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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 167

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Paul Tillich was a German theologian and philosopher who moved to the United States after having to flee from Nazis in the 1930s. He became a lecturer at Yale University in Connecticut.

Tillich expanded his lectures into the book The Courage to Be. In the book, Tillich incorporates early philosophies of Socrates, Aquinas, and Nietzsche into his own philosophies about courage. Tillich believes that "courage is directly tied to being, or a self-affirmation of one's being."

In order to explain how courage is connected to personal being, Tillich also explains the concept of "nonbeing." When a person does not believe in their personal being, this results in anxiety. Tillich states that this anxiety has three forms: anxiety related to fate and death, anxiety related to emptiness and meaninglessness, and anxiety related to guilt.

Tillich states that "courage is self-affirmation in spite of anxiety." He also claims that for humans to have this type of courage, they must receive help from a higher power other than human beings.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 869

In 1950 the German-born theologian Paul Tillich, who had fled the Nazis in 1933 and become a lecturer in the United States, was invited to give the Terry Foundation lectures at Yale University. Two years later Tillich published an expanded version of the lectures as The Courage to Be and became something of a celebrity. The book struck a chord and became a best seller as well as a text used in college courses and at religious seminaries.

The book seemed to speak to its time, a time of disruption and uncertainty, the beginning of the Cold War, and the spread of modernist despair and existential doubt, at least among the intellectuals. The book itself, though coming from a well-respected Christian theologian, focuses on the secular philosophy of existentialism, and not until its concluding chapter does Tillich attempt to connect his analysis of society to religious themes.

He begins by tracing the history of courage, referring to Socrates and other early Greek philosophers as well as to the stoic philosophers of ancient Rome and such later thinkers as Thomas Aquinas, Baruch Spinoza, and Friedrich Nietzsche. He argues that courage is connected to being, that it is the affirmation of one’s being, and distinguishes this sort of self-affirmation from the courage of soldiers.

In his second chapter, Tillich introduces the concept of nonbeing, saying that being embraces both itself and its negation, adding that being is eternally overcoming nonbeing. He then moves on to discuss anxiety, which he describes as the awareness of one’s own potential nonbeing, and he says nonbeing threatens being in three different ways, producing three different forms of anxiety.

The first form of anxiety is related to fate and death, the fact that human beings are subject to a variety of accidental factors that can change the direction of their lives and the fact that ultimately all human beings must die. The second form of anxiety is related to emptiness and meaninglessness, something that arises when there no longer seems to be a clear explanation of the meaning of existence. In such a situation, which Tillich equates with the loss of a spiritual center, doubt arises and leads to despair. The third form of anxiety relates to guilt and self-condemnation, which arises from the feeling that one has not fulfilled one’s potential.

Tillich associates the three forms of anxieties with three different eras. The anxiety related to fate and death was dominant at the end of the ancient period in Europe, when the rise and fall of empires, the destruction of old city-states, and the tyranny of the later Roman emperors made life seem beyond control.

The anxiety associated with guilt became dominant in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages. The rise of the middle class, the economic disruption caused by the European discovery of America, and other aspects of the breakdown of the medieval order led to the undermining of medieval religion and concern over how to appease the wrath of God and avoid being condemned to hell.

The anxiety associated with meaninglessness arose in the modern era, but before dealing with it, Tillich spends a chapter describing what he calls neurotic or pathological anxiety. He distinguishes this sort of anxiety from the existential sort he has been describing. Existential anxiety for Tillich stems from the human condition, whereas pathological anxiety is an individual matter affecting those who seek to deal with existential anxiety by escaping in some manner.

Courage for Tillich is self-affirmation in spite of anxiety over the threat of nonbeing. It is the taking of anxiety into oneself. Those who succumb to pathological anxiety cannot take anxiety into themselves but instead seek to flee it and in doing so flee life itself.

Tillich also spends a chapter describing the relation of self and world, seeing two sorts of self-affirmation: affirmation of the self as self and affirmation of the self as a part of a larger whole. He notes the attraction of immersing oneself in a group to combat anxiety, referring to the medieval Catholic Church in Europe, to twentieth century fascism and communism, and to conformism in the United States.

In reaction to the desire to be a part of a group, Tillich points to the rise of individualism, beginning with the Protestant Reformation, continuing through the Enlightenment and the nineteenth century Romantic movement, and culminating in the existentialist movement in the twentieth century.

For Tillich, the existentialist movement derives from the attack on God and religion by Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche in the nineteenth century. He says this attack felt like a liberation in a way, but it also meant the destruction of a whole system of values, leading to an upsurge in anxiety and despair.

Tillich sees existentialist writers and philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Franz Kafka as creatively expressing the despair associated with the anxiety of meaninglessness, but he does not follow the existentialists in their human-centered solution to the despair. For Tillich, human beings are too limited to provide the solution, and in his final chapter, finally turning to Christian themes, he explains how the courage to face the anxiety of meaninglessness must rely on a power beyond human beings.