part of ontological reason. [73] Ontological reason provides the overall structure within which technical reason operates. Ontological reasoning allows for understanding in the most general sense. [74] Therefore, technical reason cannot discover the nature of God. It reduces religion and its symbols to superstition. God, derived as a product of technical reason only, would belong to an ends-means relationship, and the resulting concept would be less than God. Similarly, the traditional question of theology, i.e., the relation of reason to revelation, does not belong to technical reason alone. The doctrine of reason and revelation is parallel to the relationship between technical and ontological reason. Ontological reason is identical with the content of revelation, but both, in existence, are broken and imperfect. [75] This brokenness is what leads to the charge that reason is blind. The charge is against technical reason without ontological reason, rather than reason as a whole.

Definitions:

  • Epistemology: “The knowledge of knowing.” [71]

  • Ontology: “The knowledge of being.” [71]

  • Ontological Reason: “According to the classical philosophical tradition, reason is the structure of the mind which enables the mind to grasp and to transform reality.” [72] “Classical reason is Logos.” [72]

  • Technical Reason: “Reason is reduced to the capacity for ‘reasoning.’ Only the cognitive side [i.e., only cognitive acts which deal with the discovery of means-ends relations] of the classical concept of reason remains.” [72-73]

Questions:

  • What is the difference between ontological reason and technical reason?

  • What is an “epistemological 'preamble' [71]”?

  • Why can epistemology not be a foundation for a systematic theology?

I.I.A.2: Subjective and Objective Reason [75-79]

Summary:

[75] Throughout history philosophers have assumed that the logos that allows the mind to grasp and shape reality has a counter-part in reality. Reason is a part of the mind and reality, and subject “subjective” and “objective” reason refers to the self/mind and reality respectively. There are four philosophical categories that seek to explain the interaction of subjective and objective reason: realism, idealism, dualism or pluralism, and monism. [76] The job of the theologian is not to judge these categories, but to consider what is common among them when using reason. The grasping and shaping of reality are interdependent in subjective reason. Minds have a context and we are influenced or grasped by our context even as we can influence or shape that context. [77] Both grasping and shaping possess polarities. For example, within the grasping/receptive aspect of subjective reason is the cognitive-aesthetic polarity. Within the shaping/reactive aspect of subjective reason is the organizational-organic polarity. Further, each polarity includes transitional stages on the path to the opposite pole. [78] Reason, in both its subjective and objective aspects, involves another polarity also: it unites dynamic and static elements, both of which are existentially distorted. [79] Ontological reason in the objective sense expresses the very structures of nature and history; thus, nature and history can never contradict reason. New and old in history and nature are bound together in rational unity that always remains consistent with the static-dynamic structure of ontological reason. The new does not break or contradict reason but rather exemplifies its dynamic aspect against the structural possibilities that constitute the logos of being.

Definitions:

  • Subjective Reason: “The structure of the mind which enables it to grasp and shape reality or the basis of a corresponding structure of reality.” [76]

  • Grasping: “In this context, has the connotation of penetrating into the depth, into the essential nature of a thing or an event, of understanding and expressing it.” [76]

  • Shaping: “In this context, has the connotation of transforming a given material into a Gestalt, or living structure which has the power of being.” [76]

  • Objective Reason: “Is the rational structure of reality which the mind can grasp and according to which it can shape reality.” [77]

Questions:

  • What is the difference between “grasping” and “shaping”?

  • Why are there transitions between the dynamic and static poles Tillich describes?

  • Are the grasping and shaping functions of reason mutually exclusive?

I.I.A.3: The Depth of Reason [79-81]

Summary:

[79] The depth of reason refers not to reason, but to something beyond reason. All spatial and temporal descriptions of this something are metaphorical, because to use them literally would be to use them as a part of reason, not to describe that upon which reason depends. The depth of reason can be discussed and grasped only through metaphors such as “being-itself” or “ground.” [80] The essential nature of reason must not be confused with the predicament of reason in existence. In essence, reason transparently manifests its ground, but under the conditions of existence reason becomes opaque, giving rise to myth and cult. Myth and cult, by their very nature, are imperfect because they are the product of imperfect existential reason. [81] We must therefore accept myth and cult as symbolic representations of the depth of reason, or reason conflicts with itself. Understanding myth and cult as symbolic allows reason and revelation to intersect and complete one another, rather than collide with and oppose one another.

Definitions:

  • Depth of Reason: “The expression of something that is not reason but which precedes reason and is manifest through it.” [79] “The dimension of depth is an essential quality of all rational functions. It is their own depth, making them inexhaustible and giving them greatness.” [80]

Questions:

  • Is Tillich postulating in this section that myth and cult have no place in systematic theology?

  • Why do myth and cult exist?

  • Why must we use spatial and temporal terms metaphorically when discussing the nature and the “ground” or “depth” of reason?

I.I.B: Reason in Existence [81-94]

I.I.B.4: The Finitude and the Ambiguities of Actual Reason [81-83]

Summary:

[81] Actual reason refers to reason in existence as finite. There are two classical expressions of finite reason: Immanuel Kant's and Nicoluas Cusanus'. For Cusanus reason is limited, but is capable of knowing its limitations. He called this the “coincidence of opposites” or “learned ignorance.” Reason is essentially finite, but it is self-transcending in the awareness of its finitude. [82] Kant agreed that reason was finite, but where Cusanus thought reason could be mystically united with its own depth, Kant thought reason could grasp only the phenomenon of world, nothing more. Only in the moral realm was a bare awareness of the depth of reason possible. After Kant reason elevated itself to a divine status, which in turn lead to a contempt of reason, and allowed technical reason to be mistaken for reason itself. Still, reason is not only finite. [83] Reason in existence is both unified and dis-unified with its depth. This allows fr a theological critique of reason, but not a wholesale rejection of reason. Similarly, reason should not reject theology outfight, or it will reveals its own hybris or shallowness.

