Paul Tillich Is Simul Justus Et Peccator

Perhaps not quite as salacious as Tillich fans or foes might infer from the title, […]

Will McDavid / 8.26.14

Perhaps not quite as salacious as Tillich fans or foes might infer from the title, but here, one of our ‘top three’ favorite heretics (Bultmann and Kuyper – just kidding), contributes this gem on justification from his Systematic Theology:

Justification in the objective sense is the eternal act of God by which he accepts as not estranged those who are indeed estranged from him by guilt and the act by which he takes them into unity with him which is manifest in the New Being of Christ. Justification literally means “making just,” namely, making man that which he essentially is and from which he is estranged. If used in this sense, the word would be identical with Sanctification. But the Pauline doctrine of Justification by grace through faith has given the word a meaning which makes it the opposite pole of Sanctification. It is an act of God which is in no way dependent on man, an act in which he accepts him who is unacceptable. In the paradoxical formula, simul peccator, simul justus, which is the core of the Lutheran revolution, the in-spite-of character is decisive for the whole Christian message as the salvation from despair about one’s guilt. It is actually the only way to overcome the anxiety of guilt; it enables man to look away from himself and his state of estrangement and self-destruction to the justifying act of God. He who looks at himself and tries to measure his relation to God by his achievements increases his estrangement and the anxiety of guilt and despair.

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5 responses to “Paul Tillich Is Simul Justus Et Peccator

  1. Joe says:

    Theological noob here. Why is Tillich a heretic? Also, thanks for sharing. This is fantastic.

    • Will McDavid says:

      That’s just from my point of view, there’s not really a broad Protestant consensus with any opinion on Tillich, as far as I’m aware. Conservative, American evangelicals sometimes think of him as not having been a Christian at all, others have found little problem with his thought. I don’t know that much about Tillich, but Barth, for example, thought his theology dangerously anthropomorphic – he uses lots of analogies/concepts/”correlations” from the human world to describe God and often neglects to mention their limits. And he talks a lot about biblical “symbols” as pointing to large, existential realities, but sometimes there’s a disregard for the reality/historicity of the symbol itself. That’s all a little vague, but for a quick example, Tillich on the Fall:

      “The motif of the myth of the transcendent Fall is the tragic-universal character of existence. The meaning of the myth is that the very constitution of existence implies the transition from essence to existence.. Obviously, both are myths [transcendent, Platonic Fall and biblical, Adamic one] and are absurd if taken literally instead of symbolically… It may well be that [the development of a realistic doctrine of man] demands the definite removal from the theological vocabulary of terms like “original sin” or “hereditary sin”…

      So that’s a sample of the dicier side of Tillich, where a biblical symbol is underemphasized, ignored, neglected or, to his critics, discarded in favor of its “meaning.”

      • Joe says:

        I was curious where in particular he deviated from orthodoxy so thanks for that example. Still, like a good Lutheran, his thoughts on justification seem spot on.

      • Mike Stroud says:

        So, Mr. McDavid, your point is that Tillich continued the “liberal,” (i.e., immanentist) program of the 19th century by denigrating original sin? That can clearly be discerned in the likes of Bultmann, but such a charge can arguably be directed at all the neo-orthodox divines (Brunner, Althaus, etc.) by legalist thinkers. Since you are clearly not devoted to inerrancy and, I perceive, generally sympathetic to mid-20th century Protestant thought, perhaps you would care to spell out what precisely bothers you about Tillich’s anthropology, other than it supposedly fails to meet your Lutheran/Low Anglican standards?

  2. Ken says:

    I’m rereading Tillich’s “The Courage to Be.” Anyone read it?

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