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The Protestant Era 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. The Protestant Era was published by The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois in 1948. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock<

Chapter 2: Historical and Nonhistorical Interpretations of History

(Address delivered at the annual meeting of the American Theological Society, Eastern Branch, April 14, 1939.)

If I correctly understand the title of my address, it demands a comparative analysis of Christian and non-Christian interpretations of history, including those which are not directly Christian but which prepare the way for the Christian interpretation or are influenced by it. This means that a large field must be covered and consequently that I can give only a short and rather schematic description of the main types of interpreting history. It means also that this paper cannot attempt any constructive interpretation of history. It is, of course, unavoidable that the arrangement and description of the different types is influenced by my own theological understanding. A merely objective typology is impossible in the realm of the spiritual life. Understanding spiritual things means participating in them, deciding about them, and transforming them.

The many forms of the interpretation of history can be reduced to two main types: the first type in which history is interpreted through nature and the second in which history is interpreted through itself.

The first type gives an interpretation of history which I like to call the nonhistorical interpretation of history" because it is set forth in natural terms and denies an original and independent character to history. "Natural" in this context comprises nature as well as supra-nature in the sense of a higher transcendent nature.

The second type acknowledges history as an original reality which cannot be derived either from nature or from supernature, which, on the contrary, tries to draw nature as well as supernature into its own development. These two types exhibit entirely different structures. In the first type space is predominant; in the second, time is predominant. This does not overlook the fact that no pure types appear in history, that always elements of the one type can be found in the other type, since there is no time without space and no space without time in human existence. Nevertheless, the difference in fundamental structure is very evident. Religion as well as philosophy must choose between these two possibilities which ultimately are exclusive. And this choice is the decision against or for Christianity.

No reference is made in this paper to the difference between religious and philosophical interpretations of history. In every religious interpretation of history, philosophical elements are implied—first of all, a philosophy of time; and in every philosophical interpretation of history religious elements are implied—first of all, an interpretation of the meaning (or meaninglessness) of existence. Wherever existence itself is to be interpreted, the difference between philosophy and theology decreases, and both meet in the realm of myth and symbol.


The nonhistorical type of interpreting history is represented in four doctrines of world-historical significance: in the Chinese Tao doctrine, in the Indian Brahma doctrine, in the Greek nature doctrine, in the late-European life-doctrine.


The Tao is the eternal law of the world which is both the norm and the power of human life. The emperor as the Son of Heaven is supposed to mediate between the cosmic Tao and the human historical life, which are united in his empire. The Tao is eternal, the law of all motions, itself beyond motion and therefore beyond history. As far as history is dealt with, the past is glorified. The ancient emperors and the classical writers are the patterns for all the future in politics and culture. The ancestors determine life more than those who are living. The past is predominant over the future. The present is a consequence of the past, but not at all an anticipation of the future. In Chinese literature there are fine records of the past but no expectations of the future.


In India the Brahman experience and speculation deprive all things in time and space, gods as well as men and animals, of their ultimate reality and meaning. They have reality—but from the point of view of Maya; they are not simply the products of imagination, but they become transparent for the ascetics who have discovered the principle of Brahma-Atman in themselves and in their world. Consequently, no event in time can have ultimate significance. Even the incarnations of the gods, the appearance of Bodhisattvas, are repeated again and again and will be repeated in the future. We have very few historical records in Indian literature. If there is historical expectation, as, for example, in Vishnuism, it expresses itself in the doctrine of world cycles: the breath of Brahma alternately produces and swallows the world. Between these cosmic tides the world develops in four ages, or Yugas, from the best to the worst in continuous deterioration. We are living in the beginning of the fourth period, the Kali Yuga, which leads inescapably either to a miraculous return of the first age (where the whole process starts again) or immediately to the burning of the world and after it to the repetition of the same process. Time (Kala, often identified with the evil principle, "Kali") is a power of deterioration, not of improvement and salvation. Salvation means being saved from time and history, from the wheel of repetition; but it is not salvation through time and history. India is the least history-conscious of all the great cultures.


