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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
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170 occurrences of ideology
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The Concept. Eschatology, or “the doctrine of last
things,” is today often employed as a comprehensive
term for all religious ideas of the afterlife. In the fol-
lowing, however, we shall employ the concept Escha-
tology in its original sense: eschatology describes and
explains the goal and ultimate destiny of human his-
tory. Eschatology thus presupposes a unique linear flow
of history from the beginning to the end of temporal

Apocalyptics. There are myths among many peoples
of the collapse of the world, sometimes also of a time
of redemption to be expected upon the ending of the
world; and in these, of course, Christian influences are
often present. The eschatological beliefs of Western
as well as of Islamic cultural history are rooted in late
Jewish apocalyptics in which the historical perspec-
tives of the Old Testament are fused with aspects of
Iranian eschatology.

Generally speaking, the idea was widespread in
antiquity that time proceeds cyclically, just as nature
does: history returns, after the expiration of a cosmic
year—or aeon—to its beginning; events repeat them-
selves in perpetual reiteration. In Iran, on the other
hand, the notion of a circular pattern was abandoned
quite early. History was viewed as a straight line. The
content of world events is the battle for men between
the good god and the evil spirit. At the end of the
world the dead are awakened and judged, the evil spirit
is destroyed by the hosts of the good god, and there
begins an eternally blessed existence on an earth freed
from all evil. This blissful period heralds the finale, the
eschaton of history; nothing is said of a repetition of
the battle between light and darkness, even if the
thought is borrowed from the cyclical view that the
eschaton corresponds to the felicitous beginnings of the

This Iranian belief concerning the end of time en-
countered Old Testament piety and was thereby intro-
duced into Jewish thought. This was all the more read-
ily possible because the cyclical view of history had
been alien to the Old Testament from time immemo-
rial. God, the Creator of the world, guides the history
of His chosen people along a straight line of historical
development toward specific goals: He furnishes the
Promised Land; He leads them through the catastrophe
of exile into a new period of redemption; He promises
the people a powerful Prince of Peace out of the House
of David, etc. But these ideas were not eschatological
to the extent that they were not connected with
the idea of the final end of all history.

Under the influence of Iranian eschatology this Old
Testament view of history was developed in time into


an apocalyptic eschatology, the oldest documents of
which still made their way into the Old Testament
canon (Daniel; Isaiah 24-26). This apocalyptic view
now includes not only the history of the children of
Israel, but the whole of world history with all its peo-
ple. Simultaneously, in place of the fluctuating this-
worldly ideas of the goals of Israelite history, it substi-
tutes the expectation of a cosmic catastrophe that leads
to the end of the old aeon and of its master, the Devil,
and passing through an eschatological period of re-
demption yields to a new world of absolute and perfect
salvation. The depiction of the old aeon can in conse-
quence borrow its coloration from the cyclical view
of history, and the history of the expiring world can
be seen as a process of decline from a Golden Age.
But the apocalyptic conflagration of the world at the
end of the old epoch does not introduce any repetition
of events but, in accordance with dualistic thought,
leads into an ahistorical new aeon. The subjects of
history are no longer primarily peoples, but individual
persons who, if they have already died, are conse-
quently to be raised to judgment at the end of the old
aeon. The time and manner of the eschatological turn-
ing point are decided by God alone as the master of
history, but to some scattered prophetic figures the
course of history to its end, as well as the eschatological
outcome, has been revealed by God himself in advance
(hence apocalypse, from the Greek apokalyptein, “to
reveal”). Thus the process of history unfolds inalterably
in accordance with a plan laid down by God.

Not infrequently a balance is struck between the
historically immanent Old Testament hope and the
transcendental apocalyptic expectation such that the
apocalyptic end of history is preceded by a final mes-
sianic reign within history; hence an interregnum be-
tween the old and the new aeons in which the elect
rule together with the Messiah. Texts such as Revela-
tion 20 have perceptibly influenced the history of the
West in expecting a thousand-year interregnum
(chiliasm); for although the eschatological interregnum
is conceived as historically immanent, revolutionary
movements have often been fired in anticipation of it.

