About the NAPTS: History of the North American Paul Tillich Society

Tillich Society History

by Marion Hausner Pauck

Long before the establishment of any official Tillich Society in the United States or elsewhere, there existed Tillich “Anhänger”—“hangers on,” we called them; they were friends and fans, pockets of Tillich admirers, everywhere. In his late teens, Tillich and his friend Emmanuel Hirsch were joined by young men and women companions on their walks through the Grunewald, or while sailing on the Wannsee, in Berlin. In his days as a Privatdozent, young students flocked around Tillich as he emerged from class, an event noted by a student who became one of his closest friends, Wilhelm Pauck. Such attention repeated itself in Marburg, Dresden, and Frankfurt. This tradition gradually renewed itself in New York at Union Theological Seminary, where Tillich taught for 22 years, and flourished at Harvard and the University of Chicago until Tillich’s death.

Early members of the American Tillich “cognescenti” included Carl H. Voss, a student who first taught English to Tillich; John Dillenberger and Cornelius Lowe, who first recorded and “Englished” Tillich”s “Systematic Theology.” Dillenberger became a noted Reformation and art historian. Rollo May, the well-known and creative psychotherapist and prolific author, was also a Tillich student deeply influenced by Tillich’s language and thought. Along with David and Elinor Roberts, Sam and Sara Terrien, Rollo became a close friend of Tillich’s. Jerald Brauer, who had studied at the University of Chicago, was persuaded by his teacher Wilhelm Pauck to transfer to Union Theological Seminary for his graduate work. It was there that Brauer became captivated by Tillich’s creative genius and his humanity. At a greater emotional distance, the gifted, older theologians, such as Albert Mollegen and Clifford Stanley, appreciated and transmitted Tillich’s thought with some critical acumen, throughout their careers. John and Grace Smith, Robert and Sydney Brown, and Mary Heilner were friends one to another, great admirers and close friends of Tillich, in the generation prior to my own. They all became my personal friends and accordingly I learned a great deal about Tillich from them, not only in formal ways but through charming and often amusing anecdotes. Tom Driver, Durwood Foster, and I were more or less contemporary, but we came to know one another long after graduation. Oral tradition played its creative part in these as well as in the concentric circles comprised of followers of Reinhold Niebuhr. Shared affection allowed criticism of our hero, Paulus, from within but we all staunchly defended him from criticism from without. I am certain that those who admired and knew him well at Harvard, e.g., Robert Kimball, or at the University of Chicago, e.g., Langdon Gilkey, were favored by the same feelings and circumstances.

It was not until 1963 that I first heard that a formal Tillich Society was to be established. Tillich had asked me to gather material for his biography in Europe. I interviewed James Luther Adams, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Wilhelm Pauck, each highly recommended by Tillich himself, prior to my trip to Europe. There I met members of the “Ur Tillich Society”: his family, friends of his youth, and early students. It was not until I met Professor Heinz Ratschow that the notion of a formal Tillich Society came to my attention. Both Renate Albrecht and Gertraud Stöber spoke of plans to establish such a formal society in Germany and they achieved just that with consistent, hard work. In the United States, however, a formal society was not established until 1975. Our first meeting took place in Chicago at the AAR. Jim Adams and Wilhelm Pauck were the main speakers on that occasion. Adams introduced Pauck at such great length that many in the huge audience feared they would never hear Pauck’s address. When his turn came, he delivered the first chapter of the second volume of the Tillich biography. The atmosphere was electric but harmonious; at the end, the appreciative audience produced a standing ovation.

John Carey, the first President of the North American Paul Tillich Society, has written elsewhere about its formal beginnings and listed its first officers. He is self effacing about his own humane and scholarly leadership; he has been truly generous in his tribute to others. As a founding member, I have served with pride and joy as a vice president, and as president of the society. I have been privileged to deliver an annual banquet address and to listen to many interesting papers by others. I hope to deliver a major lecture again using material I have not used before in the public forum.

Permit me to borrow Tillich’s word “bridge” to describe my own position between the older generation and the younger one. The “old guard,” except for John Dillenberger, and a few others, are no longer with us. The Society has become larger and a younger generation “who knew not Joseph” but who honor his work and name, has succeeded the older one. They see Tillich and understand him at a greater distance, inevitably emphasizing his thought and not his person. He has accordingly become more of an icon now than he was and his thought has inevitably become increasingly separated from his personality. In all these clubs, circles, and societies, now world wide, Tillich’s wish “not to be forgotten” has been fulfilled.