Paul Tillich was one of the more philosophically informed Christian theologians, whose work embodied a sophisticated paradoxality and dialectal rigor. Uwe Carsten Scharf’s study of Tillich (The Paradoxical Breakthrough of Revelation: Interpreting the Divine-Human Interplay in Paul Tillich's Work, 1913-1964, ISBN 3-11-015577-X) offers a searching study of central movements of Tillich’s thought, the clarification of Tillich's concepts of paradox and breakthrough as they illustrate the divine-human interplay of revelation in ontological-metaphorical language.
Scharf advances the thesis that the two concepts embody a central tension in his thinking about revelation. The interrelationship of paradox and breakthrough is suggested as each breakthrough happens as a paradoxical event, and that each paradox, then needs to breakthrough to the recipient of revelation. These parallel ideas are constructed upon the base that paradox is not contradiction, and breakthrough is not a breaking apart; so that they are related to a unitive or transcendental reason in the following way. A paradox does not destroy reason but upsets and surprises it. Paradox startles reason. It expresses not contradiction but tension between two elements, or poles, which are affirmed simultaneously, even though they look contradictory. The two poles are also simultaneously negated. The real paradox therefore consists in this tension that there is neither a yes for one pole and a no for the other. Breakthrough likewise then is not a disintegration of insight but openness to affirming in the kairos, the event of Transcendence that is otherwise than self or expectation. This event is a sort of touchstone of eternity that is qualitatively outside of the usual quantitative measure of Christian time in rite and liturgy.
The basic thesis of this study can be broken down into three movements: 1. Tillich expresses his understanding of revelation through the core concepts of paradox and breakthrough. 2. A connection of meaning between the two concepts can be discerned in their usage, and 3. Tillich uses both concepts to distinguish his understanding of revelation from the extremes of naturalism, or idealism, and supranaturalism.
The structure of this dialectic is close to middle way thought of Buddhism though such comparative insights are not considered in this study. Rather Scharf develops this as a historical investigation, advancing a second thesis that Tillich does well in choosing these concepts, for they seem to capture the experience of being approached by the dimension of the ultimate in appropriate and intelligible image-concepts.
Paradox and breakthrough approximate the dynamics and form of the unspeakable divine-human encounter (revelation) by using conceptual-symbolic imagery of structure (paradox) and of event (breakthrough).
The autobiographical aspect of this study is that Scharf provides the first provisional translation of Tillich's "Systematische Theologie" of 1913. This was Tillich’s earliest known attempt to give system to his thought. The polarity between paradox and breakthrough are seen to be central to his earliest and most mature expressions of his thinking. Few theologians should ignore this consummate exploration of the pivotal tensions in Tillich’s thought.
Uwe Carsten Scharf the author of this study and the translator of Tillich's 1913"Systematische Theologie", received his Ph.D in Religious Studies (Philosophical Theology) from the University of Virginia in 1995. He is currently an Associate Supervisor in the Association of Clinical pastoral Education (ACPE). In August 2000 he became the Associate Director of Pastoral Services Department at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.
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