The Otherness of the Holy

More from Paul Tillich; quoted from Dynamics of Faith (Harper & Row, 1957):

The original and only justified meaning of holiness must replace the currently distorted use of the word. “Holy” has become identified with moral perfection, especially in some Protestant groups. The historical causes of this distortion give a new insight into the nature of holiness and of faith. Originally, the holy has meant what is apart from the ordinary realm of things and experiences. It is separated from the world of finite relations. This is the reason why all religious cults have separated holy places and activities from all other places and activities. Entering the sanctuary means encountering the holy. Here the infinitely removed makes itself near and present, without loosing its remoteness. For this reason, the holy has been called the “entirely other,” namely, other than the ordinary course of things or – to refer to a former statement – other than the world which is determined by the cleavage of subject and object. The holy transcends this realm; this is its mystery and its unapproachable character. There is no conditional way of reaching the unconditional; there is no finite way of reaching the infinite.

One notes that some Catholics are also guilty of watering down the meaning of the word “holy”. The above paragraph also sums up why the altar and tabernacle areas in Catholic churches are considered so sacred. They are places where God in His Son, Jesus Christ, condescends to meet with us. It is a meeting between the infinite and the finite. For when God comes to meet us, how can we do anything but bow down in adoration?

Exodus 3:3-5 (RSV-CE):

And Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I”. Then he said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”


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