We have got to discuss to-day four of Tillich’s sermons; I am not going to discuss them separately and in detail but I would like to bring out some of my impressions at reading them, and those which I will bring out are rather critical impressions because it is easier to start a discussion on a negative statement than by repeating something which already was said by the writer. The impression which I got already from the first sermon and which has increased in the process of reading the next ones is a sort of hopelessness, a sense of being imprisoned in an order which has no issue, an order which is history, which is time, which is human frailty, which is finiteness and whenever the other order which he mentions, particularly in his second sermon, the order of eternity, the order of the divine appears, it seems to be no way out of the first order, it does not even intrude into it, it passes through it; it is present but in a sense not for me, it is present at such level that I do not feel that it affects me at all, or that it affects me greatly.
The first example which I would like to take to substantiate this statement is Sermon N° II, “We live in two Orders”. It begins with a very long quotation of Isaiah 40, in which we are shown on the one hand the sinfulness, the finiteness, the frailty of man, on the other hand the fact that this leads to sin and to falling away from God and consequently to punishment. There is tragedy, real genuine human tragedy, but in contrast with human mortality the Word of God shall stand for ever. This is the redeeming side of it, and this is what I do not find at all to be a comforting answer to the problem of human tragedy. Human mortality is defined for instance on page 26: “The prophet was not less but rather more realistic than we are. He knew that such a situation was not a matter of chance and bad luck, but that it is the human situation, which no man and no period can escape. The human situation is one of finiteness — all flesh is grass and the grass withereth. It is one of sin — we receive double for our sins. It is one of vanity and pride — we are brought to nothing and fall utterly. But in spite of his realistic knowledge of human nature and destiny the prophet gave comfort and consolation and hope to the exiled nation, to the exiles of all nations, to man who, as man, is exiled in this world”. And what is this consolation which is offered us, we find it a little lower on the same page: “There is something eternal to which we can cling: be not afraid, the Lord God shall come with strong hand. So the waves rises and then again it falls: the nations are as a drop of water and a piece of dust; all the nations are as nothing before him, they are counted as less as nothing. … Again the wave rises; God stands above the circle of the earth, above all created things, above the highest and the lowest.”
But I feel that in order to derive consolation and comfort from that kind of statement, “He acts beyond human understanding; He acts paradoxically” we must have an extraordinary amount of faith in God and an unusual amount of love for God. I remember having read that the cure d’Ars in the 18th century said once; “If there was no eternal life, the joy of having known God on earth and of being able to serve Him would suffice in itself”. To that kind of men quite certainly the knowledge that God acts paradoxically, beyond human understanding, that the wave rises and the wave falls, may be some sort of consolation. But what kind of consolation does it offer to any one else? Did the exiles found consolation and strength in the assurance that although they were perishing, although things were as bad as possible for them, although one generation after the other died in exile, it mattered little because the Word of God endures for ever? Is not this the same kind of problem which we are confronted with when the communists promised to the future generation earthly bliss at the expense of the present generation? Does it not require an extraordinary amount of greatness of heart to say “Let us perish, because the Word of God shall endure for ever”? Is not there in us something more than mortality or is it that we are really nothing but a passing, transient event, one bead after the other and does only the string matters? Can we cling to this sufficiently? I feel there is no issue in this. In a way, when God’s glory and Word manifest themselves it is too late for the one who was in need of consolation; when one empire has overcome the other, when one generation has been replaced by the other, what happens then does not affect those who are dead, it does not affect them in their dying, it does not affect them in their suffering, unless there is something more to it, and this something more, I do not find in these sermons which we are discussing. It seems that mortality is our lot, eternity is God’s, victory is His, transience is ours. And we can find indeed a great deal of inspiration in the fact that God remains strong for ever, if we have first reach that level of spirituality, that amount of faith, that love of God. It seems to me that the answer which we find here is rather the answer of a visionary, the answer of one who thinks in terms of history seeing it as a whole, but loosing contact, and loosing the sense of each particular moment of it. Yes, if you think of history, it works; if you think of the victims of history of those individuals links which makes history I do not think it works.
I think that we find a further development here in what he describes what is this order of history; first of all it is the transience of man, surely the people is grass; man’s experience of melancholy waken by fading and perishing nature is symbolic of his transientness; generation after generation grow up, struggle, enjoy and suffer and disappear. The second element of this order of history is sin and consequently punishment; sin which implies responsibility and punishment which is the deserved result of sin. But is there nothing else than sin and punishment even in the order of history? In the action of action and responsibility? The third element in order of history which unites finiteness and sin is the tragic law which ordains that human greatness utterly fall, and I quote p. 28: “There is human greatness. There are great and conquering nations and empires which manifest a certain righteousness. There are princes and even good princes; there are judges and even just judges. There are states and constitution which provide a certain amount of freedom; there are social orders and even some provide a certain amount of equality. There are creative spirits and even some which have the power of knowledge and understanding. But just in being great and powerful and righteous they touch the diving sphere, and they become arrogant, and they are brought to nothing. They are without roots, they wither, the divine storm blows over them, and they vanish. That is the subject of Greece tragedy.” Is that simply true? Is it always true? Does for instance the Bible or the history of the nations contain this tragic total view of history, is it that just by being great and powerful and righteous and touching the divine sphere, they become arrogant? We see that in certain people in the Bible, the type of this tragedy is the tragic king Saul; king Saul who was brought by the will of men to occupy the place that should have belong to a man placed there by the will of God; he takes the place of Samuel, of the Judges and the whole theme of Saul is the tragedy of a man who being simply a man brought to his position by the will of men occupies the place of the prophets. Yes, in those cases there is tragedy and fall, but is everything condemned to fall because it is great and powerful and righteous? Is that a law and is it a law divine or is it a secondary law resulting from a monstrous situation which we call the world after the fall? And again the second order is divine, it is beyond history and it is paradoxical; I quote, page 29: “Men are like grass, but the word of God spoken to them shall stand for ever. Men stand under the law of sin and punishment but the divine order breaks through it and brings forgiveness.” And “God acts beyond all human assumptions and valuations. He acts surprisingly, unexpectedly, paradoxically. The negative character of the historical order is the positive character of the divine order.”
