Sunday, January 13, 2008
God and Being Itself part II
see previous installment for part 1
The question is, was God more than just a Spinoza-like "ground of understanding" for Tillich? My reading of Tillich sees him as patterning his notions after the great Mystics of the Eastern chruch and that of Mraciea Eliade. Some readings see it as more of an impersonal principle. God is the "unbounded condition," "being itself," and being itself can't be "a person." Instead, Tillich calls god the personal itself. In other words, god is the ground of the personal, he basis upon consciousness can be found in the universe. We should not expect to recognize God as "a person" in the sense that we are persons, not with personality problems, and a limited perspective of isolation and epistemological uncertainty, but this does not preclude the conscious. God would contain the basic structure of consciousness and thus would be able to have volition and personal awareness.
I contend that all of that is conditioned by Tillich's high theological parlance and it's a matter of decoding a very dense set of terms, but once they are decoded they do not so much reveal an impersonal force as God, as they reveal an apophatic approach to understanding a view of God that embraces the mystical and cannot be defined according to human logic.Like the Buddhist notion, Tillich's God is "neither a person nor a non person" (Buddhist = neither mind nor non-mind).
This may not sound very orthodox, but it is extremely orthodox.God is not just a big man on a throne, he is not the Zeu Patter(Jupiter,"Sky Father") of Pagan mythology. The great theologians of Christian faith, the Orthodox Church, and theologians such as Paul Tillich and John McQuarrey, believe, as Timothy Ware (The Orthodox Chruch , New York: Pelican, 1963) quoting St. John of Damascus says, "God does not belong to the class of 'existing' things; not that he has no existence but that he is above existing things, even above existence itself..." The Jewish Virtual Library tells us, "The name of god, which in Hebrew is spelled YHWH, is difficult to explain. Scholars generally believe that it derives from the Semitic word, "to be," and so means something like, 'he causes to be.'"
Tillich is not the only modern theologian to think of God in this way.John McQuarry says that God is Being itself, while Tillich says God is "The ground of being." These are actually just about the same concept, I wont go into the distinction here. The important thing to remember is that God is not along side other beings in creation, is not a being at all, but is on the order of being itself. God is the overarching principle that defines and predicates the universe and in fact of being as a whole. If you consider what it was like before God created anything. There would be nothing else but God. God, therefore, would be the same as being because all being would be defined as God. The only being that ever came to be flowed out of the will and the energies of God, therefore, God is beyond the chain of cause and effect, God is on a par with being itself.
In his discourse on Luther he loads in all the Tillichian terms:
"Luther's concept of God is one of the most powerful in the whole history of human and Christian thought. This is not a God who is a being beside others, it is a God who we can have only through contrast [Cuza, coincidence of opposites--dialectical, apophatic, Eastern orthodox mystical influences--what is hidden before God is visible before the world and what is hidden before the world is visible before God...Luther denies everything which can make God finite or a being before other beings [very very Tillichian/MacQurreyesque way of speaking] He makes the great statement that God is nearer to all creatures than they are to themselves [Augustine!]'God is at the same time every grain of sand totally and nevertheless in all above all and out of all creatures.' In these formula the old conflict between the Pantheist and theistic tendencies in the doctrine of God is resolved." (Ibid. 24)
OR again he says:
".And I would say very dogmatically that any doctrine of God which leaves out one of these elements does not really speak of God but of something less than God." (History of Christian Thought p24). All of that is so heavily loaded with Tillichian language I don't see how he could be describing any view but his own! Clearly he found these elements in these thinkers and they shaped his view.
Tillich's reading of these thinkers is a good description of what my own View. My Theology embraces the God that Tillich describes as seen in these great classical theologians of the Christian tradition.
So in terms of the question "can Being Itself Be understood as "a personal being?" No, because Being Itself is not "a being" and is not personal in the sense of human finitude. Now does that mean that "it" (God = Being Itself) can't will, can't be motivated by volition and can't love, Tillich's view would allow for all of these, that Dionysius' view, that of Augustine and Luther and many others would allow for these things. God does love and does will.
Tillich's langauge, while not really apophatic in the traditional sense I think is functioning in that way, rather than just being merely equivolcal. He's trying to guard the mysteries because after all if he pretended to explian everything he would not be presenting a view which is Heteronomous. To that he must have a view which works within the mystery, and while shedding light, doesn't try to expose the mystery itself.
First he makes the point (Systematic Theology vol I) (p240) that religious symbol "has nothing to do with the empirical assertions involved in it, be they physical psychological, or historical." He goes on to say that a religious symbol must express a correlation between the relation of the symbol and the thing it symbolizes and it is true if it adequately expresses the relation some person with final revelation. "Religious symbols are double edged, they are directed toward the infinite which the symbolize and toward the finite through which they symbolize it." But than he says: as an example of the above, "If God is symbolized as father he is brought down to the relationship of father and child, but at the same time this human relationship is consecrated into a pattern of the divine human relationship."Than he begins to examine basic qualities or attributes and how they fit his notion of symbol.
"The basic ontological structure is transcendent in the divine life without providing symbolic material. God cannot be called a self, because the concept of self implies separation from everything that is not self. God cannot be called the world even by implication. Both self and world are rooted in the divine life, but they cannot become symbolic for it...But the elements which constitute the basic ontological structure can become symbols because they do not speak of kinds of being (self and world) but of qualities of being which are valid in their proper sense when applied to all beings and which are valid in their proper sense when applied to Being ITself..."
Furthermore, he goes on right after this, still explaining how these ontological forms can work when God transcends them, still speaking of the problem that God is not a person, but is he the ultaitme person itself, and he says:
"The Solution of the difficulties of the phrase "personal God" follows form this. Personal God does not mean that God is a person, it means that God is the ground of everything personal and that he carries within Himself the ontological ground of personality.He is not a person,But he is not less than personal"...and goes on... "God is the principle of individuation as well as the principle of participation.The divine life participates in every life as its ground and aim. God participates in everything that is..."(Ibid, 245)