Hermeneutics and The Shape of the Future - Edited by Frank K. Flinn

The Periods of Christian History in Unification Theology -- Klaus M. Lindner

In contemporary historiography, historical periods are often viewed as conceptus in mente that do not have their foundation in re, i.e., in any distinctive content of the period itself. As Heiko A. Oberman argues, it is the historian who has to create periods and give meaning to historical concepts, realizing, however, that it is his own focus that creates them and that there is no "really objective periodization."1 One's ideological preferences or simply one's academic focus may lead to the appearance of quite different periodizations. While the church historians may stress that history was made in 1517, the Marxist historian would rather stress the importance of the beginning of the early bourgeois revolution in 147 6.2 For a historian who focuses on the Renaissance as the moving force of the period from 1300 to 1600, the Reformation is nothing but an epilogue of the Renaissance.3 Because of the justifiable claims of conflicting positions, Oberman and other historians have adopted a nominalist understanding of historical periods. According to this view, any period cannot be more than a construct of meaning created by the human mind.

This contemporary notion is fundamentally opposed to the Divine Principle concept of providential time periods, according to which periods are not only opened and ended by epochal events, but have also a very specific content and purpose. Thus, the Unification understanding of historical periods is extremely realist.

The purpose of this essay is mainly of a descriptive and historical nature. In the first part I intend to describe some general characteristics of the Unification concept of history and historical time parallels and indicate comparable views or historical antecedents, whenever possible. In the second part I want to trace the historical development of traditional periodizations of the history of Christianity and discuss the position that most closely resembles the Divine Principle view. I hope to be able to show whether it is possible to refute the objection that Divine Principle does not really offer a periodization of Christian history but a superimposition of an alien periodization based on the Old Testament and the history of Christianity. The objection is, in other words, that the hermeneutical principle which Unificationists use in exegeting the history of Christianity is alien to this history and distorts it. Thus, I want to investigate what kinds of presuppositions have been made, and have to be made, in order to arrive at the same epochs of Christian history as Divine Principle.

Providential Time Parallels

According to Divine Principle, history is teleological and its goal is the restoration, i.e., the recreation of God's original ideal of the human being and of the world.4 Since the goal of history is the same as the goal of religion, history is "made" in the history of religions. History is salvation history by definition. This is true especially in the case of the history of the "chosen people" of God, i.e., of the first and second Israel. The Old Testament is understood to be the normative history of the first Israel, i.e., the record of the acts of God intended to bring about the salvation of Israel. In the case of the second Israel, however, Christian history itself has to become "a source of reference, in addition to 'Acts' of the New Testament."5 Thus, "the providential history of restoration after Jesus" is essentially the history of Christianity.6

The purpose of restoration history can be fulfilled only if the Messiah who is "anointed" by God is also received by the people. This means that the goal of the providence of restoration is first of all the establishment of an adequate "foundation to receive the Messiah." Thus, the "Providential Age for the Foundation of Restoration" that included Adam's as well as Abraham's family, had already the same goal as the "Providence of Restoration Centering on Moses," in which the foundation was established and the Messiah could come. According to Unification theology, the response of the people at the time of Jesus was not adequate, causing the providence to be prolonged. Thus, the providential time period by which the foundation had been established had to be repeated.7 In order to understand the importance of time periods in the Unification view of history, one needs to take into consideration the notion that the history of restoration is essentially a history of re-creating people who reach spiritual maturity, i.e., who have a "perfect" relationship with God. Unlike some Eastern traditions, according to which the individual has to pass through a whole new round of rebirth if he or she does not achieve the goal of life in the present life, Unification theology projects this rebirth onto the historical plane, because the ultimate release from the history of restoration has to be a communal historical event. This view of history is extremely organic. In a sense, in terms of mission, the second Israel can be considered to be a "reincarnation" of the first Israel, John the Baptist a "reincarnation" of Elijah, and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob only one single person. As I said already, this is true only in terms of mission, not of individuality. Rev. Moon himself usually refers to Christianity as the "younger brother" of Judaism. This means that a historical time period can and in fact has to "mature" in a similar way as a human being. As contemporary Westerners, we prefer abstractions and are uncomfortable with such analogies from nature. Christian thinkers from Justin, Irenaeus, and Augustine to Luther, however, often compared historical periods nor only to the six days of creation, but also to the six periods of the human life.8 In a similar way as Divine Principle, they thought of history as a process of creation, the six periods of which are followed by the Messianic kingdom. Inspired by Melanchthon and Johan Carion's Chromcon, Luther proceeded even to divide his own eschatological timetable into six periods of a thousand years each. Melanchthon's calculation, based on the biblical chronology, led him to expect the completion of the sixth millennium, and thus the return of Christ, in 1892. Luther arrived at the date 2040,9 but both did not take this calculation literally because they were convinced that in the last days the days would be shortened and the return of Christ very soon. Carion's Chronicon, which inspired Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon, was based on a rediscovery of the chronology of Tanna debe Eliyyahu in the Babylonian Talmud, according to which, "the world is to exist six thousand years. The first two thousand years are to be void (i.e., without law), the next two thousand years are the period of the Torah, and the following two thousand years are the period of the Messiah."10

Although Luther's periodization of the history that is recorded in the Old Testament is very similar to the periodization used in Divine Principle, Luther did not think of those periods as periods that had distinctive purposes. Consequently, he also did not attempt to compare them to periods within Christian history.

