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Review: Tillich on Schelling and the Principle of Identity

Reviewed Work(s): The Construction of the History of Religion in Schelling's Positive

Philosophy: Its Presuppositions and Principles by Paul Tillich and Victor Nuovo; Mysticism
and Guilt-Consciousness in Schelling's Philosophical Development by Paul Tillich and
Victor Nuovo
Review by: Robert P. Scharlemann
Source: The Journal of Religion, Vol. 56, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 105-112
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL:
Accessed: 27-04-2017 17:55 UTC

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Tillich on Schelling and the Principle of Identity*

Robert P. Scharlemann University of Iowa

In his earliest writings, which include as major works two doctoral disser
tations on Schelling and a Habilitationsschrift on the supernatur
theologians in the period just before Schleiermacher, Paul Tillich w
centrally occupied with the principle of identity-a living unity of uni
versal and particular, of concept and intuition, of subject and object, o
absolute and relative-without which there is no truth. The
Habilitationsschrift, of which half was originally publishe
otherwise published or translated. The two doctoral di
now available in a translation by Victor Nuovo. Their app
welcomed not only by scholars interested in the thought o
Schelling but also by those interested in the history of sy
ogy and philosophy of religion in the modern period. For
as much a contributor to theology as he was to philos
influence seems to be as extensive as it is subterranea
unusual wording of his call to Berlin-he was to come
professor but as the philosopher chosen by God and called
of the time"2-already attests that fact. In any case, Tillic
incidentally August 20 was the day of birth as it was the d
Schelling) explicitly acknowledged his indebtedness to th
philosophy" of this man, and Karl Barth's theology bears
stamp of Schelling on it to have Ludwig Lambinet describe
out Schelling's philosophy.3 Moreover, Schelling's deb
after 1827 has provided a paradigm for subsequent system

*Paul Tillich, The Construction of the History of Religion in Schelling's Pos

Presuppositions and Principles. Translated with an introduction and note
(Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press; London: Associated Un
1974). 178 pages + index. $1o.oo. Paul Tillich, Mysticism and Guilt
Schelling's Philosophical Development. Translated with an introduction a
Nuovo (Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press; London: Associated U
1974). 147 pages + index. $8.oo.
'Paul Tillich, Der Begriff des (ibernatiirlichen, sein dialektischer Charakter
Identitiit, dargestellt an der supranaturalistischen Theologie vor Schleierma
2A. von Harnack, Geschichte der Kiniglichen Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu
Berlin, vol. 1, pt. 2 (Berlin, 1900), p. 19; cited by Georg Huntemann in his inaugural disserta-
tion, Die dialektische Theologie und der spekulative Idealismus Hegels (Syke, 1957), p. 9.
3Huntemann, p. 5-


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The Journal of Religion

pinpointing the place at which the break with one kind of idealism
inevitably must be made toward a recognition of what Walter Schulz calls
the finished finitude, the "vollendete Vollendlichkeit,"4 of human exis-
tence and what Schelling called its potenzlos being.
In The Construction of the History of Religion in Schelling's Positive
Philosophy: Its Presuppositions and Principles, a dissertation in philosophy at
the University of Breslau published in 191o, Tillich analyzes the princi-
ples at work in Schelling's religious, historical, and philosophical con-
struction of the history of religion. He concludes with a critique of
Schelling's effort, in the "positive philosophy," to deduce the incarnation
of Christ as an external, empirical fact. Opposition to the rationalist
opinion that the historical element in Christianity was "an inadequate
clothing for eternal truths of reason" (p. 157) led Schelling at this point
to incorporate a heterogeneous element into his system; for by viewing
the historical element as a purely external actuality, he abandoned the
fundamental position of idealism that there is no truth without identity.
Tillich bases this criticism on Schelling's own systematic principle. But it
becomes a statement in Tillich's position in the theses on christology of
191 5 which affirm the possibility of giving a proof that Jesus the Christ
was an actual historical figure while denying the possibility of devising
any proof that the historical Jesus was the Christ. Tillich's immanent
critique of Schelling thus became the basis of his own debate with the
supranaturalist and neo-Kantian christologies.
The year in which Tillich completed his first dissertation also saw the
publication of a work which was to prompt the second, theological dis-
sertation. Theodor Schlatter's Die philosophische Arbeit seit Cartesius (191 o)
propounded a thesis to the effect that the tragedy of Schelling, who as a
philosopher of nature was enthusiastically welcomed and as a
philosopher of religion was scornfully disregarded, lay in the insoluble
contradiction between the mystical and the Christian elements, or be-
tween the feeling of fusion with the absolute and the moral categories, in
his philosophy of religion. According to this thesis, Schelling attempted
to carry out the Kantian theory of the identity of universal and indi-
vidual reason in the operation of the will, but the attempt failed-and
that failure spelled the catastrophe of critical idealism. The tragedy of
Schelling, in this view, was not that he was unjustly denied recognition
for his accomplishment, but that he did not achieve a synthesis at all.
Tillich devotes his second dissertation, Mysticism and Guilt-Consciousness
in Schelling's Philosophical Development, presented at the University of Halle