Gnosticism. At about the same time as the Hebrew
apocalyptics, and not without some interchange with
it, another manifestation of eschatological world per-
spective arose in the confluence of Iranian and Greek
spiritual thought, viz., Gnosticism. Gnosticism is like-
wise associated with the Iranian dualism of a good and
evil God. On this view, a personage from the world
of Light fell under the power of Darkness during the
battle between the two principles in primeval times.
The evil powers then created the world as a place of
sojourn and human bodies as prisons to hold this figure
of Light captured and divided by them into so many
separate sparks of light. The good god now sets into
motion the process of redemption in order to liberate
the sparks of light from the power of Darkness and
to return them to the world of Light. As soon as this
process of redemption is completed the world will
collapse into Nothing again, so that history comes
definitively to an end.

While for apocalyptics God controls the old aeon,
it is nonetheless subject to the power of sin so that
for the Gnostic the world and history are represented
mostly as a work of the Devil. Thus though one cannot
properly speak of a goal of history in Gnosticism, yet
the notion of an end of history is at the root of Gnostic
thought. One can therefore speak of an unhistorical
Gnostic eschatology, and the asceticism of this life
becomes an adequate expression of an eschatological
self-consciousness that strives for liberation from the
world itself.

Gnosticism, which was a serious competitor of
Christianity well into the fourth century, certainly
influenced the thought of the West (e.g., Neo-
Platonism), yet in both the West and the East, in oppo-
sition to anti-Gnostic dualism, the quest for the mean-
ing and the goal of world history controlled by God
proved victorious. The answer given by apocalyptics,
that the meaning of history lies concealed in its escha-
tological goal, incited powerful historically effective
forces in the West above all, and influenced both spir-
itual and world history. The philosophy of history, a
branch of inquiry still unknown to Greek antiquity,
could spring up only on a biblical foundation. Every
current quest for the ultimate meaning of world history
springs from biblical faith.

Primitive Christianity. Jesus was an apocalyptic. He
was not indeed interested in elaborating the depiction
of the final apocalyptic drama, but he foretold the
beginning of last events in the imminent future. His
exorcisms heralded the end of the old aeon. Even to
the impious, provided they were repentant, his preach-
ing opened the way at the last minute to salvation
under God's reign, which very soon, without human
participation, would appear throughout the earth as
a bolt of lightning from God's hand.

When the Crucified One appeared to His disciples
after His death, they interpreted Jesus' resurrection as
the beginning of the universal resurrection of the dead,
i.e., as the onset of last events. Jesus is the first of all
the dead to be resurrected (I Corinthians 15:20). It is
true that the consummation of apocalyptic last things
did not follow; nonetheless early Christianity continued
to understand the events surrounding Christ as God's
eschatological redemptive act, themselves as a com-
munity of the redeemed, and their age as a time of
eschatological redemption. In other words: “The


primitive Christian community did not understand
itself as an historical, but as an eschatological, phe-
nomenon. It already no longer belongs to this world,
but to the future ahistorical era that is dawning”
(R. Bultmann, p. 42). Out of this consciousness, and
in view of the subsequent course of history, the prob-
lem arose how the eschatological community of the
redeemed should live in history, and how historical
time should be denominated from an eschatological
point of view. As a solution of this problem there
emerged the extraordinary dialectic of the primitive
Christian concept of time, characterized as it is by the
conflict of “It is here now” and “Not yet” when speak-
ing of eschatological redemption. Paul and John dwelt
with particular intensity on this problem and each gave
it expression after his own manner.

Both understood their time as an age amid ages: the
faithful lives already now in the new aeon, even though
he is not yet free of the danger of relapse into the
old aeon. The unfaithful still belongs to the expiring
world, but by faith may still find access to the commu-
nity of the redeemed. “Faith” means the abandonment
of the material word as the basis of life, and living
in the grace of God encountered by man in Christ.
This faith redeems life: it brings righteousness and
peace and joy (Romans 14:17). The faithful is a new
creature (II Corinthians 5:17). To him is come the day
of salvation (II Corinthians 6:2), he lives in love (I
Corinthians 13), and lives and dies unto the Lord
(Romans 14:7-9). The demonic forces of the expiring
aeon have already been obliged to surrender their
power to Christ.

The delay in the definitive consummation of last
events is not felt to be a difficult problem in view of
this conception. It is even possible for John to renounce
altogether the apocalyptic eschatology of the future
including the return of Christ to which Paul clings:
the believer has already been judged (John 3:18); it
is true that he still lives in the world, but he is no
longer of the world (John 17:11-16).