Men are like grass, and the word of God is spoken to them; men are like grass and this word shall stand for ever. But is this word a weakling word? Is it this kind of word of which Christ says “You are clean from the word I have spoken you”. Is it the kind of word of which St Peter said, “Where should we go, You have the words of eternal life?” Is it simply that the divine order somehow brakes through in the history without making any difference to our being nothing but grass? Is that all that the eternal order can do? On the top of page 30 Tillich says: “The man on the Cross represents an other order, an order in which the weakest is the strongest, the most humiliated the most victorious. The historical, human order is overcome by the suffering servant, the crucified Saviour”. But we do not see in what he says how this happens, except that in the divine order somehow is a change of values — upsets our values — but again, the fact of being weaked, (?) humiliated, of being the most humiliated or the weakest is not sufficient in itself; the Beatitudes are not addressed to people who are outwardly humiliated, outwardly poor, outwardly persecuted, outwardly ill-spoken, but to people who in this particular situation inwardly correspond to a certain ideal which the Gospel offers. And here again I am puzzled because this order does not transform the historical order into a new one; it comes into it redeeming in a certain sense only the situation, not redeeming it in the sense of Christ redeeming the world, but introducing a characteristic, a new quality that makes defeat meaningful, but again only within this order of history and everyone who falls in defeat seems to be defeated.
I may not be able to understand the thought of Tillich but I am now cutting forth to you my own problems concerning him. Page 30-31 he asks the very question which worries me and to which I do not find an answer in what he says: “How can the divine order comfort us in our misery? How can we listen to the words of the prophets which tell us of the end of our warfare? There are three answers to this question. First, the divine order is not the historical order; and we should not confuse these two orders. No life is able to overcome finiteness, sin, and tragedy. The illusions of our period have been that modern civilisation can conquer them, add that we can achieve security in our own existence. Progress seemed to have conquered tragedy; the divine order seemed to have embodied in the progressive, historical order. But for nearly three decades our generation has received blow after blow, destroying that illusion, and driving to despair and cynicism those who wanted to
transform, and thought they could transform, the historical order into a divine order. Let us learn from the catastrophe of our time at least the fact that no life and no period are able to overcome
finiteness, sin and tragedy”. Is not that the end of hope and is not that also a desperate view on Christ’s failure to make things new, to create the new man, to make of the Church something which within history possesses the quality and the meaning of the divine order? Can work into its existence the very characteristics of the divine order? Is it not as it seems to me a denial of the fact that Christ’s incarnation has made God intrinsic to the historical situation and that the ascension of the Lord has made man, and through him, in him, all the created internal to the mystery of the Holy Trinity?
Quotation, page 31: “The second answer is that there is another order to which we, as human beings, belong, an order which makes man always dissatisfied with what is given him. Man transcends everything in the historical order, all the heights and depths of his own existence… Therefore, when he listens to the prophetic word, when he hears of the everlasting God and of the greatness of His power and the mystery of His acts, a response is awakened in the depth of his soul; the infinite within him is touched. Every man knows, in some depth of his soul, that that is true. Our despair itself, our inability to escape ourselves in life and in death, witnesses to our infinity”… But where is the root of this
infinity? That is my question to this point. Page 31, the third answer: “The historical and the eternal, although they can never become the same, are within each other. The historical is not separated from the eternal order. What is new in the prophets and in Christianity, beyond all paganism, old and new, is that the eternal order reveals itself in the historical order.” And yet, again, it reveals itself as the victory of God, as the stability of God in the midst of all that is ephemeral, of all that disappears, it is the revelation of God’s eternity and stability; but it is a revelation in the view of Tillich. We also in St. Peter words become partakers of the divine nature and we also become sons by adoption, we also outgrow this historical order as it appears in a fallen world into an order which is redeemed history, transfigured history and as one of our Orthodox theologian has put it into a book, into time redeemed. The same problem of the two orders which seem to be prison for us appears in the 5th sermon “Meditation: the mystery of Time”. Page 43: “Time is our destiny, time is our hope. Time is our despair. And Time is the mirror in which we see eternity. Let me point to three of the many mysteries of time: its power to devour everything within its sphere; its power to receive eternity within itself; and its power to drive towards an ultimate end, a new creation”. But whether it devours, which is tragedy, whether it reveals eternity or whether it drives us into the future it does not allow us to escape succession, it does not lead us into any kind of timelessness and here again we remain prisoners of the same historical order in which the eternal order shines somehow but not for us, for God.
Answer to a question about the Beatitudes.
Tillich says that the people who are accursed “Woe unto you” are the people who possess security, are the people who are well-of and respected, although, he adds, not simply because they have such security and respect but because it inevitably binds them with an almost inevitable power to this aeon, and that the blissful, to whom the Beatitudes are addressed are those who live in history and yet are directed to what is coming.