Definitions:

  • Actual reason: “Participates in the structures of reality” (81) and is “subject to the conditions of existence” (82).

Questions:

  • If finitude is essential for reason, and all things in nature are finite, including reason itself, in what way can “reason” be the logos, or the ground of being (in the Christian sense of God)?

  • Throughout the ST Tillich refers to “the conditions of existence.” What does he mean by that expression?

  • What is the difference between Cusanus's, Kant's, and Tillich's understanding of finite reason?

I.I.B.5: The Conflict within Actual Reason and the Quest for Revelation [83-94]

I.I.B.5.a): Autonomy against Heteronomy [83-86]

Summary:

[83] Conflicts within the structural elements of reason (i.e., the polarities) arise under the conditions of existence. These conflicts correspond to various quests. The polarity of structure and depth produces a conflict between autonomous and heteronomous reason, which leads to the quest for theonomy. The polarity of static and dynamic produces a conflict between absolutism and relativism, which leads to the quest for the concrete-absolute. The polarity of formal and emotional produces a conflict between formalism and irrationalism which leads to the quest for the union of form and mystery. All three quests lead to the “the quest for revelation.” Autonomous reason actualizes its structure while ignoring its depth. [84] Heteronomy imposes a strange (heteros) law (nomos) on the functions of reason, issuing commands from the outside about how reason operates. But this “outside” is itself an element of reason, namely, the depth of reason. In this way, the tension between autonomy and heteronomy is a tragic conflict within reason, and it can become dangerous. [85] A theonomous unity between autonomy and heteronomy is necessary to keep both from going astray. [84] Theonomy means autonomous reason united with its own depth. [85] Autonomy and heteronomy cannot attain complete theonomy under the conditions of existence because they struggle with one other. In that struggle they tend to destroy reason itself. Correspondingly, the quest to reunite the elements of reason—elements that are split under the conditions of existence—itself arises out of reason rather than in opposition to reason. This is the quest for revelation.

Definitions:

  • Autonomous Reason: “Reason which affirms and actualizes its structure without regarding its depth. [83] “Autonomy [the nomos (law) of autos (self)] means the obedience of the individual to the law of reason, which he finds in himself as a rational being.” [84]

  • Heteronomous Reason - “Imposes a strange (heteros) law (nomos) on one or all of the functions of reason.” “It issues commands from ‘outside’ on how reason should grasp and shape reality.” [84]

  • Theonomous Reason: “Autonomous reason united with its own depth … reason actualizes itself in obedience to its structural laws and in the power of its own inexhaustible ground. Since God (theos) is the law (nomos) for both the structure and the ground of reason, they are united in him, and their unity is manifest in a theonomous situation.” [85]

Questions:

  • Are the various “quests” identified by Tillich metaphorical or actual? Who, or what, undertakes these quests? Can you make a concrete translation of these quests into your own life?

  • How do heteronomous authorities usually express themselves? Why through these forms?

I.I.B.5.b): Relativism against Absolutism [86-89]

Summary:

[86] Under the conditions of existence, static and dynamic elements of reason come into conflict with one another. [86] On its own, the static element of reason appears in two forms of absolutism: absolutism of tradition and absolutism of revolution. The dynamic element appears in two forms of relativism: positivistic relativism and cynical relativism. [87] Each pole with each pair is related to the other, just as the two pairs are a part of a polarity. [88] “Criticism” tries to reconcile absolutism and relativism. [89] In both its ancient and modern forms, however, criticism is unable to overcome the conflict between absolutism and relativism. Only the concrete-absolute can do it. And that requires revelation.

Definitions:

  • Absolutism of tradition: “Identifies the static element of reason with special traditions, such as socially accepted morals, established political forms, “academic” aesthetics, and unquestioned philosophical principles.” [86]

  • Absolutism of Revolution: Attacks the absolutism of tradition often motivated by a claim of utopian character. [87]

  • Relativism: “Denies a static element in the structure of reason or emphasizes the dynamic element so much that no definite place is left for actual reason.” [87]

  • Positivistic Relativism: “Takes what is ‘given’ (posited) without applying absolute criteria to its valuation.” [87]

  • Cynical Relativism: “Usually is a result of a disappointment over utopian absolutism. It employs skeptical arguments against absolute principles, but it does not draw either of the two possible consequences of radical skepticism. … Cynical relativism uses reason only for the sake of denying reason: a self-contradiction which is ‘cynically’ accepted.” [88]

  • Criticism: “An attempt to overcome the conflict between absolutism and relativism. It is an attitude that is not restricted to so-called critical philosophy.” [88]

Questions:

  • How does criticism attempt to unite the absolute and the relative?

  • Why does Tillich insist that only a revealed concrete-absolute can overcome the conflict between absolutism and relativism? Is it not possible simply to achieve balance through wisdom and maturity?

  • What is the internal inconsistency of the absolutism of revolution?

