Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought


Covenants, Church Fathers.

We began the discussion of the Anti-Gnostic Fathers, Irenaeus and Tertullian, and I emphasized that the main point was the doctrine of the creator-God (put forth) against the creator-God in Gnosticism, namely, the separation of the creator from the saviour.

The history of salvation is described in three or four covenants. The first covenant is that which is given with creation, the natural law, which is ultimately the law of love and which is innate in man. Everybody has this natural law within himself.

Secondly, the law re-stated, after it has faded away when man lost his immediate innocent participation in it. The third stage, again, is law, but now law reestablished in Christ, after Judaism distorted the law of Sinai. It’s always the same law, it’s always ultimately the law of love, it’s always that which is innate in man by nature. God doesn’t give arbitrary commandments, but he restates those commandments which are identical with man’s essential nature, and which therefore are valid under all circumstances.This doctrine is very important and we must keep it in mind.

Then in Tertullian, insofar as he was a Montanist, we have a fourth covenant, the covenant with the Paraclete, the Divine Spirit, which gives the new law at the end of the days. This means the history of salvation was understood as the education of mankind in terms of a law. This was a very powerful system of thought. It made it possible to understand why the Old Testament belongs to the Christian Bible, why philosophy belongs to Christianity: they all are stages in the one history of salvation; they are not negated by the revelation in Christ, but confirmed. This should never be forgotten in Christian theology, that the problem of dualism was solved in terms of a history of salvation in different covenants. One can say that it is the Biblical idea of kairos, the “right time.” At any time the revelation must do something special.

There is not only one revelation. There is revelation adapted to the situation first that of Paradise; then that of the elected nation; then that of the followers of Christ; and, sometimes, that of the Divine Spirit. There is, in all cases, a different kairos, a different right time. Such a kind of thinking liberates Christianity immediately from a narrowness in which its own revelation is declared to be the only one, and it is not seen in the context of the history of revelation, and which finally leads in Marcion as today, partly at least, in the Barthian school to an isolation of revelation over against the whole history of mankind.

Now Christologically, Irenaeus, for instance, says: “The invisible of the Son is the Father; the visible of the Father is the Son.” And this is eternally so. There is always something which potentially is visible in God or we would perhaps better say “manifest” in God and there is something which remains as mystery and abyss in God. These are the two sides which symbolically speaking are distinguished as Father and Son. Eternally the Son is the visible of the Father and the Father is the invisible of the Son, but it becomes manifest in the personal appearance of Jesus as the Christ. The Anti-Gnostic Fathers, because they had to do with Christian polytheistic tendencies, emphasized more the monotheistic element in Christianity than it was emphasized by the Apologists, whose discovery of the Logos doctrine brought them into some dangerous approximation to polytheistic ,or tri-theistic ,elements at least (if the Spirit is treated in the same way ., in which the Logos is treated.