Paul Tillich

1886-1965. Protestant theologian and philosopher. Born in Starzeddel, Germany, son of a Lutheran pastor, Tillich received schooling in the universities of Berlin, Tübingen, Halle, and Breslau. From the last he received his Ph.D. for a dissertation on Schelling.* After four years as chaplain in the army during World War I, he taught successively at Berlin, Marburg, Dresden, and Leipzig. In 1929, while professor of philosophy at the university of Frankfurt, he became involved in the Religious-Socialist movement. His opposition to Hitler and National Socialism led to his dismissal from the university in 1933; almost immediately he came to the USA, where he taught at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University (1933-55), Harvard (1955-62), and the University of Chicago (1962-65).

The sources and philosophical foundations of Tillich's philosophical theology can be traced back to Platonism, medieval mysticism (Jakob Boehme), German Idealism (Schelling), and existentialism (Kierkegaard and Heidegger). His theological methodology, the “Method of Correlation,” argues for a complementary role and relationship between philosophy and theology: philosophy poses the problems (questions) of ontology (the metaphysical structures of being or reality) with regard to the human situation, while theology provides the answers to these questions. In his three-volume Systematic Theology (1951-63) God is understood as the “Ground of Being” whom man knows as “ultimate concern.” Existentially man derives his own being by “participation” in the “Ground of Being.” “Ultimate concern” means the courage to affirm oneself ultimately in the face of non-being. The question of human existence also points to the issue of Christology, since Jesus Christ is the “New Being.” In the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross, He became “transparent” to the “Ground of Being”—i.e., the “New Being” or “The Christ.” In the area of epistemology, Tillich has been one of the leading advocates of symbols or myths as signs that participate in the reality to which they point. Myth or symbol is therefore man's only way of grasping cognitively the meaning and structure of reality-God, who is the “Ground of Being.”

The most serious charges against Tillich's theology are his dependence upon idealism which strongly implies pantheism and an impersonal deity, and his failure to grasp the sola scriptura principle of the Protestant tradition in which he stood. Other major works of his include The Interpretation of History (1936), The Protestant Era (1936), The Courage to Be (1952), Love, Power and Justice (1954), Dynamics of Faith (1957), and Theology of Culture (1959).

See also C.W. Kegley and R.W. Bretall (eds.), The Theology of Paul Tillich (1952), and W. Leibrecht, “Paul Tillich,” A Handbook of Christian Theologians (ed. D.G. Peerman and M.E. Marty, 1965), pp. 485-500.