4Walter Schulz, Die Vollendung des deutschen Idealismus in der Spiitphilosophze Schellings
(Stuttgart, 1955), P. 306.
5Paul Tillich, "Die christliche Gewissheit und der historische Jesus" (1911). An incom-
plete manuscript and a typewritten transcription are on hand in the Paul Tillich archive in


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Tillich on Schelling

in 1912,6 to the question of whether Schlatter's thesis is correct or

whether Schelling did succeed "in synthesizing mysticism and guilt-
consciousness such that the principle of identity, on the one hand, and
the purely negative judgment of sin, on the other, were preserved" (p.
25). Identity as the principle of truth leads to the concept of mysticism,
which is "the religious expression for the immediate identity of God and
man" (p. 3) and reaches a perfect epistemological expression in the claim
that either God is not known at all or he is both the subject and object of
knowledge (p. 75). Contradiction as the principle of morality leads to the
concept of guilt-consciousness, "the religious expression for the absolute
contradiction between God and man" (p. 31), so that the normal relation
between man and God is repentance. Did Schelling find the identity in
the two?
Tillich's answer is that Schelling did do so, in his conception of the
cross of Christ as the place where the "will of contradiction" (what in
Tillich's later terminology is estranged freedom) is absolutely affirmed
and negated by God himself. This is the "positive solution to the prob-
lem of mysticism and guilt-consciousness" (p. 112). The means of inves-
tigation are what Tillich calls a "historical-dialectical method" (p. 22),
dialectical in showing how the relation of the Identitidtsprinzip to the moral
categories provides a standpoint from which Schelling's development
can be seen as the unfolding of an essential unity and historical in its
reference to the external occasions and influences in that development.
In the foreword to his Habilitationsschrift of 1915, Tillich remarks that
affirming the principle of identity does not imply affirming a philosophy
of identity. Indeed, what the second dissertation shows is that the
principle of identity, which constitutes the unity in Schelling's thought,
breaks through the system of identity. It therefore expresses at one and
the same time the unity in Schelling's philosophy and the break with
rational idealism. "The radical development of the principle of identity
leads through itself to the full affirmation of the concept of guilt. Schel-
ling entered upon this path, and without stopping pursued it to its end"
(p. 53).
Mysticism and Guilt-Consciousness is rigorous in its account of how Schel-
ling, beginning as a defender and elucidator of the standpoint rep-
resented by Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre and the mysticism of the will that it
implies, was led by an increasing radicalization of the question "Why?"
beyond that standpoint first to a mysticism of nature, then to a mysticism
of art, and finally to the mysticism of intellectual intuition which im-
mediately preceded the transition to his later thought. Kant's notion of
the dynamic construction of matter enabled Schelling to see that, con-
trary to Fichte, nature is constituted not by a self-limitation of spirit but
6Republished in the Gesammelte Werke of Paul Tillich, vol. 1, Friihe Hauptwerke (Stuttgart,
1959), PP. vi-io8.


