The Religious A priori

What is The Ground of Being?

God as Being Itself

Meaning of Phrase "Being Itself?"

God is 'necessary being' not "a necessary being," not because I forgot the "a" but because God is not "a being." He is above the level of any particular being that participates in being, but exists on the level of the Being, the thing itself, apart from any particular beings. There is Being, and there is "the beings." This is a crucial distinction, but it leaves one wondering what it means and how it could be.

Most people, when first confronted with this phrase, "being itself" assume that it means that the fact of our existence is the same as God. Naturally, that would be a nonsensical notion. How could the fact that this desk in front of me, the computer I am writing on, and the lamp that illumines the screen, the mere fact of all the things I see around me and I myself existing be God? Some have concluded that by this Tillich meant that God is just a regularative symbol for the fact of existence. But I will argue that this is not at all what Tillich or any of the other theologians who use this phrase mean. We, as temporal beings limited by our finitude cannot help but think merely of the fact of existence as the nature of being. But being must be more than that.

1) Distinction Between Being and Existence.

The argument stems largely from the work of the great theologian Paul Tillich. Tillich said that God is "being itself," above and beyond the mere fact of any particular being. But Tillich uses the term being in a certain way, not like that of other theologians.
From website no longer on file
visited 6/20/01.

"Existence - Existence refers to what is finite and fallen and cut of from its true being. Within the finite realm issues of conflict between, for example, autonomy (Greek: 'autos' - self, 'nomos' - law) and heteronomy (Greek: 'heteros' - other, 'nomos' - law) abound (there are also conflicts between the formal/emotional and static/dynamic). Resolution of these conflicts lies in the essential realm (the Ground of Meaning/the Ground of Being) which humans are cut off from yet also dependent upon ('In existence man is that finite being who is aware both of his belonging to and separation from the infinite' (Newport p.67f)). Therefore existence is estrangement."

"Although this looks like Tillich was an atheist such misunderstanding only arises due to a simplistic understanding of his use of the word existence. What Tillich is seeking to lead us to is an understanding of the 'God above God'. We have already seen earlier that the Ground of Being (God) must be separate from the finite realm (which is a mixture of being and non-being) and that God cannot be a being. God must be beyond the finite realm. Anything brought from essence into existence is always going to be corrupted by ambiguity and our own finitude. Thus statements about God must always be symbolic (except the statement 'God is the Ground of Being'). Although we may claim to know God (the Infinite) we cannot. The moment God is brought from essence into existence God is corrupted by finitude and our limited understanding. In this realm we can never fully grasp (or speak about) who God really is. The infinite cannot remain infinite in the finite realm. That this rings true can be seen when we realize there are a multitude of different understandings of God within the Christian faith alone. They cannot all be completely true so there must exist a 'pure' understanding of God (essence) that each of these are speaking about (or glimpsing aspects of)...."

"... However in many cases his theology has been misunderstood and misapplied and this most notably with his statement that God is beyond existence (mistakenly taken to mean that God does not exist). Tillich presents a radically transcendent view of God which in fairness he attempts to balance with an immanent understanding of God as the Ground of Being (and the Ground of Meaning) but fails to do so. In the end, as we cannot speak of the God above God we cannot know if any of our religious language has any meaning and whether ultimately the God above God really exists. Certainly, according to his 'system', we cannot test Tillich's 'God hypothesis'. However an interesting dialogue may be had between Christian humanists who posit that God is bound within language and does not exist beyond it (e.g. Don Cupitt) and Tillich who posits that our understanding of God is bound within language yet presumes (but cannot verify) that God exists beyond it."(Grenz/Olson p.124)

2) Tillich's refusal to prove God.

