Paul Tillich’s name is not ordinarily included in a list of thinkers who have made a significant contribution to the ontological argument. Those who find affinity with Tillich’s thought have tended to overlook what he says about the arguments for God’s existence, influenced perhaps by Tillich’s sometime statements about the improper nature of such arguments.[i] Those who work with the arguments for God’s existence have tended to avoid Tillich’s ideas, perhaps for the same reason, or perhaps because his critique of the “existence of God” seems to belie a connection with arguments attempting to prove God’s existence.[ii]
Despite this overlooking, I contend that Tillich made a significant contribution to the ontological argument and that it is important to examine this contribution for several reasons. 1) Tillich sought to reconceive the argument from its traditional interpretation in which the argument is understood as attempting to prove the existence of a theistic deity on the basis of an idea of this deity. Tillich’s reconceptualization of the argument involves an alternative understanding of God from the theistic one, and a uniquely configured argument for first principles, neither of which are ordinarily discussed in analyses of the ontological argument. 2) Tillich’s reconceptualization of the argument helps clarify a position on the epistemology of religion that has become virtually commonplace in religious studies and in much contemporary theology. Much work in both fields proceeds from the often implicit assumption of the universal awareness of something transcendent in consciousness, which is precisely what the ontological argument shows, according to Tillich. Tillich’s interpretation of the argument shows one important way to justify this epistemology, while connecting it to a traditional argument. 3) Tillich’s comments on the argument are scattered throughout his work, and they are not well understood, having never been completely developed nor given a thorough analysis.
In order to present his formulation of the argument, I first discuss Tillich’s idea of God. I then present and analyze Tillich’s argument and show its relation to Anselm’s classical version. Finally, I address critics of Tillich’s version of the argument.
1. God is Unconditioned
Famously or infamously, Tillich denied that God exists, or that God is a being, and identified God with being-itself. In typical quotes, he says, “It would be a great victory for Christian apologetics if the words ‘God’ and ‘existence’ were very definitely separated,” and “God is being-itself, not a being.”[iii] What often gets overlooked in discussions of Tillich’s idea of God is its theological justification. I bring this justification to the fore in my analysis.
Tillich denied that God exists, or that God is a being, in order to preserve the notion of God’s aseity. In traditional theology, for God to be “a se” means God is neither derived from nor dependent upon anything. Tillich points out repeatedly that if you take this idea seriously, then no aspect of finite reality and no category of thought can be applied literally to God[iv]. If some characteristic of finite reality applies literally to God, it means that aspect of reality is greater than God in the sense that God relies on it being there in order to be. It is unconditioned, and it conditions God. God is dependent upon it, and is not a se. Finite reality and all of its parts must be made possible by God, but if anything in finite reality is literally applied to God, or if we can subsume God under any categories applicable to finite reality, this shows that God is subject to some part of reality and is not a se.
There is a long tradition of analogy and negative theology in Judeo-Christian reflection that agrees with the denial of literal knowledge of God. However, in much of this theology, God is still talked about as if God were an existing being. Tillich critiques even this language with the claim that if God is thought of as a being, or an individual entity, it implies that the category of substance is being applied to God.[v] He mentions other categories like space, time, and causality being applied to God when God is thought of as a being, but substance is the most important one, because it is the category by which something is determined as an individual entity that is part of a larger whole and that stands over-against other entities. When we think of God as a being, we apply the category of substance literally to God. In applying that aspect of finite reality literally to God, we regard that aspect of reality as unconditioned and make God subject to it.
A challenge to Tillich would certainly come from those who claim the idea of a necessary being affirms God’s aseity. A necessary being is conceived as a being. It is an object that is part of the whole of reality and of which the subject has a corresponding concept. But it is a being that makes itself exist, or contains its own existence, rather than relying on anything to exist, so presumably it is not derived from nor dependent on anything.
