Tillich, Paul Johannes

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Tillich, Paul Johannes

(tĭl`ĭk), 1886–1965, American philosopher and theologian, b. Germany, educated at the universities of Berlin, Tübingen, Halle, and Breslau. In 1912 he was ordained a minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. He taught theology at the universities of Berlin, Marburg, Dresden, and Leipzig and philosophy at the Univ. of Frankfurt until he was dismissed in 1933 because of his opposition to the Nazi regime. In the same year, at the invitation of Reinhold Niebuhr, he went to the United States and joined the faculty of Union Theological Seminary. In 1954 he became a professor at Harvard; in 1962 he became Nuveen professor of theology at the Univ. of Chicago. His theological system embraced the concept of "the Protestant Principle," according to which every Yes must have its corresponding No, and no human truth is ultimate. Faith, to Tillich, was "ultimate concern," and God was "the God above God," the "Ground of Being," or "Being-Itself." "New Being," rather than "salvation," should be the human goal. Tillich incorporated depth psychology and existentialist philosophy into his system and considered them essential elaborations of Christian doctrine. He aimed at a correlation of the questions arising out of the human condition and the divine answers drawn from the symbolism of Christian revelation. The great questions, in his classification, dealt with being, existence, and life. His writings include The Interpretation of History (tr. 1936), The Protestant Era (tr. 1948), The Shaking of the Foundations (1948), Systematic Theology, (3 vol., 1951–63), The Courage to Be (1952), Love, Power, and Justice (1954), Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality (1955), The New Being (1955), Dynamics of Faith (1957), Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions (1963), My Search for Absolutes (1967), My Travel Diary: 1936, ed. by J. C. Brauer (1970), and A History of Christian Thought, ed. by C. E. Braaten (1972).


See the reminiscences by his wife, Hanna (1973) and R. May (1973); C. J. Armbruster, The Vision of Paul Tillich (1967); J. R. Lyons, ed., The Intellectual Legacy of Paul Tillich (1969); L. F. Wheat, Paul Tillich's Dialectical Humanism (1970).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tillich, Paul Johannes


Born Aug. 20, 1886, in Starzeddel; died Oct. 22, 1965, in Chicago. German-American Protestant theologian and philosopher. An exponent of dialectical theology.

After World War I, Tillich emerged as a critic of liberal Protestantism and demanded a return to the original ideals of the Reformation. In Germany in the 1920’s he was a leader of the religious socialist movement—a variety of Christian socialism. From 1929 to 1933 he was a professor of philosophy at the University of Frankfurt, but he emigrated to the USA in 1933 to escape fascist Germany. He was a professor at Harvard University from 1955 to 1962 and at the University of Chicago from 1962 until his death.

Tillich strove to unite the fundamental trends of Protestantism and Christian theology as a whole and to lay the foundations of a new, ecumenical synthesis. He proposed the creation of a theology of culture that would recognize the sanctity of all aspects of life in modern society (see Tillich’s works dealing with psychotherapy, ethics, education, and sociology). Tillich criticized historical Protestantism, which, having replaced the “symbols” of Catholicism with rational conceptions, moral laws, and subjective emotions, threatened the foundations of the church.

In contradistinction to K. Barth, Tillich stressed the religious value of culture and the necessity for religion of preserving human autonomy. For Tillich, god abides in this world as its fundamental and dominant element. One cannot “search for” god as one would any other thing; god does not exist as a specific being. Therefore, according to Tillich, the atheistic protest against god as a perfect being dwelling above the earth is completely valid. Christ, for Tillich, is an image of the “new existence,” which overcomes the demonical mechanisms of personal and social alienation.

Unlike R. Bultmann, Tillich believed that symbols (myths) formed the “natural language” of religion and did not lend themselves to any substitution. His theological method was a characteristic example of an attempt to create, under the conditions of a crisis in religion, a theological system open to the influences of various trends in modern philosophy, psychology, and other fields. Tillich had a considerable impact on both Protestant and Catholic philosophy of the mid-20th century.


Gesammelte Werke, vol. 1–. Stuttgart, 1959–.
The Protestant Era. Chicago [1948].
The Courage to Be. New Haven, 1952.
Love, Power and Justice. New York, 1960.


Killen, R. A. The Ontological Theology of Paul Tillich. Kampen, 1956.
Hamilton, K. The System and the Gospel: A Critique of Paul Tillich. [New York] 1963.
Armbruster, C. J. The Vision of Paul Tillich. New York [1967].
Scabini, E. II Pensiero di P. Tillich. Milan [1967]. (Contains bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.