Tillich believed that God was such an exalted concept that the attempt to prove was to deny him. He refused to try and prove God but merely asserted his being. I feel that this is a holdover from the days of Frederick Schleiermacher (see experience argument) and is based upon the origins of modern liberal theology in phenomenological attitude. I disagree with that approach. The great theologians of the Greek Orthodox church also said that God was on the order of being itself, and that stands as the basis of all Western thinking about God in the Judeo-Christian tradition. I therefore choose not to accept it. Making arguments to prove that there is a God, whether successful or not, is often the best way to stimulate thinking about God and to refine one's theology. But I must acknowledge that while I am drawing upon the thought of Tillich, I am also going counter to one of the basic principles of his theology.

3) Being and God.

Tillich sees a fundamental connection between being and God. This connection is primarily phenomenological in nature. We can see the same idea expressed by Gabriel Marcell in the Existential argument. When we ponder the nature of being we come up with the answer of God.

God is ultimate reality. God is the first, and highest and only necessary thing that exists, and thus, had God not created, God would be the only thing that exists. Could one somehow ponder a universe in which God had not created, in which God was all that was, one might well ask "what is it to be in this universe where there is only God?" In such a universe the only conceivable answer is "to be is to be God." In that sense God is Being Itself.

Link to a really good website explaining more in depth about Tillich's Theology.

4) Being vs. The Beings.

John McQuarrey in his famous work Principles of Christian Theology, distinguishes between "Being" and "the beings." Being Itself is not the being of any particular thing in existence but stands above the level of individual existing things in creation. This is being in the abstract. Whether or not it is merely an abstraction and has no actuality apart from the beings will be discussed below. But McQuarrey does say that being is "present and manifest in the beings." This means that we only apprehend being in so far as it is exhibited in the beings, yet the distinction is very important.

Tillich is not the only modern theologian to think of God in this way.John McQuarry says that God is Being itself, while Tillich says God is "The ground of being." The conservative Catholic Has Urs Van Balthasar also understands the connection beteween God and being (more on this in the section on Being and the personal). These are actually just about the same concept, I wont go into the distinction here. The important thing to remember is that God is not along side other beings in creation, is not a being at all, but is on the order of being itself. God is the overarching principle that defines and predicates the universe and in fact of being as a whole. If you consider what it was like before God created anything. There would be nothing else but God. God, therefore, would be the same as being because all being would be defined as God. The only being that ever came to be flowed out of the will and the energies of God, therefore, God is beyond the chain of cause and effect, God is on a par with being itself.

In his discourse on Luther Tillich loads in all his spcial terms:

"Luther's concept of God is one of the most powerful in the whole history of human and Christian thought. This is not a God who is a being beside others, it is a God who we can have only through contrast" [Tillich speaking of Cuza, coincidence of oppossites--dialectical, appauphatic, Eastern orhtodox mystical influences--what is hidden before God is visible befoer the world and what is hidden before the world is visisble before God...Luther denies everything which can make God finite or a being before other beings [very very Tillichian/MacQurreyesque way of speaking] He makes the great statement that God is nearer to all creatures than they are to themselves [Augustine!]'God is at the same time every grain of sand totally and nevertheless in all above all and out of all creatures.' In these formula the old conflict between the Patheist and theistic tendencies in the doctrine of God is resolved." (Tilich, History of Christian Thought. 24)

OR again he says:

".And I would say very dogmatically that any doctrine of God which leaves out one of these elements does not really speak of God but of something less than God." (History of Christian Thought p24). All of that is so heavily loaded with Tillichian langauge I don't see how he could be describing any view but his own! Clealry he found these elements in these thinkers and they shaped his view.

Thus Tillich's notion of God as the ground of being is not only orthodox, but is shared by most of the great thinkers of the Christian tradition. Christianity is much deeper and richer than most people understand. It remians misunderstood and unexplored by the vast majority of its adherents and is even less understood by its critics.The Christian concept of God is a much more philosophical and abstract concept, much deeper and richer in neuance and understanding than any atheist ever considers.

Are We just Defining God into existence?

Page 2 of Ground of Being

The Religious A priori