Systematic Theology / Edition 1

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This is the first part of Paul Tillich's three-volume Systematic Theology, one of the most profound statements of the Christian message ever composed and the summation and definitive presentation of the theology of the most influential and creative American theologian of the twentieth century.

In this path-breaking volume Tillich presents the basic method and statement of his system—his famous "correlation" of man's deepest questions with theological answers. Here the focus is on the concepts of being and reason. Tillich shows how the quest for revelation is integral to reason itself. In the same way a description of the inner tensions of being leads to the recognition that the quest for God is implied in finite being.

Here also Tillich defines his thought in relation to philosophy and the Bible and sets forth his famous doctrine of God as the "Ground of Being." Thus God is understood not as a being existing beside other beings, but as being-itself or the power of being in everything. God cannot be made into an object; religious knowledge is, therefore, necessarily symbolic.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226803371
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1973
  • Series: Systematic Theology Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 307
  • Sales rank: 809,885
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.05 (h) x 0.68 (d)

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Systematic Theology Volume I

Reason and Revelation Being and God

By Paul Tillich

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 1951 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-80337-1





Epistemology, the "knowledge" of knowing, is a part of ontology, the knowledge of being, for knowing is an event within the totality of events. Every epistemological assertion is implicitly ontological. Therefore, it is more adequate to begin an analysis of existence with the question of being rather than with the problem of knowledge. Moreover, it is in line with the predominant classical tradition. But there are situations in which the opposite order ought to be followed, namely, when an ontological tradition has become doubtful and the question arises whether the tools used in the creation of this tradition are responsible for its failure. This was the situation of ancient probabilism and skepticism in relation to the struggle between the philosophical schools. It was the situation of Descartes in the face of the disintegrating medieval traditions. It was the situation of Hume and Kant with respect to the traditional metaphysics. It is the perennial situation of theology, which always must give an account of its paths to knowledge because they seem to deviate radically from all ordinary ways. Although epistemology precedes ontology in these instances, it is an error to assume that epistemology is able to provide the foundation of the philosophical or theological system. Even if it precedes the other parts of the system, it is dependent on them in such a way that it can be elaborated only by anticipating them explicitly and implicitly. Recent Neo-Kantian philosophers recognized the dependence of epistemology on ontology and contributed to the fall of the epistemological tidal wave which arose in the second half of the nineteenth century. Classical theology always has been aware that a doctrine of revelation presupposes doctrines of God, man, Christ, etc. It has known that the epistemological "preamble" is dependent on the whole of the theological system. Recent attempts to make epistemological and methodological considerations an independent basis for theological work have been futile. Therefore, it is necessary that the systematic theologian, when he begins with the epistemological part (the doctrine of Reason and Revelation), should indicate clearly the anticipations he makes both with respect to Reason and with respect to Revelation.

One of the greatest weaknesss of much theological writing and of much religious talk is that the word "reason" is used in a loose and vague way, which is sometimes appreciative but usually depreciatory. While popular talk can be excused for such unpreciseness (although it has religious dangers), it is inexcusable if a theologian uses terms without having defined or exactly circumscribed them. Therefore, it is necessary to define from the very beginning the sense in which the term "reason" will be used.

We can distinguish between an ontological and a technical concept of reason. The former is predominant in the classical tradition from Parmenides to Hegel; the latter, though always present in pre-philosophical and philosophical thought, has become predominant since the breakdown of German classical idealism and in the wake of English empiricism. According to the classical philosophical tradition, reason is the structure of the mind which enables the mind to grasp and to transform reality. It is effective in the cognitive, aesthetic, practical, and technical functions of the human mind. Even emotional life is not irrational in itself. Eros drives the mind toward the true (Plato). Love for the perfect form moves all things (Aristotle). In the "apathy" of the soul the logos manifests its presence (Stoics). The longing for its origin elevates soul and mind toward the ineffable source of all meaning (Plotinus). The appetitus of everything finite drives it toward the good-itself (Aquinas). "Intellectual love" unites intellect and emotion in the most rational state of the mind (Spinoza). Philosophy is "service of God"; it is a thinking which is at the same time life and joy in the "absolute truth" (Hegel), etc. Classical reason is Logos, whether it is understood in a more intuitive or in a more critical way. Its cognitive nature is one element in addition to others; it is cognitive and aesthetic, theoretical and practical, detached and passionate, subjective and objective. The denial of reason in the classical sense is antihuman because it is antidivine.

