Tillich's onto-theology and the Paradigm


Tillich's theology, the frame of his ontological thought and the most of his conceptualizations have a strong affinity with the Paradigm of Christ.


the method of correlation

The major character of the method of correlation is the unification of man's question and God's answer in the depth of Reason.

As a method, his method of correlation is excellent in that the revelation and the question of finitude can be united. For both naturalistic (liberal and humanistic) and super-naturalistic (fundamental and literal) theologies failed to set up the structural frame between man and God. The former emphasized the humanistic side and ignored the revelation, and the latter did not find the ontological connection to God but separation. However in the respect of the rational explanation of the revelation, his use of the method was not successful as he did not assume that the gospel was completely metaphorical.

"Although God in his abysmal nature is in no way dependent on man, God in his self-manifestation to man is dependent on the way man receives his manifestation.(‡Tp.61)" The revelation itself is not dependent on man but how the revelation can be revealed is dependent on how we set up the question. In other words, if the horizon of the hermeneutic question of man is identified with the horizon of revelation that God answers, the fusion of horizons takes place.

"In using the method of correlation, systematic theology proceeds in the following way: it makes an analysis of the human situation out of which the existential questions arise, and it demonstrates that the symbols used in the Christian message are the answers to these questions." (‡Tp.62 ) "There is a mutual dependence between question and answer. In respect to the content, the Christian answers are dependent on the revelatory events in which they appear; in respect to form, they are dependent on the structure of the questions which they answer." (‡Tp.64 )

Tillich acknowledges that the style of the question we ask determines the style of the answer we can receive from the revelation. In the Paradigm of Christ, the style of the question is structural. We asked the ontological question of life's integration, from the perspective of the structure of human attitudes and that of human impulses, with the synoptic picture. To this pictorial question, the answer was given in the frame of the story, namely, the reorganization of characters, setting, and story producing life's integration. The revelation revealed itself as a metaphorical system.

the norm of theology and the ultimate concern

Tillich clarifies the object of theology by setting up 'the norm of theology' so that we can avoid the irrelevant issues outside theology. According to Tillich, theology has to deal with the object of our ultimate concern, which determines our being or non-being. This object, the nature of being, has power both to threaten our being and to redeem our being. This norm hence does not directly indicate any particular contents, scriptures, or doctrines.

The contents that the Paradigm of Christ deals with are also basically neutral. Based on the universal nature of light, it deals with the character of life's impulses; its destructive and constructive characters in the polarity between being and non-being. Metaphorically speaking, it deals with the question of how to transform our mind from God's wrath to God's grace and finally to habituate the Gestalt of God's grace in our mind.

being and non-being / infinity and finitude

For Tillich, the question of being and non-being is also dialectical. Because of its finite character, when our spirits are estranged, we cannot but feel ontological anxiety threatened by non-being. The infinity here is not merely something without end. It is a directing concept just as Hegel named such infinity as 'the true infinite' which holds the form of integration. Therefore, "the power of self transcendence of the infinite" overcomes the threat of non-being and makes our spirits belong to being itself. In the Paradigm of Christ, non-being is the deviation to self consciousness. This deviation gives our minds anxiety and makes our minds conscious of the threat of non-being. Out of this awareness, the moral impulse starts; the movement heading towards being itself.

the depth of reason

The depth of the reason is the place where being itself emerges in the rational structure of reason. It is the field where the object of man's ultimate concern emerges. This is the point of contact between man and God. It is, in other words, the gestalt of grace which holds the rational structure.

In the section of 'Final Revelation and the Word of God' (‡Tp.157), Tillich analyzes Revelation; the Word. "The Word is first of all the principle of divine self-manifestation in the ground of being itself. ... The ground of being has the character of self-manifestation; it has logos character, ... it is the divine life itself. In spite of its abysmal character, the ground of being is 'logical'; it includes its own logos."

He suggests that the Word of God provides the rational structure. Based on this very structure, man and God can be united in the depth of reason. We discover our participation in 'the new being' when we are united with the integrated body of this rational structure; the divine will as such.

