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The Joachimite Turn

Augustinian eschatology governed the self-understanding of the Catholic Church until it was heavily shaken by the theology of an Italian abbot, Joachim of Fiore (c. 1135?–1202) and the numberless movements that referred to him. Joachim was convinced that God had revealed to him a new understanding of the Bible. He predicted the beginning of a third age (tertius status) of the Holy Spirit that would follow the first age of the Father, as described in the Old Testament, and the second age, which ran from the incarnation of Christ to Joachim's present. The abbot taught that the Trinity reveals itself in three progressive stages. The revelation of the Father had formed the patriarchal society of Israel; the revelation of the Son had formed the church of the clerics. And soon the revelation of the Holy Ghost would create the new spiritual church (ecclesia spiritualis), a church dominated by monks. In Joachim's view, the third age appears as an anticipated realization of the perfect order of the Beyond.

Several scholars of the twentieth century, such as Karl Löwith (1897–1973), Eric Voegelin (1901–1985), Norman Cohn (1915–), and Jacob Taubes (1923–1987), claimed that Joachim of Fiore started a process in which Christian eschatology was "immanentized" (Voegelin) or "secularized" (Löwith). The four authors recognized the transformation of Christian eschatology into ideologies of inner-worldly progress as the decisive formative power of modernity. The third stadium of Auguste Comte's positivism was to be seen as a modern transformation of Joachim's third age, as well as the Third Reich of the National Socialists and the Marxist realm of freedom.



Augustine. The City of God against the Pagans. Ed. and trans. R. W. Dyson. Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Charlesworth, James H., ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Vol 1. Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments. New York: Doubleday, 1983.

McGinn, Bernard, trans. Apocalyptic Spirituality: Treatises and Letters of Lactantius, Adso of Montier-en-Der, Joachim of Fiore, the Franciscan Spirituals, Savonarola. Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1979.


Bultmann, Rudolf Karl. History and Eschatology. Edinburgh: University Press, 1957.

Cohn, Norman. Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.

——. The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages. Rev. and expanded ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Löwith, Karl. Meaning in History: The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949.

Reventlow, Henning Graf, ed. Eschatology in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian Tradition. Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Taubes, Jacob. Abendländische Eschatologie. Munich, Germany: Matthes and Seitz, 1991.

Voegelin, Eric. Modernity without Restraint, edited by Manfred Henningsen. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000.

Matthias Riedl

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ephemeris to Evolution - Historical BackgroundEschatology - Jewish Roots, Pauline And Augustinian Contributions, The Joachimite Turn, Bibliography