1886 – 1965

Paul Tillich’s life has been chronicled in a biography,[ a partially biographical book (Hopper, 1968), an autobiographical sketch (in On the Boundary), and two autobiographical essays (in Kegley and My Search for Absolutes).

Tillich was born on August 20, 1886, in the small village of Starzeddel in the province of Brandenburg in eastern Germany. He was the oldest of three children, with two sisters: Johanna (b. 1888, d. 1920) and Elisabeth (b. 1893). Tillich’s Prussian father was a conservative Lutheran pastor; his mother was from the Rhineland and was more liberal. When Tillich was four, his father became superintendent of a diocese in Schönfliess, a town of three thousand, where Tillich began elementary school. In 1898, Tillich was sent to Königsberg to begin gymnasium. At Königsberg, he lived in a boarding house and experienced loneliness that he sought to overcome by reading the Bible. Simultaneously, however, he was exposed to humanistic ideas at school.

In 1900, Tillich’s father was transferred to Berlin, Tillich switching in 1901 to a Berlin school, from which he graduated in 1904. Before his graduation, however, his mother died of cancer in September 1903, when Tillich was 17. Tillich attended several universities—the University of Berlin beginning in 1904, the University of Tübingen in 1905, and the University of Halle in 1905-07. He received his Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Breslau in 1911 and his Licentiate of Theology degree at the University of Halle in 1912. During his time at university, he became a member of the Wingolf.

That same year, 1912, Tillich was ordained as a Lutheran minister in the province of Brandenburg. In September 1914 he married Margarethe (“Grethi”) Wever, and in October he joined the German army as a chaplain. Grethi deserted Tillich in 1919 after an affair that produced a child not fathered by Tillich; the two then divorced. Tillich’s academic career began after the war: he became a Privadozent of Theology at the University of Berlin, a post he held from 1919 to 1924. On his return from the war he had met Hannah Werner Gottswchow, then married and pregnant.[6] In March 1924 they married; it was the second marriage for both.

During 1924-25 he was a Professor of Theology at the University of Marburg, where he began to develop his systematic theology, teaching a course on it during the last of his three terms. From 1925 until 1929, Tillich was a Professor of Theology at the University of Dresden and the University of Leipzig. He held the same post at the University of Frankfurt during 1929-33.

While at Frankfurt, Tillich gave public lectures and speeches throughout Germany that brought him into conflict with the Nazi movement. When Hitler became German Chancellor in 1933, Tillich was dismissed from his position. Reinhold Niebuhr visited Germany in the summer of 1933 and, already impressed with Tillich’s writings, contacted Tillich upon learning of Tillich’s dismissal. Niebuhr urged Tillich to join the faculty at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary; Tillich accepted

At the age of 47, Tillich moved with his family to America. This meant learning English, the language in which Tillich would eventually publish works such as the Systematic Theology. From 1933 until 1955 he taught at Union, where he began as a Visiting Professor of Philosophy of Religion. During 1933-34 he was also a Visiting Lecturer in Philosophy at Columbia University. Tillich acquired tenure at Union in 1937, and in 1940 he was promoted to Professor of Philosophical Theology and became an American citizen..

At the Union Theological Seminary, Tillich earned his reputation, publishing a series of books that outlined his particular synthesis of Protestant Christian theology and existential philosophy. He published On the Boundary in 1936; The Protestant Era, a collection of his essays, in 1948; and The Shaking of the Foundations, the first of three volumes of his sermons, also in 1948. His collections of sermons would give Tillich a broader audience than he had yet experienced. His most heralded achievements though, were the 1951 publication of volume one of Systematic Theology which brought Tillich academic acclaim, and the 1952 publication of The Courage to Be. The first volume of the systematic theology series prompted an invitation to give the prestigious Gifford lectures during 1953–54 at the University of Aberdeen. The latter book, called “his masterpiece” in the Pauks’s biography of Tillich (p. 225), was based on his 1950 Dwight H. Terry Lectureship and reached a wide general readership.

These works led to an appointment at the Harvard Divinity School in 1955, where he became one of the University’s five University Professors – the five highest ranking professors at Harvard. Tillich’s Harvard career lasted until 1962. During this period he published volume 2 of Systematic Theology [8] and also published the popular book, Dynamics of Faith (1957).