Tillich is not entirely helpful in dealing with this challenge, since he gives no explicit critique of a necessary being. At one point, however, he gives a terse critique of the conception of God as “a necessary substance,” and it is clear he has the same concept in mind as a necessary being.[vi]
As I interpret him, Tillich’s claim is that to conceive of God as a necessary substance involves a contradiction.[vii] While it endeavors to protect God’s aseity, it surreptitiously applies a finite category literally to God, and in so doing invariably subjects God to something finite. Tillich says of a necessary substance that “such a being would itself be a substance with accidents and would again open the question of substantiality itself.”[viii] If God is conceived as an individual entity, and, therefore, through the category of substance, the category of substance itself remains unexplained or unconditional. Protesting that God causes God’s own substance does not explain how God can be subsumed under a finite category. As long as God is subsumed, or is an object in relation to which the subject has a corresponding concept, God is subject to some aspect of reality. God’s aseity cannot be upheld if God is a being, but only if God is being-itself.
William Rowe fails to take seriously the above argument in his analysis of Tillich’s idea of God. Rowe notes Tillich’s critique of applying finite categories to God, but says, “[w]hen the classical theologians asserted the existence of God they did not mean to imply, nor were they taken to imply, that God is subject to the conditions of finitude – time, space, etc [the other categories]. Hence, it would seem that Tillich has not given any convincing reason as yet why it would be a mistake to say that God exists when ‘exists’ is used not in Tillich’s special sense [as being subject to the categories], but either in its ordinary sense or in the sense in which the classical theologians used it.”[ix] Rowe misses Tillich’s point that those who speak of God as a being, or as existing, have invariably though unintentionally slipped finite categories into their conception of God. Tillich is pointing to a contradiction within the conceptuality of the tradition, not simply using narrow technical language, or misunderstanding/misrepresenting the intent of those within the tradition.
In Tillich’s conceptuality, as being-itself, God is the source of everything, and yet not another being that stands over-against the subject and of which the subject has a corresponding concept. God is transcendent, undetermined by the mind, and yet related to everything that is, including the subject’s own consciousness, as the power that overcomes non-being and makes it be. Tillich commonly calls God the “unconditioned,” a significant term since it points to that which cannot be determined by the mind, but transcends the subject-object structure altogether. This is the term I favor in this paper, since it is important for Tillich’s understanding of the ontological argument, which seeks to show that something unconditioned appears in knowing.
One final note needs to be added about Tillich’s idea of God. For Tillich, the identification of God as being-itself, or the unconditioned, is essential for a reflective grasp of God in both philosophy and theology, but it does not fully describe the immediate religious experience of God. Analysis of religious experience shows that the idea of God as unconditioned is most generally fused with some concrete representation of God, which functions as a symbol.[x] As Tillich says in a rather obscure quote, “God is unconditioned, that makes him God; but the ‘unconditional’ is not God.”[xi] In other words, in the inner meaning of God is the idea of the unconditioned, but contained within the totality of the notion of God is more than that bare idea. He continues, “the word ‘God’ is filled with the concrete symbols in which mankind (sic) has expressed its ultimate concern – its being grasped by something unconditional.”[xii] To experience God, for example, as father, king, or lord, is to experience the fusion of a finite reality with the unconditioned experienced in and through this reality. In this fusion, some concrete object functions as a symbol of God. I will not attempt to justify Tillich’s theory of symbols here, but only point out that the religious idea of God, or God as experienced in some concrete religion, is more complex than this abstract analysis of God as unconditioned shows.
2. Tillich’s Ontological Argument
Although he does not put it in quite these terms, there is a major distinction in Tillich’s thought between the ontological approach in the philosophy of religion and the ontological argument itself. The ontological approach is defined by the epistemological position that there is an awareness of the unconditioned within consciousness. In other words, human consciousness does not merely consist in the synthesis of objects perceived through the senses and reasoning about them, including reasoning about their possible source. Human consciousness reaches to something unconditioned, or contains awareness of it as an element. The ontological argument, rightly understood, presents the justification for this epistemology.
Tillich’s epistemology makes no special appeal to religious experience, even though in his mature thought Tillich connects it with religious experience.[xiii] The justification of this position refers to ordinary experience, or the conditions of experience.
