Academic journal article Trames

Towards a Theology of Culturenature

Academic journal article Trames

Towards a Theology of Culturenature

Article excerpt

I Paul Tillich's relationship to nature

Paul Tillich's life (1886-1965) spanned a period that saw great upheavals. In his autobiographical writings he recalls how his personal world changed from a reasonably peaceful existence at the high point of bourgeois society with its productive grandeur, to one of conflict and destabilization of the society he belonged to, reflected in the split between Lutheran churches and the proletariat, the rise of Nazism, exile and adjustment to a new world and foreign language, and the transformation of this world into a global village with new technologies offering new means of communication and travel. His life, as he admits, occasioned abandonment and overcoming of various provincialisms--intellectual, theological, and Western. For all his life Tillich stayed unusually attentive to culture, science and technology, and nature. While Tillich's theology of culture is relatively well known, his theology of nature has caught attention only in recent years (E.g. Drummy 2000, also cf Hummel 1994).

With regard to nature, he distinguished a predominantly aesthetic-meditative attitude toward nature from a scientific-analytical or technical-controlling relation. It is theologically formulated in his doctrine of the participation of nature in the process of fall and salvation. He contrasts his view with the Ritschlian theology, which establishes an infinite gap between nature and personality and gives Jesus the function of liberating one's personal life from bondage of nature within us and beside us. Nature is something to be controlled morally and technically, and only subjective feelings of a more or less sentimental character toward nature are admitted. There is no mystical participation in nature, no understanding that nature is the finite expression of the infinite ground of all things, no vision of the divine-demonic conflict in nature.

Tillich's actual contacts with nature, especially in his younger years, the German poetic literature, and the traditional Lutheran doctrine finitum capax infiniti brought him a sense of the infinite potential in every being.

In Tillich's first book of sermons, The Shaking of the Foundations, published in 1950, there is a Lenten sermon about "what nature means to us and to itself in the great drama of creation and salvation." One of his biblical texts was Paul's assertion that "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth until now" (Romans 8:22) and one of his citations is Schelling's observation that "nature, also, mourns for a lost good" (Tillich 1950:82). In this sermon he poetically praises the glory of nature before turning to its "melancholy," asking: "Why is nature tragic? Who is responsible for the suffering of animals, for the ugliness of death and decay, for the universal dread of death?" In the second volume of his Systematic Theology, Tillich explains more formally that the myth of the fall portrays the transition from essence to existence brought about through the actualization of human freedom. The tragic element is that this exercise of freedom is the result of human destiny rather than simply the result of an individual's acts. The symbol of the serpent and its curse represents the involvement of nature. Any notion of the innocence of nature before the fall is rejected in view of the simultaneous, transhistorical character of the fall and the creation. Nature participates in humanity and humanity in nature, united in a shared destiny (Tillich 1957:42). Greatness of life, greatness and dignity make tragedy possible in all dimensions of life: all beings affirm themselves in their finite power of being. "They do it in their relation to other beings and, in doing so, bring upon themselves the reaction of the logos-determined laws, which push back anything that trespasses the limits given to it" (Tillich 1963a:93). This tragic explains suffering in nature, an explanation which is neither mechanistic nor romantic but realistic in terms of the spontaneous character of life processes. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.