return to religion-online

The History of Christian Thought by Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich is generally considered one of the century's outstanding and influential thinkers. After teaching theology and philosophy at various German universities, he came to the United States in 1933. For many years he was Professor of Philosophical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, then University Professor at Harvard University. His books include Systematic Theology; The Courage to Be; Dynamics of Faith; Love, Power and Justice; Morality and Beyond; and Theology of Culture. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Herb and June Lowe.

Lecture 25: Thirteenth Century: Joachim di Fiore, Franciscan theology, Dominic.

The last lecture dealt with Hugh of St. Victor and the sacramental interpretation of reality which we have found in him. I want to give you now a sacramental interpretation of history which has become extremely influential upon the Middle Ages and on modern thinking, namely the theology of Joachim di Fiore – (a monastery in Calabria, southern Italy, where Joachim was the abbe. )

He wrote a group of books in which he developed a philosophy of history which has become the alternative to the Augustinian interpretation of history and was the background for most revolutionary movements in the Middle Ages and in modern times, while Augustine's interpretation of history was the basis for most conservative movements during the same time. So what I want to do is to confront the Joachimistic interpretation of history with the Augustinian.

About the Augustinian I told you already that it puts the reign of Christ, the so-called thousand-years, in the present time and identifies the reign of Christ with the control of this period by the hierarchy and its Divine graces. The sacramental power of the hierarchy makes it the immediate medium of Christ, so that the thousand years, the monarchy of Christ, is the monarchy of the Church. Since this, according to Daniel, is the last period, there is no future any more, the thousand years are present, we live in them, and everything critical can be critical only about the mixed body of the Church, but not about the foundation of the Church, which is final. You can imagine that in this way Augustine removed the threat of millenariansm – the doctrine of-the thousand years – which still lay ahead, and which then was used to criticize the Church and the hierarchy.

Joachim renewed the idea of the thousand years of Christ laying still ahead. He speaks in a good philosophy-of-history-way about the three dispensations which go on in history and are characterized by historical figures. The first period goes from Adam to John the Baptist, or the Christ – it is the age of the Father. But this age is overcome by the very fact of the Christ. Then there is the 2nd period which goes from King Uzziah (Isaiah 6) to the year 1260. These years are produced by the fact that according to the genealogies of the Old Testament, this age embraces 42 generations. Then the 3rd dispensation is that of Benedict in the 5th century after Christ, where Western monasticism starts, and is called the age of the Holy Spirit. It has 21 generations after Christ, which leads to the year 2360.leads: to the year 1260.

This seems to be very artificial. The ages overlap, The 2nd age is identical with the first, in the years from King Uzziah to the birth of Christ, or to John the Baptist. And the 2nd is overlapped by the third in the birth from St. Benedict to 1260. Now what is this overlapping about? It is a very profound insight into historical developments. History, historical periods, never start sharply but always develop in terms of overlapping. There is no "the end of the Gothic period and the beginning of the Renaissance. " There is no "end of the Renaissance" and "the beginning of the Baroque." There is no "end of the baroque" and "beginning of the Rococo," etc. etc. Every new period is conceived and born in the womb of the former one. This is an insight of which no one was more aware than Karl Marx when he made his interpretation of history and described how every new period was prepared in the womb of the preceding period – for instance, the socialist period in the womb of the bourgeois period, and that in the womb of the late feudal period. It is

like birth: there is a certain period in which mother and' child are in one and the same body, and here in one and the same period. This insight is expressed in the idea of overlapping. The germs of the new period are earlier than what he called fructificatio (fructification), mature realization. A period is not mature when its first beginnings are visible. So we have this trinitarian scheme applied to history, but in such a way that the following period always is present for a certain time in the former period. Christ in this way is one moment in the three periods of history, and history goes beyond Him. It is the same problem which we have in the Fourth Gospel, which is discussed there, whether the Spirit goes beyond the Christ or not. The Fourth Gospel decides in a double way: it decides partly for going beyond the Christ – many things cannot be said now, but the Spirit will come and help you; and on the other hand: the spirit does not take it from its own; it says what is already present in the 2nd period, in the period of the Son, in Jesus, according to the Fourth Gospel.

These ideas about the meaning of historical development must be taken very seriously. Don't reject the whole thing because of these Old Testament names, which are certainly arbitrary. The arbitrariness of every historical periodization is known to every historian.