In Greek philosophy, "nature" is a rational category, designating everything as far as it exists by growth (F n s e i ) or by essential necessity, not artificially (q e s e i ) or by arbitrary thinking and acting. Nature is the structural necessity in which empirical reality participates. But empirical reality participates within the limitations of its material nature; by the latter it is prevented from realizing fully its essential nature. The mark of perfection in nature is the circular motion of a thing, in which it returns to itself. "Being" as such has the form of a sphere, equally perfect in all parts, not needing higher perfection, immovable and eternal, without genesis and decay. Temporal things, conversely, show contradictory, irregular motions without a circular connection of end and beginning and therefore with genesis and decay, self-destruction and death. History cannot claim any point of perfection because it is not a circular motion. The great Greek historiography shows the genesis, acme, and decay of cities and nations. It is, of course, more interested in the present than are the Chinese analysts. It wants to shape the present according to the experiences of the past, as, for instance, Aristotle’s Politics shows. But there is no expectation of a more perfect future.

Aristotle describes Greece as the country of the "center" between north and south, east and west. He knows a center of space, but he does not know a center of time. "Time is nearer to decay than to genesis," he says, quoting a Pythagorean. Time for him is endless, repeating itself infinitely, while space is limited, full of plastic power, formed, defying infinity. In Stoicism the doctrines of the four world ages, the burning and the rebirth of the world, reappear. The present age is the worst, as it is assumed to be in India. But, instead of quietly surrendering to the inescapable fate of self-destruction, Stoicism (especially Roman Stoicism) tries to transform individuals and society by moral and political activities. In the Rome of Augustus, even prophetic hopes for the return of the golden age through the emperor became effective. A trend toward a historical interpretation of history spread over the ancient world—for a short time only. The political disappointment and the lack of any transcendent hope re-established the tragic and nonhistorical feeling. This becomes obvious in the last creation of original Greek thought, Neo-Platonism, in which the horizontal line is entirely negated by the vertical one, and society is entirely devaluated for the sake of the individual soul. The emanation of the different degrees of reality from the ultimate One to mere matter and the return of the soul through the different spheres from matter to the ultimate One stabilize a vertical direction of thinking and acting which has nothing to do with the horizontal line and the directed time of history. Mystical supra-naturalism at the end of Greek philosophy is no less unhistorical than classical naturalism at the beginning of Greek philosophy.


Modern European naturalism since the Renaissance is different from Greek naturalism in so far as it has overcome, under Christian influence, that dualistic and tragic element in Greek thinking which drives the human soul beyond the world and history to seek for salvation from the tragic circle, in the immovable "One." Modern naturalism is monistic and describes the world as a unity and totality, either in mathematical terms, as Spinoza and Leibniz do, or in organic terms, as Bruno and Shaftesbury do, or in dynamic terms, as Nietzsche and Bergson do, or in sociological terms, as Spengler does. For all these people the future signifies the evolution of all possibilities as implied in the present stage of the world. There may be infinite varieties, there may be self-destruction or circular motion or infinite repetition; but in no case is the directed line of history decisive. Billions of years of physical time frustrate any possible meaning for the utterly small sum of historical years. In the mathematical type, time has been made a dimension of space. He who knows the mathematical world formula in principle knows all the future. In the organic and dynamic types of modern naturalism, time is considered a deteriorizing force. In the organic and historical process, life becomes more complex, more self-conscious, more intellectualized. It loses its vital power and is driven toward self-destruction. In Spengler’s prophecy of the decline of the West the great cultures are posited like trees beside each other. They arise, grow, decay, and die like trees, each for itself. There is no universal history, crossing the life-and-death curve of each culture, overcoming the spatial "Beside" by a temporal "Toward." On this basis even the tragic outlook of Greece tries to return. In nationalism the gods of space revolt against the Lord of time. Nation, soil, blood, and race defy the idea of a world-historical development and a world-historical aim. This recent development shows that a nonhistorical interpretation of history, even if arising in Christian countries, must return to paganism in the long run, for Christianity is essentially historical, while paganism is essentially nonhistorical.


