Thursday, May 28, 2009

Theses on Paul Tillich's "Systematic Theology" - Thesis 6

Thesis 6: Spiritual Presence is manifest not only in human spirit but in history, which has to do with people groups rather than simply with individual people. Here (A) it is expressed unambiguously although fragmentarily. Three modes of this manifestation in history can be distinguished: (B) anticipation (the religions), (C) criterion (Jesus as the Christ), and (D) consequence (the Spiritual Community).

Explanation: (A) Unambiguous life is New Being, or the reunification of the self with its divine ground of being both under and after the conditions of existential estrangement. As life unambiguous, New Being provides the remedy to the ambiguities of life under the conditions of existential estrangement. Spiritual Presence is the impetus for self-transcendence and is manifest in human spirit. Insofar as spirit is driven outside of itself and into the self-transcendent moment by Spirit, unambiguous life – New Being – is present. But, “The divine Spirit’s invasion of the human spirit does not occur in isolated individuals but social groups” (139). The reason for this is that every aspect of human life in the spirit-dimension is necessarily communal: morality, culture, and religion are inexplicably linked to the encounter between self and other and, in more specifically human terms, between the ‘I’ and the ‘Thou’. Furthermore, the Spirit is present in all history, but history is not itself the Spirit’s manifestation. One discerns the Spirit’s presence in a particular social group by noting whether the group possesses symbols of its openness to the Spirit and to its fight against the profanization and demonization of such symbols. Tillich identifies the history of Israel as a particularly clear instance of this pattern.

Despite his talk about how to identify the Spiritual Presence in particular people-groups, Tillich affirms that there is no time or place bereft of this presence. “[M]ankind is never left alone…[I]t is continuously under the impact of the Spiritual Presence…[T]here is always New Being in history. There is always participation in the transcendent union of unambiguous life” (140). Lest his readers wonder precisely how life can be ambiguous while also participating in this un-ambiguity, Tillich presses on: “But this participation is fragmentary.” Tillich’s choice of the term ‘fragmentary’ is interesting in that it implies a quantitative notion rather than a qualitative one as implied in the language of ambiguity and un-ambiguity. This leads to the idea that the qualitative is manifest quantitatively. Manifestations, then, vary not in degree (either it is there or it is not - qualitative) but in scope (it is here and not there - quantitative). The corollary of this would seem to be that there are particulars within the spirit-dimension of human life – morality, culture, religion – that are unambiguous. I think I’m pushing Tillich a bit on this point (and would be happy to be corrected), but it seems consistent with his statements. In any case, this is Tillich’s way of getting at the already-but-not-yet character of New Being. Final fulfillment of the transcendent union that conquers existential estrangement is eschatological, but we are even now able to participate in life as healed in this union (unambiguous life) even if only fragmentarily and in the mode of anticipation.

(B) The anticipatory mode of the Spiritual Presence refers, however, to a different mode of anticipation, one which is more linear – whether conceptually or chronologically considered. This anticipatory mode of Spiritual Presence is found wherever the experience of that presence is not controlled by the criteria found in Jesus as the Christ (cf., 144). This leads Tillich to a brief discussion of the religions, which he accounts for in two basic types: the “original mana religion” and its substantial orientation, and “the great mythologies” (141-2). Mythic religion is an important precursor to Christianity insofar as its myths reveal the ecstatic nature of Spiritual Presence, and thus all religion is fundamentally mythic in character. The mythic elements of religion should never be removed since they are expressions of Spiritual Presence, but they ought not to be taken literally. In mythic religion, demonization of Spiritual Presence occurs with the introduction of dualism – Satan as a counterpoint to God, for instance – and it is to the credit of mysticism and ‘exclusive monotheism’ that they fight against this tendency.

(C) Tillich suggests by his discussion of ecstasy in mythic religion, as well as the fight against demonization of Spiritual Presence by mysticism and exclusive monotheism, that the manifestation of New Being in Jesus as the Christ is not unrelated to the manifestations of Spiritual Presence that preceded and followed him. For Tillich, “Jesus, the Christ, is the keystone in the arch of Spiritual manifestations in history. He is not an isolated event…[Instead, there obtains] an organic relation between the appearance of Jesus and the past and future” (147; this might be taken to support my argument by extension concerning the evolutionary character of New Being). Precisely what it means to be such a keystone involves being the criterion by which experience of Spiritual Presence is assessed. This is an epistemological point, but we know that for Tillich the epistemological and the ontological go together (ST1.19). The ontological basis for this epistemological move is found in Tillich’s Spirit christology.