In 1962, Tillich moved to the University of Chicago, where he was a Professor of Theology until his death in Chicago in 1965. Volume 3 of Systematic Theology was published in 1963. In 1964 Tillich became the first theologian to be honored in Kegley and Bretall’s Library of Living Theology. They wrote: “The adjective ‘great,’ in our opinion, can be applied to very few thinkers of our time, but Tillich, we are far from alone in believing, stands unquestionably amongst these few” (Kegley and Bretall, 1964, pp. ix-x). A widely quoted critical assessment of his importance was Georgia Harkness‘ comment, “What Whitehead was to American philosophy, Tillich has been to American theology”.

Tillich died on October 22, 1965, ten days after experiencing a heart attack. In 1966 his ashes were interred in the Paul Tillich Park in New Harmony, Indiana.

Key to an understanding of Tillich’s theology is his “method of correlation”: an approach of correlating insights from Christian revelation with the issues raised by existential philosophical analysis.

Though the method is at work throughout the Systematic Theology, it finds its most explicit formulation in the introduction to that work:

Theology formulates the questions implied in human existence, and theology formulates the answers implied in divine self-manifestation under the guidance of the questions implied in human existence. This is a circle which drives man to a point where question and answer are not separated. This point, however, is not a moment in time.

The Christian message provides the answers to the questions implied in human existence. These answers are contained in the revelatory events on which Christianity is based and are taken by systematic theology from the sources, through the medium, under the norm. Their content cannot be derived from the questions, that is, from an analysis of human existence. They are ‘spoken’ to human existence from beyond it. Otherwise they would not be answers, for the question is human existence itself.

For Tillich, the existential questions of human existence are associated with the field of philosophy and, more specifically, ontology (the study of being). To be correlated with these questions are the theological answers, themselves derived from Christian revelation. The task of the philosopher primarily involves developing the questions, whereas the task of the theologian primarily involves developing the answers to these questions. However, it should be remembered that the two tasks overlap and include one another: the theologian must be somewhat of a philosopher and vice versa, for Tillich’s notion of faith as “ultimate concern” necessitates that the theological answer be correlated with, compatible with, and in response to the general ontological question which must be developed independently from the answers. Thus, on one side of the correlation lies an ontological analysis of the human situation, whereas on the other is a presentation of the Christian message as a response to this existential dilemma. It is important to remember that, for Tillich, no formulation of the question can contradict the theological answer. This is because the Christian message claims, a priori, that the logos “who became flesh” is also the universal logos of the Greeks.

In addition to the intimate relationship between philosophy and theology, another important aspect of the method of correlation is Tillich’s distinction between form and content in the theological answers. While the nature of revelation determines the actual content of the theological answers, the character of the questions determines the form of these answers. This is because, for Tillich, theology must be an answering theology, or apologetic theology. God is called the “ground of being” because God is the answer to the ontological threat of non-being, and this characterization of the theological answer in philosophical terms means that the answer has been conditioned (insofar as its form is considered) by the question. It is important that, throughout the Systematic Theology, Tillich is careful to maintain this distinction between form and content without allowing one to be inadvertently conditioned by the other. Many criticisms of Tillich’s methodology revolve around this issue of whether the integrity of the Christian message is really maintained when its form is conditioned by philosophy.

The theological answer is also determined by the sources of theology, our experience, and the norm of theology. Though the form of the theological answers are determined by the character of the question, these answers (which “are contained in the revelatory events on which Christianity is based”) are also “taken by systematic theology from the sources, through the medium, under the norm.” There are three main sources of systematic theology: the Bible, Church history, and the history of religion and culture. Experience is not a source but a medium through which the sources speak. And the norm of theology is that by which both sources and experience are judged with regard to the content of the Christian faith. Thus, we have the following as elements of the method and structure of systematic theology:

Sources of theology


Church history

History of religion and culture

Experience (medium of sources)

Norm of theology (determines use of sources)

As McKelway explains, the sources of theology contribute to the formation of the norm, which then becomes the criterion through which the sources and experience are judged. The relationship is circular, as it is the present situation which conditions the norm in the interaction between church and biblical message. The norm is then subject to change, but Tillich insists that its basic content remains the same: that of the biblical message. It is tempting to conflate revelation with the norm, but we must keep in mind that revelation (whether original or dependent) is not an element of the structure of systematic theology per se, but an event. For Tillich, the present day norm is the “New Being in Jesus as the Christ as our Ultimate Concern.” This is because the present question is one of estrangement, and the overcoming of this estrangement is what Tillich calls the “New Being.” But since Christianity answers the question of estrangement with “Jesus as the Christ,” the norm tells us that we find the New Being in Jesus as the Christ.