The main characteristics of the nonhistorical type of interpreting history, in all forms we have dealt with, are as follows:

1. Nature (or supernature) is the highest category of interpreting reality.

2. Space is predominant against time; time is considered to be circular or repeating itself infinitely.

3. The temporal world has a lesser reality and no ultimate value.

4. The true being and the ultimate good are eternal, immovable, above becoming, genesis, and decay.

5. Salvation is the salvation of individuals from time and history, not the salvation of a community through time and history.

6. History is interpreted as a process of deterioration, leading to the inescapable self-destruction of a world era.

7. The religious correlate to the nonhistorical interpretation of history is either polytheism (the deification of special spaces) or pantheism (the deification of a transcendent "One," negating space as well as time).


The historical type of interpreting history appears first in the religion of Zoroaster, although still mixed with nonhistorical elements. In the religion of the Jewish prophets history gains its full meaning and power, although in a continuous struggle against religious nationalism, which belongs to the opposite type. In original Christianity the historical interpretation of history gets its final foundation and its universal significance. In church history nonhistorical elements have penetrated and have created the conservative ecclesiastical form of interpreting history. The conservative type has been challenged through all church history by the revolutionary sectarian type of interpreting history. This fight has continued in secular forms as the fight between political conservatism, on the one hand, and political radicalism, revolutionary or progressive, on the other hand. We shall now examine those different forms of a historical interpretation of history, to find out the characteristics that are constitutive for all of them and to compare them with the characteristics we have found essential in the nonhistorical group of interpretations of history.


Although the contrast of divine and demonic powers can be found in many religions, only in Persia has a dualistic religion developed. This fact is amazing, not only because it has given rise to the first and only historical interpretation of history besides the Jewish-Christian line of thought but also because it shows the limitation under which the human mind is able to stand an ultimate dualism. With respect to the latter point, it is obvious that the final victory of the good presupposes its ontological superiority over the evil principle. A complete dualism would destroy the unity of the human mind, would be a metaphysical schizophrenia. The Persian interpretation of history shows a group of ideas which, since the time of Zoroaster, have returned in all historical interpretations of history: a struggle between two dynamic principles, God and Satan; the idea of the deterioration of the world, going on in different periods of some thousand years, up to the turning-point before the last period, the last period being brought about by the appearance of a prophetic messenger; the expectation of a divine savior who will bring the ultimate decision in the world-historical struggle; the victory of the good, the end of history, resurrection, individual judgment, and the burning of the evil. But there is one idea in the Iranian religion which limits its historical character—the doctrine of a dual creation, a good one and an evil one. This means that there is some evil in the world which cannot be overcome by the historical process but only by the material extinction of whole sections of beings, of special animals, plants, and material things, which are evil in themselves. The good God is not the sovereign Lord of history, because he is not the creator of nature as a whole. This limitation of the divine power makes grace impossible. Only the unconditioned God can forgive sins. A conditioned god must defend himself. He is bound to the law of his special nature.


This question is treated differently in Jewish prophetism, which therefore must be considered as the real birthplace of a universal historical consciousness in world history. An exclusive monotheism, rooted in the idea of justice as the characteristic of the true, universal God; the faith in the unrestricted sovereignty of this God to rule over history according to his purpose; the idea of one creation which is essentially good and one mankind which, although fallen from its original innocence and unity, shall be blessed through the history of the elected nation—all these give a framework for an entirely historical interpretation of history, as developed in the Old Testament: the call of Abraham, implying the demand to separate himself from the spatial gods of his father’s house and to follow the God of time and the future who is the God of all nations; the exodus from Egypt as the fundamental event, the center of history, for Israel; the covenant between God and his nation; the prophetic threat that God might punish and destroy even his elected nation; the promise that the exiled remnants will become the bearers of the world-historical aims of God, that a messianic king out of David’s seed will arise, that in the last day, in the day of Yahweh, all his enemies will be overcome and Jerusalem will become the center of true adoration, justice, and peace, peace even in nature. This is the Old Testament interpretation of history. Here it is obvious that God reveals himself not only in history but also through history as a whole. The gods of space are overcome; history has a beginning, a center, and an end. Although the elected nation is the main bearer of history, its history has meaning for all nations.