Tillich attributes both faith and love to Jesus as the Christ, but it is how he accounts for Jesus as the Christ’s faith that moves his discussion forward. “The faith of Christ is the state of being grasped unambiguously by the Spiritual Presence” (146). This is not grasping in the usual sense that we have encountered, however. It is the same process, but it occurred to a greater degree. Jesus’ “spirit was ‘possessed’ by the divine Spirit” (144). This possession is what made Jesus into the Christ, and this “implies that the Spirit…became his Spirit” (147). Insofar as Jesus was the Christ, ‘possession’ language is revered: the Spirit possesses Jesus’ spirit, but the Christ possesses the Spirit. This latter possession is so complete that there is an identification made between – in traditional Trinitarian language – the divine Son and the Spirit: “the Son is the Spirit” (148; Tillich’s italics). This identity makes perfect sense in Tillich’s system where the Christ is the definitive manifestation of New Being, New Being is unambiguous Spiritual Presence, and Spiritual Presence is characterized by the divine Spirit ‘grasping’ or ‘driving’ human spirit into an ecstatic state that transcends the subject / object, essential / existential split. Thus, the ontological basis for Tillich’s epistemological move – identifying Jesus as the Christ as the criterion of Spiritual experience – is, ultimately, the self-identity of the divine Spirit. Jesus as the Christ is the criterion of Spiritual experience because he is the manifestation of the divine Spirit. For Spiritual Presence to differ from the criterion of Jesus as the Christ would be to suggest that Tillich’s account of the human plight and its solution is erroneous. Or, at the conceptual level, and perhaps more convincingly, it would mean that the Spirit is not self-consistent. Interestingly enough, this is the same argument that Calvin uses to maintain the close relation between Scripture and the Holy Spirit: the Spirit spoke in Scripture, why would the Spirit contradict itself by speaking otherwise elsewhere?

(D) We have already encountered Tillich’s notion that Jesus would not be the Christ if he had not been received as such. This is not only a counter-factual conditional statement, and thus of limited conceptual value, but it also runs against the grain of Tillich’s account of ecstasy. If the Spiritual Presence was truly manifested in Jesus as the Christ, then there can be no question as to his reception as such. In any case, Tillich seeks to maintain a relationship of mutual dependence between Jesus as the Christ and the Spiritual Community: “As the Christ is not the Christ without those who receive him as the Christ, so the Spiritual Community is not Spiritual unless it is founded on the New Being as it has appeared in Christ” (150). That the Spiritual Community is founded upon the New Being manifest in Jesus as the Christ means that this community is a creation of the Spirit. It is as such New Being unambiguously – though fragmentarily – manifest.

Tillich describes the Spiritual Community’s character through a conceptual analysis of Pentecost, and this analysis recalls a number of concepts that we have already encountered. The Spiritual Community has an ecstatic character and is defined by the presence of faith (certainty that overcomes doubt), love (mutual service), unity (reunion of humanity’s estranged members), and the drive toward universality (mission) (cf., 151). The Spiritual Community does not exist only in a fully manifest manner, however. It also has a latent form. The Spiritual Community’s latency is the form it takes before encountering the central manifestation of New Being in Jesus as the Christ. This ‘before’ functions both definitively and derivatively – before ~30 C.E. (‘basic kairos’) and before the continuously recurring encounter with that central event (‘derivative kairoi’). However, it is important for Tillich that this latency is not simply the potential for New Being and Spiritual Community resident within the ambiguities of human life. If this were the case, the category would have little meaning. Rather, the latent form of the Spiritual Community contains some actuality, and Tillich discusses this in terms of faith and love. Those among whom the Spiritual Community is latent have some measure of faith and love, but they are not fulfilled by their ultimate criterion found in Jesus as the Christ (cf., 153). It is on this basis that Tillich applies the latent category to groups such as (but not limited to) ancient and contemporary Judaism, Islam, the eastern religions, and communism.

Thus, in both its latent and manifest forms, the Spiritual Community is characterized by faith and love. These are its primary marks, and through them the Spiritual Community participates in the holy. Unity and universality are derivative marks. Universality corresponds to love in that it expresses the notion that the many forms of love are united within the Spiritual Community under the principle of agape without eradicating their diversity. This principle likewise applies to the individuals found within the community. Unity corresponds to faith in that it expresses the notion that the great diversity in conditions that lie behind the diversity of individual faith within the community does not rupture the collective faith of the community. Tensions abound in this unity because of its fragmentary character, but this unity is also unambiguous – a manifestation of the New Being – and therefore assured (cf., 155-7).

