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Paul Johannes Tillich (August 20, 1886October 22, 1965) was a Germanmarker-Americanmarker theologian and Christian existentialist philosopher. Tillich was, along with his contemporaries Rudolf Bultmann (Germany), Karl Barth (Switzerland), and Reinhold Niebuhr (United States), one of the four most influential Protestant theologians of the 20th century. Among the general populace, he is best known for his works The Courage to Be (1952) and Dynamics of Faith (1957), which introduced issues of theology and modern culture to a general readership. Theologically, he is best known for his major three-volume work Systematic Theology (1951–63), in which he developed his "method of correlation": an approach of exploring the symbols of Christian revelation as answers to the problems of human existence raised by contemporary existential philosophical analysis.


Tillich’s life has been chronicled in a biography, a partially biographical book (Hopper, 1968), an autobiographical sketch (in On the Boundary), and two autobiographical essays (in Kegley and My Search for Absolutes).

Tillich was born on August 20, 1886, in the small village of Starzeddelmarker in the province of Brandenburgmarker in eastern Germanymarker. He was the oldest of three children, with two sisters: Johanna (b. 1888, d. 1920) and Elisabeth (b. 1893). Tillich’s Prussian father was a conservative Lutheran pastor of the Evangelical State Church of Prussia's older Provinces; his mother was from the Rhineland and was more liberal. When Tillich was four, his father became superintendent of a diocese in Schönfliessmarker, a town of three thousand, where Tillich began elementary school. In 1898, Tillich was sent to Königsbergmarker to begin gymnasium. At Königsberg, he lived in a boarding house and experienced loneliness that he sought to overcome by reading the Bible. Simultaneously, however, he was exposed to humanistic ideas at school.

In 1900, Tillich’s father was transferred to Berlinmarker, Tillich switching in 1901 to a Berlin school, from which he graduated in 1904. Before his graduation, however, his mother died of cancer in September 1903, when Tillich was 17. Tillich attended several universities—the University of Berlinmarker beginning in 1904, the University of Tübingenmarker in 1905, and the University of Hallemarker in 1905-07. He received his Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Breslaumarker in 1911 and his Licentiate of Theology degree at the University of Halle in 1912. During his time at university, he became a member of the Wingolf.

That same year, 1912, Tillich was ordained as a Lutheran minister in the province of Brandenburg. On 28th September 1914 he married Margarethe ("Grethi") Wever (1888-1968), and in October he joined the German army as a chaplain. Grethi deserted Tillich in 1919 after an affair that produced a child not fathered by Tillich; the two then divorced. Tillich’s academic career began after the war; he became a Privadozent of Theology at the University of Berlinmarker, a post he held from 1919 to 1924. On his return from the war he had met Hannah Werner Gottswchow, then married and pregnant. In March 1924 they married; it was the second marriage for both.

During 1924-25 he was a Professor of Theology at the University of Marburgmarker, where he began to develop his systematic theology, teaching a course on it during the last of his three terms. From 1925 until 1929, Tillich was a Professor of Theology at the University of Dresden and the University of Leipzigmarker. He held the same post at the University of Frankfurtmarker during 1929-33.

While at Frankfurtmarker, Tillich gave public lectures and speeches throughout Germany that brought him into conflict with the Nazi movement. When Hitler became German Chancellor in 1933, Tillich was dismissed from his position. Reinhold Niebuhr visited Germany in the summer of 1933 and, already impressed with Tillich’s writings, contacted Tillich upon learning of Tillich’s dismissal. Niebuhr urged Tillich to join the faculty at New York City’s Union Theological Seminarymarker; Tillich accepted

At the age of 47, Tillich moved with his family to America. This meant learning English, the language in which Tillich would eventually publish works such as the Systematic Theology. From 1933 until 1955 he taught at Union, where he began as a Visiting Professor of Philosophy of Religion. During 1933-34 he was also a Visiting Lecturer in Philosophy at Columbia University. Tillich acquired tenure at Union in 1937, and in 1940 he was promoted to Professor of Philosophical Theology and became an American citizen..

