The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Was Tillich a universalist?

I’m reading a book not on soteriology that mentions Tillich. I thought I might have read a while ago that he was a universalist, so I put my book down and looked him up. Based on a cursory reading of things he said it’s not clear to me if he was a universalist.

He did make a couple of pretty explicit statements.

I haven’t read everything he ever wrote, though, so maybe there are other statements that would mitigate this one. But I haven’t found them, if they exist.

I was thinking of this quote:

The church rejected Origen’s doctrine of the apokatastasis panton because this expectation seemed to remove the seriousness of the threat to “lose one’s life” with the relativity of finite existence. The conceptual symbol of “essentialization” is capable of fulfilling this postulate, for it emphasizes the despair of having wasted one’s potentialities yet also assure the elevation of the positive within existence (even in the most unfulfilled life) into eternity.This solution also rejects the mechanistic idea of a necessary salvation without falling into the contradictions of the traditional solution which described the eternal destiny of the individual either as being everlastingly condemned or as being everlastingly saved. Systematic Theology, Vol III

I think that’s called wanting to butter both sides of your bread. Well, grandma said that, anyway, under different circumstances.
Tillich tries to keep together all the data for and against apokatastasis with his idea of ‘essentialization’ - I think he’s saying that the positives in every person’s life will continue on after life- but that the ‘quality’ of the afterlife will be dependant on the qualities of the positives done in this life? This allows him to keep an emphasis on both the seriousness of the ‘threats’ and the promise of continuance, and saves him from a mechanical salvation based on predestination.

So HIS apokatastasis is perhaps ‘tempered’ by his sober assessment that we will in fact be different in the afterlife based on what good deeds and character positives we develop here. Somewhat allied to the idea that we are saved by grace, but judged by our character.
Do you think I’m in the ballpark on this?
I’m not saying it’s completely logical.

Could be. Having not read any of Tillich’s books I can’t say with any certainty. Perhaps elsewhere in his work he explains what the heck he’s talking about in that obscure paragraph. It almost sounds like he thinks the flaws we die with will follow us forever, which wouldn’t be much of a salvation.

It’s a terribly written paragraph. From what I’ve read - and I haven’t gotten to volume 3 of the systematic theology, but I have read the first two volumes plus his History of Christian Thought and a few of his shorter books - Dynamics of Faith being one - he was a Universalist.

Just to say something non-controversial here – and in friendship because the times are too fraught to argue all of the time  Tillich doesn’t seem to have understood Origen very well. This is not surprising because most of the work retrieving Origen’s theology again from the available sources (as opposed to simply falling into line with the received view) has been done since his death. Also I think that Tillich is assuming twentieth century existentialist categories here – the focus is all on this life now and our response to it without any larger horizon.

My hunch is that Origen would have agreed – to some extent – that it is only the best in us that is saved. But he would have added that all of us have this ‘best in us’ because we are all created in the image of God. Salvation happens as we become free to respond to the best in us – this happens thought God’s grace in Christ of course, but it also happens because we collaborate with this grace by turning our wills to God. As we turn our wills to God in love and this met by the far greater gracious love of God. And as this happens we grow in knowledge of the Good and of what is best for us and in us. The worst in us in the end is non-being – it has no stable and enduring existence and so will perish. This is a bit like Tillich’s essentialism – but the focus is less about us creating an essential self that can be saved through good choices, than it is about our true self being gradually revealed to us.

Tillich’s eschatology could imply that some people are more saved than others – depending on the kind of life they live. Origen is confident that there will be equality in salvation in the final restoration. Also, unlike Tillich’s existential emphasis - which is centred on the lone individual – Origen’s theology has a cosmic context in which all creatures are journeying towards God eventually and there are post mortem opportunities for all to go further in their journey .

I’m sure you can refine this from a better knowledge of Tillich than I have. But that’s my hunch from studying Origen over the past several years as best as I could.

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Thanks. A hierarchy of salvation (some ‘saved more than others’) is unappealing to me. I’m not sure the idea is even coherent.

Regarding Origen, didn’t Origen believe in an endless cycle of salvation and fall?

Origen didn’t believe this. I know he was accussed later of having believed this. However, the idea that ‘aeons’ - the ages of time - repeat each other exactly was held by the Stoic philosophers. I remember that Origen explicitly criticizes them for him in his book ‘Against Celsus’. For Origen the aeons are part of a developmental process and they have their end/telos in the apokatastasis. So time, history, and us human beings are all going somewhere - and not round in circles. And our end is Christ.

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Robert M Price loves Tillich. Often quotes his work.

Tillich is my ‘favorite’ theologian. The systematic theology of his is challenging - there are more than a few paragraphs like the one Qaz started the thread with - but overall he writes clearly and has a magnificent mind.
And his History of Christian Thought is accessible and seems to be fair.