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).


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