The prophetic interpretation of history expresses itself in terms which remain within the limits of this world, of time and space—although some miraculous elements belong to the prophetic world view: for instance, the coming peace of nature, the future participation of everybody in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the final victory of one of the smallest nations over the great empires. Later apocalypticism emphasizes those miraculous elements, thus breaking through all limitations of time and space. This takes place to a great extent under the direct influence of the Persian interpretation of history. The historical conflicts, as envisaged in the prophetic description of the future, are replaced by the struggles of transcendent powers—God, Satan, good and evil angels. The Messiah, more and more, becomes a divine being, ceasing to be a historical king; the end of the world process becomes more important than the end of history, which is only a consequence of the former. In the Revelation of John the prophetic and the apocalyptic interpretations of history are combined. History as such comes to its goal and fulfillment in the thousand-year reign of Christ and his saints when Satan is bound but not finally overcome. The final victory occurs in a world catastrophe in which the heavenly powers conquer the satanic powers, and the Kingdom of God, uniting the elect out of all nations, including a new nature, is established forever.


The tension between these two forms of historical interpretation of history—the prophetic and the apocalyptic—has become tremendously important for church history. The conservative, ecclesiastical form, represented by Augustine, has removed the dangerous consequences of the idea of the thousand-year reign of Christ by assuming that it is fulfilled in the Christian church—first of all, in the church hierarchy. From this point of view history has already reached its last period. Nothing really new can be expected before the end of history and nature. Therefore, no radical criticism of the church is possible. There is no historical goal before us from which the critique could be launched. The expectation of one’s individual death has replaced the expectation of the end of history. A nonhistorical element has penetrated into the Christian interpretation of history through the elimination of chiliasm. This element was strong enough to devaluate historical activity and the struggle for social justice and to separate the individual destiny from that of the whole.


In opposition to the ecclesiastical interpretation of history the sectarian interpretation re-establishes the doctrine of the thousand years by stressing the famous idea of a "third stage," in which history will be fulfilled on earth. The prophecy of Joachim of Floris gave the first impulse which was received and intensified by the radical Franciscans and taken over in the pre-Reformation and Reformation period by Taborites, Anabaptists, and revolutionary peasants; it was used during the English revolution and finally secularized and transformed into bourgeois and proletarian utopianism. In all these movements the future is the decisive mode of time. Something entirely new is expected, for which past and present are preparations. The turning-point of history is at hand; the last stage will start very soon; justice will be victorious either through divine power alone or through human revolutionary actions under the guidance of God. Universal peace will become actual, the Holy Spirit will be given to everybody and will bring to an end all earthly authorities. No mediators, priests, or teachers are necessary because everybody will have a true knowledge of God.


It is easy to draw the line from these two attitudes within the church to the corresponding attitudes outside the church. Ecclesiastical conservatism has become the foundation of political conservatism in almost all Christian countries. It is typical for this conservatism that some event of the past (which originally had a revolutionary character) is considered to be the final event in which the meaning of history is fully expressed. Therefore, the situation brought about by this event must be preserved and defended against revolution and radical progress. This is true not only of old Prussian feudalism—an outstanding example of political conservatism on a Lutheran basis—but it is also true of those Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution who, in the name of a revolution in the past, try to prevent forever any kind of revolution in the future—an outstanding example of political conservatism on a Calvinistic-sectarian background. In both cases and in the many varieties of outlook between them, everything essential in history is supposed to be achieved. The future is a relatively unimportant actualization of what potentially is always given (according to the pattern of natural events). It is obvious that this attitude can easily fall back into some form of nonhistorical naturalism—as happened in nineteenth-century Europe.