Every historian will tell you that the period which you call "Renaissance" was ."Renaissance" only for a few people – for some artists, scholars, and politicians, and, following, some other people in England, Holland, Germany, etc. But the masses of the people lived still in a period which was of hundreds of years ago. And so it is always. You never can say about a historical period that it is one hundred per cent that of which you say it is.

What are the characteristics of these stages? The first stage is, as Joachim knew – being a profound observer, as (were) all the others also – sociologically to be determined. It is a state in which marriage is the decisive sociological form where, with respect to economy, the need to work and servitude (slavery, feudalism, etc.) are decisive, and which therefore can be also identified religiously with .the period of the law. You see it is a very rich assembly of categories which he uses in order to describe these periods.

In the second period it is the clergy and the organized Church which is decisive. Here we have the graces, I. e., the sacramental reality which makes the law unnecessary, and in accepting the graces demands faith instead of good works. It is not an age of autonomy, but the age in which the clergy represent for everybody the presence of the Divine.

The third period is monasticism, where the monastic ideal will grasp mankind, and the production of new generations will cease. Therefore this is by necessity the last period. It has higher graces given by the Holy Spirit than the sacramental graces of the end period, and higher, of course, than the law of the first period.

While the 2nd period is prepared already in Judaism–where there are some sacramental there are some sacramental graces – the 3rd period is prepared in Church history, with the foundation in monasticism. The inner part of this period is freedom, I. e., autonomy, not subjected any more to state or Church authorities. The attitude is contemplation instead of work, and love instead of law.

If we look at this we can observe that it is sociological, but if sociology is not the "cause" of : every thing, as it is in Marxism, but it is a necessary condition. It is connected with the other attitudes. So we have here an early sociological understanding of the different periods of history. At the same time we have the religious understanding, which shows the difference of work, of grace – accepted by faith – --and of autonomous freedom, in contemplation and love. The scheme is trinitarian, I. e., the dynamic element, which is always implied in trinitarian thinking. has become horizontal. It has been transferred to the historical movement. It is the historizaton of the trinitarian idea: Father, Son and Spirit have different functions in history. Of course, all three are always present – God cannot be divided – but they are present with a different emphasis.

This means that something is still ahead. The perfect society. the monastic society , still will come, and, measured by it, not only the Old Testament society but also the New Testament society, the Church, has to be criticized.

Another element is in it, namely that truth is not absolute. but is valid for its time – bonum et necessarium in suo tempore- – the good and necessary according to its time.

This is dynamic truth. It is the idea of a truth which changes in history, according to the general situation.

The early Church had to apply this principle always toward the Old Testament. The truth of the Old Testament is different from that of the New, nevertheless the Old Testament is also the Divinely inspired Word of God. What to do about it? So one spoke about dispensations, or covenants, or different periods. In any case, one used the idea of the kairos, of the educational time, of the time which is different, and. accordingly the truth is different. This is now put against the absolutism of the Catholic Church which had developed, and which identifies its own being with the last period of history, I. e., with the ultimate trutJ1. There is a higher truth than that of the Church, namely the truth of the Spirit.

>From this follows that the Church is relative. It is inter utrumque, between both the period of the Father and the period of the Spirit. It's shortcomings are not only shortcomings by distortion, but also by its relative validity. The Church is relativized in this scheme. Only the 3rd period is absolute, and this 3rd period is not authoritarian any more: it is autonomous. Every individual has he Divine Spirit by himself. This means that the ideal for Christianity lies in the future and not in the past. He calls it intellectus spiritualis and not literalis, I. e., a spiritually formed intellect and not an intellect dependent on laws of literalism.

From this follows that in the future the hierarchy will come to an end and the sacraments will come to an end. They are not needed any more because everything is spiritually directly related to God, and the authoritarian intervention is not needed.

Joachim speaks of a papa angelico, an angelic pope – which is more a principle than a man. It is a pope who is not pope any more but only represents the presence of the Spirit without authority. The hierarchy will be transformed into monasticism and the lay world will be transformed into monasticism, and then the last period will have been reached. In this third stage there will be perfection (perfectio) , contemplation, liberty, Spirit. They will be in history. For Augustine the final end is only transcended; nothing new will happen in history any more. For Joachim the new is in history. He also calls it the "eternal Gospel," and the eternal Gospel is not a book – the Gospel is the presence of the Divine Spirit in every individual, according to the prophecy of Joel – which is often used in this context. It is a simply intuitis veritatis, a simple intuition of truth which all can have without intermediate authority.