At the Union Theological Seminary, Tillich earned his reputation, publishing a series of books that outlined his particular synthesis of Protestant Christian theology and existential philosophy. He published On the Boundary in 1936; The Protestant Era, a collection of his essays, in 1948; and The Shaking of the Foundations, the first of three volumes of his sermons, also in 1948. His collections of sermons would give Tillich a broader audience than he had yet experienced. His most heralded achievements though, were the 1951 publication of volume one of Systematic Theology which brought Tillich academic acclaim, and the 1952 publication of The Courage to Be. The first volume of the systematic theology series prompted an invitation to give the prestigious Gifford lectures during 1953–54 at the University of Aberdeen. The latter book, called "his masterpiece" in the Paucks’s biography of Tillich (p. 225), was based on his 1950 Dwight H. Terry Lectureship and reached a wide general readership.

These works led to an appointment at the Harvard Divinity Schoolmarker in 1955, where he became one of the University’s five University Professors – the five highest ranking professors at Harvard. Tillich’s Harvard career lasted until 1962. During this period he published volume 2 of Systematic Theology and also published the popular book Dynamics of Faith (1957).

In 1962, Tillich moved to the University of Chicagomarker, where he was a Professor of Theology until his death in Chicago in 1965. Volume 3 of Systematic Theology was published in 1963. In 1964 Tillich became the first theologian to be honored in Kegley and Bretall's Library of Living Theology. They wrote: "The adjective ‘great,’ in our opinion, can be applied to very few thinkers of our time, but Tillich, we are far from alone in believing, stands unquestionably amongst these few." (Kegley and Bretall, 1964, pp. ix-x) A widely quoted critical assessment of his importance was Georgia Harkness' comment, "What Whitehead was to American philosophy, Tillich has been to American theology."

Tillich died on October 22, 1965, ten days after experiencing a heart attack. In 1966 his ashes were interred in the Paul Tillich Park in New Harmonymarker, Indianamarker.
Paul Tillich’s gravestone in the Paul Tillich Park, New Harmony, Indiana, United States


Method of Correlation

Key to an understanding of Tillich’s theology is his "method of correlation": an approach of correlating insights from Christian revelation with the issues raised by existential philosophical analysis.

Though the method is at work throughout the Systematic Theology, it finds its most explicit formulation in the introduction to that work:

For Tillich, the existential questions of human existence are associated with the field of philosophy and, more specifically, ontology (the study of being). To be correlated with these questions are the theological answers, themselves derived from Christian revelation. The task of the philosopher primarily involves developing the questions, whereas the task of the theologian primarily involves developing the answers to these questions. However, it should be remembered that the two tasks overlap and include one another: the theologian must be somewhat of a philosopher and vice versa, for Tillich’s notion of faith as “ultimate concern” necessitates that the theological answer be correlated with, compatible with, and in response to the general ontological question which must be developed independently from the answers. Thus, on one side of the correlation lies an ontological analysis of the human situation, whereas on the other is a presentation of the Christian message as a response to this existential dilemma. For Tillich, no formulation of the question can contradict the theological answer. This is because the Christian message claims, a priori, that the logos “who became flesh” is also the universal logos of the Greeks.

In addition to the intimate relationship between philosophy and theology, another important aspect of the method of correlation is Tillich’s distinction between form and content in the theological answers. While the nature of revelation determines the actual content of the theological answers, the character of the questions determines the form of these answers. This is because, for Tillich, theology must be an answering theology, or apologetic theology. God is called the “ground of being” because God is the answer to the ontological threat of non-being, and this characterization of the theological answer in philosophical terms means that the answer has been conditioned (insofar as its form is considered) by the question. Throughout the Systematic Theology, Tillich is careful to maintain this distinction between form and content without allowing one to be inadvertently conditioned by the other. Many criticisms of Tillich’s methodology revolve around this issue of whether the integrity of the Christian message is really maintained when its form is conditioned by philosophy.

The theological answer is also determined by the sources of theology, our experience, and the norm of theology. Though the form of the theological answers are determined by the character of the question, these answers (which “are contained in the revelatory events on which Christianity is based”) are also “taken by systematic theology from the sources, through the medium, under the norm.” There are three main sources of systematic theology: the Bible, Church history, and the history of religion and culture. Experience is not a source but a medium through which the sources speak. And the norm of theology is that by which both sources and experience are judged with regard to the content of the Christian faith. Thus, we have the following as elements of the method and structure of systematic theology:

  • Sources of theology
    • Bible
    • Church history
    • History of religion and culture
  • Experience (medium of sources)
  • Norm of theology (determines use of sources)