It was noted previously that morality, culture, and religion – the forms of Tillich’s three life-processes (self-integration, self-creativity, and self-transcendence) under the spirit-dimension – are essentially indivisible although distinguishable. Under the existential ambiguities of life, however, they separate from each other and thus remain truncated. These three functions are reunited within the Spiritual Community and freed from their ambiguity, and Tillich provides an account of their proper integrated relations. Morality is the most basic function insofar as it is here that the ‘I’ encounters a ‘Thou’ and is thus constituted as a self, all of which was previously discussed. The religious aspect, dependent as it is upon human spirit being grasped by divine Spirit, “presupposes self-establishment of the person in the moral act” (158-9). In return for supplying this presupposition, as it were, religion gives to morality its imperatival force, which it does in the mode of grace rather than law. This is love (agape) as new being rather than as law, to recall a previous discussion (cf., thesis 3.A). Though morality now has its imperatival form, it still lacks content. This is provided by the constructions of culture, in return for which morality supplies culture with seriousness. From the standpoint of the Spiritual Community, culture is not viewed with aesthetic detachment but with a desire to interact with being and meaning in their cultural forms. The content that culture supplies to morality shares in the relativities of that culture, but is ultimately governed by the organizing structure implied in the ‘I’ / ‘Thou’ encounter, namely, love.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Western Conference Champions

Once again the Detroit Red Wings are the NHL Western Conference champions. Bring on the strange birds in the tuxedos.

The photo is of Darren Helm working hard tonight, as he did all game. This guy is amazing, and ridiculously fast; one of the Wings' "black aces" this year, expect to see him on the regular season roster next year. He scored the game-winner in OT tonight.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Theses on Paul Tillich's "Systematic Theology" - Thesis 5

Thesis 5: As we have seen, Tillich conceives of a close relation between human spirit and divine Spirit while intending to maintain a distinction. To this end, he speaks of the Spirit’s manifestation within human spirit, elaborating on this notion both (A) formally and (B) materially.

Explanation: (A) Tillich broadly conceives human spirit – and this is the point at which Tillich has been driving in his analysis of life in the dimension of spirit – as a dimension of human life that “unites the power of being with the meaning of being” (111). It is human awareness of this spirit-dimension that enables symbolic speech about God as Spirit and God’s Spirit. What then is the relation between divine Spirit and human spirit? Insofar as Spirit manifests itself in spirit{O’Neill describes the relation between Spirit and spirit as one of mutual indwelling. See Andrew O'Neill, Tillich: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T & T Clark, 2008), 88.}, it instigates an outward movement in spirit. It is this movement that enables spirit’s self-transcendence, and Tillich uses the language of spirit as ‘driven’ and ‘grasped’. Here is the basic notion behind Tillich’s language of ‘ecstasy’. The force behind speaking of ecstasy in terms of being grasped or driven is the notion that the manifestation of Spirit in spirit is not something that spirit can bring about, but something that must come from the side of Spirit – and Tillich is adamant on this point. Tillich is also adamant that, although ecstasy means that spirit is engaged in a movement outside of itself, this movement does not run counter to or do away with the basic structures of humanity: “God does not need to destroy his created world, which is good in its essential nature, in order to manifest himself in it” (114). Rather than a movement contrary to the structures of human life and being, ecstasy should be understood as a movement whereby human spirit reconnects with its ‘dimension of depth’ (cf., 113), that dimension in which it is rooted (ground of being).

At the center of Tillich’s thinking about ecstasy and the relation between spirit and Spirit is Paul’s notion of ‘being in Christ’ (cf., 117). Tillich understands Jesus as being ‘in the Spirit’, and so our being in Christ is ecstatic participation in this state of affairs. Agape and gnosis are forms of morality and knowledge that derive from this ecstatic participation. In both of these cases, a unity is maintained between ecstasy and the structures of human life (another gloss on the preceding discussion of life in its spirit-dimension) – which is to say that a union between subject and object has occurred. The example that Tillich uses to elucidate this occurrence is prayer, wherein God prays to himself through us. Prayer is thus “a possibility only in so far as the subject-object structure is overcome; hence, it is an ecstatic possibility” (120). The media through which the Spiritual Presence is manifests, as Tillich relays the theological tradition, are Word and sacraments.

(B) The manifestation of the Spirit in the spirit carries with it specific material content, which Tillich discusses under the rubrics of ‘faith’ and ‘love’. These two terms are ways of describing the self-transcendence of spirit in the ecstatic moment where union occurs between subject and object: “faith is the state of being grasped by the transcendent unity of unambiguous life—it embodies love as the state of being taken into that transcendent union” (129). It is clear from this “that faith logically precedes love,” and it is further clear that faith and love are properly understood as mutually inherent. To have one without the other is the reintroduce ambiguity to self-transcendence.