The Periods of Christian History

The division of Christian history into periods came relatively late. The Magdeburger Zenturien, began in 1559, recounted history century by century, but without implying that these periods were concepts that had a foundation in re, i.e., in the periods themselves, or that each turn of a century constituted an epochal event that gave a new direction to the course of events.

Humanist circles, however, developed a model for the understanding of the same history by affixing distinct labels of meaning to three periods. The terms Antiquity, Middle Ages, and Modernity initially referred respectively to the period of classical learning, the mediocre time in between, and the Renaissance as the period of the revival of classical learning.11 The first humanist history using this model was written already towards the end of the seventeenth century, but church historians continued for a long time to follow the example of the Magdeburger Zenturien.12 The first church historian to abandon the division according to centuries, was Johann Matthias Schrockh, who regarded Constantine, the year 800, and Martin Luther as the major turning points of the history of Christianity.13 In the nineteenth century, church historians also began to adopt the division of church history into the history of the ancient church, the medieval church, and the modern church. For the Protestants Karl Hase and Bernhard Lindner, who were both influenced by Hegel, the years 800 and 1517 remain the most important turning points, because they saw the significance of the crowning of Charlemagne in "the transfer of the historical movement to the Germanic peoples." This movement was completed by Luther and the Reformation.14 Possibly in reaction to this nationalist Protestant position, Catholic church historians, beginning with Johann Adam Mohler of Tubingen, generally began the Middle Ages around the year 700 and disputed also the year 1517 as the beginning of the modern church.15 Secular historians on the other hand, usually regard the time of transition, beginning with the migration of nations around 370 and ending with the deposition of Romulus Augustus in 480 as the beginning of the Middle Ages and the discovery of America and Luther's Ninety-Five Theses as their end.16

As was to be expected, the periodization of nineteenth century liberal Protestant church historians, who were influenced by Hegelianism and were convinced of the gradual upward development of Christianity and expected an earthly kingdom of heaven at the conclusion of Christian history, comes closest to the periodization in Divine Principle. This becomes even clearer if we go into more detail. The most influential German periodization at the beginning of this century was Herman Weingarten's work Zeittafeln und Uberblicke zur Kirchengeschichte, which was published in many editions from 1870 onwards. According to this work, the major historical turning-points in the history of Christianity are the years 325, 800, 1250, 1517, and 1648 A.D. Even Weingarten's choice of the year 1250 A.D. as a major point of transition is based partly on the fact that "French influence" in the church began already a few decades before the exile to Avignon.17 "The 'Babylonian Exile' of the Papacy" from 1305 to 1377 A.D. is one of the major subdivisions of Weingarten's period that lasts from 12 50 to 1517.18 Also the year "ca. 900" is one of the major subdivisions of Weingarten's periodization and signifies the "Collapse of the Carolingian Creation" and "nationalist" strife.19 Even 325 A.D. seems to have been chosen as a final point of the first major period of church history only for lack of a better solution. The heading "The Victory of the Church over the Pagan World" does not seem to connect logically with the Council of Nicaea as an ending point of that period. Consequently, Weingarten ends the outline of this period with the observation that after Constantine the church achieved primacy and nor only toleration.20 This means that all the essential dates of Unification chronology are important also in the traditional Protestant view of church history. This means further that it is possible to defend the Unification chronology of Christian history as a consistent reading of this history from a Protestant perspective. The Unification periodization is present in the history of Church and not merely "imported" from the history of Israel as portrayed in the Bible. Even in the case of the first period of Christian history, a strong historical argument can be made for choosing a later date than 313 A.D. as the "end" of the period, although there is no epochal event that could provide traditional periodization with a fixed date. Theodosius' edict against pagan worship of 392 A.D. that is mentioned in Divine Principle along with Augustine's literary activities is apparently quite obscure and is not even mentioned among thousands of important dates and data in Heinrich Bornkamm's widely used Zeittafeln zur Kirchengeschichte.21 Nevertheless, it is true that the major break with classical culture and religion falls into precisely this time.

One example, which seems particularly interesting at present is the fact that the 1200-year-old tradition of the Olympic Games was discontinued in 393 A.D. for religious reasons. Even if one wants to focus on the theological development of Christianity, the beginning of the fifth century seems more appropriate as a historical divide than 325 A.D. At the Council of Nicaea neither the canonical nor the creedal or theological developments were essentially fixed yet, but they were at the time of Augustine. This means that the turn from the fourth to the fifth century should be regarded as a more important historical divide on strictly historical grounds and not because of the parallels in the Old Testament. On this point Unificationists will also find themselves in agreement with secular historians, who find the beginning of the Middle Ages either at the end of the fourth, or in the fifth century. This is not to deny the fact that Divine Principle does in fact use the Old Testament parallels as a hermeneutical device for interpreting Christian history, but to argue that the results of this procedure do not contradict historical scholarship.

