Paul Tillich: [Jesus] wants to take from us..the burden of religion

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The burden... [Jesus] wants to take from us is the burden of religion. It is the yoke of the law, imposed on the people of His time by the religious teachers, the wise and understanding, as He calls them in our words, the Scribes and Pharisees, as they are called usually. Those who labor and are heavy laden are those who are sighing under the yoke of the religious law. And He will give them the power to overcome religion and law; the yoke He gives them is a "new being" above religion. The thing they will learn from him is the victory over the law of the wise and the understanding, and the law of the Scribes and Pharisees.

How does this concern us? Why does this concern all men, in all situations? It concerns us because, with all human beings, we are sighing under the law, under a law which is religion and a religion which is law. This is the depth of the word of Jesus; this is the truth, implied in the emotional power of His words. Man labors and toils, because he is that being which knows about his finitude, about his transitoriness, about the danger of living, and about the tragic character of existence. Fear and anxiety are the heritage of all people, as Paul knew when he looked at the Jews and the Pagans. Restlessness drives man during his whole life, as Augustine knew A hidden element of despair is in every man's soul, as the great Danish Protestant, Kierkegaard, discovered. There is no religious genius, no keen observer of the abyss of the human soul, nobody capable of listening to the sounds of his heart, who would not witness to this insight into human nature and human existence. Splits and gaps are in every soul: for instance, we know that we are more than dust; and yet we know also that we are going to be dust. We know that we belong to a higher order than that of our animal needs and desires; and yet we know that we shall abuse the higher order in the service of our lower nature. We know that we are only small members of the spiritual world; and yet we know that we shall aspire to the whole, making ourselves the center of the world.

This is man; and because this is man, there is religion and law. The law of religion is the great attempt of man to overcome his anxiety and restlessness and despair, to close the gap within himself, and to reach immortality, spirituality and perfection. So he labors and toils under the religious law in thought and in act....

We are all permanently in danger of abusing Jesus by stating that He is the founder of a new religion, and the bringer of another, more refined, and more enslaving law. And so we see in all Christian Churches the toiling and laboring of people who are called Christians, serious Christians, under innumerable laws which they cannot fulfill, from which they flee, to which they return, or which they replace by other laws. This is the yoke from which Jesus wants to liberate us. He is more than a priest or a prophet or a religious genius. These all subject us to religion. He frees us from religion. They all make new religious laws; He overcomes the religious law.

--Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations, Chapter 11, which you may read there.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* TheologyAnthropologyChristologyPastoral Theology

10 Comments
Posted January 27, 2011 at 5:19 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Pageantmaster ن wrote:

I found a book by Tillich at home on theology and decided to read it.  I was surprised to find at the end of the second chapter that he had managed to write without ever once using the name Jesus.  A quick flick through the rest of the book didn’t produce any more references, so I decided there were other things to read.

Seems to me that Paul Tillich wants to take from us the burden of Jesus.

January 27, 7:03 am | [comment link]
2. Terry Tee wrote:

Kendall, your UK readers (Pageantmaster and myself) are always among the first to respond, but you must be up even before the larks. 
BTW the hyperlink above linked to your local newspaper.  Am I missing something?  If the Post and Courier is reprinting whole chapters of Tillich then the theological literacy of the South Caroline public is very impressive indeed.

January 27, 10:02 am | [comment link]
3. C. Wingate wrote:

The problem is that this is not true. Jesus frees us from the old law, but he also gives us a new commandment. The story of the Pauline letters, if not everything between the last word of John’s gospel and the first word of the Apocalypse, is that even so freed, we cannot live without Law. Also, if rite is part of religion, then the commandment of the Last Supper thus establishes religion.

January 27, 11:02 am | [comment link]
4. phil swain wrote:

I recall forty years ago in college reading “The Shaking of the Foundations” and how exciting it was.  But over the years I’ve come to think that Tillich’s iconoclasm has something slightly inhuman about it.

January 27, 12:12 pm | [comment link]
5. Dr. William Tighe wrote:

Is it improper or unbecoming in this context to mention the wild life of sexual promiscuity that Tillich and his wife Hilda both embraced for many years, right to the end of his life, and which his wife detailed in the memoir which she wrote in her widowhood?

January 27, 12:23 pm | [comment link]
6. Kendall Harmon wrote:

Terry in #2 I messed up the link, a thousand apologies.  It is now fixed.

January 27, 8:31 pm | [comment link]
7. driver8 wrote:

What a period piece. That the attempt to translate the thickness and specificity of Scriptural revelation into vague existential slogans and platitudes was ever thought theologically daring, is to me extraordinary. It is however not hard to suggest a genetic link between Tillich’s lawless gift of “new being” and its contemporary more or less antinomian descendants.

January 28, 2:55 am | [comment link]
8. art wrote:

Rather, what a blast from the past!  Nor is this a mere slogan in PT’s case, I fancy. 

Not only is Dr WT [#5] right to refer to his (their) sexual ‘peccadilloes’ (which of course they were not; they were major signs of faithlessness).  His entire theological edifice reveals what happens when the Gospel is wrung from its ontological moorings to become our own human symbolic projections - which assessment sounds frighteningly rather familiar (cf. the likes of McFague et al), and which driver8 signals [#7].  The trouble is compounded when leaders, who have drunk deeply from these wells, try to infect others with this ‘wisdom’, in the name of ‘God’.

January 28, 3:28 am | [comment link]
9. jhp wrote:

#5, #8:  In fact, Tillich’s wife’s name was Hannah, not Hilda, and she authored at least two memoirs of their life together.

For what it’s worth, I read these in college and graduate school and found them deeply moving autobiographical accounts.  They are not celebrations of sin, but confessions of human weakness and ignorance.  The Tillichs came of age in Germany during the Great War;  their psychological wounding, their spiritual stunting, is explainable (though not excusable) in the context of that horrific moment.  Hannah Tillich thought she was contributing an important aspect, one she alone could contribute as “a memoir of a marriage,” to the story of this important theologian’s life.  Many people have reacted with squeamish embarassment or self-righteous condemnation to her books.

In the Apostles’ creed, we say that we believe in the forgiveness of sins.  But sometimes I wonder if we can really stand to see others’ sins (or our own) as a real fact of our existence;
or really to regard the Church as a hospital for soul-sickness, in which Christ is the Great Physician, and where the sacraments are the medicine;
or whether some think (smugly) that the Church is an exclusive society of the already perfect, of which they are an outstanding example.

January 29, 6:03 pm | [comment link]
10. NoVA Scout wrote:

The short answer to No. 5 is “yes”, at least in this context.  The passage can be adequately evaluated on its direct content, as some commenters have done.

January 31, 7:57 am | [comment link]
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