As he develops it, the ontological approach shows that there is an awareness of the unconditioned in both practical and theoretical acts.[xiv] In other words, his epistemological position affirms the presence of the unconditioned in both knowing and doing, the major directions of human relatedness to reality. I focus only on the theoretical side, since one of my goals in analyzing Tillich’s version of the ontological argument is to set it in relation to traditional forms of the argument, none of which involve practical considerations.
Tillich’s argument involves a transcendental deduction of the conditions of knowing. The deduction contains a main argument and two supplementary parts.[xv] Tillich’s main argument, in turn, can be broken down into two parts. In one part, he shows the indubitability of the subject’s bearing of a norm of truth. In a second part, he shows that the bearing of this norm involves the awareness of something unconditioned.
Tillich works with the classical conception of knowledge or truth as correspondence between subject and object.[xvi] Knowledge consists of the subject making a correct judgment about reality, or more fully, making a correct judgment of the correspondence between subject and object, given the synthesis between them. The focus of Tillich’s main argument is not on concrete judgments, or any truths in any field of knowledge, but on the fact that the subject has the capacity to make judgments about reality. This capacity involves applying a correspondence-norm, or a norm of truth, to a concrete subject-object interaction.
The indubitability of the norm of truth is shown by a reductio argument regarding the process of knowing. In different places and in different ways Tillich points out that denial and doubt in knowing presuppose the norm of truth.[xvii] I want to systematize Tillich’s reductio argument at this point to show that all major theoretical postures presuppose this norm.
We can imagine four major postures taken by a subject to any theoretical judgment. One could affirm the judgment, claiming it corresponds with reality; one could deny the judgment, claiming it does not correspond; one could doubt, question, and debate the judgment; or one could claim a decision cannot be made about the judgment. All of the options presuppose the subject’s ability to apply a correspondence-norm, or norm of truth. Certainly one must apply a norm to affirm a judgment. One must also apply a norm, however, to deny a judgment. Any negative judgment presupposes and lives from the positive bearing of a norm of truth by the subject. One cannot deny that a judgment corresponds to reality without presupposing the subject’s ability to make judgments about reality. Doubting, questioning, or debating a judgment presuppose a norm of truth as well. One could not debate the veracity of a judgment without presupposing the capacity in the debaters to determine that veracity. Doubting or questioning a judgment is only meaningful under the presupposition of a norm that gives validity to that questioning and doubting. Finally, the claim that one cannot know whether a judgment is true presupposes the bearing of a norm to determine how or why a decision cannot be made.
It is important to note that the argument for a correspondence-norm, or norm of truth, is on a different level than arguments about the specific nature of the correspondence between subject and object. The correspondence itself may be conceived in terms of naïve realism, idealism, or a multitude of positions in between. Every theory about the nature of the correspondence, however, relies on the presupposition of a correspondence-norm that would make it possible to formulate, and affirm, deny, debate, or declare uncertain that theory. Put differently, the theory of the specific nature of the correspondence between subject and object is another field of knowledge that is subject to the ultimate criterion of knowledge, which is what is disclosed in the idea of a correspondence-norm.
To claim that the capacity to apply a norm is indubitable is the same thing as saying the subject bears an indubitable awareness of truth. In other words, when one analyzes the major postures toward judgments and shows how a norm of truth is presupposed as something borne by the subject in every posture, one is pointing out an awareness of truth the subject has, though it is something the subject may overlook, especially in doubting or denying particular truths. Through the reductio argument, one focuses attention on the fact that the subject bears a norm of truth, thus raising it to conscious awareness. I speak more below about the character of this awareness, but for now I simply affirm something Tillich presupposes, which is the identity between the affirmation that the subject bears a norm of truth and the subject’s awareness of this norm.
As Tillich shows, the awareness of the norm of truth is the awareness of something unconditioned that transcends the distinction between subject and object. It is, as he puts it, “the identity of subject and object,”[xviii] or that which “transcends subject and object,”[xix] or “something beyond subjectivity and objectivity.”[xx] It is a transcending unity in which both subject and object participate and which makes possible all concrete affirmation, denial, doubt, and uncertainty in the knowing process. It is being-itself appearing in the theoretical function as that which is beyond subjectivity and objectivity, but that in which they both participate, and which makes possible the judgments in that process.