The line from the revolutionary sectarian interpretation of history to political radicalism is even more obvious. The idea of the "third stage" played a tremendous role, first, in the struggling bourgeoisie and then in the struggling proletariat. In the period of the Enlightenment and the bourgeois revolution the "third stage" was identified with the control of reason over nature and society. Autonomous thinking is potentially the gift of everybody, and it will become actualized by social changes and education. On this basis, democracy is possible, authority is replaced by persuasion, and hierarchy by leadership. The inner light of the spiritual sectarian is transformed into the autonomous reason of the enlightened bourgeois. Freedom and equality, universal peace and social justice, are necessary consequences of the leap from the prerational to the rational stage of mankind. After the bourgeoisie had become victorious, conservative elements penetrated and transformed the revolutionary impulse into a progressivistic attitude (it ceased to be "sect" and became "church"). The progressive interpretation of history is moderate utopianism, following the radical utopianism of the period of struggle. It is utopianism in so far as it believes in continuous progress as the general law of history. It is moderate in so far as it believes that the decisive step has already been taken, the step from the prerational to the rational (bourgeois) stage of mankind.

Against this moderate element, socialism and communism have reestablished the radical, revolutionary interpretation of history. The "classless" society is the analogy to the "third stage." It is supposed to be the fulfillment of the original purpose of the bourgeois revolution, which has been betrayed by the bourgeois class interest. It will be the realization of justice, peace, freedom, and humanity not only for a few but for everybody. Marx calls this stage the beginning of real history, while the second stage—namely, all earlier history—is only prehistory, the self-estrangement of man from himself in continuous class struggles. Sometimes the first stage is described as original communism, a stage of innocence expressed in sociological terms. The turning-point in history is the appearance of the proletariat, which has messianic qualities, not because of its moral qualities but because of its historical function, namely, to pursue the interest of the whole by pursuing its special interest. The determining forces in history are interest and passion—as Hegel had already emphasized. But, like him, Marx discovers a meaningful—so to speak, providential—trend in history, which directs all the struggling interests toward a final harmony. Revolutionary catastrophes will bring about the classless society, the aim and end of history, through a co-operation of free human activities and dialectical (nonmechanical) necessity. In this interpretation of history most of the elements of the directly religious interpretations of history are implied, but with two differences: the transcendence of the struggling powers is transformed into the immanence of contrasting principles and the transcendent fulfillment beyond history is replaced by the immanent fulfillment within history. These differences make it possible for the Marxist interpretation of history to be put into a naturalistic, nonhistorical framework, as can happen to the progressivistic world view also. Both of them are in danger of falling back to a nonhistorical naturalism. Without a transcendent element the ultimate meaning of history cannot be maintained.


Religious socialism has tried to apply the religious principles of the prophetic interpretations of history to the concrete understanding of the present situation in socialist terms, keeping itself, however, within the framework of biblical thought. So it has united the main forms of a historical interpretation of history and has reintroduced the problem of history into theological thought. A description of the system of religious socialism is beyond the scope of this paper. Some of its aspects will be dealt with in the concluding section. But, before considering these aspects, we have to find out the main points which characterize the historical interpretation of history in contrast to the main points we have discovered in the nonhistorical attitude.


1. History is an independent and, finally, the outstanding category of interpreting reality.

2. Time is predominant against space. The movement of time is directed, has a definitive beginning and end, and is moving toward an ultimate fulfillment.

3. The temporal world is a battlefield between good and evil powers (expressed in mythological or in rational terms). Ontologically, or as creation, the world is good.

4. The true being, or the ultimate good, is in a dynamic process of self-realization within and above temporal existence.

5. Salvation is the salvation of a community from the evil powers in history through history. History is essentially "history of salvation."

6. History has a turning-point or a center in which the meaning of history appears, overcoming the self-destructive trend of the historical process and creating something new which cannot be frustrated by the circular motion of nature.

7. The religious correlate to the historical interpretation of history is exclusive monotheism: God as the Lord of time controlling the universal history of mankind, acting in history and through history.