As McKelway explains, the sources of theology contribute to the formation of the norm, which then becomes the criterion through which the sources and experience are judged. The relationship is circular, as it is the present situation which conditions the norm in the interaction between church and biblical message. The norm is then subject to change, but Tillich insists that its basic content remains the same: that of the biblical message. It is tempting to conflate revelation with the norm, but we must keep in mind that revelation (whether original or dependent) is not an element of the structure of systematic theology per se, but an event. For Tillich, the present day norm is the “New Being in Jesus as the Christ as our Ultimate Concern”. This is because the present question is one of estrangement, and the overcoming of this estrangement is what Tillich calls the “New Being”. But since Christianity answers the question of estrangement with “Jesus as the Christ”, the norm tells us that we find the New Being in Jesus as the Christ.

There is also the question of the validity of the method of correlation. Certainly one could reject the method on the grounds that there is no a priori reason for its adoption. But Tillich claims that the method of any theology and its system are interdependent. That is, an absolute methodological approach cannot be adopted because the method is continually being determined by the system and the objects of theology.

Absolute Faith

Tillich stated the courage to take meaninglessness into oneself presupposes a relation to the ground of being: absolute faith. Absolute faith can transcend the theistic idea of God, and has three elements.

God Above God

Throughout most of his works Paul Tillich provides an entirely different ontological view of God. While theistic philosophers and theologians such as St. Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham insist on God in the form of traditional theism, Tillich criticizes the theistic view of God and its philosophical tradition. Tillich's criticism against the traditional theistic God is that

Here Tillich raised serious theological, cultural, and philosophical problems with the traditional theistic notion of God. First, Tillich criticized traditional theism because it places God in the subject-object dichotomy. Epistemologically, God cannot be made into an object, since God is simply beyond the grasp of the human mind. If God were made into the subject (The Ultimate Subject), then it is quite obvious that the rest of the existing entities are now subjected to the absolute knowledge and scrutiny of God. It deprives the person from his subjectivity, his own creativity to create meaning existentially. Second, the kind of traditional theism that posits and presents a biblical God has provoked outcries such as Atheism and Existentialism (while other social factors, such as the industrial revolution, also contribute to this). As Tillich said, the modern man could no longer tolerate the idea of being an "object" completely subjected to the absolute knowledge of God. Third, Paul Tillich has argued that the philosophical argument of theism is simply "bad theology" and "The God of the theological theism is being besides others and as such a part of the whole reality. He is certainly considered its most important part, but as a part and therefore as subjected to the structure of the whole. He is supposed to be beyond the ontological elements and categories which constitute reality. But every statement subjects him to them. He is seen as a self which has a world, as an ego which relates to a though, as a cause which is separated from its effect, as having a definite space and endless time. He is a being, not being-itself"

Alternatively, Tillich presents an ontological view of God as Being-Itself, Ground of Being, Power of Being, and occasionally as an Abyss. What makes Tillich's ontological view of God radically different from traditional theism is that it is transcends it by being the foundation or ultimate reality that "precedes" all beings. Just as Being for Heidegger is pre-conception (pre-scientific) of entities (beings), Paul Tillich believes God to be Being-Itself that is manifested in the structure of beings (logos) God is not a supernatural entity among all other entities in the cosmic reality, but rather that which is the ground of all beings. In this sense we cannot perceive God as a being that is separate in the subject-object dichotomy because God precedes it.

Thus Tillich dismisses the literalistic interpretation in the form of biblical personalism which also includes the belief in a personal God. When Einstein criticized the notion of personal God as "naive" Tillich agrees, but instead of completely rejecting it, Tillich saw the personal God as merely a symbol that points directly to the Ground of Being. Since the Ground of Being precedes the ontological reason (logos) it cannot be comprehended since comprehension presupposes subject-object dichotomy. Tillich disagreed with any literal philosophical and religious statements that can be made about God. Such literalistic statements which attempts to define God lead not only to anthropomorphism but also to a philosophical mistake that Immanuel Kant warned against, that setting limits against the transcendent inevitably leads to contradictions. Any statements about God are simply symbolic, but these symbols are sacred in the sense that they function to participate or point to the Ground of Being. Tillich insists that anyone who participates in these symbols are empowered by the Power of Being, that overcomes and conquers nonbeing and meaninglessness.