The norm of truth cannot be merely subjective, because the subject uses it to affirm, negate, debate, or declare uncertain the correspondence with objects. To make possible these judgments about reality, it must be beyond mere subjectivity. Since the subject bears it, it is, of course, not merely objective. In fact, it is not an object at all in the sense of something the subject can have a synthesis with. It is that by which the subject is able to judge all possible objects of synthesis, or all possible contents of knowledge. Because it is that which makes it possible to judge the correspondence in the difference between subject and object, it must be an identity between subject and object, or a unity in which they share. It could be called a transcending identity, or a grounding identity, depending on whether one wants to use height or depth metaphors in the description. Something that transcends the difference between subject and object, but is not another object, appears in knowing and enables the determination of correspondence despite difference.
The subject cannot condition or determine the norm of truth. In fact, the relationship runs in the reverse direction. The subject is conditioned and determined by this norm, as evidenced by the fact that the use or application of the norm is indubitable. The subject can doubt, negate, debate, or declare uncertain the veracity of any concrete truths, but it cannot deny its own capacity to apply a norm of truth.
Since the bearing of the norm is indubitable, it is a necessary thought. Tillich claims there is “unconditional certainty” about it.[xxi] The certainty about this norm is different from the certainty about any content of knowledge, which can always be doubted. In fact, affirming the norm involves a paradox, since it is the affirmation of the first principle of knowledge. Claiming it is true that the subject bears the norm presupposes already the validity of the norm.[xxii] This means the truth of the norm and the certainty attached to it is not like the truth or certainty of any other contents of knowledge. What is affirmed is a grounding truth and grounding certainty. While Tillich does not use these terms, perhaps it is best to describe the affirmation of the norm as an assent or an opening of the subject to the presence of the norm. The subject takes note of and acknowledges the ground by which it is conditioned. At the same time, however, what the subject is opening to presents itself as a necessary thought that cannot be denied.
The two supplementary arguments Tillich gives focus respectively on the presence of the unconditioned in the subjective and objective side of knowing. Regarding the subjective side, Tillich claims numerous times in his work that the unconditioned appears as a “demand” for knowledge or for truth.[xxiii] The quest to know has an unconditional quality that drives the subject beyond every tentative grasp of reality and determines the scientific process. The subject is conditioned by the norm, rather than conditioning it. Part of that conditioning is not only that the subject bears and must apply a norm, but involves the bearing of a demand ultimately to break beyond any tentative grasp of reality to a full or complete one.
The objective side involves the grasp of the unconditioned in and through the contents in every field of knowledge. Tillich speaks of the “depth of reason,” or the presence of the unconditioned in the knowing process that he describes as “pointing to… the infinite power of being and of the ultimately real through the relative truths in every field of knowledge.”[xxiv] Here, positive correspondences in the knowing process function as symbols for that which transcends them and breaks through them. The norm that makes it possible to determine correspondence transcends, but remains present in the actual correspondences that make up the various fields of knowledge. This presence is not absolute, or there would be no criticism, and we have already seen that the norm bears the capacity to negate, doubt, and question.
With this full description, Tillich points to the presence of the unconditioned not only in isolated theoretical acts, as in the main argument, but in the knowing process as a whole. It is present as presence (the ultimately real in relative truths), and as demand (the inexhaustible drive for a complete unity of truth), in the totality of the knowing process.
3. Tillich and Anselm’s Argument
When Tillich criticizes the arguments for the existence of God he most often has cosmological and teleological arguments in mind. He says, for example, “[e]very argument derives conclusions from something that is given about something that is sought. In arguments for the existence of God, the world is given and God is sought.”[xxv] He critiques all such arguments that reason on the basis of sense experience by means of finite categories to something that transcends sense experience.
At times, such as in the quote above, Tillich tends to reduce the meaning of “argument” to arguing for something unknown and not experienced on the basis of something experienced, a definition which is certainly too restrictive. Among other things, it would deny that transcendental arguments unfolding the conditions of experience (which are themselves experienced!) are arguments.
