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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