Paul Tillich, A History Of Christian Thought

Medieval Period (continued)

The Seven Religious Forces: Hierarchy Monasticism Sectarianism The Lay Movements The Great Individuals The Popular Superstitions The Experience of the Demonic

All this happens within the Church. We must therefore, now, discuss the interpretation of the Church. It is interesting that in the systems of the great classical theologians of the Middle Ages, there is no special place for the doctrine of the Church This indicates, besides other things, the fact that the Church was, so to speak, self-understood; it was the foundation of all life and was not a matter of a special doctrine. But of course, in the discussions about hierarchy, about the sacraments, about the relationship to the state, a doctrine of the Church was implicitly developed.

The first consideration is: What was the Church in relationship to the Kingdom of God, according to medieval thinking? On the answer to this question everything depends for the answer to all other questions about the relationship of the Church to the secular powers, to culture, etc. The background of it is what I said about Augustine’s interpretation of history; to this we must look back in order to understand the situation.

In the Augustinian interpretation of history we have a partial identification and partial non-identification of the Church with the Kingdom of God. They are never fully identified because Augustine knew very well that the Church is a mixed body, that it is full of people who formally belong to it but who in reality do not belong to it. On the other hand he identified the Church with the Kingdom of God from the point of view of the sacramental graces which are present in the hierarchy. This identification could be the point of emphasis or the non-identification could be the point of emphasis. This was always the problem of the Middle Ages. The Church of course tried to identify itself with the Kingdom of God, in terms of the hierarchical graces. You never should think that any medieval representative of the Church, neither a theologian nor a pope nor a bishop, identified his own goodness or holiness with the Kingdom of God, but always his sacramental holiness, his objective sacramental power. And the objectivity of this sacramental reality is decisive for all understanding of medieval thought. On the other hand, the actual Church was a mixed body and the representatives of the sacramental graces were distorted. So from this point of view it was possible to attach the Church. Between these two poles the discussion of the Middle Ages went on, in continuous oscillation.

But Augustine had another identification, namely the partial identification and partial non-identification of the state with the ‘kingdom of earth, which is also designated as the kingdom of Satan. The partial identification was based on the fact that in Augustine’s interpretation of history, states are the result of compulsory power, “robber-states,” as he called it, states produced by groups of gangsters, so to speak, who are not considered criminals only because they are powerful enough to take the state into their hands. This whole consideration, which reminds one of the Marxist analysis of the state, is, however, contrasted by the natural-law idea that the state is necessary in order to repress the sinful powers which, if unrepressed, would produce chaos.

This was the Augustinian situation, and here again the emphasis could be on the identity of the state with the kingdom of Satan, or at least the kingdom of earth, i.