THREE THEMES: THEIR INSIGHTS AND THEIR DANGERS
THROUGH the centuries the three-stranded thread has fascinated men. Thinker after thinker has worked with it, selecting some one strand or another for primary emphasis. The choice determines the whole temper of the resulting interpretation of history.
To change the metaphor, Christian conceptions of history develop around three themes and their intermingling. This chapter will examine one or two examples of the dominance of each theme. It will be convenient, without any pretense of recording the history of Christian thought on the subject, to take the examples in chronological order.
The ecclesiastical theme dominates whenever history gains its meaning from a Kingdom of God which is identified with the institutional church. In the Middle Ages the interpretation of history was pushed farthest in this direction. The sacramental power of the church became a reality in the lives of men, whether they were peasants, knights, or kings. The church stirred the imaginations of half-pagan free-booters and of the devout, and the threat of an interdict made kingdoms tremble. Theory and historical fact reinforced each other, as churchmen developed their claims on the basis of the Bible and the writings of the Fathers-both authentic and occasionally spurious. The church