I.I.B.5.c): Formalism against Emotionalism [89-94]

Summary:

[89] The formal element of reason appears in its cognitive and legal functions. The emotional element of reason appears in its aesthetic and communal functions. Under the conditions of existence, the unity between formalism and emotionalism is disrupted. [90] In the realm of cognitive activities, formalism appears as abstracted intellectualism, which amounts to the use of the cognitive function without amor intellectualis (“intellectual love”) or eros (passion). Emotionalism foregoes the obligation of strict, serious, and technically correct thinking in matters of knowledge in favor of emotional reactions. [91] In the conflict between formalism and emotionalism, the cognitive and aesthetic functions of reason are separated, and the organizational and communal aspects of reason are driven apart. [92] The formalization of reason separates the grasping and shaping functions of reason and produces conflict between theory and practice. [93] Emotion reacts against this separation, leading to a reaction against all forms of formal reason. But emotion by itself is not persuasive to those in the grip of intellectualism and aestheticism, legalism and conventionalism, and so is reduced to a kind of protest. Without rational structure, emotion becomes irrationalism and is destructive in two respects: (1) blind and fanatical rationality has demonic qualities, and (2) mere subjective feeling produces a vacuum within which rational distortions can run unchecked. [93-94] Thus, reason must not sacrifice its formal structures and its critical power in the name of emotion; the result is not mere empty sentimentality but the nurturing of demonic anti-rationalism. [94] The quest for revelation in this case is a longing for the reunion of form and emotion and of the organizational and communal elements of reason.

Definitions:

  • Formalism: “[A]ppears in the exclusive emphasis on the formal side of every rational function and in the separation of the functions from each other. [89]

  • Cognitive Formalism: “Controlling knowledge and the corresponding formalized logic … taken as the pattern of all knowledge.” It attempts to “monopolize the whole cognitive function and to deny that any other avenue is knowledge and can attain truth.” [89-90]

  • Emotionalism: “[F]orget[s] the obligation of strict, serious, and technically correct thinking.” [90]

  • Aesthetic Formalism: “[A]n attitude, expressed in the phrase ‘art for arts sake,’ which disregards the content and meaning of artistic creations for the sake of their forms.” [90]

  • Legal Formalism: “[P]laces exclusive emphasis on the structural necessities of justice without asking the question of the adequacy of the legal form to the human reality which it is supposed shape.” [90]

  • Conventional Formalism: “[P]reserves, applies, and defends the conventional forms which have shaped social and personal life. …Conventionalism makes no absolute claim for the conventions it defends, nor does it value them for because of their content and meaning. Conventionalism affirms the social and personal forms as forms.” [90-91]

Questions:

  • What does Tillich mean by “demonic” here?

  • Why does Tillich say that a longing for the reunion of form and emotion and of the organizational and communal elements of reason requires revelation?

I.I.C: The Cognitive Function of Reason and the Quest for Revelation [94-105]

I.I.C.6: The Ontological Structure of Knowledge [94-97]

Summary:

[94] Ontological reason’s polar structures are the source of its existential conflicts. Knowing is a form of union; in every act of knowledge the knower and that which is known are united. But knowledge involves unity through separation and detachment because one must look at a thing “at a distance.” This tension between distance and union is the ontological problem of knowledge. [95] Historical efforts to deal with the ontological problem include skepticism, criticism, positivism, idealism, and dualism. They all fall short because they failed to solve the problem of the unity of separation and union. [96] There are many traditions, Eastern, Western, secular and religious, that believe knowledge unites, but none can join union and separation. [97] Ultimately, the problem of the unity of separation and union cannot be solved in existence. This is what leads to the quest for revelation. The quest for revelation involves the quest for knowledge that unites certainty of existential union with the openness of cognitive detachment.

Definitions:

  • Revelation: “Manifestation of the ground of being for human knowledge.” [94]

  • Ontological Problem of Knowledge: “The unity of separation [distance] and union.” [95]

Questions:

  • Why does Tillich think that the need to combine union and detachment in knowledge causes a problem for human knowledge?

  • Can there be a kind of knowledge that unites certainty of existential union with the openness of cognitive detachment?

I.I.C.7: Cognitive Relations [97-100]

Summary:

[97] Controlling knowledge is the premier example of technical reason. It unites subject and object in order that the subject might control the object. Controlling knowledge regards the object of knowledge as not having a point of view, as being at the subject’s disposal. But both subject and object participate in the self-world structure of being, so our relation to objects of knowledge involves being enriched through cognitive union; the object is affected by the subject even in controlling knowledge. [98] Receiving knowledge takes the object into union with the subject. This subject-object relation is not determined (actually or potentially) by the ends-means relationship. [99] The widespread distrust of receptive modes of cognition has led to suspicion of spiritual life and to the treatment of human beings as things. Disregarding receiving knowledge produces a distorted picture of human beings, reducing them to what controlling knowledge most easily handles: a thing. Romanticism, philosophy of life, and existentialism attempted to resist the influence of controlling knowledge but they were ineffective because they failed to provide criteria for truth and falsity.

Definitions:

  • Controlling Knowledge: “The type of knowledge which is predominantly determined by the element of detachment.” [97] It is the “outstanding” example of technical reason. [97]

  • Receiving Knowledge: “Receiving knowledge takes the object into itself, into union with the subject. This includes the emotional element from which controlling knowledge tries to detach itself as much as possible.” [98]

  • Understanding: “The unity of union and detachment. … Its literal meaning, to stand under the place where the object of knowledge stands, implies intimate participation.” [98]

Questions:

  • What are the respective dangers present in exclusive emphasis on controlling knowledge or receiving knowledge?