The Christian Church. The primitive Christian un-
derstanding of the present as eschatological time is soon
clearly weakened in the Church. The present simply
becomes a time of preparation for the future salvation
promised by the sacraments. Hope for the future is
less connected with the end of the world than with
the salvation of the individual soul after death. The
doctrine of purgatory, in which individual souls are
purified, displaces the expectation of a cosmic con-
flagration at the end of time; the Day of Judgment
loses ground in favor of individual judgment after death
and the tenets of penitence and indulgence connected
with it. The teleological mode of historical thought
survives all the same, and apocalyptic eschatology is
not abandoned, but the end of time is postponed to
some indeterminate temporal distance. Already by the
time of II Peter 3:8 we read that with the Lord a
thousand years are as one day.

At first the Church kept eschatological anticipation
alive with the injunction to keep ever watchful for no
knows the day and hour of the end (Mark 13:32f.).
But the triumph of the Church in the Roman state
caused interest in an indeterminate eschaton to decline.
As a legally constituted instrument of salvation the
Church bridges the period from the first Coming of
Jesus until the end of history on his return. Ticonius
and Augustine both equate the thousand-year inter-
regnum that is to precede the actual eschaton with
the age of the Church, and thus delay the end of the
world by a great interval, even if the number 1000
is not taken literally. The Church has in general re-
garded with suspicion and has restrained any height-
ened interest in eschatology and in the revolutionary
pathos easily associated with it. All the same, one
apocalyptic book, the Revelation of Saint John, finally
made its way into the canon of the New Testament
in the fourth century despite widespread opposition.

Thus apocalyptic eschatology as the goal of history
has remained a significant feature of the New Testament
and part of dogma, and can thus reappear in the fore-
ground from time to time. It becomes manifest again
in the Montanism of the second century with its acute
expectation of an imminent end, but even at this time
was viewed critically by the greater Church. Around
the year 1000 many awaited the end of the thousand-
year reign and therewith the end of the world; as a
result there was a temporary increase of interest in
the Day of Judgment (Peter Lombard). Joachim of
Floris (d. 1202) recalculated the epochs of history in
the light of the dogma of the Trinity and anticipated
that, following the age of the Father and that of the
Son, the onset of the age of the Holy Ghost as the
epoch assuring complete salvation would come in 1260.
Nicholas of Lyra likewise counts on the imminent
beginning of the last events in his commentary on the
Revelation of Saint John, written in 1329. In pre-
Reformation times apocalyptic speculations were
awakened particularly among those theologians who
suffered acutely from the unsatisfactory conditions in
the Church. Pre-Reformation and Reformation figures
saw in the Pope the Antichrist who would appear
before the end; thus Luther is able to announce the
end of the world as imminent, just as many of the
reformers inclined to call their age the final age, the
twilight of the world. Under the influence of the hu-
manists, apocalyptic thought retreated wholly in
Zwingli, and eschatological fanatics, associated in some
places with groups of enthusiasts and the Anabaptist


movement seeking to install the Kingdom of God for
the time being by force of arms, soon discredited all
radical speculations concerning the end of time in the
eyes of all the reformers. Reformation catechisms con-
tained hardly any eschatological propositions of an
apocalyptic nature: Article XVII of the Augsburg Con-
fession denounces the chiliasm of the fanatics as a
Jewish doctrine. Luther dissociated himself sharply
from the social revolutionary thoughts of Thomas
Münzer (who died in the Peasant War in 1525), from
Melchior Hofmann, the inspired prophet of the end
of time, and from the communistic fanaticism of
Bernard Rottmann and his friends in Münster. Despite
this, apocalyptic anticipations of the end remained
alive and were augmented in times of plague, in the
Thirty Years' War, and indeed everywhere that, from
the time of the Counter-Reformation, minorities lived
under repression and persecution and hoped for re-
demption from their plight. Above all in Pietistic cir-
cles all kinds of speculations concerning the onset of
the thousand-year reign constantly reappeared. Fol-
lowing the precedent of Jacob Böhme, Philipp Jacob
Spender, for example, combined exegesis of Revelation
20 with the optimistic expectation of a better time for
the Church in the future; and the Swabian Pietist,
Friedrich Christoph Oetinger drew the entire universe
into this hope of historical salvation: for, he says,
“carnality is the end of God's ways.”