There is also the question of the validity of the method of correlation. Certainly one could reject the method on the grounds that there is no a priori reason for its adoption. But Tillich claims that the method of any theology and its system are interdependent. That is, an absolute methodological approach cannot be adopted because the method is continually being determined by the system and the objects of theology.


The Religious Situation (1925, Die religiose Lage der Gegenwart), Holt 1932, Meridian Press 1956, online edition

The Interpretation of History (1936), online edition

The Protestant Era (1948), The University of Chicago Press, online edition

The Shaking of the Foundations (1948), Charles Scribner’s Sons, a sermon collection, online edition

Systematic Theology, 1951–63 (3 volumes), University of Chicago Press

Volume 1 (1951). ISBN 0-226-80337-6

Volume 2: Existence and the Christ (1957). ISBN 0-226-80338-4

Volume 3: Life and the Spirit: History and the Kingdom of God (1963). ISBN 0-226-80339-2

The Courage to Be (1952), Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-08471-4 (2nd ed)

Love, Power, and Justice: Ontological Analysis and Ethical Applications (1954), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-500222-9

Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality (1955), University Of Chicago Press, ISBN 0-226-80341-4

The New Being (1955), Charles Scribner’s Sons, ISBN 0-68471908-8, a sermon collection, online edition, 2006 Bison Press edition with introduction by Mary Ann Stenger: ISBN 0-80329458-1

Dynamics of Faith (1957), Harper and Row, ISBN 0-06-093713-0

Theology of Culture (1959), Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-500711-5

Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions (1963), Columbia University Press, online edition

Morality and Beyond (1963), Harper and Row, 1995 edition: Westminster John Knox Press, ISBN 0-66425564-7

The Eternal Now (1963), Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003 SCM Press: ISBN 0-33402875-2, university sermons 1955–63, online edition

Ultimate Concern: Tillich in Dialogue (1965), editor D. Mackenzie Brown, Harper & Row, online edition

On the Boundary, 1966 New York: Charles Scribner’s

My Search for Absolutes (1967, posthumous), ed. Ruth Nanda Anshen, Simon & Schuster, 1984 reprint: ISBN 0-671-50585-8 (includes autobiographical chapter) online edition

“The Philosophy of Religion”, in What Is Religion? (1969), ed. James Luther Adams. New York: Harper & Row

“The Conquest of the Concept of Religion in the Philosophy of Religion” in What is Religion?

“On the Idea of a Theology of Culture” in What is Religion?

My Travel Diary 1936: Between Two Worlds (1970), Harper & Row, (edited and published posthumously by J.C. Brauer) online edition

A History of Christian Thought: From its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism (1972), Simon and Schuster, (edited from his lectures and published posthumously by C. E. Braaten), ISBN 0-671-21426-8;

A History of Christian Thought (1968), Harper & Row, online edition contains the first part of the two part 1972 edition (comprising the 38 New York lectures)

The System of the Sciences (1981), Translated by Paul Wiebe. London: Bucknell University Press. (originally published in German in 1923)

The Essential Tillich (1987), (anthology) F. Forrester Church, editor; (Macmillan): ISBN 0-02-018920-6; 1999 (U. of Chicago Press): ISBN 0-226-80343-0


^ a b “Tillich, Paul Johannes Oskar”, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Ed. John Bowker. Oxford University Press, 2000. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.

^ a b c d e “Tillich, Paul.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. retrieved 17 February 2008 [1].

^ a b c Paul Tillich: His Life & Thought–Volume 1: Life, Pauk, Wilhelm & Marion. New York: Harper & Row, 1976

^ Kegley, Charles W., and Bretall, Robert W., eds. 1964. The Theology of Paul Tillich. New York: Macmillan, pp. 3-21

^ pp. 23-54

^ Paul Tillich, Lover, Time, October 8, 1973

^ (Tillich, 1964, p. 16).

