Thursday, July 07, 2005


Tillich on the dialogue with Judaism and Islam

Notes on Ultimate Concern - Tillich in Dialogue by D. Mackenzie Brown: Fifth Dialogue, on "Christianity and the Dialogue with Judaism and Islam." (actually almost nothing is said about Islam, exception made for Tillich's comment that Islam seems to him rather orthogonal to the idea of progress and transformation.)

Tillich uses Justin's idea of the logos spermatikos to suggest the universality of the Christian faith, and a possible approach in a dialogue with Judaism, which would have been easier had we retained this "Hellenistic concept" typical of the early church.

This reminds me of Prices' article on Hellenization and Logos Doctrine in Justin Martyr, which I mentioned a while ago. Looking at both Price and Tillich, it seems then that perhaps the "hellenistic concept" of Logos adopted by Justin was really a Judaic concept born within Hellenistic Judaism, which accounts on the one hand for Justin's failure to deal in details with the Incarnation or the doctrine of grace (Price); and which on the other hand allowed a relatively smooth cultural migration from Judaism, and also some early forms of "dialogue" (Tillich). Cf. here Justin's Dialogue with Trypho, e.g. chap. XII on Jews violating the eternal law.

At the same time, I don't think one can so easily identify Justin's logos doctrine with Tillich's symbolic ideas (Tillich stresses the fact that the universal term "Anointed One" would be more correct than the historically charachterized "Christ"). For example, Justin seems to attest very clearly to the real resurrection of Jesus ("... you will perceive that the Lord is called the Christ by the Holy Spirit of prophecy; and that the Lord, the Father of all, has brought Him again from the earth", Dialogue, XXXII). And for Justin the term "Anointed One" does take significance only in the person of Jesus: for example, in chap. XXXV, he speaks of men "confessing themselves to be Christians, and admitting the crucified Jesus to be both Lord and Christ [...]". Or in chap. XXXIX, Trypho says, "Now, then, render us the proof that this man who you say was crucified and ascended into heaven is the Christ of God". The doctrine of the logos spermatikos, it seems to me, is applied by Justin in the Dialogue simply to prove that what Judaism was looking at in the Mosaic institutions was really the hidden manifestation of the one Christ who was born as a man. The dialogue with the Law, one could say, happens for Justin only when it is centered in the recognition that the man Jesus is Christ. Chapter XLVII is illuminating here: in it, Justin affirms that, as long as people "have confessed and known this man to be Christ", it is perfectly acceptable (even if "through weak-mindedness") to keep on following the institutions given by Moses (circumcision, Sabbath, etc) -- as long as this is not required of other Christians as well.

Actually, Justin is adamant in saying that he cannot prove that "Christ existed as God before the ages", or that he "existed formerly as Son of the Maker of all things" (chap. XLVIII). The only thing he does is to prove that "this man is the Christ of God", and that the OT was in prophecies and in figures pointing to the Christ, born of the virgin Mary. For example, he says that "Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom." (chap. CXXVIII)

Back to Tillich, he said,
This Logos spermaticos appeared as an empirical, historical person in the Christ, but revelation and salvation were always operating in history even before the empirical embodiment of the Logos in Jesus. And even this is not the end. After the historical event, the power of the Logos continued and continues in terms of new insights and new revelatory experiences Under the guidance of the Spirit.
This interpretation of the "power of the Logos" is perhaps a legitimate symbolic one, but looking e.g. at Justin (i.e. just the early church that Tillich says it was "much more universal than it proved in later centuries") it does not seem to be possible to disentangle the historical event from salvation, which is apparently what matters to Justin the most: "If, then, you have any concern for yourself, and if you are eagerly looking for salvation, and if you believe in God, you may--since you are not indifferent to the matter -- become acquainted with the Christ of God, and, after being initiated, live a happy life." (chap. VIII) In other words, what Tillich terms the "Logos idea" is here quite different from a universalist, eternal, purely symbolic, and platonic-like concept.

Tillich's conclusion that "[e]very belief in an inner-historical fulfillment leads to metaphysical disappointment — not only psychological disappointment, but a much more fundament disappointment, namely, disillusionment with any belief in something finite which was expected to become something infinite" seems to be very appropriate in Tillich's immediate context (the book where this dialogue is taken from was written in 1965, and he explicitly qualifies himself as a "religious socialist"), and it also captures a valid general point, but it is not yet clear to me to what extent it is applicable to the understanding of the figure of Christ. In particular, early church history, consider e.g. A Diognetus, or the Justin I've discussed above, seems to be rather consistent throughout its development in combining inner-historical with suprahistorical fulfillment. (Chalcedon perhaps being one of the most important synthesis of this difficult combination.)

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