  • Why do Romanticism, Existentialism, and philosophy of life fail? What solution does their failure indicate?

  • What does Tillich mean by the failure to produce criteria for the false and the true?

I.I.C.8: Truth and Verification [100-105]

Summary:

[101] Classical truth (alethes or verum [100]) is reached through a process of preliminary affirmations, consequent negations, and final affirmations. Discovering truth is done through “yes and no” questioning, or dialectically. [102] The logos structure of the human mind allows us to grasp the “really real”. Thus, true judgments are those that grasp and express the really real. Truth as verification by empirical science has overshadowed ontological use of the term “truth”. Although the experimental method of verification is necessary to discover truth, it is not possible to reduce all truth seeking to the exclusive pattern of experimental verification. Experiential modes of inquiry are truer to life, even though they are often imprecise. In fact, experiential verification is far more common than experimental verification. These two methods of verification [experiential and experimental] correspond to the two cognitive attitudes: the receiving and the controlling. Controlling knowledge is verified most impressively by the technical use of scientific knowledge. [103] Receiving knowledge is verified in the creative union of the knower and the known. The cognitive approach to every individual life-process is richly intuitive, with knowledge verified both experimentally and experientially. [105] Thus, the most complete form of verification lies beyond rationalism and pragmatism, and depends on the efficacy of judgments within the life-process of human beings within wider nature. Truths verified in this way are inexhaustible in meaning and creative power.

Definitions:

  • Truth: “The essence of things as well as the cognitive act in which their essence is grasped.” Truth, like reason, is subjective-objective. “The truth of something is that level of its being the knowledge of which prevents wrong expectations and consequent disappointments.” [102]

  • Intuition: “Knowledge which unites controlling and receiving elements,” which deals with “that side of a life-process which is individual, spontaneous and total,” yet verified partly by the experimental method and partly by participation in the individual life with which they deal. [103]

  • Verification: “A method of deciding the truth or falsehood of a judgment.” [102]

Questions:

  • Do you find Tillich’s two-leveled definition of truth—“the essence of things as well as the cognitive act in which their essence is grasped”—compelling?

  • What are the benefits and liabilities of experimental verification and experiential verification?

  • Why is the most complete form of verification beyond both rationalism and pragmatism?

I.II: The Reality of Revelation [106-159]

I.II.A: The Meaning of Revelation [106-131]

I.II.A.1: The Marks of Revelation [106-118]

I.II.A.1.a): Methodological Remarks [106-108]

Summary:

[106] Husserlian phenomenological method plays an important role in theology because it supports inquiry into the phenomena as they “give themselves”, which allows the theologian to escape the bounds of ordinary self-understanding and to register more fully the self-transcendent aspects of reason and being. But it must be employed with logical and careful descriptions of concepts that arise. [107] Phenomenology can reach its limit when confronting spiritual realities like religion, particularly Husserl's “pure phenomenology”. But “critical phenomenology” unites intuitive-descriptive elements with existential-critical elements. This is vital in the theological context because it expresses the limits of the self when doing theology. [108] These limits, and thus the need for existential-critical elements in addition to intuitive-descriptive elements, are the product of the mystery implicit in theology. The phenomenological method, properly understood as critical phenomenology, overcomes the reduction of objects to their simple concrete forms and allows for inquiry into statements that signify an ultimate concern about a revelation. Critical phenomenology is the proper means to describe spiritual objects and their theological relevance.

Definitions:

  • Phenomenology: The Husserlian method of describing objects as they “give themselves” divorced from the value judgments the objects later receive [107].

  • Critical Phenomenology: A modification of Husserl’s phenomenology that unites the intuitive-descriptive element of phenomenology with the existential-critical element of theology [107]

Questions:

  • Does Tillich’s assessment of phenomenology, and his move to critical phenomenology, amount merely to conjuring a way for theology to trump philosophy?

  • Does the theologian require a special type of phenomenology that is aware of the limitations of human reason in relation to the mystery of being, in the way that Tillich supposes?

I.II.A.1.b): Revelation and Mystery [108-111]

Summary:

[108] Revelation involves a “removing of the veil” of mystery. In the revealing of a mystery, experience is gained. [109] By means of this experience, the relation of the subject to the object revealed is understood cognitively. This understanding is not necessarily complete or precise, as in the form of a definitive proposition. Rather, revelation produces the experience of a gestalt—a complex experiential whole whose cognitive content preserves the mystery of that which it manifests—and thus requires exploration. [110] Revelation must remain mysterious because it creates a bridge into the ground or abyss (infinite space) that precedes reason. It is the encounter with this abyss that produces the ontological shock in which an individual experiences nonbeing. At the moment of the ontological shock of confronting nonbeing, the abyss-like mystery appears as a ground in which the depth of reason and its mystery is disclosed. Thus, revelation is the manifestation of what concerns us ultimately. [111] Revelation entails a subjective agent or groups of agents and an objective event in strict interdependence.

Definitions:

  • Revelation: A special and extraordinary manifestation which reveals the veil from something which is hidden in a special and extraordinary way [108].

  • Mystery: The hiddenness of a revelation that contradicts the attitude of ordinary cognition and pushes reason beyond itself [110].