Describing faith more fully, Tillich is careful to avoid identifying it with assent to certain doctrinal affirmations (intellect), certain moral orientations (will), or certain feelings (emotions). Faith is not to be identified or derived from human mental function, although it does not occur apart from these functions and in its occurrence it unites and subjects them to transformation in the power of Spiritual Presence (cf., 133). Positively, faith contains three aspects: (1) being opened by the Spiritual Presence, (2) accepting this opening despite the gap between spirit and Spirit, (3) the expectation of final participation in unambiguous life. Tillich calls these the ‘receptive’, ‘paradoxical’, and ‘anticipatory’ aspects of faith, and maps them onto his discussions (in ST2) of regeneration, justification, and sanctification (cf., 133-4).

Love is identified as “participation in the other…through participation in the transcendent unity of unambiguous life” (134). As with faith, love is not to be identified with intellect, will, or emotions, although all these mental processes are involved. The love in question – agape – is a love that seeks to overcome separation, and such love is “an ecstatic manifestation of the Spiritual Presence” (137). There are other forms of love, but the ambiguity of these forms is transformed by this agapic Spiritual Presence. Finally, although faith logically precedes love from our point of view under the conditions of existential estrangement, love is ultimately greater than faith. The reasoning behind this is that, while faith characterizes the New Being, agapic love characterizes the divine life (138).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Theses on Paul Tillich's "Systematic Theology" - Thesis 4

Thesis 4: The search for unambiguous life gives rise to the symbols of its anticipation, primary of which are the symbols of ‘Spirit of God’ – redefined as ‘Spiritual Presence’ – ‘Kingdom of God’, and ‘Eternal Life’.

Explanation: It is here that Tillich rehashes his discussion thus far as well as gives us a very important new piece of the puzzle. In redefining ‘Spirit of God’ to ‘Spiritual Presence’, he explains that “The Spirit of God is the presence of the Divine Life within creaturely life” (107). This presence symbolizes revelation’s answer to humanity’s search for unambiguous life as it corresponds to the ambiguities of life inherent within life’s spiritual dimension. Such divine presence within the creaturely world, although particularly related to the dimension of spirit in humanity, includes all the ‘lower’ dimensions that provide the preconditions for that dimension and thus we must understand Spiritual Presence to be found there as well.

The other two symbols – ‘Kingdom of God’ and ‘Eternal Life’ – occupy the same place with reference to life’s historic dimension. They will thus be important for the fifth section of Tillich’s Systematic Theology and need not concern us here. It is important to note, however, that Tillich conceives of these three symbols as mutually immanent – that is, where one is found the other two are also present. Their distinction is a matter of emphasis, not exclusivity of meaning.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Theses on Paul Tillich's "Systematic Theology" - Thesis 3

Thesis 3: The actualization of life as found under the conditions of existence is never without ambiguity. This is true for each dimension in life’s multidimensional unity, but it is especially true for the aspects of human life under the dimension of spirit where it leads to a search for unambiguous life. The three basic functions of life are (A) self-integration, (B) self-creativity, and (C) self-transcendence.

Explanation: (A) Self-integration is the life process that seeks to maintain an individuated being’s centeredness. Such maintenance is carried out in the face of the possibility of ‘disintegration’, which can occur either through the ossification or the dissolution of centeredness. Disintegration is a threat and maintenance is necessary because centeredness is not a static reality but a dynamic life process “of outgoing and returning” (33). The individual encounters manifoldness in the course of its life, and this manifoldness must be integrated into the individuated being’s centeredness. Thus, self-integration has as its goal concentration and fusion (integration), but these impulses are countered by opposing movements of expansion and division (disintegration). Tillich maps these concepts onto the organic realm generally in terms of health and disease, but the dynamic achieves a higher level in human being due to the fully developed presence of self-awareness – emerging from less sentient animal life and giving way in turn to the dimension of spirit – which allows for human being to have not simply an environment but a world. This is facilitated by the capacity for remembrance and anticipation.

Considered at the level of the dimension of spirit, self-integration is characterized by the moral act, wherein the essentially given potential centeredness of human being is actually given as one “actualizes it in freedom and through destiny” (38). It is through this actualization that the dimension of the spirit comes into existence by means of a human life achieving the level of personality within community, that is, centeredness amidst manifoldness. Because humanity has a world and not an environment, we can question and be questioned by this word. Morality consists in responding to valid commands that come to us from our world. These commands arise from “the essential structures of encountered reality, in man himself and in his world” (40), and thus constitute a sort of natural law (although Tillich is critical of traditional accounts of natural law, cf. 47). The most fundamental command-encounter occurs between two people, where one is forced to acknowledge the other’s personhood. In order for such an encounter to take place, one must participate in the world, more particularly in one’s community, and even more particularly in the other’s self. Such participation of one’s self in another “is the core of love in the sense of agape” (45). Agape is the norm of morality, and is beyond the distinction between formal and material norms. It is the path beyond the ambiguities that haunt self-integration under the condition of existential estrangement in the moral sphere because it includes the principle of justice and applies it to changing situations. Such application is always ambiguous and risky because ventured under the conditions of existential estrangement – one can never be entirely sure that one is correctly applying the “law of love” (47) – and so humanity embarks on the quest for agape as new being rather than law (50).