Freedom means the authority of the Divine Spirit in the individual. It is not rationalizing autonomy, but it is theonomy, theonomy which is filled with the presence of the Divine Spirit.

History produces freedom in the course of its progress. So it is also a progressivistic idea: the goal is ahead.

Now this of course was extremely revolutionary, and we understand that Thomas aquinas fought against it in the name of the Church. The Church has no classical period ahead but has it in the past. The classical period of the Church is the Apostolic period. The Church is based on history, history has brought the Church about, but the Church is itself/ not in history. The Church is beyond history because it is at the end of history.

All these ideas are, as you can see, extremely important, and they are important because in them something is present which was the dynamic, revolutionary, explosive power in the medieval as well as in the modern world. The extreme Franciscans used his prophecies and applied it to their own order, and from there they revolted against the Church. Many sectarian movements, the sects of the Reformation on which much American life is dependent, were indirectly and directly dependent on Joachim di Fiore. The Enlightened philosophers who spoke about a third period in history in which everybody will be taught directly by the inner light – the light of reason – are dependent on Joachim. The socialist movement is dependent on the same idea when in the classless society everybody will be directly responsible to the ultimate principles. Now I don't mean that all these peoples knew exactly the name and the ideas of Joachim, but there is a tradition of revolution in Western Europe which goes on and on and in which fundamental ideas, first appearing in Joachim, are present and are changing reality. And much of American utopianism must be understood in the light of the same movement in the West. We have, as far as I know, nothing equal – except in Christianity and perhaps Judaism – in the Eastern religions, because by definition they are non-historical religions. And here in this man a new insight into the dialectics of history appeared.

His influence was mediated by the radical Franciscan monks. I now come to the Franciscan theology, and this means, to the thirteenth century. Everything I said up to now belongs to the early Middle Ages. All these men – Abelard, Hugh of St.Victor, Anselm, Joachim, et al-, are of the 11th and 12th centuries. The 13th is the highest point of the Middle Ages, in which the whole destiny of the Western world was decided in a very definite way. I have not used one name, a man who also belongs to the 12th century, and on whom all Scholastics are partly dependent: Peter the Lombard (Petrus Lombardus.) He is not as original as the others, but he represents the systematic didactic type of the Middle Ages. He wrote four books of "sentences," the sayings of the Fathers about theological problems – cf. in connection with Abelard. He organized the sayings of the Fathers into four books which became the textbook of the whole Middle Ages, if there ever was a textbook! Every great Scholastic started by writing a commentary on Lombard's four books of sentences. In this sense it has become the classical schoolbook of Scholasticism.

The 13th century can be described theologically in three steps, represented by three names: Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus. But there are others between them and I will mention them occasionally.

Duns Scotus was, as scholar, the greatest of all, but he was also the point in which new developments started on which all of us are dependent in our modern world.

Thomas is called the classical theologian of the Roman church – and certainly he is, and has been reestablished as such again a few years ago by the Pope

Bonaventura represents the spirit of Augustine and St. Francis, in his being, in his mysticism, and in his theology.

So these three names must be known by all of you.

Now what are the presuppositions of the 13th century which made it the central and high point of the Middle Ages? First I want to mention the Crusades, not because of their political and military importance but because they produced the encounter of two highly developed cultures – besides Christianity – namely, the original Jewish and the Islamic cultures. Perhaps one could say a third culture was encountered at that time, namely the old Greek, the classical culture, which through the mediation of the Arabian theologians, brought streams of ancient traditions into the medieval world.

The fact of an encounter with somebody else, if it is serious enough, always includes a kind of self-reflection. Only if you encounter somebody else are you able to reflect about yourselves. As long as you go ahead without a resistance, you are never forced to look back at yourselves. But if you encounter resistance, you reflect. And that is what Christianity had to do. In a much more radical way, it reflected about itself. This was the first part.

The second was the appearance of the complete Aristotle, his genuine writings, and with him the appearance of a scientific philosophical system which was methodologically superior to the Augustinian tradition.

Thirdly, there was the rise of a new type of monastic orders: preaching and mendicant orders, with their intensification and popularization of the religious substance. They produced a world-wide organization through all countries, and combated with each other theologically, and since they were not nationally provincial, they could compete on a world-wide scale and produce theological systems of the highest significance, in difference and in conflict with each other. Since the 13th century these two orders became the bearers of the theological process. They used Aristotle, but they used him differently. They used the new knowledge of Judaism and Islam, but they used it differently.