  • The Religious Situation (1925, Die religiose Lage der Gegenwart), Holt 1932, Meridian Press 1956, online edition
  • The Socialist Decision (1933, New York : Harper & Row, c1977)
  • The Interpretation of History (1936), online edition
  • The Protestant Era (1948), The University of Chicago Press, online edition
  • The Shaking of the Foundations (1948), Charles Scribner's Sons, a sermon collection, online edition
  • Systematic Theology, 1951–63 (3 volumes), University of Chicago Press
    • Volume 1 (1951). ISBN 0-226-80337-6
    • Volume 2: Existence and the Christ (1957). ISBN 0-226-80338-4
    • Volume 3: Life and the Spirit: History and the Kingdom of God (1963). ISBN 0-226-80339-2
  • The Courage to Be (1952), Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-08471-4 (2nd ed)
  • Love, Power, and Justice: Ontological Analysis and Ethical Applications (1954), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-500222-9
  • Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality (1955), University Of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-80341-4
  • The New Being (1955), Charles Scribner's Sons, ISBN 0-68471908-8, a sermon collection, online edition, 2006 Bison Press edition with introduction by Mary Ann Stenger: ISBN 0-80329458-1
  • Dynamics of Faith (1957), Harper and Row, ISBN 0-06-093713-0
  • Theology of Culture (1959), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-500711-5
  • Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions (1963), Columbia University Press, online edition
  • Morality and Beyond (1963), Harper and Row, 1995 edition: Westminster John Knox Press, ISBN 0-66425564-7
  • The Eternal Now (1963), Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003 SCM Press: ISBN 0-33402875-2, university sermons 1955–63, online edition
  • Ultimate Concern: Tillich in Dialogue (1965), editor D. Mackenzie Brown, Harper & Row, online edition
  • On the Boundary, 1966 New York: Charles Scribner’s
  • My Search for Absolutes (1967, posthumous), ed. Ruth Nanda Anshen, Simon & Schuster, 1984 reprint: ISBN 0-671-50585-8 (includes autobiographical chapter) online edition
  • "The Philosophy of Religion", in What Is Religion? (1969), ed. James Luther Adams. New York: Harper & Row
    • "The Conquest of the Concept of Religion in the Philosophy of Religion" in What is Religion?
    • "On the Idea of a Theology of Culture" in What is Religion?
  • My Travel Diary 1936: Between Two Worlds (1970), Harper & Row, (edited and published posthumously by J.C. Brauer) online edition
  • A History of Christian Thought: From its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism (1972), Simon and Schuster, (edited from his lectures and published posthumously by C. E. Braaten), ISBN 0-671-21426-8;
    • A History of Christian Thought (1968), Harper & Row, online edition contains the first part of the two part 1972 edition (comprising the 38 New York lectures)
  • The System of the Sciences (1981), Translated by Paul Wiebe. London: Bucknell University Press. (originally published in German in 1923)
  • The Essential Tillich (1987), (anthology) F. Forrester Church, editor; (Macmillan): ISBN 0-02-018920-6; 1999 (U. of Chicago Press): ISBN 0-226-80343-0

See also


  1. "Tillich, Paul Johannes Oskar", The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Ed. John Bowker. Oxford University Press, 2000. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.
  2. "Tillich, Paul." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. retrieved 17 February 2008 [1].
  3. Paul Tillich: His Life & Thought–Volume 1: Life, Pauck, Wilhelm & Marion. New York: Harper & Row, 1976
  4. Kegley, Charles W., and Bretall, Robert W., eds. 1964. The Theology of Paul Tillich. New York: Macmillan, pp. 3-21
  5. pp. 23-54
  6. Paul Tillich, Lover, Time, October 8, 1973
  7. (Tillich, 1964, p. 16).
  8. (1957)
  9. "Dr. Paul Tillich, Outstanding Protestant Theologian", The Times, Oct 25, 1965
  10. Tillich, John Heywood Thomas, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002, ISBN 0826450822
  11. Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, pp 23ff.
  12. Tillich, Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality, pp 58ff.
  13. Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 28.
  14. Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 64.
  15. McKelway, The Systematic Theology of Paul Tillich, p 47.
  16. Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 64.
  17. Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 47.
  18. McKelway, The Systematic Theology of Paul Tillich, pp 55-56.
  19. Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 52.
  20. McKelway, The Systematic Theology of Paul Tillich, p 80.
  21. Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 50.
  22. Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 60.
  23. The Courage to Be, page 182
  24. Tillich, Courage To Be, p 184.
  25. Tillich, Courage To Be, p 184.
  26. Tillich, Theology of Culture, p 15.
  27. Tillich, Theology of Culture, p 15.
  28. Tillich, Theology of Culture, p 127-132.