Although Tillich did not clarify what this rational structure was, the Paradigm of Christ clearly indicates this logos concretely in terms of the nature of light. Giving direction to the participation through the image of the integration of light, it opens up the way to accomplish life's integration (the Gestalt of grace).

the concept of life

Tillich's concept of life is basically the same as that of Aristotle. ( ‡Vp.12) Life develops itself from potentiality to actuality. This simple context is elaborated by the dialectical method of Schelling and Hegel: in itself, for itself, and in and for itself. If we employ Tillich's favorite phrasing, it is the process of actualization of the power of being itself which overcomes non-being. However actuality in this world means also to surrender to the various limits of existence. Life (of man) for Tillich is a mixture of essential elements and existential elements. Therefore the human has to carry opaque and distorted ambiguity. Life's development takes place between the polar functions of being and non-being, infinity and finitude, and essence and existence. (This polarity corresponds to the self-conscious and the unconscious polarity in the Paradigm of Christ.) Life divides itself towards non-being, finitude, and existence, and in turn, tries to return to its beginning: being, infinity, and essence. Through this process, in spite of dividing itself, life acquires new content, a new center and establishes its individualization. The guiding principle in this process is the Christ as logos: life's integration. Given 'the form' of logos, 'the dynamics' of life have the direction of self-transcendence.

on final revelation and regarding the self-sacrifice of Christ

Tillich finds the ground of final revelation in self-sacrifice of Christ. This is a weak point of Tillich's view. A ground of revelation should not be a historical event. The ultimate revelation is that which unfolds the truth in the most simple, and yet structurally adequate way. And it is hidden at first as something that can be revealed only if one seeks for it seriously. Can it be called a self-sacrifice if Jesus knows beforehand that he will be surely resurrected after three days? The revelation can become the ultimate when it manifests 'the concrete universal' as the life's integration.

The purpose of revelation is a redemption of human spirit. It is life's integration. Hence the norm of revelation is whether the scripture or the method of a religion has the actual ability to accomplish this integration or not. Revelatory scriptures such as Tao te Ching, or Bagavad Gita, or any other scriptures, are collections of fragmentary revelations. If we look at them from the standpoint of life's integration, we can easily see that these scriptures do not carry systematic metaphors that structurally depict human spirit in the metaphysical dimension.

The revelation is final when it indicates accurately and completely an a priori principle of life, and other revelations cannot meet this level. The final revelation is that which has perfect ability to answer when we ask seriously about the truth of human existence and its transformation.

"The first and basic answer theology must give to the question of the finality of the revelation in Jesus as the Christ is the following: a revelation is final if it has the power of negating itself without losing itself. ..... The question of the final revelation is the question of the medium of revelation which overcomes its own finite conditions by sacrificing them, and itself with them. He who is the bearer of the final revelation must surrender his finitude - not only his life but also his finite power and knowledge and perfection. In doing so, he affirms that he is the final revelation. He becomes completely transparent to the mystery he reveals." (‡Tp.133)

Tillich's norm of revelation depends on his interpretation of what Jesus Christ is. Jesus for Tillich is still a historical person. It is a visible sign which Jesus himself abhorred in the gospel. The norm of revelation should be established in an invisible dimension. The comparison which revelation is superior to another, can be established not through what he did but through what the language of revelation indicates. Tillich's commonsense as a modern man made Jesus human and made him becoming the Christ by his continuous self-sacrifice. ("uninterrupted unity with the ground of being and the continuous sacrifice of himself as Jesus to himself as Christ." ‡Tp.137)

In the gospel, Jesus is the Christ from the beginning to the end. The gospel gives Jesus complete authority as the son of God. ("This is my beloved Son. Hear from him.") He doesn't seem to be continuously sacrificing himself to the Christ. Jesus is, first of all, a character as the son of God in the story, and then he is the metaphorical story as a whole.

The Paradigm of Christ no longer sees historical Jesus. The gospel as such is Jesus Christ. This medium of revelation surrenders itself through the readers' organization of the metaphorical system from the story, and in turn, becomes completely transparent (cf. the story of the empty tomb). The ruin of the temple at the end of the world also indicates counter part of this context. ("His disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, "You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another. That will not be thrown down." Matthew 24:1-2)

In the Paradigm of Christ, Jesus Christ becomes the concept of life's integration and the historical Jesus disappears. Here, the medium of the revelation represents the totality of life through the totality of the metaphors. If the finite form of the particular myth reflects completely the universal framework of the integration of the human mind, it can be seen as the final revelation. It becomes what Hegel called 'the concrete universal' and becomes completely transparent, while possessing itself and yet losing itself. Tillich's norm is still external as it is based on the historical Jesus. It has to be based inside the revelation, which is in the Word of God. The norm of final revelation lies in the fact that the revelation gives a consistent and adequate description of 'the concrete universal' through the closed system of myth.

The following passage may show that the gospel is the final revelation or at least it claims that it is the final revelation. "He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward." (Matthew 10:40-41)