The Cosmic Plenum: Tillich: Urgrund and Urbild

The late Paul Tillich was one of the world's great theologians, having taught in Germany and later at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In this particular essay, the focus will be on Tillich's sense of the *Urgrund* -- a German word for the primeval Ground of Being-- and the *Urbild,* which means the Original Archetype.

Consequently it's not surprising that Tillich was oft invited to speak before both the NY Psychoanlytic Institute (Freudian) and the NY Institute for Analytical Psychology (Jungian). To this day depth psychologists refer to the Greater Self as the Urgrund--and some traipse into the territory of the Urbild (such as the late premier Jungian scholar, Edward Edinger).

To begin to dig a little into Tillich, I'll start by quoting a Catholic priest/psychologist John Dourley, who is also a professor of religious studies.

"Tillich's thought can be compared to Jung's with certain interesting parallels. Unlike Jung, Tillich draws a more consistent distinction between an intra-Trinitarian reality within the life of God itself, and an extra-Trinitarian procession into creation. In terms of the Trinity itself, Tillich contends that all created possibility is expressed in its essential perfection by the father in the Logos.

[Now take note to the following, in that Tillich considers that the] "essential perfection within the Godhead remains in a state of 'dreaming innocence,' meaning that divine ideas, expressed in the divine mind, though they constitute the essential perfection of all that can be, remain somehow unreal unless they are expressed beyond God in existence."

It would seem that Tillich throws the divine ball into Creation, into the milieu of Matter, into our very own laps.

Dourley proceeds:
"Hence man's situation in existence is depicted in the tension between his experience of his essential self and his existential distance and alienation from it. Tillich believes that man cannot destroy the groundedness of his essential being in God, but neither can he regain it or confer it upon himself...The movement towards or back to the still the basic movement of life...

"Jung speaks of this process as one of coming into a fuller or more compendious personality through the progressive integration of the unconscious, but like Tillich he believes that man can neither reject this movement in his life with impunity nor bring it to a definitive completion within a lifetime.

"These theologies [of Tillich and Jung] have always included in the nature of the divinity itself a demand to create...

"Modern variants of this position are to be found in the thought of Hegel and Teilhard de Chardin, both of whom see creation and history as necessary emanations from God destined to return to Him as contributions to His completion. In fact Teilhard contends that a theory of creation which cannot be shown to complete the Godhead both devalues creation and cripples human creativity within it."
[Ibid, pp. 57-58.]

So it would seem fairly obvious that all three of these thinkers are considering a creation in Process, a creation that somehow has a Divine Purpose, a creation that must *work* not only outwardly, but inwardly towards this goal. And the way and means to accomplish this is through creativity.

Now we come to Tillich himself, as he enters into the dialectic of being and nonbeing. As Tillich puts it:

"Such questions have forced theologians to relate nonbeing dialectically to being-itself and consequently to God. Boehme's *Urgrund,* Schelling's 'first potency," Hegel's "antithesis"...

"Being, limited by nonbeing, is finitude. Nonbeing appears as the 'not yet' of being and as the 'no more' of being. It confronts that which is with a definite end (finis). This is true of everything except being-itself--which is not a 'thing.' As the power of being, being-itself cannot have a beginning and an end. Otherwise it would have arisen out of non-being. But nonbeing is literally nothing except in relation to being. Being precedes nonbeing in ontological validity...Being is the beginning without a beginning, the end without an end. It is its own beginning and end, the initial power of everything that is. However, everything which participates in the power of being is 'mixed' with nonbeing. It is finite."
[Paul Tillich, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, Volume I, University of Chicago Press, 1951, pp. 188-189.]

On first glimpse, it would seem Tillich is only partially into some of Teilhard de Chardin's thought regarding his ideas of the dialectical process between being and nonbeing. But it is in the very midst of this dialectic that the necessary act of *creativity* enters the picture. As for Teilhard:

He does not believe that creation was a "periodic intrusion of the First Cause," rather "it is an act co-extensive with the whole duration of the universe." Teilhard continues. "God has been creating ever since the beginning of time, and seen from within, his creation (even his initial creation) takes the form of a transformation. Participated being is not introduced in batches which are differentiated later as a result of a non-creative modification: God is continually breathing new being into us."

Tillich discusses this "divine creativity":

"The divine creativity, God's participation in history, his outgoing character, [is] based on this dynamic element. It includes a 'not yet' which is, however, always balanced by an 'already' within the divine life..."
[Ibid, p. 246.]

