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On The Courage to Be

by Paul Tillich

Courage is an ethical reality, but it is rooted in the whole breadth of human existence and ultimately in the structure of being itself.

The courage to be is the ethical act in which man affirms his own being in spite of those elements of his existence which conflict with his essential self-affirmation.

Joy is the emotional expression of the courageous Yes to one's own true being.

Concepts like world soul, microcosmos, instinct, the will to power, and so on have been accused of introducing subjectivity into the objective realm of things. But these accusations are mistaken. They miss the meaning of ontological concepts. It is not the function of these concepts to describe the ontological nature of reality in terms of the subjective or the objective side of our ordinary experience. It is the function of an ontological concept to use some realm of experience to point to characteristics of being-itself which lie above the split between subjectivity and objectivity and which therefore cannot be expressed literally in terms taken from the subjective or the objective side. Ontology speaks analogously. Being as being transcends objectivity as well as subjectivity. But in order to approach it cognitively one must use both.

Speaking of courage as a key to the interpretation of being-itself, one could say that this key, when it opens the door to being, finds, at the same time, being and the negation of being and their unity.

The ground of everything that is not a dead identity without movement and becoming; it is living creativity. Creatively it affirms itself, eternally conquering its own nonbeing. As such it is the pattern of self-affirmation of every finite being and the source of the courage to be.

Nonbeing is dependent on the being it negates.

Spiritual self-affirmation occurs in every moment in which man lives creatively in the various spheres of meaning.

But however the norm is formulated man has the power of acting against it, of contradicting his essential being, of losing his destiny. And under the conditions of man's estrangement from himself this is an actuality...A profound ambiguity between good and evil permeates everything he does, because it permeates his personal being as such. Nonbeing is mixed with being in his moral self-affirmation as it is in his spiritual and ontic self-affirmation. The awareness of this ambiguity is the feeling of guilt.

Neurosis is a way of avoiding nonbeing by avoiding being.

Much enthusiastic reaction to religious appeal must be considered with suspicion from the point of view of a realistic self-affirmation. Much courage to be, created by religion, is nothing else than the desire to limit one's own being and to strengthen this limitation through the power of religion. And even if religion does not lead to or does not directly support pathological self-reduction, it can reduce the openness of man to reality, above all to the reality which is himself.

Vitality, power of life, is correlated to the kind of life to which it gives power. The power of man's life cannot be seen separately from what the medieval philosophers called "intentionality," the relation to meanings. Man's vitality is as great as his intentionality; they are interdependent. This makes man the most vital of all beings. He can transcend any given situation in any direction and this possibility drives him to create beyond himself. Vitality is the power of creating beyond oneself without losing oneself.

In every encounter with reality man is already beyond this encounter.

But in man nothing is "merely biological" as nothing is "merely spiritual." Every cell of his body participates in his freedom and spirituality, and every act of his spiritual creativity is nourished by his vital dynamics.

Man's productivity moves from potentiality to actuality in such a way that everything actualized has potentialities for further actualization. This is the basic structure of progress.

In all existential knowledge both subject and object are transformed by the very act of knowing. Existential knowledge is based on an encounter in which a new meaning is created and recognized.

It takes tremendous courage to resist the lure of appearances. The power of being which is manifest in such courage is so great that the gods tremble in fear of it.

Acceptance by something which is less than personal could never overcome personal self-rejection. A wall to which I confess cannot forgive me. No self-acceptance is possible if one is not accepted in a person-to-person relation.

We have defined courage as the self-affirmation of being in spite of nonbeing. The power of this self-affirmation is the power of being which is effective in every act of courage. Faith is the experience of this power.

Being-itself transcends every finite being infinitely; God in the divine-human encounter transcends man unconditionally. Faith bridges this infinite gap by accepting the fact that in spite of it the power of being is present, that he who is separated is accepted. Faith accepts "in spite of"; and out of the "in spite of" of faith the "in spite of" of courage is born. Faith is not a theoretical affirmation of something uncertain, it is the existential acceptance of something transcending ordinary experience. Faith is not an opinion but a state.

The vitality which can stand the abyss of meaninglessness is aware of a hidden meaning within the destruction of meaning.

Nonbeing (that in God which makes his self-affirmation dynamic) opens up the divine self-seclusion and reveals him as power and love. Nonbeing makes God a living God. Without the No he has to overcome in himself and in his creature, the divine Yes to himself would be lifeless. There would be no revelation of the ground of being, there would be no life.

To speak unsymbolically about being-itself is untrue.

Every act of courage is a manifestation of the ground of being, however questionable the content of the act may be.

There are no valid arguments for the "existence" of God, but there are acts of courage in which we affirm the power of being, whether we know it or not. If we know it, we accept acceptance consciously. If we do not know it, we nevertheless accept it and participate in it. and in our acceptance of that which we do not know the power of being is manifest in us. Courage has revealing power, the courage to be is the key to being-itself.

...if God encounters man God is neither object nor subject and is therefore above the scheme into which theism has forced him...The acceptance of the God above the God of theism makes us a part of that which is not also a part but is the ground of the whole.

The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.

From this Website
Posted with Craig Chalquist's permission.

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