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The Journal of Religion

by a real conflict of opposed impulses; nature is not the nonego but a

creative identity, the "visible spirit" corresponding to the "invisible na-
ture" that spirit is. The religion implicit in this philosophy of nature is no
longer an ethical mysticism, for which the goal of identity is an infinite
task, but a mysticism of nature in which the identity is brought into being
at the moment when man is produced by the evolution of nature.
The concept of evolution, however, leaves actuality incomprehensible
because it provides no answer to the question of why, if the goal is
achieved in man, nature continues to reproduce. To this question the
first but transitional answer was given by an aesthetic mysticism, accord-
ing to which the goal of totality is achieved not in nature and not in man
as such but in artistic creation. An artist creates the perfect communion
with God that the moralist, for whom it remains infinitely unrealizable
and is known only practically in the moral act itself, cannot attain.
Though Schelling's actual philosophy of religion remained with the
moral proof, Tillich sees implicit in the philosophy of nature this
Kunstmystik of the artist as prophet. Indeed, the experience of aesthetic
creation as a unity of unconscious and conscious activity is the presup-
position for a philosophy of nature which understands the objective
world as the unconscious poetry of the spirit. Just this affirmation of the
principle of identity, however, prepared the way for Schelling's
"unqualified No to sin" (p. 58) and for a restoration of the idea of grace
in his later thought.
After the System of Transcendental Idealism (18oo) Schelling, in several
otherwise disparate works, endeavored to carry through the principle of
identity into a whole system of rational identity whose religious founda-
tion was a mysticism of "intellectual intuition," the faculty of perceiving a
living unity of the universal and the particular, the infinite and the finite.
The one opposition which always has already been overcome is the op-
position between the self and the absolute. That is the understanding of
identity inherent in intellectual intuition. Schelling's effort faltered,
however, on a series of questions that could not be answered by rational
identity. Subjective idealism had been right in understanding the world
of particulars in space and time as a world posited for and by the self-
positing I. But it could not answer the question of why there should even
be such a world; indeed, there should not be. The self-positing ego,
therefore, which in positing itself posits a phenomenal world, is incom-
prehensible from the standpoint of intellectual intuition because it is the
universal expression of the fallenness of freedom.
Again, according to a system of identity everything that occurs does so
in accord with the necessity of the absolute in which freedom and neces-
sity are united. If we do, in fact, think of actuality as opposed to God, as
an expression of contradiction between man and God, we do so only
because of a false abstraction on the part of the imagination. But where

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Tillich on Schelling

does such an imagination come from, or what prompts it to make such a

false abstraction? Must not the "intellectual sin" of imagining one exists
outside the unity of the absolute have in turn a moral basis? "This,"
Tillich concludes, "is the triumph of the moral categories: that they
everywhere impede the development of the system of identity, and al-
though they appear to be fully overcome at its consummation, they in
fact break the entire system asunder" (p. 88).
To this point Tillich's analysis would corroborate the thesis of Schlat-
ter, to whom he makes no further reference after the introduction. But
the rest of the dissertation shows how working out the doctrine of free-
dom enabled Schelling to maintain the principle of identity in a system
comprising both the rational and the irrational. The Philosophie der
Mythologie und Offenbarung is a document for that stage of his develop-
ment. Idealism, by conceiving freedom as the interpenetration of neces-
sity and choice or contingency had already advanced the doctrine of
freedom beyond the pre-Kantian conception of freedom as indeter-
minism. Schelling took the further step of conceiving freedom not im-
mediately as the identity of necessity and contingency but first of all as the
contradiction between the two, for which the absolute identity is then the will
that wills itself. Will is an identity of essence and contradiction because it
can contradict itself without ceasing to be will.
This doctrine of freedom provided the basis for Schelling's concept of
God as the Lord of being, free to be and not to be, free even from his
own being as Spirit. "That" God is is prior to "what" he is; "that" he is is
something for which reason can never give a reason, for it is the irra-
tional prius of all thought; only "what" God is can be the object of reason.
This permits Schelling not only to make a distinction between the cosmic
spirit ("necessary spirit") and the spirit of God ("free spirit") but also to
distinguish between the absolute and God and to take the idealist proof
of God as a "negative" proof which is no more than the necessary condi-
tion of the positive self-proof of God. On Schelling's reading of them
-which Tillich adopts here and never subsequently challenges-the
pre-Kantian proofs depended upon making finite existence the basis of
a demonstration of the infinite; because the world, or man, exists, there-
fore God exists. Idealism replaced this by an ontological proof consisting
of a negation of the sensuous manifold in order to arrive at the idea of
truth by liberating the thinking subject from its bondage to finite objec-
tivity and thus enabling it to see through the finite to the infinite identity
within it. This kind of proof was meant not as a formal deduction but as
an act, though a necessary act, and therefore as compelling as any deduc-
tion. Schelling granted that that method did attain to a knowledge of the
absolute-but not to a knowledge of whether it is God who is the abso-
lute. For the step from the idea of the absolute to the existence of God
the "anthropocentric" method of negative philosophy must be replaced


