Paul Tillich, The Dynamics of Faith – On the Divine-Demonic Nature of the Holy

The mysterious character of the holy produces an ambiguity in man’s ways of experiencing it. The holy can appear as destructive and creative. Its fascinating element can be both creative and destructive (referring again to the fascinating character of nationalistic idolatry), and the terrifying and consuming element can be destructive and creative. This ambiguity, of which we still find traces in the Old Testament, is reflected in the ritual or quasi-ritual activities of religions and quasi-religions (sacrifices of others or one’s bodily or mental self) which are strongly ambiguous. One can call this ambiguity divine-demonic, whereby the divine is characterized by the victory of the creative over the destructive power of the holy, and the demonic is characterized by the victory of the destructive over the creative possibility of the holy. In this situation, which is most profoundly understood in the prophetic religion of the Old Testament, a fight has been waged against the demonic-destructive element in the holy. And this fight was so successful that the concept of the holy was changed. Holiness becomes justice and truth. It is creative and not destructive. the true sacrifice is obedience to the law. This is the line of thought which finally led to the identification of holiness with moral perfection. But when this point is reached, holiness loses its meaning as the “separated,” the “transcending,” the “fascinating and terrifying,” the “entirely other.” All this is gone, and the holy has become the morally good and logically trueIt has ceased to be the holy in the genuine sense of the word. Summing up this development, one could say that the holy originally lies below the alternative of the good and the evil; that it is both divine and demonic; that with the reduction of the demonic possibility the holy itself becomes transformed in its meaning; that it becomes rational and identical with the true and the good; and that its genuine meaning must be rediscovered.

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3 thoughts on “Paul Tillich, The Dynamics of Faith – On the Divine-Demonic Nature of the Holy”

  1. I don’t know about “holiness” but “qedushah” doesn’t refer to any of the above. Whether it’s commitment to the cause for which G-d created me, thus the holiness connotation, commitment to one’s spouse, or even preparing for war (Yehoshua 3:5 according to Rashi “hisqadashu”).

    Qedushah implies separation in that being fully committed to one goal leaves no room for others, for any “shiny objects that distract the eye”. But that’s a consequence, not the defining feature. As Rav Shimon Shkop notes, G-d doesn’t need to separate from anything in order to be holy.

  2. So to clarify, when Tillich says “the holy” he’s referring to ‘א, and he actually makes R’ Shkop’s point a little before the piece I quoted above.

    Additionally, I definitely agree with you about the definition of Kedushah. I quoted this piece not in terms of what it might mean for Kedushah, but because I like what it says about the multifaceted nature of our experience of, and relationship with ‘א. Tillich describes ‘א directly, as the “holy”, which I would not pretend to do, but I think the idea that worship in tanakh is depicted as both pure-intellectual and sort of wild-emotional, and that over time this was lost. However, he identifies this loss with the process of the dominance of the Law, unsurprising and he is both Christian and a mystic, and that I would not necessarily do. Binding our actions does not necessarily lead to the binding of our hearts. I am instead reminded of the writings of Hillel Zeitlin where he points to Rambam’s negative theology as the reason for the lack of art and music emerging from jewish society.

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