There is a special problem, however, of which I made mention above, in regarding Tillich’s version of the ontological argument as an argument. Strictly speaking, one cannot argue for the norm of truth, because one must presuppose it in every argument. This is why Tillich calls the ontological argument an “analysis of human thought,”[xxvi] or “the rational description of the relation of our mind to Being as such”[xxvii] instead of an argument.
Tillich’s comments on the Anselmian form of the argument are mostly critical. He faults Anselm for trying to prove the existence of a highest being, proposing to move from something known, an idea of God in the mind, to something unknown, the reality of God outside the mind.[xxviii] This kind of argument is only a modified version of the cosmological form of arguing. God remains unknown and not experienced. The way to God is reasoning on the basis of an idea of God in the mind, rather than sense experience as in the cosmological way. In both cases, however, God remains an object that exists, or an object for which the subject is supposed to have a corresponding concept, rather than something that is present in the subject, though transcending the distinction between subject and object.
Tillich never gives a detailed critique of Anselm’s argument. He resorts instead to generalizations like “[Anselm was] open to all attacks from Gaunilo and Thomas to Kant, who rightly deny that there is a logical transition from the necessity of Being itself to a highest being,[xxix] and “Kant’s argument that existence cannot be derived from the concept is absolutely valid against [Anselm’s argument].”[xxx] Without going into the complications of Kantian interpretation, it is fair to say that Tillich denies any formulation of the argument that tries to move from an idea of God in the mind to the corresponding existence of God in reality. One cannot derive the existence in reality of any object of which the subject is supposed to have a corresponding concept by simply beginning with the concept or reflecting on it.
Despite his criticisms of Anselm’s argument, Tillich affirms an intention or meaning in Anselm’s argument that transcends its faulty argumentative form. Most fundamentally, Tillich affirms Anselm’s turn to the subject in order to find God. Speaking affirmatively of Anselm’s approach in the Proslogion, he says “Before thought goes outside itself to the world, it should be certain of God.”[xxxi] This direction of arguing overcomes the problems inherent in the cosmological approach, which regards God as a questionable object and looks first to the world or some characteristic of the world to determine whether God exists. As Tillich’s transcendental argument shows, the subject takes an awareness of God to the world, an awareness present in the knowing process.
He gives one other terse affirmation of the intent in Anselm’s argument when he says, “[t]he Anselmian statement that God is a necessary thought and that therefore this idea must have objective as well as subjective reality is valid in so far as thinking, by its very nature, implies an unconditional element which transcends subjectivity and objectivity, that is, a point of identity which makes the idea of truth possible.[xxxii] Anselm’s intent, especially in Proslogion 3 and the reply to Gaunilo, is to make God a necessary thought and show that the idea has objective as well as subjective reality. This intent is frustrated by Anselm’s inadequate idea of God that conceives God as a being that exists over-against the subject and for which the subject is supposed to have a corresponding concept.
4. Critics of Tillich
Two interpreters of Tillich, Adrian Thatcher and John Russell, have explicitly analyzed Tillich’s use of the ontological argument. Thatcher critiques Tillich, because, he says, “[Tillich] is not troubled by the ontological argument’s passage from thinking to existing,” even though “a majority of theologians and philosophers dismiss this reasoning as faulty.”[xxxiii] Thatcher makes this claim despite stating in another paragraph that in Tillich’s interpretation, the ontological argument shows that “[t]hinking presupposes being as the essential unity between the thinker and what is thought.”[xxxiv] If the ontological argument shows the unity between the thinker and what is thought, then Tillich does not accept the argument’s passage from thinking to existing, from an idea in the mind to a reality outside the mind. In Tillich’s interpretation, the ontological argument discloses something that transcends the distinction between the thinker and what is thought; it does not move from one to the other.
Russell makes the same mistake, inconsistently affirming in quotes and statements that Tillich uses the ontological argument to show the presence of something beyond subject and object, while criticizing Tillich because “[h]e embraces the ontological argument’s most often, vigorously criticized tenet: that transition from the ideational to the extra-ideational.” [xxxv]
While Thatcher and Russell’s criticisms are both based on a confusion about what Tillich is doing, one could modify their criticisms, charging that while Tillich claims to reject the transition in the ontological argument from thinking to existing, he is unable to accomplish this. In other words, we find no awareness of something beyond subject and object in an analysis of theoretical acts. When we analyze the process of knowing, we learn only how the mind works. We discover only the regulatory principles that determine knowing, finding no link between the mind and what is outside it.