  • Gestalt: A complex experiential whole whose cognitive content preserves the mystery of that which it manifests.

Questions:

  • What does Tillich’s notion of mystery and revelation suggest about claims of the absolutism of “the” revelation or “the” divine mystery? Can this be deployed as a criticism of fundamentalist groups?

  • How is it possible for mystery to be conveyed within a gestalt? How can divine mystery ever be conveyed in any sense at all?

I.II.A.1.c): Revelation and Ecstasy [111-115]

Summary:

[111] Ecstasy (standing outside one’s self) must be retrieved from its negative connotations. [112] In ecstasy, the mind transcends its ordinary situation of operating subject to awareness of a subject-object structure. Ecstasy occurs when the mind is grasped by mystery, by the ground of being and meaning. [113] Ecstasy is a medium that enlivens mental faculties. Though it appears through mental faculties it cannot be derived from them. Ecstasy is meditated by the experience that creates the ontological shock of the confrontation with nonbeing. In the shock of nonbeing, both revelation and ecstasy occur together in a lived experience that brings meaning to human life. Ecstasy is strongly emotional but not simply reduced to mere emotions. [114] Ecstasy is inspired and spirited by the revelation of the mystery of the ground of being. [115] The inspiration that produces ecstasy opens a new dimension of the relation of our ultimate concern and the mystery of being.

Definitions:

  • Ecstasy: “Ecstasy, (“standing outside one's self”) points to a state of mind which is extraordinary in the sense that the mind transcends its ordinary situation. Ecstasy is not a negation of reason; it is the state of mind in which reason is beyond itself, that is, beyond its subject-object structure.” [111-112] It is “The way by which that which concerns us unconditionally manifests itself within the whole of our psychological condition.” [113]

  • Ontological Shock: “The threat of nonbeing that grasps the human mind.” [113]

  • Enthusiasm: “The state of having the god within one's self or of being within the god.” [112]

Questions:

  • Why must the term “ecstasy” be rescued from its modern usage?

  • What is the difference between enthusiasm and ecstasy?

  • Is feeling, emotion, or the cognitive or ethical function of the mind more prone to ecstatic experience?

I.II.A.1.d): Revelation and Miracle [115-118]

Summary:

[115] Revelations are sign events that often ignite astonishment but they are not miracles. A miracle is an event through which the ground of being is experienced within the structures of reality and reason without the destroying those structures. Miracles have been made dangerous in theology through the definition that they are “events that contradict the laws of nature”. [116] This has led to a trivialization of the word “miracle”. The supranaturalism often attributed to a God would tear God in two: God as the ground of the structures of being and God as the one who violates those structures. Therefore the supranatural interpretation of miracles should be recognized as demonic (in the sense of embodying structures of destruction). [117] There are three criteria for judging an event to be a true miracle. 1) The event must be astonishing and shaking without disrupting our rational reality; 2) it must point us positively toward the ground of being; 3) it must be received as an ecstatic experience. These are the criteria for experiencing a true miracle, rather than believing in the report of one. A miracle does not destroy the cognitive faculties of the mind so the social sciences should be utilized in the endeavor to understand a putative miracle. A miracle differs from an ecstasy in that a miracle is the ecstasy of reality while ecstasy is the miracle of the mind. [118] Reason does not destroy and it is not destroyed by, revelation. Miracles and ecstasy are how reason receives revelation.

Definitions:

  • Miracle: A part of a constellation of revelation “which produces astonishment” [115] through the numinous experience of “nonbeing in reality.” [116]

  • Sign-Event: A synonym for miracle used to avoid the negative connotation that miracles are a divine intervention into the natural world that negates or destroys the natural order. [115]

  • Genuine Miracle: An event which is astonishing, unusual, shaking, without contradicting the rational structure of reality. It is also an event which points to the mystery of being, expressing its relation to us in a definite way. Thirdly, it is an occurrence, which is received as a sign event in an ecstatic experience. [117]

Questions:

  • How do scientific explanation and historical criticism protect revelation [117]?

  • What is the difference between the proper and the popular understanding of miracle?

I.II.A.2: The Medium of Revelation [118-126]

I.II.A.2.a): Nature as a Medium of Revelation [118-120]

Summary:

[118] Everything and anything can serve as a bearer of the mystery of being in a revelatory event. Such bearers do not exhaust the content of revelation but rather are symbols that express ultimate concern and our relation to the mystery of being. Although numerous revelations occur through nature, this does not imply that they are natural revelations occurring through natural knowledge. [119] Revelation is the answer to the question asked by reason about its own depth. Natural revelation or natural theology can lead to this question of reason, but so-called natural theology is trumped by real revelation, with its subjective ecstasy and objective sign-events, which shows that nature is miraculous.

Definitions:

  • Medium of Revelation: A being, event, aspect or object of nature (or nature itself) that, through its participation in the ground of being, becomes transparent and refers one in experience to the ground of being. Its specific qualities dictate its usefulness and the quality as a medium, though not its potential to be a medium.

  • Natural Revelation: This term should be discarded from theological speech because it is easily confused with natural mediums of revelation and .

Questions:

  • Why can all things in existence be a medium for revelation?

  • Why are some mediums of revelation potentially more widely significant than others?

  • What is the difference between natural revelation and revelation through nature? Which does Tillich consider true?