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by the "theocentric method" of the positive philosophy, based upon

God's testimony of himself, which is a matter not of ideas but of experi-
ence. The unity of the two paths constitutes "philosophical religion."
Neither method alone is sufficient. The anthropocentric way alone leads
to a self-sufficient mysticism; the theocentric way alone leads to a rela-
tion determined by guilt-consciousness.
In Schelling's positive philosophy, which thus depends upon the ex-
perience of revelation, death reveals, as the lie in nature and the guilt in
man, not that existence is a unity of essence and contradiction but that it
is under the reign of a unity of particularity and contradiction. That is to
say, what is "wrong" in nature and man is not that the actual is not the
essential but that the particular is not the particular it should be because
it asserts itself as sovereign. Death is the negative conquest of this con-
tradiction because in death the self, separated from its essence but in
bondage to the wrath of God, puts an end to itself as the "will of sin." Yet
if the identity of the will of sin and the wrath of God were the final
identity, the will of sin would be destroyed but not overcome, and God
would not be Lord of the contradiction. Instead, God affirms the will to
selfhood by becoming an individual himself, subject to wrath and to the
immanent self-negation of all selfhood. The Yes and No in God here
contradict each other absolutely. To this supreme contradiction the solu-
tion lies in the cross of Christ, where the "will of contradiction" is at once
affirmed and negated by God himself absolutely. A complete No toward
sin is united with the consciousness of standing in indissoluble identity
with God. "The highest form of the idea of truth is the identity of the
contradiction, and the most profound form of guilt-consciousness is
bondage to an angry God. These unite in the demand whose fulfilment
in absolute nature is the cross of Christ" (pp. 1 12-13). Thus, at the end
of Schelling's thought "the principle of mysticism triumphs, but not in
the form of mysticism, not as immediate identity, but rather as personal
communion that overcomes contradiction" (p. 125).
Not until 1919 did Tillich, in an address never published but entitled
"Rechtfertigung und Zweifel"7 and in an essay entitled Ober die Idee einer
Theologie der Kultur (Berlin, 1919),8 undertake to set forth a method for
theology on the basis of his analysis of the principle of identity. But by
that time it was no longer the idealist principle of identity but the princi-
ple of paradox, and it was not "positivity" but "breakthrough," not
ground but depth (i.e., abyss and ground), which guided his formula-

7A typescript copy, with one page missing, is on hand in the Paul Tillich archive at
Harvard and G6ttingen. Though it bears the same title as an address published in 1924,
this "Rechtfertigung und Zweifel" of 1919 has a quite different content. It is a basic treatise
on subjectivity and theological method, and it contains Tillich's criticism of Karl Heim's use
of concrete paradox.
8English translation, "On the Idea of a Theology of Culture," in What Is Religion? (New
York, 1969), pp. 155-81.

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Tillich on Schelling

As the preceding summary indicates, Tillich's demythicizing analysis

of Schelling's often fantastic speculation in his later works, which were
too uncritically dependent on Friedrich Creuzer's Symbolik und Mythologie
der alten V*lker (18 1o),9 makes Emanuel Hirsch's judgment that the an-
thropology and theology of the later Schelling were a philosophical and
theological Barbarei'o doubtful; and subsequent Schelling scholarship,
notably Walter Schulz's work, has generally confirmed Tillich's conclu-
sion both on the unity of Schelling's development and on his conquest
from within of the philosophy of idealism. Schelling's thought still raises
issues for fundamental theology even apart from the light that it might
shed on Tillich's theology in particular. Let me mention an illustration of
each of these two considerations.
One illustration is Schelling's concept of God as the Lord of being.
Barth seems to have been instructed in this concept by Schelling, and yet
he did not seem to recognize what it meant for his treatment of the
existence of God in his book on Anselm's proof." The conception of
theological thinking as a Nachdenken des Vorgedachten, which animates the
book, does seem to be a reprise of the later Schelling who, in opposition
to Hegel, maintained that God is not one who is before us (as an object of
thought) nor with us (as the being implicit in our concept) but always
behind us (as always having preceded our thought). Moreover, Barth's
concomitant recovery of Anselm's proof of God's existence is less vul-
nerable than are the metaphysical attempts, such as that of Hartshorne,
because by construing Anselm's formula as a rule of thinking instead of
as a definition of God's being it does not court the doubts raised concern-
ing the very possibility of metaphysical knowledge. (How can we know
whether the necessity of thinking is a reliable guide to what is so, since it
is not necessary to think that the necessity of thought is a criterion of
being?) Nonetheless, even Barth's proof is shattered by the principle in
Schelling's concept of the Lord of being. The steps that Barth's proof
does take, from the rule of thought to the impossibility of even a
hypothetical denial of God's existence, are correct as far as they go;
simply following the noetic rule ("always think the greater") implicit in
the objective faith of the church makes it impossible even to form the
thought of God's nonexistence, for the one whose existence is denied by
the words of a denial is not the one who is manifest in the plain meaning
of quo majus cogitari nequit. Yet precisely the same rule of thought adds a
step beyond Barth's last step. Once Schelling's concept comes into view,
the question can be put: "Which is greater-a God who must be, and
cannot not be, so that he cannot even be thought not to be; or a God