The New Testament is a document of that event in which the historical interpretation of history has received its final and perfect foundation: Christ as the center of history. This document is written in the same language in which the nonhistorical interpretation of history has found its most consistent and most rational expression—in Greek. It is, therefore, tremendously interesting to compare the meaning of the main terms in which the New Testament expresses its understanding of history with the meaning of the same or similar terms in classical Greek. Such a comparison is the best way of making visible the peculiar attitude of the New Testament to history and its difference from all types of nonhistorical interpretation of history.

A. kairos, "RIGHT TIME"

Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics defines kairos as "the good in the category of time." If a special moment of time is good for the fulfillment of something, this moment is its kairos. Everything and every action can have its good moment, which is not given before or after but only en kairo, in the right moment. But time as such has no kairos for Aristotle, because the world process as a whole has no good and no perfection. The ultimate good is above it, not in it, and does not appear in any special moment. In Paul, kairos designates the fulfillment of time as a whole. The good in the category of time appears fully in one moment of time, dividing history into a period of preparation and of reception, creating a center of history, cutting off the two infinities of physical time, the infinity of the past and the infinity of the future, thus establishing a "definitive" time. This use of the word "kairos" makes it a main category of the New Testament interpretation of history. Time has a direction, periodization, qualitative differences, by the very fact of having a kairos.


Aristotle defines to teleion as something of which no part can be found outside of it. In connection with his metaphysics, this means that all potentialities of a thing are actualized. As, for example, the fixed stars show by their circular motion that they are not lacking something beyond them, although their motion indicates that there is still a difference in them between their potentiality and their actuality. Absolutely perfect teleios is only the pure actuality; in it there is no potentiality at all, and it is therefore immovable. Telos is the immanent aim of the life-process, the form in which it is fulfilled and which is its essential good. The word telos has been used at the same time for the highest offices in the state, for the initiations into the Eleusinian mysteries, and for the ethical ideal of every individual. In all these cases it points to the perfect realization of an essential possibility. Its direction is vertical; the horizontal meaning of "ending," "finishing," is secondary. In the New Testament the emphasis is shifted to the horizontal meaning. Paul speaks of the end of the ages in our days (I Cor. 10:11). In I Cor. 15:24 the telos is the moment in which God receives the Kingdom from Christ. Similar is its meaning in Matt. 24:14. The telos lies in the horizontal line, as something new coming from above; it has eschatological, not ontological, character. Therefore teleios in Eph. 4:14 is measured not by human potentialities but by the fullness of Christ who is in history. Telos in Greece negates history; in the New Testament it is the fulfillment of history.


In his Gorgias, Plato speaks of the parousia tou agathou, the presence of the good which appears in things, although it is at the same time beyond all things. Things have being by the presence of the good in them; the true being of things is their good, appearing in them but at the same time concealed by them. The pure good itself is beyond all things and cannot be seen directly; it can be seen only in so far as it appears in things. The same word parousia is used in the New Testament for the appearance of Christ in his glory, not hidden by the humility of his flesh. In Plato the emphasis is laid on the presence of the good in all things in so far as they exist. It designates the eternal relation between idea and reality. In the New Testament the word points to the eschatological event in which the meaning of the one historical event, namely, the coming of Christ in the flesh, is presupposed. The Greek use of the word is nonhistorical. The New Testament use of the word is based on an interpretation of history in terms of its center and its end.

d. ktizein, "FOUNDING, CREATING"; demiourgein, "SHAPING"

The word ktizein in classical Greek means "founding a city." Something new is made, but it is made at a given place, with a given material. Similar is the meaning of demiourgein, "making a public work," "giving a public service by shaping," "forming," "fashioning." The latter word and not the former is used by Plato when he speaks of the shaping of the world by the demiourgos. The demiourgos has shaped the world by forming and ordering the matter according to the picture of the idea of the good. In doing so, he elevates the matter which is controlled by necessity to the greatest possible similarity with the idea. But he can succeed only in a limited way. He cannot overcome the evils which are rooted in the resistance of matter. The Septuagint and the New Testament use the word ktizein for the creative activity of God, emphasizing the idea of a new foundation and dropping entirely the connotation of something "given" by the idea of a creation out of nothing. The world is ktisis, it is created, not shaped; therefore it is good in itself; the evil has no ontological, but only moral, foundation, and thus a history of salvation is possible.