The Divine Principle interpretation corrects, however, the results of a periodization that orients itself exclusively on important dates, like the Council of Nicaea. Its realist understanding of historical periods, i.e., the fact that periods have actual, distinctive content, leads it to pay attention rather to events that lead to major transformations in the history of Christianity. In this context, Unificationists have to welcome the results of social history as applied to Christian history. This cannot serve as an exclusive tool, however, because sociologically observable transformations are considered to be a result, but not the cause of the beginnings of new periods in church history. Comparative social history would be particularly difficult because of the lack of data, especially of the Old Testament period, and the fact that the "second Israel," as a "spiritual kingdom," should differ fundamentally from the first Israel.22

Divine Principle does, however, make the claim that numerous events and facts in respective periods of the histories of the first and second Israel are comparable. Although it is difficult to verify this claim objectively, I have found such comparisons an amazing and useful tool. I will only mention in this context the relationship between Saul and Samuel and the relationship between Charlemagne and Leo III, and the fact that the exile of the papacy in Avignon has been called the "Babylonian captivity of the Church" and can, in fact, be compared with the captivity of a large part of the "chosen people" in Babylon. Even the fact that many of them preferred to stay longer in Babylon can be compared to the fact that a rival pope remained in Avignon even after Gregory XI decided to return to Rome.

This is not the place and time, however, to attempt to adduce an infinite number of strange historical "coincidences," and I do not want to suggest that there is any simple way of using history as a proof text. What I want to say is that given the Divine Principle presupposition that Christian history, like Old Testament history, has to be viewed as a history of human responses to God's activity, and that this history has a possible goal that lies within this world, the Divine Principle periodization of Christian history does nor have to be "imported" from the Old Testament. This is the reason why the Christian tradition that comes closest to these presuppositions, namely nineteenth and early Twentieth century Protestant liberalism can arrive independently at almost the same epochs of Christian history. What the Divine Principle interpretation adds is only an attempt to explain these historical periods. I tend to agree with Oberman that the historian's results are influenced by his focus and by his ideological convictions. I do not think, however, that the nominalist presupposition that historical constructs of meaning are created by the historian and not found in history itself is useful for doing religious history and Christian history in particular. The God of creation has to be consistent with the God of history. If there is meaning in life, there has to be also meaning in history. Objective historiography of the type Oberman suggests can be a useful tool.

The Divine Principle interpretation, however, wants to offer much more. It presents a history of strife and suffering and an explanation of the main successes and failures in the course of this history that is consistent with the Christian God of love. And it may be that this is the most adequate account of Christian history.


1 Heiko A. Oberman, "Reformation: Epoche oder Episode," Arcbw fur Reformationsgeschichte, 68 (1977), 87.

2 See Max Sreinmetz, "Die friihburgerliche Revolution in Deutschland (1476-1535)" Zeitschrift fur Geschichtswissenschaft, 8 (1960), 113ff.

3 See Paul Oskar Kristeller, "Studies on Renaissance Humanism during the Last Twenty Yeats" Studies in the Renaissance, 9 (1962), 22.

4 Divine Principle (Washington: Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 1973), p. 222; hereafter cited as Divine Principle.

5 Divine Principle, p. 407.

6 Divine Principle, p. 407.

7 Divine Principle, p. 405.

8 Gerhard Ruhbach, Kirchengescbichte (Giitersloh, Germany: Giitersloher, 1974), p. 78. See also Karl Heussi, Altertum. Mittelalter und Neuzeit m der Kirchengescbichte (Tubingen: Mohr, 1921), pp. 7, 11; and Emil Menke-Gliickert, Die Geschichtesscbreibung der Reformation und Gegenre formation (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1912), pp. 26f, 44f, 114.

9 Martin Luther, Werke (Weimar: Bbhlaus, 1964), LIII, 171.

10 Babylonian Talmud. Aboda Zara 9a.

11 Heussi, p. 9.

12 Heussi, p. 12.

13 Johann Matthias Schrockh, Christliche Kirchengeschichte (Leipzig Schwickert, 1768 ff.) See also Heussi, p. 15.

14 Wilhelm B. Lindner, Lehrbuch der christlichen Kirchengescbichte, 3 vols., (Leipzig: C.B. Schwickert, 1848-1852).

15 See Heussi, pp. 19-21, 25. In 680-81 A.D. was held the Sixth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople (Trullanum).

16 See Ruhbach, pp. 78-79.

17 Herman Weingarten, Zetttafeln und Uberblickezur Kirchengescbichte, fiinfte verbesserre Aurlage (Leipzig: Hinrich, 1897), p. 86.

18 Weingarten, pp. 92 ff.

19 Weingarren, p. 60.

20 Weingarten, p. 1.

21 Heintich Botnkamm, Zeittafelnzur Kirchengeschichte (Gutersloh, Germany: Giitersloher, 1971).

22 Divine Principle, p. 410. 

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