I.II.A.2.b): History, Groups, and Individuals as Mediums of Revelation [120-122]

Summary:

[120] It is possible for history, groups, and individuals to become transparent to the ground of being, and thus mediums of revelation. Historical revelation is not an event in history but an unfolding historical process that points to the mystery of being present in a group’s ultimate concern. [121] Groups have personalities manifested through the behavior and character of individuals. When the individual is transparent to the mystery of being, that individual can function as a medium of revelation. [122] Saints are ideal models for transparency to the mystery of being; they point beyond themselves to the ground of being. The saint’s work can function as a sign-event that takes place in a community. As a result, the community can gain meaning from it.

Definitions:

  • History: The documented experience “of groups, represented and interpreted by personalities.” [120]-[121]

  • Historical Revelation: “Is revelation not in history but through history” [120] so that history is not merely the context but also the medium of revelation.

  • Saint: “Saints are persons who are transparent for the ground of being which is revealed through them and who are able to enter a revelatory constellation a mediums.” [121]

Questions:

  • How can history function in revelation?

  • Can entire groups be mediums of revelation, or just individual people from groups?

  • Is a saint, a saint's works, or both, mediums of revelation?

I.II.A.2.c): The Word as a Medium of Revelation and the Question of the Inner Word [122-126]

Summary:

[122] An individual is not capable of grasping an ultimate concern without the logos (words) needed to convey it. Therefore, words mediate the rational structure of revelation. [123] With this in mind, phrases like the “Word of God” are abused because they are taken literally as opposed to symbolically. The logos (ground of being) is quantified by the individual who uses words to convey it. The words point beyond their ordinary use both in denotation and expression. [124] As a result, something is portrayed through ordinary language, which is the self-manifestation of the depth of being and meaning. Just as being preceeds speaking, so revelation precedes the assessment of that revelation in words. [125] The locus of this involvement with the words of revelation is the human soul, which contains the “inner word”. [126] The inner word is the movement of the soul and fundamentally incommunicable.

Definitions:

  • Word of God: “The 'Work of God' contains neither revealed commandments nor revealed doctrines; it accompanies and interprets revelatory situations.” [125]

  • Inner Word: “The 'inner word' is an expression of the negation of the word as a medium of revelation. A word is spoken to someone; the 'inner' is the awareness of what is already present and does not need to  be said.” [125]

Questions:

  • What is wrong with the doctrine of the Inner Word?

  • What is wrong with the doctrine of the Word of God as discussed on page 122?

I.II.A.3: The Dynamics of Revelation: Original and Dependent Revelation [126-128]

Summary:

[126] Revelation is two-fold. Original revelation signifies event in its initial form. It is the permanent point of reference. Dependent revelation is the continuous spiritual reception by succeeding generations. [127] The church is a product of continuous dependent revelations in addition to the original one, on which those dependent revelations are based. [128] Dependent revelations are not contingent upon a church building but instead contingent upon a moving of the Spirit, which grasp and shake the human spirit. Both original and dependent revelation have revelatory power for those who participate in them. These revelations are received by an individual within a group. A revelation can become idolatrous when transparency to the ground of being ceases.

Definitions:

  • Original Revelation: “A revelation that occurs in a constellation that did not exist before.” [126]

  • Dependent Revelation: “In a dependent revelation the miracle and is originial reception together form the giving side, while the receiving side changes as new individuals and groups enter the same correlation of revelation.” [126]

Questions:

  • Why does revelation beyond idolatrous when it is no longer transparent?

  • Can dependent revelation exist without an original revelation?

  • Can a dependent revelation ever give rise to an original revelation?

I.II.A.4: The Knowledge of Revelation [128-131]

Summary:

[129] Revelation mediates knowledge and expands it beyond its boundaries. Scientific methodologies should be employed to observe phenomena once a revelation expands knowledge. [130] Knowledge of revelation is consistent with ordinary scientific knowledge. A split has occurred over the centuries between revelatory knowledge and scientific knowledge. This split occurred because ordinary knowledge began to domesticate knowledge from revelation without understanding the dynamics of revelation. [131] Knowledge from revelation, directly or indirectly, is knowledge of God, and should be understood symbolically, not construed in terms of factual assertions. At the same time, anxiety about symbols for God is appropriate because such symbols use finite objects as symbols of infinite concern. The use of finite objects threatens to limit God’s divinity and to destroy the meaning of revelation.

Definitions:

  • Knowledge of Revelation: “Knowledge of revelation is knowledge about the revelation of the mystery of being to us, not information about the nature of beings and their relation to one another.” [129]

Questions:

  • Why are symbols of knowledge of God both necessary and problematic?

  • What does the dialectic between ordinary knowledge and revealed knowledge imply about the relation of science to theology? Can or ought such types of knowledge be competitors?

I.II.B: Actual Revelation [132-159]

I.II.B.5: Actual and Final Revelation [132-135]

Summary:

[132] Christianity claims that Jesus as the Christ is the final and actual revelation. This claim means that Jesus as Christ is the decisive, fulfilling, and unsurpassed revelation, the criterion of the Church and the Christian faith. [133] Jesus is the medium for the actual and final revelation. The disciples of Jesus made him into an object of idolatry. [134] Jesus as the Christ is the final revelation because Jesus was transparent to the divine mystery until his death. His death was the final manifestation of that transparency. Final revelation is universal without being heteronomous because Jesus as the Christ is universally relevant and yet does not impose himself in the name of God on other finite beings. Christianity is witness to the final revelation without being final itself. [135] Liberal theology is correct in opposing religions that style themselves as final, because as Christians they must profess Jesus as the Christ as the final revelation, and therefore cannot be final themselves.