Many contemporary sects derive from speculations
concerning the end of the world in the near future.
The group of Adventists, for example, was formed on
the basis of the American William Miller's computa-
tions that Christ would return in 1843-44 to found the
thousand-year reign. In the origination of such Catho-
lic-Apostolics as the New Apostolic Communion lies
the conviction that in preparation for the return of
Christ twelve apostles must stand ready; these indeed
met in 1835 and together awaited last events. The
Jehovah's Witness movement was based on the asser-
tion of another American, Charles T. Russell, that
Christ returned in secret in 1874 and would begin his
thousand-year reign in 1914. Similar expectations of
the imminent approach of the end recur frequently,
particularly in times of catastrophe and often on the
basis of fantastic interpretations of Revelation, without
however at once leading to the stable formation of

The remarkable increase in apocalyptic fanaticism
since the eighteenth century is connected with the
universal emergence of historical consciousness that
took place at that time; this in turn led to numerous
conceptions of an eschatologically oriented salvationist
theology; in the eighteenth century, for example, in
J. A. Bengel, who computed the date of the end of
the world as 3836, and in J. J. Hess, who—a clear sign
of historical interest—was the author of the first Life
of Jesus
(3 vols., 1768-72), and in 1774 wrote a work
of salvationist dogmatics entitled Of the Kingdom of
God. An Essay on the Plan of God's Provisions and
in the nineteenth century, J. C. K. Hof-
mann, among others, organized the whole of history
on the basis of the Bible into a scheme of prophecy
and fulfillment; more recently, in O. Cullmann, above
all, who takes Christ as the “Center of Time,” ebbing
in undulating lines toward its end.

Among the influential theologians of the present
whose suppositions are markedly determined by apoc-
alyptic eschatology are W. Pannenberg and J. Molt-
mann. Pannenberg sees the resurrection of Jesus
as a prolepsis of final events. Anyone who relies on
the resurrection of Jesus is thus enabled in advance
to view it to its end, and hence to grasp history as
meaningful including that part of it not yet played out.
Beginning with the resurrection of Jesus, Moltmann,
in his Evangelische Kommentare (1968), erects a theol-
ogy of hope teaching that all our forces are to be
concentrated on the final apocalyptic goal of history,
for Jesus' resurrection heralds the end of the world as
the end of misery, injustice, and mortality. “The social
revolution of unjust conditions is the immanent obverse
of transcendent hope in the resurrection.” Among phi-
losophers, G. Krüger and K. Löwith, for example,
associate themselves closely with the traditional bibli-
cal eschatology. In all the scholars mentioned, there
is, of course, a more or less pronounced association
of the idea of progress that has appeared in modern
times with apocalyptic eschatology. The conception
of the sudden end of history is replaced by the inter-
pretation of history as a process aspiring to a climax.

Idealism. One stream of thought running in opposi-
tion to the activation of apocalyptic eschatology is
represented by its idealization. By the time of the
Alexandrian theologians of the third century, Clement
and Origen had already banished any sensual eschato-
logical expectations under Platonic and Gnostic influ-
ence. For them, all Being is spiritual. The souls of men
are in increasing measure purified and by stages re-
turned to their goal, divinity; until finally all are saved
and the old order of the world, the material world,

Such thoughts remained alive in some places in
mystical circles, in which there is often some associa-
tion between the actual withdrawal of spirit from
history and apocalyptic conceptions of the end of
history. In such circles Luke 17:21 plays a major role:
“The kingdom of God is within you.” The authentic
eschatological event lies in the union of the soul with
God (J. Arndt). Apocalyptics are therefore only of


marginal interest: “We have enough on the sabbath
of a new rebirth... the other we can well consign
to God's omnipotence” (J. Böhme). Thus in the last
analysis mysticism takes the place of eschatology:
“When I abandon time I am myself eternity/ and
enclose myself in God, and God enclose in me”
(Angelus Silesius).