We can imagine a Tillichian response to this criticism. The norm of truth cannot be a purely regulatory principle, because it is that by which the subject judges its correspondence with objects, and in order to judge this correspondence, the subject must operate from a point of identity with objects. Moreover, the capacity to judge correspondence cannot be denied, since one applies the capacity in denial, doubt, or the claim of uncertainty about it. It would have to be true that the subject cannot judge correspondence, or that the subject cannot know whether there is correspondence. Such a claim involves the application of a norm of truth and makes a judgment about the correspondence, thereby implicitly relying on that which it seeks to deny.
Graham Oppy does not comment on Tillich’s argument in his extensive book on the ontological argument, but he does have a chapter on “Hegelian” arguments, which includes an analysis of neo-Platonic arguments. Tillich’s argument fits under this type, since, according to this type the meaning of the ontological argument is to point out the “intuition” of an absolute ground.[xxxvi]
Oppy does not criticize this argument directly, but indirectly, pointing to the ineffectiveness of the argument outside the circle in which it is made. He says “[t]he effect of this interpretation of the ‘ontological argument’ is to undermine its status as an argument.” While the defender of the argument “believes” there is an ontological ground, “a genuine debate about the content of those beliefs – that is, a debate about the alleged existence of an ontological ground – requires a framework in which the existence of the ontological ground is not taken for granted.” Without such a framework, “there is no possibility of debate, or argument, or proof.”[xxxvii] The defender may “expound” his or her position, but cannot persuade others with whom he or she initially disagrees.[xxxviii] The argument serves as an internal explanation, given a certain set of beliefs, but it cannot serve to justify beliefs to those not already holding them.
The value of this critique is Oppy’s recognition that in this interpretation, the argument is not an argument in the sense that it begins with premises based on something known and experienced and argues by them for the existence of something unknown and not experienced. But this is not to say that the proponent of this type of argument merely “believes” something and then proceeds to expound that belief. The purpose of transcendental arguments is to lead the mind to see the conditions under which it operates. Tillich’s argument is a transcendental argument in that sense, arguing for the ultimate conditions of knowledge.
What Oppy does not acknowledge is that the demand that there be a framework for debate, argument, and proof in the sense he stipulates, makes epistemological assumptions. It assumes there is no knowledge of first principles by immediate intuitions. But it is that epistemological claim that requires justification in the face of a transcendental argument like Tillich’s. In other words, a defender of the argument in Tillich’s sense can effectively turn the tables on Oppy. Either he needs to disclose the epistemological assumptions behind the claim that there is no knowledge of first principles through intuitions and the issue can be debated on that level, or he needs to engage in a critique of the transcendental argument itself. It will not do to define the boundaries of legitimate arguing in such a way so as to exclude transcendental arguments for first principles, and then claim that those who make such arguments are merely expounding beliefs they already hold. Tillich’s argument purports to reveal the implicit awareness of the unconditioned in agnosticism about the existence of God. Ultimately, that argument, or the framework in which it is made, must be accepted or critiqued.
[i] In one of the more significant recent monographs on Tillich’s thought, Langdon Gilkey flatly states “[Tillich] denied that an argument for the transcendent power and ground of being was possible” (Gilkey on Tillich (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 105). Gilkey never discusses Tillich’s use of the traditional arguments.
[ii] In his detailed and extensive volume on the ontological argument, Graham Oppy mentions Tillich’s name only once in the literature review, and he never analyzes any of Tillich’s statements (Ontological Arguments and Belief in God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 275). To Oppy’s credit, he discusses a type of argument to which Tillich’s is related. I comment on Oppy’s analysis of this argument in the final section of this paper.
[iii] Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 205, 237.
[iv] Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 209, 235; Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 6
[v] Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 235.
[vi] Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 209.
