One of the most frequently occurring terms in Paul Tillich's theology is meaning (in his English writings) or Sinn (in his German writings). But Tillich used both in multiple senses, without acknowledging or even appearing to be aware that he was doing so. He wrote only in German till he immigrated to the United States at the age of forty-seven. He used the German Sinn abundantly in his native tongue, and with a variety of meanings: a universal medium for understanding the world; “sense,” as in “making sense” or what is missing in “senseless” (sinnlos) statements; “the unconditional” (“das Unbedingte”); a “thing pointed at” (in Tillich's theory of symbols and signs); a grand metaphysical quality of some undefined sort; the object-correlate of an act of cognition; and “God.” He drew on the German Sinn when he began to write in English but, because of the grammatical status of meaning as a verbal noun, the English term allowed Tillich to ascribe agency to things that in his view bear meaning, for example the thing that grasps us when we are in the state of faith. In addition, the English word meaning for Tillich meant “comprehensibility,” “value,” “direction,” from existential philosophy (what is missing when life is meaningless); “ultimate concern” (the “meaning which gives meaning to all meanings”); in the plural, something undefined that the human person “lives in”; and “God.” The change from German to English accompanied a change in his conception of faith, raising the possibility that the new language moved Tillich's theology in a new direction.
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