9See Walter F. Otto, Die Gestalt und das Sein (Darmstadt, 1959), P. 22o.
1oDie Geschichte der neuern evangelischen Theologie, vol. 5 (Giitersloh, 1949), p. 270.
"Karl Barth, Fides quaerens intellectum: Anselm's Beweis der Existenz Gottes (Zollikon, 1931,
1958); English translation: Anselm: Fides quarens intellectum; Anselm's Proof of the Existence of
God in the Context of His Theological Scheme (London, 1960).


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who, as Lord of being, is free to be or not to be and is thus free to be

thought or not to be thought to be?" If the latter is the greater, as I
should think even Barth would have to admit, then this proof of God's
existence collapses.
A second illustration has to do with clarifying a question in Tillich's
Systematic Theology. Tillich denied that the basic theological statement,
"God is being itself," is convertible to "Being itself is God." The denial
seems arbitrary when viewed only in the setting of the meaning given to
being itself by Heidegger in "What Is Metaphysics?" (1929) and by exis-
tentialist philosophy more generally. It does not appear so arbitrary,
however, if Tillich's usage of "being itself" was shaped not only by
Heidegger's das Sein selbst but also by Schelling's das Seiende selbst.
Schelling's claim that being itself is the predicate of God but is not God,
since God is the one who is being itself, would entail the consequence
stated in Tillich's denial that being itself is God. The identity of God and
being itself is that of subject and predicate which keep their difference in
the identity; to regard the statement "God is being itself" as convertible
would thus amount to reducing the identity to an undifferentiated unity.
These two illustrations are sufficient to suggest the bearing Schelling
and Tillich's Schelling dissertations might have on theology today.
Though the idealism that extended from Kant to the late Schelling is in
many ways dated, it reached a level of thought that makes subsequent
theology often seem dilettante. Tillich, clearly, saw that; and it is impos-
sible to read his dissertations without catching a glimpse of idealism's
Professor Nuovo's translation of the dissertations is very readable and,
judging by a spot check, accurate, although there are a few questionable
places and apparent lapses.12 The printing and editing are unfortu-
nately marred by an unusually large number of errors, and the
makeshift devices used for diacritical marks over the letters of Greek
words demand an extraordinary amount of goodwill from a reader.
Nonetheless, the availability in English of these dissertations should
prove useful in putting Tillich's philosophical and theological thought
into perspective.

12For example, "das was das Seiende ist" (Construction, p. 18) should, I think, be trans-
lated "that which what is is" or "that which the one who is is" instead of "that which is what
is"; similarly "that which can be God" (ibid., p. 6o) should be "that which God can be." The
context in Schelling makes clear what the subject and predicate of the clause are. Examples
of lapses are on pp. 46 ("has ... remained") and 162, n. 12 ("has been operative"), where
the compound past in German should be translated by a simple past in English. Similarly,
"one moment" would be better than "a moment" (ibid., p. 171, n. 21). The correction of
Tillich's text (Mysticism, p. 83, cf. p. 146, n. xix) with the translation of nachher as "earlier"
may be unnecessary; Tillich may have meant "later" because the identity implicit in
Schelling's philosophy of nature came after that of his Fichtean moralism.


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