But this ontological concept of reason always is accompanied and sometimes replaced by the technical concept of reason. Reason is reduced to the capacity for "reasoning." Only the cognitive side of the classical concept of reason remains, and within the cognitive realm only those cognitive acts which deal with the discovery of means for ends. While reason in the sense of Logos determines the ends and only in the second place the means, reason in the technical sense determines the means while accepting the ends from "somewhere else." There is no danger in this situation as long as technical reason is the companion of ontological reason and "reasoning" is used to fulfil the demands of reason. This situation prevailed in most prephilosophical as well as philosophical periods of human history, although there always was the threat that "reasoning" might separate itself from reason. Since the middle of the nineteenth century this threat has become a dominating reality. The consequence is that the ends are provided by nonrational forces, either by positive traditions or by arbitrary decisions serving the will to power. Critical reason has ceased to exercise its controlling function over norms and ends. At the same time the noncognitive sides of reason have been consigned to the irrelevance of pure subjectivity. In some forms of logical positivism the philosopher even refuses to "understand" anything that transcends technical reason, thus making his philosophy completely irrelevant for questions of existential concern. Technical reason, however refined in logical and methodological respects, dehumanizes man if it is separated from ontological reason. And, beyond this, technical reason itself is impoverished and corrupted if it is not continually nourished by ontological reason. Even in the means-ends structure of "reasoning" assertions about the nature of things are presupposed which themselves are not based on technical reason. Neither structures, Gestalt processes, values, nor meanings can be grasped without ontological reason. Technical reason can reduce them to something less than their true reality. But, by reducing them to this status, it has deprived itself of insights which are decisive for the means-ends relationship. Of course one knows many aspects of human nature by analyzing physiological and psychological processes and by using the elements provided by this analysis for physicotechnical or psychotechnical purposes. But if one claims to know man in this way, one misses not only the nature of man but even decisive truths about man within a means-ends relationship. This is true of every realm of reality. Technical reason always has an important function, even in systematic theology. But technical reason is adequate and meaningful only as an expression of ontological reason and as its companion. Theology need not make a decision for or against one of these two concepts of reason. It uses the methods of technical reason, the means-ends relation, in establishing a consistent, logical, and correctly derived organism of thought. It accepts the refinements of the cognitive methods applied by technical reason. But it rejects the confusion of technical with ontological reason. For instance, theology cannot accept the support of technical reason in "reasoning" the existence of a God. Such a God would belong to the means-ends relationship. He would be less than God. On the other hand, theology is not perturbed by the attack on the Christian message made by technical reason, for these attacks do not reach the level on which religion stands. They may destroy superstitions, but they do not even touch faith. Theology is (or should be) grateful for the critical function of the type of technical reason which shows that there is no such "thing" as a God within the context of means-ends relationships. Religious objects, seen in terms of the universe of discourse constituted by technical reason, are objects of superstition subject to destructive criticism. Wherever technical reason dominates, religion is superstition and is either foolishly supported by reason or rightly removed by it.

Although theology invariably uses technical reason in its systematic work, it cannot escape the question of its relation to ontological reason. The traditional question of the relation of reason to revelation should not be discussed on the level of technical reason, where it constitutes no genuine problem, but on the level of ontological reason, of reason in the sense of logos. Technical reason is an instrument, and, like every instrument, it can be more or less perfect and can be used more or less skilfully. But no existential problem is involved in its use. The situation is quite different with respect to ontological reason. It was the mistake of idealistic philosophy that it identified revelation with ontological reason while rejecting the claims of technical reason. This is the very essence of the idealistic philosophy of religion. In opposition to idealism, theology must show that, although the essence of ontological reason, the universal logos of being, is identical with the content of revelation, still reason, if actualized in self and world, is dependent on the destructive structures of existence and the saving structures of life (Parts III and IV); it is subjected to finitude and separation, and it can participate in the "New Being." Its actualization is not a matter of technique but of "fall" and "salvation." It follows that the theologian must consider reason from several different perspectives. In theology one must distinguish not only ontological from technical reason but also ontological reason in its essentialperfection from its predicament in the different stages of its actualization in existence, life, and history. The religious judgment that reason is "blind," for instance, neither refers to technical reason, which can see most things in its own realm quite well, nor to ontological reason in its essential perfection, namely, in unity with being-itself. The judgment that reason is blind refers to reason under the conditions of existence; and the judgment that reason is weak—partly liberated from blindness, partly held in it—refers to reason within life and history. If these distinctions are not made, every statement about reason is incorrect or dangerously ambiguous.