So it would seem up to this point Tillich's thought fairly corresponds with Teilhard, in that Creation is the repository of a divine unfolding, in that Creation is evolving through the creative effort of both God and its consciousness points, who are evolving towards an "Ahead," transforming towards New Being that finitely has no beginning nor end, but rather has its own Beginning and Ending.

But Tillich stresses:
"We go towards something that is not yet, and we come from something that is no more. We are what we are by what we came from. We have a beginning as we have an end. There was a time that was not *our* time. We hear of it from those who are older than we; we read about it in history books...It is hard for us to imagine our 'being-no-more.' It is equally difficult to imagine our 'being-not-yet'...We ask about life after death, yet seldom do we ask about our being before birth. But is it possible to do one without the other? The fourth gospel does not think so. When it speaks of the eternity of the Christ, it does not only point to his return to eternity, but also to his coming *from* eternity...He comes from another dimension than that in which the past lies...he does not say, 'I was' before Abraham; but he says 'I am' before Abraham was. He speaks of his beginning out of eternity. And this is the beginning of everything that is--not the uncounted billions of years--but the eternal as the ultimate point in our past.

[And] "in every cell of our body, in every trait of our face, in every moment of our soul, our past is the present."
[Paul Tillich, THE ETERNAL NOW, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1956, pp. 126-127.]

So it would seem that Tillich, like Teilhard, considers the Alpha to be the Christ, standing outside time, yet entering somehow into Creation, connecting to all its sub-totalities in a transformative way. But what about the *future*? Tillich has talked of the past and the present, but where does the future lead?

For Tillich, like Teilhard, Creation is trudging towards a completion, a transformation towards New Being, the Omega. And for Tillich, this "New Being" is also the Christ. Fair warning, however: Tillich's concept of the Christ does not necessarily correspond with the parochial Christianity we know today; but it is, nonetheless, rooted deep in the Christology of Ancient Christianity.

Now Tillich begins to move the idea of the Christ more towards an universality. "The Christ is God-for-us! But God is not only for us, he is for everything created..." Tillich continues, noting christological symbols--such as "Son of David, Son of Man, Heavenly Man, Messiah, Son of God, Kyrios, Logos." These symbolic names were prevalent throughout the Near East and the Hellenistic World.

More specifically, Tillich launches into Christ as the "Incarnation of the Logos," indeed the Logos! As he puts it: "The Logos reveals the mystery and reunites the estranged by appearing as a historical reality in a personal life...The conceptual symbol of the Logos is received and transformed by Christianity. The universal principle of divine self-manifestation is, in its essential character, qualitatively present in an individual human being...[Now] Participation in the universal Logos is dependent on participation in the Logos actualized in a historical personality. Christianity replaces the wise man of Stoicism with the Spiritual Man."
[Ibid, p. 112.]

So how did the Christian Fathers come to declare Jesus Christ as the "Incarnation of the Logos"? Mainly, because the conceptualization of the Logos had already long been "in the air," so to speak. A Great Meme? Tillich explains:

"It can be called a conceptual symbol because the Logos, as conceived by Stoicism, unites cosmological and religious elements. It unites rational structure and creative power. In Philo and the Fourth Gospel the religious and symbolic quality of the idea of the Logos prevails. But the rational side does not disappear. [Take note that] The rational structure of the universe is mediated through the Logos. [And upon its reception by Early Christianity] The Logos [was] actualized in a historical personality."
[Ibid, p. 112.]

Moving on, Tillich asks a significant question: "How can the New Being who is called 'the Christ' transform reality if no concrete trait of his nature is left.?" For Tillich it is mainly through picture-building. "There is an *analogia imaginis,* namely, an analogy between the picture and the actual personal life from which it has arisen." And this leads us to the idea of the *Urbild,* the original Archetype.

The Urbild means the original image or the Original Archetype. In modern depth psychology the archetype becomes a paradigmatic model for human activities. And the *typos*, the God-image, oft points the way for a person to draw upon to not only adapt and survive in this world, but to re-pattern himself into a higher stage of development.

In human societies there seems to have lurked the sense of a Great Presence, picturing itself in human minds throughout the countless generations. This Great Presence (called by many names) is the genesis of human hope and transformation. Theologians have called it the Original Archetype, the Urbild.

And in the Western World the Urbild has been mostly translated as Jesus the Christ. As Jung put it: "What happens in the life of Christ happens always and everywhere. In the Christian archetype all lives of this kind are prefigured."

Furthermore, Jung says:
"The drama of the archetypal life of Christ describes in symbolic images the events in the conscious life--as well as in the life that transcends consciousness--of a man who has been transformed by his higher destiny"
[Carl Jung, "A Psychological Approach to the Trinity," Psychology and Religion, CW 11, par. 233.]