This ambiguity is ultimately tied to the necessity of self-sacrifice engendered by the process of self-integration. In this process of the self’s outgoing and returning, certain potentialities are actualized and others are not. As Tillich puts it, we must sacrifice “the possible for the real, or…the real for the possible” (43). The actualization of certain realities rules out other potentialities – when we chose to attend Princeton Theological Seminary, we ruled out the possibility of spending these years in, say, Cleveland Ohio, and all the possibilities for the actualization of our lives that we might find there. Clearly, we made the right choice. But each choice is always a risk, and this is the ambiguity of the self-integration process.

(B) Self-creativity is the process of life that seeks to maintain the proper balance between dynamics or growth and form. Tillich explains, “growth is the process by which a formed reality goes beyond itself to another form which both preserves and transforms the original reality. This process is the way in which life creates itself” (50). Such a notion seems right at home in Tillich’s evolutionary account of life’s multidimensional unity and could even be taken as a summary statement. The counterpoint to this dynamic process of growth is the notion of decay or destruction. Whereas growth takes a step forward, destruction takes a step backwards; whereas growth is the epitome of life, death is the epitome of destruction. In this process of self-creativity, the self moves outside of itself in two ways: by ‘labor’ and by ‘propagation’ (54). Both modes of movement are ambiguous, however, for they presuppose the finite individual and – for humanity at any rate – “existential awareness of one’s finitude…poses the question of whether the continuation of finite existence is worth the continuation of it” (57). This ‘death instinct’ is balanced by the ‘life instinct’ inherent in the process of self-creativity, and it in this balance that the ambiguity of this process is rooted.

Considered under the dimension of spirit, self-creativity is expressed in culture. Culture, at its most basic level, is the transference of humanity’s process of self-creativity to the object. Rather than growth of the self, culture is concerned with growth of the other. But, in so interacting with the other, humanity does not leave it unchanged, and herein lies the root of culture’s ambiguity. The first aspects of culture that Tillich considers are language and tool-making, and while these two are termed ‘basic’, language is the most basic. Humanity only has a world insofar as it has language (and vice versa, cf. 58), and our encounter with reality is mediated by language such that different languages facilitate different encounters with reality (cf., 60). The basic point here is that there is a gap between subject and object, and this gap haunts humanity’s cultural endeavors even in attempts to bridge this gap, and even in the relative success of these attempts (aesthetic undertakings, for instance). With reference to tool-making, the gap seems to lie between means (tools) and the ends they are made to achieve. If the production of means itself becomes the end, distortion has been introduced. On top of the language / tool-making layer Tillich adds the corresponding layers of ‘theoria’ and ‘praxis’ which, in their own ways, reproduce the gaps and distortions present in the first layers – the distance between subject and object, whether in epistemological or ethical terms (cf., 68).

(C) If the centeredness of self-integration is a circular movement and the growth of self-creativity is a horizontal movement, self-transcendence is a vertical movement executed by the actualization of freedom in relation to destiny (cf., 86). Life’s self-transcendent actualization is seen only in the mirror of humanity’s self-transcendence where the dialectic of holiness and profanity takes the form of greatness and tragedy. Greatness is human life reaching beyond its finitude – this is its dignity - and tragedy is the fear or failure to do so, or the structures of life forcing one back within proscribed limits (cf., 93). Religion is this movement of self-transcendence under the dimension of spirit.

There is a complicated relationship between the spiritual dimension of the three life-processes considered (morality, culture, religion). Considered essentially, “morality, culture, and religion interpenetrate one another. They constitute the unity of the spirit, wherein the elements are distinguishable but not separable” (95). In the movement from potential to actual – the movement from essence to existence – these three elements separate and are thereby distorted in ways which Tillich lays out (cf., 95-8). If this existential estrangement had not occurred, there would be no need for the religions: the religious aspect of life under the dimension of the spirit would be operative in morality and culture. They necessarily arise, however, under the conditions of existential estrangement and are plagued by ambiguity insofar as they labor under the dialectic of the holy and the profane, and face the dangers of profanization (treating the holy as a finite object among others) and demonization (elevation of the conditional to unconditional status) (cf., 98).