For Fichte likewise, a leading representative of so-
called “German idealism,” man can here on earth
everywhere and always, so long as this is his own desire,
attain to the rest, peace, and blessedness of the King-
dom of God by conceiving of himself in his own spirit
as a part of the Absolute and can thus abide and rest
in the One. Still Fichte combines this pure idealism
with eschatological aspects: the more men realize the
Kingdom of God as a moral and spiritual realm within
themselves, the more will it then manifest itself in the
world of appearances also. Men must therefore form
themselves in accordance with reason “until the species
actually exists as a perfected copy of its eternal proto-
type in reason, and thus the purpose of earthly life
would be attained, its goal manifest, and mankind
would enter upon the higher spheres of eternity”;
“... for in the end everything must surely flow into
the safe harbor of eternal rest and blessedness; in the
end the Kingdom of God must appear, and His
strength, and His power, and His glory” (Werke, V,

Following the lines of the Alexandrian theologians,
Hegel also found that the Real, the Absolute-Divine,
is Spirit. But here, as opposed to Origen, Spirit does
not stand as a general idea in relation to natural reality;
rather it realizes itself in the particular: everything real
is spiritual, everything spiritual is real. In the self-
consciousness of the thinking spirit there is a reconcili-
ation in an ideal unity of the “for-itself” of universal
spirit here and the particular which derives from it
there. “The goal, which is Absolute Knowledge or
Spirit knowing itself as Spirit, finds its pathway in the
recollection of spiritual forms as they are in themselves
and as they accomplish the organization of their spirit-
ual kingdom,” Hegel says in the final chapter of the
Phenomenology of Mind. This process of the self-
unfolding of Spirit thus takes place historically, and
indeed in accordance with inalterable laws, just as in
apocalyptics; but God does not write its laws from
without, but the spirit immanent within history writes
them from within. Instead of divine providence we find
the “cunning of (spiritual) reason,” which is even able
to make humans act unconsciously and render seem-
ingly senseless or destructive actions in history service-
able for the purposes of Spirit. The end of history is
attained when Spirit comes into its own in self-
conscious thought, when it gains absolute knowledge
of itself in man, i.e., for all practical purposes in Hegel's
own Christian philosophy of religion, on the basis of
which both Church and State will be consolidated in
a rational social order. The eschatological judgment
of the world collapses in unison with world history.

The idealistic view of the Kingdom of God, deriving
from Fichte and Hegel, surrenders the notion of a
sudden reversal of cosmic conditions by the interven-
tion of God, and favors instead the idea of progress.
Furthermore, interest in the definitive end of history
diminishes altogether, and is replaced by the con-
struction of a course of history striving to attain its
culminating climax. God functions as Spirit in this
progressive historical development. The theology of
the nineteenth century, from Schleiermacher down to
so-called liberal theology, similarly shows itself mark-
edly under idealistic influence. At least the idea of
progress exercises great influence. R. Rothe felt he
could expect the Christian state, the civitas Dei, as the
perfected form of the Kingdom of God. For A. Ritschl
the Kingdom of God, the perfection of which certainly
lies in the remote future, comes to realization in the
expanding community of those acting morally out of
neighborly love.

Secularization. The awakening historical conscious-
ness that advanced salvationist schemes in theology
since the eighteenth century led in the course of a
general secularization of culture to a secular idea of
eschatology also. Although faith was maintained in the
thought of the end or of the goal of history proceeding
in linear fashion, no further consideration was given
to divine intervention in the course of history; the goal
of history was thought of as purely immanent.

The path to this goal was in part seen as progress
to ever greater perfection of the human condition;
and—where it clung more firmly to biblical modes of
thought—it was interpreted or promoted as a sudden
revolutionary incursion. The pioneers of this develop-
ment were the humanists, above all, Erasmus of
Rotterdam, who wanted to see the Kingdom of God
as a universal realm of peace already realized in earthly
society. Movements of chiliasm and pacifism, with their
intensive expectation of such an earthly realm of peace,
have thus prepared the ground since the time of the
Reformation for the complete secularization of escha-
tology; Thomas Münzer is one of the “saints” of com-

The Enlightenment, which led the battle of reason
against unreason, was able to view, to the extent that
it was open to historical thinking, the worldwide tri-
umph of human reason as the necessary outcome of
historical development—not that of history itself
(Turgot, Condorcet, the positivists). Compare also
Lessing's essay on “The Education of the Human Spe-


cies.” Under the spell of the Enlightenment Kant ex-
pects the Kingdom of God in the guise of a worldwide
ethical commonwealth, in any case as the end of a
“progression stretching to eternity” of mankind in-
volved in “the continuous progress and approach to
the highest good possible on earth.” In calling this view
“chiliasm” Kant correctly observes the close connec-
tion between the devout pietistic and the secularized
Enlightenment eschatology of the eighteenth century
(Critique of Practical Reason, Book II, Ch. II, Sec. 5).