Further reading

  • Adams, James Luther. 1965. Paul Tillich’s Philosophy of Culture, Science, and Religion. New York: New York University Press
  • Armbruster, Carl J. 1967. The Vision of Paul Tillich. New York: Sheed and Ward
  • Breisach, Ernst. 1962. Introduction to Modern Existentialism. New York: Grove Press
  • Carey, Patrick W., and Lienhard, Joseph. 2002. "Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians". Mass: Hendrickson
  • Ford, Lewis S. 1966. "Tillich and Thomas: The Analogy of Being." Journal of Religion 46:2 (April)
  • Freeman, David H. 1962. Tillich. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.
  • Grenz, Stanley, and Olson, Roger E. 1997. 20th Century Theology God & the World in a Transitional Age
  • Hamilton, Kenneth. 1963. The System and the Gospel: A Critique of Paul Tillich. New York: Macmillan
  • Hammond, Guyton B. 1965. Estrangement: A Comparison of the Thought of Paul Tillich and Erich Fromm. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.
  • Hegel, G. W. F. 1967. The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. With intro. J. B. Baillie, Torchbook intro. by George Lichtheim. New York: Harper Torchbooks
  • Hook, Sidney, ed. 1961 Religious Experience and Truth: A Symposium (New York: New York University Press)
  • Hopper, David. 1968. Tillich: A Theological Portrait. Philadelphia: Lippincott
  • Howlett, Duncan. 1964. The Fourth American Faith. New York: Harper & Row
  • Kaufman, Walter. 1961a. The Faith of a Heretic. New York: Doubleday
  • — 1961b. Critique of Religion and Philosophy. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, Doubleday
  • Kegley, Charles W., and Bretall, Robert W., eds. 1964. The Theology of Paul Tillich. New York: Macmillan
  • Kelsey, David H. 1967 The Fabric of Paul Tillich’s Theology. New Haven: Yale University Press
  • MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1963. “God and the Theologians,” Encounter 21:3 (September)
  • Martin, Bernard. 1963. The Existentialist Theology of Paul Tillich. New Haven: College and University Press
  • Marx, Karl. n.d. Capital. Ed. Frederick Engels. trans. from 3rd German ed. by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling. New York: The Modern Library
  • May, Rollo. 1973. Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship. New York: Harper & Row
  • McKelway, Alexander J. 1964. The Systematic Theology of Paul Tillich: A Review and Analysis. Richmond: John Knox Press
  • Modras, Ronald. 1976. Paul Tillich 's Theology of the Church: A Catholic Appraisal. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1976.
  • Palmer, Michael. 1984. Paul Tillich's Philosophy of Art. New York: Walter de Gruyter
  • Pauck, Wilhelm & Marion. 1976. Paul Tillich: His Life & Thought–Volume 1: Life. New York: Harper & Row
  • Re Manning, Russell, ed. 2009. The Cambridge Companion to Paul Tillich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Rowe, William L. 1968. Religious Symbols and God: A Philosophical Study of Tillich’s Theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • Scharlemann, Robert P. 1969. Reflection and Doubt in the Theology of Paul Tillich. New Haven: Yale University Press
  • Schweitzer, Albert. 1961. The Quest of the Historical Jesus, trans. W. Montgomery. New York: Macmillan
  • Soper, David Wesley. 1952. Major Voices in American Theology: Six Contemporary Leaders Philadelphia: Westminster
  • Tavard, George H. 1962. Paul Tillich and the Christian Message. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons
  • Taylor, Mark Kline, ed. 1991. "Paul Tillich: Theologian of the Boundaries". Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
  • Thomas, George F. 1965. Religious Philosophies of the West. New York: Scribner's, 1965.
  • Thomas, J. Heywood. 1963. Paul Tillich: An Appraisal. Philadelphia, Westminster
  • Tillich, Hannah. 1973. From Time to Time. New York: Stein and Day
  • Tucker, Robert. 1961. Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Wheat, Leonard F. 1970. Paul Tillich’s Dialectical Humanism: Unmasking the God above God. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press

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