The religions arise as responses to revelation, and are thus founded “on the manifestation of the holy itself, the divine ground of being” (99). Insofar as a religion is grounded on revelation and this revelation is expressed in the resulting religion, that religion is unambiguous; but, insofar as religion is the receiving answer to revelation, it is ambiguous. “This is true of all religions, even those which their followers call revealed religion. But no religion is revealed; religion is…the distortion of revelation” (104). Here again is the dialectic between the holy and the profane, as well as the danger of the demonic. It is precisely because of this dialectic and the resultant ambiguities of the religions that those religions cannot serve as an answer to humanity’s quest for unambiguous life, even though the answer to this quest must be mediated by them as the existential manifestation of humanity’s self-transcending life-process.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Still Savoring Last Night's Win

I'm still euphoric over the game last night. It feels so good to be done with the Ducks and looking forward to the Hawks. Now I'm beginning to wonder if the cup final may not just be Wings on Pens again...which would have to be really weird for Hossa.

In any case, I'm hoping to see more offense from Detroit's big guns in the next series. Franzen has been doing his part, and Hossa put a few in, but it would be great to see Pav get a few as well. Also, I love watching Zetterberg score and - while he has been playing amazing defense and creating all kinds of offensive chances, to wit, Cleary's game winner last night - there has been far too little of him scoring - excepting his knack for hitting an empty net to seal the deal, which is not insignificant.

In any case, since I'm talking about Hank, here is my favorite play from this year's regular season. This happened on Feb 25th against San Jose. Go to about 2.10 into the video to see Hank make the poor Sharks look a bit foolish...

UPDATE: The following from the Freep this morning...

"The Wings' depth never was more apparent than in this 4-3 heart-stopping victory, one that down to the last minute showed that while the Pittsburgh-Washington series was about which team had the best player in the NHL, the Detroit-Anaheim series was fought between the best teams in hockey, and that the better one won."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bye-Bye, Duckies

We finally put those Anaheim thugs to rest. I'm looking forward to a great series with the Blackhawks, a team with whom the Wings have a longstanding rivalry, but a team that knows the meaning of the term "sportsmanship".

The picture is of Red Wings veteran goalie Chris Osgood making a spectacular save early in tonight's game (before the fans decided they were going to stand for the rest; it was actually hard to hear the announcers on the live radio feed I was listening to because the fans were cheering so loudly in the Joe). Ozzie has performed marvelously both against the Ducks and against the Blue Jackets. He has been perhaps the most consistent aspect of the Red Wings team this post-season. Who would have thought?

Go Wings!

Theses on Paul Tillich's "Systematic Theology" - Thesis 2

Thesis 2: Exercising great care in the selection of terminology, Tillich envisages (A) life as a (B) multidimensional (C) unity. (D) ‘Spirit’ is the penultimate dimension thus far actualized.

Explanation: (A) Tillich’s selection of the term ‘life’ is carried out in opposition to the term ‘process’. Although ‘life’ is a term with many meanings, it is superior to ‘process’ for two reasons. First, ‘life’ is inextricably linked with the concept of death. Thus, whereas ‘process’ applies equally to things living and dead, ‘life’ applies to the dynamic aspect of being that is engaged in overcoming its negation expressed in the concept of death. Second, given this notion of life as engaged in the overcoming of death, ‘life’ is open to ontologization in a way that ‘process’ is not. When ontologized, ‘life’ becomes ‘actuality of being’, the individual actualization in time and space of potentialities resident within beings. Language of ‘life’ as the ‘actuality of being’ achieves a level of generalization that ‘process’ is not capable of, thus freeing the notion of ‘life’ “from its bondage to the organic realm and elevating it to the level of a basic term that can be used within the theological system only if interpreted in existential terms” (12).

(B) Although life as the actuality of being must be understood in existential terms, this is not meant to imply that life lacks an essential aspect. Indeed, Tillich understands life as a “‘mixture’ of essential and existential elements” (ibid), a reasonable conclusion given that life is concerned not simply with potentialities resident within being(s) (essence), but with their actualization in space and time (existence). Given this twofold aspect of ‘life’, Tillich undertakes to provide two kinds of analysis: one preoccupied with the essential and one preoccupied with the ambiguities introduced by the existential.

Tillich’s analysis of life’s essential character is characterized by his conception of multidimensional unity. He takes the unity for granted (more will be said shortly), noting that the very fact of diversity compels us to look for unity. The language of ‘multidimensional’ is directly opposed to a notion that the diversity of life can be properly characterized by the notion of levels. Such a hierarchical conception confounds the relation between the organic and inorganic, and between the organic and spiritual. In each case, the temptation is to reduce one pole into the other. A ‘level’ conception also complicates the relation between religion and culture, tempting one to attempt the domination of the other. Finally, it is out of the question that the relationship between God and humanity be understood in terms of two levels of being. The use of such mythical imagery is acceptable, as long as it is not taken literally (Tillich wants to ‘demythologize’ – or, better, de-literalize – religious language).