It is apparent that marked secular influences were
at work even in the idealistic systems described above,
for in these ideas the divine spirit is identical with the
human spirit so that the eschatological climax of history
can only be attained by means of human activity, and
is therefore conceived of as “this-worldly.” In his book
The Kingdom of Christ (1842; 1959), F. D. Maurice
takes up the idealistic concept of the Kingdom of God
and awaits the onset of God's reign in the immanent
moral perfection of mankind. Influenced by Maurice,
Charles Kingsley, for example, hopes for the progress
of the Kingdom of God in the improvement of the
social order. The influence of secularized eschatology
had its impact also on so-called liberal theology of the
last century which expected progress in human civili-
zation to come about through the education of indi-
vidual personality after the example of the absolute
personality of Jesus, and equated such progress with
the Kingdom of God, which it saw in consequence as
moral grandeur. Even Nietzsche's hero (Übermensch)
quiet naturally represents a secularized form of the
“new creature” of Christian hope for the end of time.

The most influential proposal for secularized escha-
tology to be found after Hegel was advanced by Karl
Marx. History develops for him, as for the apocalyptics,
with ineluctable lawlikeness. The impelling force of
history is neither God nor, as in Hegel, the absolute
World Spirit, but instead the process of production
with economic contradictions obtaining at any given
time, and in connection with which the development
of social classes and heightening of class conflict are
played out. The ultimate class in world history is the
proletariat. The proletarian revolution heralds the end
of class conflict and therewith, so to speak, the end
of history. Marxist theory computes the objective goal
of the course of history in advance: the victorious class
establishes the classless society. It renews and redeems
the world. With it will come the realm of freedom
for all individuals, the end of exploitation as primeval
evil, the triumph of the good, the reconciliation of all
contradiction between light and darkness, the Kingdom
of God without God. The very concept of revolution,
hitherto an expression for political upheavals in gen-
eral, takes on an explicitly eschatological sense in Marx.
But while Marx saw history striving with the necessity
of a natural law toward the proletarian revolution as
its eschatological goal, many of his followers expect
the classless society as the outcome of a world revolu-
tion consciously provoked by men. These modern
Marxist theories of revolution are the most utterly
explicit expression of secularized biblical eschatology.

In the 1960's the Marxist Ernst Bloch, in The Princi-
ple of Hope
(1959), offers the most impressive account
of the connection between Marxist expectations for the
future and the hopes of religious apocalypse. He inter-
prets Marxist thought about the future as the real sense
of Judeo-Christian eschatology, just as, conversely,
religious socialism could for a time represent socialist
hopes for the appropriate temporal form of the biblical
hope for the Kingdom of God. Even at the present
time the “feedback” from Marxist eschatology to the-
ology is in some places considerable; above all in con-
nection with the so-called “God is dead” theology,
hope of social justice is considered to be the only
meaningful form of eschatological hope (Harvey Cox).
Increasingly expanded planning for the future, so nec-
essary in the modern world, with the aid of scientific
prognosis (“futurology”), is in itself not eschatological,
but reinforces the effectiveness of secularized eschato-
logical world perspectives, above all, of communism
and socialism.

Evolution. Since the Enlightenment the optimism
concerning progress already founded in humanism has
broken new ground and, coupled with awakening his-
torical thought, leads to the idea that history strives
toward its goal of salvation in constant or in undulating
development. This notion of development can be con-
nected, as we have seen, with the apocalyptic idea of
the sudden end of history. In idealism it clearly leaves
virtually no room for apocalyptic eschatology, and
even in secular eschatology ideas of evolution and
revolution are in mutual contention.