^ (1957)

^ Dr. Paul Tillich Outstanding Protestant Theologian, The Times, Oct 25, 1965

^ Tillich, John Heywood Thomas, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002, ISBN 0826450822

^ |Paul Tillich|Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 61

^ Tillich|Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 64

^ Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, pp 23ff.

^ Tillich, Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality, pp 58ff.

^ Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 28.

^ Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 64.

^ McKelway, The Systematic Theology of Paul Tillich, p 47.

^ Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 64.

^ Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 47.

^ McKelway, The Systematic Theology of Paul Tillich, pp 55-56.

^ Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 52.

^ McKelway, The Systematic Theology of Paul Tillich, p 80.

^ Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 50.

^ Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p 60.

Further reading

Adams, James Luther. 1965. Paul Tillich’s Philosophy of Culture, Science, and Religion. New York: New York University Press

Armbruster, Carl J. 1967. The Vision of Paul Tillich. New York: Sheed and Ward

Breisach, Ernst. 1962. Introduction to Modern Existentialism. New York: Grove Press

Carey, Patrick W., and Lienhard, Joseph. 2002. “Biographical Dictionary of Christian Theologians”. Mass: Hendrickson

Ford, Lewis S. 1966. “Tillich and Thomas: The Analogy of Being.” Journal of Religion 46:2 (April)

Freeman, David H. 1962. Tillich. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.

Grenz, Stanley, and Olson, Roger E. 1997. 20th Century Theology God & the World in a Transitional Age

Hamilton, Kenneth. 1963. The System and the Gospel: A Critique of Paul Tillich. New York: Macmillan

Hammond, Guyton B. 1965. Estrangement: A Comparison of the Thought of Paul Tillich and Erich Fromm. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.

Hegel, G. W. F. 1967. The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. With intro. J. B. Baillie, Torchbook intro. by George Lichtheim. New York: Harper Torchbooks

Hook, Sidney, ed. 1961 Religious Experience and Truth: A Symposium (New York: New York University Press)

Hopper, David. 1968. Tillich: A Theological Portrait. Philadelphia: Lippincott

Howlett, Duncan. 1964. The Fourth American Faith. New York: Harper & Row

Kaufman, Walter. 1961a. The Faith of a Heretic. New York: Doubleday

— 1961b. Critique of Religion and Philosophy. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, Doubleday

Kegley, Charles W., and Bretall, Robert W., eds. 1964. The Theology of Paul Tillich. New York: Macmillan

Kelsey, David H. 1967 The Fabric of Paul Tillich’s Theology. New Haven: Yale University Press

MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1963. “God and the Theologians,” Encounter 21:3 (September)

Martin, Bernard. 1963. The Existentialist Theology of Paul Tillich. New Haven: College and University Press

Marx, Karl. n.d. Capital. Ed. Frederick Engels. trans. from 3rd German ed. by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling. New York: The Modern Library

May, Rollo. 1973. Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship. New York: Harper & Row

McKelway, Alexander J. 1964. The Systematic Theology of Paul Tillich: A Review and Analysis. Richmond: John Knox Press

Modras, Ronald. 1976. Paul Tillich ‘s Theology of the Church: A Catholic Appraisal. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1976.

Palmer, Michael. 1984. Paul Tillich’s Philosophy of Art. New York: Walter de Gruyter

Pauck, Wilhelm & Marion. 1976. Paul Tillich: His Life & Thought–Volume 1: Life. New York: Harper & Row

Rowe, William L. 1968. Religious Symbols and God: A Philosophical Study of Tillich’s Theology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Scharlemann, Robert P. 1969. Reflection and Doubt in the Theology of Paul Tillich. New Haven: Yale University Press

Schweitzer, Albert. 1961. The Quest of the Historical Jesus, trans. W. Montgomery. New York: Macmillan

Soper, David Wesley. 1952. Major Voices in American Theology: Six Contemporary Leaders Philadelphia: Westminster

Tavard, George H. 1962. Paul Tillich and the Christian Message. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons

Thomas, George F. 1965. Religious Philosophies of the West. New York: Scribner’s, 1965.

Thomas, J. Heywood. 1963. Paul Tillich: An Appraisal. Philadelphia, Westminster

Tillich, Hannah. 1973. From Time to Time. New York: Stein and Day

Tucker, Robert. 1961. Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wheat, Leonard F. 1970. Paul Tillich’s Dialectical Humanism: Unmasking the God above God. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press







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