[vii] At another point, Tillich calls the idea of an unconditioned being “a contradiction in terms” (Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 207).
[viii] Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 209.
[ix] William Rowe, Religious Symbols and God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 76-77
[x] I say in religious experience the unconditioned is “most generally” fused with a concrete representation, because Tillich does allow for mystical experiences that are devoid of concrete symbols.
[xi] Theology of Culture, 24.
[xii] Theology of Culture, 24-25.
[xiii] In the Systematic Theology, Tillich deals with the arguments for God’s existence, including the ontological argument, under the “Being and God” correlation. Following the question/answer form of the method of correlation, he claims at one point that the arguments do not prove the existence of God, but “are expressions of the question of God which is implied in human finitude (Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 205).” He seems to speak as if the arguments do not disclose the reality of God, but only pose a question that must be answered by revelation.
There are numerous interpretive problems at this point, many of which have to do with Tillich’s critique of the idea of the existence of God and his analysis of what is contained in that idea. As I have pointed out, for Tillich, the concrete religious experience of God contains a fusion of two elements: the unconditioned, and some concrete reality that symbolizes the unconditioned. These elements appear fused in a historical revelation, which grounds a concrete religious tradition. When Tillich talks about the arguments posing the question of God, he means they can disclose the unconditioned as an ever-present element in human consciousness, even though they stop short of displaying the fullness of the God of religious experience. Speaking of the ontological argument, he says, “nothing is more important for philosophy and theology than the truth it contains, the acknowledgment of the unconditional element in the structure of reason and reality (Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 208).” Historical religion goes beyond this analysis, but does not conflict with it.
[xiv] Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 206-207; Theology of Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), 22.
[xv] Like so many of Tillich’s positions, his complete argument is scattered throughout his writings and is embedded in descriptive assertions and historical interpretations. In particular, Tillich traces the roots of his version of the argument to Augustine and thinks that the main form of the argument was affirmed and developed by the medieval Fransiscans (Theology of Culture, 12-13). I do not comment on the veracity of Tillich’s interpretation of Augustine or the Fransiscans, but simply lift up the version of the argument he affirms. Moreover, I do not follow a particular formulation of the argument Tillich gives, but draw out his ideas from multiple presentations and suggestions.
[xvi] “[T]ruth [is] the ‘really real’ received adequately by the cognitive function of the human mind” (Dynamics of Faith, (New York: Harper and Row, 1957), 80).
[xvii] He credits the insight that the norm of truth cannot be denied to Augustine (Theology of Culture, 12), and the insight that it cannot be doubted to Matthew of Aquasparta (Theology of Culture, 13).
[xviii] Theology of Culture, 14.
[xix] Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 207.
[xx] A History of Christian Thought (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968) 164.
[xxi] Theology of Culture, 23.
[xxii] This explains Tillich’s somewhat obscure statements that “God is the presupposition of the question of God,” and “God can never be reached if he is the object of a question and not its basis (Theology of Culture, 13).”
[xxiii] See especially The System of the Sciences According to Objects and Methods, trans. Paul Wiebe, (London and Toronto: Associated University Press, 1981), 34-37. Here, Tillich establishes and makes systematic use of the idea of an unconditioned demand in knowing.
[xxiv] Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 79.
[xxv] Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 205.
[xxvi] A History of Christian Thought, 164.
[xxvii] Theology of Culture, 15.
[xxviii] Systematic Theology, vol. 1, 207; Theology of Culture, 15.
[xxix] Theology of Culture, 15.
[xxx] A History of Christian Thought, 165.
[xxxi] A History of Christian Thought, 162.
[xxxii] Systematic Theology, 207.
[xxxiii] Adrian Thatcher, The Ontology of Paul Tillich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 79.
[xxxiv] The Ontology of Paul Tillich, 80.
[xxxv] John Russell, “Tillich’s Implicit Ontological Argument,” Asian Journal of Theology, 22 (1988), 490.
[xxxvi] Ontological Arguments and Belief in God, 101-102.
[xxxvii] Ontological Arguments and Belief in God, 102.
[xxxviii] Ontological Arguments and Belief in God, 103-104.