Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

The Readiness of the Ancient World to Receive Christianity

Yesterday we discussed the meaning and development of the doctrinal expression of Christianity, and described especially the concept of dogma. I tried to remove some of the fears and resentments every modern man has when he hears the word “dogma.” I hope I succeeded. Now I come to the “preparation”of Christianity in the ancient world.

According to Paul, there is not always the possibility that that can happen which, for instance, happened in the appearance of Jesus as the Christ. This happened in one special moment of history, and in this special moment everything was ready for it. I will talk now about this “readiness.” Paul speaks of kairos to describe the feeling that the time was ripe, mature, prepared. It is a Greek word which, again, witnesses to the richness of the Greek language and the poverty of modern languages in comparison with it. We have only the one word “time.” The Greeks had two words: chronos (still used in “chronology,” “chronometer,” etc.): it is clock time, time which is measured. Then there is the word kairos , which is not the quantitative time of the watch, but is the qualitative time of the occasion: the “right” time. “It is not yet kairos ,” the hour; the hour has not yet come. (Cf.. in the Gospel stories. . ..) There are things in which the right time, the kairos, has not yet come. Kairos is the time which indicates that something has happened which makes an action possible or impossible. We all have in our lives moments in which we feel that now is the right time for something: now I am mature enough for this, now everything around me is prepared for this, now I can make the decision, etc: this is kairos. In this sense Paul and the early Church spoke of the “right time,” for the coming of the Christ. The early Church, and Paul to a certain extent, tried to show why this time in which the Christ appeared was the right time, why it is the providential constellation of factors which makes His appearance possible.