E. logos, "WORD, REASON"

Logos in Greek philosophy designates the reasonable word which grasps being itself, its true, essential nature, its form and structure. The word, in order to do so, must carry the truth of things in itself; being and the speaking of being or being and the thought in which being is grasped are the same. Reason in things and reason in mind are identical. This universal reason, which is objective in things and subjective in the human mind, is called logos. In Heraclitus and the Stoics it is the law of nature as well as the law for human thinking and acting. It is in all things, everything participates in it. It becomes self-conscious and distorted in man. It is the active, divine power which forms and shapes the passive matter. It is always present, although in different degrees. By its very being, everything participates in it. The use of the same word in the Fourth Gospel for the character of Christ shows better than anything else the turn from the nonhistorical to the historical interpretation of reality. The logos becomes history, a visible and touchable individuality, in a unique moment of time. The logical relation between universal and individual is completely transformed. The individual is not only an exemplar of the universal, unable to express its fullness, but the individual adds something entirely new to the universal. History is possible because the individual man or the individual event is more than an exemplar of the genus "man" or the genus "event." When the word becomes flesh, the contrast between universal and individual disappears. History is not less than the universal logos but united with it. History and true being are not in contrast to each other. True being, or logos, appears in its fullness in history.

F. aletheia, " TRUTH"

The transformation of the meaning of logos is accompanied by a transformation of the idea of truth. Alethes, in Greek, means "not hidden." Knowing the truth means penetrating to that level of reality which is hidden to the natural world view and can be discovered only by methodological knowledge. This level of reality is behind the surface of things; but it is always and everywhere present and approachable in the depths of things. The historical situation does not mean anything for this approach. The same word is used in the New Testament. But its meaning cannot be derived from its Greek origin. It must be understood by referring to the Hebrew word of which it is the translation: emunah, which has the same root as "Amen" and designates the trustworthy, unshakable character, especially of a person and a promise given by him. It points to the practical certainty which follows from absolute confidence in somebody. Therefore, the Fourth Gospel can speak of the "becoming of the truth," namely, as a divine act in history; while for Greek thinking, aletheia is just the opposite of becoming, namely, "eternal being." The Bible can speak further of "doing the truth," and Jesus can say "I am the truth." Truth is not universal but identical with the historical fact Jesus Christ. It cannot be discovered by a methodological approach but only by faith and obedience. And it cannot be discovered always and everywhere but only in the unique historical community, the church.

G. ecclesia, "ASSEMBLY (CHURCH)"

This leads to the last and decisive concept in which the change from nonhistorical to historical thinking becomes visible: ecclesia, "assembly." In the Greek city-state it designates the assembly of the free citizens who are called out of their houses in order to make political decisions and to carry on the life of the city. Only those who are free belong to it. And one is free by birth because one has received by inheritance a virtue which the slave and the barbarian lack. For Aristotle the free Greek citizen, who belongs to the city assembly, represents the genus of the élite. Later on, in Stoicism, everybody is considered to be free by having reason. Human beings as such belong to the élite genus because they participate in the universal reason. But, despite the difference between these two meanings of freedom as well as of election, both of them have a nonhistorical character. In both cases, nature makes the election—in Aristotle in a more vitalistic and aristocratic interpretation, in Stoicism in a more rationalistic and democratic interpretation. In the New Testament, ecclesia is often used with the addition "ecclesia" of God or of Christ." As such it is the continuation of the assembly of God in the Old Testament, namely, the elected nation or the elected remnants of that nation. In the New Testament the "assembly of God" is called the "true people of God," consisting of the elect from all nations. This election is not a matter of race or of reason. It is a matter of historical destiny. The free members of this assembly of God are free by salvation. Their virtue is the grace they receive in the church. The church is one historical reality starting with the promise of God to Abraham, centered in the appearance of Christ, and moving toward the final fulfillment. The spatial "ecclesia" of Greece has been replaced by the historical "ecclesia" of Christianity, the bearer of historical consciousness in all periods and nations.

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