This leads me to a description of the two types which were developed by these orders: The Franciscan and the Dominican types. They were dependent on two personalities: St. Francis of Assisi and Dominicus. Francis continues the monasticism of Augustine and, Bernard of Clairvaux. Like them he emphasizes personal experience, but he brings some very modern elements into the Franciscan tradition. He brings in the idea of the active in contrast to the contemplative life. This was always nearer to the Western mind which from the very beginning was more half-historical than the East. But he enlarged this idea by applying it to all beings. Not only human hierarchical orders, but also sun and stars and animals and plants belong to the power of the Divine life; and he tries to produce on this basis a new relationship to nature. In order to understand him the best thing would be that you look at the pictures of Giotto. Giotto painted almost nothing else except the story of St. Francis, the new Holy Legend. So he became the father of the Renaissance. By his feeling of fraternity with all beings, he opened up nature for religion. He opened up nature with respect to its ground of being which is the same as it is in man.

At the same time he introduced another important idea, namely the idea that the lay people must be brought into the circle of the holy. In the sacramental system the clergy and the monks were the real representatives, while the laymen were only passive. Now he wanted to bring them into the circle and he did this by creating the so-called "third order" of St. Francis, the tertiarii. The first is the male order, the monks; the second is the corresponding female order, the nuns; the third is the laymen who remain laymen and remain married, but subject themselves to some of the principles of the monastic orders, and are directed by members of these orders.

But all this, St. Francis subjected to the authority of the Pope. The famous Giotto picture in which the greatest pope, Innocent III, and the greatest saint of the Roman church met in 1250, depicts a classical moment in world history. Nevertheless all this was dangerous for the hierarchical system. And the danger became actual first in the revolution of the Franciscan radicals who tried to unite St. Francis and Joachim di Fiore, and who became the prototypes of many later anti-ecclesiastical and anti- religious revolutions. It was also dangerous because of the emphasis on the lay principle, because this lay principle could mean the end of the absolute authority of the hierarchy. And it was dangerous because/the new relationship to nature and the vision of the Divine ground in it, which in the long run was able to undermine the Catholic supernaturalism.

Now all this was Francis. Generally speaking, he belongs to the Augustinian-Anselmian-Bernardian tradition of the mystical union of Christianity with the elements of culture and nature.

In contrast to Francis, we have no such original personality in St. Dominic. Instead we have a special task, which was the task of a special person; namely the task of preaching to the people - -in this they did the same thing as the Franciscans – and of defending the faith. This was something new – defending either by mediation or by conversion or by persecution, I. e., either in terms of apologetic or in terms of missions or in terms of Church power. In all three ways they became the order of the Inquisition and of the Counter-Reformation later on, until the Jesuits took over. Therefore they produced the classical system of mediation, of apologetic theology – namely, Thomas Aquinas – and they produced the greatest preachers, among them Meister Eckhardt. More than any other school, they brought Aristotle to the West. Their instrument was the intellect, even in their mysticism, while the Franciscan-Augustinian tradition emphasized more the will. Finally, the will of the Franciscans broke down the intellect of the Dominicans and opened the way for Duns Scotus, Occam, and the nominalists.


Now this was the spiritual background for the tremendous development of the 13th century. Without permanent reference to these movements, the theology of this period cannot be understood. And if we think especially of Thomas Aquinas, then we must understand him as a mediator. He has understood, as nobody else, the mediating function of theology. In Germany we had the term Vermittlungstheologen – this was a term despisingly applied to many of the 19th century. I tried to defend them by saying that all theology is a mediation, namely the mediation of the message, which is given in the Gospel, with the categories of the understanding as we have them in every period of history and of Church history. In this sense theology is and always will remain mediation.

The dynamics of the high Middle Ages are determined by the conflict between Augustine and Aristotle, or between the Franciscans who were Augustinians and the Dominicans who were Aristotelian. But don't take this too exclusively. Very often I warn you about making too sharp divisions. And here again all medieval theologians were Augustinian in substance. And all of them since the 13th century were Aristotelians with respect. to the use of their philosophical categories. In this sense the duality is limited. But in another sense, in the sense of an emphasis, it is a very important division, a division which is effective in all our philosophy of religion today, even in the most modern ones, who would not even know they do things which these old"primitives" of the 13th century have done – and I don't believe they are as primitive as most philosophers of today are, but they are considered to be such.

Viewed 404277 times.