Positively, language of ‘dimension’ – and its related notions of ‘realm’ and ‘grade’ – is aimed at providing a “changed vision of reality” (15). ‘Dimension’ is a spatial notion suggesting that varying aspects are able to converge without conflict, as with the relationship between depth and breadth. A ‘realm’ is a social term that designates the actualization of a dimension. ‘Grade’ is an evaluative term. Tillich’s rejection of ‘levels’ is not meant to imply that all dimensions of life are equal. Valuation of grades depends on quantity of potentialities actualized.

(C) At first glance, this notion that the dimensions of life can be graded or ranked, if you will, looks for all the world like a reintroduction of ‘levels’ into Tillich’s scheme, but he is right to distinguish between them. The conceptual underpinning for distinguishing between them is the way in which Tillich conceives of unity behind the multidimensionality of life, namely, as the interplay between the potential and the actual. Having introduced the notion of ‘dimension’, Tillich briefly returns to a discussion of his rejection of ‘levels’. The former captures the unity of life better than the latter because it can account for the fact that there are great tracts of life where certain ‘levels’ are entirely absent – think of a lava field; all that inorganic (although, admittedly dynamic) rock and no trace of the organic to be found. On the other hand, ‘dimension’ indicates that all dimensions of life are potentially real in any given instance, even if only a limited number are actually present. So, for instance, the lava field has all the potential of the highest dimension of life yet achieved – historical humanity – even if only the inorganic dimension is actualized. Those who see in such a conception an evolutionary understanding of the world are correct. Tillich understands each ascending dimension of the multidimensional unity of life as emerging from the former given the presence of a certain “constellation of conditions” (25). The presence or absence of the necessary constellation results from the dynamic interplay betwen freedom, destiny, and God’s directing creativity.

(D) Tillich seems rather uninterested in undertaking the taxonomical task of identifying and parsing the relations between all the various dimensions in life’s multidimensional unity, but this much can be gleaned (I’m extrapolating): the basic dimension is the inorganic, out of which the organic emerges; the organic dimension can be envisaged as a continuum of ascending complexity including, at the top end, the emergent psychological, spiritual, and historic dimensions – the highest we have yet encountered. These latter dimensions are found only in humanity, although less developed forms of the psychological aspect would likely be resident in non-human animal life that exhibits self-awareness (cf. 21, 27). The historic dimension is addressed in section five of Tillich’s Systematic Theology; his present concern is spirit.

Desirous of maintaining a clear typographical (although perhaps not conceptual {Paul W. Newman, "Humanity with Spirit," Scottish Journal of Theology 34 (1981): 415-6. For a developmental account of Tillich’s understanding of spirit prior to the Systematic Theology period, see Jean Richard, "Espirit, Sens Et Histoire D’après Paul Tillich," Laval théologique et philosophique 52, no. 2 (1996).}) distinction between spirit in its created forms and divine Spirit – that is, the capitalization is important – Tillich speaks favorably of concept of spirit found in the “Semitic…[and] Indo-Germanic languages” where it is understood as “the power of life” or “the power of animation itself” (21). This is not what Tillich means by the term, however. His conception is more specific, and limited to actualization by humanity. Although he resists a strict identification between ‘mind’ and ‘spirit’, the actualization of spirit certainly has a cognitive aspect – as well as a moral and (as will be seen later) a religious one. What this actualization involves is a certain sort of self-transcendence. Tillich has in mind the ‘personal center’ of a human individual making use of biological and other resources but without being bound to those resources in the process of self-actualization. Here again is the negotiation of freedom and destiny, which implies some discerning and deliberating process that introduces a certain distance between the self (‘personal center’) and the other. Speaking of this process of actualizing the dimension of spirit, Tillich notes in summary fashion that “the act, or more exactly the whole complex of acts, in which this happens has the character of freedom, not freedom in the bad sense of the indeterminacy of an act of the will, but freedom in the sense of a total reaction of a centered self which deliberates and decides” (28).