Evolutionary ideas were particularly stimulated
(mostly they had sought the felicitous outcome of his-
tory in a remote future, and originally they were based
solely on the philosophy of history) in the nineteenth
century by Darwin's scientific theories of evolution and
by the enormous advances of modern technology. The
incorporation of the totality of Nature in an eschatol-
ogy assimilated to apocalyptic accounts had already
been initiated by Oetinger and in Schelling's philoso-
phy of nature, although it had appeared also in a
number of Enlightenment figures; and thus combina-
tions of hopes for the Kingdom of God and techno-
logical utopias are to be found since the Renaissance.
Darwin's doctrine of the higher development of species
as well as faith in technological progress then led in
the nineteenth century, on the one hand, to purely


secularized hopes for the Übermensch and a perfected
society liberated from material need, and, on the other
hand, to theological attempts to reconcile the evolu-
tionary ideas of natural science with the superseded
eschatology. Mention should be made in this connec-
tion, for example, of the Scotsman James McCosh
(d. 1894), the Unitarian Minot J. Savage (d. 1918),
and also the English theologian Henry Drummond
(d. 1897), on whose views God reveals Himself in a
natural evolution that is to lead to a “more divine”
man. By comparing the evolution of creation with a
column topped by a capital, Drummond takes Chris-
tian salvationism as the pinnacle of universal evolution.
Among others thinking along the same lines in the
twentieth century are the German philosopher Leo-
pold Ziegler and the French Jesuit and anthropologist
Teilhard de Chardin, who associates the “God from
above” with the “God striving forward,” and whose
thinking is not only regarded highly in Christian circles,
but also plays an important role in the Christian-
Marxist dialogue whenever revolutionary Marxist
pathos is corrected by evolutionary thought.

The Abandonment of Eschatology. In the ideal-
ization of eschatology under the influence of Greek
thought and in its modern secularization there remains,
despite the overwhelming role of the idea of evolution,
some trace of the influence of biblical thought: the
course of history is viewed as goal-directed, and history
is therefore viewed as meaningful.

Nonetheless, over the last 200 years there has been,
to an increasing extent in some intellectual movements,
an abandonment of every form of eschatology. History
has lost the structure of a goal-directed process; inquiry
into the meaning of history has become meaningless.
This abandonment of eschatology in general is to be
ascribed in the first place to the scientific mode of
thought derived from British empiricism (Bacon,
Hobbes, Locke, Hume) which, through its views on
the death of the world by entropy, by cosmic collision,
and the possibility of atomic disintegration, have sup-
plied only a meager alternative to traditional escha-
tology. With this must be associated, after the rise of
historical consciousness and the collapse of the opti-
mistic Enlightenment belief in progress, a form of
historical relativism which accepts only discrete caus-
ally connected historical events, but rejects any mean-
ingful pattern in the totality of history, all philosophies
of history, and all eschatological beliefs (J. Burckhardt,
F. Nietzsche). Historical interest can thus be focussed
solely on the past and on the modest inquiry: “How
things actually were” (positivistic historiography). Or
history is understood—mainly aesthetically—as an
expression of a unified intellectual and spiritual life (W.
Dilthey). When this relativism was converted, as not
infrequently was the case, into pessimism viewing his-
tory as hastening toward catastrophe (e.g., O. Spengler,
Decline of the West, 1918-22; Eng. trans., 1926-28)
there was a revival of the cyclical thought of pagan
antiquity (as adopted by Nietzsche in his doctrine of
the Eternal Return) rather than of the eschatological
consciousness of the Bible.

Renewal of New Testament Eschatology. The very
meaning of history appears to vanish when, on the one
hand, hope for the end of sacred history by the inter-
vention of an external source fades away, and at the
same time the optimistic secular eschatology of prog-
ress also dwindles; when, on the other hand, the whole
question of an eschatological goal for history is aban-
doned. To the extent that nihilism appears appropriate
we come closer to a return to the biblical view of
history in which Jesus Christ represents the turning
point of the aeon, so that the present at any given
period is denominated an eschatological time. This
eschatological interpretation of history has manifested
its vigor in the course of Church history particularly
among those theologians most indebted to biblical
thought. Thus for Augustine the battle in world history
between the civitas terrena and the civitas Dei is
fought out in the history of the individual in such a
manner that Christ is already here and now able to
live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God through his
“rebirth,” even though the palpable worldwide victory
of the city of God is still lacking.

Luther's conviction of standing at the end of time
is rooted in the existential experience of his own death
consummated in the death of Christ; that is, the death
of the “old Adam” enslaved in sin; or, as the case may
be, in assumption of the freedom guaranteed to the
child of God in the sense of the Pauline utterance:
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have [eschato-
logical!] peace with God through our Lord Jesus
Christ” (Romans 5:1). Luther is able to place in the
future the present eschatological gift of salvation by
forgiving grace because it is present in faith, that is,
it is simply an unmerited gift of God, and thus can
now be seized.