Definitions:

  • Actual Revelation: The event or person that is the transparent medium for ultimate concern.

  • Final Revelation: “A revelation is final if it as the power of negating itself without losing itself.” [133]

  • Idolatry: “The perversion of a genuine revelation, the elevation of the medium of revelation to the dignity of the revelation itself.” [133]

Questions:

  • How can Jesus as the Christ be the last revelation even though revelation continues in the church throughout history?

  • Why is Jesus as the Christ universally relevant?

I.II.B.6: The Final Revelation in Jesus as the Christ [135-137]

Summary:

[135] For Christians, it is the presence of God in Jesus that makes him the Christ. This is revealed throughout the synoptic Gospels. [136] The presence of God in Jesus transformed Jesus into the Christ throughout his life. Jesus was the final revelation for Christianity in that he was named the Christ in a revelatory correlation between ecstasy and miracle in the kairos moment. [137] This kairos moment is an ecstasy of the mind which correlates with miracle in history. The receiving of the miracle of Jesus as the Christ and the church's affirmation of Jesus the Christ as final revelation belong to one another. Christian theology affirms that Jesus is the ultimate telos because he withstands the double test of finality, namely, he stands with uninterrupted correlation with his ground of being (God) and he continually sacrifices his Jesus-ness to his Christ-ness.

Definitions:

  • Final Revelation: Definitive, unsurpassable revelation. For Christianity, Jesus is the actual and final revelation of a “Christ” and grounds the church in the concrete reality of his person, life, and death.

Questions:

  • How can the presence of God in a person—which is what makes Jesus the Christ, according to Tillich—ever be known to have occurred?

  • What is the point of affirming the finality of any revelation? Is not the relevance and power of a revelation sufficient for salvation? Why does Tillich affirm finality and insist that the claim of finality is an essential part of the Christian church's identity?

I.II.B.7: The History of Revelation [137-144]

Summary:

[137] Expectation accompanies and precedes actual revelation throughout history. [138] Jesus the Christ as final revelation divides the history of revelation into a period of preparation and period of reception. [139] Although revelation is universal, revelation is also subject to context and to the interpretation of those who receive it in their various contexts. [140] An element of mysticism must accompany every interpretation of revelation because mysticism allows final revelation, like all revelation, to transcend its finite symbols or context. [141] Preparation has a three-fold character: conservation, criticism, and anticipation. [142] The period of reception involves the continuous process of reception, interpretation, and actualization because the community that receives the revelation interprets it as the final revelation for their community. [143] As a result, the Christian faith community asserts that the original revelation is finished in principle but the history of dependent revelation is continuing indefinitely, until it no longer speaks to the needs of it people. [144] The period of reception begins with the Christian church, while all other peoples and religions are in the period of preparation.

Definitions:

  • History of Revelation: “The history of the preparation and reception of the final revelation can be called the 'history of revelation.'” [157]

Questions:

  • How can revelation continue after the final revelation?

  • Why is mysticism necessary for revelation and even final revelation?

I.II.B.8: Revelation and Salvation [144-147]

Summary:

[144] The history of revelation and salvation are united. This unity of revelation and salvation is rejected both by propositional, non-existential concepts of revelation and by individualistic, non-dynamic views of revelation. [145] The former implies that revealed information can be received without any saving transformation. [145-146] The latter implies that salvation occurs beyond the bounds of history and so cannot be united with revelation in history. Both must be rejected by systematic theology. [146-147] The union of revelation and salvation confirms that revelation and salvation alike are fragmentary. [147] But the Christian message of revelation points to an ultimate salvation which cannot be lost because it is reunion with the ground of being.

Definitions:

  • Salvation: that which is achieved through the reception of Jesus the Christ as the final revelation. (Note that Tillich furnishes no precise definition of salvation at this point, but merely correlates it with revelation.)

Questions:

  • How are the history of salvation and revelation united?

  • Why would the unity of the history of salvation and the history of revelation be rejected? Is such a rejection successful?

I.II.C: Reason in Final Revelation [147-155]

I.II.C.9: Final Revelation Overcoming the Conflict of Autonomy and Heteronomy [147-150]

Summary:

[147] Reason is in conflict, which drives questions that only final revelation can answer. For example, revelation answers questions implied in the conflict between autonomy and heteronomy and reestablishes their essential unity—which is the meaning of theonomy. [148] The question about this conflict concerns how we can hold together the necessity of authentically acting on our own best judgment and the necessity of acknowledging the roles of external authorities in our lives. Theonomy answers that question by harmonizing internal personal authority with external authority. There have been periods of history, such as the early and high Middle Ages, when theonomy was more fully realized than in other periods, through the integration of individual and social rationality in law, art, and science. [150] Moving more closely toward theonomy is not a matter merely of wanting it or working hard for it. It is also a matter of historical destiny.

Questions:

  • How does theonomy harmonize internal and external authority?

  • Why is revelation the only answer to the conflict of reason?

  • How do ordinary human power relations operate in relation to the concept of theonomy? Who determines what an ideal theonomous social arrangement would operate?

  • Can self-consciously chosen individual self-reliance be a type of theonomy for Tillich?