And as the Jungian scholar, Edward Edinger, put it: "In fact when the Christian myth [Urbild] is examined carefully in the light of analytical psychology, the conclusion is inescapable that...[its] underlying the quest for individuation...Understood psychologically...this means that Christ is simultaneously a symbol for both the Self and the ideal ego."
[Edward f. Edinger, EGO AND ARCHETYPE, Penguin Books, 1972, pp. 131-132.]

Now Tillich realizes the more immediate psychological implications of the Urbild--"in Urbild the idealistic transcendence of true humanity over human existence is clearly expressed." But--the concept of New Being necessarily moves beyond just the Urbild. If not the "Urbild remains unmoved above existence; [however,] the New Being participates in existence..."

It would seem that the Original Archetype, for Tillich the Urbild of Jesus Christ, through it's Great Presence, offers a Blueprint upon which Creation's consciousness points can build noetically toward New Being. For Tillich this entire process is about "metanoia," about "conversio." These are ancient religious terms that spell out Spiritual Maturation.

It's this Spiritual Maturation on the part of sentient beings that is significant for the building-up not only ourselves but, through relationship (convergence?), Creation and the New Being. Yet Tillich puts an interesting twist to the idea of conversion. It's genesis essentially lies within the Great Presence, unfolds and breaks through, and is *experienced* by us. If one is grasped by this Great Presence, then one is thus a "member of the Spiritual Community."

Tillich considers this Special Experience to be actually a process that has slowly been underway since the dawn of consciousness. History has spoken of it mainly through religious terminology via specific faith systems. Yet Tillich ponders about this Special Experience in light of "secular criticism." To quote:

"Therefore we must ask whether we can find criteria for a future doctrine of life under the Spiritual Presence. One may give the following principles: first, increasing awareness; second, increasing freedom; third, increasing relatedness; fourth, increasing transcendence...The principles themselves unite religious as well as secular traditions and can, in their totality, create an indefinite but distinguishable image of the 'Christian life."
[Tillich, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, Volume 3, p.231.]

Now Tillich begins to address Teilhard's idea of convergence!

"The New Being as process drives toward a mature relatedness. The divine Spirit has rightly been described as the power of breaking through the walls of self-seclusion. There is no way of overcoming self-seclusion lastingly other than the impact of the power which elevates the individual person above himself ecstatically and enables him to find the other person--if the other person is also ready to be elevated above himself."
[Ibid, p. 234.]

And Tillich proceeds, taking note of a significant problem: "All other relations are transitory and ambiguous. They certainly exist and fill the daily life, but they are symptoms of estrangement as much as of reunion. All human relations have this character. Alone, they cannot conquer loneliness, self-seclusion, and hostility. Only a relation which is inherent in all other relations, and which can even exist without them, is able to do so. Sanctification, or the process toward Spiritual maturity, conquers loneliness by providing for solitude and communion in interdependence."
[Ibid, p. 234.]

So it would seem that this Great Presence, this Spiritual Presence of Tillich's, operable in the universe, breaking through creatively, unfolding via the experience of Creation's consciousness- points, providing an Urbild upon which to build, can be likened to Teilhard's "Super Soul above our souls." Tillich's considerations seem to correspond with Teilhard's idea of a "gigantic psycho- biological operation" of cosmic evolution that points toward a "mega-synthesis" of all the thinking elements of the earth forcing an entree into the realm of the super-human.

So here we are, back to evolution. Tillich's thought prompts some interesting speculation. From my own observation, at first glance it seems as if there's only a sparse segment of the human population that has truly "experienced" in any full way the unfolding of this Special Presence. Perhaps these are our saints (known and unknown). On second glance, however, there are those who surely have experienced this sanctification event, but have been left confused and don't really know where they should head.

There's a lot of spiritual confusion amongst many who have undergone this Special Experience--and I suspect it is because the Urbild has not historically, culturally been appropriately conveyed, so consequently it is not a fully developed image within their minds. And, as Tillich has pointed out, there's also estrangement from such. Many seemingly have lost the Blueprint.

To end, there's a lot of food-for-thought in Tillich's thinking. In today's depth psychology, the Christ Imago is the major--but fading--typos, the Archetype of the Self, in the Western World. If we believe in the Urbild, in the New Being of both Tillich and Teilhard, we have to wonder what the future is bringing. It's obvious to us who have been "touched" spiritually, that there is a Great Presence. But it seems to be transfiguring itself within our mind's eye. Perhaps this is not so surprising, considering tracking the Logos down through its recorded transfigurations in History.


Return to The Cosmic Plenum | Home