In the twentieth century, so-called dialectical theol-
ogy relying on Luther and Kierkegaard returned to the
dialectical interpretation of eschatology in the New
Testament, following on the rediscovery in New Testa-
ment scholarship, toward the end of the nineteenth
century, of the primarily apocalyptic character of the
biblical message concerning the Kingdom of God
(J. Weiss, A. Schweitzer). Karl Barth defines the ac-
knowledgment of Christian revelation as an insight into
the existential truth “that time becomes as eternity,
and eternity as this moment.” Time, for faith, is “the
eternal moment, the Now, in which past and future


come to rest.” The present at any given moment is
thus eschatological time, and in this sense Barth writes:
“Christianity that is not wholly, simply, and totally
eschatology has wholly, simply, and totally nothing to
do with Christ.”

Above all R. Bultmann, relying on aspects of
Heidegger's existential philosophy (itself in turn mark-
edly influenced by the New Testament, Luther, and
Kierkegaard), has fallen back on New Testament
eschatology. According to Bultmann substantial pas-
sages in the New Testament treat the events sur-
rounding Christ as God's ultimately valid act of
salvation. The annunciation of these events thus
denominates every present moment as eschatological
time. For it liberates man from himself, that is, from
the sinful compulsion to locate his life in the actuality
of his past and the possibilities of his future, by be-
stowing on him life out of god's charismatic future.
Such existence drawn out of God's future is eschato-
logical existence, for with its coming all temporal
history is at an end. Each moment is possessed of the
possibility of being an eschatological moment; the
faithful actualizes this possibility. The eschaton even-
tuates constantly in history from beyond history. To
the extent that apocalyptic eschatology is retained in
the New Testament this mythological conception has
the existential meaning of representing futurity, that
is, the charismatic, or the character of grace of God's
liberating word: new life fulfills itself solely in the
acceptance of the “freedom of the children of God.”

Summary. The following may be said in summing
up: the problem of eschatology is inquiry into the end
as the goal and meaning of history. Since man as an
historical being never confronts history but is always
moving in history he is never able to answer the ques-
tion about the eschaton objectively, i.e., as a neutral
observer. His judgment concerning the eschaton of
history always implies a judgment about himself as an
historical being. Regardless of whatever solution has
been or will be given to the problem of eschatology
we conclude: since history is still an ongoing process
at the present time, and nobody is in a position to scan
history from its beginning to its definitive outcome,
and since the course of history does not itself indicate
what its end and goal might be, the question of escha-
tology remains open as a subject for systematic inquiry
and can only be answered as a matter of personal


E. Benz, Evolution and Christian Hope, trans. H. G.
Frankl (New York, 1966). W. Bousset, DieReligion des
Judentums im späthellenistischen Zeitalter,
3rd. ed.
(Tübingen, 1925). R. Bultmann, History and Eschatology
(London, 1957; New York, 1962). R. G. Collingwood, The
Idea of History
(London and New York, 1946). B. Croce,
la Storia come pensiero e come azione (Bari, 1938); trans.
Douglas Ainslie as History: Its Theory and Practice (1916;
New York, 1960). O. Cullmann, Heil als Geschichte
(Tübingen, 1965); trans. as Salvation in History (New York,
1967). J. G. Fichte, Werke, ed. F. Medicus, 6 vols. (Leipzig,
1908-12; reprinted, 1954—). G. Krüger, Geschichte und
(Stuttgart, 1949). K. Löwith, Meaning in History.
The Theological Implications of the Philosophy of History

(Chicago, 1957). H.-J. Marrou, la Connaissance historique
(Paris, 1956); trans. as The Meaning of History (New York,
1965). J. Moltmann, Theologie der Hoffnung (Munich, 1964).
W. Pannenberg, Offenbarung als Geschichte (Göttingen,
1961). O. Plöger, Theokratie und Eschatologie, 2nd ed.
(Neukirken, 1962). E. Staehelin, DieVerkündigung des
Reiches Gottes in der Kirche Jesu Christi,
7 vols. (Basel, 1951;
1965). A. J. Toynbee, A Study of History, 12 vols. (London
and New York, 1934-61).


[See also Dualism; Existentialism; Gnosticism; God;
Hegelian...; Marxism; Millenarianism; Perfectibility;
Progress; Sin and Salvation.]