I.II.C.10: The Final Revelation Overcoming the Conflict of Absolutism and Relativism [150-153]

Summary:

[150] Final revelation overcomes the conflict between absolutism and relativism by appearing in a concrete-absolute. [151] The concrete aspect of final revelation is Jesus as the Christ, as portrayed in the biblical pictures. The absolute aspect of final revelation is the total transparency of the medium through which it appears. [152] The law of love as revealed in Jesus as the Christ is the medium that unites relativism and absolutism because Jesus as the Christ is a concrete object that symbolizes the infinite in the finite. [153] Striving to emulate the transparency of Jesus to God through following the law of love escapes the descent into pure relativism and ascent into deontological absolutism.

Definitions:

  • Law of Love: “The law of love is the ultimate law because is the negation of law; it is absolute because it concerns everything concrete. The paradox of final revelation, overcoming the conflict between absolutism and relativism, is love.” [152]

Questions:

  • Can emulation of Jesus as the Christ lead to a perfect ability to observe the Law of Love?

  • For Tillich, is Jesus as the Christ the supreme exemplar of the Law of Love?

  • Can anything other the Jesus the Christ be a concrete-absolute?

I.II.C.11: The Final Revelation Overcoming the Conflict between Formalism and Emotionalism [153-155]

Summary:

[153] There is a conflict between the structural and emotional elements of reason. But when final revelation is received, it harmoniously engages all of life, including both structural (formal) and emotional elements. In this way, final revelation overcomes the conflict between formalism and emotionalism. Gnosis is the term used by early classical theologians to name this idea. [154] The rational the emotional are equally important to the final revelation and without the balance of this polarity, revelation could become destructive. [155] The healing power of the final revelation is manifest in the Logos, which is the New Being in Jesus as the Christ. Reason is an object of salvation like every other element of reality.

Definitions:

  • Gnosis: “Cognitive as well as mystical and sexual union” [153] (in early classical theology).

  • Episteme: “Detached scientific knowledge.” [153]

  • Saved Reason: “The conquest of the conflicts of existential reason is what can be called 'saved reason.'” [154]-[155]

Questions:

  • Why are the rational and the emotional equally important to final revelation?

  • Why is there a conflict between the structural and emotional elements of reason?

  • What does Tillich mean that an unbalance revelation could become destructive?

I.II.D: The Ground of Revelation [155-159]

I.II.D.12: God and the Mystery of Revelation [155-157]

Summary:

[155] The concept of revelation should be approached from below (from the human condition) rather than from above (from the divine ground of revelation). The ground of revelation is just the ground of being manifest in existence. [156] The religious name for the ground being and the ground of revelation is God. The symbol of the divine life unifies the ground of being with life as we experience it and establishes analogies between them. In this way, systematic theology speaks of the divine life as the unity of Abyss and Logos, in Spirit. These three terms express a Trinitarian interpretation of revelation at the same time as they reflect the depth structures of being as they are manifest in our own experience. [157] Revelation and salvation are part of God's directing creativity and find their fulfillment in the Kingdom of God. World history is where revelation is actualized, and revelation gives meaning and mystery to world history.

Definitions:

  • Ground: “The mystery which appears in revelation and which remains a mystery in its appearance.” [156]

  • Divine Life: “The dynamic unity of depth and form ... It is the abysmal character of the divine life which makes revelation mysterious; it is the logical character of the divine life which makes the revelation of mystery possible; and it is the spiritual character of the divine life which creates the correlation of miracle and ecstasy in which revelation can be received.” [156]

  • Trinity: Union of Abyss, Logos, and Spirit. [156]

  • Abyss: “The depth of the divine life, its inexhaustible and ineffable character.” [156]

  • Logos: “The meaning and structure element of the divine life.” [156]

  • Spirit: The religious expression of “the dynamic unity of both elements” [156] (Abyss and Logos).

Questions:

  • Why should the concept of revelation be approached from below?

  • How does revelation give mystery and meaning to world history?

  • How does Tillich’s account of the Trinitarian divine life accord with the traditional Trinitarian doctrine?

I.II.D.13: Final Revelation and the Word of God [157-159]

Summary:

[157] The Word of God is the logos element in the ground of being; not a spoken word. It is utilized as a means to speak of the written word in the Bible, which is the temptation to which Protestants are especially prone. The “Word of God” is a symbolic phrase with is often misunderstood and misused. [157] In fact, the “Word of God” has six different meanings: the principle of divine self-manifestation, [158] the medium of creation, the manifestation of the divine life in the history of revelation, the manifestation of the divine life in the final revelation, the document of the final revelation and its special preparation, [159] and the message of the church as proclaimed in its message and teaching. These meanings are united in one phrase: “God Manifest”.

Definitions:

  • Word of God: Six ways (see above). [157-159]

  • God Manifest: “The mystery of the divine abyss expressing itself through the divine Logos—this is the meaning of the symbol, the 'Word of God.'” [159]

  • Constellation: The listener’s contextual understanding for existential reception of the Word of God; also, the correlation of the preacher and listener. [159]

Questions:

  • What interpretation of the doctrine of the 'Word of God' allows the different traditions to stand together?

  • Why are there so man interpretations of traditions of the 'Word of God'?

The information on this page is copyright 1994 onwards, Wesley Wildman (basic information here), unless otherwise noted. If you want to use text or ideas that you find here, please be careful to acknowledge this site as your source, and remember also to credit the original author of what you use, where that is applicable. If you have corrections or want to make comments, please contact me at the feedback address for permission.