Several years before Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe died (was killed) in the Auschwitz concentration camp (see my previous article), Paul Tillich, a university professor in Germany, criticized the Nazis in public lectures and speeches and then left the country in the year Hitler became Chancellor.
Today (August 20) is the 130th anniversary of Tillich’s birth in a small village that is now known as Starosiedle, Poland. When he was a young teen, his family moved to Berlin. Then after completing his Ph.D., and following in his father’s footsteps, Tillich was ordained as a Lutheran minister in 1912.
During World War I Tillich served as a chaplain in the German army. After the war he became a university professor. Because of his public opposition to the Nazi movement, though, he was dismissed from his position as Professor of Theology at the University of Frankfurt in 1933.
Tillich then fled to New York, where he became a professor at Union Theological Seminary. In 1940 became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Then from 1955 to 1962 he was a University Professor at Harvard Divinity School.
During his teaching and writing career of more than 30 years in the U.S. Tillich became one of the world’s most influential theologians.
On the first day of our June car trip to Maryland, my wife and I stopped by New Harmony, Indiana, for a far-too-short-visit of that historic town. At the impressive visitors’ center we learned much about the town’s history.
It was started as a utopian community in 1814. Then in 1824 the whole town was sold to Robert Owen, a wealthy Welshman who similarly wanted to build a model community for social reform.
We also visited the Paul Tillich Park in that quaint little town of New Harmony. That park was dedicated in June 1963, and after Tillich’s death in October 1965 his ashes were interred there. Along the park’s walkway there are several large stones with inscribed quotations from Tillich’s writings.
There is also a sculpture of Tillich’s head, and this is the picture I took of it:
Tillich authored many significant theology books, and as a seminary student in the early 1960s I read several of those books with great interest (although the three volumes of his Systematic Theology were not particularly easy to read and understand).
In 1963 I also had the privilege of hearing Tillich give a lecture in Lexington, Kentucky. At that time he was 77 years old and still a professor at the University of Chicago, where he had moved just the year before.
One of Tillich’s smaller, and most influential, books is The Dynamics of Faith (1957). In the very first sentence he asserts that faith is “the state of being ultimately concerned.” In other words, what we consider as more important than anything else is our “god,” and our allegiance to that god is the basic meaning of faith.
From the standpoint of Christianity, the Creator God should be one’s ultimate concern, and if anyone’s ultimate concern is something else, that person has faith in an idol.
Thus, having ultimate concern for one’s family, for the nation (such as Hitler demanded for the Third Reich), or for recreation/entertainment (which seems highly popular at the present time) is idolatry.
Tillich encouraged ultimate concern for “the God beyond god,” that is, the God who is beyond all tribal, national, or limited concepts of God. Such concern is faith in God who, to use his terms, is Being-Itself or the Ground of Being.
What is your ultimate concern?