Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

When Professor McNeill began his lectures last semester, I was in his first class for a few minutes and spoke about the relationship between Church history and the history of Christian thought. I said there that they cannot be separated from each other, and that in the history of Christian thought the history of the Church must always be presupposed; and vice versa, that in the history of the Church the history of Christian thought is implied. This separation, therefore, into two semesters following each other is artificial. Fortunately this is the last time that we have this procedure and that I give these lectures, and from now on there will be a more integrated form of teaching Church history, in one year and a half. You are now still anticipating this period of glory in the Church History Department, and we must still make the best of it! But don’t forget that Christian thought is the expression of something which is more universal and more real than thought, namely the Christian life itself. Because of this, Christian thought has very often been neglected and even despised. But this is equally wrong, and I want therefore to make a few remarks in the beginning about the necessary function of thought in every human endeavor, and especially in the religious life.

All human experience implies the element of thought, simply because man’s intellectual or spiritual life is embodied in his language, and language is thought expressed in spoken and heard words. Therefore there is no human existence without thought, and the kind of emotionalism so rampant in religion is not something more than thinking, but is less than it, and brings religion down to the level of a pre-human experience of reality.

In the tension between the philosopher Hegel and the theologian Schleiermacher, you know that Schleiermacher emphasized the function of “feeling,” or emotion, in religion; and Hegel, who emphasized the function of thought, said: “Even dogs have feeling, but man has thought.” Now this was based on an unintentional misunderstanding of what Schleiermacher meant with “feeling,” a misunderstanding which we find very often even today. But it expresses some truth.

Man cannot be man without thought. He must think even if he is the most primitive devotional Christian, with no theological education or understanding.

Even in religion we give names to special objects. We distinguish acts of the Divine. We relate symbols to each other. We explain their meaning. There is language in every religion, and the existence of language means that there are universals, and of universals that there are concepts, and of concepts that one must think, even on the most primitive level. It is interesting that this fight between Hegel and Schleiermacher was anticipated by a man like Clement of Alexandria, in the 3rd century, who said that the religion of animals, if they had a religion, would be mute, without words. And he must have derived from this that every man who lives religiously, must participate in religious thought.

Now I repeat : REALITY PRECEDES THOUGHT. But I repeat also : THOUGHT SHAPES REALITY. These two are interdependent. You cannot abstract the one from the other.