Extension: (A) Tillich’s discussion in the material covered by this thesis was called to mind during our last session together wherein we discussed Tillich’s christology. We discussed then how it could be that “essential being—i.e., the power of being conquering nonbeing—appears within and under the conditions of existence” {Previous presenter}. A related question immediately occurred to me: Is it the case that Tillich’s New Being can be (ought to be?) understood as the definitively emergent (in Jesus as the Christ) but still emerging apogeal dimension of human being? Is New Being a new dimension of human life beyond even the historical? In lieu of an extensive exploration of the matter, I would like simply to draw a few parallels between Tillich’s discussion of New Being’s emergence and his discussion of the evolution or emergence of life’s dimensions. Two such parallels will suffice: first, emergence in both cases is attributed to the interplay of divine directive creativity (providence), freedom, and destiny (ST2.130, 134; ST3.25); and second, the shared language of actualizing potential, albeit less clearly in Tillich’s discussion of New Being than in his discussion of the dimensions (ST2.119, which passage Will pointed out last week). These parallels are not sufficient to argue that Tillich worked consciously with the notion of New Being that I have suggested, but they do serve to suggest such a reading of Tillich’s systematic whole.

(B) The unity underlying the multidimensionality of life is the notion that all the potentials of essential being are always present, although they are actualized to varying degrees in each instance. Following Tillich’s penchant for ontologization, would it be fair to call the essence in which these potentialities are embedded, the ‘ground of being’? If so, the cosmos is simply actualization of divine being’s potential to varying degrees. Still, this potential is never fully actualized everywhere – except perhaps eschatologically (whatever this ‘symbol’ finally means for Tillich) – and so the divine remains transcendent. Granted, I am pushing Tillich here and drawing conclusions. But, if it is fair to push Tillich in this way and these conclusions are plausible, then it looks like Tillich might – by way of drawn consequence – be caught affirming precisely the pantheism he earlier rejected (ST1.236).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Theses on Paul Tillich's "Systematic Theology" - Intro and Thesis 1

Some of us here at PTS have been reading through Tillich's Systematic Theology this semester with Bruce McCormack. As part of the seminar, we each had to write a set of 'theses' explaining and interacting with a portion of Tillich's text. Mine was ST volume 3, pages 1-161. Given that I have posted on Tillich before, I thought that I would post my theses. I'll do one thesis at a time over a series of posts. Footnotes have been moved into brackets like these - {}. Enjoy!


Thesis 1: The ‘Introduction’ to volume three of Tillich’s Systematic Theology {Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, 3 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951-63).} constitutes [A] a brief apology for the work that emphasizes the strengths of a systematic theological approach while also [B] describing the theology contained therein as the contextually or culturally attentive interpretation of the meaning embedded in Christian symbols.

Explanation: [A] As one engaged in the study of systematic theology here at Princeton Theological Seminary, I generally consider the high systematic quality of Tillich’s three volumes to be one of their strongest selling-points. Apparently, there are (and were) some who disagree. Tillich addresses one such critic in the opening paragraphs of the ‘Introduction’. A theological system, pursued properly, will not seek to rationalize revelation but is simply an attempt to conform to “the justifiable demand to be consistent in one’s statements” (3). Indeed, Tillich lists the drive toward consistency as chief among the three benefits that he has found in the systematic approach, followed by its conduciveness to identifying hitherto unrecognized relations between various theological aspects and to perceiving the ultimate wholeness of theology’s object beyond its many discreet aspects, principles, and their relations.

[B] Tillich is quick to note, however, that choosing to work in a systematic mode does not necessarily imply failure to recognize the provisional character of one’s theology or that one undertakes such work in isolation from contemporary cultural context. Although Tillich confesses that Christianity’s birth-event (Jesus as the Christ) is universally important, he also affirms that “the way in which this event can be understood and received changes with changing conditions in all periods of history” (4). This means that the language of Scripture, or the fruits of historical-critical analysis of Scripture, cannot simply be adopted wholesale – although Tillich seems to want to claim such as a starting point for this thought. Rather, new ways of speaking must be found if one is to succeed in communicating with “the large group of educated people, including open-minded students of theology, for whom traditional language has become irrelevant” (ibid), which puts one in mind of Schleiermacher and his ‘cultured despisers’ of religion. Abhorrent for Tillich is the notion that faith be estranged from culture, and vice versa. So, having “penetrate[d] the meaning of the Christian symbols,” Tillich endeavors to “interpret the symbols of faith through expressions of our own culture” (4, 5).

Also included in Tillich’s conception of the contextual nature of any systematic theology is its seemingly inherent lack of comprehension. This incompleteness arises from attention to context, which dictates that some topics be treated at greater length than others. Furthermore, Tillich recognizes three important historical developments in his own period with which he hopes theologians will further engage: first, secular criticism of religion; second, other religions; third, Protestant-Catholic ecumenical dialog. The last point is, as Tillich indicates, important for his ecclesiology {Johnson sees in Tillich’s sacramentology, for instance, the opportunity for rapprochement between post-Vatican 2 Catholicism and Protestantism. Maxwell E. Johnson, "The Place of Sacraments in the Theology of Paul Tillich," Worship 63, no. 1 (1989): 17.}.