Ontological reason can be defined as the structure of the mind which enables it to grasp and to shape reality. From the time of Parmenides it has been a common assumption of all philosophers that the logos, the word which grasps and shapes reality, can do so only because reality itself has a logos character. There have been widely differing explanations of the relation between the logos structure of the grasping-and-shaping-self and the logos structure of the grasped-and-shaped-world. But the necessity of an explanation has been acknowledged almost unanimously. In the classical descriptions of the way in which subjective reason and objective reason—the rational structure of the mind and the rational structure of reality—are related, four main types appear. The first type considers subjective reason as an effect of the whole of reality on a part of it, namely, on the mind. It presupposes that reality has the power of producing a reasonable mind through which it can grasp and shape itself. Realism, whether naïve, critical, or dogmatic (materialism), takes this stand, often without recognizing its basic presupposition. The second type considers objective reason as a creation of subjective reason on the basis of an unstructured matter in which it actualizes itself. Idealism, whether in the restricted forms of ancient philosophy or in the unrestricted forms of modern philosophy, makes this assertion, often without any explanation of the fact that matter is receptive to the structural power of reason. The third type affirms the ontological independence and the functional interdependence of subjective and objective reason, pointing to the mutual fulfilment of the one in the other. Dualism or pluralism, whether metaphysical or epistemological, takes this position, often without asking the question of an underlying unity of subjective and objective reason. The fourth type affirms an underlying identity which expresses itself in the rational structure of reality. Monism, whether it describes the identity in terms of being or in terms of experience (pragmatism), takes this position, often without explaining the difference between subjective and objective reason.

The theologian is not obligated to make a decision about the degree of truth of these four types. However, he must consider their common presuppositions when he uses the concept of reason. Implicitly theologians always have done this. They have spoken of creation through the Logos or of the spiritual presence of God in everything real. They have called man the image of God because of his rational structure and have charged him with the task of grasping and shaping the world.

Subjective reason is the structure of the mind which enables it to grasp and to shape reality on the basis of a corresponding structure of reality (in whatever way this correspondence may be explained). The description of "grasping" and "shaping" in this definition is based on the fact that subjective reason always is actualized in an individual self which is related to its environment and to its world in terms of reception and reaction. The mind receives and reacts. In receiving reasonably, the mind grasps its world; in reacting reasonably, the mind shapes its world. "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. "Shaping," in this context, has the connotation of transforming a given material into a Gestalt, a living structure which has the power of being.

The division between the grasping and the shaping character of reason is not exclusive. In every act of reasonable reception an act of shaping is involved, and in every act of reasonable reaction an act of grasping is involved. We transform reality according to the way we see it, and we see reality according to the way we transform it. Grasping and shaping the world are interdependent. In the cognitive realm this has been clearly expressed in the Fourth Gospel, which speaks of knowing the truth by doing the truth. Only in the active realization of the true does truth become manifest. In a similar way Karl Marx called every theory which is not based on the will to transform reality an "ideology," that is, an attempt to preserve existing evils by a theoretical construction which justifies them. Some of the impact of instrumentalist thinking on our contemporaries stems from its emphasis on the unity of action and knowledge.

While the cognitive side of "receiving rationality" demands special discussion, what has been said makes it possible to survey the entire field of ontological reason. In both types of rational acts, the grasping and the shaping, a basic polarity is visible. This is due to the fact that an emotional element is present in every rational act. On the receptive side of reason we find a polarity between the cognitive and the aesthetic elements. On the reactive side of reason we find a polarity between the organizational and the organic elements. But this description of the "field of reason" is only preliminary. Each of the four functions mentioned includes transitional stages on the path to its opposite pole. Music is further removed from the cognitive function than the novel, and technical science is further removed from the aesthetic realm than biography or ontology. Personal communion is further removed from organization than national community, and commercial law is further removed from the organic realm than government. One should not try to construe a static system of the rational functions of the human mind. There are no sharp limits between them, and there is much historical change in their growth and in their relationships. But all of them are functions of ontological reason, and the fact that in some of them the emotional element is more decisive than in others does not make them less rational. Music is no less rational than mathematics. The emotional element in music opens a dimension of reality which is closed to mathematics. Communion is no less rational than law. The emotional element in communion opens a dimension of reality which is closed to law. There is, of course, an implicit mathematical quality in music and a potential legal quality in all communal relations. But this is not their essence. They have their own rational structures. This is the meaning of Pascal's sentence about the "reasons of the heart which reason cannot comprehend." Here "reason" is used in a double sense. The "reasons of the heart" are the structures of aesthetic and communal experience (beauty and love); the reason "which cannot comprehend them" is technical reason.


Excerpted from Systematic Theology Volume I by Paul Tillich. Copyright © 1951 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Part I. Reason and Revelation
I. Reason and the Quest for Revelation
II. The Reality of Revelation
Part II. Being and Good
I. Being and the Question of God
II. The Reality of God

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